Metrolinx — the Ontario agency responsible for planning transportation in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA) — released and approved its much-anticipated GO Electrification Study (GES) in January 2011. This study was unprecedented in scope, and consisted of the entire existing GO Train rail network plus extensions to existing lines. While the study reassuringly favoured electrification, certain elements lacked transparency and credibility. In particular, inflexibility concerning the timing, service model, and broader system integration of the Union-Pearson Air-Rail Link (ARL) — which connects Pearson International Airport with downtown Toronto — were highly problematic. This, unfortunately, will hold back implementation of electrified GO rail service and consume more infrastructure resources than necessary for an ultra-low capacity, premium-fare service. There were also critical shortcomings in vehicle technology recommendations for regular GO rail services.
There is a pressing need to reduce congestion and improve transit in the GTHA. GO rail has the highest growth potential of any transit mode in the GTHA, and electrification is essential for achieving the 2031 service levels and growth projections in Metrolinx’s long-range Regional Transportation Plan, The Big Move. When our already congested traffic is set against volatile and rising oil prices, global energy security questions, and the need to build sustainable communities, the case for action is clear. So why are the Ontario government and Metrolinx fumbling so badly?
Masquerading as “integral” to the 2015 Pan Am Games, the current ARL proposal offers less than half the capacity of a mixed-traffic bus. Running every 15 minutes, 20 hours a day, seven days a week, an operating diesel ARL greatly complicates the implementation of electrified rail, and involves wasteful diesel-based investments for vehicles and maintenance facilities. A bus running every five minutes would comfortably provide ARL-level capacity for the Pan Am Games, with a more attractive frequency and a better subway connection. If in dedicated lanes, a bus service could provide comparable travel time and reliability. In fact, lanes on Highway 427 and the Gardiner Expressway have already been reserved for Games vehicles traveling between Pearson and downtown. Using buses for the Games would by-pass problems associated with the ARL operating in 2015, avoiding temporary diesel fleet and infrastructure investments and the associated higher operating costs rendered unnecessary through immediate electrification.
The electrification study was also to have provided an objective, credible, and evidence-based comparison of vehicle options; however, this was only completed for locomotive options. The GES’’s comparison with Electric Multiple-Units, or EMUs (a superior vehicle choice used the world over), neither provided a detailed cost breakdown nor adjusted fleet sizes to reflect higher travel speeds. EMUs are essential to meeting the aggressive 2031 “Big Move” targets. As the cost details for Bi-Level EMUs were never provided, we did our best, as independent volunteers, to develop reasonable figures for a high-level calculation for EMUs operating based upon the Metrolinx GES service model. Our calculations indicate that EMUs offer better value for money. While our calculations indicate that EMUs are slightly more expensive over their 30-year lifecycle (<$10M), this small added cost can be easily recaptured through modest ridership growth enabled by the superior travel times of EMUs, and could be bolstered by additional stations that only become practical to service with EMUs.
Had Ontarians received a thoughtful analysis that favoured sound investment of public funds, perhaps faster progress for less cost could be achieved. It is conceivable that the entire Georgetown and Lakeshore corridors could be electrified, with EMUs, within approximately six to eight years. The GES’’s “Option 3” package could be taken as a single Environmental Assessment (admittedly staff/consultant-heavy to accomplish in 2 years) and a “factory train” (a highly-efficient rail-mounted factory for electrifying railway corridors) could build the required infrastructure. Yet, despite the study identifying the problems of electrifying a corridor when a service such as the ARL is operating, the purchase of diesel vehicles for the ARL was recently approved.
It makes one wonder: Was $4-million just spent on a study where key findings were overruled by the government of the day?
This guest post was written by Karl Junkin and Philippe Bernier, P.Eng., both of whom have served as advisors to Ontario’s Clean Train Coalition. They are community volunteers who have devoted more than a thousand hours to demonstrating that implementation of Ontario’s current rail transportation plan for the GTHA will prove a huge economic and environmental mistake.