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Diesel Trains Are NOT the Answer 6


The downtown Toronto City Centre Airport has been a political hot potato for many years. Airport expansion advocates were pushing for a bridge to the Toronto City Centre airport that current Mayor David Miller quashed when he was first elected in 2003.

Environmentalists and local residents often refer to noise and air pollution as the primary reason for disapproval of the airport’s existence in this seemingly never-ending battle.

As someone who cares deeply about the current state of our world and the impact we have on the environment, the island airport has been a source of contradicting feelings for me. Here’s why:

Toronto’s main airport – Pearson International – serves more than 32 million passengers a year (more than 87,000 per day). Thousands of people each day drive or take taxis to Pearson airport – many of which originate from downtown Toronto, 25 kilometres away.

Is it such a bad thing to potentially take hundreds or thousands of cars off our roads by offering flights from the downtown airport? Hundreds of thousands of people live within 30 minutes walking distance from the downtown airport.

Shouldn’t we be encouraging people to commute a few kilometres to a downtown airport rather than driving or taking a taxi 25 kilometres to Pearson airport?

The passenger airliner operating out of the downtown airport in Toronto – Porter Airlines – operates a fleet of modern Bombardier Q400 turboprop planes – known for their low emissions, fuel efficiency and quietness compared to your typical jetliner.

Why wouldn’t the city promote the downtown airport for shorter flights within North America?

Well, as I mentioned previously, pollution is the major reason for disapproval. I guess having thousands of people sit in taxis on the way to the airport 25KMs away doesn’t contribute to pollution. Or what about the pollution caused by Pearson airport? I guess that doesn’t matter because it’s “not in my backyard”.

So how do we solve the problem of pollution and gridlock caused by all the cars driving to Pearson airport?

Many Torontonians think that the city needs a rail link from downtown to Pearson airport and the proposed plan to provide this service has been approved and is moving forward. But at what cost?

The rail link being proposed by Metrolinx involves hundreds of diesel engine trains traveling the 25KM from downtown to Pearson airport. The media often cites 400 trains per day, a seemingly high number given this would result in a train leaving every 3 and a half minutes, 24 hours a day (or a train leaving both Union station and the airport every 7 minutes).

Is this really the solution that we want? The Clean Train Coalition doesn’t think so.

Let’s think about this for a moment. Our solution to reduce gridlock and pollution is to run 400 diesel trains a day, primarily supporting downtown residents and visitors only? Does this really sound environmentally friendly? It sounds ridiculous to me.

If the trains were electrified, at least we would be adding less pollution to our skies, but running 400 diesel trains will only add more pollution.

Okay, okay, I’m not being totally fair because recently, Ontario’s Ministry of the Environment (MOE) recently mandated the trains use cleaner Tier 4 diesel technology for the 400 daily trains – a more fuel efficient and environmentally-friendly technology (that doesn’t even exist yet). Yes, you heard it – we’re investing in a “less dirty” technology that doesn’t even exist yet.

Blah, blah, blah, “clean diesel”, “clean coal”, these are just oxymorons.

But still, something doesn’t add up. Our solution to reduce pollution is to run 400 diesel trains a day, using diesel fuel, and a technology that doesn’t even exist.

I have a simpler solution. Expand service at the downtown Toronto City Centre airport for flights within North America, and invest in electric technology that already exists to bridge a connection to Pearson airport.

All we would need to do create an above-ground electric rail link from Kipling subway station to extend an existing underground electrified system to the airport – a mere 11 kilometres away.

We have already invested billions of dollars in our subway system. Why not expand that system to reach the airport?

Over the years I have been on many business trips where I needed to fly. Almost exclusively, I ride the subway system – reaching the airport in merely 45-60 minutes from my downtown King West residence. An extension to the subway would cut that time down and improve reliability.

Alternatively, for flights within North America, I could walk to downtown airport – a mere 2KM away from my home.

Sometimes the simpler, cheaper solution is the better solution. At least until we are ready to invest in full electrification.

Photo courtesy of Never Was An Arrow II

James D. Schwartz is the editor of The Urban Country and appears on most Sundays and Thursdays, and sometimes in between. View all of James’ articles here.

6 thoughts on “Diesel Trains Are NOT the Answer

  1. boyan Oct 23,2009 3:26 am

    400 trips a day; really? That sounds like a little too much.

  2. multiplegeorges Oct 23,2009 2:04 pm

    Totally agree. The train plan is crazy. Flying out of City Centre is the best… saves me so much time and cab fare.

    I hope the port authority goes through with the tunnel just to spite Miller. Moving sidewalks underwater for everyone!

  3. James D. Schwartz Oct 23,2009 2:08 pm

    boyan – I can only assume that this number was erroneously stated as the number – even though the media continues to use that number time and time again.

    multiplegeorges – I too think that an underground walkway is a great idea. However, as a regular kayaker on the Toronto harbour – I was against the bridge simply because it would be an eye-sore for the waterfront.

  4. Pearson airport taxi Toronto Oct 27,2009 5:10 am

    at least somebody is concern of the growing pollution around the city. cheers to that.

  5. Marcus8787 Nov 25,2009 3:17 pm

    400 diesel trains vs potential individual commuter pollution?

    Can someone point me in the direction of a comparison which justifies the opposition of a new mass transit system extension?

    Can someone write an article using numbers.

    New go trains pull 12 cars @ 162 pass/car.

    162 x 12 = 1944 pass/train.
    1944 x 400 train trips/day = 777,600 pass/day.

    400 diesel trains vs 777,600 cars.
    Note: We can lower the passengers by 50% due to under capacity and car pooling (388,800 ppl).

    In absolute terms, if you weigh all the ‘statistics’, trains are much more pollution efficient than cars when considering the cars they take off the road. I’m not the one writing the article so you do the homework, which of the 2 causes more pollution overall.

    Please reply with facts/stats only, I don’t care about the noise/”not in my backyard”/other arguments. I look forward to your response…

  6. James D. Schwartz Nov 25,2009 3:32 pm

    Marcus, you obviously didn’t read the whole article, or you just blatantly missed the point.

    #1 Any reduction in cars as a result of these trains will be met with an equal number of cars on our roads. Our highways will always be over capacity until we introduce tolling.

    #2 Your assumption that the trains will be full is ridiculously optimistic. As I stated in the article, 87,000 passengers on average pass through Pearson airport – of which not all of them originate from Toronto. Do you really think 777,600 passengers would use this system every day? Wake up, you’re dreaming.

    #3 There’s a perfectly good subway system with an express bus from Kipling station to the airport – so to assume that driving is the only other option is ridiculous.

    #4 As I stated in the article, many businessmen and women will still take taxis regardless of this train

    #5 As I stated in this article, the 400 diesel trains only covers downtown to the airport. If someone lives at Danforth and Broadview do you really think they will go all the way to Union station and take a train?

    So yes, I am arguing that 400 diesel trains per day running from downtown to the airport WILL ADD MORE POLLUTION because they won’t be anywhere near full capacity, and any cars that are taken off the road will only free up more space for other drivers (not necessarily going to the airport).

    You obviously didn’t read the article because you accused me of using a NIMBY excuse. This article had nothing to do with NIMBY.

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