Thoughts On The Future White Elephant Known As The Union Pearson Express train

Thanks BlogTO!

I can’t help but roll my eyes at all the outrage that has emerged over the possible ticket price for the Union Pearson Express train (aka UP). That $20-$30 amount has been tossed about for years but now people are caring?

I’m assuming this chatter is emerging as the result of the news that the UP train is now in town, having arrived here from Soviet Russia. Ok, that route isn’t exactly true. But then I suppose an ugly design is fitting for a train that’s going to have an ugly price tag, likely $20-$30, and even scarier health and noise consequences for our city.

My issues with UP are somewhat personal. In 2008, I bought a wonderful condo that overlooks the Georgetown track that UP will travel up and down. At the time, I worked along the tracks and was quite familiar, and undisturbed, by the GO, CN and Via trains that called those tracks home. I knew that there was talk of increasing the GO trains from mostly rush hour to every hour but I also knew that A) I wasn’t going to live in that condo forever and B) based on how this city handles transit, increasing the frequency of the GO trains was a long way (turns out I was right; six years it still hasn’t happened). But I didn’t know about UP.

When I first found about it a few months later, I was not happy, the natural reaction to finding out that your backyard would eventually become the busiest diesel train corridor on the planet (over 400 diesel trains will zip through it each day, from early morning until late at night). At the time, there was a chance that the trains might go eclectic, thus bringing Toronto into the modern age when it comes to airport-to-core transportation. But when it was announced that due to a timeline resulting from the Pan Am Games, the trains would be diesel, well, I knew that I would have to sell my beloved condo before talk of the cancer trains could scare of potential buyers (and that’s exactly what I did last summer).

Map from the Toronto Star

But even without this personal connection to UP, I would have issues with it. Yes, the idea of a train link to between Pearson and Union makes sense, but what doesn’t is running hundreds of diesel trains through the city. Health-wise, the impact is suppose to be minimal but there will still be an impact, particularly for anyone with existing breathing or lung issues.

I don’t have breathing issues and I don’t think living next to an active train corridor had any impact on my physical health. However, my outdoor furniture and patio plants didn’t fair so well. And while I could usually tune the noise of the trains out, every now and then they got to me.

The UP train is a new kind of diesel train that is supposed to be cleaner and quieter then what GO currently runs. But even if it’s only half as loud as the existing GO trains (fun fact: the newer GO models are louder than the older ones), the fact that a train will be going by, in each direction, once every 15 minutes, is going to make living along that route unbearable.

I currently live near Trinity-Bellwoods. Sometimes when I’m outside, I can hear the train horns from the Georgetown line. It’s not common and it’s not a big deal. But then right now hours will go by without a train travelling on those tracks. Once UP starts running that won’t be the case and I can’t help but wonder how much more often we’ll be hearing those horns.

The Georgetown line

When I first heard about UP, it wasn’t called UP and it was supposed to be run by SNC Lavalin. In 2010, the company parted ways from the project due to “financial market conditions prevented acceptable terms.” It’s not the only one concerned about the cost of UP. In 2012, the auditor general issued a report stating the project is likely to be a money loser unless the ticket prices are around $30. But as we’ve seen lately in various media reports, people aren’t ready to pay that price, even if the trip will only take 25 minutes.

If SNC Lavalin was still running the show, I think we’d see prices around $30 and for the whole thing to go under in two-three years. Now that Metrolinx is in charge, I’m thinking that UP will just become some kind of money losing project that will continue for far too long until someone, oh, maybe a new Conservative government, shuts it down.

Again, the idea of connecting Pearson to Union is a great one but UP is going down the wrong track and will soon have everyone once again why this city can’t do transit properly.


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