Expert warns of high cost for planned diesel trains

Finally the economic, never mind the heath, rationale for using dirty diesel is getting the scrutiny it deserves from somebody who knows what they are talking about.

Brodie Fenlon
From Wednesday's Globe and Mail — Last updated on Tuesday, Oct. 06, 2009 11:06PM EDT

The Ontario government's requirement for state-of-the-art clean diesel trains on the rail link between Toronto and Pearson airport will likely double the cost of locomotives, an industry expert says.

Diesel locomotive technology that can meet “Tier 4” emissions standards has yet to be invented. It is currently envisioned as an add-on to each engine that could cost as much or more than the locomotive itself when it's brought to market in 2015, said David Brann, emissions compliance manager at Electro Motive Diesel, one of the world's largest locomotive makers.

Mr. Brann worked with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as it developed its tough Tier 4 emissions standards for trains – the same standard the province has required for the Georgetown South GO expansion and Union-Pearson rail link, which was approved on Monday.

The potential for soaring costs on an untested technology left critics wondering why the province's Toronto-area transportation agency, Metrolinx, doesn't consider electrification instead.

But Rob Prichard, president and CEO of Metrolinx, said the use of diesel trains doesn't preclude electrification of the Georgetown line at a later date. He said the cost to electrify the line is high and needs thorough study, which Metrolinx has committed to do next year.

The Tier 4 standard on trains is expected to reduce particulate matter by 90 per cent and nitrogen oxide by 80 per cent over current levels using what will likely be a large-scale catalytic converter that changes pollutants in the exhaust to less harmful substances, such as nitrogen oxide, carbon dioxide and water.

“Those catalysts ain't cheap,” said Mr. Brann, noting the high cost of platinum, a key component in the hardware, which was trading yesterday at about $1,390 an ounce.

Previous EPA emission benchmarks required modest changes to engine components and didn't substantially affect the cost, he said. Tier 4 is a different story because it requires new hardware.

Mr. Prichard said the agency expects the cost of its trains to jump by 25 per cent, or an additional $20-million on the $80- to $90-million price tag for the 11 locomotives proposed for the Pearson rail link. He could not say how many engines GO Transit will buy for its Georgetown service, but noted the price should come down over time.

The expansion of the Georgetown service will cost $875-million, not including the trains. Officials won't say how much the privately operated rail link to the airport will cost by itself, or how much will be shouldered by taxpayers, until the contract is signed.

Environment Minister John Gerretsen approved the major expansion of rail traffic – up to 323 trains a day in the lower half of corridor on opening day – with 18 conditions, chief among them the Tier 4 emissions requirement.

“We just don't know if it's possible to meet these standards,” said Gillian MacCormack, vice-president of public relations for SNC-Lavalin, the firm that will run the Union-Pearson rail link.