The Clean Train Coalition has announced it will appeal a court judgment upholding diesel train usage on an air rail link currently under construction.
In November, the coalition of west-end residents lost its legal bid for a judicial review of a decision by Metrolinx to run diesel trains on the Union Pearson Express (UP), formerly known as the air rail link, when the link connecting Pearson International Airport with Union Station via the Georgetown South GO rail corridor is completed by 2015.
The group had argued in Ontario Divisional Court a decision to order 18 diesel trains for use along the link should be re-opened on the grounds Metrolinx had not seriously considered clean-running electric trains as a viable alternative to diesel, which is considered a carcinogen by the World Health Organization.
Clean Train is concerned the projected increase in diesel train traffic will result in serious long-term health and environmental consequences for thousands of residents living along the rail corridor.
But a panel of three judges ruled unanimously in favour of Metrolinx, saying in a four-page judgement the provincial transit planning agency was within its mandate to accept direction from the province, which wants the link completed in time for the Toronto Pan American Games and for diesel trains to run at first before they are eventually converted to electric.
Late Monday, Clean Train announced it was seeking leave to appeal the verdict to the Ontario Court of Appeal.
“The Divisional Court basically said its doors are closed to citizens seeking protection against decisions by government agencies that may cause harm to health or the environment,” said the group’s legal counsel Saba Ahmad in a statement released on Dec. 4.
“We cannot let this decision go uncontested.”
Spokesperson Tim Noronha said another reason for an appeal was overturning the court’s decision to require Clean Train to pay Metrolinx legal fees of $30,000, which he believed was sending a discouraging message to small groups opposing government decisions.
“We rely on donations and if a grassroots group like us is stifled, that’s not good for democracy,” said Noronha on Tuesday morning. “It sets a bad precedent.”
Noronha said the recent removal of several trees near the rail corridor in Mount Dennis – to facilitate the installation of a five metre-high sound barrier to reduce the roar from diesel trains – indicate Metrolinx is moving ahead with its plans without regard for residents.
“All we’re asking for is a feasibility study,” he said. “It’s hard to believe the government would line up a service against the clear objections of the community.”
Last week, as part of an update of the ambitious Big Move regional transportation plan, Metrolinx CEO Bruce McCuaig announced electrification for the new link would receive priority for completion – provided funding is approved.
“We’ve previously said electrification is a priority for our organization and we’ve already started an environmental assessment (EA) for the first phase of that, which is the air rail link,” McCuaig said at the time.
In 2011, the agency’s board of directors endorsed electrifying both the Georgetown South and Lakeshore rail corridors. The EA for the link itself is expected to be completed in 2014.
But both Metrolinx and provincial transportation minister Bob Chiarelli have insisted electrification of the link will not be completed in time for UP’s 2015 opening.
A target date for completion has been set for 2017 if the money is available for electrification.
While the final price for electrification is not known, documents provided by Metrolinx show an estimated capital cost of $900 million for electrifying both UP and the Georgetown line.
The money for the projects is expected to come from an investment strategy for funding transit which Metrolinx must present to the sitting premier in June 2013.
In an email sent to the Villager/Guardian on Tuesday morning Metrolinx spokesperson Anne Marie Aikins said the agency hadn’t received any notices regarding Clean Train’s intentions and would consider its options if an appeal is granted.
“Metrolinx remains committed to building the Union Pearson Express in an environmentally responsible way,” wrote Aikins.