An Electrifying Opportunity

Friday’s Globe and Mail included an advertisement (page B15, upper right) for the position of “Project Director — Electrification Study” at Metrolinx.  The text of the ad is currently available on the Metrolinx website.

The ad intrigues (no, I am not applying) for its clear acknowledgement that this will be a highly visible, politically charged role requiring active engagement of all parties and mediation between competing views of what should be recommended.

The acid test will be whether the Project Director will be free to question existing assumptions and public stances taken by Metrolinx, GO and their political masters.

I wrote at some length earlier with advice to the Community Advisory Committee, and I commend that post not just to the new Project Director, but to applicants who might incorporate questions for the interview team.

If there is any disappointment in the ad, it is that “while transportation expertise is an important asset, it is not a condition of the position”.  This can be a double-edged sword in that the old boys’ club of transportation project managers includes many who will avoid rocking the boat, but a new face (at least to transportation) needs to know the difference between solid technical and political advice and self-serving hogwash.

The position commences in September 2009, and I will be fascinated to see who is selected.  That choice will tell us much about how seriously Metrolinx and Queen’s Park take the electrification study.

14 thoughts on “An Electrifying Opportunity

  1. I hope that Metrolinx does a complete study that includes EMU’s and not just electric locomotives versus diesel locomotives. I don’t think that a 10 to 12% saving in running time, which is what you get with electric locomotives or with AC traction motors and high horsepower diesels, is worth the cost of electrification. EMU’s would give you a 30 to 40% time saving and would probably justify the cost of electrification. What they are not looking at, because of the 92 day inspection for motive power, is diesel electric multiple unit cars. These would give the same speed benefits as the EMU’s without the staggering infrastructure costs. I doubt that they will look at all of the options and properly consider all of the costs.

    I know people are talking about reduced energy costs and pollution but what will the costs for the electricity be and how will it be generated? every time you do an energy conversion you loose some energy. Lets have the true costs and a total evaluation of all the options.


  2. Robert:

    With diesel, one needs to look at all of the costs, not just the infrastructure costs. The cost of diesel fuel will continue to increase, maybe not on a year over year basis, but when you consider that a rail car has a 30 year life span, that cost can be considerable. There is also increased maintenance costs, diesel engines are complex pieces of machinery, the most complex part of the whole car. Not only is there the maintenance of the diesel engines, but you need to account for the car or locomotive being out of service while that maintenance is being done. This means you need more spare units, and/or more mechanics. Electric motors are fairly simple, so less maintenance is needed, and fewer spare units and/or fewer mechanics.

    What will most likely happen is that they will begin by electrifying busy lines like Lakeshore, and adding some electric locomotives on those lines, as cars reach their best before date, they will replace many of those with EMU type units, although I expect some non-powered units will always be around, as some lines don’t get enough traffic to warrant electrification and will remain diesel for quite some time.


  3. There is a cost to my lungs and the soil around my house that will never be compensated for, in fact can’t be compensated for.


  4. You know what would be great? An unbiased answer to the following question: What is better, more diesel locomotives on the Georgetown corridor, or the status quo?

    Steve: The status quo is not a viable option because of growing demand for capacity in that corridor (among many others). Your either-or choice is not a valid one.


  5. I hope that Metrolinx studies all reasonable options, even diesel and DMU.

    That said, it should be noted that many (most?) modern diesel locomotives are actually electric motors powered by onboard diesel generators. So in effect with an electric locomotive you are just removing the onboard generator and getting your electric power from the mains instead. That’s how it’s possible for some firms to manufacture ‘dual-mode’ locomotives that can switch between diesel and electric power – in areas without wires they simply lower the pantograph and turn on the diesel generator.


  6. Anonymous said, “many (most?) modern diesel locomotives are actually electric motors powered by onboard diesel generators”

    Not just modern, but most every diesel locomotive since the beginning. Basically, electricity serves as the “transmission” in the locomotive to transfer energy from the prime mover to the wheels. There were a few diesel hydraulic locomotives, but these have been lower horsepower units that have been generally designed for switching purposes.

    The efficiency of an electric transmission is better than any hydraulic transmission, and above a certain horsepower this is very significant.

    Steve: From the point of view of people worried about pollution in the Weston corridor, whether the motor that actually drives the train is electric or not isn’t the issue. The question is one of using diesel engines to provide the power, engines that travel with the train rather than electricity transmitted from some form of generating station. We can have the debate about what constitutes “clean” electricity, but the important issue is that whatever pollution that creates is not right beside the tracks. Also, of course, there is the noise pollution of a diesel locomotive.


  7. The RDCs (who will be providing about 140 movements/day) are diesel-hydraulic. However, IRSI Moncton’s proposed Cummins N Series engines are in the 225kW range, four in a set of two driving cars. That’s not too far off what an Orion VII full diesel can produce, at least in power terms.

    IRSI don’t specify what kind of emission fit it would have – their website is a bit thin on specs and the Cummins N14 and 855 series engines offered are “mature” designs.

    Steve: It’s important when talking about the corridor to separate effects from the ARL which will run with RDCs and the GO service that will be loco hauled. Of the 400+ movements per day, roughly 1/3 will be ARL trains.


  8. If electrification is chosen is Go/Metrolinx prepared to purchase electric trainsets (EMU or electric loco), perhaps even dual power? If not then what benefit would electrification pose? As we’ve seen with Go’s planned service improvements along the route the ARL will only be a fraction of the traffic that will be running on those lines. If Go can’t or won’t purchase equipment to use the infrastructure (electrification) then will we not be spending millions for 200 out of ~500 train movements per day? Is that not the definition of a white elephant?

    Steve: The whole idea is to get BOTH services electrified. ARL because it is brand new and should start out that way, with GO evolving to electrification. The up front cost will always be huge relative to the service running on the line initially.


  9. “Your either-or choice is not a valid one.”

    On the contrary. A decision in favor of electrification is a decision in favor of the status quo for however long it takes to build the infrastructure. Furthermore, electrification is expensive, which leaves the project open to cancellation, however much the status quo “is not a viable option” — it’s not like necessity has protected projects from cancellation in the past.

    Steve: Any project including more service or the ARL is subject to cancellation. Your position is nonsensical — we should never advocate for improved technology because it may not actually be implemented?


  10. Without electrification, the ARL link is probably going to start at a relatively high frequency and manage capacity increases with unpowered trailers to a 4 car maximum (per GO’s 2004 document on the subject). Emissions will probably increase only marginally over time with not much increase in movements and higher power settings required by the trailers. GO’s ramp-up is likely to take place over a longer period. My thinking would be:

    1. ARL to acquire two-car Budds from IRSI to launch the service.
    2. GO to tender for low-door bilevel EMUs which given that they don’t currently exist will take years to prototype and production, or for dual mode locos which will still take a while to get and certify while not delivering the full advantage of pure electric* or EMU operation** (*no fuel/engine penalty, **larger number of driving wheels).
    3. Electrification works to proceed while GO progressively expand service using existing stock types
    4. When electrification completed, ARL migrate to 4 car EMUs and sell the Budds to VIA, GO migrates to EMUs and the diesel stock goes to Seaton/Peterborough etc.

    My thinking would not be – absolutely no increase in peak service/no 2-way service until electrification. From their public statements and their supporters on various Toronto blog, this is my understanding of the Weston electrification lobby.

    It may be that the timetable is closer given that there are several engineering challenges ahead on the Georgetown/ARL project but I think it is unacceptable to designate electrification as a blocker when rational planning would electrify the lines which have all day service right now – Georgetown and Milton. I believe that declaring electrification post-construction a waste ignores projects like Dublin’s in-progess “Kildare Route Project” – increasing the southwest approaches from two to four tracks with clearances for catenary, electrification to follow about 2015 when the interconnector tunnel is built.

    Even then, it’s unlikely that services like Kitchener or Bolton will be electrified in the short run – more likely that electric service will be east of Georgetown (current GO and the ARL) while Bolton and Kitchener would operate as diesel or dual mode, especially if the PR war being waged vaults that line ahead of Lakeshore West/East in the electrification programme.

    Between those, Barrie, VIA and freight even the best case scenario has a large quantity of diesel service in that corridor without some kind of massive China-scale transformation programme. That is something no level of government has the money or the courage for and the electorate outside of a couple of 416 ridings has any desire for – not least Toronto Central/Toronto Danforth/Trinity Spadina which will deal with all the emissions of the Weston corridor, Milton, the Lakeshore…


  11. There is a company in Ohio which has bought all the intellectual properties of the now-defunct Colorado Railcar and intends to market and manufacture the DMU power cars and trailers in both single level and bilevel versions. If GO, Metrolinx, or any other passenger carrier in Ontario or anywhere else in Canada wants DMUs this company, US Railcar would be the perfect place to at least start looking. Looking at the brochure I have at home leaves me convinced that this car would be just great for the ARL or possibly GO.


  12. Mark Dowling says:
    August 8, 2009 at 12:54 pm

    “Without electrification, the ARL link is probably going to start at a relatively high frequency and manage capacity increases with unpowered trailers to a 4 car maximum (per GO’s 2004 document on the subject). Emissions will probably increase only marginally over time with not much increase in movements and higher power settings required by the trailers. GO’s ramp-up is likely to take place over a longer period.”

    The grades on the line into the airport require at least 50% of the axles be powered so hauling unpowered trailers is a non starter on their grades unless they use one motored car with all axles powered for each trailer. ARL is also going to use high platform loading for the line by cutting double width doors into the middle of the existing Budds. They need high platform and wide doors to allow all of the passengers and their large suitcases to get on in a reasonable time. If they used low platforms and end doors the 22 in Blue 22 Service would have referred to the time to load and unload.

    ARL is apparently designing an extendable platform that would extend the 9” from the side of the car to the high platform when the car stops. It is amazing that this rule is being put in by CN when they no longer own the lines. If they have this 9” setback then there is going to be a safety problem where someone could slip between the car and the platform. It will make the term “Mind The Gap” a lot more meaningful.

    The only service that VIA operates reasonably is the express train to Montreal because their antiquated loading and ticketing system makes for horribly long station stops where everyone carries their bags up or down one narrow door with 5 big steps at the end of one car. If they used GO style equipment with all door loading and ticketing they could cut 5 minutes or more off all station stops. This would make for a lot cheaper service improvement than the mile of triple track they want on the Kingston Sub, but that should also be done.

    It will be interesting to see the results of GO’s summer weekend service to Niagara. If they continue to carry 600 or more passengers per train then maybe there is something to be said for cutting your fares in half and carrying 10 times as many passengers. GO ran 10 car train sets and only used 8 cars because that was cheaper than re-marshalling the trains. If the service was a success then GO should take over all but the Canadian and the through Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa service — after all it is Government of Ontario and not of 416/905 Transit. GO’s equipment is not the best for a 2 hour train ride but no one complained because there were lots of seats and plenty of room for everyone, their bikes, strollers, picnic boxes and what ever else they needed to carry.

    Ideally the cars for longer service would have reclining seats and probably not be all in groups of four. They should also have overhead bins or luggage racks like airplanes for small packages and baggage racks by the doors for larger suitcases. They would also probably need only one sliding door but I would like to think that one out. The equipment should also be fully compatible with existing GO equipment for electrical, communication and control circuits. This would allow the use of standard GO cars to augment trains on weekends and holidays.

    When CN first bought the Tempo cars with electric head end power, they used they same voltage and connector cables as GO and used to borrow GO cars and locomotives during peak times. When VIA decided to go for electric head end power for all equipment they decided to switch to Amtrack’s 480 volts instead of GO’s 600 to be compatible with Amtrack. Has anyone seen VIA equipment mixed Amtrack? I haven’t but that does not mean it hasn’t happened. VIA does not know how to operate a 20th century passenger service let alone a 21st century one.


  13. The cleaner modus at the corridor will be electric.

    I’m still opposed to much of this proposal because it obliterates the capacity to use this rare and valuable corridor for more local transit, but not the milk run type of service common to bus and streetcar services, but an intermediate spaced service akin to subway stop spacing. Getting lost in what power source is best helps delay it in a very flawed and insufficient EA process, but if we’re at all worried about climate change we won’t be relying on air travel: it’s gotta go, and we need to invest in better transit for a half million Torontonians, not jet-setters.

    The odds are pretty good though, given choices made from Queen’s Park, that the wrong choices will be made – and we should thus consider calling the transit agency Metrostinx, despite their mandate of trying to better transit.


  14. “Your position is nonsensical — we should never advocate for improved technology because it may not actually be implemented?”

    No, my point was about risk. But if you’re going to deliberately misinterpret comments to suit your own ends, I see no reason to contribute to your site. Bye.

    Steve: That’s not how I read it, but even so, you worry about the risk we wouldn’t get electrification and therefore would be stuck with diesel. I agree. That’s not a reason to hold back from advocacy. As you will see in a future post, I don’t think Metrolinx/GO has a choice for reasons that will soon be clear.

    Au Revoir.


Comments are closed.