Last night (April 24), the TTC and City Planning held a public workshop at Scarborough City Hall. They presented the results of the technical analysis of what to do when the current fleet of RT cars wears out in 2015. I am not going to reprise the entire presentation, and you can look at the presentation here. Note that some of my comments here come from oral presentation and discussion, not from the document itself.
- There is a sense that anything other than a subway would make Scarborough second class. This sense of “class” is very strong in a way I find troubling for Toronto as a whole, and worse because being first class seems to be equated with spending lots of money whether it’s done wisely or not.
- The proposed networks and associated demand projections do not make any provision for the possibility of offloading downtown-bound traffic onto upgraded or new GO rail services through northern Scarborough. This is exactly the same folly that led to inflated riding estimates on the Sheppard Subway.
- Any new service east from Don Mills Station is aimed at Scarborough Town Centre rather than continuing further east on Sheppard and looping back to STC. This was discussed at a meeting last fall, but seems to have fallen off of the table.
- The front page of the foils plus some of the maps inside show a Malvern extension as an option, but none of the costings discusses the relative cost of building this extension with various technologies, let alone any other network expansion proposals.
- The LRT option assumes that the current alignment would be maintained, elevated and all, even though we all know that streetcars (oops, LRVs) don’t need to be grade separated.
- Life cycle costs are not discussed, only initial construction/conversion and annual operating costs for the end-state service design in 2031.
The SRT was originally planned to be an LRT line, but Queen’s Park had a spiffy new technology they wanted to sell in Vancouver. The BC government was suspicious of any untried scheme that Ontario wasn’t building in its own back yard. Thus the Scarborough LRT morphed into ICTS (Intermediate Capacity Transit System, later Skytrain in Vancouver and RT here in Toronto).
Ontario would conquer the world with a new transit technology, something to fill the “missing link” between buses and subways. Of course it already existed, but don’t try to confuse the boffins at the Ministry of Transportation with facts. The worldwide LRT renaissance was only getting started. Besides, we all know that the real purpose of transit projects is to generate employment for people who build them and carrying passengers at a reasonable cost is way down the priority list.
Well, even with a major rebuild of the cars, they will wear out in about 2015. New cars that will fit on the line are not available, and a small order of the existing “Mark I” cars is out of the question. There are several constraints:
- That 2015 deadline is a real killer because it forces any expenditures to fall right on top of the “mound” in the long term TTC and City budgets. It happens to co-incide with the Spadina subway extension and a possible streetcar purchase, among other things.
- The tunnel at Ellesmere under the CN and the curves into Kennedy Station are too small/tight to accommodate any new equipment and they must be replaced. The existing transfer at Kennedy to the subway takes a long time because the station seems to be designed to maximise walking distances for outbound passengers. Inbound is better providing that the escalators are working.
- The political sense in Scarborough expressed by Councillor Michael Thompson is that anything other than a subway is “second class”. This is presented in such a way that any alternative scheme faces an uphill battle.
- Subways are what people know. LRT is a complete mystery, and there is no easy, obvious example in Toronto. The TTC does a lousy job of promoting LRT themselves, and implementations to date have been ham-handed. Some of this can be laid at the feet of City Transportation who use transit projects as an excuse to “improve” roads, but the real problem is that the TTC rolls over, plays dead and lets them get away with it.
- Realistically, all we are going to hear about from Scarborough politicians between now and the November elections is subway, subway, subway. Advocating anything else doesn’t fly in an election year. Never tell people what they need to know, tell them what they want to hear and electoral victory is certain.
Alternative Implementations and Demand Projections
For the purpose of working out future demands and network impacts, the study looked at four configurations:
- The “do nothing” option with only a rebuilt and re-equipped RT.
- A Sheppard Subway extension to Victoria Park (see below) plus some form of intermediate capacity system (BRT, RT or LRT) from Kennedy up to STC with an extension into Malvern, and an intermediate capacity system from DOn Mills and Eglinton to Lawrence and Kingston Road.
- A Sheppard Subway extension to STC with an intermediate capacity system on the RT.
- Both the Sheppard and Danforth subways extended to STC.
These options raise questions about what is missing:
- The only network including the Eglinton line is option 2.
- No network includes GO Transit rail improvements to provide an alternate path for core-oriented riding.
- There is no discussion of the cost of providing improved bus service to the parts of Scarborough that are not served directly by the rapid transit lines.
These lead to the following demand projections for year 2021. Note that the current ridership in the RT corridor (RT itself plus parallel express bus service) is about 4,500 passengers per hour per direction (PPHPD), maximum.
- Base case — RT improved with new fleet and better service: 5,400
- Expanded rapid transit — small subway extension plus LRT network: 6,500
- Build both subways to STC: 7,500
Each of these estimates is projected out to 2031 by making a linear extension of the growth line from 4,500 (2005) through the respective 2021 figures to reach 2031 values. This is not a valid way to project ridership growth as it assumes that any implementation will continue to grow at a constant rate whether or not development has flattened out in the future.
For purposes of projecting requirements, the middle range is used with its 2031 demand of 8,000 maximum. This number will be high if alternative services to handle the long-haul traffic into downtown exist by that time. Surely GO Transit will solve their funding problems in 25 years!
The assumed maximum capacity affects designs in many ways. What is the headway? What is the train length? What are the implications for route extensions? Can the line tolerate grade crossings? It is critical that we know what we are aiming at and what tradeoffs we can accept.
Various technologies were considered, but all bus-based options are off of the table because they cannot come close to 8,000 PPDPH (the best case is 5,000, slightly more than the existing demand). A “streetcar” implementation comparable to Spadina/Harbourfront with service in the middle of existing streets like Brimley or Kennedy does better on capacity, but cannot compete on speed and reliability with the existing operation.
This leaves us with updated RT technology, LRT and subway. The latter’s capacity is grossly in excess of the requirement. One point not mentioned in the study, but obvious from the charts, is that we would spend something like $700-million additional for a subway over an LRT, plus an ongoing differential of around $50-million (capital and operating) in order to attract and carry an additional 1,000 to 1,500 passengers per hour, maximum, on the line, 25 years from now. With marginal costs per passenger at this level, I expect private streetcar service at my door any day now.
If the RT is replaced with a subway line, there will be only two stops: Lawrence East and Scarborough Town Centre. Neither of these will be in the present location and the Lawrence stop will move quite a distance east, possibly to Brimley and Lawrence. The new STC station would have to fit in somewhere between various buildings (many new condos are now in the way of easy north-south paths) and my guess is that the line might actually wind up closer to Brimley than the current station.
For LRT to be installed, several things must change.
- Because new cars would be low floor, the platforms have to be lowered or the tracks raised. In the TTC scheme this poses problems at stations like Midland where the platform is an integral part of the bridge structure and cannot be demolished.
- Assuming that we want to interoperate the fleet with the existing streetcar system, the line would have to be regauged to TTC gauge from standard railway gauge.
- Some strengthening of the elevated structure from Midland to McCowan is needed for the heavier trains.
- The tunnel at Ellesmere must be rebuilt to accomodate larger cars and overhead power collection.
- The interchange at Kennedy must be replaced to simplify transfer movement by passengers and to eliminate the tight curves.
Several pieces are missing.
- There is no discussion of the possibility of running at grade from the portal west of Midland through to STC rising onto an elevated only to go through a modified STC station. This affects reconstruction costs because both Midland Station and the elevated to Brimley need to be rebuilt rather than replaced with a simpler at-grade layout.
- There is no discussion of a possible Brimley Station, something for which the TTC already has a design as an add-on to the RT line. If the LRT were at grade, a Brimley Station would be easy to add to the line.
- There is no discussion of the alignment, engineering or cost of a Malvern extension.
For reference, a two-car LRT train would hold about 350 passengers. At a three-minute headway, this would have a capacity of 7,000 PPHPD. This is in the same range as the projected 2031 demand with an allowance for some diversion of traffic onto GO Transit.
Upgraded RT Implementation
In this scheme, new “Mark II” Skytrain cars would be used probably running in slightly longer trainsets that the current RT trains. Closer headways and shorter trains are an option, but only if we move to automatic operation like Vancouver. Crewing implications are not discussed as this would be a political hot potato for TTC labour relations.
For RT implementation, the following changes are needed:
- Probably some platform extensions
- A revised station at Kennedy much like that needed for an LRT option
The study is silent on the following issues:
- Will Mark II cars fit through the tunnel at Ellesmere? For some time, this question has been answered “no”, but suddenly there is no definitive comment one way or another. The cost of tunnel changes appears to be omitted in the RT option.
- What is the potential alignment, cost and impact of an RT extension to Malvern?
If anything is done in the Sheppard Corridor, it is assumed that it will terminate at STC be it BRT, LRT or subway. This would present operational problems for a merged LRT or BRT service if both entered from the west. The option of looping a Sheppard line further east and then south into STC is not examined.
This is important in the context of running a service north into Malvern because everyone doesn’t want to get to STC. They go there only because it is a transit hub where they can transfer to other services. If someone could transfer onto a Sheppard service north of the 401, they would not have to go out of their way down to STC to make a trip from northern Scarborough across the top of the city via Sheppard.
Capital and Operating Costs
You can look at the foils to see the details, but here are the important points:
- RT is the cheapest option to build from Kennedy to McCowan assuming an 8,000 PPHPD capacity. Capital costs relative to LRT are strongly influenced by the amount of existing infrastructure that an RT option can recycle. However, since costs for an extended line to Malvern are not shown, we don’t know whether we would save money now only to spend it for the extension. (Years ago, a TTC study showed that the entire line could be rebuilt as a form of LRT including a Malvern extension for less than the cost of just the RT extension, but that report had a very short shelf life. No, I don’t have a copy.)
- LRT is the next most expensive due to the reconstruction costs. As mentioned previously, this assumes retention of the elevated structure from Midland to Brimley and the continued need for passengers to go under tracks rather than across them. Both of these increase station reconstruction costs at Lawrence East and Ellesmere, and leave us with future costs of making the stations fully accessible.
- Subway costs are huge, more than double the LRT option without allowing for utility or property acquisition, and with no hope of future extension.
- There is a chart showing annual costs of operating and capital. This is not well-explained and I have to assume that the capital costs include debt service. It simply does not make sense otherwise that the total annual cost of an RT option (let alone any others) would be $50-million.
The RT replacement study is fine as far as it goes, but that’s nowhere near far enough. Its major failings, detailed earlier, leave us with a weak argument for LRT and almost no argument in the context of a wider network. Richard Soberman, the study’s director, is big on future networks and the tradeoffs we will make if we choose an expensive subway over something else, but there is nothing in his presentation to show what those tradeoffs might be.
If the TTC runs true to form, they will launch an Environmental Assessment that is strongly skewed to a subway option and will concoct some reason why looking at the larger network implications is not possible. They may prove me wrong, but I won’t be surprised if everything but subways falls off of the table.