Photo: “Go Train at Kitchener” by Sean_Marshall is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Ontario has purchased a 53-km section of CN’s rail line between Kitchener and Georgetown as it moves ahead with a plan to improve train service to and from Toronto.

“Today’s announcement means GO Transit can plan for even more service on this line in the future, so commuters have more options to get them to work, school and appointments,” Kitchener Centre MPP Daiene Vernile told a throng of politicians, reporters and city officials at the Kitchener train station.

The purchase, which comes at a cost of $76 million, means that Metrolinx, the province’s transit agency, will now own 79.8 km. of the 100.6-km. rail line between Kitchener and Toronto.

The agency, which operates GO Transit commuter service, already owns the 26.8-km section of track between Bramalea and downtown Toronto. With today’s announcement, the only section still controlled by CN is a 20.8-km. piece between Georgetown and Bramalea.

The announcement comes as good news for Waterloo Region’s tech community, which has been pressing for better rail service between Kitchener and Toronto so it can lure and retain workers in this area.

“Having the province own the track brings us one step closer to all-day, two-way GO service,” said Iain Klugman, CEO of Communitech, “which is essential for growing the tech sector in Waterloo Region and creating a larger tech corridor between Toronto and Waterloo.”

Klugman said the biggest barrier to the growth of tech companies is availability of talent, “and this service will have a significant impact on companies’ ability to recruit and retain skilled employees.”

The track purchase gives GO Transit more options as part of a previously-announced plan to double train service between the two cities by 2016. Currently, GO operates two early-morning trains each weekday to Toronto and two late-afternoon trains from Toronto to Kitchener .

The two daily trains promised by 2016 will travel from Kitchener to Toronto in the morning and return in the evening, Paul Finnerty, vice-president of operations for GO Transit said at today’s news conference.

They will be kept overnight at a new layover facility on Shirley Avenue. Departure times have yet to be announced, but Finnerty said there are no plans at the moment to operate trains from Toronto to Kitchener in the morning and Kitchener to Toronto in the afternoon.

The region’s tech community would like to see morning service to Kitchener so tech workers can live in Toronto and commute to jobs in Waterloo Region.

The 53-kilometre section purchased by Metrolinx stretches from Park Street in Kitchener to west of Main Street in Georgetown.

“By increasing Metrolinx’s ownership of the Kitchener rail corridor, GO Transit will be able to improve service, control operations and make the infrastructure upgrades needed to support service expansion,” Vernile said in a news release.

Though there is no timeline yet, she vowed that morning service from Toronto to Kitchener is part of those plans.

“These upgrades will allow for morning inbound trains to Kitchener and evening outbound trains back to Toronto,” the release noted.

Improved service can’t come quickly enough as GO trains currently take about two hours to travel from Kitchener to Toronto. Running on just a single track, the trains are slowed by having to make frequent stops to pick up commuters.

But the service is well used and trains arrive at Union Station in Toronto jammed to the rafters, indicating strong demand for better rail service.

Waterloo Region Chair Ken Seiling welcomed today’s announcement that the province will own more of the Kitchener rail corridor.

The argument from critics has “always been the quality of the line,” he said. “This will clear the way to make capital improvements in the line. It wasn’t within their control before.”

Michael Druker of the Tri-Cities Transport Action Group, also applauded today’s announcement.

“Track ownership is a really important step,” he noted. “I am looking forward to them using ownership to improve service.”

GO Transit needs to provide more frequent and faster rail service between Kitchener and Toronto, and should give serious consideration to buying the remaining section of the corridor from CN, Druker said.

But morning service from Toronto to Kitchener can only happen if the province builds a second rail line between the two communities, he said.

Finnerty said there will be “more news in the next couple of months” about better train service to and from Toronto. “Kitchener is right up there as a priority.”

Greater ownership of the line means service can be sped up because GO will “no longer have to ask for a time slot” from CN for that section of the corridor, he said.

Cambridge MPP Kathryn McGarry, who also attended the announcement, said the need has only grown more acute for better rail service between Waterloo Region and Toronto.

The travel time has almost doubled since she used to commute to a job at a hospital in Toronto in the 1990s, she said.