Self-propelled rail cars appearing around southwestern Ontario

Reports of self-propelled rail cars being spotted on tracks recently around southwestern Ontario are being taken as a positive sign by those working to see the region’s passenger rail service improved.

Via Rail CEO Yves Desjardins-Siciliano said during a visit to Sarnia in June there were plans to increase passenger rail service to the city, and the rest of the region.

Along with additional Sarnia to Toronto service, the expansion was expected to include what Desjardine-Siciliano called a “commuter run” between Sarnia and London using two-car self-propelled trains.

Train watchers have been sharing photos on social media of self-propelled rail cars running on tracks around the region, including several posted by Terence Johnson, president of the Southwestern Ontario Transportation Alliance, of the cars running through Thamesville in Chatham-Kent.

“There’s no denying it, Via’s on the job,” said Mabel Higgins, spokesperson with a rail advocacy group in Sarnia.

“This is evidence, I think, that Yves Desjardins-Sicliano’s intention is to stick with his message from last June, which was four trains in and four trains out” of Sarnia.

Local train advocates have been lobbying for improved passenger rail service, following reductions by Via Rail that left Sarnia with one train a day to and from Toronto.

The Via CEO said back in June that increases in service to Sarnia were expected to begin in 2016, subject to Via working out track availability with freight rail companies.

“We’ll be optimistically looking for that,” Higgins said.

“However, we’re still waiting.”

While there has been no official work from Via about when addition trains will be coming to Sarnia, Higgins said the sightings of self-propelled rail diesel cars (RDCs) around the region is “undeniable evidence Via Rail is working.”

Members of Rail Advocates In Lambton, the group Higgins belongs to, have met three times with Via Rail officials since the CEO’s announcement last June in Sarnia.

“We’re quite happy with the dialogue,” she said.

Self-propelled cars are used in other areas of Ontario, and rail advocates believe Via may be conducting test runs in southwestern Ontario.

“They had some concerns about their ability to activate crossings and signals,” Higgins said.

“That’s probably some of what they’re testing, at the moment.”

Johnson, who lives in Chatham-Kent, said he saw self-propelled cars running through Thamesville Saturday morning, during a time of day when the line is clear for testing.

“If testing is successful, it will provide a very cost-effective and efficient way for Via to increase service in our region,” he said.

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