According to a Feb. 7 CBC News report, the study, conducted by University of Toronto (UofT) researchers Greg Evans and Dr. Cheol-Heon Jeong at the university’s Southern Ontario Centre for Atmospheric Aerosol Research (SOCAAR), found elevated levels of certain airborne pollutants in GO Transit commuter railcars, particularly the ones immediately behind the locomotive of a push-pull train in “pull” (locomotive-leading) mode.
Evans, the Director of SOCAAR and Jeong, a Senior Research Associate, “recorded levels of ultrafine particles (particulate matter, or PM) and black carbon that were nine times higher than those found on a busy Toronto street,” CBC reported. “‘It’s similar to traveling on the 401 (an Ontario highway)— but as if you travelled on the 401 in an open convertible, behind a large diesel truck, for the entire trip,’ said researcher Greg Evans. ‘These are larger concentrations than most people would encounter any other time during their day.’”
Evans and Jeong conducted their research during 43 trips on GO Transit trains traveling in both directions between Union Station and Richmond Hill, on the Richmond Hill Line. They used portable instruments to measure levels of PM, which is formed when gases in the exhaust condense into microscopic particles, and black carbon, or soot. Both pollutants “have been linked to negative health impacts and are only two elements of diesel exhaust, which is a known carcinogen that could lead to respiratory, cardiovascular, and reproductive impacts,” CBC reported. “The researchers also found a higher concentration of pollutants in the front coach of pull trains than in other forms of public transit—like the subway, for instance. Coaches [in the middle of the train], however, are a safer bet, with a three-to-four times lower concentration of measured pollutants than in those cars right behind a diesel [locomotive].”
Evans told CBC his team worked alongside Metrolinx “to proactively address potential health risks.”
“The first thing we did, as soon as we were aware there could be an elevated risk to our customers, was to look at the [Bombardier Bi-Level railcar] air filtration system,” said Metrolinx Chief Operating Officer Greg Percy. “New filters [we’ve] installed in the ventilation systems of some cars have removed 80% of the black carbon and 25% of the [PM]. Those filters will now be rolled out to the entire fleet.”
GO Transit also is having 21 of its 67 Wabtec/MotivePower Industries-built MP40PH-3C diesel-electric locomotives rebuilt into U.S. EPA Tier 4-compliant MP54ACs. These units are powered with twin Cummins 16-cylinder, 2,700-hp QSK60 diesels.
Metrolinx’s long-term plan is to electrify the entire GO Transit system, a C$13.5 billion program known as Regional Express Rail planned for a 2024 completion. Caltrain’s similar Peninsula Corridor Electrification Project is waiting for $647 million in Federal Transit Administration FFGA (Full Funding Grant Agreement) funds to be released to move ahead, but is facing opposition from House Railroads Subcommittee Chair Jeff Denham (R-Calif.), who along with Republican members of his state’s congressional delegation has petitioned U.S. DOT Secretary Elaine Chao to rescind the funding.
Observes Railway Age Canadian Contributing Editor David Thomas, “Perhaps the proponents of Caltrain electrification should consider this [study].”