One of the Big Moves being mapped out by the Ontario Government’s public transit planning arm called Metrolinx, is a bold initiative called Air Rail Link (ARL) which promises to finally connect Toronto’s downtown core with Pearson International Airport via a dedicated express train…All in time for the 2015 Pan American Games! Just to make things really challenging though, Metrolinx is also trying to implement electrified services along it’s key corridors which include a stretch of the railway route that will service the ARL, so this means selecting new locomotives that can go into service for 2015 that won’t be outdated by the electrification of this rail corridor . So effectively, the ARL project has become a lightning rod for concerns about transit expansion, railway electrification, new diesel technology, dedicated passenger rail lines, and all the political, bureacratic, and technical challenges that go along with it as well. So if the ARL is indeed to become a model project for the Future of transit and rail travel in the GTA, what stands in the way of this happening in the Present?
It starts with political will…
In a political climate where an approved vision for Transit City has now been dumped out of it’s funding box, and strewn all over the floor, the ability for all three government levels to come to a new agreement is being severely taxed by Toronto’s new Mayor. Beyond the obvious need for re-establishing political unity, vision, and inter-governmental cooperation and effective cost-controls at a time of enormous bureaucratic upheave in Toronto’s transit landscape (Thanks again, Rob Ford) the next biggest hurdles for the ARL project are all the logistical challenges of assuring not just an environmentally responsible solution, but also a socially and fiscally beneficial one that will set standards for sustainable clean transit systems for many decades to come.
Luckily, Metrolinx seems to have found a solution that will achieve the latest and cleanest version of diesel technology in the short term, while assuring that the future implementation of an electrified rail corridor remains possible. The process appears to be a remarkable combination of vision, business process, and technology…but it’s not without it’s detractors as we can see from initial reactions from the Electrification lobby headed up by such groups as the Clean Train Coalition.
Since there has already been a great deal of PR and Public visibility on all the issues of running more trains in the busy Georgetown Corridor, we won’t revisit all the negative Eco-PR that has permeated the mainstream coverage of this project, but rather try to take a more objective view of the plans being proposed by those who seek to advance the cause of clean transit, rather than those more suited to simply criticize, and publicize the loudest voices of detractors.
As such, let’s take a look at the actual issues that need to be addressed in order to assure an orderly progression towards the goal that everyone is hoping to reach, rather than just throwing up roadblocks for the sake of simplified self-interests. Let’s start with the business end of the deal.
Metrolinx will be entering into formal negotiations with Sumitomo Corporation of America to exercise an option from the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit (California) procurement contract to purchase up to eighteen (18) highly efficient Diesel Multiple Units (DMU’s). These vehicles will meet stringent Tier 4 emissions standards and will be convertible to electric for the Air Rail Link. Following an open and competitive procurement process, Sumitomo Corporation is being considered for the award of a contract to produce DMU vehicles for Sonoma-Marin, and luckily an option clause in the contract gives Metrolinx the ability to piggy-back on the deal and purchase additional vehicles from the winner of the Sonoma-Marin procurement process.
Metrolinx wishes to exercise this option clause in the Sonoma-Marin contract in order to have vehicles delivered in time for public use of the Air Rail Link service, prior to the Pan Am Games in 2015. Metrolinx, with the unanimous support of its Board of Directors, concluded that entering the negotiation to exercise the option would obtain the best value for Ontario. If the negotiations are successful, Metrolinx will announce the details of the procurement when an agreement is reached.
Standby for more big announcements in 2011