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.

The major points in the decision are:

  • Metrolinx shall follow its own Environmental Plan, and shall ensure that any other party involved in the implementation shall do so.  This places the onus on Metrolinx regardless of who actually performs any part of the work.
  • There is no mention of alignment issues, specifically with respect to the question of grade crossings or underpasses.  By implication, the Metrolinx proposal is approved as is.
  • All GO and UPRL service in the corridor shall be Tier 4 compliant when service begins or when Tier 4 diesel technology becomes commercially available.  Rules in the United States require Tier 4 locomotives to be available by 2015.
  • Metrolinx shall continue to investigate commercially available alternate technologies.
  • Several conditions apply to ongoing monitoring of emissions in the corridor including the scenario that would apply before Tier 4 locomotives are in use.
  • Metrolinx shall propose a mitigation plan to deal with emissions.  Notably, the conditions do not explicitly mention noise, but this could be presumed under “human health risks”.  Metrolinx and the Ministry should confirm that they include noise and vibration within that category, not just diesel emissions.
  • The study and mitigation plan must be completed before commencement of operations on the Georgetown South Corridor and the UPRL.  This is tricky considering that service already runs here.  It is unclear whether the effect is to prevent any additional service in the immediate future.
  • Metrolinx is required to set up an air monitoring plan for selected sites in the corridor.  Again, noise is not mentioned and this is a significant oversight because base line data for current operations are needed along with future readings and possible mitigation.
  • There is a requirement for ongoing involvement by the public and by relevant agencies such as Toronto’s Medical Officer of Health.  Metrolinx would do well to embrace this as an opportunity rather than doing the least possible to meet the Minister’s terms.

On balance, I would say that Metrolinx more or less got what it wanted, at least in the short term.  The project will continue unimpeded in the hope that technology will catch up with requirements for the corridor.  The Minister did not rule on the specifics of whether diesels are “good”, only that Metrolinx needs to do more work in that regard, aim for the best, and be prepared to conduct further monitoring and planning to minimize the effects.  By assumption, Tier 4 diesel is considered an acceptable implementation once it is available.

The Minister is silent on electrification (for which a system-wide study will begin early in 2010), but speaks of alternative technologies that “become commercially available”.  This could include trains run on hydrogen, but only if they are “commercially available”.  This is a fascinating statement because it implies that there is no other commercially available technology today.  I cannot help remembering back decades to an era when the Government of Ontario steadfastly denied that LRT existed even while Alberta was building lines in its two principal cities.

Metrolinx must not be allowed to claim that electrification is not “commercially available”.  “We don’t want to do it” and “we can’t afford it” have nothing to do with whether it’s available for purchase, but are common excuses to avoid the question.  The Electrification Study will determine what can and should be done, and Metrolinx should not prejudge the outcome with biased claims against electrification.

Although the detailed conditions are technical in nature, the press release itself shows the spin Ontario is putting on the approval.

When planned transit improvements to the current GO system are complete and the system is operating at a maximum level, we expect decreases in emissions that are equivalent to removing tens of millions of car trips a year from our roads. For example, greenhouse gas emissions (in the form of carbon dioxide [CO2]) could be reduced by over 100 kilotonnes annually.

The calculations underlying this statement are deeply flawed on two counts:

  • Trains are assumed to be full of passengers in both directions on all trips.  Clearly, the average load on counter-peak and off-peak trips will be much below actual train capacity, and the number of passenger trips will be corresponding smaller.  Assuming that each GO train will carry 1,900 passengers bothways at 11 pm is ridiculous.
  • Any travel removed from expressways will backfill with latent demand.  Some of this will be travel now made on congested local roads, and some will be net new trips made because roads are thought to be less congested than before.  While GO service may produce more capacity in the overall transportation network, it’s a big jump to expect that pollution will go down.  All that is avoided is future growth that would occur without the new GO services.

Also, current riders have already been diverted from autos to rail travel, and GO cannot count them as net new customers for pollution savings.

The obvious shortcomings of the Minister of the Environment’s order (no mention of electrification as an available technology; no discussion of noise and vibration; no acknowledgement of existing operations) show that the Minister does not fully comprehend, or chooses to ignore, significant matters raised in objections to the Metrolinx proposals.

This decision will do little to placate the many groups who have been active in the Weston Corridor debate.  There’s a lot of wiggle room in the conditions Metrolinx must meet, and Metrolinx has a sorry reputation of responding to criticism with inaccurate and misleading statements.  Indeed, a recent household flyer distributed in the Weston Corridor continues to misrepresent the Medical Officer of Health’s stated position on the diesel vs electric debate.

To put it graciously, bias is unseemly in a public agency, and it undermines confidence in Metrolinx and transit proposals overall.  The statements may play within the government, but they don’t play on the street.

Metrolinx can regain the high ground easily by making up for the Minister’s shortcomings and announcing that it will go the extra distance to do what was not explicitly asked.  Electrification is the easy one — the study is already at the Terms of Reference stage, and Metrolinx already has a Benefits Case Analysis for the Lakeshore Corridor.

At a minimum, an interim report should be available early enough for a go/nogo decision on electrification before the planned service start on UPRL and significant additions to GO.

Noise and vibration are an obvious “oversight”, and Metrolinx should simply include them in their work plan.

Metrolinx and GO have spent years fighting the community on these issues.  Activists were dismissed as NIMBYs when they had valid concerns, and this poisoned the dialogue.  A new attitude from Metrolinx may not convince everyone, but co-operation and honesty would be refreshing.

40 thoughts on “Weston Corridor GO/UPRL Approved, But With Conditions (Update 4)

  1. “Metrolinx shall continue to investigate commercially available alternate technologies.” Like when electricity is invented sometime in the near future.

    Metrolinx is a giant blind frieghter stumbling alone and as always Steve you tell it like it is.

    The fight for electrification is only beginning. And it’s amazing how plans can change when a government feels uneasy at election time. Sometimes self interest does the job that public interest is supposed to do.


  2. The elephant in the room hasn’t been mentioned: Union Station’s capacity shortfall. The Hatch Mott reports clearly show this will be a big problem dedicating track 1 to SNC-L is something that simply cannot be accommodated in Union’s limited track space at peak periods. Even off-peak would be tight with everything but Bolton running at every 15 minutes all day.


  3. It’s about time. It’s been over 6 years and 3 general elections since the feds promised funding for this project. While the political games – by both sides – are unfortunate, Metrolinx has managed to finally bring this to a conclusion that should have been reached years ago.

    Hopefully we can all move on.

    Steve: Actually, Metrolinx (and GO before them) managed to piss off the locals rather badly. Funding from the Feds? Please. They fobbed it off on a P3, and it fell to Ontario to pick up the tab for massive infrastructure upgrades paid for by GO but implemented to enable Blue 22. Classic P3 — the private “partner” isn’t willing to pony up the real cost of their operation. In any event, there isn’t even a contract yet, only a memorandum of understanding. GO, who should have been building the airport link as part of their network years ago, wasn’t allowed to bid on the work. They only got to pay for it.


  4. Blue 22 seems like a disaster in the making. Are tickets still anticipated to be $15-$20 one way? No thanks.

    I find it interesting that a country as poor as North Korea can operate hundreds of kilometers of electric trains yet they are considered “too expensive” here.


  5. I’ll have to read the Chretien government funding announcement again, but I recall hundreds of $millions of funding independent of the UnionPearson rail service.

    Gee if the Chretien government messed this up we’re going to have to throw them out of office!


  6. I seem to remember that the Blue 22 folk were going to be using reconditioned old diesels. If the trains must now meet the Tier 4 standards will this mean they can’t use these?

    Steve: They plan to use reconditioned Budd cars with new engines (that don’t exist yet, of course).


  7. The Moncton firm that has been contracted to rebuild the ex-VIA RDCs has a propulsion package consisting of a MAN diesel engine and a Voith transmission system. This has been used previously in Europe and, we are told, will meet EPA Tier 4 standards. The same gear is going to be used in the anticipated rebuilding of VIA’s RDC fleet.


  8. Given the level of service being proposed, it must be cheaper to run electric trains… which is why I predict we’ll end up with electric trains on opening day.

    Also, I predict GO will quietly point out how they can run the service much cheaper than SNC-Lavalin, and so they will end up doing so.

    Steve: And yet Queen’s Park is madly fighting the idea that electrification is a good thing, and makes no move to say “thanks, but no thanks” to SNC-Lavalin.


  9. Steve, given this announcement, which is disappointing to say the least, when will construction commence?

    Steve: We don’t know yet.


  10. I’m confused (and probably a little thick). If electrification may well be cheaper, why is the province against it? Is it because of the higher startup costs (vs. cheaper operating costs)? Or just because SNC-Lavalin has been promised (via the memorandum of understanding) that they’ll be able to run their old diesels?

    Steve: We don’t know what is in the MOU, but it is claimed that SNC would have tier-4 compliant engines installed in the reconditioned RDCs they will be using. I suspect that Queen’s Park is in a more delicate situation about capital spending right now than they want to let on, and 3Ps are not the saviour of our budget now the private sector has less money to invest. Also, I suspect they want to rush the ARL into operation as a condition of the Pan Am Games bid. If we don’t get it (the announcement comes in November), then I expect to see the situation change.


  11. Great comments Steve. I feel like this is the only place to come to find the truth. There’s definitely something fishy going on between Metrolinx, the Ontario Government and SNC Lavalin. Metrolinx, who say that they want to electrify this line in 15 years, are spinning information to the public about electrification. Why all the fuss about electrifying? It seems either stupid or someone is getting some sort of backroom deal.


  12. Comparative costing anyone?

    Gerretsen states everyone agrees there is high environmental health risk cost is the issue, yet cost is the main factor for green-lighting diesels.

    Province continues to do this in obscurity, the public should see what the numbers they are basing their Billion $ decision upon really look like.

    No consideration was given to the double cost of Mx plans to buy diesels in 2014 and convert the “priority” line to electric sometime later. Can anyone defend this as a prudent use of limited transit funds?

    Electric already exists and surpasses tier 4, much more flexible and can accomodate urban growth along the line as start-stop capability allows for more stations. Is this not an alternative technology? Why is it not being identified by the Ministry of Environment for comparative study?

    Mx has pushed Multi Billion cost fears as a cover for getting favourable decisions on its original plan for diesels. Where’s the public scrutiny on this claim and published estimates so due diligence can happen as part of the review process? Should this not be part of the public participation process to contribute to the policy decision?

    The ‘strict’ conditions announced by Gerretsen are far from it:

    No requirements have been made to implement TIER 4 by the launch date, and weak direction attached to the condition to allow old diesels to be used until Mx wants to make the changeover, if ever.

    No commitments have been required to use premium cost Tier 4 locos except as mitigation measure on smog days.


  13. Back in December 2008 when we started down the Metrolinx route, they were talking about a 2009 construction start. So one would think mid-next year at the latest. I can’t see that anything fundamental has changed.


  14. Of course is would spark controversy. It’s a new thing (i.e. rail link to Pearson), so people want it to be built to their vision.

    My concern is still with the NIMBYism in Weston – they don’t mind the pollution from all the cars and trucks in the area (Lawrence Ave, Weston Road and the 401), but complain about pollution from the more efficient operation (i.e. the train.) Please, these people should be complaining about all the vehicles in the area that are causing the pollution.

    Steve: For the umpteenth time: The pollution from the trains is concentrated in the rail corridor, and is actually worst south of West Toronto (well out of Weston) where all five services (Georgetown, Airport, Malton, Barrie and Bolton) will run together down to Union. The saving from “avoided trips” is ephemeral because road capacity will backfill and the pollution from it will remain, and the reduced pollution, even if it did exist, would largely be outside of the rail corridor.


  15. Electrification is the only thing that makes even the slightest amount of sense for the UNPL. I fear, however, that the “Don’t even dare add one more train to Brampton” NIMBY folk have polarized the issue to the point that it’s no longer about what makes sense.


  16. Perhaps the secret behind the province’s refusal to electrify is a desperation not to reopen coal generating plants… A bit of ‘borrowing from Peter to pay Paul’.


  17. I lived 50 metres behind the CP tracks (what will become the Bolton line) for years. We got at most 3 freight trains per day.

    Even if the line is converted to electric, if hundreds of trains are going to use the Georgetown tracks daily, the residents along that corridor will be in for hell. If I were them, I’d move now.


  18. Is there not a lawsuit waiting for us if the SNC-Lavalin contract is cancelled?

    Steve: There is no contract, only a memorandum of understanding which has nowhere near the same force in terms of claims for damages. It should be noted that the requirements placed on SNC by the Minister’s order are more onerous than those originally contemplated, and could be read as a change of the underlying assumptions. In a story published tonight in the Globe (and likely in Wednesday’s paper), we learn:

    “We just don’t know if it’s possible to meet these standards,” said Gillian MacCormack, vice-president of public relations for SNC-Lavalin, the firm that will run the Union-Pearson rail link.


  19. Well, if people don’t like this new service running in their backyards then the thing to do is lobby like hell for electrification.

    Steve: You may have noticed they have been doing quite a bit of this already.


  20. While electrification is clearly desirable to increase service speed among other benefits, you shouldn’t underestimate the complexity of the job. There are numerous complications that need to be addressed in the process of electrification:

    – Union Station must be electrified first before any of the GO lines can be electrified. To provide sufficient clearance for the overhead lines, the trainshed must be rebuilt.

    Steve: This work is already included in GO Transit’s reconstruction of the trainshed that will begin shortly. They have designed for electrification from the start, and the marginal cost is likely quite small as they had to rebuild the shed anyhow. I also believe that the new signal system installed in the area around the station is compatible with electrified operation.

    – Furthermore, the section of track between Union and Willowbrook Yard must be electrified, unless GO plans to build a new yard to serve the Weston corridor.

    Steve: Electrification of the Lake Shore corridor was announced as one of the priority projects by Dalton McGuinty in Move Ontario 2020. Metrolinx has already published an analysis of this scheme which, among other things, concluded that electrification was unavoidable given the level of service planned for that line. Therefore, the cost of a link to Willowbrook is part of an already identified priority project.

    – High clearance is required to accommodate high freight cars (double stack containers and autoracks), which are significantly higher than GO Bilevels. Unless these are banned (which would be problematic on lines owned by CN/CP) this will likely require modifications to increase clearance under bridges/through tunnels.

    Steve: The cost of improving clearances at various locations was included in the Lake Shore electrification studies done by GO. All of the structures planned for the Georgetown corridor will be high enough to accommodate overhead wiring. The CPR is trickier depending on what is done with the Milton line.

    Realistically, even if we were to decide to electrify the GO network today, it would take at least five years before electrified trains are in operation. Meanwhile, significant increases in GO service will take place. Is it really realistic to electrify the Georgetown on “day one”, whatever that means? Furthermore, I don’t think it is a big deal to initially operate the Weston corridor with diesel trains because (a) it will not be 400 trains on day one; service will be ramped up gradually and (b) if we have a surplus of diesel locomotives, we can either sell them or move them to expanded diesel-only lines (Niagara, Kitchener, Peterborough etc.) when they are replaced with electrics. Finally, the Lakeshore line should surely be the first line to receive electrification because it is a more important line than the Georgetown line.

    Steve: If we are to believe the statements from Metrolinx, the “day 1” number of trains in the corridor as a whole will be 140 Air-Rail link trains plus about 180 GO trains. Some of those are Milton trains, and some are Barrie trains, and so I can’t say definitively how many would still be in “the corridor” north of the West Toronto diamond. It is certainly no stretch to say that there will be over 200 trains on “day 1”.

    An important reminder is that people wrongly talk only about Weston in this debate. In fact, the number of trains planned for Milton and Barrie will also rise substantially by “day 1” and this affects the people living along the corridor south of West Toronto.


  21. Why is this even a subject for discussion?

    Why are Torontonians (and our elected officials) so lazy? Why do we need to spend time and money on a study? Our future needs are surely better served if we allocate funds for electrification now in order to ensure long-term viability of this project.

    This is not just about providing a link to Pearson – the case can also be made that communities in Weston (and a stop at Dundas West) provide needed subway relief. Are you listening Adam Giambrone?

    The integration of regional and urban rail has been a proven success the world over – but not in Canada, I fear. Short-sighted to say the least…

    Steve: And that, sad to say, is thanks to the combined histories of the TTC and GO. You may recall that Metrolinx steadfastly refused to get involved in local transit planning and funding as part of “The Big Move”, nor to contemplate true network integration with GO and TTC operating as one network with a common fare structure. This problem has been around for a long time, long before Adam G. was anywhere near the TTC.


  22. Steve,

    With the greatest of respect, I think you are overselling the backfill argument in traffic and giving short shrift to those whose exasperation at the endless delays to a worthy project is quite justified.

    Steve: The “endless delays” are brought on by the way the project is promoted and misrepresented by GO Transit, now Metrolinx and Queen’s Park. Also, more recently, the Metrolinx plans substantially increased the amount of service proposed for the corridor. This significantly affected issues of noise and pollution.

    To address the back-fill argument: To be certain, when roads have free space and traffic moves more, some people will shift their driving to the now open corridor and or choose to drive.

    However, taking that argument to its extreme logical conclusion, as you seem to be; would require that for each person that GO adds as a passenger, presumably a previous motorist is using approximately this corridor to travel in; they will lose a user to car traffic and the net benefit would be zero. This of course means we shouldn’t build transit of any kind, since for every rider we attract, we will lose an equal number due to freed up road space.

    I know you don’t mean to convey that, but it certainly comes across that way.

    I would suggest that there are roughly speaking (given a static population) a set-number of trips that this corridor of travel has.

    Steve: The assumption of a static population is at the heart of the problem. First off, let’s assume that in a static environment, there is some upper bound to the total number of trips. We should reach a point where moving one of them off of roads to rail will not immediately result in a backfill effect. However, the population and demand are not static, and what we are really doing is providing more overall capacity and limiting the effect of future congestion that puts an upper bound on the number of new trips an unmodified network could handle. With growth, the road system will always be full and will produce more or less a standard level of pollution assuming no major technological change in the overall auto and truck fleets.

    A certain percentage use highways (401/427/Gardiner), a smaller number use local roads, and a certain percentage now use transit. I will assume walking and biking are largely non-factors for GO Transit or Highway, long-haul trips.

    The expansion of GO to all-day service, more frequent service, with more and better stations, should lure a meaningful percentage of trips from the car to transit. I’m sure the various studies have exact numbers, but we can assume the goal would be to move at least 10 points of modal split over, else the project hardly seems worthwhile.

    Now due to growing population, over time, back-fill will occur. But that is in the future, and is the subject of other planning and capital funding exercises (from Smart Growth to BRT, to Hurontario LRT, to Transit City etc. etc.)

    Steve: No. Some of the backfill will occur immediately as trips that otherwise would not be attempted find space to travel. In a worst case situation, the ability to sell a new house in the 905 would become difficult because commuting and congestion would be unacceptably bad. I agree that various other schemes that are not core-oriented will help both suburban 416 and the inner 905, but the many-to-many nature of trips in those areas make a substantial modal shift challenging.

    In the meantime this project, as Tier 4 diesel produces a very real environmental benefit and planning benefit.

    Steve: This assumes that Tier 4 diesels will be available at a reasonable capital and operating cost. Also, as I will describe in a post on Wednesday, Metrolinx has very substantially overstated the comparative pollution outputs of rail and car travel, including allowance for Tier 4. You will have to wait for the details, but it is a major blunder in their calculations.

    To be clear, nothing in this construction of grade-separations or laying of new track in any way precludes future electrification.

    Moreover, as pointed out by other posters, the capacity constraints at Union will almost certainly drive electrification in this corridor long before the train load reach their 2031 projected peak.

    I think there are many of us here, and in the pro-transit community, though I will speak for myself, who very much support electrification in this corridor but do not see it as life and death important at this particular stage of things. We perceive the risk of more delay to this much need project as being far more harmful.

    It is perhaps ironic, that I think I am critiquing an all-or-nothing attitude out of the clean-train folks, which you yourself have criticized in those who are pro-subway (anti-transit city).

    You can appreciate in that context, and have written that subways, on one level might be superior in a number of contexts, but they are not affordable, nor politically viable, particularly if the goal is to create a network. Better to build up the the technology in increments and accept what some might see as ‘second best’ in order to build a network, later upgrade it; rather than see, as in the 80′ and ’90’s virtually no new subway construction.

    Here we have something that gives many of us the same feel, in the name of seeking perfection, all at once, a project may be delayed interminably or worse killed off all together, by making it too cost prohibitive or politically unpalatable.

    Can’t we all just say, Weston deserved a better deal on stations and roads, and dot it. Strachan needed a better crossing, and got it. WE all need this corridor improvement and if we can just live w/Tier 4 Diesel for a short while, we’ll get it.

    Maybe good enough is sometimes not good enough; but it is good enough for now. Fight tomorrow’s battle tomorrow (after the building the grade separations and lay the new track!)

    Steve: I think the issue here is a debate over where the line between “better as electric” actually lies. Metrolinx has skewed their arguments quite badly in the past, and if they had taken a less contentious approach, avoided the sense that they were trying to fudge the figures at every possible turn, they might have a better reception. However, you must remember that things like the Strachan Avenue design change only came about because the City of Toronto dragged Rob Prichard down to the site to show him what was proposed. At that point, he got the message, but it should not have needed that sort of political intervention.

    Because, at heart, I don’t trust anything Metrolinx says until I have verified it thoroughly, I strongly suspect that they are overstating the case against electrification. They need to prove otherwise, and Ministerial bafflegab is no substitute for hard evidence.


  23. When I was a student in Germany 15 years ago in Dusseldorf I was utterly amazed to see that ALL trains there (subways, regional transit and intercity and freight trains) ran off electric overhead wires. Obviously this technology was installed long before global warming became a factor. Yet here in NA we still consider this crazy outer space technology. Yes it is a big cost to transition from diesel, but in my opinion the entire GO network should become electric. Certainly this could create a big new industry in Ontario, especially given that many other metro regions in NA will be looking to do the same in the next decades as they invest in regional transit and try to reduce GHG (in the States likely with huge federal funding). We need more big picture thinking here in Canada, and the opportunities that public capital investment presents to build new local industries that could create, eventually, big international exports.


  24. One question that begs to be answered, diesel may be cheaper in the short term, it was only a year and a half ago that gasoline was well over $1/L and diesel not far behind. Can be be assured that over the life of the rolling stock, that railway diesel will not end up being much more expensive then currently. We know that if we build additional generating capacity using nuclear, wind or solar that once the facility is built, fuel costs are relatively constant, long term. Such is not the case with any oil based fuel. Pollution, even from coal is much easier to control from a central facility then from each car.


  25. Can I safely assume that Metrolinx will be Toronto’s version of BC Translink? Promoting silly technologies that do little to improve transit?


  26. First, thanks Steve for a thoughtful response as always.

    My short reply would be:

    We agree on electrification in the longer term; and we probably agree that Metrolinx for reasons either financial or political has played against this idea to excess.

    But I suppose I come back to ‘so what’?

    Which is to say, nothing proposed precludes electrification. Metrolinx has committed that every bridge/tunnel etc. will be designed with electrification in mind.

    And GO’s own studies on Lakeshore strongly suggest electrification IS coming.

    So really I write this off as an argument about timing.

    Do we have to spend money on this in the next 3 years?

    The conclusion I draw is no we don’t

    And that regardless this corridor is successful to the point estimated and which we all hope; WILL be electrified, it will just happen 10 years from now.

    Which to me; is far better than delaying this project another year or 3 in hopes of forcing electrification into the Day 1 Plan.

    Steve: The other difference in our positions is that, bluntly, I don’t trust Metrolinx to actually electrify even when the need for it is unavoidable. This is particularly true for the UPRL which is, or isn’t, under government control depending on which press release you read. That line will have new (refurbished) equipment specific to that service that won’t be replaced for years. UPRL trains generate far more pollution per rider than the GO service according to Metrolinx’ own projections.


  27. Re: Tom B

    It’s mainly Canada that doesn’t like electric trains. Even the US, which isn’t usually considered the best role model for transit and train use has over 700km of electrified rail service in the Northeast Corridor. Some parts of it have been electrified for over 100 years. Many commuter rail services surrounding New York City are also electrified.

    Canadians on the other hand have none and seem to be alone in the world when it comes to sticking with Diesel. We love to pat ourselves on the back for being environmental leaders, as long as we don’t have to do too much.


  28. Steve,

    This trip substitution/backfill argument needs three points of clarification.

    1. The province is not planning to reduce the number of lane kilometers of highway. If there were such a scheme they could argue that they are swtiching people from car commuting to train commuting. Instead what the georgetown line does is expand total transportation capacity. It’s about more trips not mode switching.

    2. To expand on the first point The Big Move is based on population growth forecasts for the Toronto region of 50%. The reason they want to increase train service is to deal with the new trips. Yes overall modal share will tip more toward transit, but total car trips will not fall. Therefore any pollution from the georgetown will be in addition to current transportation related loads.

    3. Metrolinx is arguing that they must build this line to switch people from relatively highly polluting transportation modes to relatively low ones. If this is important why won’t they support a switch from diesel to electric?



  29. 180 GO Trains on “day 1”? What’s the current number, and how quickly could service be ramped up to 180 in terms of signalling, equipment, platforms – i.e. when is “day 1”? Presumably this number includes Milton/Georgetown/Bolton/Barrie?

    Steve: The current number is around 50 plus freights, and that is spread across all lines (Bolton doesn’t have service yet). Day 1 is in 2015.

    The electric supply issue is not critical but it is important. Supply has dropped off the radar with the decline in manufacturing but hopefully the recession will ease off which will entail an increase in demand. There is a proposal to build a gas fired plant in Oakville which is already attracting opposition, as are the proposals for Mississauga.

    The backfill argument excludes that increases in transit should be accompanied by changes in highways to press home the modal shift *and should be planned as part of the greater Metrolinx scheme* – expansion of Georgetown should be accompanied by conversion of one lane of 427 to at least HOV if not a full transit lane. There is a danger in encouraging the car-promoters that transit is a “can’t win don’t try” activity.


  30. Also – it’s worth noting that Councillor Thompson has been mooted as a mayoral candidate and therefore his letter to Minister Smitherman could be seen as manoeuvring for position. It’s possibly unfair to make this linkage but given neither man has to my knowledge openly declared I think it’s right that all motives be considered.

    Steve: Of course it’s a mayoral shot. I think it’s long overdue for Smitherman (and John Tory too) to decide whether they would come to City Hall as a Governor seconded from Queen’s Park, or as advocates for the city who would challenge Queen’s Park on substantive issues. However, that doesn’t invalidate the questions raised by the letter, and Smitherman would ignore them (or worse reply with inaccurate information) at his peril.


  31. If Smitherman is really planning to run for mayor, he should be resigning his cabinet position. He’s clearly in conflict of interest.


  32. The big risk with doing both Lakeshore and this line at the same time is that there is no local experience in building these things … it would be much better for Lakeshore to be done first, and then once there is some institutional knowledge of how to get these things done, start working on this line.

    Imagine we had started off on transit city before we had done St. Clair … we would have got the whole thing done and then realized we had to pull the whole thing up to fix the water mains … that’s if we could have got through all the legal issues from all the BIA’s that would have banded together … 25% of the city would have been shut down because the access to their front doors would be blocked by rails and construction equipment that were delivered a year before they could be installed … and the whole thing would have been delayed another year by a strike or two…

    There are a lot of issues that will need to be worked out with electrification (even if it is a pretty standard thing to do elsewhere) – engines, two level cars, safety, pole design, bridge design, station design … staging the construction spreads the risk out, allows for leadership to understand the issues, engineers to understand the equipment, the community to understand the costs, the builders to understand the staging, and the system to continue to partially function … and for the second line to be better than the first…

    Steve: The Georgetown line is shorter than the Lake Shore. Why not make it the guinea pig? Your argument is valid in that project management skills are not thick on the ground given experience with some TTC projects, and GO’s handling of the West Toronto grade separation is a classic case of telling the community to f* off. If anyone wonders why people are so distrustful of GO/Metrolinx, so expecting to be screwed at every opportunity, you just have to look at that debacle.

    Quite bluntly, I don’t expect electrification will ever occur without external pressure. There will always be some reason to defer, and we won’t even get Lake Shore. If Georgetown has to wait for something that does not even have funding or an implementation schedule, it will wait forever.


  33. “The Georgetown line is shorter than the Lake Shore. Why not make it the guinea pig?”

    Because that’s not where the yard is? Unless an additional yard is built somewhere on that line, something I’m not opposed to given the movement count, we will have to electrify several km of line as non-service. Furthermore – the Georgetown line is soon to become the Kitchener line, and the West Toronto-Union run carries Milton/Barrie and will carry Bolton. Do they jump the queue too?

    This is becoming bizarre – there’s a serious contention here that Georgetown’s ridership and train movements post-2015 requires electric service BEFORE three lines that are 3000hp loco+12 2-way all day right now?

    All to stop 900hp 2-car Budds (I simply don’t believe 4 powered cars will be used in service entry – if they did it would be because of the service running way AHEAD of projected ridership) puttputting up to Pearson, and for which Tier 4/Euro Stage IIIB engines will be available from Cummins by 2011?

    Steve: I have never proposed that all service in the corridor go electric. However, services to Bolton and Kitchener will be peak only, and these could run as diesel expresses mixed in with the electric locals ending at Georgetown. If we are to believe Metrolinx’ plans, the Milton and Barrie lines will have very frequent service on them too. The essential problem is that Metrolinx must either disavow its plans for massive service improvements in many corridors (which would make a mockery of their claim that “The Big Move” would have any significant effect on network behaviour), or recognize the capital costs of implementing what their plan contains. Meanwhile are we supposed to say, with a wink, that we all know Metrolinx will never actually build that service and so the EA doesn’t matter?

    As for the RDCs puttputting up to the airport, the figures I am quoting are from Metrolinx, and they show that this service would pollute more than the car trips it replaces. If those numbers are wrong, let Metrolinx say so, admit that they don’t know what they are doing, and admit that they have misled the government.

    @George Bell – there may not be “local” experience but surely we could request secondments from Montreal AMT for the duration of the project, given their use of electric commuter equipment on Canadian heavy rail.

    Steve: Yes, it’s not as if nobody in Canada has ever seen an electric railway before.


  34. Yup, your right, it would seem to make sense to do the smaller one first…

    It’s interesting that though they are going in the direction of electrifying no one wants to pull the trigger and commit … I mean they are making moves to make things possible in the future (bridges, union station, etc.).

    From the political side I guess they are feeling it’s too big a risk (it won’t be done in the next two election cycles, it will cost a lot of money (savings won’t come for many election cycles) and it has the potential to piss off a lot of people (nearly everyone in canada/ontario who doesn’t live within 20 miles of it if it goes over budget, or doesn’t work, or gets delayed) … so we continue on with getting closer to the moon by spending money on bigger rockets, but nobody is willing to commit at this point … there is also the issue of admitting you just built a rocket that won’t get you to the moon … eventually this will happen as the risks become less (once you don’t have to worry about the track being laid, and the bridges being built, the act of putting up wires seems trivial) … but at somepoint someone is going to have to admit they built a big rocket that didn’t work as advertised.

    The lakeshore line is nice to start with because it doesn’t have nearly as much risk associated with it, georgetown has the airport, construction of 8 new tracks (or something like that), a bunch of bridges, union station, the rail yards and a well organized community group … lakeshore, on the other hand probably has some bridges, union station and the rail yards … the tracking is already done, no airport (and associated issues) and given the ease that they added an extra line in oakville, I doubt they would have much trouble from the community to make it electric … now, that’s not to say it would be easy, but I think they could easily do union to clarkson as a phase 1 to get the team working smoothly, then split into two or three teams to do lakeshore to hamilton, lakeshore east and georgetown … the two big jobs to me seem to be the yards and union, that area obviously needs to be done first, and GO should be pushing to get that section done as soon as possible … once that is done, I feel like there will be a much bigger political reason to get specific lines done.

    I really like the idea of a JFK type moon launch with this thing (electric trains everywhere), but politically I don’t think it will work … better to do a step at a time and cut down on the risk.

    McGuinty has made some all in type moves over the last few years (move ontario/metrolinx, nuclear power plants, ehealth), and the problem is when they start to fall apart, they fall apart fast and big … and sometimes not even for relevant reasons … sometimes small and fast is better than large and slow.


  35. Steve: Yes, it’s not as if nobody in Canada has ever seen an electric railway before.

    So how ‘boot that Canada Line, eh?

    Steve: That’s a rapid transit line that happens to go to the airport. Because it’s a mini-subway with third rail power, we “know” how to build it.


  36. “Canadians on the other hand have [no electric trains] and seem to be alone in the world when it comes to sticking with Diesel.”

    GO’s equivalent in Montreal, AMT, has the Deux-Montagnes Line which is a heavy rail commuter line that is electrified. This was done back in 1918 because it goes through the Mount Royal tunnel.


  37. Hi Steve,

    An earlier comment by James intrigues me. His point is timing and money supports implementing this as a diesel line, since it will eventually be electrified anyway.

    If there is money to invest in building the line (regardless that MX wants to spend it on diesels), should it not be invested prudently so we are able to spread around the limited transit budget for max effect?

    At this stage, all in with premium costs of tier 4 diesels, it looks to me like we are getting close to 1.25 B. Then there is the cost of operating diesels and the cost of putting increasingly expensive fuel in diesels. Then Metrolinx wants to spend another 1.5 B to electrify the line in 10 years, according to Mr Prichards latest interview. So the current plan to improve the Georgetown South line and finally make it electric will take 2 builds over 15 years and cost nearly 3B, using the Metrolinx approach.

    Estimates I have seen can achieve electrification of Georgetown South for an increase in the existing project budget by 300M+/- as indicated by Councillor Thompson, who sits on City’s Ec Dev committee so should know something about costing large projects. Others have said that this difference pays for itself due to fuel savings and cost efficiencies which electric trains have over diesels. The Lakeshore electrification study indicates it is possible to design and build a longer corridor within 3 years, and offers a full benefits case that applies to Georgetown South as well.

    So when James asks about timing and whether we have the money to spend in the next 3 years, I suggest we do on both counts. In order to complete the build by 2015 as the Minister of Environment identified, we have the existing budget, we have an electrification study to provide a fully detailed analysis by end of 2010, we have a comparative costing that justifies any added expense due to reduced operating cost, and we have the time to design and build electric in order to get people off the road into clean trains.


  38. “So the current plan to improve the Georgetown South line and finally make it electric will take 2 builds over 15 years and cost nearly 3B”

    Exactly how do you define “2 builds”. As long as the initial design is compliant with electrical clearances, the additional costs of electrification should be only slightly more than build at time, because we’re not talking about third rail and much of the electrification cost is off-site in grid connections and transformers.

    This “build it and then build it again” talk is characteristic of clean train rhetoric but it is not substantiated. Irish Rail are building a 2 to 4 rail expansion project (Kildare Route Project) which will carry increased diesel urban and interurban as we type and electrifying it in 2015. Nobody there is freaking out.


  39. I think that there is a good solution to this problem, and this is the article about it.

    Steve: I have deleted a long quotation from Wikipedia about the Jet Train which is available via the link above.

    In a commuter corridor, high speed operation has its limits because trains cannot run productively at extremely high speed for long before they have to slow down for their next station. The vital thing, especially if stops are fairly close together and headways are tight, is good acceleration and braking, more like a subway train than a mainline railway. The reasons for this have been discussed at length elsewhere on this site, and I won’t rehash the point.


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