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GO electrification in time for Pan Games unrealistic: Metrolinx

by David Nickle

Getting electric trains on the new rail link to Pearson airport by the 2015 Pan Am Games is likely unrealistic, according to the project director for Metrolinx’ study looking into electrifying all or part of the provincial transit body’s GO rail network.

“Personally I don’t think this is realistic for the Pan Am Games,” said Karen Pitre, who presented interim results of the study to members of the media Monday, Nov. 15.

On Tuesday, Nov. 16, GO Transit President Gary McNeil laid out the various problems that would come with electrifying the spur line off the Georgetown GO Transit line that would take two-car commuter trains into Pearson airport.

“There’s an environmental assessment that has to happen and there’s the simple problem of commissioning the system once it’s built,” he said. “Once you have it up with electrification, there’s a long time needed to commission the system so it can go into a commercial setting. There’s the grounding, because when you have high voltage wires actually going down a rail corridor, you have to ground all the various elements in the corridor to make sure there’s no arcing.”

That’s why, he said, GO and Metrolinx are going ahead with the plan to build the line into the airport using diesel-powered cars. The trains will be designed so as to be converted to electric in the future, and the line will be built so as to be able to accommodate electrification in the future.

But when the Pan Am Games come to Toronto in 2015, the line is expected to be open and running diesel trains. And according to members of the Clean Train Coalition, who protested outside the Tuesday morning meeting of Metrolinx, that’s not good enough.

According to Clean Train Coalition Spokesperson Mike Sullivan, Metrolinx should simply delay the line until electrification can be put in place.

“A 16-day sporting event isn’t justification to pollute more than you’re polluting now,” Sullivan said. “This sporting event is supposed to be the first green and sustainable Pan Am Games. If they knew that the promise to build a rail ink to the airport was going to be diesel, they wouldn’t have accepted Toronto’s bid.”

Sullivan and his group said electrification of the line is essential because of the large number of homes and schools the Georgetown line passes through on its way to the airport. The trains will be running every 15 minutes, 20 hours a day matching airport hours.

According to Pitre’s interim report exploring the implications of electrifying GO’s network, the Georgetown line and other lines - totaling almost 509 kilometers and stretching across the GTA.

The interim report has generally found that using electric trains will mean slightly faster commutes, a much cleaner environmental footprint and lower costs than using either diesel or hybrid diesel and electric trains. Those costs were previously estimated at $7.5 billion.

Electric trains would save between one and 12 minutes per trip because they are able to start and stop more quickly.

But at this point, Pitre said it’s impossible to say how much the project will cost - what the operating savings would be - and even what might be a realistic timeline for starting electrification.

That information will be compiled in December, she said, and ultimately released publicly sometime in January.