GO Transit opens a community outreach centre

GO Transit has opened a community office in Weston. It held a grand opening tonight at the converted house at the intersection of Denison and Weston Road.

GO and Metrolinx have had a terrible relationship with the residents of Weston. Steve Munro, a transit blogger, says that early “proposals to slice through Weston … infuriated local residents.” According to Munro, “GO runs popular services, and as a provincial agency it is used to getting more or less what it wants. Public participation and accommodation have not been GO’s strong suits.”

Kathryn Hanford, the Team Lead, says, “GO realized that we were kind of shy of resources. We’ve got more resources now.”

Manuel Pedrosa, the manager of community relations, also said that things are changing. “We’re mindful that there’s a large infrastructure project in the community. We want to make sure we’re available to the community to answer questions and concerns.”

According to Pedrosa, the community office will be in Weston until the project is completed in 2014. Pedrosa says that they want “to ensure that the community is informed, to give them an opportunity to engage in the project.”

While the staff seemed sincere, Metrolinx has remained somewhat tone deaf to community needs. Not one staff member is from Weston, though Hanford did grow up nearby. Pedrosa said “we do have an initiative to ensure that some of the jobs come from the community”, and Hanford said they had been receiving résumés; nonetheless, none of the dozen-or-so employees at the open house was from Weston. In the last census, Weston had an unemployment rate 120% of Toronto’s, and 25% of residents live below the poverty line.

Neither Harford nor Pedrosa had any information about how Metrolinx’s recent takeover of the Air Rail Link project would affect Weston residents.

Blue22 trains will be new, cleaner, and publicly owned

Metrolinx has broken up with SNC Lavalin, and will now run new, tier 4, diesel-electric trains on the route to the airport.

Metrolinx announced today that the Union-Pearson link will not be operated by its long-time private partner, SNC Lavalin. Instead, it will be entirely run by Metrolinx, a public agency. Until now, the train to the airport was supposed to have been a public-private partnership, and the partnership had been quite controversial. The proposed one-way fare was $20, much higher than public transit fares, and SNC was going to use 50-year old, refurbished diesel trains.

Now all that will change.

Rob Prichard, the Metrolinx Chairman said

We’ll use new, tier 4 convertible locomotives. They could be converted to electric if at sometime the province decides to convert the Georgetown corridor to an electric service. We’ll build the infrastructure and acquire the vehicles to accommodate electrification, if that is to come at some future date.

The deal with SNC Lavalin did not collapse from public pressure, however. Both Metrolinx and SNC blamed the credit market. The Sun says, though, that SNC could not get the government or its lenders to shoulder enough risk, should the trains be unprofitable.

Steve Munro, a transit pundit, is optimistic about the change:

This long-overdue change in the [air rail link] scheme should bring the project into public view where all aspects of its design, financing and operation will be subject to the same scrutiny and openness as other Metrolinx projects.  Issues such as service levels, equipment provisioning and, most importantly, electrification will no longer hide behind the veil of “commercial confidentiality”.

Laura Albanese has signed the clean train pledge

Laura Albanese has signed the Clean Train Coalition’s pledge.

The coalition started a pledge campaign last month to pressure politicians in the run-up to the provincial and municipal elections. The pledge asks them to “call upon Dalton McGuinty to direct Metrolinx to electrify the Georgetown corridor, prior to the expansion of passenger rail service including both GO Transit and the Air Rail Link.”

Albanese says

“I do support electrification in principle and I have signed the pledge. I also believe that there must be full disclosure about what exactly electrification involves, including infrastructure requirements, grid capacity, health, safety and property impacts, and full disclosure of costs, before definite decisions are made.”

She also warns that her counterparts at the municipal and federal levels are not pulling their weight. While the province is building “ready for electrification”, the feds and the city have made promises without writing cheques. She says that “Members from both the Federal and Municipal governments have signed the pledge and many have declared their support for electrification but there has been no commitment from either to come to the table with funds.”

GO may not use low-emission trains

GO will not use Tier 4 trains on the Georgetown line when it opens in 2015, according to InsideToronto. Instead GO will use much dirtier Tier 2 engines.

GO Transit presented information about the line at two community meetings on June 23 and 24.

In the story boards, GO says they will use Tier 4 engines, which vastly reduce particulate and nitrous oxide emissions, when the new engines are “commercially available”. They anticipate that will be in 2017.

The line is due to open in 2015, however. Tier 2 trains would therefore be in use for two years if everything goes according to plan.

Metrolinx reaches a conclusion

After considering many options, Metrolinx has reached an obvious conclusion: future GO trains will not run on unproven or science-fiction technology.

GO has been studying alternative train systems since early this year as part appraising the potential for electrifying the train system. Right now, GO trains use diesel locomotives, but GO considered converting to mag-lev, biodiesel, natural gas, and hybrid technologies. After months of study, these options have now been rejected.

According to Steve Munro, a transit expert, this exercise has not been an merely expensive waste of time; he says

Some have remarked that we have paid quite a lot of money and taken a lot of time to reach the obvious conclusion.  Sadly, they are correct, but I must challenge the sense that the process is worthless.  GO/Metrolinx is learning a lot about rail technology and the implications of technology choices.  Things that may be “obvious” to advocates sometimes take time to seep into the official world view, and a well-documented study puts to rest many of the diversions and erroneous assumptions that have clouded debates on future GO operations and technologies.

Four options now remain:

  1. Diesel Locomotives – Bi‐Level
  2. Electric Locomotives – Bi‐Level
  3. Electric Multiple Units – Bi‐Level
  4. Dual‐Mode Locomotives – Bi‐Level

Diesel locomotives are the trains Torontonians are familiar with: a powerful engine pulls light carriages. Electric locomotives would be similar: a powerful, but electric, engine would pull light carriages. Electric Multiple Unit trains are similar to subway cars. There is no single-car engine in front of the train. Instead, the engine components are spread underneath the passenger components. Dual-mode locomotives are engine-pulled trains that can switch between electric and diesel power.

Both the EMU and Dual-mode options seem like dark horses.  Locomotive-pulled trains would be able to use the current passenger cars for the remainder of their useful lives, but the Electrical Multiple Unit option would mean replacing the entire fleet. Currently, there are very few dual-mode locomotives available, and they are expensive and unproven.

The heat is on Metrolinx

Metrolinx has been spanked in public by the Toronto City Council. Again.

Metrolinx is the public agency that governs regional transit; notably, it is responsible for the increased GO Train and Airport Express traffic that will run through Weston. Metrolinx is often criticized by politicians and transit advocates for being opaque, adversarial, and disrespectful of public input.

In a motion passed yesterday, City Council said Metrolinx is “highly streamlined, one-way, and not in any way [open to] meaningful or respectful of community input”, Council moved that the agency should be “open, transparent, and accountable to the public by requiring it to conduct its meetings in public… provide advance public notice of meetings; allow public deputations; and publish all reports, agendas, and minutes.

This isn’t the first time Metrolinx has been given a whupping, but City Council may be the most powerful and unified group yet to have taken off its belt.