Metrolinx Seeks Input to Electrification Study

Metrolinx recently created a Community Advisory Committee to develop terms of reference for a study of GO Transit electrification.  The Committee seeks public input before September 3 on the subject, and this can be submitted online through the Metrolinx website.

17 thoughts on “Metrolinx Seeks Input to Electrification Study

  1. FAQ on their web site includes a photograph that is clearly meant to move people away from electricfication. It is in answer to the question “What would electrifciation look like?” The photo shows a closup of a vast set of overhead wires above terminal crossovers etc. “Visual pollution” in the eyes of some. Not a typical sight along the right of way.

    Another statement is made (twice) that 99% of commuter operations are diesel. This too is meant to push people from electrification. True diesels are more common but 99% is not correct. Add up AMT in Montreal, the Long Island a very high volume line and other New York City, Philadephia and Chicago lines total far more than 1%, possibly more than 10%.

    Steve: As I and others have pointed out here on many occasions, GO and Metrolinx are very good as misrepresenting their arguments and deserve to be nailed to the wall for it.

    99% may refer to the proportion of lines that are diesel, not the proportion of operators or of commuter rail service.


  2. Could it be that 99% of commuter operators *use* diesel?

    This is a far cry from 99% of commuter trains are propelled by diesel! After all, the TTC has/had diesel locomotives for use on the subway system, which would place them in the first 99% while they never move any commuters with that propulsion, except in an emergency.

    Steve: What can I say? Metrolinx really needs to be held to account on this.


  3. Done and done. Let’s hope this turns out to be an honest consultation, and not just an excuse to delay the Georgetown electrification debate until it’s “too late”.

    How many European countries have almost entirely electric operation? Netherlands is all electric except 3 or 4 lines in the North. Belgium is almost (if not) 100% electric. In Germany, France, Italy, Austria, Switzerland, Luxembourg, Spain, I never saw a single diesel train. Maybe they are used in some remote locations, but Toronto is no remote location. Quite the opposite. Even Portugal has managed to electrify half of their network (~1300km), and they were a dictatorship until the mid-70s, and a very shaky democracy for some time after that.

    Let’s forget about our neighbours to the south. Too often we look down there for inspiration, but they’re not very inspiring on this front (notwithstanding the HSR initiative in California, which has yet to be built). We should instead look to Europe, Japan, and the emerging countries that are planning giant networks of electric trains (China comes to mind).

    Anyways, point is, this is not a particularly difficult question. Electric is superior in almost every possible way. We know this. Other countries have proved it a thousand times. In my humble opinion, we should study three things:

    1. How much will it cost? (capital) How much will it save? (operational)
    2. What are the quantitative benefits of electric conversion (including externalities)? What are the qualitative benefits?
    3. How do we reconcile the capital cost and operational savings with the benefits, and based on this and the current / future demand on these lines, what criteria do we apply to each line to determine whether we electrify?

    There are not that many options here. We have: diesel locomotives, electric locomotives, diesel / electric dual-mode locomotives, diesel multiple units, electric multiple units. Any others? Am I forgetting something? Monorail, anyone?

    I mean, if they are studying the electrification question every 5 years or so, there’s got to be something to the idea, right? For a government that’s gotten so much right on public transport, they sure have retained the ability to drive us all crazy, haven’t they?


  4. Hmmm… On the site, they say:

    “99 per cent of the North American commuter rail network operates diesel engines.

    Diesel engines produced in North America today meet the US Environmental Protection Act (EPA) Tier 2 Emission Standards. Research and development is underway to reach a Tier 4 Standard by 2015.”

    Two issues:
    1. There is no North American commuter rail network.
    2. If they really wanted to push us away from diesel, could they at least try to sound less like spokesmen for the diesel industry?


  5. My guess that 99% of lines own one diesel – the only ones that I can think of that don’t have diesels in revenue service are SEPTA (and the NICTD, if you don’t count the diesel freights on the South Shore Line within Indiana).

    But Wikipedia lists 21 American commuter railways, there are three here in Canada, and there is one in Mexico.

    There are 7 (out of 25) commuter railways with significant electric operations in North America:
    MTA Metro-North and LIRR (all inner operations, the entire mainline of the M-N New Haven Line)
    Metra (Limited to Metra Electric Lines)
    NICTD (100% of track, all passenger service)
    NJ Transit
    MARC (Baltimore-Maryland, the busiest of three lines)
    SEPTA (100% of track, all service)
    AMT (Deux-Montanges Line)

    And I’m not counting CalTrain (San Francisco-San Jose) which is in detailed planning stages for electrification.

    So that’s 1 of 25 (or 2 of 25 depending on how you frame the criteria, in the most diesel-friendly scenario), which is 96% (or 92%) of operators.

    Of course, the percentages decline further if you count % track that’s electrified, or % passengers carried by electric commuter services, with NJ Transit, Metro-North and LIRR (with some impact from SEPTA and Metra/SSL and MARC).

    Can Metrolinx do any math? Or perhaps they mean track that diesels can not run – basically the Mont-Royal Tunnel, the Park Avenue Tunnel and Hudson and East River Tunnels in New York, the Center City Connection in Philly, and track approaching the Randolph Station in Chicago. That might work out to 1%.


  6. Steve, when they say 99% of the lines and/or operators are diesel are they strictly looking in North America? Pretty much everything in Europe & Japan is electrified I believe and even in India, all commuter lines are electrified. Bombay (Mumbai) has had electrified commuter service for decades.


  7. Steve wrote, “What can I say? Metrolinx really needs to be held to account on this.”

    Absolutely. This kind of twisting of the facts to suit a point of view is incredibly deceitful but, sadly, all too common.

    It reminds me of a sketch on SNL last year where they were parodying John McCain’s “I approve this message” commercials. They had a sarcastic sounding announcer state a fact and connect the dots from it to some ridiculous conclusion (Obama is for universal health care – that’s health care for the entire universe, including Osama Bin Laden!).

    Only, Metrolinx is not *supposed* to be a joke!


  8. I think it’s fair to say that most regular readers (myself included) of this website simply believe the 99% figure is at best a gross distortion. Rather than state it here, perhaps we could fill in the form on Metrolinks’ website saying we, the public, want proper facts presented to us.


  9. I doubt there’s anybody who doubts that electric is not a better way of doing commuter service than diesel – certainly not me.

    The real question is – what service level is appropriate to switch to electric operation, and where existing diesel routes require near term service increases, for how long is it justifiable to delay increasing service pending electrification. It’s time that Metrolinx framed the discussion in those terms and not red herrings about how overhead looks and operator share.

    My thinking would be – begin electrification work at Union Station and staging yards, electrify an “inner-Lakeshore corridor” which would be stopping service with the “outer Lakeshore” (Hamilton, Niagara, Bowmanville) staying diesel and running express within the “inner” zone, at which point “inner Georgetown” would be done with “outer Georgetown” – Guelph, Kitchener, VIA service remaining dieselised. At that point, if service on Barrie/Richmond Hill/Stouffville has not reached electrification thresholds, Hamilton and Bowmanville could be next.

    The intervention to the Weston Coalition and the MOH has changed the landscape for fleet evolution since my expectation was that electrification would be a question of expansion, not replacement – diesels displaced from the Lakeshore would power some of Bolton/Seaton/more Barrie/more Richmond Hill/more Stouffville-Uxbridge but that it would not necessarily be enough stock to fully supply those routes.

    A decision from the MinofEnv affirming the MOH’s view could create a cap on rail diesel movements in at least the USRC which would mean that diesel service could not exceed the current total – new diesel service would be a 1 for 1 basis with electric and no more, and that would have to include VIA and freight service. This would then at the very least demand that a second major passenger terminus – most likely in the CP North Toronto corridor – would be required to ensure that new routes could be started without the expense of electrification on day 1.

    I have to come back to one other issue in the MOH’s submission – movements have to be weighted. It might be factual that there will be more movements in the Georgetown corridor but those movements should be weighted – a 4000hp GO or a series of freight locos pulling a mile long consist should not be directly compared to an 900hp 2-driving-car RDC set. Instead we should be looking at noise contours and PMx/NOx/SOx contours in the context of other emission sources so that rail contributes its part in an overall lessening of pollution in the MOH’s bailiwick.


  10. Out of curiosity, has CN and/or CP stated any sort of opinion regarding Metrolinx’s electrification plans?

    Steve: Not publicly. I suspect they are prepared to entertain any proposals as long as (a) they don’t interfere with railway operations and (b) someone else pays for it.


  11. METROLINX has been untruthful from day one. Period. An organization setup to help us now deceives us. Metrolinx is acting like a self interested corporation.


  12. Nick L says:
    August 20, 2009 at 11:31 pm

    “Out of curiosity, has CN and/or CP stated any sort of opinion regarding Metrolinx’s electrification plans?”

    Steve: “Not publicly. I suspect they are prepared to entertain any proposals as long as (a) they don’t interfere with railway operations and (b) someone else pays for it.”

    I believe that years ago when electrification was first proposed they said that it had to be at 25 kV AC to be compatible with any future electrification of theirs and someone else had to pay for it.


  13. Actual sample question on Metrolinx’s site: “What emerging technologies provide viable alternatives to either electric or diesel power?”

    I had a little trouble imagining what they could be talking about, here, until I remembered that nonsense about hydrogen-powered locomotives that Dalton McGuinty occasionally mentions. We would, of course, produce the hydrogen at the new nuclear reactors that we’re not building.

    If the pre-ordained end-game is a doomed plan for a trillion dollar jet-propelled monorail hydrofoil, could they just say so up front so I can start shopping for a car?

    Steve: If they’re going to use a hydrofoil, this means a waterway, and that’s federal jurisdiction. Besides, you have to watch out for the swans.


  14. Eric S. Smith says:
    August 22, 2009 at 4:41 pm

    “Actual sample question on Metrolinx’s site: “What emerging technologies provide viable alternatives to either electric or diesel power?”

    Watch out. In the latest issue of trains, September 2009, there is a small news article that BNSF has converted a green goat to run on hydrogen. It has to refuel every 8 to 24 hours depending on amount of use. That should be real good for 18 hour base service. Perhaps they can bring back the tender.

    They also have an article in City Transit about Toronto’s 204 car LFRV order with options for another 200 cars. They also talk about GO’s expansion to Niagara Falls, Bowmanville via CP from Oshawa, and all day service to Milton after they double track the CP. Wait, isn’t it already double and triple tracked? Maybe Trains should hire someone who can read press releases.


  15. Hopefully they will take the responses from the public more seriously than they took the recommendation from the Toronto Board of Health.

    The Scope of Work needs to be tightened to arrive at implementation plans for priority routes when the study reports out. There should be emphasis placed on transitioning current planning for diesel expansion to electrification immediately where major investments are contemplated so that existing resources are directly applied to cost of electrification. The current 2 stage approach of expand with diesels and electrify later is a boondoggle. This study should frame the mid-course correction that is badly needed, so everyones input is encouraged. We also understand there is to be focus group sessions held in September with technical folks … any further word on this?

    Steve: I don’t know. Metrolinx, in its infinite wisdom, did not put me on the advisory committee, and I have to depend on time honoured sources (leaks) as well as official pronouncements. Of course if I were on the advisory committee, I probably wouldn’t be allowed to tell you anything in that ever so open, friendly, inclusive Metrolinx tradition.

    As to their treatment of the Board of Health, the Metrolinx final report misrepresents (perhaps meaning to soften the blow and divert the MOE reviewers?) recommendation 3 of the July/09 Board of Health report. On page 107 of the 516 page final report, (heavy to download) Metrolinx states:

    3. Board of Health request Metrolinx to:

    a) Electrify Georgetown South Service Expansion and Union-Pearson Rail Link as soon as possible

    IN FACT, the Board of Health decision is:

    3. requested Metrolinx to:

    a) electrify the Georgetown South Service Expansion and the Union-Pearson Rail Link PRIOR TO IMPLEMENTING EXPANDED SERVICE

    The MOH has put in a strong letter of objection to using diesels for expanding services on the Georgetown South corridor.

    We all want better transit, but let’s not sacrifice public health to get it when electrification is viable, sustainable, cost-effective and world class.

    Steve: I think that the only way Metrolinx will take anything seriously will be that Queen’s Park gets tired of being pilloried for the inept handling of major public issues by agencies it has created.


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