Electric train expansion for Pan Am Games unlikely: Metrolinx

The prospect of electrifying the GO transit expansion is gaining steam.

But to electrify just the airport rail link doesn’t make sense, says Karen Pitre, project director of a Metrolinx Electrification study.

“We’ve had numerous debates and I think that essentially we’ve decided, at a high-level, the electrical locomotive at this point makes the most sense,” she said. “The analysis was that it would be better, more cost effective to actually electrify the whole corridor as opposed to the sections.”

At the prospect of increasing diesel-fueled train frequency due to the airport link, Metrolinx has been under pressure from Torontonians who are pushing for a cleaner and more environmentally friendly option. The Metrolinx Electrification Study was commissioned this past January in response to public opinion. Media were invited for a sneak peak at the study earlier today. Pitre led the briefing and discussed six options being presented to the board on Nov. 16. Separate lines could be deemed a priority for running electric trains, but not in the short term.

“We looked at it and we determined there was really no case to just do the (Airport Rail Link),” Pitre said. “If you were going to electrify, you should electrify the Georgetown corridor and run the Airport Rail Link underneath.

“Personally I do not think this is realistic for Pan Am.”

Keith Brooks, spokesperson for the Clean Train Coalition, says he’s disappointed that Metrolinx is reportedly moving forward with the purchase of diesel trains for the airport link project. Service from Union station to Toronto Pearson Airport is a part of the city’s preparation for the Pan Am and ParaPan Am games in 2015.

“We’re going to look back and regret this because we know it’s the right thing to do,” he said. “Rushing to do this for a two-week sporting event does not make good sense. It’s not a good decision, because this system is not going to be here for just two weeks – it’s going to be here for decades.”

He spoke specifically about who would be impacted by service improvement on the Georgetown rail line and the proposed Airport Rail Link.

“By our count 300,000 people live within a kilometre of this rail corridor,” he said. “There are, I think, 37 schools within a hundred metres of the corridor. These children are living in houses near the corridor, they’re going to school near the corridor, they’re playing soccer in parks near the corridor. All of it will be in the shadow of diesel exhaust. It’s totally unacceptable.”

The Clean Train Coalition will demonstrate at the Metrolinx board meeting and Brooks says they will continue to lobby against diesel expansion in the short and long term.

The electrification study will be completed for the end of December. According to Pitre, the evaluation criteria, including environmental and health impacts, will be made public sometime in January 2011.