Monday, May 11, 2009

Diesel Trains are so Yesterday: An Open Letter regarding the Metrolinx Corridor Expansion

This is the first letter I sent to the Prime Minister, City Councillors, the MPs, and the MPPs, hence the tone. I was just starting to put all the facts together, and was horrified:

I am a Toronto resident who is very concerned about the expansion of the Georgetown corridor (including the Union-Pearson Rail Link) and Newmarket corridors using diesel trains. The construction on this project begins in 2010, and the Environmental Assessment process has been shortened to four months to be completed on July 30th.

This rail expansion should use electric trains to ensure that significant environmental concerns are resolved, and the expansion of this service does not merely shift the cause of pollution from highways to rail corridors. These rail corridors run beside schools, nursing homes, playgrounds and through residential neighbourhoods. The rights of the citizens who use these services, and live in these areas, should be considered as a major part of the Environmental Assessment process.

Also, the $875 million cost of this project is carried by taxpayers, and should be supported by those who will be affected most as the construction from the expansion disrupts neighbourhoods for years at a time. If the rail expansion is electric, the neighbourhoods will be more likely to support this massive project. The neighbourhoods will have difficulty dealing with the second disruption of their lives, if indeed, the rail corridor is to be electrified in 15 years as promised. Historically, it is rare that major public works are upgraded years after their construction, so this corridor should be built properly the first time as electric.

My specific concerns are as follows:

The hours of operation are cited as 5:30 am to 12:30 am each day. Due to these long hours, it is beholden to Metrolinx, and by extension the Government of Ontario and the Government of Canada, to ensure that these trains are quiet, efficient, and non-polluting, as these hours of business extend far beyond noise restrictions for normal business hours.

The data from the Environmental Assessment of the Georgetown and Newmarket corridors, and the Union-Pearson Rail Link, should be merged and considered as one study as these two corridors, and the rail link, are contained within the very small, area of study entitled 'The Davenport Diamond' by Metrolinx. The Environmental Assessment should consider the proximity of these corridors south of Dundas, and include both lines of the rail expansion and UPRL as part of the overall environmental impact concurrently. Metrolinx has said that they will consider these Environmental Assessments separately, although these corridors are in the same neighbourhood. This does not seem to lead to conclusive data.

Diesel trains create significant CO2, NOx and SO2 and particulate matter emissions. Neighbourhoods are willing to accept the increased traffic (at a projected 300 - 500 trains a day) for the common good, but are legitimately concerned on the effect of this air and noise pollution on their health, welfare, and businesses.

The Metrolinx report states the diesel emissions will affect only 500m from its origin, but as the City of Toronto, and the GTA has become more dense in population, this is affects a very large area and population. The Metrolinx report has not updated its data on the population affected by the expansion to be up-to-date.

Urban planners and transportation analysts also know that traffic expands given the avenues available to it, and that the increased traffic on the rail corridor, airports and highways, will impact the quality of air in Ontario for generations to come. As a result, it should be imperative to construct an electric train now to attempt to offset the carbon emissions of the rail corridor component of this transportation expansion. There will be more than enough adverse environmental affects with the increasing airport and highway traffic in the future of the GTA.

Most countries in the world are developing completely electrified rail systems- including India and the United States- and Canada, as a wealthy nation, should be one of them. Why are we considering a technology which is far behind the TTC street car- an electric train which is already in successfully used throughout the City of Toronto? This rail corridor should set an environmental precedent for transit initiatives to come, as the Lakeshore GO train will be electrified in the near future, and so that these corridors are consistent with the American rail system.

Why is Metrolinx, and by extension the provincial and federal government, not performing international 'best practice' case studies of inner city and suburban transit initiatives to try to mitigate the environmental repercussions of this rail expansion on the GTA? There is nothing 'sustainable' about diesel trains, as cited in the Metrolinx report- just retrograde.

TransitCity, as projected by the City Council of Toronto, has proposed a GO train as the fixed link to Pearson Airport- why are SNC-Lavalin's 140 a day, two engine, refurbished 1950s diesel engines considered as a viable, environmentally sound alternative to the LRT as proposed by the City Council to be provided by the GTA, SNC-Lavalin's proposal was written in the 1990s, and is no longer valid as a solution to this rail link by targeting a limited market for the business class.

It is very important that the projected ridership on this rail corridor is studied in detail, and at this time, for its actual market need, and monitored as it is implemented, so that there is not empty space and excess capacity on these trains. The rail corridor should be also monitored and assessed frequently as it is used, so that its implementation and use are consistent with its environmental and social 'Return on Investment'. This rail corridor should not create more air and noise pollution from its traffic than it offsets.

In conclusion, as global warming continues as the most pressing concern internationally, it imperative that every major infrastructure project is considered with great intelligence, foresight and environmental analysis. This project is of the magnitude of the Big Dig in Boston, which wreaked havoc on Boston for years. Therefore, it is better that more planning and analysis is applied to these infrastructure plans before the project is built, as the cost of this project environmentally will be carried by the generations who live in Ontario for decades to come.

Ultimately, if this rail expansion is made electric, there will be even more jobs created for Ontario workers, and opportunities created for companies, as part of the greening research and development initiatives internationally. This advanced technology and intellectual property can then be exported to become a positive part of our legacy and international corporate reputation.

1 comment:

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