Get ready to see the government miss yet another opportunity to reconsider electrification of the new airport rail link - and nix a creative plan for an inexpensive new addition to Toronto's transit network.
This week Davenport MPP Jonah Schein reintroduced his private member's bill to amend the Metrolinx Act to ban non-electric trains from the west end Georgetown corridor.
The prorogation killed his first attempt, but the Wynne Liberals are sticking to the McGuinty program, meaning the excellent bill is likely doomed, and with it any thought of creatively turning the 25 kilometre link into the western section of the much-dreamed-about downtown relief line.
Metrolinx's Air Rail plan to provide 20-minute express service from Union Station to Pearson (along the Lake Shore, north around Liberty Village and northwest past Dundas West station) calls for increasing the number of trains from the current 50 to 300 plus daily.
This dramatically changes the dynamic for those living along its path in terms of increased noise and diesel emissions. Residents are also galled by the fact the project calls for only two stops, Bloor and Weston, bypassing thousands of locals who would be able to use the service if it stopped more often.
But all this aside, there are perfectly logical transit policy reasons why the government should back Schein's bill and insist Metrolinx scrap the diesel plan adopted just to meet the Pan Am Games deadline in 2015.
Here's the most important one: if the Georgetown corridor were electrified, which would admittedly blow the 2015 deadline, the ARL could be turned into a local service by adding stops at places like Queen, Eglinton (in the Mount Dennis community) and Etobicoke North.
Along with the already planned stops at Weston, Bloor and the airport, the new ones would effectively turn this into the western section of the long-discussed downtown relief line at a fraction of the cost of building a subway.
The schedule of up to four trains an hour would be similar to subway operations in many cities on lesser-used lines, and perhaps a fifth or sixth could be added. Electrified trains are quieter than diesel and better in residential areas, and the trains accelerate and decelerate more quickly, saving time at stops.
Electrification, it has to be said, is roughly double the cost of diesel because wires have to run the length of the route and substations must be added, etc. As well, there would be increased expenses for purchasing more trains and building new stations. Still, when the grand tally is in, the whole project would end up a lot cheaper than constructing a brand new DRL western extension.
The plan could be operational in 2016 to 2018, compared to the 10 to 12 years needed to study, design and build the DRL - once funding was in place, that is. It would knock 20 years off the completion time for the western DRL. Only the eastern line is presently in Metrolinx's 25-year plan. And if fares were comparable to the TTC's or if there were fare integration, the line would add dramatically to the transit network at a very low cost and take pressure off the Bloor-Danforth and even the Yonge subways.
The upgrade of the Georgetown line to a full-service electrically powered transit network would, in comparison to the other projects in Metrolinx's plan, represent one of the most cost-effective ways to produce rapid transit. For many it would dramatically shorten travel time, and better connect the communities of Mount Dennis and Weston to the transit grid.
There are also savings associated with electrification: electric engines are more efficient than diesel and have technologies like regenerative braking (which collects and uses the kinetic energy from braking). As well, electric locomotives tend to last longer and are lighter, reducing wear and tear on the track.
According to Metrolinx's own reports, operating electric trains would cost just under $200 million less than diesel over a decade, after the cost of fuel and maintenance of the electrical infrastructure is taken into account - a 25 per cent saving over diesel.
Jonah Schein has it right - we should junk the 2015 Pan Am deadline. Why is that a problem if we can give thousands of people permanent new transit? But since the government have already staked out their position and the Tories are unlikely to come aboard, we'll need a miracle to pass Schein's bill.