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The Liberal MPP for York South-Weston says Metrolinx needs to answer questions she has regarding the timeframe for electrification of a planned air rail link (ARL) traveling through Weston.

Laura Albanese said she sent a letter to Metrolinx CEO Bruce McCuaig late last month, requesting a timeline for when the regional transit planning agency can go ahead with electrification of the 3.3-kilometre track, scheduled to open in 2015. At that time, approximately 400 more GO Transit commuter trains running on diesel fuel will travel along the ARL, which is a part of the existing Georgetown South rail corridor.

Reached over the phone earlier this week from Chicago where she was attending a conference, Albanese said the people of Weston and Mount Dennis deserve to know when electrification will take place.

“We need to have a clear answer and a definite target date to give people piece of mind,” said Albanese. “The community deserves an answer.”

In her letter, which has been posted on her constituency website, Albanese requests a ‘target timeline’ for electrifying the link, which has been a major source of concern for residents who are worried about the increase in diesel train traffic expected to quadruple in three years when an express service running between Union Station and Pearson International Airport debuts in time for the Pan American Games, hosted by Toronto.

Although the Ontario government will have final say in deciding if, and when, electrification takes place and how it will be paid for, Albanese believes Metrolinx, which is currently carrying on its own study on electrification, needs to respond promptly to quell community concerns, many of which stem from fears of potential health consequences from increased carcinogenic diesel exhaust fumes.

Also this week, the advocacy group Clean Train Coalition announced it had filed the necessary paperwork to proceed with a legal challenge of the decision made by Metrolinx and the provincial government to open the link in 2015 as a diesel line, with consideration of electrification taking place later on.

Albanese also said she has asked the agency to provide a preliminary estimate on the costs for converting the express service to a local route, with more stations running through the rail corridor. The current route contains four stations, including a stop at the Weston Road GO station.

“I think we can have the conversation of delaying electrification if more stops can be added to make the link more of a local service.” said Albanese. “Metrolinx should be clear as to what’s possible.”

Anne Marie Aikins, media relations manager for Metrolinx, said McCuaig has been on vacation the last couple of weeks and the CEO has not been able to respond to the letter sent by Albanese dated July 31.

Aikins said McCuaig will respond personally and in a timely manner to Albanese when he returns to work on Monday, Aug. 13.

NDP MPP Jonah Schein said he’s hopeful Liberals like Albanese will support his private member’s bill calling on the ARL to be electrified before it opens. The bill is scheduled to be introduced Sept. 20 at Queen’s Park; if it receives the assent by a majority of the 107 MPPs it will head to committee for community delegations and further deliberation.

“She should have the ear of the premier, she’s a part of his government so I suppose it’s a helpful sign,” said Schein, who represents the riding of Davenport.

Schein, who was at Clean Train’s press conference detailing its legal challenge against Metrolinx, said Toronto is at risk of receiving heavy criticism from the international community if it opens the ARL as a diesel-running train line.

“It will be an international embarrassment to welcome the world to Toronto to see a brand new train track using very old technology,” said Schein.;