Go Transit fails to alleviate concerns about the Georgetown South Project
On Wednesday and Thursday last week, representatives from Go Transit's Georgetown South Project held community meetings to provide updates. The Georgetown South Project is a five year project that will increase the capacity of the Go Transit lines that run to the city's northwest.
The main impetus for this project is the opportunity to have a functioning Union-Pearson rail link operating for the Pan Am Games in 2015. However, since the project was launched, there has been considerable public opposition to aspects of it, and some of that was voiced at the recent community meetings.
Most of the comments from the community at the meeting I attended were about air quality. The airport trains will add about 140 trains per day, on top of an extended Georgetown service. Since the track uses diesel locomotives, this will have an impact on air quality in the neighbourhoods on either side of the rail corridor. Residents are concerned about how air quality would be measured, what will happen if air quality is deemed to be an issue, and why the province is not pushing forward with electrification of the corridor.
The Go Transit representatives attempted to assuage concerns by pointing out that there will be three air quality monitoring stations installed along the corridor in November 2010. The data from these stations will be available for the public to see at three community offices: one of them is already in the West Toronto Diamond, and there will be two more at Weston and Strachan. The two new offices will be open this summer.
Go Transit is also conducting a $4 million electrification study that will be finished by the end of the year. The cost of electrifying the corridor could potentially be very expensive: the number bandied about at the community meeting was $1 billion, and the current project's entire budget is about $1 billion. Go Transit also pointed out that electrification does not eliminate fossil fuel emissions if the electricity is being generated by coal-powered generating stations (which Ontario still uses). It simply displaces the emissions onto someone else.
However, to the people who feel they are being used as "guinea pigs" - a phrase that was repeated at the meeting - these are not arguments that will make them feel better. One resident was so upset that he suggested offering lung samples to Go Transit/Metrolinx so that they can measure the effects of pollution on his body.
Although arguably not the most reliable way of measuring the train's pollution as opposed to pollution produced from other sources, the comment does indicate the anger and fear many residents have about the health impact of the project.
This has been made worse by what city councillor Frances Nunziata says is the sense that residents are being "railroaded": electrification is being studied, but only as a way to eventually dismiss locals' concerns.
The air quality concern eclipsed many of the other aspects of the project's update. In positive news, community involvement has mitigated some of the negative infrastructure changes. A lower overpass is being proposed for Strachan, and some of the streets in Weston that were going to be blocked are also receiving overpasses. Other important details include:
All of the details of the changes as they stand now are available here (PDF).
If you are concerned about the project, or wish to have input into the designs of the infrastructure changes, visit the Go Transit website and sign up for updates about future community consultations.
All images are from Go Transit/Metrolinx, except for the image of the overpass by Matthew Harris.
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