When Justin Lafontaine accepted an invitation to pedal a semi-rural stretch of his province’s Waterfront Trail — a greenway meandering hundreds of kilometres along the shores of Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River — he felt he’d uncovered a little-known gem.
“We had an amazing day,” recalls Lafontaine, an Ontario-based cycling advocate, of the spring 2006 trip. “There were excellent bike trails, quiet country roads, historical towns, diverse cities, the beautiful Niagara River and Lake Ontario waterfront, orchards and vineyards. I thought, ‘All this within two hours of Toronto!’”
There was only one snag: those two hours were in a vehicle. Though Ontario’s rolling, green Niagara region is indeed ripe with bike-tour potential, transportation options for getting there from The Big Smoke were limited. At least, until Fontaine started working the phone. Together with two dozen partners, he soon cooked up a project called simply Bike Train.
In a pilot program this past summer, VIA Rail, Canada’s national passenger rail operator, added a bike-rack-equipped baggage car to select weekend trains running from downtown Toronto to the Niagara region. The company charged $59 for each of the 56 round-trip, bike-and-passenger spaces available on each train.
It was an instant hit.
“We filled the trains,” says Lafontaine, who created a Facebook group where travellers posted photos and shared their Bike Train experiences. “And Toronto-Niagara Bike Train service has just been approved for 2008.”
Says Pierre Santoni, VIA’s senior director, national sales: “We are quite excited to once again offer this environmentally-friendly alternative for visiting this picturesque region.”
The Waterfront Trail meanders along 900 km (560 mi) of Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River. Cyclists, rollerbladers and walkers share the well-signed, paved or crushed-rock path. In its southernmost Niagara region, the route passes close to leafy parks and wineries. VIA Rail may even try a new Bike Train pilot route to Ottawa, ON, a city renowned for its scenic cycling trails, Lafontaine says.
www.biketrain.ca www.viarail.ca www.ibiketo.ca/node/448