Tag Archives: Metrolinx

Guest post: Ontario rail plan gets its priorities wrong

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.

Toronto-area commuter trains to finally go electric, just not fast enough

It kills me that something as unexciting as the Pan Am Games is going to dictate how much and how fast we move to electrify commuter trains around the Toronto area. I mean, it’s great that the board of Metrolinx, the agency that runs the province’s GO Train system, said today it backs the idea of electrification. It’s also great that the first phase of this plan is to create an electric train link between downtown Toronto (Union Station) and Pearson International Airport.  What’s bothersome is that Metrolinx is going to build the airport-downtown link first to accommodate low-sulfur diesel trains in time for the Pan Am Games in 2015, an event that will last for two weeks. Then they’ll transition to electric rail by 2020, starting with the airport link and expanding to other routes from there.

By rushing to establish an airport link in time for the Pan Am Games, taxpayers will have to foot an additional $400 million. This, for a sporting event that lacks the profile and prestige of an Olympics and to which few Ontarians really pay much attention. I can understand why there’s some protest of this decision, even though the decision to eventually go electric is still good news. You can get a sense of the controversy in this Toronto Star article.

Reading the Metrolinx staff report on electrification, I’m also appalled at how much they downplay the emission-reduction benefits of embracing electric trains. The report stays away from direct comparisons, which if done honestly (i.e. an electric locomotive versus a low-sulfur diesel locomotive of similar design and purpose) would show that in a province like Ontario with relatively clean electricity an electric train would have dramatically lower emissions than a low-sulfur diesel train. Instead, they focus on impact on overall emissions in the region — i.e. that going electric would only reduce emissions by .32 per cent compared to the diesel option.

This is disingenuous and deliberately aimed at skewing reports in the media, as we can see from this Toronto Sun editorial, which regurgitates the misleading claim that there are “marginal” health benefits that come from electrification. If we measured all emission-reduction strategies this way it would be meaningless to take any action. It’s no different than saying: Why should we care about the oil sands when it represents less than .1 per cent of global emissions? Why should Canada take action against climate change when we only represent 2 per cent of global emissions? Why should I butt out my cigarette when I’m the only one smoking in the daycare?

So Metrolinx, while it should be applauded for approving the move to electrification, should be criticized for taking an ass-backwards approach to it.