Diesel trains for now, Metrolinx says

GTA's rail link will not be electrified in time for the 2015 Pan Am Games but say it will be converted by 2018 at the earliest - residents are skeptical

One day, the city’s air-rail link will be an electrified green dream.

But in the interim, we’ll have to settle for diesel.

That’s the message Metrolinx delivered recently with an announcement it would enter into negotiations with Sumitomo Corp. of America to purchase diesel-powered trains for the city’s new rail link from Pearson International Airport to Union Station downtown.

Although residents who live nearby have voiced concern about the increased use of diesel, Metrolinx, the provincial body tasked with coordinating transit in the GTA, said the rail link could not be electrified in time for the Pan Am Games. Citing lengthy approval processes related to electrification, the group has said electrification might happen by 2018 at the earliest.

“This project was part of the Pan-Am bid book, so we really need this to be finished by 2015,” Transportation Minister Kathleen Wynne said.“We’re purchasing trains that can be converted to electric, so they’re not strictly diesel trains. We’re also building the whole line so that it can be electrified.”

Wynne also pointed out the trains will run on a new type of diesel that meets more stringent emission standards than any diesel currently in use.

Still, many residents living near the rail link aren’t sold. On Nov.16, about 50 people staged a rally outside Metrolinx’s downtown headquarters to protest the expanded use of diesel vehicles.

“We’re just not convinced they’re actually going to electrify it later,” said Carina Cojeen, a spokesperson for the Clean Train Coalition, in a later interview. The organization opposes the use of diesel trains.

“Any time you delay anything, it gets worse and worse and more expensive. That’s why we’re in the mess we’re in now with transit,” she said.

“It’s appalling that they will add to the pollution load of the entire region for something that will make them look good for the Pan Am Games.”

The airport link is coupled together with the Georgetown South GO Transit service expansion. Both projects could see upward of 300 trains a day moving through the Junction, Roncesvalles, Weston and Liberty Village.

With some diesel pollutants linked to cancer, critics cite environmental and health risks as a major concern.

However Wynne insisted the province is committed to electrification and said they wouldn’t be going to the trouble of designing the new line to electrification specifications if they weren’t.

“Ultimately the system does need to be electrified,” Wynne said.

But Cojeen said she’d like to see the link electrified from the very start of operation and would also like to see more stops along the way to service area residents.

Incoming Ward 13 councillor Sarah Doucette struck a similar tone.

“Putting more stations along the route makes it more accessible to people, which will take more people out of their cars,” Doucette said.She added one or two more stops on the rail link wouldn’t make much difference to the speed of the trip.

However she reiterated the main issue is health and noted there are many schools in the vicinity of the line.

“If it has to be diesel at least it’ll be the cleanest we can have, but I don’t think diesel and clean go in the same sentence,” she said.

Metrolinx said it expects to finalize a contract for the delivery of the new vehicles by February. The new line is expected to be operational in time for the Pan Am Games in 2015.

About this article:

By: Joshua Freeman
Posted: Nov 26 2010 4:28 pm
Filed in: NEWS
Edition: Toronto