Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Where do freight trains belong?

Sometimes an idea isn't very well received, but when you feel very strongly about it, you cannot let it die.

On one of the online message boards I post on, one might see a thread of conversation where I asked two fundamental questions:
  • Is it wise to route non-stop freight trains through built up areas and downtowns, or is it better to send them through dedicated transportation corridors?
  • Is building a second or third track for passenger trains enough to prevent delays and facilitate expansion?
After some careful thought (although many believe that it was no more than a knee-jerk reaction to the derailment last week), I floated the idea of building a dedicated freight railway corridor which would remove freight trains from the Georgetown and Milton GO train lines and place them in the 407 corridor - far from residences and far from passenger trains. 

I was almost run out of town.

But, is it really such a bad idea? Cost is an obvious issue which cannot be ignored, and while I'm not qualified to estimate the cost, I can offer some benefits to such a proposal.
  1. We won't have to widen railway rights-of-ways to four or more tracks in order to run effective passenger rail service. This would create less of a physical barrier and prevent a "wrong side of the tracks" effect. This can be clearly seen in the Summerhill neighbourhood of Toronto, where the CP rail corridor effectively isolates the community from the next neighbourhood to the south.
  2. Freight trains would be able to take the most efficient route between the large train yards in Toronto and Vaughan and destinations in southwestern Ontario and the USA. This would save money and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, particularly for CN Rail. Currently, their trains must travel west to Georgetown, south to Burlington, then west again towards Windsor or Niagara Falls. Using the 407 corridor would offer a beeline to Burlington.
  3. Freight trains would be able to move at their own speed, which is often very different than the speed of passenger rail. CN has often argued that the speed of VIA Rail trains on the Montreal-Ottawa-Toronto route requires them to set aside a block of track-space equivalent to 3 freight trains. This would ease their burden on scheduling freight around passenger trains.
  4. The vast majority of freight trains wouldn't have to travel through the downtown areas of Brampton, Georgetown and Milton. This could help revitalize these growth centres and shift some of the development from sprawl to intensification. Removing the freight trains from downtown Toronto was caused by increasing value of the land the yards sat upon, but the result has been an improved urban environment. If this could be achieved in Toronto, why cant it be achieved in Brampton, Georgetown or Milton?
The Metrolinx green paper on Moving Goods & Services touches upon this concept, but I think it presents us with an opportunity to rationalize our land uses and improve the quality of life for people who brave urban-style living in incredibly suburban areas. 

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At 3/15/2008 11:25 p.m. , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm using Google Earth to create a railway trackage plan for the GTAH. It involves expropriating all the trackage within and including the CN ring line and both CN and CP lines in Durham. The CP Belleville, the CN ring line, and a new track following the 407 hydro corridor to the CP Milton line would constitute the freight bypass. This would divert freight trains from all of the 416 and the CN Pickering line. It would only require construction of the 407 freight bypass and a small siding around Newcastle.

IMO there should not be a freight bypass from Mississauga to Burlington for the following reasons:

1) the CN Hamilton Sub, which deserves frequent, all day service, would handle all CN freight trains and prevent additional widening of trackage.

2) existing CN trackage along Georgetown and Milton are unlikely to ever see high-speed, all day GO service.

3) this would eliminate freight connections to Guelph and KW region.

4) the risk and consequence of GO delays between Malton and Georgetown is much, much, less than the risk and consequence of GO and VIA delays to Hamilton, Niagara, and Brantford.

5) One CN freight track will have to be dedicated to serve the GO Oakville plant. Dumping all CN freight trains past the plant would be risky.

Sometimes the ideal conditions cannot exist, and this is one example where Metrolinx would have to trade off between potential inconveniences of freight trains.

At 3/16/2008 2:49 a.m. , Blogger Andrae Griffith said...

You make some very good points about the need to preserve access for local freights and the connection for the Goderich-Exeter Railway to interchange cars with CN. This idea was only really concerning long distance freight trains which might be running non-stop from Toronto to Michigan or New York State.

I disagree that Milton and Georgetown won't see all day GO service. There is demand, especially on the Milton line, and the recent Regional Express (REX) proposal would even see frequencies of 20 minutes or better all day. They are definitely the hardest lines to upgrade to all day service, based on the heavy freight traffic, but I don't think that it's unlikely.

At 4/18/2008 12:43 p.m. , Blogger Scott Watkins said...

I just ran into this post following links from your metronauts followup piece.

My 2 cents in support of this would be to point out that the real value of diverting freight rail to highway corridors is that that is frequently where the industry is. Putting rail on the highway system would divert a huge volume of truck traffic from the roadways, and put freight terminals much closer to where industries actually are. New advanced signaling systems and computerized scheduling and/or control could allow many smaller "micro yards" much closer to factories and distribution centres, and even intra-city shunting of smaller loads. This kind of network could be game changing for the transport sector and a huge boost to Ontario's industrial competitiveness.

What this all means is that there is a really sound business case for doing this even without freeing up the old lines for transit. You could probably even talk Paul Flaherty into doing it.

...Okay, that last was hyperbole.

At 9/27/2008 9:31 a.m. , Blogger Tim Snell said...

I agree a new CN freight line using the 407 corridor through Peel and Halton regions is a good idea. I don't see how downtown Brampton will get regional express service, or how Kitcehner and will get GO service any other way.

It is practical. The Parkway Belt West, in which the 407 runs, was meant to be a transportation / utility corridor, not just a highway corridor and although narrow in places the 407 does not use all the right of way.

Also, the route is not unlike what CN originally wanted when it built the York Sub and MacMillan Yard. CN's inability to find a suitable right of way through the western GTA meant they were stuck using the Halton Sub which is very indirect has several curves and goes through a number of urban core areas.

As for an earlier poster's comments about freight service to Guelph and Kitchener and points west, this would be maintained. The exisitng track connection where the freight line crosses the passenger line (south of Bramelea) need not be removed. The 2-4 GEXR daily freights and whatever local service to Brampton's industrial area could be maintained. On Long Island NY, "New York and Atlantic R.R." freight service manages to sneek in amidst the subway like frequencies of the Long Island R.R. so we should be able to do it here!

Why CN would not jump at having a brand new, grade separated line that is safer, faster, more direct and cheaper to operate is hard to understand. It's not a perfect route but still an improvement. Why CP would object is another issue unless there was something in it for them. Also expect NIMBYism despite being in an exisitng transportation corridor (and taking less space than the 407 did).


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