Readers may remember a couple of WestonWeb articles here and here skewering the fuel-cell technology proposal championed by former Minister of Transportation, Steven Del Duca. Mr. Del Duca for some reason had fallen in love with fuel cell technology and wanted to see if it could be used instead of catenary (overhead) power lines when diesel trains such a GO and UP Express are replaced. A trial budget to check feasibility was originally set at $200,000, now it’s expanded to $3 million.
Now that the Liberal government has been given its marching orders, (precisely for stupidity like this) it will be interesting to see the reaction of Doug Ford to spending millions on this complete waste of money. Already, one Metrolinx Board member and CEO Phil Verster are publicly distancing themselves from the boondoggle. Look for more people at Metrolinx to claim they always thought it was a very bad idea.
Here’s a flow chart comparison of the two technologies. (Click to enlarge)
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 [email protected]
The UP Express is Weston’s rapid portal to the Airport (11 minutes) or downtown (14 minutes). Metrolinx has announced that beginning in April the service will begin earlier by adding two trains to the beginning of the current schedule. The first train to the airport will leave 35 minutes earlier at 5:09 instead of 5:44.
Likewise, trains to Union Station should begin earlier with the first leaving Weston for downtown at around 5:03.
The service has become wildly popular with an average of 300,000 trips per month thanks to a dramatic fare reduction in March 2016 and a subsequent $1.50 fare subsidy announced last October for transfers to or from transit agencies such as GO or TTC.
Incidentally, in a 2013 report produced for Metrolinx, passenger numbers were never anticipated to reach their current levels. The report predicted it would take until 2031 before numbers would rise to 245,000 monthly trips.
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.
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.”
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.
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.