Premier Dalton McGuinty alone has the power to authorize the electrification of a diesel air rail link (ARL), says a coalition of west-end Toronto politicians.
A group of 13 politicians from the municipal, provincial and federal levels has written the premier, asking him to attend a town hall meeting before Sept. 7 to listen the concerns of residents living along the GO Georgetown South rail corridor who are worried about health risks associated with the increase of diesel train fumes when the ARL opens in 2015.
At that time, 140 GO train shuttles will run along the new route, travelling from Union to Pearson in 25-minute trips.
“If your provincial government had listened when our communities first raised concerns, the ARL could have been easily electrified by now,” reads the letter, which was penned by Davenport MPP Jonah Schein of the NDP, the party’s urban transportation critic.
“This is clearly a question of political will and you have yet to demonstrate that the electrification of the ARL is a government priority.”
Despite recent comments from Metrolinx president Bruce McCuaig that electrification can be completed by 2017, but no earlier, Davenport NDP MP Andrew Cash said he’s skeptical of the timeline since no funding has been attached to the project as of yet. “Metrolinx can enact decisions, but it doesn’t get to make them,” Cash said of the transit planning agency tasked by the McGuinty Liberals to complete construction of the ARL.
In a letter responding to an inquiry by York South-Weston Liberal MPP Laura Albanese, McCuaig estimated in August the preliminary cost of electrification to be around S440-million for about 25-kilometres of track.
But federal MP Mike Sullivan questions that figure.
Sullivan said the conversion of the link from diesel to electric should be far cheaper, citing the recent decision by British infrastructure agency Network Rail to agree to electrify a 300-kilometre stretch of railway from London to Swansea, Wales for 2 billion pounds, which works out to close to CDN$11 million per kilometre, nearly $7 million less than the Metrolinx plan.
Adding the cost of electrification to the already-burgeoning bill for the ARL makes no sense for a government that has made public overtures it needs to get its fiscal house in order, said Sullivan, also a member of the NDP.
“There’s already an awful, awful amount of money in this link,” said Sullivan Monday, Aug. 20. “It does beg the question why the Ontario government is taking this approach.”
Until his election in 2011, Sullivan had been co-chair of the Clean Train Coalition, which recently launched a legal action against Metrolinx. He said he estimated the price of the ARL to be well more than a billion dollars if electrification costs are added.
He said he was basing his calculations on infrastructure upgrades along the Georgetown South rail corridor as well as the cost to convert 18 diesel trains to electric, at a cost of $1 million per train car.
Sullivan said he was worried the final budget for the ARL will end up costing more than the Pan Am Games, which have a price tag of $1.4 billion.
Another critic of the ARL said he has attempted to locate the final cost of the project with little success.
Rod Jackson is a Progressive Conservative MPP representing Barrie. He said he fears ARL construction costs are “well over budget.”
Jackson, who is the PCs’ designated critic for the Pan Am Games, said he’s contacted Metrolinx directly and not received an answer adequate enough to satisfy his concerns.
“My staff and I have been looking for a timeline, a budget line, anything at all, and it’s been a challenge.”
While his party hasn’t adopted a clear stance on electrification, Jackson said it’s a worthwhile debate to have and called on the Liberals to be more clear about the costs associated with it and the rest of the construction related to the ARL.
“People will understand if the project is over budget, but they want the process to be transparent,” Jackson said.
Attempts to reach the premier’s office were unsuccessful.
Politicians who signed a recent letter to Premier Dalton McGuinty requesting a meeting for electrification of the Air Rail Link:
Jonah Schein, MPP Davenport
Andrew Cash, MP Davenport
Mike Layton, Councillor Ward 19
Cheri Di Novo, MPP Parkdale-High Park
Peggy Nash, MP Parkdale-High Park
Mike Sullivan, MP York South-Weston
Sarah Doucette, Councillor Ward 13
Rosario Marchese, MPP Trinity-Spadina
Olivia Chow, MP Trinity-Spadina
Gord Perks, Councillor Ward 14
Frances Nunziata, Councillor Ward 11
Adam Vaughan, Councillor Ward 20
Ana Bailao, Councillor Ward 18