In a recent motion by Councillor Frances Nunziata that set senior levels of government abuzz, the City of Toronto has asked for more stops along the proposed Union-Pearson Air Rail Link, one of which they hope will be at Liberty Village.
The above-ground rail line, slated for completion in 2015, will connect the Pearson Airport with Union Station and include two stops in between–one at Weston and one at Bloor. City councillors are rallying on behalf of the public for at least eight more stops along the line, entreating to turn an express line into a commuter line. Namely, councillors are campaigning for stops at Liberty Village, the Junction, Carleton Village, Eglinton Avenue West, Jane Street, Etobicoke North, Woodbine and Humber.
The City argues that the stops will offer a speedy commute for Pearson employees and air travel consumers across the city, greatly reduce traffic congestion and, most importantly, help serve communities along the way.
Statistically speaking, the new rail link will mean a whopping 1.2 million fewer car trips in the first year of the track’s operation. And, though initially running on ‘clean diesel’, the air rail trains will undergo upgrades that will see them running on electric energy.
In terms of environmental impact, this busy part of Toronto will feel the difference. Less noise and less pollution mean a calmer, healthier and cleaner city. But critics say that the additional stops will only impede the trains and result in a much longer commute than is really necessary.
Perhaps the government’s hesitation to add extra stops to the project plan is tied in with expected production costs. As it stands, a neat $128.6 million has already been budgeted for the minimal four-stop rail. Each additional stop will likely come with a hefty cost of its own. And incidentally, the decision to include Weston in the project was made mostly to appease the local residents who called for it. Perhaps more vocal advocacy from the other eight communities is what’s needed to get the proposal off the ground and on-track.
As the city prepares for the 2015 Pan American Games, tourist and resident needs must be weighed against logistic concerns. A ticket price has yet to be set for the Union-Pearson Air Rail Link, and this too is an important issue: what good is a shiny new air rail line if few can afford it?
The issue then becomes whether the government–and the City–will enjoy a robust return on its investment, and whether the communities between Pearson and Union will truly benefit from the project. There are the costs of construction to consider—track, train and station cannot build themselves. Similarly, the new transit system cannot run itself; additional staff will need to be instated. This could mean new jobs—something sorely needed in this slow economy—and new activity in areas needing it most.
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