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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

Globe Climate: Canada’s resource reckoning is coming

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Good afternoon, and welcome to Globe Climate, a newsletter about climate change, environment and resources in Canada.

This afternoon, the Alberta government announced that it is restoring a coal mining policy it revoked last spring. At the time, the move provoked a widespread public backlash detailed by The Globe. The original decision, which opened up more than 1.4 million hectares to exploration, was made without public consultation. Premier Jason Kenney previously defended the changes.

Lots more on coal and Canada’s resources industry in this week’s newsletter edition.

Now, let’s catch you up on other news.

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Ecology

‘Incredibly destructive’: Canada’s Prairies to see devastating impact of climate change

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As the climate continues to warm at an alarming rate, experts warn if dramatic steps to mitigate global warming are not taken, the effects in Canada’s Prairie region will be devastating to the country’s agriculture sector.

According to Environment and Climate Change Canada, the country is warming, on average, about double the global rate.

Scientists with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in the U.S. recently found 2020 was earth’s second-hottest year on record, with the average land and ocean surface temperature across the globe at 0.98 of a degree C above the 20th-century average.

However, the agency found the northern hemisphere saw its hottest year on record, at 1.28 degrees C above the average.

“(In Canada) we are looking at about 6.4C degrees of warming this century, which isn’t much less than one degree per decade, which is just a terrifying rate of warming,” Darrin Qualman, the director of climate crisis policy and action at the National Farmer’s Union said.

Qualman said there is “massive change coming” to Canada’s Prairies, which will be “incredibly destructive.”

“It’s not going too far to say that if we made that happen, parts of the Prairies wouldn’t be farmable anymore,” he said.

According to the federal government, in 2018 Canada’s agriculture and agri-food system generated $143 billion, accounting for 7.4 per cent of the country’s GDP.

The sector employed 2.3 million people in 2018. The majority of the 64.2 million hectares of farmland in Canada is concentrated in the Prairies and in southern Ontario.

The effects of climate change are already being felt on the ground in the Prairies, Qualman said, adding that the NFU has already heard from farmers complaining of “challenging weather.”

“People are sharing pictures of flattened crops and buildings, et cetera, that have been damaged,” he said. “And we’re still at the beginning of this.”

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Ecology

Insect-based dog food aims to cut your pet’s carbon pawprint

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Meat has an enormous carbon footprint, with livestock liable for about 15 per cent of worldwide emissions, as we have beforehand mentioned on this e-newsletter. That is prompted specialists to suggest consuming much less meat for sustainability (and well being) causes.

However what about your pet? One research discovered that the methane and nitrous oxide emissions generated by canine and cat meals within the U.S. alone had been equal to about 64 million tonnes of CO2, or roughly the quantity produced by 13.6 million automobiles. And it might be getting worse, with a development towards feeding pets “human-grade” meat.

That is prompted some pet meals makers to look to lower-carbon protein sources — together with bugs.

Research present that producing insect-based meals requires far much less feed, land and water and generates far fewer greenhouse fuel emissions per kilogram than meats comparable to beef, pork or rooster.

That is one of many causes increasingly more pet meals containing insect protein are hitting the market. Purina, a model owned by multinational Nestlé, launched a line of canine and cat meals containing black soldier fly larvae in Switzerland in November.

In Canada, Montreal-based Wilder Harrier began promoting canine treats made with cricket protein in 2015 and pet food made with black soldier fly larvae in 2019. It plans to broaden to launch a line of insect-based cat treats later this yr and cat meals in 2022 due to “a ton of demand,” mentioned firm co-founder Philippe Poirier.

Wilder Harrier initially labored with animal nutritionists on insect-based merchandise to unravel a unique downside — specifically, the founders’ canines had allergy symptoms to frequent meats utilized in canine meals. Poirier mentioned now about half its prospects hunt down the product due to their pets’ allergy symptoms and about half for environmental causes.

Dr. Cailin Heinze, a U.S.-based veterinary nutritionist licensed by the American School of Veterinary Vitamin, has written concerning the environmental influence of pet meals. She mentioned we’re typically “not as involved as we probably ought to [be]” concerning the environmental footprint of pets.

Alternatively, she famous that the longer-term influence of newer diets, comparable to vegan meals and people containing bugs, hasn’t been nicely examined in comparison with conventional pet meals.

Maria Cattai de Godoy, an assistant professor of animal sciences on the College of Illinois who research novel proteins for pet meals (together with bugs, yeast and plant-based substances), mentioned such substances are rigorously examined to find out their security and diet earlier than being added to pet meals. 

“This can be a very extremely regulated trade,” she mentioned, however admitted it is also evolving.

Relating to bugs, she mentioned constructive information “reveals promise in direction of utilizing them increasingly more in pet meals.” Insect-based proteins have additionally earned the endorsement of the British Veterinary Affiliation, which says some insect-based meals could also be higher for pets than prime steak.

However Godoy famous that there isn’t any one-size-fits-all resolution, and pet homeowners ought to take into consideration the wants of their very own particular person pet and analysis whether or not a specific weight loss plan can be appropriate.

She mentioned that other than the kind of protein, issues like packaging and manufacturing strategies may also make a distinction. For instance, utilizing meat byproducts that may in any other case turn into waste would not drive elevated meat manufacturing the identical approach as utilizing human-grade meat.

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