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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. 

The Toronto Council of Airport Unions was able to get its first meeting on December 4 with UP Express President Kathy Haley expanded to include OUR UNION PEARSON. Metrolinx was represented by Bruce McCuaig plus Kathy Haley and VP Strategic Communications Judy Pfiefer. OUR UNION PEARSON included Unifor, CUPE, the flight attendants, TTC Riders, CTC, Mount Dennis Community Association, and Weston Village Residents Association. Reps from Liberty village were unable to make the meeting.

Metrolinx representatives said they wanted to listen, so we advised them we want a public transit line between Union and Pearson serving people across Toronto’s northwest with an affordable, frequent and sustainably electric service. We also took them to task for total lack of transparency and public consultation in setting the fare structure for the UP Express, which we considered unaffordable ($27.50 base adult one-way fare), and for using the wrong trains. Metrolinx said they felt it was a useful exchange and agreed to our request to meet again after their board meeting. 

OUR PEARSON issued this media release last week (PDF).

Clean Train Coalition has advocated to connect SmartTrack into the dialogue, with affordable TTC-level fares, accessible multi-stop service, and running with sustainable electric trains. Or as Don Schmidt coined the phrase: SmartTrack, Smart Fares, Smart Investment. 

CTC invited OUR UNION PEARSON campaign representatives to join in with our press conference at the City Hall press gallery on December 8. TTC Riders coordinated the press conference in the lobby of the Metrolinx office on December 11.  

At City Council’s December 11 meeting where SmartTrack was dealt with, CTC collaborated with Mount Dennis Community Association and Weston Community Coalition in trying to get a motion calling for a route adjustment. While the motion did not get to Council, the route issue is still actively being pursued with the Mayor’s Office, as is adding more stops and ensuring SmartTrack is running asap as an electrified  northwest Toronto public transit line.

CTC believes SmartTrack’s proposed route should be adjusted to continue up the Kitchener-Georgetown GO corridor and not make the “left turn” at Eglinton that has become controversial. A better option for Eglinton is to extend the Eglinton Crosstown, now under Phase 1 construction, west of Mount Dennis along the Eglinton route.

On December 11 I received assurances from the Mayor’s Office that both Mayor Tory and Premier Wynne expect electrification to be delivered with the Union-Pearson line / SmartTrack West  and be completed within seven years, and all of GO’s regional express rail network is to be electrified within 10 years.

Further, Metrolinx Electrification Project Executive Director Karen Pitre has contacted me to confirm that design and planning work for Union-Pearson electrification has been completed (supporting the likelihood of it being a quick-start) and that they are going full speed ahead with the regional electrification program.

Pitre had previously advised that Metrolinx received environmental approval for the physical work needed on Union-Pearson several months ago and is awaiting the Minister of Environment to be given Hydro One’s Environmental Assessment. Supposedly Hydro One is working on how electrifying Union-Pearson will affect the wider system, and is taking longer than anticipated.

Metrolinx is attempting to get relevant ministries to agree on combining electrification and other infrastructure work within the six-month transit project assessment process for future electrification projects that are planned across the region.

On December 11, the Metrolinx board dealt with an update on electrified Regional Express Rail including the integration of SmartTrack. Metrolinx announced it is bringing the Business Case Analysis forward next year in the spring, which will provide the rationale, infrastructure plan, and stakeholder engagement process for implementing a frequent-service electrified express rail network across the region within 10 years.

Indications are that work in the rail corridors is set to proceed immediately after this is approved by Management Board, expected by May 2015.

Bruce McCuaig also advised the media (on separate occasions) that Metrolinx has indeed completed studies on extending the Eglinton Crosstown westward from Mount Dennis, as preferred by CTC. He has also confirmed that Mount Dennis is to get a regional express stop, connecting the Crosstown to the northwest rail corridor.

The electrified Regional Express Rail report is found at the 18:25 mark of this video of the December 11 Metrolinx board meeting. The UP Express fares issue is at 1:27:00.

I have not yet reviewed the meeting videos yet but here is the December 5 City of Toronto Executive Committee meeting, with SmartTrack dealt with at the 229 minute mark.

City Council voted on the SmartTrack study at its December 11 meeting, starting at the 56 minute mark and resuming again after the lunch break at 276 minutes.
You can read the decision document from the December 11 meeting of City Council on SmartTrack.

We will post key docs from Metrolinx and City Council this site and will be updating the media file. The results of our City Hall press conference were carried by Global TV and Inside Toronto, plus a slew of media articles can be found that are still being compiled.

Global TV
Inside Toronto
Toronto Life

Importantly, Mayor Tory met with Prime Minister Harper last week to discuss federal support for SmartTrack.

Lastly, a huge thank you to all for getting this far so quickly! Particularly OUR UP COALITION colleagues, and CTC-ers who were getting material together, taking part in the prep meetings and Day of Action, taking time away from work, business and family to deal with Metrolinx and media, and for showing support at Metrolinx board and City Council.

As well,we greatly appreciate the cross-party political support and the work of our elected representatives to get the system to respond to these important issues. Please freely use the above information. 

-Rick Ciccarelli

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