You want to do what?

This coming Monday, October 24, Ontario will be holding civic elections. I don’t live in Toronto, but rather in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) and get the Toronto newscasts.

One of the candidates for mayor of Toronto has made several proposals/promises for when or if he is elected. Two of his ideas regarding transportation stand out to me for the irrationality of them.

First, a bit of background: most of my working life was spent in the transportation industry and I hold a professional degree in transportation management. I’ve worked in motor transport, both local and transcontinental; rail forwarding; air forwarding as well as import and export by sea. So I have a fair idea what I’m talking about. Now, on to these two ideas.

Toronto is in the process of building a crosstown light rail line located near the northern edge of what is considered midtown. A good portion of this line will be tunnelled so would be unaffected by weather and traffic. The rest will be in a dedicated rail corridor. This man’s suggestion is to replace this line with buses using dedicated bus lanes as, according to him, they will be just as fast as the light rail. If you’ve spent any time on the streets of a major city even if as a passenger, you know that traffic and weather have great effects on the flow of traffic. The area in which I live has dedicated bus lanes along the major east/west corridor. For straight traffic, yes, the bus is faster when using the bus lanes. As long as there are no intersections where vehicles want to turn right, or enter traffic from side streets or plazas. In those cases, they aren’t faster. A collision or construction along the street also has a detrimental affect on the speed of the bus. I’m avoiding talking about weather delays because I absolutely detest winter, but snow does a marvellous job of snarling traffic. So no, Mr Candidate, the bus won’t be faster.

His other idea with which I take exception is his proposal to close the Toronto Island Airport (Toronto Billy Bishop Airport [YTZ]) and turn the 215 acres into a park. This airport has been around since at least the 1950s and is currently the base of five different airlines, some of whom fly international routes from it. In addition, and possibly more important, it is the main base for Ontario’s air ambulance service. I may be wrong but I think that since there are international flights from Billy Bishop, it falls under federal jurisdiction as well. When asked about this plan in an interview, he responded to the effect that turning it into a park would only affect a “few people” and that once they use the express train to Pearson Airport (YYZ) they’ll find it just as convenient. So Mr Candidate, if you consider there are five different airlines using Billy Bishop, plus private pilots, as well as the air ambulance, I think you’ll find that more than a”few people” will be affected.

He has probably made other equally ill-advised proposals, but the transportation manager in me focussed on these two.

As for me personally, where I live allows online voting, so I’ve already voted.

Wherever you live in Ontario, what happens in your municipality for the next four years will depend on your vote. According to the weather forecast, Monday will be sunny and warm, so you have no excuse for not casting your ballot.

Cat.

Riding the rails

When I travel into Toronto, I frequently use the commuter train for the trip.  Granted the commuter train is a far cry from the golden age of rail travel but I still enjoy it.  Although the main Toronto – Montreal line is mostly welded rail, there are enough switches that the familiar “click clack” is there (and usually brings to mind Arlo Guthrie’s “City of New Orleans”.

I spent many years working in transportation, including a couple of years with a rail forwarder.  I talked with the railwaymen and as a result have a (very) minor knowledge of some of the signage used both along the right of way and on the freight cars.

When you’re sitting at a level crossing, watching that mile long freight slowly pass, you may have noticed, usually on or near the lower left corner of the car – from either side – a box that contains mysterious letters and numbers.  Those are the physical characteristics of the car, things shippers who use the car need to know, such as interior dimensions and load limits.

The signs along the right of way are also very interesting.  Two in particular always catch my eye. If you’ve travelled by train, you may have noticed the circular signs, usually with  two sets of numbers, such as “80″, and under that “65″.  Those are speed limit signs and even in metric Canada, those figures are in miles per hour, not kilometres.  The “80″ would be the speed limit for passenger trains and the other number would be for freight trains.  The other sign that I usually notice is also a white circle.  This one has a capital “W” on it and is usually placed before level crossings.  These tell the engineers to blow the horn – the standard one long; one short, two long warning signal that there is a train coming.  Over the past few years though I’ve noticed that many of these whistle signs have a red circle and bar through them.  You know, the common “no” sign.

These are frequently found in urban areas and from that standpoint, I can understand it because people don’t want to be disturbed by the sound of train horns, especially if they live along the main line.  Now, most level crossings, at least in urban areas, are also protected by gates.  The horn is intended as an audible warning – a loud one – since many of the bells usually installed with the gates can be very hard to hear.  How many times have we seen people drive around the gates because they don’t see the train?  How many times have we seen lives lost by such stupidity?  The whistle signal is usually about a half-mile before the crossing.  Trains weigh hundreds, if not thousands, of tons and there is no way it could stop within that half-mile distance.  Which brings up the question: are the railroads better off to accede to the desire of nearby residents for quiet; should there be an exemption in noise bylaws for trains, or should the railways instead take into account the possibilities of killing someone at a level crossing and use that horn?

Cat.