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Ontario may use hydrogen-powered train on GO Transit lines

Ontario is hoping to join the list of mostly European innovators looking to create clean public transportation.

The provincial government has announced their intention to study the feasibility of having hydrogen-powered passenger trains in use on RER lines and the UP express. The train will combine hydrogen and oxygen to produce electricity, converting the energy via fuel cells that charge the train’s battery. The only emissions that will be produced is steam and condensed water.

The feasibility study will look at whether or not hydrogen-powered trains are more efficient than electric vehicles. The ultimate decision maker will be how quickly this technology can be adopted, as the government doesn’t want these new innovations to impact pre-set completion dates for RER.  “We want to know if hydrogen fuel cell technology can be ready in time to deliver Go regional express rail by 2024-25,” Ontario Minister of Transportation, Steven Del Duca, said while in Etobicoke.

In the fall, the province will bring industry leaders together for a symposium to explore the application of hydrogen fuel cell technology. In the meantime, the province will continue to work on electrified rail service.

“Our work on GO RER is about transforming transit in the GTHA by creating a sustainable, integrated, regional transit network that connects people and communities to jobs, services and activities in their everyday lives,” Del Duca said in a statement. “Electrified service as part of GO RER will allow us to run faster, more frequent rail service across core sections of the GO rail network, while reducing greenhouse gas emissions by removing diesel service where possible.”

The first hydrogen-powered train will launch in December 2017 in Germany. Alstrom, a French manufacturing company, is working on the actual train while a Canadian company called Hydrogenics is providing the fuel cell to help with the energy conversion.

Del Duca mentioned Hydrogenics and said there is a “positive economic development potential” in embracing hydrogen-powered technology, but that Ontario isn’t ready to discuss any specific details.

While in Etobicoke, Del Duca also announced the launch of a study that will examine electrification of the GO line as part of the Regional Express Rail program, “the backbone of this next generation of transit”. The RER program is set to be completed by 2025, regardless of whether or not the province chooses to use to clean technology.

The RER program expansion will introduce two-day GO service by 2025, including Lakeshore, Kitchener, Barrie, and Stouffville lines.

West Toronto Railpath is on its way to being built

Biking through Parkdale and Liberty Village is similar to completing a difficult Olympic marathon challenge, complete with zooming cars, road-crossing pedestrians, and no bike path to be seen.

Luckily, cyclist enthusiasts and the City of Toronto are working on solving the problem — and the West Toronto Railpath is the solution. The goal of the pathway is to keep pedestrians and cyclists off the road, but there remains key challenges to achieving this goal. For example, the objective of the RailPath is to avoid roads. For this to happen, overpasses would have to be built over current rail bridges so that pedestrians could navigate through the limited land availability in a highly congested area. However, the City of Toronto is determined to persevere despite these challenges.

The West Toronto Railpath has been a long-time in the making. The first phase of the project began at Cariboo Ave., just north of Dupont St. to the Dundas St. W overpass and was completed in 2008. It has been a considerable success, and even won the 2011 City of Toronto Urban Design Award. The second portion of the cycling path begins at Dundas St. W. and Sterling Ave. and proceeds along the Kitchener GO rail corridor to Strachan Ave. The third and final phase would connect the bike path to the planned Fort York Pedestrian and Cycling Bridge.

Phase two of the project is moving forward despite challenges and the province of Ontario has recently approved a cycling path along with the expansion of the Dufferin St. Bridge. Metrolinx is expanding the bridge to increase access to GO service and the UP Express, and construction for the West Toronto Railpath will also be included.

So what does this mean for the West Toronto Railpath?

The Dufferin St. Bridge announcement means construction of the RailPath has finally begun! The project has now moved into its next phase: detailed design and implementation. This part of the construction process decides which of the recommended pathways should be chosen. After that, construction commences. The cycling and pedestrian bridge that will be built on the Dufferin St. Bridge is a good start for the next phase of the project. Creating a safe bike path at the intersection of Dufferin and Queen is a difficult task and placing it on top of the bridge solves this problem.

The RailPath currently stands in phase two of its construction, with an Environmental Assessment (EA) successfully completed last year. The study report from the EA was released for public review between Jan. 14 and Feb. 15, 2016. The project will move forward, and recommended alignment options are in place.

It remains to be seen how the rest of the path will be built connecting the Dufferin St. Bridge to Dundas St. W overpass in the Junction, and then through Sudbury St. to Strachan Ave. That being said, the Dufferin St. Bridge is a key area that is needed for the success of the West Toronto Railpath. Though the rest of the cycling path is still in the planning stages, the announcement for the bridge makes this cycling path a reality — and that is exciting indeed.

Ontario raises over $700 million for green transit

Tuesday, the Ontario government announced $750 million in funding (in the form of a green bond) for environmentally friendly, low-carbon infrastructure projects, the majority of which is dedicated to transit in the GHTA.

Proceeds from the bond will help fund eight projects that will improve transit, education, health care, and employment across the province.

“Effectively combating climate change requires smart investments in environmentally friendly infrastructure projects such as improving energy efficiency and building more public transit,” Glen Murray, Minister of the Environment and Climate Change, said in a statement. “Green bonds give all Ontarians the opportunity to invest in climate actions that will protect the environment, strengthen the economy and improve everyday life.”

The funding will go to the following projects:

  1. Eglinton Crosstown LRT: $402 million for things like constructing electric powered transit vehicles that produce near-zero emissions.
  2. York VivaNEXT Bus Rapid Transit Expansion: $100 million to improve access to public transit.
  3. Go Transit Regional Express Rail: $200 million to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions by using electricity instead of diesel in trains. The funds will also be used for LEED gold-level certification for all Regional Express Rail stations and facilities

Green bonds were pioneered by the World Bank in 2008 as a tool to raise capital for projects with environmental benefits. The government guarantees a return for each investor. The maturity date for paying back the bond is also quite slow — Ontario priced a $750 million bond with a maturity date of January 27, 2023.

This is the second green bond Ontario has issued. The first bond was issued on Oct. 2, 2014 in the amount of $500 million.

Ontario is the first province in Canada to issue green bonds.