The Medical Officer of Health (MOH) for the City of Toronto formally objects to the use of diesel propulsion for expanded service in the “Georgetown South” corridor (Parkdale, Weston, Brampton). Background information is published on the City’s website.
Two things are striking about this position.
First, the MOH worries that any accommodation of diesel, nominally for the short term, may lead to downplay of future pollution concerns and delayed implementation of electric operation throughout the GO network.
Second, and far more seriously, the MOH charges that there is “bias” in the interpretation of the environmental studies forming part of the Environmental Project Report (EPR). In brief, the background studies are thought to be too conservative, but even their conclusions, some quite serious, are underplayed in the summary reports. In effect, The MOH implies that Metrolinx hopes people will not read or understand the background studies, and that by trivializing the findings in the summary reports, Metrolinx can make the problems go away.
In my articles, I use the term “bias” with care as it implies deliberate misrepresentation rather than simple incompetence. My experience with many agencies (public or private) is that sheer stupidity can explain much that appears like Machiavellian intrigue. I prefer to leave decisions about which might apply in any circumstance to the reader while leaving the hapless technocrat or politician with a Hobson’s choice — are they trying to pull a fast one, or are they simply unqualified to do their job.
Bound up in all of this is the fate of the Air Rail Link. Every time any activist tried to pull that service into the discussion, the answer was that it was the subject of a separate agreement with Ottawa and with the proposed operator, SNC-Lavalin. Despite this, Queen’s Park shelled out millions for infrastructure upgrades that the ARL project won’t have to pay for. We still don’t know whether the proposed spur into the airport is even capable of supporting overhead wiring for electric operation.
GO/Metrolinx chose to bundle the review, design and EA for the ARL with the Georgetown South project, and the ARL is part of their scope whether they like it or not.
A Medical Officer of Health is not a “foamer”, a drooling railfan, or a NIMBY community activist, or a politician-on-the-make — some of the kinder terms folks associated with Metrolinx choose when speaking of their opponents. Dismissing people with that sort of attitude may play in the pages of the Sun or National Post, but it does not invalidate the arguments. Metrolinx and GO have done much damage to their credibility with this sort of tactic.
Now the Minister of the Environment must decide whether to ignore the MOH’s concerns and claim that Metrolinx has better expert advice.
I rather like Dr. David McKeown, Toronto’s Medical Officer of Health. Air pollution kills. Dr. McKeown has never pulled any punches in looking at the medical facts about air pollution without any political spin or bias.
Another example is his report on how car pollution kills 440 people each year and injures 1,700 so seriously that they have to be hospitalized. We wouldn’t tolerate a terrorist gang that killed 440 people every year and injured 1,700. I, personally, have roughly the same amount of tolerance of car drivers.
Particularly tragic are the children sickened and killed by car drivers. If we were to implement his recommendations, Toronto would be a far better and healthier city for all its people.
To me, this is perhaps the most fundamental issue about public transit. This is why I support the TTC and GO transit so strongly: Car drivers kill just by turning their motors on.
The question that should be asked, is how much impact the diesel emissions will have on health. The MOH should quantify this to how many deaths are expected per year from this Metrolinx scheme. This should be contrasted to how many deaths per year would be saved by all the vehicles that would be removed from the roads.
An evaluation should also examine how many years electrification will delay the project.
My fear is that delaying this project, will kill far more people than will be harmed by implementing it; and that it is irresponsible for the MOH to not have either quantified this, or looked at the bigger picture.
Steve: There are two important points here.
First, if GO/Metrolinx would stop finding reasons to drag their feet, there is no reason that a change to electrification would delay implementation.
Second, unless there is some astounding change in typical behaviour of auto users, the roads will be no less full and polluting after the new service than before. Traffic always backfills whatever capacity we create for it. Just look at the QEW/Gardiner where GO saves the need for many more lanes, but the expressway is still full of cars. We have enabled more travel, and the pollution we “save” does not yet exist — it is the pollution that would be created if we expanded the road network instead of expanding transit.
One of things to also bear in mind, and that far too few people acknowledge, is that improvement to local GO train service only is possible with very small amounts of infrastructure expansion. This would make additional capacity and improved all-day service frequencies possible (at a smaller scale for the interim, but Metrolonx staff have been quoted by some people that that would be fine for the next 5-10 years from GO Transit’s perspective) while still allowing the time required to do this project in a manner that delivers maximum benefit for everyone (including the provincial finance ministry). This project is missing great opportunities in large volumes.
The quantified number of potential deaths is to be quite severe, there are housing communities along the majority of this (and proposed spur) corridor.
We are talking about 4 trains per hour, per direction or more, yes? In addition to the number of trains already using the combined corridor (portions of Lakeshore West, Barrie, Milton, Georgetown’s regular service). That is a phenomenal amount of diesel exhaust passing through Parkdale, the Junction, Weston, etc.
Steve: Actually, we are looking at peak frequencies of 10 trains/hour both ways on at least the Brampton AND Milton lines, plus 4/hour both ways to the airport plus whatever occasional services like VIA wander by.
Steve is right, traffic back-fills whatever demand is alleviated by any given mode.
Electrification (of the Pearson-Union link) would allow for cleaner air, based solely upon diesel emissions. The amount of planned service for this link (I believe) goes beyond the ‘ideal service levels’ planned for the Lakeshore Corridor, making electrification a no-brainer.
“Second, unless there is some astounding change in typical behaviour of auto users, the roads will be no less full and polluting after the new service than before.”
That’s an interesting point. The implication is that capacity increases in rail, should be combined with capacity reductions on highways.
It’s amazing that he doesn’t simply barricade the 400-series highways crossing into Toronto, and close them for health reasons! 🙂
Though where this could lead, is justification to pay for any extra electrification costs, with highway-tolling (so as to allow for a reduction in emissions).
Steve: I did not mean to imply that road capacity should be reduced. Any new transportation facility is built to increase overall capacity in a network. Today, the proportion of trips taken by transit, regionally speaking, is low, although in specific corridors it is much higher than the average. Any talk of “reduced” emissions needs to be relative to what might otherwise occur, and in concert with avoidance of new highway construction and all of its effects.
The only way you are going to make auto pollution go down is to improve automotive propulsion technology or to price the mode out of the market. The GTA and all other cities are built on a car-oriented model and we cannot just wish it away. The challenge is to provide added capacity and convenience by building something other than roads.
A few tidbits for the discussion…
1. Would there be enough space to put in a high speed rail line adjacent to the GO lines. Iam a high speed rail fanatic, the bullet train in Japan is better then sliced bread IMHO. Why can’t we take away from the avation market to high speed rail and use the expenses of the grade seperations on these diamonds and do something great to get planes out of the sky.
Steve: Even if there were right-of-way available (which in many cases there is not), the existing alignments (curves, grades, etc) cannot be operated by HSR. At best the “local” tracks can be used to connect a separate HSR corridor into the central city as is done for TGV lines, for example. Remember that the markets for HSR and GO are completely separate beyond the fact that GO could provide feeder service (as could local transit systems and VIA).
2. Save the fiscal crying and get on with the EMUs today, not tommarow. EMU operation using double decker coaches like today would make great headway in capacity and overall speed.
3. In terms of the 400 series highways and HOV lanes, we need to widen the 400 series highways by one lane to allow electric cars to cruise past the gas guzzlers in an electric only lane to encourage EV purchases. I personally don’t care for adding lanes to freeways, but if we are to be emissions free by I hope 2050, the time is now to look into the EAs and look at what can be done.
Steve: NO! If we are going to dedicate road space to “greener” transportation, do this by TAKING AWAY space from existing users. There is no such thing as a green road widening, much as the roads lobby likes to dress up their proposals in that colour. Moreover, on some of the most heavily used highways, there simply is no space for widening, and yet these are the specific, congested areas where an “EV” lane would be of most benefit.
4. More express services to Union, If we run a local/express system where one train runs local every 10 minutes, and an express every 10 minutes, and assuming bus feeder services are at that level we can do a big dent in the 905 model split. That includes peak and counterpeak headways.
Steve: It’s already in the plans for GO’s “express rail” corridors.
5. Proper simple cheap fares period. If you make something excellent and cheap, people will use it.
Pollution is a nasty thing, same with auto congestion regardless if it’s gas or EV. The money lost to congestion is growing everyday and EMUs by GO will be what the doctor ordered for short to long commutes. I have done the skip and hop thing on the Lakeshore line with the old twin pass once upon a time and with local and express services running every five minutes combined in the 905 before skipping the 416 stations will create a local demand in the 905 portion of the lines. Why isn’t anyone talking about that is beyond me…
Steve: The need to reinvent GO as an all-day, bidirectional, multi-node service has been discussed here at length, and I have been raising the implications of this change for GO and the GTA networks as part of my ongoing commentary on the Metrolinx RTP. I’m not the only one.
You will find that there are almost no ideas that “only you” have thought about or discussed. Nobody here is talking about an Einsteinian revolution in transit thinking, even if his original “thought experiment” did involve a tram in Zurich.
I think that the issue of diesel emissions in the Weston corridor is greatly, greatly exaggerated. Although increased diesel service will create some additional pollution, it will have the net effect of reducing pollution due to reduced car use (especially along 400-series highways which also have large numbers of residents nearby). The real reason for the objection over diesel emissions is NIMBYism by Weston residents who object to the inevitable increased train noise and level crossing closures. I fear that electrification will be deemed too expensive and thus the NIMBYs will get their way.
Yes, there are benefits to electrification (although they are primarily operational – faster acceleration and braking which will increase service speed), but diesel-powered transit service is emphatically better than no transit service. Weston GO service expansion should be allowed to go ahead whether or not electrification is planned, as electrification can always be added later.
Steve: The whole point of this discussion is that pollution in the corridor will go up to unacceptable levels according to Toronto’s Medical Officer of Health. The so-called saving in 400-series highway use is a red herring on two counts: it trades local pollution along the line for supposed reduced pollution on highways, and as everyone knows, highway traffic always backfills any available capacity and therefore the pollution in the highway corridors will not be reduced.
As for NIMBYs, the next time someone tells you that they are going to vastly increase train service right next door to your house including addition of tracks that were not there when you moved in and right-of-way that may have to be acquired by expropriation, then we can talk about NIMBYs.
I suggest that you move next to a dormant industrial building like a steel mill and then be ready for the fun when it is reactivated.
Let’s hope no one suggests GO looks at CNG or even hybrid technology instead of electrification. If you won’t say anything, I won’t say anything.
Steve: Well, according to Jeff Gray in the Globe on April 3 this year, Queen’s Park seems to be in bed with Bombardier (again) to research hydrogen trains.
I am so tired of technology purveyors highjacking public policy in the name of “green” development I could scream. Instead, I will simply remind readers of how many other high-tech transportation boondoggles we have put up with like magleg, CNG and the claim that a viable electric bus (sans overhead) is less than a decade away. Now where did I put my perpetual motion machine …
Meanwhile in this discussion, we seem to have forgotten the following commitment that is in MoveOntario 2020:
That was in June 2007, and 12 years counting from then takes us to 2019. Meanwhile we will study electrification to death possibly hoping that the battery-and-hydrogen crowd can get their act together. Why does Ontario always get suckered into this sort of thing?
This backfill theory wrt to automobile traffic is absolute nonsense. Any perceived backfill is just a diversion from other roads, or growth in overall traffic.
Roads with spare capacity don’t send out telepathic signals to Honda to build more cars, MTO to license more drivers, and women of child-bearing age to produce more drivers.
Steve: Yes, growth in overall traffic. That’s the point. The pollution generated on highway 40x stays the same because the highway is still full.
But that growth would have happened anyway. We haven’t built new road capacity in years, but traffic is still growing.
As for the pollution from diesel trains, I think everyone is exaggerating. Even at the proposed frequencies, it’s a drop in the bucket compared to all the other crap we breathe in on a daily basis.
Kevin Love said … “Car drivers kill just by turning their motors on.”
Preposterous correlation. Kevin, do you breathe, eat, poop, and produce waste? Do you use electricity in your home? Do you use chemicals to clean your house? If so, you’re killing just about as much as we drivers are. The difference really isn’t worth mentioning. More asthma attacks are caused by ragweed pollen than automobile emissions.
> As for NIMBYs, the next time someone tells you that they are going to vastly increase train service right next door to your house including addition of tracks that were not there when you moved in and right-of-way that may have to be acquired by expropriation, then we can talk about NIMBYs.
1. There is only one sensible place to run trains to the airport, Brampton, and Kitchener-Waterloo, and that is through Weston. Sorry, but the residents of Weston will have to put up with increased train traffic and noise, period. Aside from some noise barriers, there is little one can do about that.
Steve: The electrification issue in Weston is not just about the airport service (4 trains per hour), but proposed service to Brampton (10+ trains per hour) plus whatever will run to Bolton and on improved VIA service to KW and London. South of West Toronto, add in 10+ trains per hour to Milton. South of Dundas, add in the Barrier service.
2. I acknowledge that there are significant benefits to electrification such as faster acceleration/braking which reduce travel times. Certainly if the Ontario government has the money then electrification makes sense on this basis, but it makes little sense to electrify unless we have the funds to electrify the entire network or at least large parts of it, due to operational efficiencies. If the funds are not available to do this, it is in my opinion better to run more diesel trains on the Georgetown line, rather than no additional trains.
3. Without significant investment in cleaner forms of energy, electrification will increase pollution around all of Ontario’s many coal power plants. So this means trading pollution in one place for pollution in another.
The phenomenon of “induced demand” or “roads breed cars” is why car infrastructure needs to be steadily eliminated.
A good first start is the Gardiner Expressay. AKA “The mistake by the lake.”
Toronto’s MOH also recommends road tolls on all roads to reduce car driving. In my opinion, these tolls should be increased to really high levels to deter driving on poor air quality “smog alert” days when car pollutions kills the most people. A toll of $1.00 per km would really get a lot of cars off the road when their pollution kills the most.
This also gives “temporal denetworking” of car infrastructure. In other words, I can’t drive my car every day of the year. So things like public transit that can be used every day of the year become more attractive.
NIMBYism gets thrown around a bit too much these days. Especially by residents who will not be directly impacted by a project. The residents have every right to voice their concern.
In response to Matthew Kemp :
1. Bullet trains and European high speed trains, even North East Corridor in the US. These areas have much higher population densities than even the Windsor to Quebec Corridor, (even the Toronto Montreal part.) I believe that Windsor to Quebec is much farther than London to Glasgow. The average London to Glasgow trains take 4.5 to 5.5 hr, the overnight trains take longer so you do not get thrown off at 3:00 a. m. There are 19 trains serving this route. Most of the Toronto Windsor corridor goes through small towns and farm land except for the GTA and the Montreal area. The Toronto Montreal runs are comparable in time to the London Glasgow so I assume that London Glasgow are closer together. VIA and CN are making incremental changes, triple tracking that will take about 1/2 hr off the running times. I know that I have knocked VIA but most of my complaints are in how they operate the non Toronto Montreal fast trains. I still think that they need to change their doors, boarding and ticketing structure.
Steve: Using Google Maps as a quick way to get distances, I find London to Glasgow by road is 403 miles (about 640km), while Toronto to Montreal is 541km.
2. EMU’s. If you have read any of my rantings then you know it has to be EMU’s. Electrification is not worth it without EMU’s.
3. 400 series highways and electric only lanes. There is going to have to be a quantum leap in battery technology for electric cars to travel at 100 + km/h on the 400 highways for any distance. I like the idea of making one of the existing lanes available for hybrid or very efficient cars but hybrids are most effective in stop and go city driving.
4. More express service to Union. No argument there or for more counter flow and off peak service.
5. Cheaper and simpler fares: I believe that $13.30 for Brampton to Toronto return is a reasonable fare for the speed of service that I get. It is a lot cheaper than VIA’s $40.00 return. A monthly pass works out to about $10.00 per day depending on the month. There should be some sort of fare break for people who want to take the Brampton bus to the GO station and then the TTC to work but they should still have to pay for the extra service. GO is a premium service and one should pay more for it. If it is not paid out of the fare box than it is paid out of tax revenue. IT AIN’T FREE. If you make transit too cheap and fast then it increases urban sprawl, Los Angeles was not built by the freeway system but by the Pacific Electric interurbans.
In GO’s paper on the proposed extension to Kitchener they realized that there would be a reverse and local demand to the two universities in Waterloo and the one in Guelph. The problem with local service in the 905 is that there is usually nothing near the stations and no decent local transit service. A fellow I taught with in Brampton used to take the first GO bus out in the morning and walk to work but then the following year school started 20 minutes earlier and he had to drive. They do need more reverse peak service. GO has the equipment to run reverse peak service now. They just need to run some of their later inbound service outbound earlier. Their are a number of buses and trains that could do this without requiring the purchase of more vehicles. It would only require paying the incremental operating costs. The problem is that only the Lakeshore and possibly the Milton GO lines could handle more, or any, reverse peak service.
While there are a lot of people who ride GO in the 905 area there are also a lot who don’t and if you raise their taxes to pay for something that they do not perceive as a benefit then they will elect “Son of Harris” and the GO service will GO to hell again.
“3. Without significant investment in cleaner forms of energy, electrification will increase pollution around all of Ontario’s many coal power plants. So this means trading pollution in one place for pollution in another.”
Actually Ontario doesn’t have many coal power plants. It has four, two of which are by Thunder Bay which probably doesn’t provide much power to Southern Ontario. All of them are supposed to be closed eventually (probably before any electrification is put into operation).
Even now, about three quarters of Ontario’s electricity doesn’t come from coal power plants.
Remember that reducing road capacity should be paired with improved transit service (where necessary… For example, tearing up the Allen wouldn’t require improved service (except frequency maybe) since there’s an underused subway there already).
We need numerical benchmarks and we need context against other emissions in the corridors concerned. Otherwise the next time there’s an RGS increasing service on a street from buses every 30 minutes to every 10 we’re going to have protestors talking about “tripling of pollution”.
Steve: The MOH’s position is not based on such a trivial analysis, but on the projected emission levels and how they line up with existing standards and medical benchmarks. Four more buses an hour do not produce enough pollution to have the same effect as the proposed service levels in the Weston corridor.
Part of the issue, which is completely absent in the GSSE EPR, is the fact, which I can confirm first-hand from a chat with Gary McNeil, that off-peak trains along Georgetown will be 10 cars long. This is unnecessary with MUs. This creates far more pollution as the locomotive needs more horsepower to pull empty-yet-in-service cars. I was on such a train just last week, inbound from Weston at 2pm. The capacity doesn’t warrant 10 cars, not even close. They used to run this midday service with a 6-car consist, and it still should be, but they don’t have many 6-car consists left, if any.
Steve: The point has been made elsewhere that with EMUs, it is simpler to build up and tear down consists, although there is a still a labour cost for all that extra marshalling. That’s why the TTC stopped shortening trains in the evening.
The dummy that I am I said:
The Toronto Montreal runs are comparable in time to the London Glasgow so “[I assume that London Glasgow are closer together.]” VIA and CN are making incremental changes, triple tracking that will take about 1/2 hr off the running times. I know that I have knocked VIA but most of my complaints are in how they operate the non Toronto Montreal fast trains. I still think that they need to change their doors, boarding and ticketing structure.
Steve: Using Google Maps as a quick way to get distances, I find London to Glasgow by road is 403 miles (about 640km), while Toronto to Montreal is 541km.
I should have said London and Glasgow are farther apart because if t is the same and v is greater then d must be greater if v = d*t. I only taught Physics and Math for 37 years so I guess that I still have to learn to check my stupid conclusions.
M. Briganti wrote:
“More asthma attacks are caused by ragweed pollen than automobile emissions.”
According to Toronto’s Medical Officer of Health, David McKeown, the pollution from Toronto’s traffic causes the following health problems:
Car pollution kills 440 people per year. Yes, that’s killed dead.
Car pollution injures 1,700 people per year so seriously they have to be hospitalized.
Car pollution causes children to experience more than 1,200 acute bronchitis episodes per year.
Since you mentioned asthma attacks, I’ll quote directly from Dr. McKeown’s report about what car pollution does to asthma in children each year in Toronto. He wrote:
“Children are also likely to experience the majority of asthma symptom days (about 68,000), given that asthma prevalence and asthma hospitalization rates are about twice as high in children as adults.”
This quotation is taken from the first page of the Executive Summary, page i.
In addition to the human tragedy of dead and seriously injured adults and children, the mortality costs alone of car pollution are $2.2 billion.
This is all in the November 2007 Report of Toronto’s Medical Officer of Health.
All of these health impacts are due only to traffic pollution, not to any other cause of air pollution.
Every time a car driver turns on his motor, he is causing an enormous toll of death and injury. Death and injury which disproportionately attacks young children. Death and injury which is totally preventable, lacking only the political will to bring this death and injury to an end.
Steve: The point has been made elsewhere that with EMUs, it is simpler to build up and tear down consists, although there is a still a labour cost for all that extra marshalling. That’s why the TTC stopped shortening trains in the evening.
Don’t forget that the TTC also started the designated waiting area which was always at the guard’s position between cars 4 and 5. If they had used 4 car trains then the trains would have always stopped and the entrance end of the platform which would not have been good north bound at Bloor of SB at Queen. I believe that GO could implement it by removing cars between rush hours at the end of the line and keeping the cars there until they were needed again. They would need to have some sort of indication, perhaps lights, to mark where the trains would stop on the platform when they were not 12 cars long.
The trouble with frequently changing the length of a GO train is that the ‘extra’ cars have to be taken from or added to the middle, in other words between the locomotive and the cab car. It’s not quite as straight-forward as leaving two cars behind at the end of a siding, especially at the ends of the lines where the locomotive is considered the back end of the train. It would be technically possible to replace the tenth car with another cab car so there would still be a control end after cutting off the two extra cars, but this only works at half of the end points.
Before anyone tries to claim you can’t put a cab car in the middle of a train, I’ve seen it happen on a Lakeshore West consist. There must have been a shortage of serviceable coaches that day because an extra cab car was being used as the first one behind the locomotive. Sure was odd to see horns and a bell in that position!
Ironically, those types of indicators exist for the locomotive drivers, but not for passengers. If you look at the far side of the track from the platform where the locomotive always stops, you’ll see an “L” on a signpost.
GO has a DWA-like car of its own these days, too; the accessible car that stops at the accessible platform. That could also act as the default stopping location indicator for any given train, although it is not a solution in and of itself, and has problems.
August 20, 2009 at 9:51 pm
“The trouble with frequently changing the length of a GO train is that the ‘extra’ cars have to be taken from or added to the middle, in other words between the locomotive and the cab car. It’s not quite as straight-forward as leaving two cars behind at the end of a siding, especially at the ends of the lines where the locomotive is considered the back end of the train. It would be technically possible to replace the tenth car with another cab car so there would still be a control end after cutting off the two extra cars, but this only works at half of the end points.
“Before anyone tries to claim you can’t put a cab car in the middle of a train, I’ve seen it happen on a Lakeshore West consist. There must have been a shortage of serviceable coaches that day because an extra cab car was being used as the first one behind the locomotive. Sure was odd to see horns and a bell in that position!”
GO used to do this with some trains way back when they started. The 5th or 6 car would be a cab car and they would uncouple the last 4 or 5 cars east bound at Mimico and then pull them back into the yard. The problem was you had to disconnect the mu cables, the power cables, the communications cable and the two brake lines. This took time and then they had to do a brake test. Later they would bring a 10 car train into Union and have a 5 or 6 car train sitting beside it on the across the platform and tell every one who wanted to go on that they would have to board the other train. If you had EMU’s then all of the connections would be made in the couplers and you would not need two or three carmen (car people) to do the work. this is labour intensive.
Karl Junkin says:
August 20, 2009 at 10:20 pm
“Ironically, those types of indicators exist for the locomotive drivers, but not for passengers. If you look at the far side of the track from the platform where the locomotive always stops, you’ll see an “L” on a signpost.
“GO has a DWA-like car of its own these days, too; the accessible car that stops at the accessible platform. That could also act as the default stopping location indicator for any given train, although it is not a solution in and of itself, and has problems.”
I know that and there are the car numbers for the cab car in the opposite direction. The wheel chair car, 5th from the locomotive is the car that governs where the rest or the train stops. Since most of the trains are 10 or 12 cars long there is not a problem for passengers to figure out where to stand. I think that there still are shorter trains on some of the other lines but I don’t know for sure.
If GO ran EMU’s in 3 car sets then they could run trains of 3, 6, 9 or 12 cars easily. The centre car of one set would be the wheel chair car and it would still be the 5th car from the east end in a 6, 9 or 12 car consist. I would like a set of distinctive lights that would mark where the ends of the train would stop or signs that would turn on and say that the train would stop at the other end of the platform. Passengers would soon learn to stand between the lights instead of waiting at the west end of the platform 6 cars from the train.
Its not the car that is bad and will kill you; its the engine that does that, and the various distractions, never possible to get rid of completely that keep drivers from making perfect choices.
The dream of killing off the car as the major transportation device of North America is idealistic and most likely undoable. Nothing else available replaces it’s relative ease of use, adaptability to size of what needs to be moved and general, although not real, feeling of safety.
Eventually, decades from now, we won’t be using the current gasoline powered engines and the imperfect input of driver error won’t be involved. Until then, the car in its spewing and destroying nature is with us.
Electric trains can reduce one place where some of that killing goes on, and should be supported. But, the killing through asthma will continue until alternatives to the car engine are in place (not alternatives to the train engine).
Robert Wightman says: “Toronto Montreal runs are comparable in time to the London-Glasgow”. Well, London-Glasgow is 4.5 hours for 650km (144 km/hr), while Toronto-Montreal is 5.5 hours for 540km (99km/hr).
Well, London-Glasgow is 4.5 hours for 650km (144 km/hr), while Toronto-Montreal is 5.5 hours for 540km (99km/hr).
That’s a bit unfair, to compare the fastest London-Glasgow train, to the slowest Toronto-Montreal train! Outside of construction season, VIA has scheduled Montreal-Toronto in 4.0 hours for the express. Even during the summer there is currently one scheduled in 4.6 hours. And at the same time there are London-Glasgow trains that take almost 6 hours!
Tom West says:
August 21, 2009 at 4:10 pm
“Robert Wightman says: “Toronto Montreal runs are comparable in time to the London-Glasgow”. Well, London-Glasgow is 4.5 hours for 650km (144 km/hr), while Toronto-Montreal is 5.5 hours for 540km (99km/hr).”
I do believe I said the London to Glasgow trains were 4.5 to 5.5 and that is what they are in the time table I pulled up. The last time I rode a train to Montreal and back the running time was, I believe 4h 59 minutes, which is between 4.5 and 5.5 hrs. I have not taken the train to Montreal since the early 70’s. I should have looked up their current times but I did not think that they had gotten worse.
Robert Wightman says:
“The last time I rode a train to Montreal and back the running time was, I believe 4h 59 minutes, which is between 4.5 and 5.5 hrs. I have not taken the train to Montreal since the early 70’s. I should have looked up their current times but I did not think that they had gotten worse.”
Current running times for Montreal – Toronto range from 4 h 38 min to 5 h 34 min, so Robert is in the right ballpark.
These times are significantly worse than 10-15 years ago. In 1994 they ranged from 3 h 59 min to 5 h 25 min. The slowest train isn’t much worse off today, but the fastest train is now more than half an hour slower, and the several trains that used to take about 4.5 h now take about 5 h.
Following a period of gradually deteriorating on-time performance in this decade, owing to heavy freight traffic and reduced track maintenance by CN, VIA finally reacted a year or two ago and slowed the schedules significantly. The construction program announced by the federal government on July 16 is supposed to correct this and allow faster running.
“Outside of construction season, VIA has scheduled Montreal-Toronto in 4.0 hours for the express.”
The Montreal – Toronto express (#66 and 67) hasn’t been scheduled for 4 hours since May 2005. The lengthened schedule isn’t a seasonal thing; it’s been getting steadily worse since that date. It’s supposed to improve after triple-track segments are added to the Kingston Subdivision.
I’m surprised at the debate above. Some, it seems, are arguing that building the line for diesel operation is “better” than the status quo in terms of emissions and we should get on with it. You rightly point out a flaw in the reasoning: any displacement away from roads will be backfilled by new trips. However, there are three much more salient points:
1. Even if the demand isn’t backfilled, and even if the emissions from the trains are better than cars (which is debatable — see below) there is no question that electric operation is cleaner than diesel. Why settle for a small improvement when you can get a big one. Metrolinx falsely argues that the choice is either cars or diesel. I see no reason we should accept this. Is there some disturbance in the planet’s magnetic field locally that interferes with electric trains? Is there a genetic anomaly in the Ontario population that prevents us from boarding EMUs? THERE IS NO REASON PREVENTING ELECTRIFICION
2. The MOH did much more than state a preference. He found deep methodological flaws in the Metrolinks EA for this line. Four of them are:
a) They looked at the 90th percentile day for air emissions to see if they went over acceptable air quality levels. This means the worst 10% of days — fully five weeks — were not considered.
b) Their health predictions did not adjust for the presence of children. Children have a higher respiratory rate than adults and process much much more air per unit body weight than adults. Also, there tissues are still developing and damage to those tissues has far ranging consequences.
c) Each carcinogen was considered separately. Yet many of them can have synergistic effects on us. Worse. Diesel fuel is astonishingly chemically complex and so are its emission production. The US EPA has found that rates of harm for exposure to the whole mix are worse than the effects of the few chemicals studied by Metrolinx.
d) the most dangerous fine particle pm0.1 was not evaluated for health impacts.
3. The local concentration does matter profoundly. While I don’t adhere to the idea that there are threshold or safe levels of exposure to many carcinogens and air pollutants I do subscribe to the view that the dose response curve is non-linear. Taking diffuse sources and concentrating them heavily in on area will have serious health implications. This isn’t NIMBY, this is Not In ANYONE’S Backyard. Where there are heavily used passenger rail corridors they should be electrified.
Given these deficiencies the MOH wrote a letter to the Minister of the Environment objecting to the Metrolinx EA. When the individual who has a specific legal responsibility to act as the steward of the health of Torontonians takes the extremely rare step of objecting to an EA people should sit up and take notice.
As to the hurry up argument it is nonsense. It is not the fault of the residents, the MOH, or any other advocate of principled environmental decision-making that Metrolinx did not consider these concerns or propose electrification. Sin in haste repent at leisure doesn’t even cover it given that the repenting will take place in lungs that don’t belong to the sinners.
For very detailed analysis of how this expansion will affect the Queen West Arts District and the west of Toronto, you can go to
It has a lot of great information about the corridor.
My read on the situation is that the Province is becoming very concerned over electricity production capability, given that coal plants are coming off line and the new nuclear plants have been stalled.
Hence the Province will fight against seemingly good ideas like GO Train electrification as it will make their electricity generation deficit an even larger problem, affecting much more than just business & residences, but key public transport as well.
Steve: The amount of electricity consumed by GO operations would be small compared to overall provincial demand.
What are the Lakeshore West current and proposed tph levels?
Steve: Lakeshore West is identified as an express line in the Metrolinx regional plan, and this means headways down to 5 minutes (12 trains per hour). Current operations peak out at about 8-9 per hour, but only for the “super peak” when locals and expresses arrive inbound at Union together within one hour.