A decades-long plan to launch a train service between Toronto and Pearson International Airport has become “job one” at the regional transportation agency known as Metrolinx, with officials underscoring a pledge to have it running in time for the Pan Am Games in 2015. But considerable opposition remains over the diesel-powered system that critics say should be electric. Officials insist that can’t be done by 2015. The Post’s Natalie Alcoba examines some of the finer points.
What is the link?
Described as a “premium” 25-minute service that connects Pearson airport with GO stations at Weston, Bloor and Union, the Air Rail Link will operate a two-coach shuttle on the tracks used for the Georgetown South service. It will run every 15 minutes, is expected to move 5,000 passengers a day when it launches, and will add 140 trains to tracks that currently see 23 to 45 trains go by. Government officials have long touted it as a way to reduce gridlock. It is expected to cost $300-million, and fell to Metrolinx to see through after private firm SNC Lavalin couldn’t get the financing it needed. GO Transit is also spending $875-million to upgrade its infrastructure on the Georgetown South corridor by adding tracks and widening bridges.
In order to feed into Pearson, Metrolinx will have to build a three-kilometre “spur” that extends from the GO line at Highway 427, and weaves into the airport grounds. GO president Gary McNeil described it as a “very complex construction process” that will have to mind airport co-generation plan and utility locations along the way, along with an existing people-mover system on the airport grounds.
Metrolinx announced Tuesday it will piggyback on another transit agency’s bid process and enter into formal negotiations to purchase up to 18 diesel locomotives for the link. The locomotives will meet stringent Tier 4 emissions standards, Metrolinx said in a statement, and will be convertible to electric in the event that Metrolinx decides to electrify the service. “We’re looking at up to 18 because we’re looking at 12 vehicles on opening day and we want an option to buy additional vehicles in the foreseeable future so we can take advantage of the very competitive price for those vehicles,” said Gary McNeil, president of GO Transit. Sumitomo Corporation of America, whose parent company is headquartered in Japan, is being considered for the award of a contract to produce DMU vehicles for Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit outside of San Francisco, at a cost of $3.1-million a vehicle, said Mr. McNeil. The next bid was $4.5-million. Mr. McNeil said Sonoma-Marin had a “very, very competitive” bid process, took ads out in all major newspapers soliciting proposals and ultimately had five to choose from.
Why can’t an electrified version be completed by 2015?
GO president Gary McNeil provided list of reasons why: “If we actually could electrify the system we’d actually need to test and commission the actual system for probably six-to-nine months. When we’re actually talking about construction finishing, you’re almost looking at a year before when you need the service in place. And we still need to do an environmental assessment associated with electrification. There are impacts associated with electrifying any rail corridor … also Ontario Hydro will actually have to locate a substation location. They’ve indicated to us that can sometimes take up to four years to get the approval process located with a substation because a lot of people don’t want major substations located in their neighbourhood … we’re looking at significantly more than five years.” When pressed for a date, Mr. McNeil said it could possibly be electrified by 2018.
Why the opposition?
Fifty-plus people showed up at a Metrolinx board meeting Tuesday to protest the diesel-powered link. “We want electric trains, not diesel trails. We’re not here to disrupt the meeting, we just want to make sure you know where the community stands,” said Rob Fairley, a member of the Clean Train Coalition and a resident of Parkdale. The Clean Train Coalition raises environmental and health concerns associated with dramatically increasing the number of diesel trains that will roar through several west-end neighbourhoods, including Parkdale, Weston and North Etobicoke, even though Metrolinx assures the public the expansion falls “within the acceptable limits for almost all of the emissions categories evaluated.” The Clean Train Coalition says diesel trains on the Air Rail Link will emit more pollution per person than private cars, while Metrolinx officials said the calculation is based on old diesel technology. “They seem to be ignoring us,” said Mike Sullivan, Coalition co-chair.
The power of a deadline
Depending on whom you ask, a 2015 deadline for the air-rail link is a blessing or a curse. Certainly, in the seemingly caterpillar pace of transit improvements (Metrolinx operates on 10- and 25-year timelines), 2015 seems close enough to touch. But people who live along the train corridor insist there is “no excuse” for the expansion of diesel trains. “We shouldn’t be stuck with decades of diesel in the name of two weeks of transit for the Pan Am games,” said Mr. Fairley from the Clean Train Coalition. Metrolinx chairman Robert Prichard said the project has already seen years of delays, and “there is impatience from the public to have this service.”
How to build a rail link to Pearson | Posted Toronto | National PostIn Canada on November 17, 2010 at 12:54