CAMBRIDGE — After three decades pushing for a return of passenger train service to Cambridge, Lee Palvetzian is optimistic a new study shows it could be reality in five years.

“This is the closest we’ve ever been, by far,” said the founder of Cambridge’s passenger rail committee in 1977.

The last passenger train pulled out of the Galt Canadian Pacific Railway station in 1971.

Palvetzian was part of a $100,000 Waterloo Region study looking at extending GO trains west from Milton. It’s an idea that’s been pitched for decades but went nowhere, as GO struggled with a bottleneck at Milton.

Now a Cambridge expansion is firmly on track, Palvetzian said, with firm cost estimates of $110 million to build it. The study projects ridership topping 900 a day if trains started in 2011. By 2021, the 1,600 daily passengers could cover 80 per cent of costs, the standard GO aims for. By 2031, 2,800 daily passengers would easily cover all Cambridge operating costs.

“We’ve got very strong support” in the study, Palvetzian said. “It’s actually even more than what I was expecting.”

The study goes public Monday at a Cambridge city council meeting, starting at 7 p.m. at City Hall. Regional councillors consider it Tuesday in a 9 a.m. meeting of the planning and works committee at 150 Frederick St. in Kitchener.

Politicians are being asked to endorse the passenger rail feasibility study, take it to a meeting with GO officials to talk about finding the money for it, and start lobbying provincial and federal governments to build it.

The report says GO transit is ready to undertake an environmental study of a Cambridge-Milton extension in 2012. That would finalize details so all that’s needed is money to make it happen.

GO is also expected to announce extension of bus service from Milton into Cambridge and Kitchener-Waterloo later this month. That’s long been touted as a precursor to train service.

GO has nearly finished an environmental assessment of extending trains west from Georgetown through Guelph to Kitchener. To start, that would cost $153 million. Later, as more tracks and overnight storage areas for trains are built west of Kitchener, the cost would reach $549 million.

A Cambridge extension is a bargain compared to that, Palvetzian said. The $110 million for Cambridge includes four stations: one near Galt Collegiate Institute on main bus routes; near Clyde and Franklin for a park-and-ride; at Highway 6 South; and at Guelph Line, west of Milton.

Overnight train parking is proposed in Cambridge, as is twinning single tracks between Milton and Cambridge so passenger and freight trains can safely mingle along Canadian Pacific Railway’s main Ontario corridor.

Cambridge Mayor Doug Craig hadn’t read the report late Friday. Like Palvetzian, he wants Cambridge-Toronto trains sooner than later, to convince people out of their cars on Highway 401. At last count, 10,400 people a day commute from the region to Toronto daily, and 5,000 drive from Toronto west to the region.

What’s needed now is pressure on provincial and federal politicians to make GO trains a reality, Craig said.

“They run GO trains to farther places than Cambridge, they run GO buses farther distances,” he said.

“We haven’t been politically aggressive enough in this region.”

kswayze@therecord.com