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Minister of Environment approves plans
to "electrify" Union Pearson Express


Two Union Pearson Express DMUs at Mimico GO Station Sunday, November 2, 2014. The units had just arrived in Toronto and were being towed by a GO locomotive. This photo is by Craig James White and is used in accordance with his Creative Commons license.

In Ontario, all large-scale projects that have potential impact on the environment undergo a formal process — an environmental assessment — to evaluate the project and its effect.

“Electrifying” a rail corridor — powering trains with electricity — is one of these large-scale projects. In December 2014, Metrolinx completed a transit project assessment process for the Union Pearson Express line. Meanwhile, in February, Hydro One completed a class environmental assessment process for building the infrastructure to supply power to the line.

On February 13, 2015, the Honourable Glen Murray, Ontario’s Minister of the Environment and Climate Change advised that, after reviewing the environmental assessment results of Hydro One’s plans, that both organizations had completed the process for both parts of the project and that they could proceed.

Now that the minister has approved the project, Metrolinx says it’s continuing to prepare to electrify the line. It’s also developing plans for its regional express rail service, which requires it to not only electrify the Union Pearson Express, but also GO Transit rail services over a much broader area, including the 31 Kitchener line which uses the same rail corridor. Mayor John Tory’s SmartTrack plan for frequent, rapid, above-ground rail service through Toronto also relies on electrification of the same corridor as the UP Express trains.

According to’s Rahul Gupta, “The provincial transit planning agency has already promised to convert nearly all of the GO rail network from diesel to electric within a decade. The first step of that transformation is supposed to be UP, but neither Metrolinx or the Ontario Ministry of Transportation have confirmed when it will happen, or how much it will cost to electrify the four-stop line.”

To learn more about the timelines for electrification and the answers to other questions about the plan, local residents, transit advocates and media gathered Tuesday, February 24, when the Roncesvalles - Macdonnell Residents Association hosted a session with Metrolinx electrification director Karen Pitre.

Inside Toronto’s Hilary Caton and Transit Toronto’s Shaun Cleaver (reporting on behalf of advocacy group TTCRiders) also attended the meeting. They learned that the provincial government has allocated $30-billion dollars toward transit infrastructure with about $15-billion going to the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area.

In the TTCRiders blog, Shaun writes that although “There has been around $10B set out in the Provincial budget for a list of GTA transit improvements to be completed by 2024…in brief, $0 is allocated for electrification, which is an unfunded initiative.”

Caton quotes Pitre, who said, “Technically we’re not a funded project yet and Metrolinx has been doing everything in its power to keep things moving as quickly as we can.

“But the next stage requires a funding commitment; we can’t go and tender a contract for construction until we actually have a committed budget for this. And it goes back to the provincial and federal government… Like any budget there’s priorities and they’re going to have to make some tough choices, so I don’t want to presume I know how they’re going to allocate their funding.”

Caton reported that “A couple of dates Pitre did mention were that by April 2015 they will have completed preliminary designs for engineering work that include overhead wire support for the trains, and Metrolinx will be sifting through proposals from firms for a technical advisor during the months of April and May.”

According to Caton, “The planning process is happening on multiple levels, there’s electrification, there’s service expansion, there’s regional express rail, and there’s SmartTracks,” Pitre told about 40 residents attending the event. “We’re trying to make sure they’re all planned together so that, at the end of day, we’re able to deliver on the commitments that everybody has suggested that are important to the city of Toronto.”

Although electrification may not yet have official status, it’s clear that Metrolinx is making plans to electrify… something. It’s already investgating various ways of moving its trains in the near future, as Douglas John Bowen explains in an article from Railway Age: “Earlier this month Metrolinx issued a Request for Information (RFI) spanning a range of propulsion options for future GO Transit equipment, including electric multiple-units (EMUs), electric locomotives, and dual-power locomotives. Last August the first of 18 DMUs was delivered to GO Transit in preparation for the opening of the UPX line this year.”

Back in 2011, Metrolinx approved a plan to buy 12 “diesel multiple units” (or DMUs) from Sumitomo Corporation of America to operate the Union Pearson Express line. The cost to buy the locomotives was about $55 million, which included capital spare parts, special maintenance tools and contingencies resulting from any changes to the base design that Metrolinx may require. The contract also included an option to buy six more units for another $22 million.

In his blog post, Shaun also quoted Pitre, who explained, “the contract with the train manufacturer included a clause that the components be ‘swappable’. When electrification occurs Metrolinx will decide whether it makes more sense to convert the DMUs to EMUs or replace the rolling stock.”