The “Blue 22” proposal for a rail link from Pearson Airport to Union Station was made public in December 2004. (It was the federal government’s response to a 1998 request from the city of Toronto for assistance building a subway line to the airport after the cancellation of the Eglinton subway.) This proposed:
· a privately run service by SNC Lavalin on lines presently used for public rail service and one CN freight per day.
· service provided using refurbished Budd diesel self-propelled railcars, originally built about 50 years ago;
· an SNC Lavalin-built spur-line into the Airport that would join the existing rail corridor, where the service would use a combination of existing rail tracks and 2 new tracks within the corridor;
· to make the journey to Union Station in 22 minutes, and charge more than $20 per one-way trip;
· trains leaving about every 15 minutes between 5 a.m. and 1 am (thus passing Weston and Mount Dennis every 7.5 minutes in each direction);
· no stops along the line (except at Bloor Street near Dundas West, and perhaps at Woodbine Racetrack).
Reaction to the proposal from residents along the route was overwhelmingly negative, especially in the Weston area where the frequent high-speed service would eliminate four level crossings and split the community in half. More than 3,000 people showed up to attend a public meeting in April, 2005 (many were turned away as the hall held 2500). Subsequently, GO transit representatives agreed to carry out a full environmental assessment, and the provincial government promised to explore other alternatives in that assessment. GO Transit is to be the recipient of $200-$300 million in federal/provincial/municipal tax money to install infrastructure for this new service. CN will receive the money from GO, and install rails, bridges, tunnels, etc. CN will own the tracks and lease them back to GO at market rates. GO will then lease the tracks to the private operator for $1 per year.
There is widespread agreement on the need for rail access to Pearson airport, but objectors point out that:
· airport passengers going directly to downtown Toronto number 17% of total passengers using Pearson, and ‘Blue 22’ wants to capture only 3-5% of the airport passengers;
· a system that provided airport access using the GO system or TTC could connect to the local transit network and help address the need for improved public transit in north-west Toronto, rather than catering only to business travelers;
· modern electric railcars would create far less noise and pollution than the proposed Budd cars;
· vibration and noise from increased rail traffic will affect homes near the rail corridor, affecting the area’s livability and property values (the rail corridor will become the busiest in Canada, by far).
· A significant amount of public money is being spent to install this infrastructure, so the resultant transit system should be a public, not private system.
Currently, local residents are still awaiting a decision from the provincial minister of environment on the terms of reference for the Environmental Assessment. They were filed with the ministry in October of 2006, and the minister had 12 weeks to make a decision. There are rumours that the original Blue 22 proposal (or something very like it) has support from all levels of government and may now be back on track. Some have expressed concern that changes to EA procedures will be used to overrule residents’ concerns and allow Blue 22 to be railroaded through. Meanwhile there has been no decision on proposals to extend the new Eglinton LRT out to the Airport. And Metrolinx, which is responsible for coordinating GTA-wide transportation planning from Burlington to Oshawa, has yet to produce an overall plan. So a decision may be made to go ahead with an airport rail link to downtown Toronto in the absence of any cohesive approach to the whole transportation picture.