A good week for electrification: Toronto council votes, Metrolinx shops for electric trains

10 February 2015

The vast majority of Toronto City Councillors spoke out today in favour of electrifying 19th-century rail corridors under Mayor John Tory’s SmartTrack transit proposal.

The plan overlaps with Ontario’s Regional Express Rail proposal, both of which rely on electrifying GO rail corridors that now employ polluting, carcinogenic, costly, slow and noisy diesel trains.

Toronto Council voted to spend an additional $1.65 million on feasibility studies for SmartTrack. But councillor speeches talked broadly about the benefits of the plan to maximize existing rail corridors for a modern transit system reaching across Toronto and integrated into TTC networks.

Meanwhile, Toronto Star reporter Tess Kalinowski reports that provincial transit agency Metrolinx, which runs GO, has “started shopping” for electric trains. “The provincial agency is looking for manufacturers of electric locomotives, dual-mode (hybrid) locomotives and electric multiple-unit trains (featuring several engines through the length of the vehicle),” she reports.

Clean Train update: On the path to electrification

From Rick Ciccarelli, Chair, Clean Train Coalition, 14 December 2014:

It’s been a busy couple of weeks. 

Following our board meeting last month, the Clean Train Coalition has been very active through the OUR UNION PEARSON campaign organized by TTC Riders and through our plans for engaging with Mayor John Tory’s SmartTrack proposal that requires electrification of the existing rail corridors. 

OUR UNION PEARSON includes the Toronto Airport Council of Unions, Greater Toronto Workers Assembly, Social Planning Toronto and CTC, as well as TTC Riders. Please circulate the petition and campaign materials.

The OUR UNION PEARSON campaign was launched with pamphleteering and petition-signing at Pearson airport, Weston GO Station, Dundas West subway station and Union Station on December 3.

The environmental group Green 13, actively supporting both CTC and OUR UNION PEARSON, also issued a letter campaign to Mayor John Tory, Metrolinx Chair Rob Prichard and Metrolinx CEO Bruce McCuaig, Premier Kathleen Wynne, Minister of Transportation Steven Del Duca, and to elected officials along the Union-Pearson corridor. 

MEDIA ADVISORY: Clean Train and Our Union-Pearson announcement on SmartTrack Dec. 8 at 10:30 a.m.


Clean Train Coalition and OUR UNION PEARSON to make announcement on Toronto’s SmartTrack and Affordable Fares

Date: Monday December 8, 2014
Time: 10:30 am
Location: Toronto City Hall Press Gallery Office Lounge, 1st floor City Hall

Rick Ciccarelli, Clean Train Coalition
Sean Smith, Toronto Airport Union Council
Jessica Bell, TTC Riders

Clean Train Coalition has joined efforts with Toronto Airport Council of Unions, TTC Riders, Greater Toronto Workers Assembly and Social Planning Toronto to advocate for OUR UNION-PEARSON.

OUR UNION-PEARSON calls on all levels of government to make the rail corridor between Union Station and Pearson Airport a public transit line that provides frequent, electrified, multi-stop service across the City’s north-west and has TTC level fares within Toronto’s boundaries.

The airport train that airport workers can’t use

The Ontario government’s plan for the Union-Pearson Express is coming under increasing criticism for its high-fare, premium-service business model. The line was funded with $456 million in taxpayer dollars.

The Clean Train Coalition has joined with other groups denouncing the airport train that airport workers can’t afford to use. (See the video.)

The new Our Pearson Coalition is calling for an affordable, electric train to the airport instead of the forthcoming diesel service for the 1%. Coalition members include TTC Riders, Toronto Airport Council of Unions, Social Planning Toronto and the Greater Toronto Workers Assembly.

Sign the Coalition’s petition for an affordable, electric service!

UP Express fares are expected to be in the $20-$30 range, based on its business plan already criticized by Ontario’s Auditor-General for being unrealistic.

Orders to electrify, good. More diesel cancer trains, bad

The good news: Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne has given Minister of Transportation Steven Del Duca clear instructions to “provide 15-minute, two-way electrified service” over 10 years on GO commuter rail as “the cornerstone of our government’s transit plan,” as outlined in the “mandate letters” to Cabinet ministers released today (25 Sept. 2014).

Furthermore, the mandate letter to Glenn Murray, Minister of the Environment (and former Minister of Transportation), instructed him to move forward on “an action plan to help our government achieve its greenhouse gas reduction targets for 2020.” Murray is also instructed to work with “with business, industry and partner ministers to provide Ontarians with better information about chemicals linked with cancer.”

In more encouraging news, Metrolinx announced this week it had purchased 53 km of rail corridor from CN. The “Guelph line” runs from Georgetown to Kitchener. With Metrolinx now owning this line, it should make electrification of GO rail services easier to accomplish.

New health study points to emission-caused premature deaths

Yet another health study points towards the urgent need to move away from dirty diesel trains towards clean electric trains.

A new study from Toronto Public Health shows that emissions from transportation are a leading cause of premature deaths in Toronto.

The study showed that a minority of vehicles cause most of the pollution. While the study focused on road vehicles, Dr. Monica Campbell, director of health policy at Toronto Public Health, wants attention paid to truck traffic, the majority of which is powered by diesel engines.

The World Health Organization has labelled diesel emissions as carcinogenic, on the same level as asbestos and mustard gas.

Ontario’s electrical authorities have indicated an electrified Union-Pearson Express (which will start as a diesel service in 2015) can easily be supplied with existing electrical resources. Ontario is also in discussions with Quebec regarding the importation of more clean hydro-powered electricity from low-cost Quebec sources.

Wynne already wavering on electrification?

The Clean Train Coalition congratulates the Ontario Liberal party on its June 12, 2014 election victory, with its promise to electrify the province’s existing (and planned) carcinogenic diesel commuter train services.

But mere days after the provincial election, an article in The Toronto Star would suggest Metrolinx is sending messages intended to lower expectations for electrification of the Union-Pearson Express train (and GO trains generally).

The Liberals promised to electrify the carcinogenic, slower, louder and more expensive diesel train service as part of their election budget.

The opportunity to electrify the new Union-Pearson Express from the beginning is narrowing fast. Once the diesel trains are running before the Pan Am Games (presuming construction and manufacturing schedules can be met), there will be limited time during off-hours to make the necessary modifications.

Ask your provincial candidates: where do they stand on electrification?

The forthcoming and contentious Union-Pearson Express rail link is designed as a premium, high-fare service ($15 – $25 one-way) to carry a select few to the airport.

The train will cut through some of Toronto’s highest-needs neighbourhoods without stopping to offer local service or public transit to employment areas such as the the airport or downtown.

It will be largely hidden behind 16-foot-tall concrete noise walls, while leaving behind carcinogenic diesel exhaust.

An electrified Union-Pearson Express, like Vancouver’s Canada Line, would be cheaper to operate, non-polluting, quieter, and create the opportunity for more stations with faster stopping- and-starting trains.

Ask your provincial candidates in this election campaign:

• Should social justice be a consideration in transit planning?
• Does your party support electrification of the Union-Pearson Express?

• Does your party have a concrete plan, with deadlines and funding, to electrify the Union-Pearson Express?

Caltrain planning to electrify

More arguments for electrification from other jurisdictions… Caltrain, the agency that runs commuter rail service on the San Francisco Peninsula, plans to convert diesel service to electric by 2019, and has just released an environmental assessment.

According to Caltrain’s FAQ:

Why electrify Caltrain?
Electrification will modernize Caltrain and make it possible to increase service levels while offering several advantages in comparison with existing diesel power use, including:

Improved Train Performance, Increased Ridership Capacity and Increased Service:
Electrified trains can accelerate and decelerate more quickly than diesel-powered trains, allowing Caltrain to run more efficiently. In addition, because of their performance advantages, electrified trains will enable more frequent and/or faster train service to more riders.

Increase Revenue and Reduce Cost:
Service improvements achieved through electrification will increase ridership and fare revenues and decrease fuel costs. These efforts will substantially reduce the financial subsidy required to operate the system.

Sign the new petition for electric trains

The Roncesvalles-Macdonell Residents Association has launched a petition on Change.org to electrify the Union-Pearson Express diesel train service that will start running beside Sorauren Park next year. You can sign the petition here.

The RMRA, the Clean Train Coalition, the Wabash Building Society, the Weston Community Coalition, the West Bend Residents Association, the Junction Triangle Residents Association, the Mt. Dennis Residents Association, the City of Toronto, the Toronto District School Board, the Chief Medical Officer of Health, the Professional Engineers of Ontario, and many other groups have been calling for electrification of the service for years.

Despite these protests, health evidence, environmental evidence, and economic evidence to the contrary, the Ontario Liberals decided to build a diesel service in time to serve tourists during the two-week Pan Am Games. Following the Games, the UP Express will be an expensive express train service for the downtown business class, with one-way fares expected in the $25-$35 range.

Metrolinx beginning electrification Environmental Assessment

The long-awaited Environmental Assessment to study the electrification of the Union-Pearson Express is coming in 2014, with advertising set to appear in many community newspapers along the Kitchener-Georgetown corridor.

Both Metrolinx and Hydro One will be running parallel EAs on the subject, which will include community consultations.

Electrification is not guaranteed. It is dependent on implementation of the “Metrolinx Investment Strategy” — in other words, on the Ontario government supporting new revenue tools to pay for Metrolinx “Big Move” transit projects, of which electrification is just one.

The UP Express, meanwhile, is going ahead as a carcinogenic, high-priced diesel service designed for the downtown business class, with only two stops in communities along the 25 kms between the airport and Union Station.

Members of the Clean Train Coalition have been advocating for electrification for more than 10 years. The EA is a step in the right direction, but electrification likely remains many years away.

Community slams diesel plans at noise wall meeting

18 Sept. 2013: A packed community meeting meant to review GO Transit’s proposals for controversial noise walls on the Kitchener-Georgetown rail corridor turned into another opportunity for citizens and their representatives to loudly protest plans for more diesel trains.

Voters and elected officials alike decried the province’s plan to introduce carcinogenic diesel service on the new Union-Pearson Express, being rushed into service for the Pan Am Games.

“The decision not to electrify has resulted in the project as it is now which offers no benefits to the community, few stops and high ticket fares,” said Davenport MP Andrew Cash during the meeting, to loud applause.

“This infrastructure was not built for us, it was built in spite of us.”

Community members expressed their concerns about diesel soot, dirty noise walls, graffiti, lack of maintenance programs, the rejection of “living green walls,” and GO Transit’s unwillingness to listen to community recommendations for a “no wall” option until trains are actually running, especially with quieter electric trains.

Glen Murray tweets: Electrification by 2017

For the record, Minister of Transportation Glen Murray has tweeted that Metrolinx will electrify the Union-Pearson Express diesel cancer train to Toronto’s airport by 2017. Here’s what he said in a tweet back in March:

“At the groundbreaking for the Union-Pearson Express terminal in Mississauga w @Laura_Albanese! Electrifying by 2017!”
He posted a link to a picture: pic.twitter.com/Wbw3kYLGT5

Metrolinx has spent funds on electrification studies, and has even purchased land in the Islington/401 area (behind the Lowe’s store) for a potential yard for electric trains. A full environmental assessment for electrification is expected in 2014.

But now it’s up to the province — perhaps with federal support under the renewed Build Canada fund — to put funding in place for electrification. Maybe Ontario and Canada can follow Argentina’s example! Or Latvia’s.

TTC to study electrified commuter lines on GO corridors

Map showing route and stops for new electric commuter rail line

Proposed new electric commuter lines on GO corridors, on a map tweeted by Toronto Councillor Ana Bailao

After years of advocacy, first by the Weston Community Coalition beginning in 2005 and then by the Clean Train Coalition since 2009, and by Prof. André Sorenson of the University of Toronto and many other transit experts, the TTC has announced it will formally study the idea of electrified commuter trains on two GO/Metrolinx rail lines.

The TTC board has instructed TTC CEO Andy Byford to study the idea with Metrolinx. The plan would use the Kitchener/Georgetown line and the Lake Shore East Line to serve as relief lines with more stops and TTC-style fares, all while precluding the need to dig expensive tunnels.

The Toronto Star, The Globe and Mail, and the National Post are among the news outlets reporting the new direction. Big thanks to TTC chair Karen Stintz and Councillor Ana Bailao for pushing this along.

Executive director leaves GO Georgetown project

Stephen Lipkus, Executive Director of Metrolinx’s Georgetown South Project, has left the Provincial agency for a career opportunity with another engineering firm. His last day with GO Transit was July 12. While not always agreeing with his approach or liking his answers about electrification, Mr. Lipkus at all times worked with the community in a professional manner and made an effort to keep communications open.

The Georgetown South Project involves expansion of the rail corridor between Union Station and Pearson Airport to handle increased diesel GO rail traffic as well as the new diesel UP Express link, which is to start service in 2015. The Georgetown line, starting with UP Express, is the focus of Clean Train Coalition efforts to replace carcinogenic diesel trains with cleaner, greener, faster, lighter, cheaper-to-operate electric trains. 

Harvard scientists link diesel air pollution to higher autism rates

Scientists from the Harvard School of Public Health recently reported that pregnant women exposed to high levels of air pollution are twice as likely to have a child with autism compared to women exposed to low levels.

Results of the U.S.-wide study were published in the June 18, 2013 edition of Environmental Health Perspectives.

“The authors found that the pregnant mothers living in the 20% of areas with the most air pollution had twice the risk of having a child with autism, compared to those living in the 20% of locations with the lowest levels,” reports Medical News Today. “The researchers focused on levels of diesel particulates and/or mercury in the air.”

The Harvard study comes one year after the World Health Organization classified diesel exhaust as a known human carcinogen, in the same category as asbestos and mustard gas.

New Clean Train flyer

The new Clean Train Flyer debuts this Canada Day at the community tables at the High Park Canada Day celebrations, starting at 11 a.m. in the park. The flyer is packed with facts about carcinogenic diesel exhaust, Toronto’s diesel train to the airport ($20-$35 fare, 5,000 expected trips per day, 4 stops) versus Vancouver’s electric train to the airport ($3.75 fare, 110,000 trips per day, 16 stops), Ontario’s abundant electric power supply, and more.

Make sure to get your copy!

Clean trains flyer July 1 event 2013v2

NOW Magazine: electrification “a no-brainer”

In an news column appearing in this week’s NOW Magazine (June 13, 2013), former TTC Chair Adam Giambrone writes that the current plan for the Air Rail Link is a huge missed opportunity for delivering daily transit to this part of the city.

Voicing his support of Jonah Schein’s re-mounted “Clean Trains Bill” (see post below), Giambrone urges the Ontario Liberal government to scrap the self-imposed Pan Am Games deadline for completing of the Air Rail Link, and focus on electrifying the line now.

You can read the full article online here.

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