Kitchener-Waterloo Opts For Light Rail & Gets Instant Funding

Kitchener-Waterloo  has been working away at a Rapid Transit plan since 2004, almost entirely out of the Toronto media spotlight, including mine.  (A large amount of background detail can be found in the “Reports” section.)

Earlier this week, on June 24, Waterloo Regional Council approved the line which will be built initially with LRT in the north (KW) end, and BRT to the south in Cambridge.  The first big surprise came Friday in the Kitchener-Waterloo Record who reported that both Ottawa and Queen’s Park were planning to fund the project.  News of this reached me while Toronto Council was wrangling over funding for the purchase of new streetcars.

No sooner had Waterloo approved the LRT line, but local Cambridge MP Gary Goodyear announced that Ottawa would contribute $160-million to the project whose total estimated cost is $790-million.  This took Regional Chair Ken Seiling completely by surprise.  Support also came from Kitchener MP Stephen Woodworth who pointed out that this money will come from the “Build Canada Fund”, not the “Stimulus Fund” and therefore the project is not constrained by the latter’s March 2011 cutoff.

Meanwhile, the Liberal MPP for Kitchener, John Milloy, announced that Queen’s Park will provide two-thirds funding for this project.  If you do the math, this leaves Waterloo Region with a comparatively small cost, roughly 1/6 of the total.  The project also has support from local Conservative MPP Elizabeth Witmer.  Bipartisan enthusiasm for transit is a refreshing change from Toronto where transit projects are used to score political points by the right wing of Council. Continue reading

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. Continue reading

Is GO Transit Bad For Your Health? (Update 2)

Updated June 27 at 10:10 am:  The study of noise impacts is now available on the Metrolinx Site.  I will review this and other reports in a future post.

Updated June 23 at 9:45 am:  The detailed studies of air quality and health impacts are now available on the Metrolinx site.  I have not had a chance to read through them yet, and will probably not be commenting on them for a few days.

On June 15, the Toronto Board of Health (an agency that operates independently of City Council but on which some members are Councillors) considered a report from the Medical Officer of Health concerning the impact on air quality of the proposed service expansion in the Weston rail corridor.  The recommendations in this report were amended by the Board (see item 24.4 in the decisions of the Board).

The MOH had been asked by both the Board and by the Parks and Environment Committee of Council to review the potential health impacts associated with diesel fumes from the proposed increase in diesel train traffic in the corridor.  Noise issues were not addressed by the MOH’s report although they are mentioned in the Metrolinx Part II document for the Environmental Assessment now in progress.

The full Part II document is available online.  A much reduced version of the information is available via the consultation portal, but I don’t recommend it. 

Many people from communities along the corridor appeared at the Board to make verbal presentations.  A common theme in their submissions was that the large increase in diesel traffic in the corridor will have an adverse health impact on those who live, work and go to school nearby, especially children who are more sensitive to pollution effects.  In particular, there was a concern that overall air pollution may be contributing to the rising rate of asthma among children, and that the levels expected in the rail corridor, although mostly within “standards” may disproportionately affect families living in the corridor.

Speakers asked that the Board strengthen the recommendations of the MOH which they did by inserting:

The Board of Health … requested Metrolinx to electrify the Georgetown South Service Expansion and the Union-Pearson Rail Link prior to implementing expanded service (Clause 3.a of the decision).

This decision does not bind Metrolinx, but indicates that the BOH considers this to be the preferred way of dealing with the corridor. Continue reading