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Canada Side benefits touted as airport rail link given green light

The go-ahead to build a $200-million railway from Union Station to Pearson airport -- awarded to a subsidiary of Montreal-based SNC-Lavalin yesterday -- comes with positive side effects, its proponents say.

For one thing, federal Transport Minister David Collenette said, travellers will even be able to check their bags at Union Station before hopping on a train that will whisk them to Pearson in 22 minutes.

According to mayor-elect David Miller, the Pearson railway hammers a few more nails into the coffin of the plan to build a bridge to the island airport, against which he campaigned.

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"This [railway]infrastructure will allow business people to get between Pearson airport and downtown extremely quickly, efficiently and pleasantly. And to me, that should be the end of the argument," Mr. Miller said.

He praised the related plans to expand GO Transit tracks and service in the system's Georgetown corridor of northwest Toronto, where the Pearson trains will run.

Station upgrades will make it easier for GO train users to get onto the Bloor subway line: the Pearson train will stop at Dundas West station to and from the airport.

Track improvements will come out of a $385-million cheque Ottawa committed to GO this year. The federal government is also covering the $25-million cost of improvements to allow the train to pull into Pearson's new terminal building.

Other than that, Mr. Collenette said, the rail link will get no taxpayer money: "We're not talking about a nickel of government money subsidizing this operation. It will be run for profit by the private sector."

He added that with no new costs, there was no chance incoming prime minister Paul Martin would choose to scuttle the deal.

Meanwhile, a spokesman for the bus industry was critical of the rail link. Brian Crow, president of the Ontario Motor Coach Association, said Ottawa had ignored proposals for a rapid-bus corridor that would be cheaper and more versatile.

He warned the rail link will end up costing taxpayers: "I have yet to find a rail project in Canada that doesn't require a subsidy."

Mr. Collenette said there wasn't room for a bus corridor.

The $20-a-ticket trains, named Blue22 for the minutes the trip takes, will use the GO Transit and CN tracks that run from Union Station to Woodbine Racetrack. From there, SNC-Lavalin's Union Pearson AirLink Group will build an elevated track into the airport.

Marylynne Campbell, executive vice-president of SNC-Lavalin, denied that the Pearson project would suffer if the bridge to the island airport were to go ahead. She said 1.5 million riders are expected in the first year of the rail link, which is expected to starting running between 2008 and 2010.

Meanwhile, the chair of the bargaining group that represents workers at Bombardier's Downsview plant -- where the planes for the expanded island airport would be built -- said yesterday that he feels betrayed by Mr. Miller's efforts to stop the island bridge.

Bob Hamilton of the Bombardier unit of Local 112 of the Canadian Auto Workers said Mr. Miller told him last year that although he opposed the plan, if council voted for it -- as it did last November -- that would settle the issue. The union believes the plane orders would bring several hundred of its 1,500 laid-off members back to work.

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Mr. Miller's spokesman, Bruce Scott, said the union has misrepresented Mr. Miller's commitment to it, and that his boss was clear about continuing to fight the plan.

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