Staging the Electrification of GO Transit

For a good part of today, April 18, a conversation has flown back and forth via email between me, Karl Junkin of TRAC, Mike Sullivan and Rick Ciccarelli of the Weston Coalition, and Robert Wightman (a frequent contributor to comments here and a member of the original Streetcars for Toronto Committee).  I will not attempt to précis all of the threads, but thought it worthwhile to bring the discussion out into a broader context in this blog.

The problem, in brief, is to ensure that the electrification of the Weston/Georgetown corridor happens sooner rather than later and that the number of diesel trains operated on that corridor is kept to a minimum as service builds up to projected levels.

We had quite a discussion about dual mode locomotives with the major points pro and con boiling down to:

  • Bombardier produces a dual mode locomotive which is operating or on order in a few cities.
  • This locomotive could handle a 10-car GO train, but not a 12-car consist.
  • Dual mode would allow electrification to proceed in smaller increments with diesel operation beyond the end of the electrified territory.
  • These locomotives are very expensive, and the added capital spent on them must be weighed against the cost of electrification.
  • They need both diesel power and the power conversion equipment to convert the 25KV distribution voltage for use by the train.  Because there are, in effect, equipment for two power plants, you are always towing around one that isn’t doing anything, but both have to be maintained.

The idea lurking behind this is to maximize the amount of electric operation in the Weston corridor at least as far as the airport in keeping with the desire of communities along the corridor to minimize diesel operation, noise and fumes.

Various links of interest:

Railway Age article (quoted on another site).

Bombardier specification sheets for existing New Jersey and on-order Montreal equipment.

Specification sheets for GO’s current equipment (here and here, similar content).

Recently, I threw a new variation into the discussion by suggesting that there could be two separate fleets of locomotives.  Purely electric locomotives would be used to hall the service on the all-day section of the Lakeshore and Georgetown lines, and diesels would be used for peak period express trips running on the extended routes.

This arrangement would mean that all off-peak service would be electric, and diesel operations would remain only for peak extensions and for lines that had not been converted for electric operation.

There are downsides to this, notably that more infrastructure would be needed to get to the point where electric service could start, but it would achieve much of the goal of reduced diesel operation in the major corridors without requiring electrification to the end of service territory.  It would also eliminate the need for dual mode locomotives — whether this is a “benefit” depends a lot on where you stand on this type of operation.

Finally, all of this assumes that “Blue 22” would be electrified from day 1.  This seems highly unlikely given current arrangements with the proponent, SNC Lavalin, who are not even providing new equipment for their service.  Whether the proposed structures for the airport access tracks can even accommodate future electrification is unknown, and I would not be surprised to hear how we couldn’t possibly force SNC Lavalin to include this in the initial build.

Metrolinx is showing its usual colours on this whole issue saying that the project to get new service on the Weston corridor is far to important to delay, and that electrification is something for the future.  They are not making a lot of friends along the line on this count as well as on other structural issues involving neighbourhood impacts.  I will explore those in a separate post.