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|The slow train to the airport?|
April 8th 2012 | Source: Natalie Alcoba - The National Post
Councillors plead for more stops on Air Rail Link connecting Union to the airport
Toronto will hit a major milestone in its quest to join the ranks
of cities with airport-to-downtown rail service when it breaks
ground this spring on a three-kilometre track into Pearson’s
After years spent on environmental assessments and political wrangling, the express service from Union Station to Toronto Pearson International Airport is slated to open in time for the arrival of the Pan American Games in 2015.
But now local councillors are raising questions about the plans for the link — in particular that there are only two stops along the way, at Bloor Street and Weston Road — and pleading with Metrolinx, the provincial agency that is overseeing the line, to add eight more stops to the $128.6-million project.
Councillor Frances Nunziata highlights one particular “missed
opportunity”: the Air Rail Link will cross paths with or skirt the
light-rail line being built along Eglinton, but there are currently
no plans to connect with it.
“Wouldn’t it make sense to have a stop at Eglinton?” said Ms. Nunziata, who wants city council to ask Metrolinx to alter its plan. “If we’re building the Eglinton LRT, we want an integrated transit system in the city.”
Touted as a way to ease congestion and boost the economy, the 25-kilometre ARL will operate on GO Transit’s Georgetown corridor and a new three-kilometre
spur that branches into the airport. It is expected to eliminate
1.2-million car trips in its first year of operation. The price per
ticket has not been set.
Ms. Nunziata, who represents York-South Weston, and Councillor Mike Layton (Trinity-Spadina) suggest adding stops at Liberty Village, the Junction, Carleton Village, Jane Street, Etobicoke North, Woodbine and Humber, as residents have called for in the past. They also want council to reiterate its preference that the airport link be affordable to ride and electric, a simmering issue for groups concerned about how air quality may be affected by more trains chugging past.
Metrolinx determined it would not be able to electrify the ARL route by launch date, so the service will be powered by “clean diesel” locomotives at the outset.
“It can’t hurt to ask,” said Councillor Layton, who argues that far fewer people will use a line that is not accessible. “It’s going to serve people coming in for the day, and that’s not who our infrastructure should serve; it should serve the community it’s beside.”
It doesn’t sound like Metro-linx is interested in altering plans for a project it says is on time and on budget.
In an email, agency spokeswoman Vanessa Thomas said the design and scope has been set. She said the approved environmental assessment covered stations only at Weston and Bloor, and upgrades to GO Transit’s Georgetown line are already underway.
However, “connecting to the Eglinton Crosstown LRT line is an important future consideration for the Air Rail Link”, Ms. Thomas wrote, noting that it sees the area as a “mobility hub.”
The Crosstown will not open until 2020, well after the airport link is in service.
“The premise of the ARL project is to provide fast service to the airport with minimal number of stops. Currently, each one-way trip is scheduled to take approximately 25 minutes, adding additional stops would add to the length of each trip, therefore taking away from the purpose of the service as being direct and express,” Ms. Thomas wrote in an email.
“For those communities throughout Toronto outside of the ARL route, there is also several existing localized transit and private shuttle options to get to and from the airport.”
Suri Weinberg-Linsky, a resident and business-owner in Weston, says other cities offer express and multi-stop service to their airports on the same tracks, so why can’t Toronto?
“It’s a wasted opportunity. We need a link between Union and the airport but make it so people can get on and off,” said Ms. Weinberg-Linsky, who owns Squibb’s Stationers and co-chairs the Weston Community Coalition. “What if you live mid-town and you want to get out in the airport, where the hell are you going to get on? It just doesn’t make sense.”