A citizens’ group concerned with air pollution from diesel trains set to run along the new Union Station to Pearson airport rail link is taking legal action.

The Clean Train Coalition filed an application with the Ontario Divisional Court to request a review of Metrolinx’s decision to put diesel trains along the 25-kilometre route instead of electric trains.

The group says diesel trains pose an enormous health risk to the thousands of people who live along the corridor route.

The coalition’s chair, Rick Ciccarelli, said his group wants better transit for the city.

“People in the coalition are pro-transit,” Ciccarelli said in a phone interview with CTVNews.ca. “We want to see transit improved in the city, but we believe that it should be sustainable transportation and we don’t see diesel trains as being part of the future.”

Metrolinx wants the airport rail link (ARL) to be up and running in time for the Toronto 2015 Pan American Games.

Ciccarelli said that’s the problem: he believes Metrolinx put a two-week sporting event in front of its objective to build a sustainable transportation system.

Clean Train Coalition counsel Saba Ahmad described the application as a test of whether government agencies are obligated to adhere to their own legislation. “We argue that Metrolinx acted contrary to statutory requirement that long-term goals guide its decision-making,” said Ahmad in a press release.

“It decided to run diesel trains based on an agenda set by the schedule for the Pan Am Games and thereby violated its obligations.”

A spokesperson from Metrolinx said he couldn’t comment on the Clean Air Coalition’s filing since it is before the courts.

In a statement emailed to CTVNews.ca, Metrolinx said that an environmental assessment for the electrification of the ARL is currently underway and will be completed in 2014.

“The vehicles we’re purchasing for the ARL are fully convertible to electric, and the track upgrades currently underway are built to allow for electrification,” said Metrolinx.

Ciccarelli, however said more than 300,000 residents live within half a kilometre of the future ARL. He said many individuals he has spoken to are concerned about the health impactsof thediesel trains, which will depart from Pearson airport every 15 minutes.

“That’s the air that children breathe. That’s the air that people who have comprised immune systems and respiratory systems breathe. That’s the air that older people who have fragile health breathe,” Ciccarelli said.

The coalition wants Metrolinx to compare the technical, economic and health effects of both diesel and electric trains before making a decision.

Metrolinx estimates the new rail corridor will remove 1.2 million car trips from GTA roads in its first year of operation.

“The ARL will launch with state-of-the-art Tier 4 diesel multiple units,” said Metrolinx. “The vehicles are fully convertible to electric, exceed the World Health Organization’s stringent emissions standards and reduce airborne particulate emission by 90 per cent.”

However, Ciccarelli pointed to a recent decision by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, which is part of the World Health Organization, to classify diesel engine exhaust as carcinogenic to humans.

“The same way asbestos causes cancer and second-hand smoke causes cancer,” he said.

Ciccarelli said he expects to hear from Metrolinx within the next 10 days.

“How they respond will determine our next steps,” said Ciccarelli.