Thursday, July 23, 2009

Going Electric in Metrolinxland

The Clean Air for Little Lungs Stroller Parade was a resounding success!  450+ parents, toddlers, caregivers, supporters and grandmothers showed up to strut their stuff to Soli and Rob performing such classics as 'Peee...Uuuu...Metrolinx Stinx' and electrified variations of childhood favourites, 'Electric Avenue' and 'Dalton Blow your Horn', as well as their own anthem, 'Go Electric'.  

Thank you to all who took time from their busy schedule to say 'no' to childhood asthma and diminished lung capacity.  Your collective show of will is heartwarming and courageous in the face of an arm's length provincial agency, Metrolinx, which thinks that honouring a 1999 contract with SNC-Lavalin to run over 140 diesel trains for the Union-Pearson Rail Link through our neighbourhoods daily is more important than your children's health.  We will win this outrageous contest of wills, and corporate backroom gladhanding, and this demonstration was ten large baby steps in the right direction.  

During the speeches, Dr. Ian Clarke, from Sick Kids Hospital, said that the synergistic combination of nitrous oxide and particulate matter from diesel emissions would be 354% higher than permissible environmental standards.  When he asked Metrolinx why they had not studied electric trains rather than diesel during one of their Open Houses, they said "Why would we do that?  Everyone knows that electric trains are better for the environment." 

In particular, electric trains are much better for the lungs of young children as they have no toxic diesel emissions.  Children breathe twice as quickly as adults, as their metabolism is twice as fast.  As a result, the development of their lung capacity is curtailed by the absorption of fine particulate matter from diesel emissions during their childhood for the remainder of their lifespan.  In the words of Sophia Wong, one of the organizers of the Clean Air Little Lungs Parade, (and I have to admit, I was one of the others), "My child is two now. In fifteen years, when this rail corridor is slated to be electrified, and my child is seventeen, when he says that he is going to play soccer, I will have to remind him to take his puffer- if he can play soccer at all due to his asthma."

Meanwhile, our tax money has just paid for an 800 page analysis by Intrinsik, an environmental consulting firm, which says that the airshed of 300 000 people 'in the strike corridor' will be poisoned within legal limitations.  After the cover page of their Air Quality Assessment Report as commissioned by Metrolinx, there is a disclaimer by Intrinsik stating that they cannot be held legally liable for the content of this report.  Who wrote this disclaimer - the Red Queen from 'Alice in Wonderland'?  This disclaimer, for me, says it all - Metrolinx will not be held responsible for polluting the lungs of the residents of Toronto as they are, first and foremost, a corporate entity fulfilling their corporate contracts and provincial mandate to save money in every way possible by implementing retrofitted diesel trains from the 1950s for the UPRL.  Strike corridor, indeed, as we will breathe daily this airshed's adverse effects.  Is this really a term generated from an Air Quality Assessment Report that is designed to protect the health of citizens, Premier McGuinty? 

My second favourite Alice in Wonderland remark, other than the disclaimer by Intrinsik, is the quote by Brian Peltier, Metrolinx's executive lead of the project, published in The Sun, stating "That analysis showed very clearly that the impacts being talked about are just not there.  I think it's really good news that we can do this rail expansion with very little impact on air quality."  I would like to extend a sincere invitation to Brian Peltier to invest in a condominium being built within 30 metres of the strike corridor as so many have done without foreknowledge of this rail expansion.  Developers have been told to redesign their blueprints to not to include windows in the first three floors of these new condominiums due to the amount of soot these floors will collect from this diesel rail traffic.

To their credit, Metrolinx has established a Community Advisory Committee for Electrification comprised of sixteen community appointees who have expertise in urban planning and development, workplace health, engineering, and social innovation.  This is positive news, however, as this is the eleventh study for the study for electrification during this long, arduous process of protecting this diesel rail expansion in the most ludicrous, involved manner imaginable, it is a trifle suspect.  Really, Lewis Carroll could not have dreamed of a Wonderland in which the general public has paid for an Air Quality Report which says that over 464 trains a day would make no difference to the noise and vibration levels and air quality as they pass directly beside their homes, as well as ten studies trying to prove that electric trains are not better than diesel.  

I want to ask every executive at Metrolinx who has children and elderly parents, especially Brian Peltier - at what length would you go to protect your own health, and your family's future health, from this level of toxicity in your neighbourhood?  And why are we, in the 416 region, paying your agency $5 million of our tax money to have you convince us that diesel emissions are not toxic because you want diesel trains to hurtle their way through our inner city neighbourhoods on their way to your suburban homes in the 905, without even stopping to pick us up? 

Brian Peltier Quote Reference and Video of the Stroller Parade:
Toronto Sun 'Residents want train derailed:
Rally at Queen's Park to demand halt to use of diesel engines on planned Union-Pearson rail line'