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2015 Pan Am Games in Toronto

A coalition of Toronto residents taking Metrolinx to court over a plan to run diesel trains through a downtown rail corridor are hoping they can persuade the transit agency to reverse its decision and consider electric options instead.

The Clean Train Coalition (CTC) filed an application with the Ontario Divisional Court of Justice on August 2, and are requesting a judicial review of Metrolinx's decision to run diesel trains from Union Station to Pearson Airport in advance of the 2015 Pan American Games.

"The board [of Metrolinx] decided to proceed with diesel trains to advance the short-term goal of hosting the Pan-Am Games. Metrolinx's 2015 deadline did not originate from either its board or its staff ... this instruction originated from the province," the CTC says in its application.

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At a news conference held this morning, legal counsel Saba Ahmad explained that "the board of Metrolinx ceded its decision-making authority to unidentified representations of the provincial government."

Added CTC chair Rick Ciccarelli, "If the government of Ontario wants to control Metrolinx, then Premier McGuinty should pass legislation to remove its independence."

The coalition outlined the three requests it has submitted to Ontario's Divisional Court: that a full comparative analysis between diesel and electric trains be conducted (which includes such factors as technical and economic feasibility, and health and environmental effects); that Metrolinx reconsider its decision to run diesel trains "unfettered" by Pan Am Games scheduling; and that Metrolinx consider the World Health Organization's recent re-classification of diesel exhaust as carcinogenic.

Metrolinx has already committed to spending $53-million on at least 12 clean diesel trains built by the U.S. arm of Japanese train-maker Sumitomo Corporation, with an option to buy six more. They can be converted to electric for $1-million each.

Ms. Ahmad said that residents have yet to hear "any clear plan or commitment to convert." Metrolinx would have to spend up to an additional $18-million to convert its fleet, she argued, as opposed to going electric from the start.

Mr Ciccarelli pointed out that the train supplier also has an electric version of the same model. He also suggested that Metrolinx could rely on local suppliers of electric rail vehicles instead, which would provide economic stimulus.

The CTC also alleged that increasing the frequency of diesel trains in the area poses adverse health affects. Ms. Ahmad cited a Metrolinx report from July 2009 which found that levels of nitrogen dioxide and acrolein would see short-term spikes and studies that found acute exposure to elevated concentrations of both substances can lead to respiratory irritation, such as wheezes and coughs.

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Metrolinx, however, disagrees with the CTC's claims. In an e-mail to The Globe and Mail earlier this week, spokesperson Vanessa Thomas said that the agency's Tier 4 diesel multiple units "beat the World Health Organization's stringent emissions standards and reduce airborne particulate emissions by 90 per cent."

The agency has also said that it believes the health of residents in the area to be paramount, and that the ARL will take 1.2 million car trips off the road in its first year alone. Exhaust from vehicular traffic is partly responsible for some of the hazardous airborne substances listed in the Metrolinx report.

The news conference was held just below the Toronto Railpath Footbridge at Wallace Avenue, north of Landsdowne Avenue and Bloor Street – a location, said Mr. Ciccarelli, "that illustrates just how close the corridor is to the neighbourhood."

Stacy Thomas, who was walking with her son along the Railpath earlier today, still expressed concern with Metrolinx's continued pursuit of diesel trains. "We were going to move," she said of her family. "I'm really concerned about my little guy, as well as for us."

The McGuinty government has thus far committed $15-million in funding to conduct an environmental assessment of electrifying the ARL, a study that's slated to finish in 2014.

"We've seen some major transit reversals in Toronto in recent months," said Jonah Schein, NDP MPP for Davenport, of Toronto's previous suburban subway transit proposal. "We were told that was a done deal. I think it comes down to political will."

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With a file from Kelly Grant.

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