Air Rail Link Update: Lack of Transparency and Openness at Metrolinx Open Houses


3 March 2008: In the past few weeks, much has happened. Metrolinx has held its open houses. The one in Weston was by far the best attended, with lineups at the door in the evening.

However, we have had to complain to Metrolinx and various politicians over the lack of transparency and openness at these open houses, and in the public statements made by Metrolinx. Metrolinx does not see any problem with any of their consultation, and does not plan to bring clearer and more detailed project plans for further public consultation before the plan is finalized and submitted to the new speedy EA process. Here are some of the contradictions and concerns we have.

Weston Station
The public statement from Metrolinx was that Weston would get a real GO Station, and that the Air-Rail-Link would stop here. At the open houses, the station was listed as a ‘proposed future GO station’. When questioned, GO representatives advised that if in the future, GO stops at Eglinton, it will in all likelihood close the Weston Station. Metrolinx when confronted with this contradiction, stated that the decision has not been made yet and it may be 10 years in the future. However, they refused to make a Weston Station and an Air-Rail-Link a ‘commitment’ as part of the Environmental Assessment.

Also many who went to the open house noticed that the station would be moving from the centre of Weston to Weston road south of Lawrence. It will be less convenient to walk to for many patrons who live in the older part of the village, and may create traffic chaos at Weston and Lawrence, though no studies have yet been done. It was not planned to be one of Metrolinx’s new ‘mobility hubs’, though Eglinton was marked as a possible ‘hub’. Our position is that Weston Station must remain, and be made a hub with connections to the 6 city bus routes which go by.

Tunnel
The public announcement was: ”Maintaining Weston community connectivity by adding a GO rail tunnel in Weston”. Those of you who went to the open house saw the mockup, and realized that the ‘tunnel’ is the same ditch we had in 2005, with a 300 metre concrete lid between King and Church. The trains will be in the open, and partially or fully above ground, not in a tunnel, for most of Weston. Our position is that the promised ‘tunnel’ should be a tunnel (trains underground) for the entire length of Weston. We have also expressed some concern that they have not done technical studies as to the potential problems with underground rivers in Weston. We do not want a ‘bait and switch’ fiasco like with the Canada Line in Vancouver.

John St. and Denison St.
We have been given a variety of reasons for the closure of John St. CP rail apparently was offered the opportunity to be in the trench and declined, due to the grades in the trench. There was no offer to extend the trench with shallower grades, beyond Lawrence and Denison. The CP refusal means the Lawrence crossing must remain above the roadway. This means CN must climb out before Lawrence. This means John St will have CP tracks at grade, and CN Tracks half in and half out of a trench. Which means that a road bridge or tunnel is impossible, and only a pedestrian bridge will remain. Seniors have expressed concerns that the bridge will be a safety hazard, both for climbing, and because of the possibility muggings on the bridge. Our position is that the trench should be a tunnel, and the tunnel should continue under a reconfigured Lawrence, and under Denison. This would avoid closing John St, and avoid expropriations at Denison. It would allow CP to be buried in the tunnel as well as the GO Bolton services along that track. Although Metrolinx claims to have undertaken traffic studies to predict the effects of the closure of John St, and the relocation of the station, they have not provided same, despite repeated requests.

Electrification
This is a key issue for the city of Toronto. When completed, this project will have 368 diesel trains along the corridor, and if ViaFast service is built it will climb to 414. Even at 368 it is the busiest heavy rail corridor on the planet, so far as we can find. It is unconscionable that in this day and age, we are not electrifying this corridor which goes through some of the most densely populated parts of a major metropolitan area. Just the air rail link trains will produce 6 times more particulate matter pollution than the cars they take off the road, and provide only a small decrease in Greenhouse Gases over cars. So far as we know, no studies have been done to examine the effects of this level of heavy diesel traffic on human health, or on wildlife at the various river crossings.

Metrolinx has told us that they have tight deadlines to complete this project, (2014, we think so it can be in time for the Pan Am Games). No work has been done on electrification, so this project undergoing this EA cannot be electrified, they have told us. We were also told that it is in Metrolinx’s 15 year plan to electrify the corridor, though no funding is yet forthcoming. Metrolinx also seems to not have any capacity to force the private operator of the air-rail-link to run electric at any time. We were told that the cost would be enormous (Billions). Our own research shows that electrification is generally pegged by the railroad industry at $1 Million per kilometre. Our position is that the section of rail between Pearson and Union should be electrified immediately. The Air-Rail-Link should be electric from the start. GO transit should buy the newer dual-powered electric/diesel locomotives which can switch on the fly, to run along this corridor. As funds become available to electrify west of Pearson, GO’s locomotives can therefore immediately take advantage of that.

Air-Rail-Link
No member of the public was able to get any detail from Metrolinx or from the ‘Infrastructure Ontario’ representatives present as to the actual vehicles SNC Lavalin plans to use (we believe it is BUDD railcars, built in the early 1950’s). They are touted as having Tier 3 engines. Tier 3 is actually an interim standard, only slightly better than current technology. In any event, we were not able to determine if electric vehicles could be demanded. We were also told (again) that ALL of the rails (now 4 through Weston) and bridges and other infrastructure work is ONLY for the GO expansion, and that none of them were necessary because of the air rail link. We find that very hard to believe. GO Transit’s own studies in 1994 and 2002 needed only 2 tracks to run 15 minute service. Why do they need 4 tracks today?

Public Transit
This issue was not responded to in any material way. Metrolinx confirmed that GO will not be running service to the airport, and Infrastructure Ontario confirmed that it will be run by SNC Lavalin. Our pleas for real, affordable, public transit seemed to fall on deaf ears. The city has passed a motion demanding Public Transit to the airport along this corridor, along with demands for electrifications an no road closures. The design of the spur line into the airport will prevent its use by patrons west of Toronto. Mississauga, Brampton, and points West will have to come into the city, going right past the airport, and backtrack to get into Pearson.

Meetings with Government
We have asked repeatedly to meet with the Minister of Transportation, Jim Bradley, and the Minister of the Environment, John Gerretsen, and the Minister of Energy and Infrastructure, George Smitherman. So far, we have still not met with the Ministers themselves, but we were able to address some of the MOT and MOE staff last week. No answers were forthcoming, but we did explain to them our problems with the project, and with the consultation.

If you have not already done so, you should make your concerns known to Metrolinx, and to the politicians, and to the premier. It’s not too late. Metrolinx can be reached at www.metrolinx.com. To comment officially, you must register and log in. You have until March 16 to get comments in before they finalize the project plan for the EA.

Premier McGuinty is at dalton.mcguinty@premier.gov.on.ca

Provincial Minister of Transportation James Bradley is minister@mto.gov.on.ca

Stephen Harper is pm@pm.gc.ca

Federal Minister of Transportation, Infrastructure and Communities John Baird is mintc@tc.gov.ca

Mayor Miller is mayor_mlller@toronto.ca

And of course you should also copy your local MP, MPP and city councillors, whose contact information can be found on government websites using your postal code.

And we’d appreciate it if you’d copy the Weston Community Coalition, at chair@westoncommunitycoalition.ca

Thanks,

Mike Sullivan
Chair
Weston Community Coalition

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