Some thoughts on transit.

Railway tracks are not a modern invention. They were used in mines in the Middle Ages and almost 200 years ago, the first public railway line carried people in steam powered trains. The whole point of railway and tram lines was to create a level surface so that heavy vehicles didn’t get bogged down in the frequently muddy and rough roads of the time. Rails provide an ultra smooth surface and can accommodate vehicles carrying  large loads at high speed.

In Toronto, street railways arrived in the form of horse drawn street cars in the 1860s. They were able to conquer the terrible road conditions common before modern day road paving. Street cars as we know them today began in Richmond Virginia in the 1880s using an electric motor fed by a single overhead power line (the internal combustion engine was not as reliable as electric motors at that time). Toronto began using electric streetcars in 1892 and has done so ever since. In 1966, plans were made to eliminate the fleet by 1980 but a strong opposition played up the fact that Toronto was one of  the few remaining cities to use the (by then considered old fashioned) vehicles. They were kept thanks to effective and vigorous campaigning, possibly because they’re quaint, for their tourist appeal and just maybe because Toronto is notoriously slow to change. Incidentally, many readers will know there was a line that extended to Weston until 1948 when the streetcars were replaced by trolley buses.

Toronto Suburban Railway Car #12 going through the village of Weston in 1908. I love the jaunty angle of the utility poles. Toronto Public Library.

Trolleys were used until 1993 in Toronto when the fleet became too decrepit to continue. Trolley buses are electrically powered but run on rubber tires and require two overhead wires instead of one.

The great thing about street cars and trolley buses is that they run on relatively clean energy (only about 10% of electricity generated in Ontario comes from carbon based sources). They don’t pollute the air with toxic and dangerous gases and particles. Their motors are quiet.

Over the last few years, there has been a streetcar boom (often called light rail) in cities throughout Canada and the U.S. and they are seen as the latest thing in transit. They also benefit from novelty and nostalgia and some equate them with theme parks. The downside of streetcars and trolleys is that they need to be attached to overhead wiring and streetcar tracks are very expensive to build and maintain, especially in our climate with its potential for frost and salt damage. Another negative is that tracks usually run down the middle of a street with the potential of being blocked by cars and forcing boarding and alighting passengers to cross at least one lane of traffic.

Where am I going with this?

Asphalt roads became common about 100 years ago and helped make car travel possible. They form a resilient, level surface that can also accommodate vehicles carrying heavy loads at high speed. Public transit no longer needs rails to provide a smooth ride. On the other hand, modern day buses are loud and polluting – even diesel-electric ones.

In Mount Dennis, instead of the originally proposed gas-fired generating station, a large bank of batteries is set to power the entire Crosstown LRT for up to four hours.

Battery power has come a long way recently and is also about to revolutionize transit. The TTC has promised that it will be 100% emissions free by 2040. Unlike Metrolinx and its bizarre hydrogen fuel cell boondoggle the TTC has seen the future and decided that it’s battery powered. Thirty battery-powered buses have been purchased with the help of the federal government and will join the TTC fleet beginning in the fall. These are from three competing companies, Xcelsior, BYD and Proterra. The buses will be put through trials to see if they can manage in our winter conditions, have a range of around 250km and will be charged overnight using cheaper power. There is a proposal to increase the number to sixty buses.

Three demo buses have just arrived in the city to allow staff to familiarize themselves with the technology.

What are the implications?

  • If the trials are successful, replacing 2000+ conventional buses will be expensive and will need to happen over several years.
  • Fuel and maintenance costs will decrease.
  • Carbon tax will be lowered as more vehicles are bought.
  • In time, battery capacity will improve, buses will have a longer range and cost less.
  • Streetcars could be converted to battery power eliminating expensive, overhead wires.
  • We may not need streetcars and their tracks anymore. Instead, we could dedicate lanes to electric buses.
  • Street noise levels will decrease.
  • Carbon monoxide and dioxide levels will decrease.
  • Dangerous particulate matter from diesel fumes will decrease.
  • People will be healthier.

What do readers think? Is the TTC on the right track?

Chicago wants its own UP Express

Screenshot from Chicago Tonight.

It’s an interesting tale of two cities, almost identical in size on opposite sides of the Canada / U.S. border. Chicago, which already has a commuter rail link between its O’Hare Airport and downtown wants to build an express rail service that would be built by the private sector with tickets cheaper than an equivalent Uber fare. Sound familiar?

In the article, Chicago TV Station WTTW reveals the cautionary tale of Toronto’s UP Express, getting most of the facts correct. Read the article and watch the video here.

As an aside, Metrolinx wants to investigate building a passenger rail connection to Pearson Airport by way of the Kitchener line (which runs through Weston) or the Crosstown that will run along Eglinton. In response to Adam’s article on speedy VIA trains, Mike Sullivan pointed out that Metrolinx refuses to allow VIA Rail trains to stop at Weston.

Via desperately wants to stop in Weston. Their trains come from Sarnia, London and Kitchener, and patrons who want to go to the airport have to go all the way to Union and double back, adding about an hour to their trip.

Metrolinx refuses to let them. There are 4 trains per day (two in each direction) and Metrolinx says their dwell time (the time it takes to unload and load passengers) is too long and would interfere with the UP express schedule. They did suggest that when the 4th track is in place maybe things would change.

It may also have to do with the Kitchener part of the trips. Metrolinx wants to be the train of record from Kitchener, and VIA is in competition.

If you aren’t depressed enough, read this Star article about GTA transit planning.

 

Weston Common “20 years in the making”

Toronto.com has an article on the Weston Common and the activists who helped make it happen. It’s well worth the read.

“Art can change a life; it can change a path; it can change a destiny, a perspective, and open up opportunities,” Weinberg-Linsky said.

VIA does 121 through Weston Station

A reader alerted me to a danger at the Weston Station: twice daily, the VIA train goes through without slowing down—and boy, is it going fast. According to a  spokesperson, the VIA train is going 121 km/h (75 mph)–a speed that was “determined by the railway owner”.

At this speed, the train generates a lot of slipstream, and it is passing close to passengers. Our reader said it leaves “a huge swirl of dust, newspapers, and plastic bags. A child, or pet [could] be hurled against the platform columns or on to another platform”.

The spokesperson said that VIA has not received any complaints about the trains’ speed, but concerned residents can leave a comment and contact VIA Rail’s customer relations department at customer_relations@viarail.ca.

From Wikimedia

 

 

 

 

Mark DeMontis wants to know YSW priorities.

Progressive Conservative nominee Mark DeMontis is hoping to become the next MPP for York South-Weston in the June 7 election.  One thing different about Mr. DeMontis is that unlike some recent PC and Conservative nominees, he is willing to discuss issues with people and seems keen to participate in a public debate with other candidates.

He would like to know some of the priorities in the riding. Who better to let him know than the readers of Weston Web?

 

Playoffs promo features Peter’s Barber Shop

Tonight, many will be glued to the box to watch game 2 of the first round playoff series between Toronto and Boston. MLSE has produced this short promo video and it features local content in the form of Peter’s Barber Shop here in Weston. Thanks to Mike Sullivan for the tip.

Go Leafs Go.

Pot shop pops up

Weston’s least favourite store is back in business. California Cannabis has reopened, and has promised to donate a portion of its proceeds to Black Lives Matter–a move frustrating to those who see it as a donation to an anti-police group.

The CBC has a quite funny article  with an interview of Grey, um, Greenwell, an employee. He said he didn’t know much about the donations, and said

“I think it’s more of like a front for everybody that thinks we’re bad. You know, it’s like, ‘Oh, potheads go there,’ or ‘If you smoke weed, you’re like evil,'” he said.

“It’s kind of like to show we’re not, you know, like horrible people. We’re not criminals.

Right.

Grey Greenwell, photo by the CBC

The police have already promised to raid the illegal dispensary again–the fifth time it will have been shut down. Frances Nunziata says “The investigation will remain open until the store has been permanently closed.”