Thursday, October 22, 2009

Quick, Dirty and Diesel: Our Health is Collateral Damage

Recently, an alarmed neighbour of mine, who lives directly beside the future eight tracks of all the diesel rail expansion, sent me Metrolinx's official notice of their air mitigation measures. The notice states that:
"All trains utilized for GO Transit that travel to, from or through Georgetown along the Georgetown South Corridor shall be Tier 4 compliant when service begins or when Tier 4 compliant technology becomes commercially available."
What does this mean to someone, my neighbour, who is now dependent on Metrolinx to build ambient air monitoring activities 'at a minimum of three sampling locations' on a line 32.5 km in length, when the commercial availability of Tier 4 'clean diesel' could be a long time away? What good is community consultation with Metrolinx when air quality is being monitored to prove that your health is not being affected, when the trains are already running? Metrolinx's track record for community consultation is very poor, and its elaborate air monitoring and mitigation measures promise to be no better. My neighbour is horrified at the prospect of these diesel trains in her backyard, and rightfully so. These October 5th stipulations by Minister of the Environment have enabled Metrolinx to build air monitoring stations to study how to develop mitigation measures for 'clean diesel' emissions when the damage to her health is happening in real time, and to enable Metrolinx to buy diesel trains with government permission.

One term I have heard repeatedly, used by representatives from Metrolinx, Minister of the Environment, and Minister of Education, is 'collateral damage'. Collateral damage, a term used in warfare, is defined as 'damage that is unintended or incidental to the intended outcome'. None of the Metrolinx air mitigation measures address the issue at source, the scientific testing of 'clean diesel' before it is used in the midst of a heavily populated rail corridor, in comparison to the environmental impact of electric rail traffic. As part of Metrolinx's cost-benefit analysis, the health of my neighbour, and 300,000 other people, is viewed as 'collateral damage' to this project's rapid implementation. This collateral damage is justified as it will save a little bit of initial infrastructure money for the provincial government, and its straw man, Metrolinx, which cushions the blows for the Liberal Party.

What has become clear to me, through an interview with the head of Metrolinx, is that Metrolinx has recently purchased new Tier 2 diesel locomotives, which will be moved around the rail corridors like chess pieces to meet a series of aggressive project milestones. These new, heavier, noisier Tier 2 diesel locomotives will be shifted to the Georgetown Line to be fitted with platinum catalytic converters to become Tier 4 locomotives emitting 'clean diesel'. This is a form of environmental discrimination, in which the corridor considered to have a lower socioeconomic status, the Georgetown South corridor, is permanently given a noisier, polluting diesel corridor after the Lakeshore corridor has long been electrified. These project milestones are being forced through by Metrolinx before the Terms of Reference in its recently announced electrification study are completed in the coming year, which compares electrification to diesel infrastructure, including its social impact.

Sound confusing? It is to me, too. Industry expert, David Brann, says that these Tier 2 platinum catalytic converters will double the price of the diesel locomotives, and require new hardware. Even SNC-Lavalin has raised an eyebrow at the converters' cost, which depend upon untested and very expensive technology. Right now, platinum costs about $1,400 an ounce on the stock market. And to add insult to injury, officials won't say how much the privately operated rail link to the airport will cost by itself, or how much will be shouldered by taxpayers, until the contract is signed. Quick, dirty, and diesel is the name of this game of chess, and it is happening as I write.

Why not electrify all components of the rail corridor from the outset, and make transparent the private-public partnership with SNC-Lavalin to see whether the physical extent and frequency of service of this rail expansion is actually necessary? The cost of diesel is tied to fluctuating world market prices, platinum catalytic converters will double the cost of the locomotives, the cost of land acquisition along the corridor is high, and clean diesel has not been environmentally tested. The health of our communities should not be viewed as collateral damage for the desire of Metrolinx, and the provincial government, to save a few dollars upfront. We are not human guinea pigs on a chessboard, composed of privileged and less privileged neighbourhoods.

The Clean Coalition will be attending the Climate Change Rally this Saturday, October 24th from 2-4pm at Queen's Park. Come, sign a petition, and check out the absurdity of this Clean Diesel White Elephant with its new improved, platinum catalytic converter!

Expert warns of high cost for planned diesel trains by Brodie Fenlon, October 6, at

Interview with Rob Prichard by Brodie Fenlon, October 6th, at

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