My-o-my! Two posts in a day? It almost makes up for my month of radio silence 😉
Buckingham and Wakefield are lovely places of respectively 2 000 and 11 000 inhabitants. Like Aylmer, they grew up along the rail lines with main streets and pre-war centres and, unlike Aylmer, those railways still exist. In Wakefield, it’s used by a tourist steam train which ferries a steady stream of income from Hull to the boutiques, restaurants, bars, ski hills and hiking trails of the village and in Buckingham, they remain unused as far as I know.
Buckingham, also like Aylmer, is essentially a suburb-town with most of its residents commuting 35km to Ottawa and Hull every morning. It has many express buses and even some all-day ones (albeit at one-hour intervals), but the route is long and tedious on the best of days. To improve conditions, the city of Gatineau is planning on extending the Rapibus all the way out there along the railway.
Wakefield is less of a commuting village, but still sees a good number of people take the Autoroute 5 to work and the trend gets more and more pronounced as you approach the city, passing by many towns like Farm Point and Chelsea. It sees a lot more people go up to Wakefield on the weekend, which keeps the local economy going. However, due to poor construction and maintenance of the track and acts of God, the steam train on which the town largely depends has been out of service one year out of two and in financial peril every other year. Moreover, the train is expensive and slow, being meant for tourists.
So, both the Buckingham and Wakefield railways have communities on them which require transportation and I think that I know what would solve a great deal of their problems: A regional train.
What I mean by regional train is similar to what the city of Aachen, German (a city slightly less populous than Gatineau) instated in 2001:
Relatively frequent passenger service along existing track shared with freight with modest stops and quick speeds. A Gatineau solution could provide all-day hourly service at a lesser cost than the current bus service, could halve the travel time (which currently takes over 1h30) and transport over 700 people per hour per direction at its peak (20-minute service).
Instead of extending the Rapibus an additional 15km out to Buckingham (the first 12km which have been built cost upwards of $350M, to give you an idea of the cost), I propose that the City purchase six regional trains (similar to Ottawa’s O-Train vehicles), build 19 very modest platforms and run the trains from Buckingham and Wakefield/Chelsea to Bayview. I’d estimate that the whole project would cost no more than $40M, including the reinforcement of the Wakefield track, passing tracks, stations and trains. Considering the availability of the track and the simplicity of the platforms, I think that service could be up and running within months and only weeks would be necessary to set up a pilot trial-service.
The stations would be limited to a useful minimum as to reduce travel time, but it would still provide service to Buckingham, Masson, Angers, the Gatineau Airport and industrial park, Cheval-Blanc, Templeton, Félix-Leclerc Cégep (La Cité), the Promenades shopping centre, the casino, the Montcalm cultural axis and Bayview all within 35 minutes, as opposed to the 90 minutes currently scheduled (counting a transfer at les Promenades).
To the north, the Wakefield line would serve Ironside, Freeman, Chelsea, Farm Point and three points in Wakefield. Due to the rather more difficult terrain, the trip would take a slightly slower 45 minutes to Wakefield, 35 to Farm Point (which now takes 1h15) and 15 to Chelsea (which now takes 40). I don’t believe that locations north of Freeman (or perhaps Chelsea) should have all-day service due to the very sparse population, but I think that Wakefield and Chelsea would benefit greatly from limited rush-hour service and especially from weekend service to ferry weekenders quickly, inexpensively and comfortably from the city into the hills.
These communities are both currently served by divided highways, but in a world of ever-increasing gas prices and waning car use, they can’t be depended on to be as used as they are now. And in two communities utterly dependant on access to the city – Buckingham for jobs and Wakefield for tourists – their survival in a post-auto-centric world will inextricably tied to their ability to get people easily, inexpensively and comfortably there and back without getting in a car.
Considering that a regional train would cost very little (especially compared with the cost of building a completely new roadway to accommodate a Rapibus), be very quick (easily being two to three times faster than the bus) and, as we will explore in a later post, more desirable and approachable, I hope that the option is explored.