The GO Electrification Study

GO tested four technologies, and the six network options, against a single “Reference Case” operating plan. Essentially this was an evolution of the existing plan, which has been optimized for diesel locomotives. Peak services would be increased as required to carry expected growth in demand. The off-peak service would be half-hourly, as it is today, and continue to run with trains of the same length as today.

The final electrification study shortlisted four options:

  1. Continued operation as today, with diesel locomotives and 10-car bi-level trains
  2. Use of electric locomotives to replace the diesels, with 10-car bi-level trains
  3. Use of hybrid (dual-mode) locomotives to replace the diesels, capable of electric traction where there are wires and otherwise propelled by diesel traction, with 10-car bi-level trains
  4. Electric-multiple unit (EMU) trains, also 10 cars long and bi-level

For all four technologies, GO assumed that peak service provides sufficient capacity to carry commuter demand. The non-peak services would operate every 30 minutes, as they do today on the Lakeshore route.

Overall, the GO study concluded that economic and financial benefits of electrifying the Lakeshore route only would just offset the incremental costs, with a benefit:cost ratio of about 1.11 (Figure 5 shows Table 12 from the GO Electrification Summary Report). In theory, this would be worth doing, provided one had high confidence in the forecasts. However, in financial terms, the project is not very attractive. GO would need to invest about a billion dollars ($855 million NPV in 2010) in infrastructure and rolling stock, but would get only about half of it back in operating cost savings and additional revenues. GO has a record of getting a much better return on its investments.

Accepting the findings of its study, Go Transit has decided to proceed slowly with electrification, perhaps converting the Union Pearson Express service to use it.

The study did acknowledge some benefit from the (slightly) faster acceleration possible with electric locomotives, and noted that this feature would attract more passengers and allow fewer trains to carry the same peak capacity. But they made no other changes to take advantage of the opportunities electric traction opens up. EMUs were rejected before the final screening of options, because GO found that they cost about 40% more than locomotives combined with un-powered bi-level cars and could not see any offsetting benefits.

We agree that if GO intends to continue to operate 10-car trains during both peak and off-peak hours, then it may well be cheapest to use locomotives and coaches.

GO has recognized the potential to use multiple units, initially diesel-powered, configured as two-car trains, on the Union Pearson Express route, which will be a high-frequency all-day service. But the study seems not to have considered the business case for similar higher-frequency services along the Lakeshore, or indeed on any other route.

Figure 5: Summary of options from the GO Electrification Final Report.[1] GO considered electric locomotives with 10-car bi-level trains, similar to the current operation. This was easy to evaluate, but did not reveal any very attractive schemes.