No electricity for GO trains

However, provincial government mandates low emission locomotives

Clean air advocates opposed to an expansion of diesel train use have been dealt a blow in their fight to have the Georgetown South GO Transit rail line electrified.

In early October, Environment Minister John Gerretsen approved Metrolinx’s plan that could see up to 323 diesel passenger and freight trains on the Georgetown line each weekday. However, the decision imposed conditions including the use of low-emission locomotives and regular air quality tests.

While pleased with the recognition that increased diesel traffic could have negative health impacts on area residents, Keith Brooks, spokesperson for the Clean Train Coalition, a group of residents living near the rail corridor, wanted more.

“We don’t feel that these conditions go far enough,” he said.

The Clean Train Coalition is advocating for full electrification of the Georgetown South Service Expansion, which will see upwards of 323 trains rumbling through the Junction, Roncesvalles, Weston and Liberty Village when completed in 2014.

“We’re going from living on a residential street to a super highway,” said Parkdale-High Park MPP Cheri DiNovo, who lives a few blocks from the railway.

“Everyone wants more public transportation,” she said. “We just want clean transportation.”

Gerretsen’s regulations call for the use of Tier 4 diesel locomotives, which emit up to 90 percent fewer airborne particulates and 80 percent fewer nitrogen oxides — pollutants often linked with cancer — than the locomotives currently in use.

These engines won’t be commercially available until 2015, so in the meantime, GO must use available emission-reducing trains.

Currently, GO uses diesel locomotives equivalent to Tier 2 emission standards. The tiered system is based on an American model, as there currently are no emission standards for diesel trains in Canada.

DiNovo said although the call for Tier 4 trains is not the electrification she was hoping for, it proves the community’s voices are being heard.

“He’s obviously reacting to the pressure,” she said. “Both GO and Metrolinx are very aware of the actions that everyone has taken at the Clean Train Coalition.”

Opponents to the diesel trains are also disappointed with the lack of public consultation concerning the expansion project, Brooks said.

Open houses have been held, but he said they’ve just confused rather than informed the community.

“We didn’t get straight answers from people,” he said. “They haven’t genuinely listened to the concerns of the public.

“Metrolinx is under the order to get (the rail line) done, and that’s what they’re doing, regardless of the cost to the community.”

On Oct. 20, Metrolinx announced it will study the possible electrification of the entire GO Transit system over the next year.

DiNovo said she thinks the study will be a waste of time and taxpayers’ money.

“Most jurisdictions of this size in the world are not investing in diesel,” she said. “We know that electricity is cleaner, even more than this mythical Tier 4.

“We don’t need studies. We need actions.”

According to the coalition, electrification would cost an estimated $5 million per kilometer of rail. Should the entire rail line be electrified from the start, construction costs would amount to approximately 20 percent more than diesel.

Other costs Metrolinx has to contend with to make the change to electric trains include purchasing property for an expanded corridor, building infrastructure to support electric trains and retrofitting existing facilities, GO spokesperson Vanessa Thomas said. The total cost won’t be known until the study is complete in Dec. 2010.

If Metrolinx decides to go with electric locomotives, the trains will not only be better for the environment and the health of those who live near the tracks, they will be quieter, smoother and accelerate faster, Brooks said.

“They know as a community we’re really serious,” said DiNovo. “We’re not letting go.

“I’ll be the first to tie myself to the tracks.”

About this article:

By: Alex Keshen
Posted: Oct 28 2009 11:24 am
Filed in: NEWS
Edition: Toronto