Metrolinx Mulls Strategy (Largely in Private)

Correction: The original version of this article claimed that the Board was meeting in private today to discuss matters that will be on the agenda tomorrow. The Tweet from Metrolinx about today’s is a Stakeholder meeting, not a Board meeting. Thanks to Ben Spurr at the Star for catching this.

The Metrolinx Board will gather on Thursday, October 26 for what is described in the media release as its “annual strategy meeting”. Much of the agenda will be discussed in camera, and if the agency has a strategy, we won’t learn much about how the board members feel on the subject.

The meeting announcement tells us that the Board will discuss “transit expansion progress”. Maybe, but that hardly sounds like “strategy” with the Draft Regional Transit Plan already out to the public for comment. The draft ignores many issues, and the plan does not improve the regional modal split for transit beyond current levels. Moreover, the transit growth is disproportionately focused on Toronto’s core, but transit loses ground (not that it has much to start with) the further from the centre one gets.

Hard discussions about how road space will be used – transit, multi-occupancy vehicles, freight, cycling, pedestrians – need to happen at the regional level, not just on a few “transit streets” downtown. This is a debate both for the 905 and for Toronto’s suburbs where the combination of built form and transit density work against a strong transit market share.

In any event, the public agenda item is a small update on consultation, not a review of any significant policy issues, and it is scheduled for only 15 minutes.

About a month ago, I published a review of the draft plan, and plan to return to the subject in another article soon. My intent had been to make a “deep dive” into the draft, beyond its introductory chapter, but I quickly found how little of substance is actually there.

Other items on the Metrolinx agenda include:

In Private

Benefits Management and Realization (90 minutes)

The title might suggest a discussion of the knotty problem of actually capturing some of the value created by transit investments. I asked Metrolinx to explain just what this was about, and they replied:

Benefits management is a process to help us maximize project value as Metrolinx plans, builds, operates and connects transit projects in order to provide benefits to the region. [Email from Scott Money at Metrolinx, Oct. 23, 2017]

Why, exactly, this should be a matter of confidential discussion is a mystery. This is quite clearly an important part of transit network building, but it has been sidelined when political considerations take precedence over planning issues and “mobility hubs” are little more than enormous parking lots.

Board Governance (15 minutes)

Given recent discussions about political interference in transit decision-making, I cannot help wondering if the Board is aware of its irrelevance, real or perceived. The rare public meetings, the superficial level of debate, and the blizzard of press releases and photo ops from the Minister of Transportation’s office don’t help the situation one bit.

Much of the real debate appears to take place in committee meetings which are so private they are not even advertised and there are is no public record of them.

Metrolinx’ new CEO, Phil Verster, has spoken of the need for “transparency” at Metrolinx, but the problem begins above his level at the Board itself.

Regional Express Rail (60 minutes)

This includes two items: the procurement of a new network operator, and an update on the capital program. Metrolinx has disqualified the current operator, Bombardier, from bidding, a strange move that might raise more eyebrows if Bombardier were not so late on its LRV deliveries. As for the capital programs generally, the only part of this that belongs in a private session would be information on contract issues.

A preliminary discussion of risk issues (30 minutes)

Risk management is an important topic for any Board, and some aspects rightly belong in a private session. That this is “preliminary” and is included in a “strategy” meeting begs the question of what new risks the organization faces, including political fallout from the coming election.

2018/19 Budget Submission (30 minutes)

Unlike budgets at the City of Toronto and TTC, provincial budgets are dark secrets until the moment they are unveiled in the legislature. This puts the public debate of “strategy” for Metrolinx in a difficult position because any spending proposals could embarrass the government by showing what could be if funding were available, or if projects face financial difficulties that could upset spending or delivery plans. The budget could also include new revenue generating strategies including mandated contributions from so-called “municipal partners” or changes to fare schemes.

These are important issues, but we will never hear about them from Metrolinx because of the way Provincial budgets work.

In Public

I will update these sections if there is anything substantive presented at the meeting.

Regional Transportation Plan Update (15 minutes)

This is superficial review of public engagement and has nothing to do with actual content.

Hydrogen Fuel Technology Analysis/Evaluation (30 minutes)

The Minister of Transportation is hot to trot on hydrogen as an alternative fuel, and so of course, Metrolinx must be as well. This report is a review of the current status of the Hydrail project in Germany and an overview of the study work needed to assess its implications for Ontario and GO/RER.

GO/TTC Fare Discount (15 minutes)

This is simply a repeat of the information in the report about the planned co-fare with TTC that has already been dealt with at that agency and is now working its way to City Council.

20 thoughts on “Metrolinx Mulls Strategy (Largely in Private)

  1. Steve said “The Minister of Transportation is hot to trot on hydrogen as an alternative fuel, and so of course, Metrolinx must be as well. This report is a review of the current status of the Hydrail project in Germany and an overview of the study work needed to assess its implications for Ontario and GO/RER.”

    Should not planning be based at least initially on well established and proven technologies? Would it not make more sense to look at these only in the opportunistic situations where they clearly apply and will not require Metrolinx to take huge risks in expensive experiments.

    I can see the interest if Toronto had a network that had extensive surplus capacity, and the core needs of the region had already been met, or there was a massive amount of free capital washing about. However, does it not make more sense in the short and medium term to stay strictly to meeting needs? Should not the real questions be around both how to shape and serve the development in the region? Do we not have larger questions around sprawl, that should be addressed and how transit, urban planning and zoning can be used to mitigate the impact and make the city livable? That is, do we not need to get back to the basic knitting?

    Steve: Yes, Queen’s Park can always find shiny new toys to spend their time on rather than just building what we need. There is always the promise of a “new technology” that will make transit cheaper. We have been through this before.

    Look on the bright side. By the time this study reports out, we will have a new Minister, and possibly a new government.


  2. Hydrogen is not a form of energy, but a store of energy. Hydrogen usually requires another energy source to make. Yes, it is more efficient than a lithium ion battery train, but it cannot replace overheard wires or even diesel for the matter.

    Let’s go to physics. An EMU does not store any energy on board for the most part. Every kilowatt consumed is pulled from the overhead wire. This means that EMUs are lighter since they are not batteries on wheels. The head end can be much smaller as a generator is not needed. To accelerate or move a train, the train needs to overcome air resistance, rolling resistance and weight. A Hydrogen head end has a larger frontal area since storage tank and generators require more room. To overcome air resistance, it is velocity cubed times coefficient of drag times frontal area. Since it is velocity cubed, the energy required to overcome the air resistance is exponential and not linear.

    Weight is another matter. Hydrogen storage tanks are heavy to prevent explosions during impact. The problem is that Hydrogen is not energy dense. In a liter of liquid Hydrogen there is only 9.17MJ. A liter of diesel has 35.8MJ. Even though internal combustion engine is only about 40% efficient, diesel is still far more easy to carry. A GO locomotive has 7570L of diesel capacity (based on a 2000 gallon fuel load on the MP40PH) . This gives it a potential 271006MJ of energy. Assuming a 40% efficiency rate, 108402MJ of energy is available to generate electricity and pull the bilevels. The same amount of liquid Hydrogen would yield 18340MJ of energy. Even if Hydrogen to electricity conversion is 100% efficient (which will not happen), it will only have 1/5 the range of a diesel locomotive.

    So a Hydrogen train will need to be refueled 5 times as often. The rate of refuel is also slower than diesel. This means that a train will be out of service longer at a terminal station. There is also the safety aspect. Carrying large amount of fuel is always dangerous. This is why very few DMUs are rated higher than 200km/h. When EMUs get into an accident, there is no explosion as fuel is not stored on board. Even if Hydrogen is competitive with overhead wires, this safety aspect will prevent it from going beyond 200km/h.

    Overall, a heavier train with very little range is useless. Hydrogen makes for nice technology demonstration, but it is just not practical. It is not competitive with EMUs or even a diesel locomotive.

    Steve: But there are fortunes to be made by technology consultants and builders eager to get contracts to build the equipment. Actually providing a useful, working train is at best a secondary consideration.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I am not for/against hydrogen based trains yet but the ones that are being trialled in Germany are 2 car sets that seat 300. The hydrogen tanks weigh 207 pounds and they can run 500 miles a day. While they may save of electrification costs, I am not sure if the cost of producing hydrogen and the infrastructure will be that cheap either. Plus scaling two car sets to 12 car sets or more for each train might also be another issue. However, it may be a good alternative for UP express or for regional connectivity (within 905 as an ex) where shorter, more frequent trains could be introduced?


  4. Benny:

    I am glad to see that someone else recognizes the stupidity of Hydrogen fuel cells. The other problem is the energy wasted in creating hydrogen and then using it in the fuel cell. Thanks for the technical info.


  5. Oh for crying out loud. Hydrogen trains have come up again? Didn’t this foolishness first surface years ago when McGuinty was still the Premier?

    I’ll help Metrolinx do some due diligence on this:

    Use high voltage AC electrification.
    Don’t use hydrogen.

    I think I came in well under the 30 minutes allotted time in the presentation.


  6. I remember Premier McGuinty making a lot of noise about hydrogen trains over 10 years ago and had thought common sense had taken over when that dumb idea was quietly forgotten. Why has this returned from the dead?


  7. An earlier and far more experienced GO team examined hydrogen’s potential in commuter rail service about 40 years ago and rejected it. This is just a diversion from electrification, which is in itself a diversion from simply expanding the diesel-powered service on the existing lines, not to mention the new lines that have been pushed far off into the future by in the latest edition of The Big Snooze. We’re being “Elwued” yet again.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. The only advantage that I could actually discern from hydrogen, would be the idea of it being a store of generated electricity. More a question of using power available, and in effect transferring power generated at 3 am to peak. I would note, it is not that this is perforce a bad idea that should bother us, but this issue is a universal one in the 1st world. It is not clear transportation is actually the best deployment (as the same benefit could be had on grid) etc. Frankly Toronto has huge needs, Ontario huge financial problems and fixing the essential problems not spending money on the nifty keen tech, needs to be the sole focus in Ontario.

    Somebody with fewer problems and bigger budgets can work this out and we can ride their coat tails much, much later, when it is a cost competitive and proven technology.


  9. Malcolm, Hydrogen is not a store of generated electricity. It is a derivative of LNG. A Tesla would be an example of a store of electricity. Charge one at night and use it during the day when electricity charges are more expensive. Hydrogen is produced by steam reforming of natural gas with an energy loss. Electricity cannot be used alone to make that gas.

    Putting a Hydrogen refueling stop at terminal stations is dangerous. Diesel and Jet A can be stored in room temperature tanks. Those fuels are liquid at outside temperatures. Hydrogen needs insulated tanks to keep it in a liquid state. Those tanks are also pressurized to the tune of 700 bars. We are talking about making GO stations more denser by placing living, play and work close to them. If an accident were to happen, the result would not be pretty.

    This means that the terminal stations would need to have a large liquid Hydrogen pipe to it. If the NIMBYs have it their way, the Hydrogen pipe would not be allowed just like oil pipelines are not allowed to be built. How do we transport that much liquid gas? Well, a double walled tanker truck will not do. You would need a truck with toughened steel cylinder built like a vacuum flask. To transport it on the road safely, you don’t want the 401 to turn into ground zero if an accident would happen. One would lower the pressure of the tanker. If we transport it at 125 bars of pressure, it would take 5 or 6 tankers just to fill 2000 gallons for one GO train. Let say we operate 10 GO trainsets on a RER line, we would need 50 or 60 tankers.

    50 or 60 tankers would make a GO station look like the tarmac of YVR. I remember looking at awe of Shell Jet A tankers at YVR. Each one of them has a capacity of 11600 gallons of Jet A. Five of them were need to fill one Air Canada Boeing 777-300ER (47890 gallon fuel capacity). Five trucks of fuel was enough to take on plane from YVR to Sydney, Australia. 5 to 6 Hydrogen tankers would at best take a GO train 200 to 300 miles.

    The overheard wires if done properly can take the GO trains to about 190MPH. This is already pretty future proof as the top speed of the GO locomotives peak out at 100MPH. If we are talking HSR to London and Windsor, it might make sense to use power induction as oppose to overhead wires on the Kitchener Line. However, I am doubtful that HSR train will exceed 190MPH.


  10. @Benny

    You can make hydrogen with electricity and water – electrolysis. That’s probably what Malcolm was referring to in terms of storage. Yes I know it’s not very efficient but otherwise the energy would be completely wasted or not “collected” (from e.g. wind). Of course there are other storage options (like pushing water up a hill) that may be preferable.

    Steve: Yes, I should have pointed out under Benny’s comment that the process Metrolinx is looking at involves electrolysis. See the diagram on page 9 of their presentation. That said, the diagram also shows the many steps required to get energy (in the form of “surplus” electricity) to trains as hydrogen to be converted back to electricity in a fuel cell and stored in a battery on a train.


  11. Thanks to Benny for reminding us of yet another of the provincial government’s methods for diverting attention from the need to implement conventional rail solutions at the earliest opportunity: high-speed rail. Throw in the multi-billion-dollar Bramalea-Milton freight bypass for CN and we’ve got a diversionary grand slam here.


  12. Kudos to Benny Cheung for introducing science and fact to the Hydrail issue.

    Of course, in Ontario’s current “fact-based transit decision making process”, such analysis will be completely ignored by the approval authorities…


  13. Electrolysis system are not very efficient. There are two types of electrolysis systems: alkaline and Proton Exchange Membrane (PEM). The first can use a cheaper nickel while the latter needs precious metals like platinum. Both systems are reportedly have efficiency topping in the high 60%. See page 11 of the 2014 EU study. LNG is better at 80% efficiency.

    Here is the problem. Electricity is not free and available all the time. Darlington can provide stable base load at all times regardless of weather. To say that we can make hydrogen for free from surplus electricity is absurd. On a hot summer night, winds are not blowing and the sun is not shining. Thus wind and solar farms are not producing. People will still power up their air conditioners at home. In fact, diesel generators are often needed at wind farms to maintain monitoring functions. If Ontario’s electricity is 100% produced by hydro dams and nuclear, then the argument would make sense. Factories do not produce during the night and thus surplus will be available. With green energy, there is always a possibility that some are not producing. Do we fire up the LNG electricity plants when the winds are not blowing? It takes 2 weeks to restart an idled nuclear reactor. How green is it to move the emission source from a locomotive to a LNG plant?

    To illustrate the fallacy of hydrogen, let’s see what happens to 1kWh of electricity generated at Darlington. We will assume the Electrolysis plant is right next to it so there will be no transmission loss. At 70% efficiency, only 0.7kWh worth of energy is converted to hydrogen. Then we loose another 0.02 kWh for compressing it to 125 bars of pressure for transport. So, now we have 0.68 kWh left. Then we have the cost of transporting to a GO station. Assuming that it is free to transport and pump it into the train. The train would have 0.68 kWh of energy of the 1 kWh we started with. The train is not 100% efficient either. Assuming a 90% efficiency, we are left with 0.612 kWh that will power the train from the initial input.

    At such losses, we might as well go back to the overhead wires. Fuel cells are not silent. There is a swooshing sound for electricity generation in addition to the motor noise. Heavier train cars mean more wear for the tracks. We might even need to separate all rail crossings from traffic. I certainly do not want to see a car accident with hydrogen trains. Overhead wires have very high efficiency rates except for transmission losses. Once the electricity reaches the train, the solid state systems are also very efficient. Why fix something that is working?

    Steve: Often because there is a lobbyist who is flogging a dubious technology to a gullible Minister who thinks he can make a splash with the program.


  14. Steve: Metrolinx has disqualified the current operator, Bombardier, from bidding, a strange move that might raise more eyebrows if Bombardier were not so late on its LRV deliveries.

    You are kidding, right? What is strange is that the TTC has not banned Bombardier. Bombardier has screwed up in every jurisdiction that it has been hired and New York City has also banned it. Bombardier has been more than just late, their vehicles simply don’t work as specified in the contract and in many cases have been taken off-service on their maiden passenger trips. Moreover, all of Bombardier’s products are low quality failing often even when brand new and this includes their poor performance subway cars which is precisely why Bombardier is being banned by more and more transit agencies and it is time that the TTC banned this highly incompetent company. If the TTC won’t ban Bombardier after all it’s failures and broken promises, then I want my taxes back. Those who continue to support Bombardier (such as Steve) can perhaps voluntarily pay higher taxes to continue to subsidise this highly incompetent company.

    Steve: You had a decent comment right up to “such as Steve”. If you have been reading any of my comments here and in other feeds such as Twitter you will know that I am really pissed off with Bombardier. I don’t “support” them and have long been opposed to the way they just assume that any contract in Ontario is theirs for the taking.

    All that said, we have a transit system to run, and it badly needs new cars.

    As for Metrolinx, they claim that they don’t want Bombardier bidding not because of past performance (which on the work they do operating and maintaining GO Trains has been quite good), but because as the incumbent operator they might have an unfair advantage over other bidders. That’s an odd stance to take with a successful incumbent.

    There’s a reason I ban most of your comments, and it’s because you cannot seem to get beyond unjustified personal insults and concentrate on the actual issues being discussed.


  15. Benny Cheung: How do we transport that much liquid gas?

    Riverdalian: Kudos to Benny Cheung for introducing science and fact.

    Me (Prashant): Science and fact? There is no such thing as liquid gas and kudos to me for pointing that out.

    Steve: You get no kudos for this. Hydrogen is a liquid at a low enough temperature and high enough pressure. In this context, the question is whether the effort to get it to that state and transport it for use is worth the cost, energy losses through each transformation, and safety issues.


  16. Benny, it would appear you missed my entire point

    1. It makes no sense for a province that is in the most trouble of any jurisdiction in North America in terms of debt to be pushing technology from a budget not large enough to meet essential needs.

    2. The only benefit from it – peak shaving – could be just as easily met on the grid itself. There are better more efficient ways here anyway.

    If what we are worried about is efficiency then reforming natural gas makes no sense, for 2 reasons: (1) we currently in effect dump power, so excess use is meaningless, (2) if we were we would choose to use natural gas directly in the trains, instead of trying to deal with harder to store hydrogen.


  17. “It makes no sense for a province that is in the most trouble of any jurisdiction in North America in terms of debt to be pushing technology from a budget not large enough to meet essential needs.”

    That is a farcical statement based on carefully selected factoids to ignore the real big picture and raise false alarms. US states “hide” debt in subordinate municipal agencies, like transit agencies. The MTA in New York is closing in on $40B of debt. The TTC sits comfortably at $0.00. They also sit on massively underfunded pension plans. Illinois alone has pension plans underfunded by about the amount of the entire Ontario debt. That money has to be paid out some day, and that day is coming very soon. California is in the same situation.

    Spare us these false alarms about the debt in Ontario.


  18. Jonathan: “Spare us these false alarms about the debt in Ontario.”

    This is not a reason not to build transit, as that would increase the ability of the Golden Goose to deliver those golden eggs tax wise that is the GTA to deliver; it is however a reason to stop with the damaging screwing around. The reality is, that on an overall liability, from the tax collecting agency basis, Ontario, has substantial financial issues. Yes the MTA has notable liabilities. However that would be the equivalent of TTC, if the TTC were to undertake what is required in terms of truly getting to a “State of Good repair” in terms of debt. Also buying solid understood predictable equipment is not the same thing as gambling wildly, which is what blowing money on hydrogen powered trains would be. We need to invest based on what interests rates will be when we need to roll the debt, not based on what they are today.


  19. Malcolm is right to a certain extent. We are not investing in the right places. Debt is okay as long as it is productive. A HSR from Toronto to Montreal will pay for itself many times over in increased economic activity. Transit is a way to get the golden goose to lay more golden eggs. However, we are forgetting that a lot of problems in Ontario are based on the decision to use green energy. Hydrogen is probably the worst of it and it will bankrupt us.

    Look at Table 2 which is the lifecycle EROI. The information is from the IAEA, so it is not biased to any particular type of energy. Quebec is better off than us because of the cheap electricity they get from their hydro dams. A 200 to 1 EROI is very good. Even Darlington and Bruce Power Stations cannot match that. The higher the EROI of the energy mix used in a jurisdiction, the more prosperity it has.

    The EROI of hydrogen is 0.25 to 1. This means for every unit of energy used, you can only get 0.25 of it back. Remember those old Hillbilly movies? When they struck oil and the oil gushes out of the ground, the EROI is over 100 to 1. The easier to get energy dense resources, the less resources a society needs to produce the energy it needs and it can use more energy for production. The high electricity rates in Ontario has killed off a lot manufacturing. If Teslas are so great, why does it need a subsidy to sell?

    An EROI of less than 20 to 1 cannot maintain the lifestyle that we have today. This is why a hydrogen economy will never work. Even if we perfect hydrogen technology, no one in the world will knock on Ontario’s door to buy it. No one will use an energy that will result in a net loss, just as no one will buy a money losing business. I want no part of the hydrogen economy because I do not want to live in poverty.

    Liked by 1 person

  20. Benny Cheung said: “I want no part of the hydrogen economy because I do not want to live in poverty.”

    Exactly. The reason to pay attention to debt is that you must pay interest on it. Need to pay attention to the question of why and whether you need to take on debt. If you take on debt that is secure at 2% and you buy an asset with a return of 10% well, that is a debt worth taking on.

    Also, I have no issue in developing hydrogen technology, if it can be reasonably applied. However, in broad terms, as you note, we have created some really perverse notions of how to apply technology.

    If you want energy, if you use hydrogen from natural gas, you are creating less energy, and larger transportation problem, and releasing all the carbon, you would have if you have simply burnt the natural gas. The next question would be, does it make more sense, to deliver the power to the locomotive from fuel or from electrical lines? Generally it appears more efficient to use electrical lines, so why develop a technology focused on transport, as opposed to grid application. Given the current issues in terms of time balance of power delivery that we have committed to in green power, the ability to store power for grid stabilization might make sense, but is hydrogen even competitive in the lab for this today? If it is not competitive in the lab, then why even talk about pilot let alone beyond?

    Developing nifty keen technology may have a place, but it should be taken from a budget intended for that, with best application taken first. It is anything but clear that is transportation. I would argue that insisting hydrogen in transportation would be like insisting we start with wearable computing in 1960. If we had insisted on making computing start in watches not in large frames, we never would have gotten to smart phones, etc. Hydrogen technology, might perhaps someday make sense as a way of creating localized power even in cars and trains, but why start with the added burden of of expensive additions that come from insisting it be highly portable? Why take money intended to develop essential transit, to push nifty keen technology, not even ready for pilot.


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