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Published: May 20th 2010
Source: Toronto Star - Tess Kalinowski
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Dean Del Mastro plans an independent review of the $541M estimate

A Metrolinx study has dealt a severe blow to plans for a rail link between Peterborough and Union Station, saying the cost could soar as high as $1.5 billion.

But the Conservative MP for Peterborough says it won't stop his crusade for a commuter train option for the city 120 kilometres northeast of Toronto.

Dean Del Mastro, who accuses Metrolinx of a bias against the project because it falls too far outside the GTA, says he is assembling an independent panel of experts to reassess the cost.

The Metrolinx report, commissioned jointly by the provincial and federal governments, looked at three route options, with capital costs ranging from $541 million to $1.5 billion for the rail and trains.

Annual operating and maintenance would run from $21 million to $25 million annually for a basic service with two trains travelling in each direction daily, making eight stops. It could initially attract about 1,900 riders on weekdays, says the study. An enhanced service would cost at least $43 million.

Metrolinx vice-president John Howe said it will be up to the province and Ottawa to decide whether to go ahead with the Peterborough train, which the federal government first committed to in the February 2008 budget.

But Del Mastro said that if it is assessed based on the Metrolinx study alone, the project probably won't proceed, and that will have economic costs for communities northeast of Toronto.

He said the $275,000 Metrolinx study grossly inflated the contingency costs built into rail projects.

“They inserted, on top of the base estimates, a 140 per cent contingency that takes essentially $280 million and increases it to $541 million. The contingencies are far more than the cost of the project, which I don't think most people would consider reasonable,” he said.

In fact, the contingencies work out to 58 per cent on average, but would be expected to decrease should more detailed cost estimates be ordered, Howe said.

Operating costs would be offset by fare revenue, but how much so would depend on whether GO, VIA or a private contractor operated the service.

Howe defended the study, pointing to the involvement of Canadian Pacific Railway and GO Transit's 40 years of rail experience. “This is not just a simple upgrade to rail line. We're talking about a complete rebuild, starting with the road bed as well as the tracks, and there is no other infrastructure to support passenger operation on that line. So stations, parking lots, upgraded level crossings, signaling systems, and of course the rolling stock itself — all of those costs have to be factored in,” Howe said.

The CP track that runs through the Don Valley is barely able to sustain freight speeds of 16 km/h, he said. To create a passenger service that would make the trip in two hours or less, the trains would need to move at closer to highway speed.

 
 
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