Two long reads worth your time

A couple of long reads worth your time this weekend:

John Michael McGrath weighs in on the ugly-looking process behind the province’s hydrogen-powered GO train push, which could replace the well-developed and reasonable plans for electrification:

Metrolinx is asking for private companies to bid to make something that doesn’t currently exist. The costs are a big question mark. So is the performance. One of the reasons the government was going to go with overhead wires was that electric trains can accelerate faster than their diesel counterparts, allowing a railway to run more vehicles in and out of stations, safely. That means more frequent train service for riders. Can Metrolinx find a hydrogen train vendor that can meet those specs while delivering the number of trains needed by the 2025 deadline?


The Globe’s Alex Bozikovic covers what houses we should be keeping in Toronto, and the broken-down system of heritage evaluation. It’s a mess, and one we struggle with in Weston.

The areas of the city that are facing the most development pressure – and where planning is most open to development – is in and around the downtown core, which is also the area richest in built heritage.

“We wind up asking, What do we want to keep?” Ms. MacDonald says. “And the larger question, a very different question, is, what matters to people? What are the landmarks for different faith communities, for different waves of immigration? Not everyone in Toronto has the same history. We believe that the city’s architectural heritage represents community and social value as well.”

Battery Power for UP Express?

The Proterra electric bus.

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.

This is what Metrolinx should be investigating.

What’s happening to Weston Station?

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.

The station just before it opened in June 2015.
Dead trees and weeds blight Weston Station in 2017
Looking towards the Lawrence footbridge in 2015.
Empty planters in 2017.
Weston Station bike racks 2017.

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?

Go away.

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.

Metrolinx Web Feedback here. Phone: 416-869-3300

Councillor Frances Nunziata: Phone: 416-392-4091

MPP Laura Albanese: Phone: 416-243-7984

MP Ahmed Hussen: Phone: 416-656-2526

Update: Scott Money from Metrolinx says,

“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.

High Speed Rail – bring it on!

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.

The HSR route will use the UP Express corridor. Click for larger view.

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).

Travel times for the faster of the two HSR scenarios. Click for larger view.

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.

A shockingly bad train idea, terrible for Weston

David Collenette, the ‘brains’ behind the under-used, over-priced, executive-class UP Express service, has announced another of his plans: a $19 billion, twice-hourly, high-speed train between Toronto and Windsor. The provincial government made much of it today.Choo choo!

Collenette has two proposals, the cheaper (and slower) of which would put a 250 km/h train on the corridor that runs through Weston. It would run from Union to Pearson, then on to Kitchener, Guelph, London and Windsor. Collenette says the train would be profitable and could be built speedily.

He’s said that before. He was so utterly wrong that he should never be allowed near a cocktail napkin again.

  • The UPX was supposed to be $200 million.  It cost three times that.
  • It was supposed to be running by 2008. It took until 2015.
  • It was supposed to be profitable. It has never been profitable.

 

Moreover, there is already train service to every destination the government has in mind. GO Trains run to Kitchener and Guelph. VIA trains go to London and Windsor. The competition is brutal, too: flights to Windsor are about $150 and take an hour, and the Ontario government has also already announced all-day service to Kitchener and other improvements to regional rail service.

In the unlikely event that this high-speed line ever gets built, it will require undoing much of the work already done on the corridor: “a number of infrastructure upgrades”, in Collenette’s words.

 

 

 

Presto Cards at Downtown Weston Shoppers Drug Mart

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.

New transit hub proposed for Pearson Airport.

The UP Express in Weston Station (file).

Pearson Airport is not only Canada’s biggest airport, it’s also an employer of 40,000 49,000 people who travel from all over the GTA along with many more who work in the surrounding region. In 2015 it was North America’s 14th busiest airport with over 41 million passenger trips.

Yesterday, new plans were unveiled proposing to make Pearson a transit hub for modes as well as flight. The idea is to eventually connect with the Eglinton Crosstown Line as well as bus routes from Toronto / Mississauga / Brampton and a possible high speed rail line along the Kitchener Line. Planners hope to be able to cut down on the 65,000 vehicles entering the airport daily.

This is good news because as traffic volumes continue to grow, new links to the hub will provide other ways (in addition to our fast UP Express link) for workers to quickly access the airport using Weston / Mount Dennis as their home. The airport will relocate parking garages to create the hub which will have an entrance on Airport Road. In addition, having a transit hub closer than Union Station will be a good thing for our area.

At the moment, the idea is in an exploratory mode and if approved, would not be in service until 2027 at the earliest.

UrbanToronto has an article on the proposal here.