Why Scarborough Will Never Have a Rapid Transit Network

This post has been updated by correcting a bad link to the TTC’s site, and by enabling comments. 

The TTC has finally delivered up a report in reply to my deputation last August on the question of why the RT should not be converted to LRT in the context of (a) a larger Scarborough LRT network and (b) the request from the Scarborough Caucus to extend the line into Malvern.  No big surprise.  The TTC really doesn’t want to convert the line.

The report can be found at:


The argument in brief is that there is no customer benefit of a conversion, that it would require a prolonged closure of the line and that the Malvern extension cost would be equal no matter what technology was chosen.

The TTC claims that the RT is the most reliable service they operate, an easy claim given that it’s a captive line totally on its own right-of-way.  They assume that an LRT extension would be in some sort of mixed traffic and that this would contribute to unreliable headways on the existing section of the line and loss of capacity.  Conversely, if the line were extended on a completely segregated right-of-way, then the cost of the infrastructure would be comparable to that of an extended RT.

This ignores the possibility that an extended RT line might branch and feed service from different parts of northeast Scarborough into the common exclusive corridor down to Kennedy Station.  That’s part of what I implied in looking at the network context.  Indeed, the TTC is so paranoid about non-exclusive services that they state that an RT-replacement-LRT would still be operated as a separate line to preserve operational integrity.  Obviously if you force people to transfer, you lose the benefit of service integration and your analysis leads exactly to the conclusion you were seeking.

The claim that a three-year period would be needed to complete the conversion also strikes me as taking the worst possible scenario to produce the desired conclusion.  Among the major construction tasks are the replacement of the tunnel at Ellesmere and the fact that the station structure at Midland does not lend itself easily to conversion as an LRT station with low platforms. 

The TTC has not looked at alternate alignments for the new LRT line that would move the tunnel (and possibly some other parts of the line) and allow construction to take place while the RT was still in operation.  The presence of a large City works yard northeast of Ellesmere Station provides the opportunity to move the Ellesmere Station and remain at grade including a new Midland Station.  Options east of there include a new station at Brimley which is much easier to build if at grade than on the existing elevated structure.

One notable point in the TTC’s analysis is the absence of a cost estimate for the extension by any mode beyond McCowan Station.  The entire premise of the “deal” proposed to Scarborough Caucus was that the “savings” of an RT upgrade compared to a subway would be ploughed back into a network of lines in Scarborough.  However, as RT, an extension to Malvern may eat up all of that saving.

I am not going to pretend that my proposal has much hope of being adopted because the pressure for retention of the RT technology and the foot-dragging on any implementation of LRT is too strong.  What we will probably see is continued pressure for extension of the Sheppard Subway, an extension of the RT to Finch, and a network of bus lanes.  What we will get is some of the bus lanes.  Period.

15 thoughts on “Why Scarborough Will Never Have a Rapid Transit Network

  1. Looks like the TTC is saying they won’t compromise the existing trunk section of the RT with non-exclusive (unreliable) LRT branches feeding it, plus the extra cost, plus the extra line downtime, etc. etc.

    Just build the LRT lines to feed the RT. Besides, the TTC doesn’t care if you have to transfer four times to get downtown … TTC – Transfer Trains Commission.


  2. What is the fear of LRT? At grade intersections? If that’s it, just tell them to build the LRT with a tunnel into a station at the intersection. The cost of the flying junctions might actually be appealing to the TTC, since they can justify building ridiculous subway extensions. At the very least tell them to stop passing off the ROWs they’ve built as LRTs.


  3. It’s sad the TTC seems resigned to the idea that surface LRT, even in an exclusive ROW, can’t offer a high level of reliability. Ideally, the TTC would be thinking the other way around: citing the need for reliability in the SRT corridor as a way of forcing proper transit priority on a set of surface LRT lines.

    Perhaps San Francisco’s MUNI Metro is plagued with problems I don’t know about, but with five surface lines feeding a single subway line it seems like a perfect model.


  4. To me, the beauty of San Francisco’s Muni is to have LRT vehicles running along the surface and underground where helpful. It seems more flexible than a system with a subway here and an LRT there. (Yes, I’m ignoring the cable cars and BART).


  5. Why don’t we have some kind of detailed public forum on the merits and drawbacks of LRT, BRT, RT, etc.?

    There might be a wee bit of disagreement… but the discussion would be educational.

    Steve: Are you volunteering to organize one, Ed? Can we expect trustworthy information from “official” sources? If the TTC would only take on an advocacy role, people would already know this stuff.


  6. A recent article in the San Francisco Chronicle reported on the unreliability of Muni lines; many of the worst offenders were the streetcar lines that operate on the surface in residential neighborhoods and then in the subway under Market Street. I believe J-Church and N-Judah were the worst offenders.

    I believe the Blue Line in LA would be a project many of you would like: surface LRT in (mostly) and exclusive right of way. With the Blue Line, it is a good week if one goes by without the train killing someone at one of the grade crossings. There are probably more accidents causing service delays on the Blue Line in one month than Toronto subways have in several years.

    In any case, if you tear down the Scarborough RT aren’t you basically wasting that expensive infrastructure you spent all that tax money on to build?

    Steve: I do not propose tearing down all of “that expensive infrastructure”. Here, briefly, is what would stay and what would go in one possible scheme:

    A new connection at Kennedy Station is required for either an RT upgrade or an LRT. The existing station will be abandoned no matter what.
    The right-of-way from Kennedy north to almost Ellesmere would remain.
    The underpass at Ellesmere should be relocated so that (a) the new one can be built while the old one remains in operation and (b) to position the LRT line east of the CNR tracks north of the station. This will permit the line to remain at grade around the City Works yard which could also be the site of a new carhouse.
    Midland would become an at-grade station with a traffic signal controlled crossing. The line would continue at grade to a new station at Brimley then rise onto the existing elevated structure through STC.

    Yes, this isn’t a trivial change to the line, but the question is one of making it part of a much larger LRT network including an RT extension north to at least Sheppard as well as lines on Sheppard and Eglinton, among others, which are already under study. Such a network could not possibly be implemented with RT technology.


  7. You mentioned converting the station platforms to low-level for LRT. That isn’t really necessary, several cities (Calgary, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Buffalo) run LRT with high level platforms.

    Steve: The cars in these cities were built as high-floor cars. However, any new fleet Toronto buys will be low-floor cars so that they can be used in street medians with simple, street-level platforms.


  8. Here is a thought you may want to ponder. If the TTC purchased additional ICTS vehicles, they will be produced right here in Thunder Bay. If the TTC orders trams like the Bombardier Flexity Swift, they may not be produced in Thunder Bay. There may be an economic incentive to keep ICTS technology just to keep Thunder Bay employed. For the record, the Flexity Swift trams for Minneapolis were built in New York. That plant has since been closed. Would Bombardier retool their Thunder Bay plant to built the Flexity trams? Currently, there are no Flexity trams operating outside of Europe except Minneapolis.

    Steve: The TTC has stated clearly, as recently as Wednesday evening at the Gridlock Forum, that the order for new streetcars will be tendered. Canadian manufacture of these vehicles is desired, and it’s up to each bidder to figure out how they would accomplish this.

    Steve, can you clarify what kind of trams you want to see running in Scarborough. In the Soberman Report, it did not provide much details. To provide the level that the current ICTS Mk1 gives, one would need to run trams in multiple unit configuration in a largely segregated corridor with platform loading. Two Flexity Swift trams can easily provide the same capacity as 4 ICTS MkII cars.

    In Japan, trams that run on street in mixed traffic are often very small. They may carry 80 passengers at most. Due to the small size, they do not have platforms and fare collectors. Passengers march in single file to pay their fares. There are other tram systems in Japan where it is completely segragated from cars. They have platform which allow for much faster loading. This also allows the use of multiple unit configuration. These types of trams run along existing JR tracks or it is fenced or it runs in a trench. What type do you want to see in Scarborough?

    Steve: I have no agenda for any particular type of vehicle, and capacity concerns will dictate vehicle and train size. If we want, say, 6,000 passengers per hour, this translates to 300-passenger trains on a 3-minute headway. Obviously this is not a streetcar line with everyone waving their transfer or pass at the operator as they board. Past practice has assumed that this means we must have prepaid fare control areas, but that ignores the commonplace operation of all door loading with roving fare inspectors that is common all over the world.

    Finally, according to the Bombardier sales rep that I spoke, ICTS technology is not supposed to be expensive. He said that running trams on guideway would be more expensive since it is heavier which requires a stronger guideway. Aside from the initial higher vehicle cost, if the TTC ran the Scarborugh line to Finch on a segregated guideway, ICTS should still be cheaper. What do you think?

    Steve: The problem is with the assumption of a guideway. ICTS absolutely requires complete segregation from traffic and hence a guideway. LRT does not. An important design consideration for the service will be whether the line branches at Sheppard (where it would meet a Sheppard East LRT, by the way), with some service going north and some going east. Each branch could run at grade with stations in the middle of the street (like St. Clair, but further apart), and these would merge onto a common, completely isloated right-of-way for the trip to STC and Kennedy.

    We have yet to see any detailed plans from the TTC for what a Malvern ICTS extension will look like in terms of alignment or station placement.


  9. Hmm. The SRT is the most reliable service the TTC operates? Funny how today the subways are running like clockwork, streetcars and buses are running decent service, albeit a bit slower, but the SRT is completely shut down. How can they make this claim considering the fact that every winter, the SRT has to be closed whenever there is snow or ice build-up on the middle track?

    Steve: Let’s not also forget the millions that have been spent every year fixing one technology problem after another including:

    Rotted-out floors on the cars thanks to salt penetration
    Linear-induction motor repairs thanks to problems with clearance (or lack of it) over the reaction rail
    Repairs to the reaction rail to prevent it being pulled loose by the force of the car motors
    Replacement of the power rail chairs because they snap off
    Replacement of the power rails because the thin steel cap on the aluminum rail burns off eaily when there is arcing at section gaps or with ice buildup
    Installation of power rail heaters to prevent ice buildup
    Buildup of snow and ice inside train doors posing a safety hazard and interfering with door operation
    Ongoing problems with the train control system that does not work well in cold weather

    That’s only a partial list, and this sort of thing has been going on practically since the line opened.

    Then there’s the little matter of the original cost which was 2.5 times greater than the originally planned LRT line in the same corridor. Charge up the interest on an extra $140-million worth of debt to build that thing as an ongoing cost of ownership.


  10. Why don’t they just build a new subway line called Scarborough Line that runs from Warden to Malvern, so people on the Bloor-Danforth Line can change at either Warden and Kennedy?

    Steve: I’m not sure Scarborough needs another north-south line that close to the RT. Various other schemes are on the table for a Scarborough network including a U-shaped line from Don Mills Station east to Morningside, then south to Kingston Road and back west via Eglinton to Kennedy Station. The line woudl connect with an extended RT (or whatever) at Sheppard and, say, Markham Road. This would extend the reach of both subway lines to the east and provide alternatives for those in the Sheppard Morningside area and surrounding communities.


  11. A U-shaped subway line has it’s merits. I always hoped for two main subways in Scarborough, one serving the north end, the other reaching the southern parts. If SRT was maintained, BD could continue east on Eglinton/Kingston/Morningside to the UTSC campus before veering via Lawson to Port Union/Rouge Hill GO. The other line is basically the Sheppard line continued east to Meadowvale, possibly terminating at the Zoo entrance. I figured the SRT alone could handle STC traffic since bus dependency on the Town Centre would significantly go down with the extensions, interchanging with the Sheppard line at Markham Rd.

    Steve: The difference here is that the planners are looking at a U-shaped LRT, not a subway line.


  12. While Mr. Gonzalez correctly points out the challenges of operating the ICTS line, one must remember that the Scarborough line is first generation technology. Any first generation technology will have problems. When Bombardier introduced the CRJ 900 Jet during 2001, it had numerous problems. Later variants became the most reliable regional jets. Ask any airline today, they will tell you that the CRJ jet has the highest dispatch reliability. The same thing with ICTS technology. The ICTS in Kuala Lumpur has a best in class dispatch reliability. This is why Seoul and Beijing are all installing ICTS technology.

    One more point, on the new ICTS system, the CityFlow 650 controller uses radio based technology. This way, there is no way for the ICTS vehicles to loose contact with head office. The radio technology also incorporates spread spectrum transmission. This means that terrorists cannot jam the signal. Even under extreme weather, the signal will reach head office with no problem.

    Personally, I am not all to excited about an extention to Finch or Malvern. I prefer the extended Sheppard Line to end at Scarborough Center. This will be very important. The Vaughan Corporate Center will be connected by a continous metro line to Toronto. Linking Scarborough Center to North York Center will be very important in reducing travel times. People no longer travel to downtown for work. People travel from one node to another node for work. There is definietely potential in linking North York Center with Scarborough Center. When the Sheppard line goes to Downwview, it will be possible to travel using rail technology from Scarborough Center all the way to Vaughan.

    I am still mixed about whether ICTS technology should be retained or not. If the line is extended on Eglinton, ICTS technology can be used. It is just a matter of choosing tunnel or guideway. It will be costly, but it will ensure speed. Currently, the diamond lanes on Eglinton does not seem to be enforced. I do not want to see another King St here. Since Canada is a first world country, surely building some ICTS line will not be a problem. China has plan to build over 1000 km of heavy rail metro lines in the next decade. In school, China is referred to as a second world country.


  13. Personally I like the Scarborough RT and I hope we upgrade it to accomodate the newer higher capacity Mark II cars presently used in Vancouver.

    I have one complaint about the RT and that is transfer at Kennedy Station. My dream for correcting this would be to bury the RT platform one floor below the Kennedy subway platform. Have the RT have a center platform like the subway station has so there could be two RT Mark II cars ready to load up at rush hour reducing headway time significantly. The Kennedy curve would have to be straightened out to accomodate the Mark II cars as well.

    Steve: The new RT station at Kennedy is, I believe, planned to be on the same level as the mezzanine and it will lie in a north-south direction to avoid curve radius problems. The upper station will be abandoned. At this point, I am unsure how this is going to interact/interfere with the east passageway under the GO tracks.

    The Ellesmere tunnel would have to be widened for the Mark II cars as well. Since the RT dips below the rail tracks at Ellesmere it would make sense to keep the station one level below the surface with a center platform as well.

    Wish that the whole line from Kennedy to Ellesmere was one level below the surface with each of the three stations with a center platform. This would allow a greenbelt on the surface with a bike path that would also help increase use of public transit as well.

    Those are my dreams for the new/cool RT.

    Steve: Putting the whole line underground is very expensive and would make an upgraded RT even less competitive than an LRT line in the same or a similar corridor. If you want a bike path, there are a few perfectly good Hydro corridors right beside and connecting with the RT right-of-way. All the City has to do is to negotiate permission for bike paths.


  14. However, you have to remember than cities like Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou are much more dense than Toronto. LRT is simply not an option when your existing subway lines are being crowded to the point of having to temporarily close down stations. Even then, elevated and at-grade sections are much preferred to underground ones due to lowered costs and shorter construction timeframe. For example, the 27km Beijing subway Line 5 (50% elevated), due to open this September, took 6 years to complete even though this is an Olympic project with full funding support; while the 40km Line 13, partly elevated and partly at-grade, took only 3 years to complete.


  15. So glad that the MoveOntario 2020 plan has included funds for the Proposed RT Extension. Since moving here to T.O. from Vancouver I have read many reports about the TTC and this particular report I found was really well thought out plan. So grateful that it is looking as though the RT is going to be upgraded and extended when the federal funds come through. Scarborough and T.O. deserves it.


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