A Metrolinx board member Howard Shearer referred to Metrolinx’s Hydrail as “madness” in documents obtained by the Toronto Star through a freedom of information request.
Toronto Star reported that Shearer expressed private concerns regarding the organization’s plans to introduce trains powered by hydrogen cells. The documents included an email from Shearer to Rob Prichard, chairman of the Metrolinx board, detailing his concerns with the project.
“It is simply madness that the Ontario government is seriously considering this,” he wrote. “One accident in the implementation of this technology presents grave risk to government, public confidence and Metrolinx.” Shearer claimed that a project like this would put lives at risk if it were rushed to the public.
As head of the Canadian Nuclear Association, and CEO of Hitachi Canada, a company that “develops advanced high-tech electronic devices” Shearer’s claims around the safety of hydrogen given the Fukushima nuclear disaster seem disingenuous. For years the Canadian Nuclear Association has lobbied against anything that removes reliance from a centralized power grid. Centralization of the power grid originally created the need for hugely expensive nuclear power plants. The Nuclear Power Association has spent years trying to stamp out safer and cleaner power options to maintain their hold over the power system. The fact that Metrolinx is open to looking at alternative solutions, is something all Ontario tax payers will benefit from.
It’s important to note that the upfront cost of electrifying the GO lines is far more expensive than the upfront cost of implementing hydrogen. If Metrolinx replaces the very lengthy process of electrifying all of the GO train lines with cleaner hydrogen powered trains, they will deliver clean all-day, two-way GO train service much sooner than electrification allows.
Hopefully Prichard viewed Shearer’s email as nothing more than fear-mongering. Under Prichard’s leadership Metrolinx is looking for efficiencies, not only by shortening the delivery timeline, but by saving Ontario tax payers from the high upfront costs of electrification.
Hydrogen is a clean technology used by leading transport operators for light rail projects in many countries around the world from China, to Japan, Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States. It has yet to be used on heavy rail and thus Metrolinx properly investigated the possibility of using it. The agency published their Regional Express Rail Program Hydrail Feasibility Study Report and a fact sheet clearly detailing their plans and their findings. The fact sheet outlines how “it should be technically feasible to build and operate the GO Transit network using hydrogen fuel cell powered rail vehicles.” The report also stated that the project should be completed by 2025 and would offer commuters a collection of benefits ranging from bringing in services ahead of schedule and sharing some of the costs with those in the Greater Toronto Area and Hamilton area.
The study clearly explains that more precautions and further research needs to be conducted before the due date in order to mitigate risk. Metrolinx plans to do this in a variety of ways such as working with the regulators associated with Hydrail to break down any safety concerns and to start “developing designs for the refuelling and hydrogen production systems.”
Hydrogen powered trains are a clean safe alternative to diesel, and they are used by many transportation operators around the world. Metrolinx has made a good move that will save time and lower upfront capital costs while alleviating the demand for electricity from the central grid. They have a smart, reasonable and clean solution for delivering the transit infrastructure the GTHA so desperately needs.