Two west-end residents’ groups are taking different tacks in their battle to electrify an upcoming air rail link (ARL).
Both the Clean Train Coalition and the Junction Triangle Rail Committee object to the province’s intention of running diesel trains along a planned rail spur linking Pearson International Airport with Union Station via the Georgetown South GO rail corridor.
Instead of diesel, which they fear will lead to long-term negative health effects for residents, the groups want clean electric trains running on the link instead when it opens in 2015. And they dismiss assurances by Metrolinx, the province’s transit planning body, the diesel trains planned for use on the link will be the cleanest possible and fully convertible to electric.
Metrolinx is currently conducting an environmental assessment (EA) on electrification of the ARL and has enlisted the services of global planning firm Parsons Brinckerhoff. Approval for the electrification EA is expected in 2014.
But that’s not good enough for the Clean Train Coalition, which has filed a lawsuit against Metrolinx demanding a judicial review of the decision to run diesel trains along the ARL in the first place.
The group alleges Metrolinx never seriously considered implementing electrification because the McGuinty Liberals, dead-set on completing the ARL in time for the 2015 Toronto Pan American Games, deemed diesel trains the only option.
In a downtown courtroom Monday the group, represented by litigator Saba Ahmad, had a chance to present its case, said Clean Train spokesperson Rick Ciccarelli.
“What we are asking is for Metrolinx to go back and do a thorough analysis for electric, as well as diesel, and make a decision,” said Ciccarelli, who is Clean Train’s chair. “Metrolinx has gone ahead and implemented a project without due process for decision making.”
Ciccarelli dismissed past statements by Metrolinx CEO Bruce McCuaig and provincial transportation and infrastructure minister Bob Chiarelli stating the ARL would hopefully be converted from diesel to electric as early as 2017.
“They can say whatever they want, but until there’s a start date, a budget and a timeline for implementation then it’s all vapour,” said Ciccarelli.
The panel of three judges hearing the case in Ontario Divisional Court reserved judgement but are expected to make a decision within the next four weeks, said Ciccarelli.
Should the group lose the case, he said the coalition will not end its battle to electrify.
“We’re not giving up one way or the other,” he said. “Metrolinx has said electrification should happen and in another breath they’re implementing diesel. That’s why we’re here.”
Metrolinx, which was represented by attorney John Laskin, declined to comment on the case but did release a statement re-iterating its intention to deliver electrification in a timely manner.
“We aren’t that far apart in our goals from those who advocate electrification; with the EA in progress, we are on the path towards electrification of the air rail link,” says the statement.
While Clean Train was prepping for its court date last week, Kevin Putnam and fellow members of the Junction Triangle Rail Committee met with Chiarelli and McCuaig at Queen’s Park.
This is the first time a government minister has ever spoken directly to residents about the topic,” said Putnam, who said Davenport city councillor Ana Bailao also attended the Nov. 14 meeting.
“We’ve been chasing and asking for meetings and they never come out, so for us we’re grateful to hear the minister say electrification is government policy.”
Putnam said the group also received a commitment from McCuaig for Metrolinx to host an upcoming public meeting in the Junction regarding plans for the construction of a series of five-metre high noise barrier walls along the rail corridor.
Metrolinx has said the walls are necessary to drown out the din of diesel train traffic.
The idea has proven extremely unpopular with residents who fear the walls will justify maintaining diesel train traffic indefinitely.
“Every resident fears once those walls go in they’ll leave the diesel trains running,” said Putnam. Though no date has been announced for the meeting regarding the noise barrier walls, Metrolinx spokesperson Ann Marie Aikins confirmed one will take place in the immediate future.
“Bruce and the Minister met with the Junction Triangle Group last week as part of our community engagement and are committed to continuing that engagement on the issue of the noise walls,” said Aikins in an email.
In a statement, David Salter, spokesperson for Chiarelli, confirmed 2017 as a target date for electrification of the ARL.
“Minister Chiarelli was clear that we’re committed to electrification. 2017 is our target - based on funding availability and the successful completion of the EA.”
Putnam, however, said he hasn’t given up on electrification in time for 2015.
“I haven’t accepted that 2015 is out of question,” said Putnam. “I think technically it’s possible, it’s not a moon launch.”
In a statement Monday, York South-Weston MP Mike Sullivan, former chair of Clean Train, urged the federal government to push for electrification.
“I would urge the Federal Minister of Transportation to tell Ontario to do the right thing and make these trains electric now, as any world class city should,” he said.