Metrolinx Staff Recommends Electrification
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Metrolinx Staff Recommends Electrification

Photo by ||adam||, from the Torontoist Flickr Pool.

Staff at Metronlinx, Toronto’s regional transportation agency, are recommending that the Lakeshore and Georgetown GO lines, the system’s busiest, be outfitted for electric trains—a move they say would bring down rail commute times and save operating dollars in the long term. If the Metrolinx board of directors signs off on the recommendation during its January 26 meeting, and the province agrees to fund it, the first electric trains could be running on GO tracks in seven to nine years.

The planned Air Rail Link between Union Station and Pearson Airport would also be electrified, if the staff recommendations were adopted as proposed. But Metrolinx President and CEO Bruce McCuaig asserted that his organization will build the Link by 2015, the year of Toronto’s Pan-Am Games, before any of the electrification work would be completed.
“We’re absolutely committed to delivering the Air Rail Link service for 2015, and that is one of our fundamental commitments to the province, and we’re going to deliver on that project,” he said. Metronlinx is in the process of buying diesel rolling stock to run on the Link, but McCuaig says all of it will be convertible to electric.
And so the Link would initially run diesel trains, until the equipment necessary for electrification was fully installed. Metrolinx staff say the Link would be fully electric no sooner than seven years from now.
The Link and the easternmost end of the Georgetown GO line would be among the first sections of track to be electrified under the proposed plan, with other parts of the Georgetown and Lakeshore GO corridors to follow, in segments. The whole electrification plan, as proposed, would cost an estimated $1.6 to $1.8 billion, on top of the costs of track maintenance and expansion work already planned or underway.
Staff studied several different electrification scenarios, including electrification of the entire GO system, but decided, because of cost and other factors, that concentrating on the Georgetown and Lakeshore lines was the most beneficial option.
If ridership continues to grow as planned, estimated annual operating savings from electrification could be up to eighteen million dollars per year, in part because of the rising cost of diesel fuel. Electric locomotives would improve commute times by as much as seven minutes on certain sections of track, but the study found that the locomotives have only marginal environmental benefits, as opposed to modern diesels.
The completion of the electrification study is in some sense the culmination of a long dispute between Metrolinx and west-end residents over the future of the Georgetown GO corridor, which runs through several densely populated neighbourhoods in west Toronto and beyond. Metrolinx’s initial plan was to greatly expand diesel service on the Georgetown GO corridor without a timetable for electrification. They would say only that electric trains were part of their “fifteen-year plan.” Residents were concerned about the possible health effects of increased diesel exhaust fumes.
Even if these new staff proposals were implemented unchanged (and nobody’s sure what the chances of that happening might be) it would be a minimum of seven years before the section of the Georgetown corridor nearest downtown was fully electrified, and a minimum of nine years before any further work on the Georgetown line was completed, according to the report.
And so this isn’t a dramatic reversal of Metrolinx’s position with respect to electrification so much as a refinement of their original promise. Now there is a timeline, of sorts, and all that remains to be seen is whether or not it’s a realistic one—and one the Metrolinx board, the province, and community activists can get behind.
Get the whole electrification study, for your personal reading pleasure, right here.