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GO digs deep to appease Weston residents

Plan puts tracks below the surface

Streets would pass over train trench


GO Transit hopes that digging a $40 million, 10-metre-deep trench for commuter trains through Weston will help appease nervous residents by keeping two of three key cross-streets open.

John St. would have to be closed to car traffic — a pedestrian bridge would be built — but just about every other community concern is addressed in GO’s latest plans for an upgraded rail corridor through the neighbourhood, says GO managing director Gary McNeil.

Mailings went out yesterday and residents are expected to show up in heavy numbers at a public meeting Thursday, when the plans will be unveiled. The trench concept, if approved, would ensure that no property would be expropriated and two key cross streets — King and Church Sts. — would remain open.

“The (trench) structure will help to abate the noise and vibration,” said McNeil. “It addresses safety concerns. After all the input we’ve received back and forth, this appears to be the alternative that best addresses the issues.”

Councillor Frances Nunziata, whose ward includes Weston, said she didn’t like the idea of closing John.

“You can’t close any streets,” said Nunziata, who backs subway-like tunnels instead. “They’re not listening.”

Some residents support GO but oppose the privately run airport link that is to use the same tracks.

At certain periods, those trains will run 15 minutes apart both ways, meaning that a train will pass through the community every 7 1/2 minutes.

“We cross our fingers that this doesn’t happen,” said Ada Ammendolia, whose home backs on the tracks. “We are really panicking.”

McNeil is still expecting a whirlwind of opposition at Thursday’s public meeting on the future of the rail corridor.

Currently, three sets of train tracks run north-south through the neighbourhood.

The two on the east side, owned by CP Rail, would remain unchanged. The one on the west is owned by CN but is used mainly by GO Transit trains travelling between Union Station and Georgetown.

As proposed, a $390 million reconstruction project would replace the CN track with three new tracks, laid in the trench through Weston.

GO would rent the tracks from CN to boost service on the Georgetown line, and Union Pearson AirLink Group — owned by SNC Lavalin Engineers and Constructors — would rent them to run trains between Pearson International Airport and Union Station. SNC Lavalin has pledged $200 million for the project, including the cost of the trains.

The rest of the money would come out of GO’s $1 billion expansion plan, which is funded by the federal and provincial governments and the GTA municipalities served by the line.

The trenched part of the line would run from Lawrence Ave. in the south to Weston Rd. in the north.

Because of John St.’s proximity to Lawrence, that road would have to be closed because of the sloping necessary to move the tracks down into the trench. Weston’s GO station would also have to move south to Lawrence Ave.

Some residents had feared that roads would have to be dead-ended in Weston for safety reasons because of the frequency of service for the Union-Pearson link.

About 1,000 people showed up at a public meeting last month, in a room that could hold only 450, to complain that the plan would divide the community, with businesses and schools on one side, homes and students on the other.

The fire marshal cancelled the meeting for safety reasons.

GO has produced a three-dimensional model of its concept, an unusual step this early in the environmental assessment process. But McNeil felt the breadth of public opposition — with, he says, little factual basis — made that necessary.

“There’s going to be a bunch of people who are going to be opposed to it because it’s change and communities don’t like change,” said McNeil.

“In this particular case, the local community got a lot of disinformation and got themselves very concerned about something that wasn’t going to happen.”

City councillors have passed a resolution that no streets be closed to make room for the air-rail link.

“If you say `no closures,’ there’s a lot of things that wouldn’t happen in the city of Toronto,” McNeil said.

“City council passed a resolution without any factual information at all. It was truly a political resolution that wasn’t based upon fact.

“If this is the only reason the project doesn’t go forward — we don’t want to close a road for 300 cars a day, or whatever the number is — that’s going to cost us a rail link to the airport.”