How Much Will GO Electrification Cost? (Update 3)

Updated 10:15 am, June 27:  Metrolinx has decided to release GO’s electrification studies without a formal Freedom of Information request.  They will be available online sometime in the next two weeks once they are converted to a suitable format.

Updated 12:30 am, June 23:  A list of existing commuter rail operations including those with electrified operation has been added at the end in response to a bogus claim in a Metrolinx FAQ.

Updated 9:50 am, June 23:  Another Caltrain newsletter shows the benefits of electrification and the benefits of EMU operation.

Much of the debate on the Weston corridor study, formally known as the Georgetown South Service Expansion (GSSE) Environmental Assessment, focuses on noise, vibration and pollution effects from the substantial addition to train traffic in the corridor.  One major option, electrification, was not included in the EA on the premise that this conversion will, possibly, be done sometime in the future, but not now.

Responding to public pressure, Metrolinx will launch a detailed study of system-wide electrification for GO.  The first step will be to strike a consultative committee of various interested members of the public to  advise on the terms of reference for the study.  The committee should be appointed by the Metrolinx Board in July 2009.  Once the terms are nailed down, the study itself is expected to take until the end of 2010. 

Alas, this is far enough in the future that it will have little outcome on what is actually built in the short term.  Also, by looking at the full network, and having cited very high figures for a complete conversion, I can’t help wondering if Metrolinx hopes to derail support for a movement to electrify “now”.

Unfortunately for Metrolinx, GO has already studied electrification of the Lake Shore corridor first in 1992, then an update in 2001, and, I understand, another update in mid-2008.  Do we really need another study for this most important of GO corridors?  Can we estimate, broadly, the cost of converting the Georgetown corridor based on the Lake Shore study?

Metrolinx was asked to release the Lake Shore studies, but in a splendid example of contempt for the public, they require a Freedom of Information request to release documents we all know to exist in the first place.  As of June 26, the requirement for an FOI request was dropped, and Metrolinx will post all of the GO studies online within the next two weeks once they have been formatted for that medium.

The FAQ for the electrification study (linked above) states:

Q. Hasn’t a study already been done?

A. Yes. A smaller study was done for the Lakeshore West line only.

Well, no, actually the April 2001 update covers Oshawa to Hamilton.  Moreover, this may not be the entire system, but it is certainly the heart of GO’s network and information here gives order-of-magnitude values that can be used when looking at other lines.

Realistically, the only lines that will be considered for electrification in the short term are Lakeshore East/West and Georgetown.  Nobody expects us to electrify the CPR to Bolton for a few trains a day, and the service proposed to Richmond Hill in the Metrolinx Regional Plan requires major changes in track capacity, never mind electrification, to implement.

Any study of the system should proceed along a fairly simple path:

  • Validate the 2008 Lake Shore study and update it to adjust for current conditions.
  • Separate costs associated with Union Station that would be shared with other corridors (this allows realistic cost per kilometre comparisons)
  • Study the Georgetown corridor to a similar level of detail as already done for Lake Shore.
  • Consider any network implications (operational strategies, equipment requirements) for a configuration in which part of the network is electrified and part is not.
  • Review the tradeoffs between pure electric and dual mode locomotives, as well as the option of a fleet of self-propelled electric cars (EMUs)

Detailed review of other corridors is complicated both by the light level of service (and low return in a financial or environmental sense for electrification), and by the likelihood that some corridors would be significantly reconfigured to handle more intensive service with or without electrification.

In the interest of getting some numbers on the table, it is worth reviewing the 2001 update of the Lake Shore study of which I have a copy (sorry, not in electronic format).  One of the most interesting statements appears quite early on:

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