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How a few centimetres could improve your GO Transit commute

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It’s a few centimetres tall and the thousands of people who use GO Transit every day hardly notice it’s there, but getting rid of it could lead to major improvements at Canada’s busiest rail station.

The single step at the door of every GO Transit car may not look like much, but Metrolinx plans to eliminate it as part of a wider effort to more than double the capacity of Union Station.

Metrolinx, the provincial agency in charge of GO, estimates making modifications that would allow passengers to directly board the cars without a step, just like a TTC subway car, could shave up to 20 seconds off the time it takes each train to enter and leave Union.

With about 40 GO trains serving Union during every weekday morning rush hour those seconds add up, and the time saved could allow Metrolinx to run more trains.

“It’s just the way to go for the system,” said Michael Wolczyk, vice-president of technical resource management in Metrolinx’s capital projects group.

Finding ways to run more trains in and out of Union will be crucial in the coming years as the region’s population grows and the province moves ahead with plans to dramatically increase GO Transit service.

Under the GO expansion program, which was formerly known as regional express rail, Metrolinx plans to add more two-way, all-day service, run trains every 15 minutes or sooner, and electrify some of its rail lines. As today, the vast majority of all trips will start or end at Union.

The station’s location in the heart of downtown prohibits any major physical expansion, so instead Metrolinx is focusing on making operations more efficient.

Proposals outlined in a recent Metrolinx business case analysis of the GO expansion program include reconfiguring Union’s platforms and tracks, which according to Wolczyk haven’t been significantly altered since the station opened in 1927.

Perhaps counterintuitively, Metrolinx is proposing to increase capacity by reducing the number of tracks at Union, from 16 down to 10. The number of platforms would also be decreased from 13 to 10 (a single platform can serve two tracks), but they would be made wider.

In addition to the 10 main platforms, six smaller “bay” or “stub” platforms, which are open at just one end, would be installed at either end of the station to accommodate smaller GO, Via Rail, and Union Pearson Express trains.

Fewer main platforms means fewer trains would be able to enter the station at once, but the wider platforms could significantly improve operations.

The existing platforms at Union are the narrowest on the GO network, despite being the most heavily used. At times, particularly when trains are delayed, they can become perilously overcrowded, making it difficult for passengers to obey Metrolinx’s safety directives to stay clear of the platform edges.

“They always tell you don’t walk on the yellow lines, but you have a very hard time. People are zooming in front of you” because they want to get to a train, said Robert Campbell as he waited for his train home to Burlington one recent afternoon.

“You obviously get tensed up.”

To reduce crowding at track level, GO doesn’t announce which train is arriving at which platform until 10 minutes before it’s set to depart. Passengers are encouraged to wait in the concourse below track level, which delays boarding.

GO trains can sit at platforms for at least 10 minutes while they take on passengers.

According to Wolczyk that’s “really inefficient in terms of train and platform usage.”

“Ideally we’d like a train to come in and only spend two or three minutes here, and leave,” he said.

Wider platforms would allow for an entire train load of passengers to safely wait at track level and quickly board when the train pulls in.

The wider platforms could also let GO lift the speed restrictions on trains entering the station. Vehicles are only allowed to travel at about 16 km/h for safety reasons, Wolczyk said.

Getting rid of the step at the car doors and implementing subway-style “level boarding” would have two major benefits, according to Metrolinx.

Currently, GO operators need to slow down in order to carefully align the doors of each train’s single “accessibility coach” with the ramps on station platforms that allow access for customers with mobility devices.

By making the entire platform accessible, level boarding would eliminate the need to align the doors with the ramps, which Metrolinx estimates would shave seven to 10 seconds off the time it takes each train to enter Union.

Eliminating the step up onto trains would also allow passengers to board and exit coaches more quickly, contributing to a time savings of five to 10 seconds for each train.

Neither the existing platforms nor GO trains were built to allow for level boarding, however, and significant modifications would be required to both the vehicle fleet and platforms across the GO network.

Metrolinx is still unsure exactly how the alterations would be done or how much they would cost.

We’re still in the concept phase, but we’re pretty sure we’re going to be able to solve that,” Wolczyk said.

Taken together with other modifications, including streamlining the track switches on the approach to Union, the proposed platform changes would more than double the current capacity at the station to 100 trains per hour, according to Metrolinx. The agency expects that to meet demand until about 2050.

Exactly when the platform reconfiguration will take place is still not known. The province intends to award a contract for the entire $16.8-billion GO expansion program, including the Union platform reconfiguration, by spring 2020.

The GO network expansion is scheduled to be complete by 2025.

Agency spokesperson Anne Marie Aikins said Metrolinx would work to minimize the inconvenience to the 300,000 people who pass through Union every day, including by performing construction on weekends. But service could be reduced or modified at times.

The modifications mean yet more construction at Union, which is already nine years into a major $823-million revitalization that was originally supposed to be done by 2015 and has already exceeded its initial budget by $180 million.That project is now slated to be done later this year.

Wolczyk said the public shouldn’t expect Union to be construction-free any time soon.

“For decades, there was nothing done to this place,” he said. Work at the station will “never be finished, cause it’s continually evolving.”

Ben Spurr is a Toronto-based reporter covering transportation. Reach him by email at bspurr@thestar.ca or follow him on Twitter: @BenSpurr

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Ecology

Yukon and Northern BC First Nations tackle climate change using Indigenous knowledge and science

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YUKON, June 18, 2021 /CNW/ – The Government of Canada is working together in partnership with Indigenous and Northern communities in finding solutions to adapt to the impacts of climate change in the North.

Today, Minister of Northern Affairs, Daniel Vandal, along with Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Economic Development and Official Languages (Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency), Larry Bagnell, highlighted progress on three unique, Indigenous-led projects that are helping communities in Yukon and Northern British Columbia adapt to the challenges posed by climate change.

The Minister and Parliamentary Secretary met virtually with Carcross/Tagish First Nation (C/TFN) to learn about their community-led climate change monitoring program. C/TFN has partnered with Tsay Keh Dene Nation (TKDN) and Chu Cho Environmental of Prince George, British Columbia, to build a community-led monitoring project that examines environmental data and Indigenous knowledge to create a holistic picture of how the climate is changing across C/TFN and TKDN traditional territories. The project combines tracking of current and historical climate trends with knowledge shared by Elders while also providing opportunities for youth mentorship and climate change awareness.

The Taku River Tlingit First Nation (TRTFN) is also leading a unique project to assess the impacts of climate change within their traditional territory. Climate change is causing many of the culturally significant ice patches to melt, exposing organic artifacts to oxygen and leading to rapid deterioration. The TRTFN ice patch mapping project will involve performing archaeological assessments to prevent the degradation of artifacts. Research will be guided by traditional knowledge, Elders and oral histories, when available, and heavily involve community, Elders, youth and Knowledge Keepers.

The Pelly Crossing Selkirk Development Corporation is leading the Selkirk Wind Resource Assessment project through the installation of a Sonic Detection and Ranging (SODAR) system. The initiative includes a feasibility study leading up to the construction of a renewable energy facility, including wind, solar and battery energy storage. Expanding clean energy within the region will have direct benefits for communities, including reduced reliance on diesel, job creation and revenue generation for Selkirk First Nation. 

These projects are delivering important environmental, social and economic benefits that lead to healthier, more sustainable and resilient communities across Yukon and Northern British Columbia. They also build community clean energy capacity and help to avoid the impacts of climate change.

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Ecology

Atlantic Provinces Ready For Aquaculture Growth

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Aquaculture is an important economic driver for rural, coastal and Indigenous communities, and Atlantic Canada is well positioned to increase aquaculture production as global demand for sustainably sourced seafood grows.

That is why the ministers responsible for aquaculture in the Atlantic provinces have agreed to the ongoing development and management of their industries based on common principles. A new memorandum of understanding has been signed by the four ministers, which extends the previous agreement signed in 2008.

“In a time when food security is especially important, it is good to see our aquaculture industry has grown steadily and is poised for continued growth in 2021 based on environmentally responsible, science-based policies and practices,” said Keith Colwell, Minister of Fisheries and Aquaculture for Nova Scotia. “Our Atlantic partnership continues to help the industry grow sustainably.”

Cooperation between the provinces and the aquaculture industry has led to improvements in pest management, environmentally sustainable aquaculture methods, aquatic animal health and policies to support the shared use of marine and freshwater resources. It also aims to align regulation and policy between the provinces to make the regulatory requirements easier to understand by industry and the public.

Each province has a comprehensive and robust legislative and regulatory framework to ensure environmental sustainability, economic prosperity and public accountability. The provinces update their legislation and regulations regularly. Nova Scotia revamped its regulatory framework in 2015; New Brunswick received Royal Assent for a new Aquaculture Act in 2019 and is working on the supporting regulations; Newfoundland and Labrador completely revised its aquaculture policy in 2019; and Prince Edward Island has recently drafted a new Aquaculture Act.

The ministers have agreed to continue to use science-based evidence for management decisions, thereby increasing public and investor confidence in the Atlantic Canadian aquaculture industry.

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Ecology

COMING SOON: A Healthy Environment and a Healthy Economy 2.0

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We all want the same thing: a clean and responsible energy future for our children and future generations while continuing to enjoy a high standard of living.

On December 11, 2020, the Prime Minister announced a new climate plan which he claimed will help achieve Canada’s economic and environmental goals.

The proposed plan by Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) entitled “A Healthy Environment and a Healthy Economy” will have an initial investment of $15 billion of taxpayer’s money. It is built on 5 pillars of action:

  1) Making the Places Canadians Live and Gather More Affordable by Cutting Energy Waste

2) Making Clean, Affordable Transportation and Power Available in Every Community

3) Continuing to Ensure Pollution isn’t Free and Households Get More Money Back

4) Building Canada’s Clean Industrial Advantage

5) Embracing the Power of Nature to Support Healthier Families and More Resilient Communities  

In my paper, “A Healthy Environment and a Healthy Economy 2.0” I will objectively critique each pillar in the government’s new climate plan and provide alternative solutions to the same issues.

  This is an alternative plan that supports workers, protects lower income earners and creates economic growth while respecting the environment and focusing on the dignity of work.

  This plan abandons virtue-signaling projects and relies on Canadian ingenuity to build our economy and restore Canada’s role of responsible leadership in the world.

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