Is Electrification Inevitable For GO Lakeshore Express?

Last Friday, Metrolinx released its Interim Report of the Benefits Case Analysis for the GO Lakeshore Express Rail proposal.  This study is an outgrowth of the “Big Move”, the regional plan which includes very frequent GO service on a number of corridors (Lakeshore East and West, Brampton, Milton and Richmond Hill).

The BCA raises many questions about Metrolinx’ ongoing work, especially its two-year electrification study, as well as their demand projections and the future effect on capacity needs in various corridors and at Union Station.

The introductory letter for the BCA speaks of it as one input to the Electrification Study, but as far as the Lakeshore is concerned, the conclusion is already there.  Diesel operation cannot handle the forecast demand for this corridor, and electrification is the only viable option with electric multiple units (EMUs) being a long-term consideration for the fleet.

What is striking is how much the BCA echoes comments made on this site and others about planning for expansion of GO’s capacity, and how much it undercuts statements made in defence of diesel operation for the Weston corridor.  Indeed, it is clear from the BCA that GO/Metrolinx had already conducted extensive studies of the Lakeshore corridor (recently released as background info for the electrification study) even as they were downplaying the role of electrification for the Weston corridor.

In this post, I will not attempt to cover the entire BCA page by page, but will highlight items of interest and of concern, and leave the full text for review by readers who have the time and inclination.

Executive Summary

The study reviews service and infrastructure options for the Oshawa-Hamilton corridor.  Two options are proposed:

  1. Diesel operation with upgrades as needed until 2015.
  2. Electrified operation in two stages — first to 2015 and then to 2031.

The study drops the diesel option with a simple observation:

It should be noted that meeting the forecast 2031 RTP ridership demands through expanded diesel operations was deemed not to be a feasible option for comparison purposes, and thus only the electrification scenario has been carried forward in Phase 2 of this analysis.  [Page 1]

A summary of the options appears on Page 2.  Note that 10-car trains are assumed, although GO is now operating 12-car trains.  It is unclear whether GO’s plan is to move to more frequent, shorter trains, or if the study is out of step with what GO is already doing. Travel times for electric operation are considerably shorter than for diesel due to better acceleration characteristics of electric trains.

The costs cited for the two phases of the electrification option look rather odd at first glance.  The initial stage would cost $1.89-billion while a further $4.09-billion is needed for the second phase.  Considering that the first phase “eats” the basic cost of electrification and associated changes in infrastructure, the much higher cost of the second phase looks rather odd until one takes into account the complete replacement of the existing fleet that is built into phase 2.

This is not strictly a cost of electrification because either (a) the existing fleet would be worn out and GO would need new cars anyhow or (b) the existing fleet would be redeployed to serve growth elsewhere in the diesel-operated network.  Metrolinx has not published the detailed economic model for the claimed costs.  In a previous note, I commented on flaws in GO’s analysis that did not allow for the large residual capital value of installed plant and trains, and this must be taken into account for proper life-cycle analysis.

Metrolinx and Queen’s Park cite huge cost estimates to downplay the electric option in the Weston corridor, but they have never shown us exactly how their calculations worked.  If the “high costs” include a cycle of equipment replacement that would, to some extent, occur anyhow, then this is not a true cost of electrification.

A press flak for Metrolinx actually replied to the “Stroller Protest” (mothers concerned about pollution from diesel trains) with a comment about the high cost of electrifying Union Station.  Obviously, the Lakeshore BCA, including a strong recommendation to electrify sooner rather than later, was not on this staffer’s required reading list.  If GO electrifies the Lakeshore including at least part of Union Station, then the marginal cost for Weston corridor services would be relatively small.

According to the BCA, the benefit:cost ratio is positive for all options, but this result is highly sensitive to the manner in which benefits are calculated.  This is a fundamental problem with all of the Metrolinx BCAs.  (Details of this issue come later in this article.)  I do not mean to downplay the value of the investments, but it’s annoying to find so suspect and easily critiqued methodology used.  Opponents of public spending would have little challenge in mounting counter-arguments.

One of the most important observations in the analysis is that frequent service will change the Lakeshore corridor into a bidirectional route providing good service between many communities.

Overall, the investment required to electrify the GO Lakeshore corridor will return significant benefits, improving the viability of the GO Transit system as an alternative to the automobile and providing the support and stimulus necessary to improve the connectivity and accessibility between UGCs [Urban Growth Centres] to help manage growth and shape land development patterns.  [Page 6]

Someone should tell the folks at Metrolinx to read their own reports before spending another two years to determine what they already know.

Main Report

While GO and Metrolinx were hard at work fighting off challenges to their Weston Corridor proposal, they were actually looking in detail at the Lakeshore corridor.

To better understand the potential benefits and technical feasibility of an electrified corridor, in 2008, GO Transit and Metrolinx undertook a technical assessment of the Lakeshore Corridor to examine potential electric operations.  This review of technology options for the Lakeshore Corridor – diesel and electric – enabled a comparative assessment.  [Page 7]

As I have written elsewhere, the Union Station Revitalization Project has been underway for several years, with GO as one of the major participants.  The overall project is run by the City of Toronto, but GO is responsible for the rail and platform infrastructure.  (GO/Metrolinx has a bad habit of omitting reference to the City when talking about this project, a leftover, no doubt, of the City-Metrolinx divide that plagued much of the past two years.)

In addition to GO TRIP [Rail Improvement Program], GO Transit has also initiated the Union Station renewal program to double the station capacity by 2014 to more than 80 million passengers per year, improve train operations and reliability and reduce train operating costs.  [Page 9]

However, we learn that projected volumes at Union are even higher than GO’s estimates.  This was obvious to anyone who read Metrolinx’ backgrounder on demand for the RTP network, but nobody has ever challenged these estimates publicly.  I understand that the City’s estimates for demand into the core area don’t line up with the Metrolinx ones, and this raises difficult questions about just what targets we should aim for in designing future infrastructure.

The 2031 ridership forecasts developed for the RTP projected a significant increase in demand along the Lakeshore Corridor to 86.6 million passengers per year on the Lakeshore West section (Hamilton – Union Station) and 56.4 million passengers per year on the Lakeshore East section (Oshawa – Union Station). This represents a substantial increase from the 2007 annual ridership figures of 14.1 million and 11.4 million passengers on the Lakeshore West and Lakeshore East lines, respectively.

Footnote 6: These annual ridership estimates are based on an operating scenario that assumes 5 minutes headways with operating speeds of 80 kilometres per hour.  [Page 10]

Again, we learn of pending problems at Union Station:

Significant upgrades will be required at Union Station, beyond those currently underway, to accommodate projected 2031 ridership volumes.  [Page 13]

Yes, a substantial increase indeed considering that GO was targeting 80-million passengers a year for all services, less than Metrolinx’ estimate for Lakeshore West alone!  Somebody’s model is seriously out of whack, and we need to know what the “real” figures should be as this affects design work for the entire GO system, indeed for the entire Regional Transportation Plan.

The detailed list of proposed phase 1 improvements (by 2015) includes:

  • Upgrading the current signalling system to handle more frequent train operations;
  • Fleet expansion from the current 17 train sets to 24 trains sets in the Lakeshore Corridor to allow expanded peak period and off-peak services;
  • New and expanded maintenance and storage facilities; and
  • Expansion of the Hunter Street Tunnel to allow more frequent service to Hamilton.

In addition to these upgrades, electrification by 2015 would further enhance service on the Lakeshore Corridor. The superior acceleration capabilities of an electrically powered train as compared to a diesel train would permit faster travel times along the Corridor. In addition to the infrastructure improvements described above, which apply to both the diesel and electric scenario, electrifying the Lakeshore Corridor would provide a means of further increasing capacity and meeting broader environmental objectives such as reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the region.

In addition to the upgrades listed above, the 2015 electrification scenario would also require the following infrastructure improvements:

  • Installation of an overhead catenary system along the entire length of the Corridor;
  • New electrified maintenance and storage facilities;
  • Modifications to a number of the existing underpasses and overpasses along the Corridor to accommodate the larger operating envelop of the electric train and overhead catenary system; and
  • Replacement of the current diesel locomotives with new electric locomotives in the Corridor (with diesel locomotives redeployed to other GO Transit corridors).  [Pages 11-12]

I must emphasize that this is quoted directly from the BCA and is not the ravings of a wild-eyed transit enthusiast.  Why, with such a sensible implementation description, has Metrolinx been so dismissive of other proposals to the point of misrepresenting their requirements?

The real payoff comes a few paragraphs later:

However, an equivalent diesel-powered Phase 2 option would likely require significantly more track capacity, primarily due to slower train acceleration rates relative to electric operations. This would likely entail substantial property acquisition requirements to expand the existing right-of-way, with potentially prohibitive costs given the physical constraints along the Corridor. As a result, the use of a diesel alternative to meet 2031 service requirements was deemed to be infeasible, and only an electrified option has been carried forward for assessment in Phase 2.  [Page 12]

Much has been written in comments here regarding electric locomotives versus self-propelled electric multiple unit (EMU) trains. 

… as illustrated in Appendix B, the use of Electric Multiple Units (EMUs) could potentially offer greater travel time savings and operational benefits compared with the electric locomotive-hauled train configuration considered in this assessment.  [Page 14]

Appendix B goes into more details and I will leave this to the interested reader.  My point is that this option has already been examined by a Metrolinx study and is not exactly unknown.

For planning purposes, one bi-level car has a capacity of 154 riders [Page 16] giving a 10-car train at 1,540 assuming that the space will be fully utilized over the length.  If 12-car trains are used, this brings us to 1,848, again assuming full use of the longer trains.  Ten trains per hour (6-minute headway on average) gives a capacity of 15,400.  If this converges on Union Station in both directions, the inbound capacity would be 30,800 per hour, just over 500 per minute.

Phase 1 includes expansion of the Hunter Street Tunnel in Hamilton, but I really have to wonder if operation of such frequent service in this corridor is practical.  Moreover, if GO begins regular operations east of Hamilton, those trains will go via the James Street Station (CN).  Although Hunter Street’s TH&B station is beautiful, I am not sure of its long-term role in the GO network.

Off peak service would operate every 30 minutes [Page 17], and a new maintenance facility would be built on the eastern part of the Lakeshore line.  Again, this is a cost that may have to be borne by any scenario, not just an electrified one, and Metrolinx needs to isolate such costs in hte comparative analyses.  Indeed, since more service can be provided with electric trains (because round trips are shorter), a shops with a capacity of “n” cars represents more service on the road for an electric fleet than a diesel-hauled one.

Phase 2 requires further upgrades in the corridor, notably signalling for cab signalling and train control:

  • Grade separation of all at-grade road/rail crossings along the entire Corridor;
  • Track capacity expansion along the entire Corridor;
  • Train Control and Signalling upgrades to provide Positive Train Control (CAB Signalling) to minimize required train headways; and
  • 20 additional electric locomotives and 200 bi-level coaches.  [Pages 19-20]

The projected cost of phase 2 is much higher than phase 1, and we really need to understand what contributes to this.  How much is a function of frequent service and how much is actually triggered by electrification.  The two may go hand-in-glove, but these costs cannot be cited as an inherent result of electrification.  We would electrify in order to provide much improved service, and that’s what drives the costs.

The service design brings headways down to 4 minutes with 15 trains/hour at peak, and every 15 minutes off-peak for the 2031 scenario.  That scenario has other implications:

For the purposes of modelling, all options were treated as Regional Rail services in 2015. The transition of GO Lakeshore service from Regional Rail to the Express Rail vision described in The Big Move is expected to require the implementation of Phase 2 (in addition to other improvements, such as integration of the GO rail system with regional and local transit services). Consequently, only Option 2 Phase 2 was modelled as an Express Rail service in 2031.  [Page 24]

The phrase about integration of GO with regional and local services is particularly important.  If the Lakeshore corridor is running a capacity in the same league as some Toronto subway lines, the continued provision of parking will be impossible at stations.  Moreover, with demand between major nodes expanding across the route, riders will arrive at 905-region stations needing to travel locally to their destinations.  Current bus services feeding into GO stations are woefully inadequate to this type of demand.

A major part of the “benefit” side of the analysis rests on “Transportation User Benefits” [page 24].  Some of this relates to time savings, some to the avoided costs of auto travel.  One major hole in the Metrolinx methodology in all BCAs (except the original VIVA report) is the use of fully allocated costs for auto operation.  However, this is only a “benefit” if the GO service is so good that the average number of cars per household drops and people avoid the high fixed costs of car ownership.  Otherwise, only the marginal cost of car operation (as used in the VIVA BCA) can be counted.  This tends to overstate the value of diverted auto trips.

A few pages later, we learn that better service generates more fare revenue, with a higher value for the electrified option because the travel times are shorter.  Whether we entirely believe the model or not, this is an example of the compounding effect of a major change.

Uplifted land values may also come from better service:

Due to lack of existing research/evidence on the difference in impacts attributable to technologies, it is not possible to attribute a difference in land value to the change from diesel to electric technology. However, it is very likely that some benefit would result from the reduction in noise and emissions, and potentially, from the reduced travel times associated with electrification. As such, the method used may underestimate the land value benefit associated with Option 2 Phase 1.  [Footnote 20, Page 33]

Electrifying the corridor will result in faster travel times and higher ridership. Given that these travel time savings are a clear benefit to passengers, it is likely that the relative time difference between the diesel and electric options would increase the attractiveness of GO travel and therefore could translate into increased property values particularly near the end stations where the travel time improvements are most significant.  [Page 34]

It is also possible that the cleaner electric options could be more attractive to residents adjacent to the Corridor and result in higher land values, as studies have found that externalities such as air and noise pollution and the stigma associated with being close to heavy rail lines lowers property values. However, despite the fact that GO Transit operations along the Corridor represent a significant proportion of train activity, GO Transit will continue to share the Corridor with other non-electric trains. Both options will also result in an increased number of trains in the corridor on a daily basis. Given this, it is difficult to gauge whether the improvements to the GO Transit operations will be enough to positively influence property prices based on air quality improvements and/or noise reductions associated with electrification.  [Page 35]

… the electric trains themselves will reduce the emissions attributable to GO Transit operations which could improve the health benefits for those immediately adjacent to the Corridor.  [Page 37]

The statements above are fascinating because they are qualitative, subjective measures of the attractiveness of a rail corridor, not quantitative projections based on calculated emissions.  In the Weston corridor, much analysis focuses on whether emissions and noise violate standards, whereas this report says, in effect, that people may not want more noise and smoke whether it’s “scientifically” bad for them or not.

Land values tend to benefit the private sector both through increased value of new housing or commercial development, as well as owners of existing buildings.  The public sector can benefit through increased tax revenue although this will be offset to some extent by the need to provide improved roads and transit to the new, frequent transit service in the corridor.

Redevelopment around parking lots and structures is always an option, but the fundamental issue is that most riders won’t be able to park at stations, and the land is more valuable for development than for parking anyhow.  This will require a fundamental shift in how regional governments and agencies think about commuter rail services.  (Imagine what TTC subway stations would look like if most subway riders had to drive to a parking lot.)

As in other BCA’s the value of the jobs created by the actual construction is included as a benefit.  This approach, as I have written before, tends to overvalue expensive projects, an avoids the question of whether the same funds could have been spent differently to greater benefit.  The problem is the scope of evaluation is limited to a few proposals for one project, not to the broader issue of competing calls on scarce capital.


This entire document makes interesting reading, and it shows a very different view of GO’s options than we have seen in the Weston corridor.  Both are strongly influenced by projected ridership growth, and GO/Metrolinx is now in a rather delicate position.

If we believe the estimates, then we need a lot of infrastructure beyond what had been planned until quite recently, and electrification is unavoidable.

If we don’t believe the estimates, then some of the “problems” go away, but so does the entire foundation of the Regional Plan along with justficati0n for some of the “Big Move” projects.

I would love to believe the numbers, but if we do, we can’t pick and choose which ones are “right” and which are “subject to refinement” depending on how we want to argue for or against network options.  If electrification is coming to Lakeshore within a decade, then the decision for other major corridors in the RTP (Milton, Brampton and Richmond Hill) must be made in that context.  If the BCA’s conclusions about service levels and electrification are wrong, then why is this document appearing?

All the time and effort spent to counter complaints about the Weston corridor options and design might better have been spent by Metrolinx staff in their own library.  All the foot-dragging, then the big show of creating an electrification study and a advisory panel, now has a very different context.  We see only a huge waste of time and needless alienation of communities and transit supports who could otherwise be allies of Metrolinx and GO.

Sadly, that has been the way of these “public” agencies for too many years.  They owe everyone an apology.

27 thoughts on “Is Electrification Inevitable For GO Lakeshore Express?

  1. There are also interesting figures from the modeling backgrounder from last year. Side by side with this BCA makes for an interesting reality check… both for the corridors themselves, and also Union Station.


  2. I beg your pardon, but wasnt this part of the Move Ontario 2020 called “Super GO” or is this another case of the Province contradicting themselves. I heard super GO was supposed to be for the entire Lakeshore line by 2020 (or maybe i’m wrong and its just the Lakeshore West Line).

    Steve: Consistent planning from Queen’s Park? Yes, it was supposed to be for the entire line. But don’t forget that since then we’ve had the Metrolinx “Big Move”, and who knows what meddling from the Premier’s office is still to come.


  3. “It should be noted that when including both
    operating and capital costs, Option 2 Phase 1 was found to be slightly less expensive overall relative to Option 1.” (Page 5)

    They’re coming around, at last! The operational savings and increased service quality (with associated higher ridership) ultimately outweighs the capital investment.

    “In recent years, rising fuel costs, growing climate change concerns and capacity challenges related to growing ridership levels have brought renewed interest in the potential benefits of electrification.” (Page 9)

    “Reduce greenhouse gas emissions by replacing the current diesel train operations with electrically powered trains and by increasing transit modal share;” (Page 10)

    One really starts to wonder if the GSSE and Lakeshore Express Rail projects even know one another exists. It’s shocking to think that the same agency is responsible for both projects given the diametrically opposite attitudes between the two!

    “A separate, dedicated study of future capacity needs both at Union Station itself and within the Union Station Rail Corridor will be required to determine the most appropriate options for accommodating projected long-term growth at Union Station as a result of passenger growth on all of GO Transit’s rail corridors, in addition to other services using Union Station.” (Page 13)

    That’s odd, the GSSE Final EPR says Union Station isn’t a problem for expanding capacity. Adding tracks and platforms should be a snap given the single-paragraph 1/6th of a page volume content on the issue in a 500+ page project report. Yet here they’re saying that a dedicated study is needed to resolve.


  4. Steve,

    As a resident in Mount Dennis living close to the rail corridor and a member of both the local community association and the Clean Train Coalition, I find this news incredibly frustrating. At the same time, I greatly appreciate your effort to shine the spotlight. It is a Wicked Problem, in more than the Rotman Institute’s definition of the term.

    The Big Move plans for service expansion to be launched by 2014 along Georgetown South with both GO Transit and the P3 for the Air Rail semi-express. This, as you know, is in response to long term demand. The plans set for this to date have never considered electrification as the base technology to be used from the start. Instead they base the 5 year capital investment plan as a diesel-powered design and build program.

    There is reference by the Minister of Transportation to corridor improvement work making design provisions for future electrification, and recognition that there is no budget approved for anything further yet. Further, there is the recognized intent to electrify by 2030, which gets played back to us to diminish our collective anxiety about diesel pollution that comes with the planned service intensification: “We will be electrifying (sometime), so why are you raising such a fuss?”

    In response to our advocacy for electrification over diesel expansion, Metrolinx has announced their regional study and an overinflated cost estimate for which no one knows where the numbers came from. Their public statements amount to a smokescreen behind which they continue implementing the existing plans: “We really do want to GO ELECTRIC, but you have to wait for the FUTURE; let’s first think about how we do it for the ENTIRE SYSTEM; and remember, it’s HUGELY EXPENSIVE.”

    But hold on, the Big Move already identifies us as the next priority to Lakeshore, and we are responsibly asking that our corridor be brought into the first 5 year plan. Did anyone stop to think the budget numbers for the estimated cost of electrification likely came from the same people who are advocating for approval of today’s plans diesel-powered system expansion?

    This surely is a business-as-usual stance. It is consistent with justifying that GO previously considered electrification of the system as being not the preferred option and chose not to pursue it 10 years ago, despite their consultants’ strong recommendations to do so back then.

    Yet in the Georgetown South public consultation, we were told by senior Metrolinx staff that they had not studied electrification in any way that could be applied to our situation, and they openly denied any knowledge of previous in-depth consulting reports in our meeting. Finally, with your digging and our questioning, the intentionally suppressed documents emerge.

    Today Metrolinx and the Province have a decision to make:

    They can choose to recognize that the tax dollars needed to expand services on Georgetown South can be better spent by redirecting existing commitments for diesels to the electrification of this line in the first round (by 2015) and adding the extra fraction of investment funding really needed;


    They can continue to try to unsuccessfully rationalize this wasteful 2 stage approach to the public by purchasing diesels, building expanded service facilities and paying for increasingly expensive fuel and carbon taxes for 15 years AND THEN electrifying when the economy has recovered.

    Let’s not forget the increased hidden costs to the health care system, loss of classroom performance, and loss of work time. Consider for a moment one small human element in this decision: There are already close to 1000 kids with asthma registered in nearby schools. Given their situation, do you think it is the right choice to add additional triggering effects that will increase their episodes and their use of medication?

    People who live in the communities along the Georgetown South Corridor know there are choices, and know which choice we want. In the face of increased train traffic that will damage the local environment impact our health and waste tax dollars, we choose electrification as the healthy, cost effective and sustainable technology that best meets the transit objective. Their own Engineering Consultants have already told them the same thing if they would only bother to read the reports and integrate their planning!

    So how to proceed from here?

    Simply put, the diesel expansion plan scrapped and its budget reallocated to an electrified expansion. Add the additional budget requirement based up realistic estimating and justification of its economic impact. Let’s get people out of cars into clean trains (and pray with the Premier that when the highway backfill happens it will be with innovative electric cars of the future now being sponsored by the taxpayer). Otherwise, this plan is greenwash, not smart growth when you scratch away the glossy surface disguise and see what’s really underneath.

    Lastly is a critical step: do this in the context of the Regional Electrification Study. The Terms of Reference for the Metrolinx Electrification Study need to be tightly specified to deliver a planning report by the end of next year that is ready for implementation of electrification on priority routes.

    Common sense says we should forgo the doubling the costs and inflicting environmental pollutants on the corridor residents. Now we have GO’s consultants putting forward the benefits of doing it, plus stating it is possible to deliver the design and build stages for the full length of the Lakeshore line within 3 years of start.

    These results should be immediately transferable to the Georgetown South situation to recognize it as a fast start electrification project. Let’s see Georgetown South Go Service Expansion and the Union to Pearson Express built once and built right by building it electric.

    We will be calling upon the chairs of the Electrification Study Advisory Group, Mr. Dan Burns and Professor Pamela Robinson, plus the members of their committee. We expect them to get the system planning program moving by this November’s Metrolinx Board meeting. The Toronto Board of Health recommends no service expansion happen on Georgetown South until electrification is in place, and we request this be adhered to in the context of the Electrification Study.

    It is possible to electrify within the given timeframe for service expansion if the collective will for the right decision is applied. We can be allies in seeing this happen.

    Steve: The info given out during the Weston corridor EA to members of the community and advocates generally is so far distant from what they were actually doing on the Lakeshore study that I have to ask why some people are still working at Metrolinx. This is an issue of deliberate misrepresentation on an important subject.

    And if they were not deliberately lying, but simply were misinformed, one can only wonder how disconnected all of the other studies within Metrolinx might have been.

    The Project Manager for the electrification study (a position still in the hiring stage unless it’s some insider in the best eHealth Ontario tradition) really has their work cut out for them.


  5. 56.4 million on the Lakeshore East section…

    Consider this: there are around 109,000 people in Durham Region who work outside of the region. (See report at page 11.) If all of them worked in Toronto and travelled every weekday to and from Toronto by GO Train, you reach 56.7 million. Now, not all those people work in Toronto, and not all will use the GO Train. So either the population of Durham Region is goign to increase a *lot* (like from 500k to 5m), or GO is going to be moving lots of people within Toronto…

    I also think there is a mix up regarding postive train control (PTC) and cab signalling. PTC is something which prevents a train passing a signal at danger, or at least ensures it stops before it could cause any harm. Some form of this is used on most passenger railways world-wide.

    Cab signalling is where there are no line-side signals – signal aspects appear directly in the cab in some manner. It is necessary at speeds over 200km/hr (125mph), because then drivers cannot reliably observe teh aspect of lineside signals. As such, it is used on high-speed lines like the French TGV and the US’s Acela Express. No-one has propsoed speeds anything near 200km/hr for GO (wonderful though that would be).

    Steve: Don’t forget that Metrolinx has a fetish for very high speed traversal of the 416 lest the 905ers be delayed in their manifest destinies. Of course, they might only be able to have one stop in Durham and one in Peel, but these are operational details that don’t seem to bother the Metrolinx planners.

    On a serious note, I have heard major objections to Metrolinx demand projections from planners at the City of Toronto and TTC whose own projections, based on expected growth, are for total commuting into downtown Toronto at much lower levels than predicted by Metrolinx. One huge flaw in the Big Move process is that there was no mechanism to challenge or examine the demand projections. Indeed, they didn’t even appear until the same timeframe as the final report.

    The question here is whether existing splits in origins and destinations are perpetuated in the future model, and whether we will see more people working closer to home throughout the region with a concurrent change in commuting patterns. Offsetting this could be future changes in energy cost and availability, not to mention congestion. Alas, the interaction between these effects is not thoroughly explored by Metrolinx even though it is fundamental to all planning. We see the result — the map and billions of dollars worth of lines — but have little indication of what future variations might do to the projections. The wide gap between Metrolinx and City/TTC projections really needs to be explained and reconciled so that we are planning based on an accepted and agreed model of the future.


  6. I think that Metrolinks and its consultants are totally detached from the existing system that it is criminal. In the last electrification study they had 10 car diesel trains and 10 car electric locomotive hauled trains accelerating at 1.1 m/s/s. This is the maximum rate at which passengers are comfortable and is a long way from any locomotive hauled train unless it has “magne-traction”. They only save 8 miutes for local trains eastbound and 15 minutes for expresses for express trains. I would like to see their time studies for that. They could save 15 minutes at least with EMU’s on locals and similar numbers would exist for the west. Why will they not at least do a complete study and do EMU’s as well as locomotive hauled trains.

    Electric locomotives have a traction advantage because they can work with a coefficient of friction between 0.3 and 0.4 for AC traction motors while DC motor are limited to 0.25. They talk about using lighter electric locomotives and this costs tractive effort which hurts initial acceleration rate. Are they going to use a locomotive at each end and have 6 axle locomotives? This would make up for the lost weight but at what cost. If they can justify and get this cost savings with electric locomotive hauled trains then they should be able to make more equipment savings with EMU’s. I think that these BCA’s are like hookers. If you pay them enough they will give you what you want.

    Steve: I find the BCAs reflect an endemic desire among “business oriented” governments to clothe their projects in something resembling garb that gives a private sector responsibility to what is after all a public work. The methodology is highly suspect and open to all sorts of abuse, and we have no way of verifying the supporting information. This reminds me more of a prospectus for shares in the latest stock market scam, and if that’s the sort of “private enterprise” they are trying to emulate, they’ve picked the wrong model.


  7. 2015 is only five and a half years away. If they plan to have any amount of electric operation running in 2015, Go/Metrolinx/Queen’s Park/Whoever’s got to decide to do it, pick a standard to do it with and get out the drafting board to start drawing up the plans very soon in order to get anything built and operating by then.

    Luckily, single phase AC railway electrification’s an established science and pretty much everything’s available off the shelf if they were to go for a 15 KV 60 Hz system. It’s still going to be a rush to get everything in place and trains/locomotives ordered in time to be running some electric trains by 2015.

    On another note, just how much paperwork has to be done before they decide electrification’s needed and to go ahead and get the ball rolling on doing it?

    Steve: It’s not paperwork, it’s the political will to make the decision. Very important people have already been convinced to say publicly that electrification isn’t an option, and preparing the ground for them to publicly change their minds won’t be easy.


  8. I wasn’t aware that important people had publicly written off electrification. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised considering the transit industry here generally seems to split two ways between spending a lot of money on mediocre status-quo projects that don’t change anything and dubious expensive technology ventures that don’t produce meaningful results.

    On another note, the fact that the electrification debates are a recent thing has always puzzled me because inexpensive, abundant hydroelectric power has been available in this part of the world (Ontario, Quebec) for about 100 years now – you’d think the mainline railways would’ve scrambled to electrify in this part of Canada decades ago, around the time the New Haven and PRR brought out their single phase, 11 KV 25 Hz system. Yet they never appeared to be interested.


  9. I thought I would stick a couple of tangentially on topic thoughts in here:

    The first is that while some reports do sit on shelves, recent history in Ontario seems to suggest that reports appear to recommend what was already the political consensus in most cases.

    As such, I am inclined towards, and hopeful that, this BCA being released suggests a genuine direction to come.


    I took the opportunity today with the nice weather to take the GO from the east end out to Port Credit.

    Talked with the crew; interesting to me, is that while supportive of electrification, they had some difficulty believing their employer would be sponsoring it in the short term.


    Not on topic but I’m squeezing a question in here from today’s journey, why do the Union Station platforms continue so far beyond the train shed (Simcoe in the West) and I think 2 platforms go as far east as Yonge).

    Oh and what is all that work in the corridor east of Yonge? Are they expanding the Don Yard?

    Steve: The main work is replacement of switching and signals, as well as some track reconfiguration to optimize operations. Until the signal system was replaced, changing the track layout was a daunting proposal as it required parallel changes to an antique control system.


  10. There was a reason railroads didn’t scramble to electrify. They just simply didn’t want to spend the money. What’s worse, North America, especially the U.S., has been mostly backward when it comes to electrification.


  11. New Haven line runs into Manhattan. It was required to electrify by 1907 by law after a horrific 1902 accident with steam locomotives. There’s never been a legal requirement for the railways in Canada to electrify anything, only the occasional engineering requirement in very select parts of the network.


  12. TTC Passenger says:
    August 14, 2009 at 9:48 pm

    “Luckily, single phase AC railway electrification’s an established science and pretty much everything’s available off the shelf if they were to go for a 15 KV 60 Hz system. It’s still going to be a rush to get everything in place and trains/locomotives ordered in time to be running some electric trains by 2015.”

    The main line railways will not let any new electrification be done except at 25 kV 60 Hz so don’t even thing of 15 kV or 25 Hz. The mass of the transformer varies inversely as the frequency so a 25 Hz line would need a transformer mass of 60/25 times as much.


  13. Sir Adam Beck tried to create an electic intercity tram system back in the 1920s. So, at one point in our history, we could have gone electric. It was never built as he envisioned it. The London to Port Stanley railway was electrified.

    Most jurisdictions did not electrify their lines until the Yom Kippur War triggered oil crisis. Even in transit freindly places like Hong Kong and Japan, electrification did not happen until the 1970s. Of course, Toronto is well overdue for electrification.

    One final note, we still need to retain a few diesel trainsets just for emergencies. For example, if a tree topple the overhead wires, a diesel unit would need to push the electric unit at least to the next station. This way passengers can disembark.


  14. I think the reason it hasn’t happened has been cheap and abundant liquid fuel. That makes it tough to justify making huge investments in overhead wiring, especially in a climate where there is freezing rain and wet snow that can bring down lines.

    What makes it justifiable now are 3 factors:

    1) The price on diesel fuel is likely to rise considerably in the next 30 years.

    2) Pollution, is no longer as popular as it once was a good indicator of this is that while in the 1970’s it was popular to build trucks with huge chrome exhaust pipes, to denote power, the pipes are now, often much smaller, hidden behind a cowling or are underneath the truck, hopefully out of sight.

    3) Trains for passenger use now need to be faster, and while for a long time it didn’t matter if a locomotive took 5 minutes to get to 100km/h, it does now, especially for services like GO where there are many stations relatively close together.

    What I think will happen is that electrification will happen gradually, over a 30 or more year period. You start by electrifying part of the Lakeshore line, trains then get 2 locomotives a diesel at one end and an electric at the other, switching over at certain stations, while you continue to electrify more and more of the line. Eventually the entire line is electric, and you eliminate the diesel engine, which can be reassigned to provide new service. Once you’re entirely electric on the Lakeshore line, you start buying some EMU’s as older cars wear out, and as you need non-powered cars for new lines. This will allow you to reassign the electric locomotives and the diesels.


  15. It’s not as though there are abundant reserves of unused power … Quebec sells enough of it to New England (U.S) and Ontario uses most of its power as well. Unless of course we want nuclear railroads — there aways seems to be money to throw at that.


  16. Wogster wrote, “The price on diesel fuel is likely to rise considerably in the next 30 years.”

    Depending on how one defines ‘considerably’, the time frame may be much less than 30 years. I have said before that the end of the current ‘economic situation’ will be marked by $2 per litre pump prices (or close to it), and I’m sure there are a few around who would call that ‘considerable’. 😉

    Wogster provides a pretty clear and simple outline of how electrification would be phased in. The only thing I would change is that the purchasing of EMUs would likely be sooner than once the Lakeshore line is totally electrified. This is partly to take into account the lead time for production and testing, and partly due to the ability to put some in service earlier on runs that do not need the entire line from Hamilton to Oshawa.


  17. It amazes me how the magnitude of the savings electrification appears to bring, as illustrated in the BCA’s charts, seems to escape the authors of the BCA. Based on the BCA’s analysis of NPV values, electrification pays for itself overnight when you compare Option 1 to Phase 1 of Option 2. Even if you ignore the other benefits and look at just the operational savings, it takes just over a decade to pay off the capital investment (10.51 years), while getting superior travel times to boot. That doesn’t even include the increased ridership electrification would bring (which would easily bring it to under a decade), that’s just operational savings alone.

    Fiscal conservatives should be all over this.

    This rate of payoff from just operational savings is twice as fast as I had thought.

    Steve: The problem appears to be that, as with past GO studies, the BCA includes the cost of future purchase of new equipment as a “cost” of electrification. They chose to ignore the diesel option as it couldn’t provide the needed level of service, and so we don’t have a calculation of what the alternative (ie staying with diesel) would cost as a comparison.

    It’s the level of service in the corridor that costs lots of money — the grade separations, the fleet, the additional storage space — but we never see this as a cost separate from that huge so-called cost of electrification.

    Metrolinx and GO are being, shall we say politely, misleading in their analyses.


  18. Hydro only provides about 21% of delivered energy and 23% of Ontario capacity (OPG numbers, 2006).

    Even with the new Niagara tunnel (late) that will allow help keep pace with needs, not provide the energy share that hydropower does in Quebec which is nearer 90%, not to mention that Quebec’s peak demand is winter, not summer like Ontario. With interconnection there could be better energy balancing between the two provinces, but that would best serve transportation in the Ottawa-Gatineau area, and maybe an electric shuttle from Ottawa-Montreal.


  19. Metrolinx BCA: Many (in fact nearly all) GO stations on the Lakeshore line have substantial surface parking areas in the area around stations; many outside of Toronto exceed 2,000 parking spaces. One of the most dramatic potential land use impacts is the potential for redevelopment of some of these surface parking areas through construction/co-development of structured parking. The increased capacity associated with the transformation of GO to an all-day Express Rail service under Option 2 Phase 2 may impact the economics in areas around GO stations to the point where this type of development becomes feasible. This type of impact could be transformative in terms of built form within GO station areas.

    As one example, a GO station with 2,000 surface parking spaces occupies in the order of 5.6 hectares. Replacing the surface parking with a 5-storey structure, and allowing for shared structured parking for both a new development and for GO parking, would still allow a 2-3 hectare parcel to be developed. This scale of site could house multiple high-rise towers (office or residential); development capacity would essentially be limited only by the modal split of residents or workers to the area and any other infrastructure or planning considerations. (Page 36)

    This is the kind of thing Paul Bedford has been talking about. I hope this helps him persuade his colleagues on the Board, and also persuades the ill-advisable schemes of Queen’s Park and Parliament Hill to create stand-alone parking structures at a variety of GO Stations, some of which are the worst possible places for them (like Cooksville).


  20. The BCA’s brief evaluation of EMUs lists its acceleration performance at 0.7m/s/s. Yet our own subway T-1s (heavy rail EMUs themselves) clock 0.85m/s/s. The streetcar network clocks 1.2m/s/s for the tank ALRVs at the low end.

    Interesting to note the weight difference; 81,000lbs for the ALRVs, 116,500lbs for the GO Bi-Level Cab Cars. While this is a testament to the poor design of the C/ARLVs, it also indicates that we should be able to squeeze out higher acceleration from a GO EMU.

    At the historical high-end, the PCCs could clock a whopping 1.9m/s/s (impressive, but unnecessary).

    These are all EMUs of different forms, but all are higher than 0.7m/s/s.


  21. I didn’t say it would take 30 years for prices to jump, just that if you look at the price of gasoline 30 years ago compared to today the price is quite a bit higher, and that another 30 years will see it much higher again. I picked 30 years because most railway cars have about a 30 year life span before they need to be rebuilt or replaced.

    The reason to wait until the Lakeshore line is completely electrified is that non powered cars can be hauled by electric locomotives, and you need the ability to run in both diesel and electric modes. I am not sure that the added weight of equipment needed for EMU operation, transformers, inverters, power controllers, motors, etc would allow you to maintain a 12 unit train with the existing diesel locomotives hauling it in diesel mode. A non powered train could have both a diesel and an electric locomotive, to allow duel mode operation until the line is complete. Not to say you couldn’t do a lot of the initial design work and having working prototypes available ahead of time. The big questions are where would you put the extra equipment and how would that affect capacity.

    Steve: Duelling locomotives. Cue the banjos! I think you mean to say “dual”. Normally I clean up spelling, but that one just had to stay.


  22. Karl, let me tell you about a conversation I had with an operator on the night of Canada Day in 1994. I was riding with him south on a Bathurst car (an ALRV) and we were comparing how different PCCs and LRVs are as far as acceleration is concerned. When he described the PCCs as being fast he just grinned from ear to ear. What I do know is this: at least some types of LRV (Toronto’s included) in the past 30 plus years have tended to have slower acceleration but higher top speeds. In fact, the history of the PCC includes situations where (to some people anyway) they weren’t really suited. Many years ago I mentioned to my dad about certain tram, radial or interurban operations which I thought might have been saved by the PCC and he said that they wouldn’t have been siuted for those operations and when I asked how suited they were for Boston, Shaker Heights (Cleveland) and the Pacific Electric in Los Angeles his two word response was “They weren’t.”


  23. Steve and Rick you really hit the nail on the head about the ever changing position by Metrolinx on electrification. Georgetown doesn’t need to be two stage it can be built electric from day one because this is really a political issue not a technical one. Metrolinx is just hiding becuase they know they don’t make any sense.

    Is anybody out there at Metrolinx paying attention? Robert Prichard are you out there?

    Steve: I have good reason to believe that some folks at Metrolinx read this blog. Yes, you know who you are!


  24. Steve wrote about demand projections:
    “…the continued provision of parking will be impossible at stations”

    Kevin’s comment:
    I have to disagree with this. Of course, car parking is going to end, but there will have to be a substantial expansion of bicycle parking at all stations. If one wants to see what GO stations will look like in the future, just look at the regional rail stations around Amsterdam and the Randstad region.

    For example, Groningen’s railway station has 6,000 parking spaces. And they are used. There is a wonderful video.

    This is what GO stations will look like in the future. Are we planning for it? Not really.

    What happens ten years from now when we are well over peak oil? Based upon experience elsewhere, my estimate for the bike/walk/public transit mode share breakdown for arriving at GO stations in 2019 will have about 30% arriving by bike.

    Most of the rest will be arriving by public transit, as few passengers live within walking distance of GO stations. As Steve correctly pointed out there is also a lack of planning for the necessary public transit infrastructure to get people to/from GO stations.


  25. @Kevin Love

    Further to Kevin’s comments, there is the start of the realization at GO (I can’t tell yet for Metrolinx) that more urban stations’ll be needed, in the local demand for the Allandale (Barrie downtown) and the Hamilton CN GO station at James St North, near the old CN passenger station (now LIUNA station banquet centre), which GO is developing. Such stations are much more pedestrian, transit & bike friendly, and take advantage of the long standing Transit Oriented Development (TOD). In the long run such urban stations’ll generate more ridership as they won’t be constrained by parking spaces and are much better served by transit.

    Unfortunately most of the rail lines that GO uses avoid small town centres, and those that do go by don’t have the parking lot area desired by GO to currently justify a station. But hopefully their thinking and planning’ll change.


  26. “Unfortunately most of the rail lines that GO uses avoid small town centres, and those that do go by don’t have the parking lot area desired by GO to currently justify a station. But hopefully their thinking and planning’ll change.”

    It’s not just GO, but the municipalities as well as the freight railways and the influence they try to exert on the municipalities they run through. There are competing interests at play.


  27. Long Branch Mike says:
    August 19, 2009 at 11:06 am

    “Unfortunately most of the rail lines that GO uses avoid small town centres, and those that do go by don’t have the parking lot area desired by GO to currently justify a station. But hopefully their thinking and planning’ll change.”

    Considering that most of the towns in Ontario that developed into any size were founded on the railway rights of way, I find this statement difficult to accept. Granted urban sprawl has absorbed some of these former towns and moved their centres elsewhere, partly to make room for the auto. Some towns were formed on rail lines that no longer exist such as the Toronto Suburban and Guelph Electric lines. Richmond Hill and Aurora are two towns whose centres were on the old Lake Simcoe line rather than on the Newmarket Sub.

    In the GTA these are the towns that I can think of that have a rail line in or near their downtown. The fact that GO does not use the downtown is not the fault of the rail line.

    in the Lakeshore west:
    Hamilton, Burlington, Bronte, Oakville, Clarkson, Port Credit, Long Branch.

    Milton line:
    Milton, Cooksville, Dixie North. This is probably the worst line because many of the nearby towns were on the old Guelph Electric line such as Meadowvale, Churchville, Huttonville, etc. and they all withered after the line was abandoned.

    Georgetown Line:
    Weston, Malton Brampton, Georgetown, possible Acton, Rockwood, Guelph, Breslau, Kitchener.

    Barrie Line:
    Maple, King, Newmarket, Aurora, Bradford, and Barrie (if they will ever build a station there).

    Richmond Hill line:
    Richmond Hill, this is the other line that avoids everything.

    Uxbridge Sub:
    Agincourt, Unionville, Milliken, Markham, Stouffville and eventually Uxbridge.

    Lakeshore East:
    Pickering, Ajax, Whitby, Oshawa (Scarborough has a lot of stations but where is its downtown?)

    Go has added stations in the middle of nowhere to get a big parking lot but the rail lines do go near or through many of the small towns. Most of the small towns in Toronto started because they were on a rail line and were about 6 miles apart. As time went on some grew and some became smaller. Those unfortunate to be on a line that was abandoned usually withered very badly. For some reason the Milton Line and the Bala Sub did not seem to attract as many towns as the other lines. I don’t know why.


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