The provincial Liberals are promising a huge drop in UPX and GO Train fares for Westonians if they are reëlected this summer. Fares on all commuter trains will drop to $3, with the subsidy coming from carbon cap-and-trade revenues. PRESTO card users may also be able to keep the TTC discount, dropping a mixed-mode UPX-and-subway trip to downtown to about $5.¹
This would make Weston an even more enormously attractive place to live: we would have the nicest, fastest, and cheapest train service to downtown. UPX fares would match subway fares, but the plebes from Bloor West will have to make do with armpit views and sticky NOWs, while we read in-ride magazines on executive-class loungers.
The proposed provincial budget also promises, again, “electrified service on core segments, including the Union Pearson (UP) Express”.
Of course, there’s a catch: this is an election-year budget, and won’t be passed until after the polls in June, and only if the Liberals win.
¹ This is hellaciously complicated. To get the discount, you need to tap on the right machine. “When you are taking UP Express between Union Station and Bloor or Weston stations, you need to tap on and off the green PRESTO devices to get the discount. When you are taking UP Express to or from Union Station and Pearson Airport, you need to tap on and off the silver PRESTO devices to get the discount.”²
² The silver machines are not silver. They are silver and green. The green machines are not green. They are green and silver. This is the stupidest shit I’ve ever seen. Why are there two kinds? If there is a good reason, why do they look the same? Christ almighty. Am I the only person who thinks this is insane?
The Kitchener GO Line that runs through Weston / Mount Dennis will eventually be electrified. The Ontario Government recently announced through Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca that it would be spending ‘up to $200,000’ to study alternatives to GO train electrification. A Mississauga company, Hydrogenics has managed to persuade the Minister that fuel cells may be the way to go instead of using overhead wires and electric trains.
How would it work? Hydrogen gas (yes, the gas used in the Hindenburg airship) would be produced by applying an electric current to water in a process known as electrolysis. The process is touted as green but unfortunately, electrolysis is notoriously inefficient so hydrogen produced for large projects such as a fleet of trains is manufactured from fossil fuels such as oil or natural gas – releasing large amounts of carbon dioxide and therefore not green at all.
Once hydrogen is made, problems continue. Storing it is hard. It must be compressed, cooled to a liquid or stored chemically – all of which are costly in terms of energy. Once stored, it must be transported to the trains.
The trains then would generate electricity from the hydrogen through the use of an on-board fuel cell of the type made by Hydrogenics. That means they would have a fuel cell electricity generator and a propulsion unit. Electric trains draw their current from overhead wires and only need a propulsion unit.
Surprisingly, adding to the negatives, a litre of gasoline contains about 64% more hydrogen than pure liquid hydrogen itself – yes, the hydrogen that was probably extracted at great cost from gasoline or diesel fuel.
Anyone who has been to Europe or ridden on Amtrak would know that electric trains there use overhead wires (called catenaries – in use since 1889) to supply power. The Eglinton Crosstown line opening in 2021 will use catenaries. It’s the current state of the art.
For some reason, either Mr. Del Duca wants to throw a $200,000 present to a company in the Liberal riding of Mississauga – Brampton South or he’s been completely misled about basic physics. Either scenario makes one wonder about the minister’s competence.
This video from Elon Musk sums up the inefficiencies and difficulties involved in getting hydrogen fuel cell technology to work. Yes, Mr. Musk has an axe to grind (battery technology) but his points are valid.
On the Ministry of Transportation’s GO Transit site, fuel cell technology is touted as electrification since the fuel cells generate electricity that drives the trains. If that’s the case, diesel trains can also be called electric since diesel engines generate electricity that drives the trains. Furthermore, since fuel cells are likely to need fossil fuels to provide the hydrogen, maybe we should call a conversion to fuel cell technology, fossilization.
Many people are taking advantage of the rapid link to downtown that we enjoy here in Weston. It’s only 6 minutes to Bloor station and 14 minutes to Union from where TTC connections can be made. Some people find the combined cost of the GO/UP Express and the TTC too high and have felt that a discount should be offered. The Liberals will announce today that people who use a Presto Card to pay for fares will soon get a break when using both transit modes.
For example, people taking the GO train or UP Express will get a $1.50 discount on a TTC ticket when a Presto Card is used. Similarly, in the reverse direction a GO or UP Express ticket will be discounted $1.50 for those transferring from the TTC. The fare subsidy is designed to encourage more people to leave their cars at home and will save commuters up to $720 annually.
Work has started on a fourth passenger track that will run through Weston. The track bed is already in place and rail will be put down between Nickel and the 427 over the next few weeks. This fourth track will be for GO only and a new low level platform will be built at Weston Station. This fourth track will allow for faster and more frequent passenger service along the Kitchener line.
At Metrolinx’ latest board meeting held yesterday, the local wizard of all things transit, Steve Munro, reported on the proceedings and pertinent highlights are extracted below with my gratuitous comments.
Some enlightened jurisdictions allow the use of a credit card to ‘tap and go’. Not Metrolinx – they’re still trying to fully implement their own in-house card, Presto. Credit card ‘tap and go’ might be available in 2019. Until then at least, the only ‘tap’ game in town is the Presto card.
While there are still plans to electrify GO and UP Express trains, Metrolinx is studying the use of hydrogen fuel cells as a form of power. They’re calling it due diligence – your mileage may vary but I suspect a few trips to Hamburg, Aruba and Dubai (where there are trains powered by fuel cells) might be ‘needed’. One such train in Hamburg is supposed to start operating in December and (oh joy) the Christmas Markets are to die for.
A ‘reconfiguration’ of tracks at Union Station is being considered. This would mean reducing the number of tracks and making platforms wider. Not sure how this would help but because of the huge number of trains coming and going, there may be a need to have East and West annex stations with shuttles to the main station.
Integrating fares across the GTA still seems a long way off although there may be a push towards a discount for people having to access two systems e.g. GO and TTC and eventually, time based fares across the board so that people might pay for a two-hour pass (for example).
The current TTC model costs users the same for one stop or twenty – Steve believes that Metrolinx would like to charge fares by distance travelled. If that system was implemented, it would cost people in the suburbs a lot more to go downtown.
December’s board meeting will discuss integrating UP Express fares into the GO system.
Incidentally, according to the Star, Metrolinx holds about 40% of its meetings in private. They are now promising to tell people when their private meetings will be held and will publish (no doubt suitably redacted) minutes. It was after one of these closed-door meetings that Metrolinx announced the famous two additional stations; one that just happened to be a John Tory request and one in the riding of Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca.
With reference to shedding more light on closed door meetings, Board Chair Bob Prichard managed a straight face when he told the Star, “I’m always in favour of continuous improvement in governance . . . . Our practices are developing, and I think it will be a good evolution in our practice to do that.”
Translation: OK you caught us; we’ll have to find another way of isolating the public from our decisions.
I am going to take the opposite viewpoint to my esteemed colleague Adam on this topic. Here’s the ‘good cop’ version.
David Collenette was the man behind the UP Express, having first proposed it 20 years ago. His original vision was for a direct train that would offer a 22-minute ride from Pearson to Union that would cost $20. Without going into the details of what happened between concept and reality (read our back issues), the end result was that Weston in effect ended up with an all-day commuter rail service into Toronto for about the same price as a GO Train ticket.
Collenette has re-emerged as a ‘Special Advisor’ in a report outlining a vision of a high speed rail line joining Toronto and Windsor.
Lord knows how hard it is to get anything built in this neck of the woods. Collenette’s vision of the Air Rail Link (as it was then known), ended up as a huge gift for Weston’s commuters. Now on the wildly popular UP Express (since lowing prices), in rush hours, it’s standing room only.
What about the Toronto to Windsor HSR Line? It’s certainly needed. In fact, decent rail links all over Canada are needed. Part-way to Windsor lies Canada’s Silicon Valley in the Kitchener / Waterloo area. It’s too close to fly there (only 100 km) yet GO Trains take at best 2 hours. An HSR train would use much of the same corridor and cut travel time between the two city centres dramatically. Stops at Malton (Pearson), Guelph, Kitchener and London are proposed for the first phase.
What’s in it for Weston?
In 2021, the UP Express will add one more station at Mount Dennis and connect to the new Crosstown Line. Will this new station make the UP Express unacceptably slow? There is a rumoured possibility that Weston’s station will be too close to Mount Dennis and may be closed as a result.
The report itself recommends that existing services be ‘optimized’:
The Province should align provincial mandates to optimize rail services by directing Metrolinx and MTO to collaborate on the development of an Integrated Rail Strategy for the Toronto-Kitchener corridor, which would
•Clarify the mandates of GO RER, UP Express and HSR on the corridor.
•Assess ridership and service frequencies.
•Recommend how the Province might optimize GO RER, UP Express and HSR ridership to maximize the benefit to Ontarians.
One way around the two station dilemma might be to convert the existing UP Express into a commuter line and open new stations along the way. This could be a way of easing the burden on the subway system while preserving Weston’s regular and rapid link to downtown.
What will the cost be? Anyone who has done home renovations will know that estimated costs before a project begins are likely to end up higher in reality. What studies do show is that public transit adds value to a community if done well. No doubt changes and variations are up for grabs as they were with the original idea for the Airport Rail Link.
What about a high speed train running through our community? The train won’t likely be that fast in the city. Currently the UP Express hits speeds of up to 130 km/h between Bloor and Weston for an average of around 77 km/h. The report projects a somewhat faster average speed (just under 100 km/h from Union to Malton).
The next steps will be more studies and consultations. This is just the beginning of what will be a long and ambitious project. While there may be pitfalls along the way, there will be opportunities and this proposed infrastructure holds huge promise and potential for Weston.
We do however need to be on top of this as a community and make sure that the people of Weston / Mount Dennis are heard loud and clear.
It’s not a huge announcement (on Twitter) from local MPP, and Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Laura Albanese but it’s one that makes sense for Weston. Many transit organizations including the TTC, GO and UP Express are moving to join the rest of the world in using electronic fare payments. This is done through an electronic card that can be loaded online, by phone or at a retail location. The card adopted for use in the GTA is the Presto Card and while it’s had some teething troubles, it’s supposed to be more convenient for customers and less subject to fraud than paper transfers or easily counterfeited tokens.
Minister Albanese announced today that our local Shoppers Drug Mart will be one of only 10 Toronto outlets selected to sell and service Presto Cards.
Weston has several modes of transit in one location and this is the reason no doubt that our branch of Shoppers will be one of the first locations in the city to roll out the service.