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GO electric

Electrifying GO Trains a good idea

By Josh Hume

About 40 protesters walked in circles Tuesday morning outside Metrolinx headquarters at the foot of Bay Street while the board met upstairs to ruminate over a presentation on the GO train electrification study.

Afterwards, members of the Clean Train Coalition politely intruded on the meeting in rotations of ten at a time - those were all the seats available in the boardroom. Appropriately, the doorman brought in for the day was a transit security officer.

The study in question doesn’t add a lot to what is already known. Electrification, the report says, would be cheaper over the long term, it would be cleaner and it would slightly reduce commute times.

The document identifies six options going forward that range from electrifying single lines to converting the whole system. And while the study makes no recommendations, it is the first time the possibility of a full conversion of all seven corridors of the GO rail system has been studied.

“Electrification is a good idea,” says Clean Train Coalition spokesperson Keith Brooks, echoing the study’s tacit conclusion. “They didn’t need to spend four million dollars on a study to find that answer.”

Announced in May 2009, the study was a result of community pressure along the Georgetown corridor, where residents are dismayed that over 450 diesel trains will run daily carrying passengers to and from Pearson Airport.

A year and a half later the report is now in the open air, but according to the study’s project director Karen Pitre, there’s not enough time to electrify the Georgetown line and airport link for the opening of the 2015 Pan Am Games.

The whole study, says Brooks was “a delay tactic. It allowed them to buy another year and make it more difficult to meet the [electrification] deadline of the Pan Am Games.”

Four years is apparently not enough time to conduct environmental assessments, buy equipment and build new infrastructure including the overhead wire network that would carry the electrical current.

Overlooking for now that the second-rate sporting circus imposes a dubious and arbitrary deadline for such a critical civic project, it’s likely that once diesel is in place Toronto will be stuck with it well after the Games are over and forgotten.

“We think it’s unlikely that they’re going to buy diesel trains and then scrap them shortly after,” says Brooks.

There aren’t any cost estimates attached to the study yet - those will likely come by January - but Pitre admits electrifying the system would cost less than the $1 billion to $2 billion GO initially estimated, as that price tag was bundled with capital improvements that would need to happen anyway.

There is no set date for when the board will make a decision, however a vote could come as early as February. Then it will have to go to the province for approval and funding.

Right now there is no plan, no timeline, no cost estimate and no assured funding. One thing is certain, however: Diesel trains are coming to Pearson.