We Gonna Rock Down To Electric Avenue

I hesitate to wade into this particular fray, ill-equipped as I am with the raw data necessary to fend off a wave of readers who will invariably deem me to be a pampered downtown Toronto know-nothing partisan hack. Exactly what happened when I innocently got caught up in the ongoing TPA-Porter Air-Community Air saga at the island airport. Just minding my own business, throwing a few thoughts out there…

Yet, the more I look at this whole Metrolinx-Georgetown Corridor-Fixed Link to Pearson contretemps, the less I can stay silent on the matter. The main sticking point, the only sticking point, the entire enchilada is the matter of diesel. I mean, WHAT?!?!? How backward thinking is the brain trust at Metrolinx and its overseers at Queen’s Park? Diesel?! Really!!? Why not just swing for the fences on this and step right into the way back machine and decree that we’re going to de-mothball the old Iron Horses?

Has no one at Metrolinx taken a moment to look around the world and see what’s going on in terms of train travel? China, that old emission spewing, polluting boogeyman that’s still technically speaking a developing country, just unveiled the world’s fastest passenger train that runs basically off the electrical grid. Nevermind their electromagnetic Maglev trains they use for shorter hauls. Japan and Europe have been operating high speed electrical trains for decades now.

Cue the start of the second decade of the 21st-century and we here in Ontario, unveiling our biggest public transportation expansion in decades, are hitching our wagons to diesel. It is more than mystifying. Nonsensical doesn’t describe it. Unconscionable barely does it justice. Flat-headed, myopic, lily-livered, atavistic, primitive beyond the pale only begins to scratch the surface.

Money, they say. We don’t have enough of it to electrify the corridor. The people at the Clean Train Coalition disagree. Using Metrolinx’s own numbers, they contend that going electric from Union Station to Brampton will cost only 17% more than the present plan, some extra $150 million. On top of which, electric trains are cheaper to operate than diesel and the extra money it’ll cost to set up an electric system would be recouped in 10 years from operational savings alone. Not so fast, say those at Metrolinx. We’re going to spend $4 million to crunch the numbers and we’ll get back to you at the end of the year.

And frankly, I don’t buy into the assertion that it’ll be diesel initially and then electric down the rails sometime, let’s say 15 years. First off, once you’ve fully entrenched one system, the sheer weight of inertia will make it that much more difficult to jump tracks (the puns are almost involuntary). I mean it’s taken 30 years just to get around to this kind of talk about transportation infrastructure expansion. Secondly, what’s the economic sense to be spending some $1 billion on diesel only to pledge to redo it all a decade and a half later?

Financial jockeying aside, it’s just seems like further proof that our leaders have their heads firmly planted up their asses while sitting down in the sand when it comes to looking into the future. We’re coming to the end of cheap oil, gentleman. We should be weaning ourselves off our dependence on fossil fuels. Building a system powered by electricity opens up the possibilities to alternative sources of energy like wind and sun.

Without even getting into to the health and noise pollution arguments – we’re talking a substantial increase in train traffic affecting some 300, 000 people – there’s other mitigating factors as well. Electric trains are faster. They can stop more often than their diesel counterparts. And, for a train buff such as myself, they are far more aesthetically pleasing. They look cool and have better names.

So what exactly are the benefits of the diesel train aside from a lower initial cost? They already exist? Well, sort of. The highly touted (at least by Metrolinx and the provincial government) Tier 4 clean diesel technology is very new and not yet thoroughly tested. So its air quality claims cannot be viewed as rock solid. Furthermore Steve Munro, as unbiased a public transit advocate as you might find, questions the passenger load numbers that Metrolinx is throwing around in terms of exactly how many cars the Georgetown expansion will remove from the road as drivers start to take the trains.

The unfortunate fact of the matter seems to be that after years of inaction that has allowed this region’s public transportation system to fall behind those of some 2nd world countries, we are now scrambling to simply catch up to where we should’ve been two decades ago. Exhibiting a continued lack of boldness, initiative and vision, those at the helm of the transportation expansion are threatening to leave us at that exact spot. Twenty years behind the time.

mystifiedly submitted by Cityslikr

5 thoughts on “We Gonna Rock Down To Electric Avenue

  1. Sure, electric is better but it seems to me diesel isn’t so bad. TTC apparently agrees. From their website:

    TTC order 120 clean-diesel buses

    Delivery of the new, low-floor buses scheduled for 2010

    Commissioners approved the award of a contract worth $60 million for the purchase of 120 low-floor, clean-diesel buses for delivery in 2010. Commissioners decided to delay the expansion of the TTC’s hybrid bus fleet as a result of defective lead-acid batteries and chose to go with clean-diesel buses to ensure ridership growth demands are met in the short term. The 130 hybrid buses scheduled for delivery in 2009 will be equipped with new lithium-ion batteries. The TTC is also working with Daimler on a solution to retrofit the current fleet of hybrids with lithium ion batteries.


    • Dear Bob,

      We here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke think maybe, just maybe it’s time we demand better instead of not bad for our public transit choices for a change.

  2. Consider also the status of the space over rail corridors as valuable and contested public space. The provision for overhead wires considerably adds to the price of putting flyovers across the tracks. But just let the city (or Mississauga) build one lower flyover, and the cost, both financial and political, of going electric rises sharply. Metrolinx acts as though they have forever to get off the dime on electric. They don’t.

  3. Baby steps cityslkr. Baby steps. As the old saying goes “one in the hand is better than two in the bush.”

    And the fear mongering over clean diesel is a bit much when we have the same technology on buses rolling through our neighbourhoods in a lot closer proximity to residents than it would be on a train racing through an isolated corridor no?

  4. The Georgetown rail corridor is hardly an isolated area as even a quick look at a map would show. It runs through one of the most dense parts of the City passing many schools, parks, day cares as well as thousands of homes. In the case of the Junction and Junction Triangle a closer look at the plans would reveal an additional line expansion to Barrie which in conjunction with existing east west CPR lines means that the west end will have a massive triangulation of new diesel air pollution. Unlike buses on streets, the Georgetown expansion will be a substantial increase and concentration (400 trains a day vs. 120 buses on different routes) of new pollution even with newer “Tier 4” engines. The TTC already knows how good electric is, it powers the subway and streetcar fleets. If you think that buses and trains are the same then how come the TTC has no air monitoring stations for its buses but Metrolinx will have ones for trains. How come the TTC does not have to do an environmental assessment for the new buses but Metrolinx does for trains. The answer is pretty simple and can be found a report by Toronto’s medical Officer of Health. Its on his website for reading; he endorses electric.

    Lastly just a reminder as many people don’t know this; every community along the expansion has come out in favour of expanded public transit and the only real issue is making it the long term cheaper and less polluting electric plus making sure the Airport Link true public transit instead of the for profit 407 style waste of taxpayers money that it is scheduled to be; Go wont be operating the AP link.

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