Discussion of Canadian Passenger Rail Services such as AMT (Montreal), Go Transit (Toronto), VIA Rail, and other Canadian Railways and Transit

Moderator: Ken V

  by NIMBYkiller
I mentioned this in the existing Ontario HSR thread but I think the topic is deserving of its own (correct me if I'm wrong). Given that, from what I've read here, US border formalities on the Amtrak Cascades are performed at the station in Vancouver and will apparently be done in Montreal soon for the Amtrak Adirondack, why not extend VIA into Detroit using the same scheme, but with the formalities taking place on the US side (inside the station in Detroit) rather than the Canadian side? Detroit is a metro area of, according to Wikipedia 2010 numbers, just shy of 4.3 million people. Makes all the sense to anchor the Toronto-London-Windsor service with another major metropolitan area.
  by Tadman
It makes great sense, which means we probably won't do it. Grumble...
  by Rockingham Racer
I think the difference is that the two trains mentioned above do not have any stops in Canada prior to crossing the border. The Toronto-Detroit train would have multiple stops, and require that people boarding at intermediate Canadian stops would have to be checked at the US border.
  by bdawe
Rockingham Racer wrote:I think the difference is that the two trains mentioned above do not have any stops in Canada prior to crossing the border. The Toronto-Detroit train would have multiple stops, and require that people boarding at intermediate Canadian stops would have to be checked at the US border.
The suggestion is that what's done for the Cascades to Vancouver be done in reverse to Detroit - train runs regular on the Canadian side and then becomes sealed until reaching a single station in Detroit.

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The complication that comes to mind is that the VIA station would have to be bypassed, since it's on CN's stub-ending mainline which has been cut back to it's current location. If you were going to Detroit, backtracking around to Detroit Amtrak seems awkward, but a downtown terminal isn't served by any trains either.
  by Backshophoss
The closest VIA gets to Detroit is Windsor On, There are bus shuttles to the US,some are Casino sponsored.
  by NeoArashi
I'm not even sure it would be physically possible to begin with.

At least not without some massive infrastructure update. The tracks beyond the Windsor station are borderline abbandonned, and from there, I don't even think they can go to the the US side.

The station is right outside of downtown. If there's a track that does lead to the US side, they have to change the station's location.
  by marquisofmississauga
Indeed it would be difficult. The tracks now end just beyond the VIA station. Google maps still show the tracks crossing Riverside Drive. Two or three years ago CN was able to serve an industry on the north (river) side of the street but since then the tracks have been removed.

VIA trains would have to back from the station and take a connecting track to the CPR and use the tunnel to Detroit. I have no idea how that would connect to the Amtrak station if it is even possible. I doubt VIA will build a new station in Windsor. They opened one just a few years ago - a large and attractive station which finally replaced that 1960s ex-CN station which many, including me, described as a dump.

I wonder how much business VIA would get to and from Detroit. It has been so long since there was a Toronto-Detroit service, so it would take a lot of marketing. I believe the last trains were the CPR RDC's which were cut back to Windsor around the late 1960s. A friend recently travelled from Chicago to Toronto by train. From Amtrak in Detroit he took a shuttle of some sort to the tunnel, then the tunnel bus to Windsor. It was a nice day so he walked - yes it is a long walk - to the VIA station. There is no shuttle or public transportation to the station from downtown, although it is possible to get reasonably close by bus.
marquisofmississauga wrote:
I wonder how much business VIA would get to and from Detroit. ……..
Many!.....They just drive over the border now. Have you ever noticed the number of US plated vehicles parked at the VIA Station...especially over a weekend.
  by mdvle
The issue isn't so much VIA, but rather the State of Michigan.

There are only 2 ways for this to work:
  • 1) for there to be an on train customs check, likely on the Canadian side
    2) to have Canada and US customs have an isolated section of a station in Detroit
The first is cumbersome and unlikely to be started in this day and age (there is a reason for moving it to Vancouver/Montreal and I am sure they would love to be able to do it for Toronto as well).

The second will only happen if Amtrak returns to the Michigan Central Station.

The problems with 2) at Dearborn station is that it is too far from the border, and given the current climate in the US I don't see a train full of unchecked people being allowed to proceed that far onto US soil. Then there is the issue of why the State of Michigan would pay the costs to upgrade Dearborn Station to help encourage Michigan residents to go and spend their money in Canada...

The costs of an isolated customs facility could be "lost" in the cost of restoring passenger service to Central Station.

There is also the issue of Dearborn station really only be useful for people of Michigan travelling to Canada given how far away from downtown Detroit it is.

The issue of the current Windsor station is a bit of a non-issue, there would be ways to find the money for a new, potentially better located, station if that became necessary.
  by NIMBYkiller
I should have mentioned that this hinges on 2 things that you all brought up:
1. VIA moves to a new Windsor station, most likely just outside the portal between College Av and Tecumseh Rd
2. Amtrak returns to Michigan Central Station

Depending on how close to College Av the station is in Windsor, it could actually be closer to downtown than the current stop. Ford just bought Michigan Central and has alluded to a return of rail service there, so it's not completely out of the cards just yet. And I'd imagine Michigan Central is more than big enough to have a sectioned off area for international service (which is the whole point of this topic, ala Vancouver and what's going to be done in Montreal). I think the benefits FAR outweigh the costs here, especially if Detroit continues to bounce back the way it has been.
mdvie: Good thought about GO Transit to NFL across the Whirlpool Bridge...The trouble here is
that GO equipment being built with low-level platform doors can not use the high-level platform.

In both the Detroit/Windsor and Niagara Falls train service extensions there is the US/Canada
Customs and Immigration issues to deal with if US CBP and CBSA can work something out.
That is the proverbial "eight hundred pound gorilla" here...MACTRAXX
  by Tadman
It's not a far fetched idea. As some others note, some of the challenges include:

1. Customs method similar to Vancouver/Cascades
2. Windsor station - need a second/new station in line with the main going into the tunnel so no backup moves
3. Detroit station - need a Via station, likely at MCS. Ford is interested in train service after buying the building.

None of these are big deals in the big picture, because you're taking a train with a sleepy endpoint and transforming it into a train with two big endpoints. Windsor has 200,000 people, Detroit has 4.5 million.

Think about it this way - how crazy would it seem to run the Toronto-Montreal trains to Cornwall or Rigaud, but not downtown Montreal?
  by mdvle
Number 3 is unfortunately something of a big deal. Yes Ford has expressed interest in passenger rail returning to MCS, but Amtrak and I believe the State of Michigan are against the idea for operational reasons - the current train (the Wolverine) doesn't end in Detroit but rather continues to Pontiac. MCS doesn't work for that service, and as a VIA only station is less than optimal not the least because the budget is out in the open unless Ford pays.

Customs otherwise likely works out better than Vancouver / Montreal given how close existing border posts are to MCS, or even less optimally for the Canadian side to a new station, so temporary moves of personal during the day would be very easy.

As for a new Windsor station, until it gets cancelled there already is a new station planned by Ontario for their high speed rail proposal, with it being built in the next 10 years. Whether the goal for a more convenient to "downtown Windsor" works with a cross border train would depend on what exactly the province was thinking.

On the other hand going from VIA to the provincial service would likely mean that Windsor / possibly Detroit would no longer be a sleepy endpoint.
  by Tadman
I disagree on number three. There is no rule that says Amtrak has to connect with Via in Detroit. In fact, the connections in similar operations at Montreal and Vancouver are not available same day or same station. And I'm not sure what the state of Michigan gets to say about this, if the deal is between VIA, Ford, and CP. Can you really imagine Michigan declining this operation because they want to force Via to use that dumpster fire of a depot in New Center? That place is utterly disgusting.

Consider the available connections at Vancouver for a similar international operation, the Cascades:
1. Canadian to Edmonton/Toronto - 2x/week, arrives very unpredictably late westbound, overnight connection eastbound.
2. Rocky Mountaineer - erratic schedule, station 1 km away from Cascades terminal
3. West Coast Express - station 3 km away from Cascades Terminal, absolutely no same day connections
4. BC Ferries - Tsawwassen port is 35 km away, West Vancouver port is 10 km

In a word, awful. There almost no viable connections, but nobody told Amtrak not to run the train.

Consider Montreal:
1. Ocean to Halifax - 2x/week, overnight connection only
2. Corridor to Quebec - good
3. Northern Quebec - overnight connection only, does anybody make this connection? ever?
4. West to Toronto - overnight connection only, why not take Maple Leaf?
5. CP commuter trains - 1 km walk to Lucien L'Allier

Clearly in both cases, the connection options are very poor and must not be important enough.