Metrolinx Fudges Clean Train Info

As I reported here recently, Toronto’s Medical Officer of Health, Dr. David McKeown, criticized the Metrolinx plans for substantial increased diesel train operation in the Weston corridor.

Subsequently, the MOH issued a revised critique in response to updated information from Metrolinx.  In this, he retracted three claims made in his original letter:

  • Unacceptable lukemia risks are no longer predicted.
  • Although local concentrations of some contaminants are predicted to rise, the MOH no longer feels that Metrolinx is underestimating the local outcomes.
  • Similarly, acute health risks are predicted to rise, but the increase is not underestimated my Metrolinx.

However, the MOH goes on to say:

Notwithstanding the above, I remain concerned about the air quality impacts and increased health risks predicted for the immediately adjacent communities as a result of the proposed diesel expansion.

In the “Information Clarification” Metrolinx has described potential air quality and health impact mitigation measures, including improvements to locomotive stock. While these mitigation measures would reduce emissions, it is not clear what level of reduction will be achieved in local ambient air concentrations of the respiratory irritants for which increased risk is predicted.

On its home page, Metrolinx lists the three bullets above, but without the qualification.  Metrolinx goes on to claim that the MOH’s revised opinion includes:

As an alternative to electrification, other mitigation measures proposed by Metrolinx may, subject to demonstration, be acceptable.

In fact, Dr. McKeown’s letter actually says:

In its additional information Metrolinx also indicates that it is exploring alternatives to diesel train technology, including electrification. In my view, electrification is the option that most clearly addresses the air quality and health impacts predicted from the proposed project for populations adjacent to the line by ensuring that any emissions (due to electrical power generation) are regional in nature. Whether other measures proposed as part of a comprehensive mitigation strategy could reduce the predicted air quality and health impacts to an acceptable level remains to be demonstrated.

Metrolinx not only misrepresented the MOH’s position, but blanketed the Weston Corridor with flyer reiterating the claims made on their website.

Today, as part of the Clean Train Coalition‘s protest march, Dr. McKeown took the unusual step of attending a public rally.  At that rally, he said:

What we know about air pollution in Toronto is that any proposal now should pass a very stringent test before it goes forward. This proposal has not passed that test in my view. The study, conducted by Metrolinx itself, indicates clearly that there will be impacts on air quality as well as health risks for those that live close to the line.

Additional information on the rally can be found at the Star’s website.

Metrolinx really needs to stop spinning this issue.  They have created an electrification study, an advisory committee to recommend terms of reference for that study, and are about to have a “stakeholder consultation” where folks like me can contribute their input to the advisory committee.  Electrification of the Lakeshore corridor is already part of the Premier’s announced plans for GO Transit.

Why is Metrolinx trying so desperately to win a battle between the community and the Minister of the Environment?

20 thoughts on “Metrolinx Fudges Clean Train Info

  1. The fact remains that:
    1. The MOH came out against a mass transit project. (mind boggles)
    2. The MOH got his facts wrong.
    3. An agency of the City of Toronto came out against a Metrolinx project (hard to believe there won’t be repercussions for that!)
    4. The electric-on-day-one folks have yet to admit that this position denies ANY improvement in GO service from this day forward since the peak emissions point is Union and people live there too (and more once Maple Leaf Square goes live).
    5. Diesel rail projects are judged differently over TTC bus improvements and any truck operation that feels like starting up.


    1. The MOH is not against a transit project, only the way it is being implemented.

    2. The MOH did not get his facts wrong. In one case, there has been a very recent change in an internationally accepted standard. In two other cases, the materials published by Metrolinx gave a different view of their methodology than what was actually used. This was clarified in discussions between the MOH and Metrolinx, and the MOH has revised his opinion accordingly. This does not change the fact that by Metrolinx’ own admission, pollution in the corridor will rise, and this remains of concern to the MOH.

    Meanwhile, Metrolinx has blatantly misrepresented the MOH’s revised position in an attempt to say that he accepts their proposals when he has done nothing of the kind. This sort of dishonesty tarnishes all statements Metrolinx makes, and needlessly perpetuates an adversarial relationship.

    3. Toronto should be alert to situations where any other agency, including its own, attempts to sweep serious problems with proposals, even transit ones, under the rug. Again, Toronto supports transit, but wants it implemented in a way that doesn’t harm the city. In a similar vein, the Strachan Avenue grade separation was redesigned along lines proposed by the City to minimize its community effects. That’s constructive improvement in a project, not opposition. Only paranoid organizations see all criticism as opposition, and that sadly has been the Metrolinx character from the start.

    4. The electric-on-day-one folks are setting the bar high and saying “why can’t you achieve this”. That’s standard advocacy technique. If you ask for “electric sometime”, this provides far too much wiggle room. Metrolinx would be on stronger ground if the Premier had not already announced Lakeshore’s electrification and the then-Minister talked about how vital it was as an improvement to the environment. The arguments hold for the Weston corridor which will have comparable service levels under the Metrolinx plans.

    5. The transit fleet in Toronto uses much smaller diesels than those found in railway locomotives, and with the possible exception of a few locations, the concentration of buses in any part of the city is quite small. You can’t just count the engines, you have to look at their horsepower and technology for emission control. The Weston corridor project is a massive increase in a concentrated area, and it’s subject to an Environmental Assessment. New truck firms are not, nor are TTC bus operations. While it would be useful for the MOH to look at the larger issue of diesels generally, he is responding to a specific study for one corridor.


  2. The MOH should go after the TTC as well … there are 1600 to 1700 diesel buses running all over the city everyday…

    Steve: As I said in reply to Mark Dowling’s comment, the MOH was responding to a specific EA. Also, you cannot just count diesel engines, you have to look at their horsepower, duty cycle and pollution control technology. Indeed that’s an issue on the Weston corridor because of the mix of equipment types that will operate on different trains. The contribution of each type has to be calculated rather than “n” diesels times “x” pollution per diesel.


  3. The airport service will be Budds – four truck engines per set – and thus the TTC analogy is closer to the mark since most of the “up to 450” services will be airport runs, not to mention that the GO sets will be mostly/completely Tier 2.

    The “advocacy” position is deeply damaging to the ability to expand GO near term. Let’s have a rational position when service can be incepted at a basic level while electrification infrastructure is constructed and define noise and emissions contours to be implemented throughout the network, not just Weston.

    At that point we get FRA compliant EMUs to replace the Budds and send the Budds to replace the boneshaker HEP1 I rode Kitchener-London on Friday. That will require Metrolinx to get proper control of Blue22 – the fight that needs to be had before the one the Weston-NDP interests (saw Cheri diNovo on TV news today) are waging.


  4. Nick J Boragina said: Money

    The correct term is “capital,” not “money.” If Metrolinx actually looked at “money,” they’d be looking at the cost of the project over 10 years or more, and in such, electric would win easily as it has substantially less maintenance expense.

    Mark Dowling said: most of the “up to 450″ services will be airport runs, not to mention that the GO sets will be mostly/completely Tier 2.

    Of the 450 runs, only 140 will be to or from the airport. The overwhelming majority will be GO. 25 or so will be freight (although I think those projections are totally worthless… CN will be 0 east of the Humber, CP will be probably break 30+, more if peak oil does strike). 1/3rd does not equal “most.”

    Also, Tier 2 is worthless. Until Tier 4, which won’t be available until 2015 at the earliest, these “improvements” between Tiers are modest at best, except in the case between Tier 2 and Tier 3, in which case it is actually a totally worthless improvement as the two are virtually identical (only one category is very slightly improved). What makes Tier 4 different is that it is supposed to use some form of emissions capture, none of the others do and so aren’t really an improvement, especially when factoring in the reality that the reductions in particulate matter are achieved by making it smaller so that it is harder to detect, which is why we now have new worries about PM0.1, because of these “advancements” in diesel technology that breaks down PM2.5 to the smaller PM1.0 and PM0.1 that is harder to detect, but far FAR more dangerous as well. A prime example of the cure being worse than the disease.

    Mark Dowling said: The “advocacy” position is deeply damaging to the ability to expand GO near term.

    Hardly. GO is deeply damaging its ability to expand its service in the near term by not electrifying its busiest services. The key factor limiting GO is not electrification infrastructure implementation, it’s Union Station. Union Station cannot handle the demand Metrolinx is projecting, and expanding the tracks/platforms is somewhere between viciously complex to (and including) impossible. Electrification, especially if combined with additional downtown stations to distribute the load and reduce dwell times at Union, may potentially get most GO services in (VIA and UPRL would be kicked out during peak period though… don’t know how that’s gonna fly (pardon the pun)). Even with all that, you’d still have to route some into North Toronto during peak.


  5. I know this is a backward idea and I am not a rail expert. Regarding the airport service from Union, Metrolinx could use surplus H5 subway cars if they decided electrification would be the best way to go. The trains may need heavy modification for electric commuter service assuming if they are not sold to a foreign buyer.

    Steve: Co-existence of equipment in the rail corridor rules out using subway cars as they do not meet railway crashworthiness standards.


  6. [This comment was submitted in the “Mayor of Transit City” thread, but I have moved it to keep everything related to the Weston/Metrolinx issue together.]

    Well done, both the column and the responses. [This refers to the article about Mayor Miller.]

    On this past Saturday, September 26th, the Human Train event was held to connect neighbourhoods along the Georgetown South corridor in speaking out for electrification of the route and scrapping the plan for service expansions to be done based on diesel technology.

    Starting in Weston with a group of about 50 walkers, the Human Train moved south along the route through Whistelstops at Mount Dennis, Junction, and Wallace Bridge, down the rail path, along Bloor and Dundas west and into Sorauren Park for an afternoon rally. By the time we reached Sorauren there were easily 1200 people involved, likely more. (Dont believe the headcount in the Star).

    As an invited speaker at the Sorauren event, [Councillor] Gord Perks conveyed two messages in addition to his own: one from Mayor David Miller in support of electrifying Georgetown and building it right from the start; the other from all present to Metrolinx CEO Robert Prichard’s office voice mail calling on Metrolinx to ELECTRIFY NOW. I would be interested in hearing more in your column about details of both Miller’s and Prichard’s public statements.

    And for readers who did not attend the Sorauren rally, Toronto’s MOH Dr David McKeown spoke definitively about his position that Metrolinx’ plan to intensify the use diesels on this corridor has significant health impacts and his recommendation to Minister Gerretsen is to electrify the project as there is nothing of substance put forward in the project that can mitigate these concerns as well as electrification.

    The Human Train then continued from Sorauren along Queen Street West to end in Trinity Bellwoods Park where a letter to the Premier was signed by all who reached the final Whistle Stop. For those interested, please check into the Clean Train site.

    Steve: Prichard’s comments in today’s Star are not encouraging:

    Metrolinx CEO Rob Prichard downplayed suggestions of a conflict, saying all agree diesel exhaust could contribute to air pollution by the tracks – but only on very bad air days.

    While knowledgeable about medical health, McKeown “is no expert on electrification, as he would acknowledge,” Prichard added.


  7. Metrolinx is clearly no expert on electrification, either, so Prichard may want to exercise more caution when making statements. If knew something about electrification, they wouldn’t be wasting time and tax dollars on consultants to study electrification yet again. We know that it is going to be 25kV AC OCS, as it would be beyond assinine to electrify Lakeshore with one technology and Georgetown another. The rest, such as electric locomotive or EMU, which is a valid debate to have, can be decided later while the OCS is under construction.

    Steve: Metrolinx loves to spend money on consultants. They make the entire industry recession-proof.


  8. “The key factor limiting GO is not electrification infrastructure implementation, it’s Union Station.” Well – it’s both, since Union needs to be electrified (tricky, heritage building and all) and the USRC is where peak emissions will always be. As noted on this blog in the past, the ability of North Toronto Corridor to make a sizable dent in service is questionable – not least because part of any Milton-North Toronto-Agincourt service will have a noise/emission plume impacting the southern part of the Weston corridor and their “advocacy” will not have gone unnoticed in Rosedale/Summerhill. We will be hearing a lot more about poison trains.

    Steve: FYI the reconstruction of the Union Station train shed which will be undertaken by GO Transit already has provision for changes needed to accommodate electrification. Metrolinx has erroneously double-counted this cost by including it as part of a future electrification project. This provision has been in GO’s plans for some time and is not a reaction to the current controversy.

    The emissions in USRC – an area becoming more and more residential in nature – are where Weston will be in a decade or more, and the biggest short term impact on train related emissions will be if Lakeshore E/W is electrified first – and let’s not forget in the case of West they have the QEW too. I see the “up to 450” figure as notional in respect of us (a) seeing it in our lifetime and (b) them being all diesel. By the time 450 movements are hit there is no way – no way – that electrification won’t have happened because squeezing that many services into the corridor will require mostly trains with that kind of pickup (again, see the Lakeshore electrification post herein).

    If this was China where a national diktat mean hundreds of km of electrification a year for the next decade and 380km/h trains it would be terrific – but that’s not how Canada works and we can’t expect it to go any faster in the short term. The Feds and Province don’t give a damn, especially given that the most visible politicians/activists behind it are not members of either governing party, and the City doesn’t have the money to fund electrification even if it had the will to put money into a regional project.

    That’s why the “day one advocacy position” smacks of simply being against increased service because it is localised to the Weston corridor and not a city wide campaign to demand a standard across all lines which would allow service increases to be increased and GO/Metrolinx expansions would be judged against that standard. Rationally Lakeshore will precede Weston which means “no service increase” until the 2015-2020 time horizon. I don’t think we can wait a decade for more service, even if it’s diesel.

    Let’s face it, this problem would go away in a heartbeat if David Miller stood up and said – Blue22 will not happen its current form, period. Toronto will instead pay for the Woodbine station with airport service simply being part of the standard timetable while GTAA pays for extension and refit of the peoplemover to that station, and in the short term GO will operate a frequent shuttle from Malton. But Bridge Killer Miller (I mention this since he has a track record in not letting signed agreements stop him before) has let this project proceed without visible obstruction. That would deal with (up to) 140 movements out of the (up to) 450 but more importantly the 140 most likely to happen in the next decade.

    Steve: Proponents of Blue 22 have done a good job of giving the impression that there is a signed contract various governments can’t back out of. In fact, as part of digging into this, the Weston Coalition found that there is no contract with Ottawa, and there is only a Memorandum of Understanding with Queen’s Park. There is nothing stopping Metrolinx from redesigning Blue 22 as part of the GO network, except possibly some backroom lobbying by the politically well-connected SNC-Lavalin.

    David Miller chose not to oppose Blue 22 at least in part because of the potential for a losing conflict with two levels of government.

    There are times people complain that Miller doesn’t say enough, and times they complain that he says too much. A lot depends on which side of an issue you’re on.


  9. I was just tipped off to something that I hadn’t noticed before: The airport spur has a clearance that is insufficient for electrification at Network Road – only 5m clearance. It is, however, feasible for the spur to go over Network Road instead of under, and the governing grade would actually go down from 4% to 3%, but of course would be more expensive.

    Steve: Yes, Mike Sullivan from the Weston Coalition sent me this info too.


  10. I fear that if given the option between

    A – Electric Trains all day to Brampton
    B – No service improvements to Brampton

    People will chose B (IE by not providing the funding for A) and we are left with a partial transit network for the time being, and if the right-wingers win the next elections at the three levels of government, for a very long time indeed.


  11. Steve,

    Out of all of this the most worrisome statement from Metrolinx is Pritchard’s claim that the problem only is only serious on bad air days. If the MOH doesn’t know electrification, Pritchard certainly doesn’t understand human health.

    I’ll ignore the fact that that isn’t true (there are health risks associated with constant low level exposures) and assume that Pritchard is correct. During a bad summer we can have as many as 40 days where we exceed air quality standards and have smog alerts. On those days hospital admissions jump and people die.

    Are the thousands of residents in the area supposed to hold their breath for the equivalent of six weeks some summers?

    That a public agency would advocate for this project by arguing that it is only a serious health threat for six weeks during bad summers is an obscenity.

    Gord Perks


  12. To be fair on the Budd RDC issue, the Moncton firm that owns those ex-VIA cars will be able to deliver them for the Union-Pearson Rail Link with new MAN engines and a Voith transmission system meeting EPA Tier IV standards. This propulsion package has already been used in European DMUs. The question still remains whether the whole private sector project will ever be executed as planned.


  13. Ah yes, and after Metrolinx sent out these pamphlets misinforming homeowners that mitigation measures are acceptable to the MOH, they started a telemarketing campaign using push questions to persuade parents that their kids would not be poisoned. It started Thursday, October 1st, and it is still going.

    These poll results should be invalidated because of the false information on the pamphlets, sent out just before the phone calls, to an area far larger than their Notice of Assessment area. Incidentally, they forgot to send the Notice of Assessments out to those homes for the most part.

    First question by the telemarketer – “Do you have kids?”, and if not, off the telemarketers go to find actual parents to tell that everything will be just peachy as 464+ trains go through their neighbourhoods, spewing toxic fumes.

    3600 pages of an Environmental Assessment Report designed to tell us that 464+ diesel trains a day are just swell for our communities.

    Who wrote this script – Monty Python?

    For an article on the Human Train, click here.


  14. And Greg, I don’t care about the upgrades on BUDD diesel engines- they are passing by schools, parks, daycares and homes, and there is no diesel, or diesel engines, that are clean enough to pass through inner city neighbourhoods in the west end that already have some of the worst air pollution in Ontario.


  15. Hello,

    I live by these tracks and those poor GO trains go by in their noisy fashion. After the announcement by the anti-environment mini me I realized what G O stands for, Government Oppression.

    By all means you ….,I dare not use that word in such a public forum. The people , the ordinary day to day people who live in this so called democratic society, are opposed to the pollution MetroStinx is going to unleash. Since this is a no brainer the politicians and the board of Metrostinx should understand it easily.

    What in the world is with these people. The ENTIRE world is going electric and we are not. That makes you people stupid at best and dangerous at worst.

    We who live in this area are not helpless and this fight has just started. Since we cannot rely on others we will have to rely on ourselves. You know I have a good feeling we are going to win in the end. Remember Metrostinx expect the unexpected.

    Pius Agius


  16. Presumably the airport spur and platform was planned with single deck in mind? Is 5m enough to safely run single deck EMUs?

    Steve: Probably. However, this would leave GO (or whoever) with a special fleet for airport service, and no ability to run extra trains with their standard fleet for special occasions.


  17. “there is no diesel, or diesel engines, that are clean enough to pass through inner city neighbourhoods in the west end that already have some of the worst air pollution in Ontario.”

    Then why is the MOH not demanding that the Jane LRT be moved to the front of the queue along with Eglinton and the Sheppard LRT be deprioritised?

    Steve: Why isn’t the MOH demanding that major roads be closed to avoid pollution, or that motorists be only allowed to drive on even/odd days depending on their license plate number? The issue before the MOH was the GSSE project. As for Jane and Eglinton, the pollution on them caused by buses is far, far lower than the pollution the trains would add in the rail corridor. Apples and oranges.


  18. “Why isn’t the MOH demanding that major roads be closed to avoid pollution…”

    This is my point – if MOH wants to get involved in the effects of hydrocarbon based transportation, it needs to be in a holistic manner and not simply limited to occasional interventions on EAs – not least when the City he works for consumes more diesel than any other organisation in the 416.


  19. 450 trains minus 160 ARL trains is not “most of the trains”. Most of the trains will in fact be GO Transit trains.

    Out of 464 trains, 304 will be GO Transits trains. The majority of those trains do nor go “to, from or through Georgetown” on the Georgetown South rail corridor (trains that service Brampton, Bolton, and Bradford for example) so there is no restriction on what Tier level of technology must be used. It is clear that GO Transit trains that do not go “to,from or through Georgetown” can remain Tier level 2 for any foreseeable future, along with all the freight traffic that travels along the Georgetown South rail corridor.

    The GO Transit trains that go “to, from or through Georgetown” must be Tier 4 technology when that technology becomes commercially available. But that is only a fraction of the total 464 trains.

    The ARL must use Tier 4 technology “when it becomes commercially available”. So again Blue22 rolls with any Tier level they want to run, until the technology becomes commercially available.

    So how is the Minister’s stipulation protecting the populous?

    Steve: I will choose to believe that the Minister has been badly advised.


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