Wednesday, June 10, 2009

At Risk Neighbourhoods and Sustainable Development

According the June 3rd Toronto Public Health report, the population most affected by the air pollution that will be generated by the Georgetown/Newmarket/Milton/Air Rail Link corridors has a lower socioeconomic status and higher incidence of illness than much of the Greater Toronto Area. I know this area well, as it includes my beloved ward- Ward 18. 

These diesel corridor expansions, as planned by Metrolinx to begin construction in 2010 and enter service in 2014, will add to the west end of Toronto's pre-existing stressors for additional illness through pollution.  For this fact alone, the rail infrastructure expansion should be electric, not diesel, as it passes through these at risk and vulnerable neighbourhoods to undermine their health further. This should be especially true for corridors owned by GO Transit, either in its entirety (Newmarket), or part of the corridor (Georgetown from Bramalea to Union).  Particulate diesel emission pollution is even worse than previously thought- current research is coming out which states that the fine particulate exposure of diesel emissions to lungs increases the amount of lung cancer and other disease and mortality rates.  In children, it prevents lungs from developing properly as they grow up near these corridors.

Sustainable development involves the streamlining of infrastructure development according to best business practices for supplying need on demand - the additional track for the Air Rail Link for the Private Public Partnership (P3) should be examined to see if this ARL, and its exclusive track, fulfills a proven market need for the GTA and whether business travellers will use this link to the airport in the numbers required, and $20 cost, as part of its cost-benefit analysis environmentally and socially. 

Metrolinx claims that this track is not exclusively for the ARL, but for VIA and GO Express, in addition to ARL, so that they can overtake local trains.  However, the need for this ARL track needs to assessed as part of a transparent, public study of the infrastructure through a systems analysis. Metrolinx refuses to conduct such a study, however, on the dubious grounds of the ARL being a "legacy project."  If this ARL does not serve essential purposes according to the results of this study, and if this additional track does not need to be built, this revised infrastructure plan will be able to minimize the amount and impact of this expansion for the at risk neighbourhoods by not having to build the additional ARL track. This will also save Metrolinx, hence taxpayers, money.

As this Air Rail Link is duplicated by the Eglinton LRT as part of the TTC's Transit City Light Rail Plan, this exclusive Air Rail Link and its track will probably not be necessary to be built at all, certainly not at its elitist fare at least, and this will help to minimize the extent of home acquisition and amount of rail traffic through this vulnerable corridor.  An updated market analysis should be done by Metrolinx to provide information on prospective passenger statistics, including the fare and its impact on ridership, and including the TTC's Eglinton-Crosstown LRT as its competition, and to provide the real cost of electrifying all components of the corridor. 

Whether the train corridor uses diesel as the worst case scenario, or uses electric, in the better case scenario, the goal of this infrastructure plan should be to streamline the amount of rail traffic and justify the extent of the expansion of the infrastructure so that the at risk region's health, air quality and property value's are not undermined further. The best case, most sustainable scenario would be to use electric trains, and streamline the amount of traffic according to passenger use to least affect this area at risk. Although this a regional transit initiative, there is no reason why Metrolinx cannot work with the City of Toronto to analyze their overlap in transit service to co-ordinate the GSSE/ARL/Milton/Newmarket corridors with Transit City's infrastructure planning to save money, co-ordinate components of the infrastructure design, and gain social credibility in the process. 

It is also a far stretch to build an entire track for the Air Rail Link to honour a contract, written in the 1990s with SNC-Lavalin, to use retrofitted, 1950s diesel engines when the frequency of trips is not yet proven by recent market need. As these BUDD diesel engines are 50 years old, they have outdated environmental standards for noise, vibration and emissions. This Air Rail Link alone comprises 140 trips a day on this corridor. Surely, this Air Rail Link can be electrified, have fewer trips, and be incorporated into the greater GSSE rail expansion to be less intrusive, such as coupling to GO Trains at their nearest common station in the northwest if both are using the same model of train cars, which would cut Georgetown South traffic by almost half.  

This makes a very strong case for GO Transit to be operating service to the airport instead of SNC-Lavalin, as the use of infrastructure becomes dramatically more efficient. This reduction in traffic is necessary to minimize the Air Rail Link's noise, vibration, and, through electrification, pollution on this at risk region to protect schools, nursing homes, parks and daycare centres. In any case, the Air Rail Link has already been given crippling competition by Transit City planning and no longer has any viable business case with SNC-Lavalin, so really should be abandoned as expensive and unnecessary, unless turned over to GO Transit and to use coupling/decoupling with its Georgetown services in the northwest part of the City. 

In addition, Metrolinx has moved up the completion date of the ARL link to 2013 from 2014. This is cause for alarm as it indicates that they will use cost cutting measures which do not consider us- the affected communities- and means we must move quickly to contest the present, poorly planned design of the Air Rail Link. 

A quote from 'The Big Move' by Metrolinx published in 2007: "We can protect and enhance our environment by helping to conserve energy, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and alleviate air pollution." As the market is approaching peak oil prices and availability, including speculation by some analysts that peak oil has already been hit but cannot be confirmed until about 5 years after the fact, diesel engines should be replaced by electric to conserve energy as electric trains use 1/4-to-1/3 the energy of diesel trains, and can use any source for electrical generation, with no air emissions into the corridor proper and surrounding vicinity. 

There are many best case scenarios for the construction and use of inner city electric trains available through international consultation. Metrolinx is spending $5 million on the study of the electrification of the entire system, even though simultaneously refusing to release another GO electrification study completed just last year. Why is Metrolinx not consulting with internationally trained transit experts on the most streamlined and efficient systems and planning to develop this corridor's infrastructure to utilize electricity only?  Metrolinx claims that  as it stands, unless these principles of sustainable development, infrastructure improvement, and social urban planning policies are applied, the GSSE/ARL/Milton/Newmarket expansions do not fulfill any aspect of Metrolinx's own enviromental mandate.  SNC-Lavalin is using electric trains for the Air Rail Link for the Vancouver Olympic games- surely, it can use electric trains in Toronto for the same purpose if this ARL is realized.

A special thank you to Karl Junkin from TRAC for fact checking, technical input, and help with editing this entry.

Reference: Article from ‘The Star’:  On the wrong track, but still time to change trains,
by André Sorensen, Associate Professor, Department of Geography,
University of Toronto Posted on Jun 03, 2009 04:30 am