Pan Am Games could provide the spark for GO Transit electrification

Electrifying the entire GO Transit system would not completed by the time the 2015 Pan Am Games roll into Toronto, according to the project manager of a $2-million feasabilty study being conducted by Metrolinx.

Karen Pitre said electrification of one or more lines however, is realistic if that is determined to be the preferred technology. Metrolinx, the public transportation authority for the Greater Toronto Area, kicked off the study in July of 2009 and hopes to complete the picture by December, 2010.

“We are not going to be able to electrify the whole GO system in five years,” Pitre said. “But there may be analysis that says ‘based on the implementation, there is a rational for doing things in an orderly way’ and that (the 2015 games) just provides us with a deadline.”

In October, Ontario’s minister of the environment, John Gerretsen, announced that tier 4 diesel, a new, clean-burning technology, was the province’s choice to move traffic along the western Toronto corridor; that technology, however, has yet to make it from the drawing board to practical use.

Expansion plans for the Georgetown corridor and a rail link between Union Station and Pearson International Airport is set for completion in 2014, but those plans have drawn fire from Toronto residents who fear increased rail traffic, compounded with the crush of athletes and spectators attending the 2015 games, will bring increased pollution to their neighbourhoods scattered along the line.

Residents also suspect the electrification study is a waste of time and money because the study is non-binding and electrification, should that be recommended, could be rejected by the Metrolinx board of directors.

Mike Sullivan, chair of the Weston Community Coalition, feels that expansion plans of the corridor are being rushed. He thinks that no matter what the study concludes, Metrolinx will push forward with plans to use tier 4 diesel technology.

“We believe the reason that this being rushed and reported to be diesel is because it is a promise being made by the Premier (of Ontario) to the Pan Am Games organizers that there will be a train in time for …  2015,” Sullivan said.

Pitre however feels that being awarded the games offers  an incentive to move forward with expansion plans and makes electrification of at least part of the system promising.

“The Pan Am Games is just one factor (in the electrification study) and my experience is that having a deadline, you can move things forward. If there is a good case for electrification and people see it as having a hugely positive impact, I think that the Pan Am Games could be a great benefit in terms of moving things forward,” Pitre said.

Sullivan said his Weston community already faces road closures as a result of the expansion, and if diesel technology is running along the Union Station-Pearson line, residents from downtown Toronto north to the airport will face increased air and noise pollution.

There are some people, said Sullivan, with backyards right up against the corridor, including St. John Evangelist Catholic School, which has a playground that borders the rail corridor.

In past studies Sullivan said the cost of electrification of the entire GO system has been wildly over-estimated: “It makes no sense to do anything but make this line electric. There is no financial reason,” he said.

“The Metrolinx folks have thrown wild numbers out there. They started in the tens of billions of dollars to electrify the entire GO system and they ended up at $1.5 billion to electrify this corridor.”

Pitre said it is far too soon to predict how much the implementation of electric trains would cost because of all of the aspects that the study still has to look at.

“It is a big decision, no question. The previous studies have looked at pieces of electrification but they have never looked at it in its entirety,” Pitre said. “So I think it is very premature to say what the cost would be especially since we don’t know what is involved and what we would implement once this study is completed.”