in Canada, Ontario, Toronto, Waterloo

Riding the rails to Waterloo

Go Train 614 - Photo by Danielle Scott
CC BY-SA 2.0 Some rights reserved by Danielle Scott

Why isn’t there a commuter train from Toronto to Waterloo? Ok, you might ask actually ask why Toronto doesn’t have a train from downtown to the airport but let’s leave that for a conversation with more educated politicians and policy wonks.

I’ve spent this morning with startups in Waterloo, hanging out with people at the Communitech Hub, UW Velocity, and a crazy number of super awesome startups (TribeHRvidyard, 17 muscles, Footloose Games, Willet, Cyborg Trading Systems, Will PWN 4 Food and others). I left Toronto at 6:15am to avoid traffic and be in Waterloo before 8am for my first meeting. The drive was approximately 116 km and took approximately 90 minutes (arrived at 7:52am). I couldn’t help think about why there isn’t a train. The distance is just a little more than SF to San Jose (~74km) and double SF to Palo Alto (~51.5km). I can get a Caltrain from San Francisco to Palo Alto or San Jose.

Waterloo - Early Stage Companies

If the assumption is that UWaterloo is a top ranking university (possibly my alumni delusions that cause me to overlook UWaterloo’s non-placement on Times Higher Education rankings). And with more startups like Kik raising money with powerhouses like OpenText, RIM, MKS and Christie Digital. There are less reason for students to have to leave the reason. It makes it more attractive to rent an apartment for the year and stay in Waterloo to manage your costs on your coop program.

Maybe the argument is that the capital is better spent on more programs for entrepreneurs or road infrastructure. But it seems that one of the greatest assets to the Toronto startup community (UW Coop students and graduates) are disconnected by public transportation. I wonder what my UW alumni brethren like Farhan Thawar (@fnthawar), John Green (@johnphilipgreen), Amar Varma (@extremevp),  Brydon Gillis (@brydon), Ali Asaria (@aliasaria), Razor Suleman (@iloverewards), Kunal Gupta (@kunalfrompolar) think about the need for better connections between Waterloo (assuming a stop in Guelph) and Toronto.

  1. Heh. Perhaps you haven’t heard that Caltrain is on the verge of losing most of its funding and may cut any non-rush hour trains if it can remain operational at all?

  2. That is no different than the current via rail service and it is for people going to Toronto and back. There is nothing the other way. An added challenge though, if you do get here at night for a meeting the next day a hotel is on the other side of town and there is no transit to get you there. The proposed LRT line that is supposed to meet the proposed GO train is at risk thanks to the cranky old guard.

    Tech folks wanting to do business in Waterloo over the next 20 years really need to add their voices to the transit debates in the region. It is a hard fight but I think it is key in connecting the tech area of Waterloo with the tech folks in Toronto.

    The topic of LRT is here:

    Besides all that, zipcar + high speed train down the 401 and you have a much better ability to connect! Sadly I have talked to zipcar and they have no interest in Waterloo even though there are a ton of students with zipcar cards.

  3. This is a problem for a ton of employees/businesses in the region. When conducting a study of the KW Finance and Insurance sector in fall of 09, the Toronto/KW commute was one of the main things execs were looking for government assistance on. There are a large number of KW employees in many sectors who commute from West Toronto, Mississauga, Milton, Guelph etc. to KW every day. As David pointed out, it’s a horrible commute. The Go Bus – dealing with similar traffic as your car – and the train service Michal mentioned does not address this.

  4. Great post – I just started at a company in KW and have been doing the drive once or twice a week and was wondering the same thing.


  5. A Go Train that is essentially made for commuters does sound like a cop-out, but I think it’s a first step in bringing more transit to the region. I wouldn’t be surprised to see more frequent service between Waterloo/Toronto after a year. There’s not enough money and political force behind most of this, but I think the tides are changing.

    The Milton line is also being extended to Cambridge for 2012 service, so it’s obvious Metrolinx understands the demand for service in the Kitchener-Waterloo-Cambridge area.

    Sadly though you’re right, a lot of these great projects are being crushed by old cranks, but we can’t just sit around and wait for them to decide for us. If we all change our life styles and push towards what we want, eventually it has to come around.

  6. I share your issues, David…and I have to use Highway #6 (the worst for traffic at 2 lanes and FULL of transport trucks all trying to get onto the #401, eh!) up to the #401….and that’s a real pain!

    Hopefully, this has sparked someone to listen and then plan just such a new rail corridor…and that maybe it might swing thru the north of Hamilton on it’s way west….



  7. I think it’s a directionality issue. Waterloo » Toronto is being implemented in 2011. I was really hoping for a bidirectional link aka Toronto » Waterloo without having to head to Waterloo the night before.

  8. We do need more transit lines that run bidirectionally.

    I used to commute from the Beach to Mississauga years ago. It was a pretty easy 40 minutes even in rush hour. Now that ride is approaching the congestion of the flow into the core.

    But a big problem is we have let development outside the core spread over wide, relatively cheap, spaces (and provided free employee parking) in municipalities whose transit systems make the TTC look good. So where would you direct a downtown to sprawl transit line that would have decent volume?

    With its rapid growth, KW could help make a good commuter line work by ensuring development gets concentrated in a relatively close area. (This also provides for some interesting networking and exchange effects in the community.)

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