Fun With Figures at Metrolinx

Monday’s approval of Metrolinx’ plans to run diesel trains on the Weston/Georgetown corridor stirred up lots of discussion here, in the mainstream media and at City Hall.  If this approval rested on solid data and projections, we could simply argue the fine points and debate rollout plans.  However, the claims made by Metrolinx for emissions from the project, comparisons with auto travel and supposed reductions by redirected auto travel depend on calculations that are transparently wrong.

In brief, Metrolinx assumes that every GO train trip, both ways, every day, all day in the corridor will be completely full of passengers, all 1,900 of them (a fully seated load on a 12-car train).  This absurd premise overstates the likely ridership by a factor of at least 4, probably greater (details follow later in this article) with the following effects:

  • Pollution caused by the trains is a fixed number determined by how many trips they make.  If there are fewer passengers, the pollution per passenger trip is much larger than claimed by Metrolinx.
  • If there are fewer passengers, then fewer auto trips are diverted to rail.  This does not affect the pollution saving per trip (presuming that one even agrees with this premise), but the total saving is greatly reduced because so many fewer trips are diverted.

Opening day (2015) traffic projected for the corridor is 184 GO trains and 140 UPRL (Airport) trains.  The total trips calculated by Metrolinx for the corridor GO services is 349,600 per weekday.  To put this in context, the entire GO rail system carries about 180,000 passengers per day today.

In practice, the trains will carry nowhere near 1,900 per trip on average.  Peak travel will be heavily inbound in the AM and outbound in the PM, with lightly loaded trains in the counterpeak.  During the off-peak, loads will be much lower than at peak, and some trips (notably inbound late evening runs) will be almost empty.  The same patterns can be seen on the Toronto subway system.

I am inserting the break here for those who don’t want to read the gory details, although the conclusions are down at the end. Continue reading

Weston Corridor GO/UPRL Approved, But With Conditions (Update 4)

Updated October 7 at 8:00 am:

Toronto Councillor Michael Thompson, who could not possibly be labelled part of Council’s left wing or a Miller loyalist, has written to George Smitherman, Minister of Energy and Infrastructure, urging that he pursue electrification immediately.  Many of the arguments in this letter echo those of critics of the Minister of the Environment’s approval of diesel operations in the Weston Corridor.

This places Smitherman, a possible mayoral candidate in Toronto, in an intriguing position.  Does he take a Queen’s Park view and parrot the standard line “clean diesels now, but electric maybe, someday”, or look to the election campaign and move to support Toronto Council’s view of the issue?  Thompson himself could be a mayoral candidate.

Updated October 6 at 10:35 am:

Interviews with Keith Brooks of the Clean Train Coalition are available online from CBC (select the item “Diesel Not Good Enough”) and from AM640 (select the item “Keith Brooks — October 5th”).

Updated October 6 at 10:10 am:

John Gerretsen, the Minister of the Environment, seems unable to stay “on message” when discussing electrification with the media.  On CBC and in the Globe, the Minister is quoted as saying that electrification is “too expensive”, and yet in a letter to Keith Brooks of the Clean Train Coalition, the Minister states:

“Many requests were made to require Metrolinx to electrify the Georgetown South Corridor. Metrolinx has committed to conducting a study to look at the best technology for the entire GO Transit rail network of the future, which is required before electrification of the corridor can be considered. I have reminded Metrolinx of its commitment to further study the possibility of electrification for the entire GO Transit rail line, which includes the Georgetown South Corridor. If the study results in information or recommendations that could have positive impacts on the environment, I expect Metrolinx to implement the recommendations as expeditiously as possible.”

Either electrification is too expensive, and should not be considered now, or it will magically become acceptable following the study.

If the Minister is making soothing statements to community groups, why doesn’t he make the same statements to the media?  Possibly because the “too expensive” excuse wouldn’t wash if there’s a study whose outcome may show that electrification is cheaper and better?

Updated October 6 at 6:55 am:

Brodie Fenlon at The Globe covers this story including comments from several of the community and government folks involved in this issue.

Tess Kalinowski at The Star has a short piece, and The CBC reports on the issue.  CBC radio coverage notes that John gerretsen, the Minister of the Environment says the approval will allow the diesel connection to the airport to open by 2015.  This is clearly in aid of the Pan Am Games bid, and an unanswered question is “what happens if we don’t get the bid”.  Has this project approval been railroaded [sorry about that] to sustain Toronto’s bid credibility?

The Minister is also quoted by the Star and CBC as saying that electrification is too expensive.  Does this prejudge the outcome of the very electrification study Metrolinx is about to undertake?  Why study a technology we have already rejected?  Are we seeing the real face of Queen’s Park’s “public consultation” here?

Original post: 

This evening, Ontario’s Ministry of the Environment announced that the Georgetown South GO project has been approved, but with conditions required to ensure that it meets claims for environmental improvements and mitigation, if needed, for any harmful effects.

The press release and detailed announcement of terms are available online.

In brief, the Minister requires that GO Transit and the Union-Pearson Rail Link abide by several conditions.  It is noteworthy that the UPRL is explicitly included because through much of the discussions, it has been treated as an off-limits deal between the federal and/or provincial governments and a private company, SNC-Lavalin, who would implement and operate the service. Continue reading