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.

Pressure lightens on payday loan shops

Toronto City Council has shot down proposals from the Etobicoke York Community Council that would have pressured payday loan operations.

Last month the Etobicoke York Community Council started pursuing the payday loan shops sprouting up around Weston. There are now at least 10 within walking distance. These shops cash cheques and give extremely high-interest short-term loans. The Etobicoke council voted to inspect the payday loan businesses in Weston—even though what it was hoping to find was never very clear. It gave vague instructions to look for “problems” and “issues”.

The much smaller community council wanted the full Toronto City Council and its staff to “determine what regulations are necessary to eliminate the problems”, “address the issues arising from this type of business” and to see if the city can license the payday loan offices. However, the Toronto council ruled Etobicoke’s recommendations out of order, and they were withdrawn.

It now seems that the community council will only have the director of municipal licensing and standards inspect the shops; it is not clear what, if anything, she or he will be able to do.

City Council spanks Metrolinx

Toronto City Council spanked Metrolinx in public today. It’s likely to spank them again tomorrow.

Council voted to ask the Province to “require the Air Rail link between Union Station and Pearson Airport to be electrified by year 2015 as a demonstration project for regional transit.” In other words, the Province should just tell Metrolinx to electrify the line and skip the studies.

City politicians were asked to do this by the Parks and Environment committee, on which Weston’s councillor (Frances Nunziata) sits. This motion seems to imply that the electrification issue is settled as far as the city is concerned.

Tomorrow Council will vote on whether Metrolinx should be spanked again. A motion asks “the Ontario Government [to] amend the governance of Metrolinx to make it open, transparent, and accountable to the public by requiring it to conduct its meetings in public, consistent with the rules governing municipal government; provide advance public notice of meetings; allow public deputations; and publish all reports, agendas, and minutes.”

City Council seems to be going toe-to-toe with Metrolinx by calling them unaccountable, closed, and opaque and by asking them to lay off the studies and get started building. Of course, City Council is asking to spend other people’s money—and the province is not likely to dance to the pauper’s tune.

Plank Road building being repaired

While the workers on site were secretive about the renovation, I was able to get inside the Plank Road building on Tuesday for a brief look around.

It looks rough. And good. And it looks like it’s getting better.

According to the workers, the building has been empty for 60 years and has suffered many fires. Still, while some of the wood is charred inside, the space is undeniably beautiful and the building’s bones are strong.

I wasn’t able to take pictures, but the building has three floors with a central staircase and two large rooms on the main floor. The workers are replacing at least the joists and the interior walls; they said they are “basically cleaning up, fixing walls and stuff”. Some of the old framing remains, though, and the space looks like it will be open and inviting.

The workers had no idea when the building would be done, and it will certainly be a while. There is a lot of work left to do.

They said, though, that there is nothing fundamentally wrong with the building; it just suffers from “old age”. That can’t be a surprise: the Plank Road building is one of the oldest buildings in Ontario. In fact, it is older than Canada; it was built a quarter-century before Confederation.

According to the workers, the building’s owner will be putting the space up for rent when renovations are complete.

Plank building

Clean Train Coalition launching new campaign

The Clean Train Coalition is launching a new campaign to pressure politicians into taking a stand on the electrification of GO Transit.

The coalition has been very successful in the past. Pressure from it and other community groups forced GO Transit to make many expensive concessions along the planned Georgetown expansion. The Coalition is co-chaired by the NDP candidate for York-South Weston, Mike Sullivan.

The new campaign will ask local politicians from all levels to take a pledge to “call on Premier Dalton McGuinty to direct Metrolinx to electrify the Georgetown Corridor”.

This pledge campaign coincides with a vulnerable time for many politicians: the provincial and civic elections will both be this autumn. Politicians who refuse to take the pledge will look rather foolish when more expensive and expansive promises are falling like so many leaves from the trees.

The coalition says, though, and rather implausibly, that the pledge is meant to coincide with a City Council meeting on Tuesday.

Metrolinx and GO explain possible trains

GO Transit has posted the slides from the May 27 community update. The slides may alleviate concerns community members had.

As most Weston residents know, GO Transit is studying whether it should electrify the trains that run through our community. Community activists and citizens are quite convinced of the benefits of electrification: quieter, cleaner, faster trains. GO Transit is less convinced that electrifying the train system makes sense.

The slides from the recent meeting show the many different possibilities that GO is considering. They are:

  • Diesel
  • Electric
  • Biodiesel
  • Natural Gas
  • Hydrogen
  • Combination fuels
  • Maglevs
GO locomotive
GO locomotive

Community residents found the proliferation of alternate fuels in the study baffling. GO had said it would study and discuss electrification—not futuristic maglevs.

The slides make clear, though, that most of the possibilities are non-starters. Natural gas, biodiesel, hybrids, and maglevs are not “commercially viable” or proven technologies, according to GO.

Yet while that leaves only two kinds of fuel (electric and diesel) there remain several kinds of engine to consider. Locomotive-hauled carriages (LHCs) are the trains Westonians will be familiar with: massive, noisy engines pull passenger cars. This is not the most modern design, though, and GO is considering the other possibility.

Instead of having a single, huge engine at the front of the train, most modern trains (called “multiple unit” or MU trains) have engines spread throughout the cars, directly the under the passenger compartments. The TTC subways are like this, of course; they have no large engine in front of the train. Multiple-unit trains are more elegant, cause less wear on tracks, and scale to demand well.

There are, then, four likely kinds of train for GO:

  1. Electric locomotive hauling carriages (Electric LHC)
  2. Electric multiple unit (EMU)
  3. Diesel locomotive hauling carriages (Diesel LHC)
  4. Diesel multiple unit (DMU)
Multiple unit (MU) train
Multiple unit (MU) train

However, only the electric and diesel LHCs are compatible with the passenger cars that GO has now. Thus, GO would likely choose only between locomotives, and would forgo the multiple-unit trains.

One intriguing possibility remains. On page 27 of the presentation, GO says that dual-mode locomotives are in development. Dual-mode trains would be able to travel through both electrified and non-electrified sections of track by switching between diesel and electric motors.