A public forum on the proposed Metrolinx expansion of the Georgetown South transit line and the rail link from Union Station to Pearson International Airport turned into an opportunity for citizens Monday night to voice their concerns about the initiative.
The forum, hosted by the Toronto Board of Health, filled council chambers to near capacity. The vast majority of those in attendance opposed the use of diesel-powered locomotives for expansion, preferring electric-powered trains instead.
Gary McNeil, the executive vice-president of Metrolinx, began the forum by making the case for diesel. He talked about tier-4 diesel technology, a new kind of technology that aims to eliminate many of the pollution concerns that come with diesel.
“We are moving forward with tier-4 technology, which actually will deal with a lot of the air-quality issues,” McNeil said.
McNeil also stated that electrification would be a very expensive proposition. Metrolinx is currently undertaking a study to examine all the aspects associated with electrification. McNeil said the study would be complete by the end of 2010.
Dr. David McKeown, the Toronto Medical Officer of Health, voiced the concerns of many in attendance when he made the case for electrification.
“Electric trains are desirable from a public health perspective because they don’t produce direct air pollution emissions,” McKeown said.
“We’re all in favour of a better public transit system and for this, everybody is on board. But no one should be asked to trade public health for public transit,” McKeown said to heavy applause.
Following McKeown’s statement, the forum turned to the audience for questions. With activist groups such as the Clean Train Coalition (CTC) out in full force, the event quickly became a free-for-all opportunity to air environmental grievances to McNeil.
Metrolinx’s forthcoming study on electrification proved to be a point of contention for those in attendance.
Many expressed anger that Metrolinx planned to go forward with diesel-powered trains when the study had not yet been completed. Others saw the study as a delaying tactic. McNeil preemptively addressed those concerns early in the night.
“Some people have said that that electrification study was just a delay process but actually it’s a very serious study that Metrolinx and GO Transit is making. If there is justification for electrification, we want a solid, solid business case,” McNeil said, “because it is a billion-dollar decision.”
Towards the end of the discussion, Barry Lipton, vice-chair of the activist group Community Air, summed up the general tone of the forum when he praised Vancouver’s electric-train system and lamented Toronto’s diesel-trains.
“That’s going to be the welcome to the Pan-Am games in Toronto. Welcome to the last century,” Lipton said.