Today, the Metrolinx Board met in its first public session after being reconstituted. “No Politicians Added!” should be their advertising slogan. It was an extremely boring meeting where the staff presented reports we had all read beforehand, only one director asked any questions, and the public session was all over in an hour. I hope that the Board was more lively in the long private session scheduled to follow.
One item of business was the creation of an Advisory Committee for the Electrification Study, or more correctly, a committee to advise on the terms of reference for the study.
Metrolinx is very proud of the crew they have assembled for this committee, and I can only hope that this group will actually get to have meaningful input. Metrolinx isn’t big on meaningful input, but you’ve heard all that from me before.
Although I was nominated by the Union Station Revitalization Public Advisory Committee to sit as a representative on this body, and one issue in the draft terms of reference is Union Station, I was passed over. I will live.
Metrolinx does not appear to even know about the Union Station project because in an extensive report on GO activities, it wasn’t mentioned once. It is only the single most important change in the station coming down the pipe because, without it, GO hasn’t a prayer of handling more riders. Service buildups planned for the GO network cannot be accommodated without the greatly increased capacity and improved station layout. However, more frequent service likely on electrified lines will strain even the improved the station’s capacity.
As a public spirited citizen, I offer a bit of advice for the advisors for their work and their eventual recommendations to the Metrolinx Board.
- Learn all you can about GO service plans and especially the projections for future riding. This will have a huge effect on infrastructure requirements. Read the past studies available online (thanks to CEO Rob Prichard’s intervention to short-circuit a staff demand for a Freedom of Information request).
- Read especially the last one examining the infrastucture requirements to achieve the Metrolinx ridership projections for the Lake Shore corridor in 2031. Read about all the new trackage that is required, not to mention the fact that Union Station cannot hold all of the trains, never mind the passengers.
- Understand plans for and capacity of the expanded Union Station and the rail corridors east and west of it. These place an upper bound on the amount of service that can be operated on GO services running to and from the station.
- Fight to have the study structured so that the really heavy corridors, the obvious candidates for electrification like Georgetown and Lake Shore are done first with their own report. If there is no case for these lines, there’s not much point in studying a branch that will see three trains a day on alternate Thursdays.
- Fight to have an interim report with findings from this first phase. The sooner we have a definitive report on the heavy lines, the sooner we can decide whether to undertake electrification.
- Make sure that you understand railway technology including the difference between performance for diesel and electric modes, and between locomotive hauled and self-propelled units.
- Learn where the rail corridors actually go and what real estate, if any, is available to expand them. It’s hard to run more service (regardless of the propulsion) if you can’t fit the trains on the available space for track. Don’t study frequent electrified service for a corridor that cannot physically support it. If a corridor will be expanded, understand the physical effect on neighbouring land use as well as the potential for noise and pollution depending on the chosen technology.
- Make sure that GO will include a fleet plan for whatever scenarios are studied including the build-up of electric equipment for the converted lines and the redeployment of other engines and cars to routes with planned service expansions. If electrification is a good idea, don’t put it off claiming that we must get the worth out of existing trains before we convert.
- Make sure you understand engine emission and noise especially as this relates to various technologies. Consider the effect of different service designs including local and express trains, as well as lines with additional stops serving local demand.
- Make up your mind on whether electric power is clean or dirty, and quantify the effect at power plants of diverting generation from onboard equipment (diesels) to offboard (nuclear, wind, hydro, natural gas, hot air).
- Don’t let Metrolinx constrain the electrification options based on what they already want (or don’t want) to do. This is supposed to be a study, and studies look at options if only to justify rejecting them.
These are rather aggressive tasks for an “advisory” committee, but that group should strive to ensure that the actual study will be useful and timely.
Meanwhile, I will sit out here writing my blog and sending free advice their way from time to time. I’m sure my loyal readers will be happy to add their two cents’ worth, but will forego actually billing for their time.