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Metrolinx to operate Union - Pearson rail link

Yesterday, Friday, July 30, the Government of Ontario announced that Metrolinx — and not a private company — would manage the high-speed train connecting Toronto Pearson International Airport with Union Station, Canada’s two biggest transportation hubs.

Metrolinx will assume responsibility for designing, building and operating the premium express rail shuttle. The line will be ready for the 2015 Pan American Games.

According to the Toronto Star, after two years of negotiations with SNC - Lavalin, which was expected to build and run the air-rail link for 46 years, the province said the deal was off due to financing difficulties.

While the province and the Union Pearson Air-Link Group (UPAG), a subsidiary of SNC - Lavalin, made significant progress negotiating, financial market conditions prevented them from finding acceptable terms. The Government will continue to work with UPAG to continue the design and development work UPAG has completed so far.

The Globe and Mail explains that Montreal-based SNC - Lavalin and its lenders pulled out because Ontario refused to provide operating subsidies for the deal, meaning the private-sector consortium could rely only on fare revenues to meet its profit targets. “At this point in time, the lending community isn’t prepared to fund full revenue risk projects,” SNC director of communications Dominique Morval said in an interview with the Globe.

Although the air-rail link will run on GO Transit’s tracks and use its signaling system, the airport express would have its own identity, like other airport trains in cities such as London.

The Star quoted Metrolinx president and chief executive officer Rob Prichard: “We think there’s a very strong case for integrating this service with our existing rail services,” said Metrolinx president and chief operating officer Rob Prichard.

It would also probably cost more to ride than GO’s regular distance-based fares. In 2006, transportation officials were talking about ticket prices of about $20 a ride, likely making it too expensive as a commuting option for thousands of airport workers.

The province hasn’t yet decided the price of tickets but all ticket revenue will now go to it, instead of SNC - Lavalin.

Construction is already underway on GO’s Georgetown South Corridor to support the air rail link. The government expects that this project will create about 10,000 jobs to design and build the line over the next five years.

The National Post reports that the project’s $300-million price tag is lower than SNC-Lavalin’s estimate. Metrolinx will save money because its operating division, GO Transit, has infrastructure the private company would have had to build, such as the maintenance yard.

The project continues to upset nearby residents, who worry about the environmental and health impact of operating the line with diesel locomotives, instead of electric-power engines. Trains will operate through or beside several neighbourhoods, including Liberty Village, Parkdale, the Junction, Mount Dennis and Weston.

Metrolinx and GO are studying “electrifying” this line and all GO Transit rail lines and expect a report on the costs and process by this December.

A Metrolinx media release states that each year, more than five million people travel between downtown Toronto and the airport and experts expect that the number will reach nine million by 2020.

You can read more about the Union - Pearson rail link here.

You can read more about the Georgetown South corridor project here.

You can read more about the Metrolinx / GO study to “electrify” rail lines here.

You can find out about the Clean Train Coalition — which opposes diesel trains along the line — here.

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