Open Letter to Premier Wynne

Feb. 18, 2013

Hon. Kathleen Wynne
Premier of Ontario
Legislative Building
Queen’s Park
Toronto ON M7A 1A1

Transit, Jobs, Social Justice, Health and the Environment:
Asking for a Commitment to Electrify the Union Pearson Express and Make It a True Public Transit Service

Dear Premier Wynne,

Congratulations on winning the leadership of the Ontario Liberal Party and becoming Premier of Ontario. As an Ontarian, I am proud of the trails you’ve blazed.

I am writing to seek your commitment to transform the new Union-Pearson rail link (UP Express), currently being built by Metrolinx as a second-rate diesel service, into a true electric public transit service similar to the Canada Line in Vancouver.

I agree: Everyone wants a train to the airport.

But: Nobody wants the “cancer train,” as it’s coming to be called.

Nobody wants urban blight due to ugly noise walls erected over the objections of those residents who don’t want them.

The current plan is grossly misguided. It’s problems have been pointed out by myriad people and authorities, from the Auditor General to the Clean Train Coalition, from Toronto’s Medical Officer of Health to U of T Professor André Sorenson, from the Junction Triangle Rail Committee to the City of Toronto… and beyond.

The diesel train service is of great concern to the 300,000 people who live along the rail corridor.

I know you care about Toronto’s transit woes. About social justice and jobs. About health and the environment. About energy.

The current plan for this one project is aligned on the wrong side of ALL these issues.

Fortunately, it can be fixed. Metrolinx has studied electrification and agrees it is the best option going forward. Current construction is taking future electrification into account. Former Minister of Transportation Bob Chiarelli has said electrification is in the cards, perhaps as early as 2017. All good things.

Unfortunately, there is no commitment. That is what the 300,000 people along the affected Kitchener-Georgetown rail corridor are seeking from you and your government.

Why the Current Diesel Plan is Misguided and Dangerous:

Transit:

Current plan calls for 5,000 riders per day paying a one-way fare of between $20 and $35. Compare to Vancouver’s Canada Line carrying 110,000 riders per day paying a one-way fare of $3.75 to the airport, or $8.75 from the airport to downtown

UP Express will have only four stops (including the terminals) compared to 16 for the Canada Line. Diesel trains have fewer stops because they are heavier and slower to accelerate/decelerate compared to lighter, faster, quieter electric trains

The airport line is an opportunity to create a west-end Downtown Relief Line integrated with the TTC, serving 300,000 people and airport travellers, as pointed out by many authorities. http://m.theglobeandmail.com/news/toronto/the-downtown-relief-line-already-exists-markham-councillor/article4108236/?service=mobile

The airport/DRL could have up to 16 stops and connect with the new Eglinton Crosstown. The UP Express plan and Eglinton Crosstown do not connect. The UP Express line could also connect with Woodbine Race Track, the St. Clair streetcar, and many other key interchanges for a true integrated network

The Auditor General has criticized Metrolinx’s business plan for the UP Express, saying it’s projections are unrealistic. The AG is warning, in effect, that taxpayers will need to subsidize an elite train service for the downtown business class, the target market for this train. http://www.auditor.on.ca/en/reports_2012_en.htm

Conclusion: UP Express is a public transit failure and the existing business plan is flawed

Health:

The World Health Organization in 2012 re-classified diesel exhaust as a carcinogen, in the same category as asbestos and mustard gas. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-2158574/Diesel-engine-exhaust-fumes-major-cancer-risk.html

UP Express diesel trains will run every 7.5 minutes on average past 76 schools, 96 daycare facilities, 4 long-term care facilities, parks where kids play soccer and families walk their dogs, 300,000 residents, and many new real estate developments. Long-term negative health effects are predicted to be worst at the Bloor GO station (receptor 41, Metrolinx Environment Report, 2009)

Toronto District School Board and Toronto Medical Officer of Health oppose the increased diesel train traffic. http://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2009/09/26/diesel_fumes_unhealthy_md_tells_train_protest.html. http://www.tdsb.on.ca/_site/ViewItem.asp?siteid=262&menuid=23680&pageid=20519

Vibrations from heavy diesel locomotives are a major issue in many neighbourhoods along the rail line, even more than noise. Electric trains are lighter

The diesel plan has been the focus of protests and meetings for years if not a decade

Gaining notoriety as “the cancer train” will not help property values and impending developments for those living and investing along the corridor

Attaching the Liberal brand to the “cancer train” will not help Liberals’ campaign prospects

Acclaimed Stanford University diesel expert Mark Jacobson says so-called “clean diesel” Tier 4 engines (which don’t yet exist for train locomotion) may actually produce a greater volume of smaller particulate matter, penetrating deeper into the lungs.

Conclusion: UP Express threatens the health of children, families, residents living along the rail line, many of them from disadvantaged neighbourhoods who can’t actually afford to use the train

Environment:

Diesel combustion contributes to atmospheric greenhouse gases and accelerates climate change

Diesel trains are heavier and slower because they have to carry the fuel. More vibrations, more energy consumption

Consider the environmental costs of fossil fuel extraction, refining, transportation

Metrolinx claims the UP Express will remove 1.2 million car trips off the roads. Using the same formula, the Vancouver Canada Line removes an estimated 26.4 million car trips off the roads. Toronto’s environmental effort is lame in comparison

Transit authorities around the world have electrified or are in the process of electrifying rail networks because of the environmental, health, economic and transit benefits. http://www.networkrail.co.uk/aspx/12273.aspx. http://www.kiwirail.co.nz/projects/major-projects/auckland-rail-electrification.html

Canada is developing an entrenched global reputation as pro-fossil-fuel, pro-greenhouse-gas, anti-climate-change-action. Look at the protests in the streets of Washington D.C. regarding the Keystone XL pipeline

Conclusion: The Metrolinx diesel train service will have a negative impact on the environment when it could make a positive impact on the environment. The Metrolinx diesel service feeds into Canada’s growing reputation for ignoring climate change

Urban Blight

Metrolinx is planning to build a noise wall along the entire corridor because of the increased noise from diesel train traffic that “exceeds permissible levels” (Stephen Lipkus, executive director, GO Georgetown South Project). The wall will be higher than the Berlin Wall. http://thewestbend.ca/wall/

If the wall is built, visitors to Toronto will enter the city through a “graffiti culvert” (as one architect vividly described it) created by the vandalized wall. Welcome to the Pan Am Games!

The wall will divide neighbourhoods and create a blight on the visual landscape of Toronto, possibly for lifetimes to come

Quieter and faster electric trains reduce the need for a wall

Communities and neighbourhoods along the rail line should be given the option of choosing to have or not have a wall, rather than Metrolinx imposing a one-size-fits-all solution, as they have asked for in community meetings and communications to Minister Chiarelli. http://www.junctiontriangle.ca/node/1941

Conclusion: The Metrolinx noise wall will be a blight on Toronto’s landscape for years to come if built according to the existing plan. Along with the negative health effects of the diesel service, it will serve to lower property values due to inevitable vandalism. It will create a negative first impression on visitors to Toronto travelling by the rail line from the airport

Electricity:

Ontario has vast excess electrical generating capacity

OPG has said it could handle the demand of an electrified rail line with existing capacity

The Independent Electricity Systems Operator (IESO) predicts Ontario by Aug. 2013 will have 56% more power generating capacity than peak demand

Ontario has so much electricity, in fact, the province sometimes pays other Canadian and U.S. jurisdictions to take electricity off our grid (IESO). http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/story/2011/01/26/ont-power-giveaway.html

There is so much electricity, Ontario now wants to curb the growth of wind turbines. http://www.thestar.com/business/2013/03/04/new_wind_power_rules_coming_in_ontario_to_curb_output.html

Conclusion: Why use a polluting, carcinogenic, non-renewable, increasingly expensive fuel source when Ontario-generated power is already plentiful and means trains can be lighter, faster and quieter?

Social Justice and Jobs:

UP Express cuts through or near many disadvantaged priority neighbourhoods poorly served by transit, especially north of Bloor Street and in northwestern Toronto, including Mt. Dennis, Weston and Rexdale

UP Express does not provide public transit to these neighbourhoods. Fares are unaffordable

A public transit/DRL service on this line would give disadvantaged neighbourhoods quick and affordable access to employment opportunities in downtown Toronto, at the airport and neighbouring employment lands, and up and down the entire corridor

UP Express’s current plan means the 300,000 residents along the rail line will suffer the ill effects of carcinogenic diesel exhaust without actually being able to use the service, which is designed for the downtown business class (the One Percenters)

Vancouver’s Canada Line, also built for a two-week sporting event, is a proven example of a modern, efficient, electric rail line to the airport (it offers airline pre-boarding at four stations) that also serves a public transit function

Conclusion: Everyone wants a train to the airport, but UP Express is designed only for the downtown business class. The UP Express heightens rather than shrinks income inequality in Toronto, an increasingly serious problem leading to greater poverty and social unrest. http://janefinchcentre.org/content/three-cities-report

  • Why is Toronto settling for an inferior, unhealthy, environmentally unsound, unsightly, financially unsustainable train service to the airport that exacerbates social inequality, when Vancouver’s better example (among so many others) is right before us?

I am encouraged by former Minister Chiarelli’s statements about electrification and the background infrastructure plans. But it all means nothing unless there is a commitment from the very highest levels of government. From you.

I’m sure you know the story of R.C. Harris and his bull-headed plan to build a second deck on the Bloor Street Viaduct for a future subway — even though the subway was decades away when the Viaduct was built in 1917. While costing more at first, that plan saved taxpayers millions of dollars in the long run, provided the Bloor/Danforth subway corridor that millions use today, and helped to secure economic prosperity for Toronto… and Harris’s legacy.

Premier Wynne, we are looking for similar vision.

We are looking to you, Transportation Minister Glen Murray and your new government for that commitment to make the UP Express an electric, public transit service that will benefit the health, economy, and environment of Toronto for decades to come. It will also show the way forward for electrification of the entire GO rail system.

It may be an opportune time to ask for federal support, given Ottawa’s abysmal record of funding public transit compared to almost all developed countries, and its now urgent need to demonstrate on the world stage that it is taking active measures to combat climate change. Electric public transit fits the bill. (Government spending per person on public transit: GTA; $175. Paris: $275. NYC: $335. London: $500. OECD Territorial Review, 2010. The Canadian federal government does not contribute to public transit operating costs, while federal governments in other countries are major contributors.)

On a personal note, I’m part of a community that has poured thousands of volunteer hours, thousands of hard-earned dollars, sweat, and back-breaking effort into creating a successful neighbourhood park. Sorauren Park, in Toronto’s Ward 14, happens to be the largest park butting against the Kitchener rail corridor now undergoing expansion for a massive increase in diesel train traffic (on the order of four to eight times current traffic over the years according to projections).

The park is home to kids’ sports leagues, tennis groups, a popular farmers market (that has attracted the attention of the New York Times), birthday parties, picnics, kite flying, children’s festivals, dog walking, the famous Pumpkin Parade, and more.

The vision for the park includes a new Town Square about to be constructed, and a new community centre, for which the City of Toronto has already invested $3 million in land purchase and remediation.

All of it feels threatened by the diesel trains… when there is a better option.

We’re committed to preventing the decline of our park and the decline of our fellow neighbourhoods along the Kitchener rail corridor.

We want to work with you to build electric public transit to the airport.

The future looks forward to hearing from you.

Kind regards,

Doug Bennet

PS: Electrifying the entire GO rail network is the next step, bringing all the same benefits, and —not incidentally — unlocking billions of dollars in real estate value since electric lines like those in London, New York, Chicago and Vancouver can be built over.

cc:
Hon. Glen Murray, Minister of Transportation
Hon. Deborah Matthews, Minister of Health
Hon. Jim Bradley, Minister of the Environment

Jagmeet Singh, MPP (Bramalea–Gore–Malton)
Donna H. Cansfield, MPP (Etobicoke Centre)
Shafiq Qaadri, MPP (Etobicoke North)
Laura Albanese, MPP (York South–Weston)
Jonah Schein, MPP (Davenport)
Cheri DiNovo, MPP (Parkdale–High Park)
Rosario Marchese, MPP (Trinity–Spadina)
Tim Hudak, MPP (Niagara West–Glanbrook), Leader of the Opposition
Andrea Horwath, MPP (Hamilton Centre), Leader of the NDP

Bruce McQuaig, President & CEO, Metrolinx
Robert Prichard, Chair, Metrolinx
Gary McNeil, President, GO Transit
Kathy Haley, President, Union Pearson Express

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