Downtown Bureau

Off the Rails

There is simply no question about it: our VIA rail station must be downtown - another great piece in the downtown revitalization puzzle.

By Jason Leach
Published March 14, 2005

VIA Rail in Hamilton? Maybe not.

For years we have heard promises from upper levels of government, specifically the feds, about their plans to put Hamilton back on the VIA rail map.

We are the largest city in the country with no service, but that shouldn't surprise anyone. After all, this is Hamilton. Most federal politicians wouldn't know how to get here from Burlington.

But here we are anyway, struggling along, a city full of amazing polar opposites and a city that needs a boost. We need to be put back on the national map.

Like it or not, this is a cool city. If more people come here and see it, that might inspire our local politicians to clean up the entire city, not just their little Meadowland pet developments.

VIA rail makes perfect sense for Hamilton, and a new train station downtown makes perfect sense for Hamilton too.

As Ward 2 Councillor Bob Bratina, chair of a new VIA Rail task force, said recently, such a facility could be built across the street from LIUNA Station and be a four-storey building with a hotel or office space on the upper floors.

Imagine what a boost such a development would be to the adjacent James North strip and entire west harbour area right around the corner.

I firmly believe that city hall and the upper levels of government owe the long-time merchants of downtown Hamilton big time. If not for their courage and ability to succeed in harsh surroundings, our downtown would resemble that of Buffalo or Brantford.

Another round of applause should go to the roughly 30,000 residents who live within a 10-15 minute walk of Gore Park. Some are there by choice, others aren't. But many of us love living downtown and can only imagine how much more fun it will be if this city can get its priorities straight and bring the core back to life.

National recognition on the VIA route map can only help our downtown and redeveloping harbour. But wait a minute! Hold on. This is Hamilton. What would be a no-brainer in any other city on the planet is not so here.

Here is an excerpt from a recent speech given by Tony Valeri, Liberal MP for Hamilton East/Stoney Creek to the Hamilton Chamber of Commerce.

Going forward, there remains a transportation objective I want to address and that is making Hamilton's case for VIA Rail passenger service. I want to tell you today, it isn't about whether to restore passenger service - it's about where and when we restore that service.

There has been a lot of discussion in the media, and some have called for a new Via Rail passenger station to be located in downtown Hamilton as the right strategic decision.

think we need to look at it from the point of view of the passenger. What makes the most sense in terms of someone who is going to head out of the city to Ottawa, Montreal, Windsor or Toronto?

Where should such a station be located? Where is the most convenient site? Where is the parking? Should it be along a major artery? How do we leverage the station into some other type of economic activity such as tourism?

I'm confident that working with all sides, we can find a solution for Hamilton, certainly for VIA and certainly for the people of our community most importantly. With this approach, the passenger station itself and the passenger service will be yet another part of Hamilton's vital transportation infrastructure.

Now I don't want to jump the gun or read too much into this speech, but I think you'll agree that this isn't what you'd call a ringing endorsement for a downtown location.

The tracks are already down. The train already zips through the north end of Hamilton. Where, oh where, could Mr. Valeri possibly think the station could go besides James Street North? Burlington and Sherman Avenue? Centennial Parkway and Barton? There's a beautiful stretch that would surely draw tourists.

Little further east. That's it, keep going. After all, this is the Liberal MP for Hamilton East/­Stoney Creek. Call me crazy, but there aren't too many other options out there.

Just in case the city's lawyer is reading this with his pencil out ready to take notes on anything that could be worthy of suing me, allow me to say that this is pure speculation on my part.

Minister Valeri did not sit down with me over lunch yesterday and tell me that he wants the station in Stoney Creek. It just so happens that I'm a big boy and I understand how politics works. And I also know that the VIA tracks run in an east/west line through Hamilton from Dundurn Castle to Stoney Creek.

I also happen to know (as you may too) that in between these two locations there is a small area known as Hamilton's Industrial Core, which doesn't really have too many 'touristy' locations left for development.

In other words, I don't think I'm off my rocker to assume that our choices get narrowed down to Stoney Creek or Downtown Hamilton.

In his speech the minister asks a few great questions regarding location for such a terminal for passengers "who are going to head out of the city to Ottawa, Montreal, Windsor or T.O." I'd like to address this question.

Hamilton is currently developing an official plan for the future growth of the city. Part of this plan calls for urban revitalization, better use of development lands and increasing the use of other modes of transportation such as rail, bus, bicycle and good old fashioned walking. A station in Stoney Creek would only serve one portion of Hamilton's residents: car owners in the eastern half of the city.

Those in the western half are still much quicker to jump over to Aldershot as they currently do. But what about the folks who want to hop on a bus to the station, or ride their bike and leave it parked in a bike locker for their weekend trip to Montreal, or even take their bike with them? What about pedestrians?

A downtown location offers all of these options plus very easy connections to the GO Transit system right up the street at Hunter and (you guessed it) James Street.

It is quite clear that a station in Stoney Creek would be no better for Hamilton than the current one in Aldershot.

However, there is more to the story. Mr Valeri forgot all about people coming into the city on VIA rail. I hope he hasn't completely lost hope on bringing tourists and business people here. The city isn't completely dead, sir.

Let's think of the person coming into Hamilton for a business convention at LIUNA Station or the Convention Centre. Or a traveler who has never been here, but wants to check out this gritty steeltown they've heard about now that we're on the rail route.

Anyone coming into a major city anywhere in the world wants to be in the centre of that city.

Hold onto your seats, but I'm willing to bet that people don't take trains all over the world hoping to get off in the middle of a suburb surrounded by houses, industry, highways and strip malls.

People want to be a quick walk, cab ride or bus ride away from amenities like Hamilton Place, Convention Centre, major hotels, restaurants, offices, music venues, the Art Gallery of Hamilton, Theatre Aquarius, Copps Coliseum, the waterfront, Dundurn Castle, Whitehern, CFL Hall of Fame, Hess Village, Locke Street, the Farmers Market, historic tours of our neighbourhoods, churches and public spaces.

Say what you want about downtown Hamilton, but this is the most logical place for people to be welcomed to our city. Downtown is the hub of our transit systems, HSR and GO, as well as our taxi industry.

If some of the city's plans for the core and waterfront come to fruition, things are only going to get better. The waterfront is going to be a huge draw. Redeveloped streets such as King William, James North and King Street are going to be full of life.

There is simply no question about it: our VIA rail station must be downtown. If it is built with a hotel or office component then it will be yet another great piece in the downtown revitalization puzzle.

People already have a negative image of Hamilton because of what they see from the Skyway bridge. Our political and business leaders are always talking about trying to find ways to get outsiders to come right into the city and see the west harbour, the beautiful waterfalls and amazing A&E scene in Hamilton.

Now isn't the time to waffle and make a major blunder like putting our VIA station somewhere on the outskirts of town. Folks will get off the train and think, "Yep, just as I thought - there really isn't a city here. Just a suburban blob surrounding some ugly steelmills." Hardly the way to improve our city's image.

When contacted, Mayor Larry DiIanni told me, "I think that downtown is great...but I can see other locations being pushed forward too. We will be pursuing all options for a new station location in Hamilton and are committed to finding the best location for the City."

Well said, Mr. Mayor. I agree with you 100 percent that the downtown is great, and yes, it appears as though there are other locations being pushed forward.

There's nothing wrong with exploring all available options, but as the mayor said, at the end of the day it's about finding the best location for our city.

I couldn't agree more.

We at Raise The Hammer urge Minister Valeri, Councillor Bob Bratina and Mayor DiIanni to make the right choice for Hamilton.

Put our VIA station downtown, in the heart of the city, right where it belongs!

Do the right thing for Hamilton.

Jason Leach was born and raised in the Hammer and currently lives downtown with his wife and children. You can follow him on twitter.

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By kegan (anonymous) | Posted January 01, 2008 at 16:08:26

The Historic problem withe railways in serving south western OntARIO From down town Hamilton a has always been station location. Hamiltons geography it was neccarcary to back out of the railway stations in the City. in order to reach places from there such as London or Windsor.
This would ad up to an hour to a Toronto Windsor trip.
A downtown station from Hamilton to Toronto could be added to east corridor runs Say Hamilton, Toronto Ottawa AND Montreal. but a direct down town station would have to BETTER connected to the system to avoid such back out moves that would other wise raise the train times for to other cities to the such as London to uncompetative levels.Indeed people would come to Hamilton if it were marketed enough.

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By kegan (anonymous) | Posted January 01, 2008 at 16:12:13

The Historic problem withe railways in serving south western OntARIO From down town Hamilton a has always been station location. Hamiltons geography it was neccarcary to back out of the railway stations in the City. in order to reach places from there such as London or Windsor.
This would ad up to an hour to a Toronto Windsor trip.
A downtown station from Hamilton to Toronto could be added to east corridor runs Say Hamilton, Toronto Ottawa AND Montreal. but a direct down town station would have to BETTER connected to the system to avoid such back out moves that would other wise raise the train times for to other cities to the such as London to uncompetative levels.Indeed people would come to Hamilton if it were marketed enough.

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted January 02, 2008 at 13:27:00

It can be done, there just has to be a political will. Compare the construction of new rails to that of roads. Roads get all of the money and all of the attention.

Somehow we can afford to build a brand new highway through the RH valley, build raised roadways to ease congestion (Burlington St, Gardiner), dig tunnels under our cities for roads and subways, and more... but we can't figure out how to make Hamilton's downtown accessible by train? This is not a physical barrier, it is a mental one.

We need to rethink the way we spend on our transportation infrastructure NOW, while we still have money and energy available to do so. Based on human nature though, we will be way too far down the dead end "highway to nowhere" before we realize the errors of our ways, and no amount of backpedalling will bring back the opportunity that we have right now to improve our rail systems.

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