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