Ontario company interested in purchasing Orangeville Railway

January 29, 2021   ·   0 Comments

By Sam Odrowski 

Public transit often comes in one of two forms – bus or train, but a brand new technology is merging the two together to create a less expensive and more profitable method of transportation. 

Municipal Transit Solutions (MTS), which operates out of Newmarket, puts electric buses on rails, a method never before seen in the transit industry. They’re hoping to use this new technology, called Ultra Light Rail Transit (ULRT) on Orangeville’s rail line that runs to Mississauga and put in a private transit system, at no cost to taxpayers.

MTS CEO, Steve Ostrowski met with the Town’s CAO, Ed Brennan on Tuesday (Jan. 26) to express his interest in purchasing the railway outright, which would eliminate the Town’s $400,000 per year property tax burden.

Ostrowski said there was no conflicts in terms of stakeholder goals following his meeting with Brennan, and MTS is now working to understand the railway’s price. 

To start, the system would run between north Brampton and Mississauga, while a system reaching all the way to Orangeville is likely out of the question due to poor ridership numbers locally, Ostrowski notes. 

However, a small rail trail is possible for Orangeville, since the rail corridor would only impact the line between Mississauga and Brampton. Mayor Sandy Brown has been advocating for a rail trail since news came that the Orangeville Brampton Rail Group is ceasing operations of its rail line Dec. 31, 2021.

If MTS is successful in purchasing the line, Ostrowski expects to have a private transit system operational a year after the line’s purchased, at a nominal cost of roughly $3 million.

“The start up costs are infinitesimally small compared to standard transit systems,” said Ostrowski. “It’s a small fraction, a very small fraction.”

“The secret to the to whole mix is what we’re using… our system takes an electric bus and with about a $30,000 modification, puts it on rails,” he added.

“When you look at the low capital costs, and you look at really what I would call conservative ridership estimates for what we could get in northern Brampton to the Streetsville segment of the line – it’ll be profitable.”

Since MTS’s vehicles are ultra light, they can be used on established roads and infrastructure, unlike regular rail transit. 

Other Light Rail Transit (LRT) options, such as Metrolinx’s Go Transit, require two rail lines so trains can pass each other, while MTS’s electric buses have on-off rail technology, so they can disconnect from the railway and go up onto fringe platforms or the road, allowing other buses to pass.

“It’s done with tires at a larger diameter and steel wheels at a smaller diameter. As soon as the driver of the vehicle turns the wheel… the tire grips the railing and you go off the rails… onto the road or a fringe platform,” said Ostrowski.

“That means we can go through all of the crossings and intersections and deal with all the complications of some of the really high maintenance items… without the need for high maintenance costs of the rails themselves.”

MTS has a construction cost of about $10 million per kilometre while LRTs usually run $50 to $150 million per kilometre, depending on the project’s geography, Ostrowski noted.

He said the reason why government’s haven’t yet got on board with MTS’s ULRT technology is that it’s too new and disrupts current systems. 

“I’ve been in the industry all my life and people don’t comprehend not only the size of the box, but the thickness of the walls of the box, for people to think outside the box,” Ostrowski remarked.

“So if you’re in the ‘rail box,’ and someone like me comes along and proposes a system that would go on-off rails, you’re instantly just shunned as you have no idea what you’re talking about,” he added.

Ostrowski told the Citizen he went through 10 different engineering firms before finding the right one to take his project on.

He’s approached Metrolinx, Infrastucture Ontario and the City of Toronto with his new transportation model and has had no luck to date.

“Our challenge is that the governments and the entities that manage these incredibly complex projects, they work on a 10-15 year, or 20 year timescale, so when we come along and say, ‘hey, we’ll do it in three years,’ they don’t know how to handle it. “They frankly, don’t have a protocol for even accepting a proposal from us,” said Ostrowski.

“It’s too new for people to get it, frankly, and there will be a lot of pushback on all fronts, implying that we don’t know what we’re talking about or that the technology is unproven.”

If a tire can go up onto a curb, the technology is proven, according to Ostrowski. A testing site in Milton is set to validate MTS’s vehicles before they’re put into service. 

On another note, the ULRT system that’s been engineered by MTS has by far the lowest impact on the environment out of any LRT system. It requires less electricity than both an electric bus or regular LRT, since the tires propulsion system is more efficient and there’s less rolling resistance. As well, ULRT’s are a fraction of the weight of a regular LRT,  so they operate at a much lower cost of energy per passenger and per mile. 

In a cursory study, MTS determined their ULRT systems’ planning, engineering, set up and operations have just five per cent of the carbon footprint of an equivalent LRT line. 

Going forward, Ostrowski said when details about the price of the Orangeville railway are confirmed and if the price is right, MTS will proceed with purchasing the asset.

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