The Ontario government leapt forward in its plan to transform the GO Rail service by launching the Electrification Transit Project Assessment Process. The ambitious plan seeks to replace the current roster of diesel-engine passenger trains with a fleet of fully electric trains on all or parts of the Lakeshore West, Lakeshore East, Kitchener, Barrie, and Stouffville Lines, plus the Union corridor.
The current government isn’t the first to consider moving to the GO rail service renewable sources. Various governments have contemplated it since the 1980, but progress has always been stop-and-go. But with increased pressure from climate change and heightened interest in renewables, the project is on track to finally come to fruition.
History of Electrification in Ontario
GO Transit first considered electrification back in the 1980’s under the government of Bill Davis. Davis envisioned a futuristic, fully-electric rail system, complete with driverless electric trains. But the next government that came into power shelved the plan, and the project lay dormant for decades.
In 2007, Dalton McGuinty’s government re-introduced the idea of electrification, but with a twist: McGuinty favoured plans to use trains powered by hydrogen fuel cells, or ‘hydrails’. The government was in talks with Bombardier to develop the trains, with the goal of launching a prototype by 2010. Of course, this plan was scrapped, and GO Transit remains 100% diesel-powered today.
But the vision of hydrogen trains didn’t vanish forever. In addition to studying options for traditional electric trains, like the ones that exist in many parts of the world, the government is once again exploring the option of hydrails in Ontario.
Hydrogen or Traditional Electric Trains?
Hydrogen holds some advantages over traditional electric trains. They’re nearly silent, which is benefit to those who live near the tracks, especially since GO plans to expand its services on many lines. Electric trains run on a system of overhead wires, which can be expensive and time-consuming to build, especially if the train runs under many bridges and overpasses. Hydrogen trains carry fuel cells on board, and the fuel itself can be generated on-site using just water and electricity.
However, hydrail technology is still in its infancy. Germany introduced the world’s first hydrogen-powered passenger train, the Coradia iLint, this year. Though its initial test run was a success, the public won’t get to ride it until 2018. It’s still not clear whether this technology is economically viable in the long term.
Ontario does have a home-team advantage when it comes to hydrogen trains. Hydrogenics, the company that created the Coradia iLint’s engine, is located in Mississauga. The company has agreed to supply at least 200 engine systems to various German states.