As reported here earlier this week, Metrolinx is looking at fuel cell technology to provide power for its trains (including UP Express) rather than the current polluting diesel or the already announced GO Train electrification using overhead catenary wires which will also power the Eglinton Crosstown.
Fuel cell technology has been in the news for decades but has yet to demonstrate its long vaunted potential. Hydrogen is the fuel and passes over cells combining with oxygen to directly produce electric power. Since only hydrogen and oxygen are involved, the exhaust is pure water. Companies like Ballard Power have been working on the idea for decades but difficulties include manufacturing the hydrogen (using purified water and electricity), transporting the highly flammable hydrogen gas safely to vehicles and installing fuelling stations where needed.
Exciting news out of Indiana yesterday should give the people at Metrolinx an alternative to fuel cells and catenary wires – battery technology. A battery powered bus has been able to travel 1700 km on a single charge. This rapidly improving technology is sufficiently advanced that it will provide emergency power from a site in Mount Dennis to the Eglinton Crosstown (instead of a generating station). Now it appears that batteries could be the solution to powering commuter transit.
The seven UP Express trains each travel under 900 km daily (it’s 24 km between Union and Pearson) and could charge for the 10 minutes each trip while they wait for passengers at either end. When the service stops between 1:00 am and 5:00 am daily, the trains could fully recharge using cheap electricity.
Fuel cells were partly, a response to poor battery technology. Now they appear to have been sidelined as battery storage continues to improve.
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.
Anyone who has travelled on the UP Express recently will know that since fares were reduced, the train has been wildly popular; not only with airline passengers but also with commuters and people moving between the stations of Pearson, Weston, Bloor and Union.
Fares dropped to their current levels in March 2016 and by July of that year, monthly ridership had increased from a low of 60,000 in February 2016 to about 250,000. Metrolinx spokesperson Anne Marie Aikins tweeted today that in July 2017, ridership was over 300,000 for that month. While this might be a reflection of tourist numbers, it’s still a good sign and a great perk of living in Weston.
Ridership keeps going UP! July 2016 monthly ridership was approx 250,000. July 2017 over 300,000 riders per month pic.twitter.com/zkZ61yL1XB
The latest news of how transit gets built in this area comes as no surprise to most people in the GTA. In the latest outrage, straight from the manual of how to operate a corrupt government, Provincial Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca possibly acting in a craven bid to keep his own seat, seems to have pressured Metrolinx into approving two unnecessary GO stations. One in his riding and another $25 million station which was (literally) forged into existence, in order to satisfy (Rob Ford in sheep’s clothing) Mayor Tory’s ill-conceived SmartTrack needs. With a wink and a nod to voters in next June’s election, Del Duca could point to the $100 million GO station as a reason to re-elect him. One might speculate that the March resignation of Bruce McCuaig was a reaction to this nonsense, knowing that the truth would eventually come out.
The $3.35 billion, one-stop Scarborough Subway is another example of how transit planning is perverted by politicians for their own re-election purposes. Torontonians will be paying for that white elephant for the next 50 years while knowing that a much better LRT was already planned and paid for. Line 1 is overcrowded with 731,000 passengers weekly. Line 3 has only 40,000. In the meantime, politicians like Glenn de Bearemaeker and John Tory stick to the same nonsense that Scarborough deserves a subway. Even our own councillor, Frances Nunziata supports this obscenity presumably because she wants to Tory to keep her on as Council Speaker.
Closer to home, the UP Express was originally designed to be built privately and run non-stop to the airport. It was going to cost taxpayers nothing while barreling at high speed through our neighbourhood. Luckily the community got involved in the form of the people of Weston and the Clean Train Coalition. As a result of community pressure, Weston got its own station and a tunnel was built to put some of the line below grade. In spite of common sense, we’re still stuck with the CP tracks not going in the tunnel with the other lines, broken links between streets like John Street and a sell-off of the old GO parking lot for development without any community input. On the plus side, we now have an inexpensive, quick and frequent train to the airport and downtown but in fairness, no politician planned this; it was forced on them by community pressure.
Sadly, most politicians will do whatever they need to do in order to get elected. Public vigilance and pressure is the only answer. Being well informed and vocal is in every citizen’s best interest.
There is an old saying that war is too important to be left to the generals. Along the same lines, governing is too important to be left to politicians. Demanding and participating in community consultation events has never been more important. Especially since there is about to be a huge surge in redevelopment in Weston. Chief Planner Jennifer Keesmaat’s resignation on Monday will only serve to stress the importance of informed citizen input.
Former Ontario Minister of the Environment, Glen Murray was in Mount Dennis in June, (along with Frances Nunziata and Laura Albanese) supporting their Net Zero initiative. His abrupt departure has left a few questions hanging about two important Mount Dennis initiatives, in particular their Net Zero push as well as the Toronto West Railpath cycle and pedestrian trail northward expansion.
This article covers the West Toronto RailPath.
The RailPath is a great idea that has been tirelessly promoted by people along the UP Express line and particularly in The Junction and Mount Dennis. Why a path along a rail line? Railway lines are built to smooth out hills wherever possible – trains don’t like inclines. For that reason, a bike / walking trail alongside a rail line is a perfect match because without hills and dips a bike / pedestrian path is easier and safer to use. Plans are to extend the trail southwards below Queen Street and beyond (under study).
In June’s meeting in Mount Dennis, Murray seemed to give an assurance that a northward Railpath extension would get the go ahead despite a previous firm no from Metrolinx. At the time of the meeting, Murray must have known that his future lay elsewhere. Attempts to contact his constituency office on the topic have not been successful.
The new Environment Minister, Chris Ballard directed my inquiry back to Metrolinx Senior Media Manager, Anne Marie Aikins who tells me that “The City of Toronto is the lead on the Railpath project and is in a better position to answer questions about the project and its timelines.” Metrolinx has basically said that the RailPath must end at Black Creek Drive and the City has been tasked with finding a route.
Simon Chamberlain (recording secretary of the (ever awesome) Mount Dennis Community Association) is very knowledgeable on the issues around the possible northward extension. He says that this particular rail track passes directly through communities and could be be a link to stores and other amenities along the way. Unfortunately, without wide enough bridges, the rail path can only run north as far as Black Creek Drive and then exit the corridor at that point, continuing on a much hillier trail through the Black Creek Valley to Trethewey and westward into the back streets of Weston.
Simon explained that the main obstacles to continuing the trail northward are bridges which are expensive to widen after the fact. Sadly, unlike the builders of the Bloor Viaduct, Metrolinx didn’t seem to anticipate the need for a wider corridor. The MDCA unsuccessfully tried to get Metrolinx to only partially demolish the Photography Drive bridge that crossed Eglinton and thus leave room for a pedestrian / cycle trail. He believes that there is a possible route northward over the bridge that crosses Black Creek Drive and MDCA has been pushing Metrolinx to extend the RailPath north to Ray Drive and beyond, possibly as far as Denison.
Simon believes that Metrolinx is reluctant to alter any contracts that are under way because of the additional expense (think of home renos when you ask a contractor for changes during the job).
The City’s Railpath Senior Public Consultation Coordinator, Maogosha Pyjor says that,
“There have been questions about extending the Railpath further north west along the rail corridor. Planning for this extension would require its own Environmental Assessment…. the City has been informed by Metrolinx that due to their track expansion plans there will not be space in rail corridor for a trail going north. The City will have to look at on-street connections.”
That seems to be the way it goes for Weston / Mount Dennis. Two steps forward and one step back.
This might be a good time to remember that politicians will get to work on an idea if they think that people are behind it.
In the two years that Weston UP Express Station has been open, a sharp deterioration in landscaping and service has occurred. The station provides a vital first impression for people passing through Weston and it’s beginning to look tired. If this is an attempt to save money since fares were lowered, it’s definitely a false economy and reflects badly on our community.
Are vandals removing plants from flower beds? They certainly aren’t planting the weeds.
One more thing. The station was once open while trains were running but is now locked up tight between 10:30 am and 3:30 pm and closed altogether on weekends. This is a reduction in service and Weston deserves better. People with mobility concerns needing to use the elevator may think they are out of luck if trains are running and the station is closed. Surely a way could be found to keep the station open. At one time, there was talk of a coffee shop in the station. What happened to that idea?
The other middle stop along the line, Bloor Station is open during these same hours and on weekends although counter service follows similar hours as in the image above.
Why is Weston treated this badly? Presumably because Metrolinx thinks that nobody cares. Is that true? Metrolinx and our local representatives need to know that this is wrong. The reason we have a station is because people let politicians know that it was important. If Metrolinx is allowed to neglect the station to the point where people stop using it, that will put it in danger of closing.
Perhaps that’s the plan.
Interim CEO, John Jensen, Metrolinx’s former chief capital officer needs to know about this. He could fix this tomorrow.
“Thank you for bringing forward your concerns about the landscaping at Weston GO station. Our operations team is looking into this right away and will fix any landscaping issues at the station as soon as possible.
The operating hours at Weston Go station have remained consistent since the station opened.”
I have asked Scott why there is a difference in treatment between the Weston and Bloor stations and will publish the response when it arrives.