GO2020: GO Transit’s Answer to Metrolinx

GO Transit announced its plan for the next decade’s worth of expansion of (mainly) commuter rail service in the Greater Toronto Area on December 12.  The full text is an immense PDF (66MB) on GO’s site that you can download should you desire.  The Service Plan, however, fit in a lot less space, and I have reformatted this as a 115K PDF.

Although the text talks about how GO2020 fits in with the Metrolinx Regional Plan, there are a few noteworthy differences especially regarding very frequent service in some corridors.  Metrolinx has the electrification of some lines in its short term plans, but it remains to be seen whether this is tehnically viable at a cost that will fit within Metrolinx’ budget.  Moreover, there are serious questions about the ability of Union Station to accommodate all of the traffic (trains and people) that Metrolinx forecasts for this hub.

GO’s plans have the advantage of looking out little more than a decade, a timeframe in which the plan is actually credible.  Metrolinx has much at the 15-25 year horizon, and while this will keep planners gainfully employed, it does little to address current problems.

GO has six objectives for the next decade.

1.  High Quality Interregional Service

By fleshing out the rail network and improving service levels, GO will become a carrier not just of peak-period, peak-direction commuters, but an all-day transit provider throughout the region.

GO hopes to have a seat for every passenger on 95% of train and bus trips, and to achieve a 92% on time rate (with an exception for winter and bad weather when the target drops to 87%).  These targets need to be refined because as off-peak service is added, there will be many trips to dilute on-time statistics.  What is really needed (and on the TTC as well) is a metric that weights on time performance by teh level of demand.  In brief, if twice as many people are on a train that is late, this should count twice as much as a late, but lightly loaded trip.

GO will acquire rail corridors as and when the railways want to sell them, and also hopes to take control of train dispatching to ensure priority for their own passenger services.  This sounds like a nice idea, but I suspect that the very places where bottlenecks are the worst will also be locations that the railways won’t part with.

2.  A Leader in Customer Service

GO hopes that more than 85% of its customers will state that they would recommend GO to a friend.  This would be achieved through a combination of “excellent customer service” and “effective communications”. 

Also lumped into this category is accessibility, and GO plans to have all services and rail stations accessible by 2016.  The placement has the feeling of an afterthought, and more details on how this will be achieved would have been worthwhile.

3.  Enhancing Quality Through Organizational Excellence

The next time you are wondering where your train is, take heart, there is an org chart and an accountability protocol.

As someone who also works in the public sector, it is sad to read that exployee satisfaction is a goal, and that GO staff will “receive the same respect, caring and commitment that we expect them to deliver to customers”.  If GO employees are not well-treated already, then GO has a big problem because unhappy staff make for poor customer relations — the “friendly” smile through gritted teeth.

4.  A Leader in Sustainability and Green Development

This topic embraces both an improvement in GO facilities and vehicle technologies, and a pledge to increase access to stations that does not involve parking or which emphasises pooled car use.  GO will investigate charging separately for parking at some locations to encourage non-car access.

In practice, GO is running out of space to store cars on its major lines, and some of that property will eventually be far more valuable for development than for parking lots. 

5.  Strong Partnerships with Stakeholders

GO will embrace multi-agency provision of transit services and hopes that local services will form part of regular user trips.  GO will also advocate for better transit use, priority schemes and connectivity to communities including the development of transit hubs.

As a cynic, I might observe that GO spent too many years building parking lots in outlying suburbs while letting the communities fend for themselves.  This new attitude will be welcome if GO can actually develop stations as community centres and support the growth of local transit services.

GO “partners” with local systems by subsidising trips to its stations, but this only occurs in the 905.  As GO’s service frequencies and coverage expand, there must be a recognition that GO has a role in the outer parts of the 416 as well.

6.  Economically Sustainable Operations

GO will “maintain a sustainable cost-recovery ratio of 75%”.  Considering that they now achieve over 90% according to their own comparative chart, far above the next nearest rival (MTA North in New York at just over 60%), GO’s aim to drop to a 75% ratio is long overdue.

I tire of both GO and the TTC telling everyone how efficient a system they are for getting so much farebox revenue.  No.  That’s not the point.  They get such a high proportion because they skimp on service improvements.  Some services will never operate at a high recovery rate.  That’s how transit works.  We will never see frequent all-day service with an attitude that there’s still room for one more passenger.

The concept of “sustainable cost-recovery” is rather odd.  Usually this means that the dollar level fits within someone’s budget, not that this level of subsidy will provide adequate service.

GO makes the case that both capital and operating funding must be provided on a reliable basis, and that support for the local systems feeding GO is also essential.

Fare integration ridership has been stable for a number of years because local transit service to GO facilities has not increased and does not adequately meet the needs of potential customers.  Unless local transit is expanded significantly, auto access to GO services will continue to be the preferred choice.  (Page 24)

GO, unlike Metrolinx, has the good sense to recognize the role of local transit and the fact that local service levels are not sufficient to bring riders to its trains and buses.

The Service Plan

The vision and objectives (listed above) may sound in place like a lot of management doubletalk, but the real question riders have is “when will my train come”.  This brings us to the Service Plan.

GO hopes to capture 80 to 85 percent of the market for regional travel to the Union Station area.  This will be a challenge considering that the TTC is poised to cream off travel from York Region, and that there is still no move to properly integrate GO and TTC fares so that work locations beyond walking distance of Union Station will not impose a fare penalty on would-be riders.

GO’s service design will include express trains where the total demand requires more than four trains per hour.  This approach has a subtle side-effect on electrification proposals.  Express trains may, for long haul riders, achieve comparable time savings to the faster station service times of local, electrified service without the infrastructure cost.  The trade off is between running all trains somewhat faster and running some trains, those that serve the riders who benefit the most from a fast local service, as expresses.

Headways under 10 minutes from Lakeshore east and west as well as from Milton, and every 15 minutes or better on other corridors will transform the way people think of GO trains.  All day service on trunk routes and counter-peak service on other branches will greatly broaden GO’s market, but this must be accompanied by a change in how GO views its purpose.  A continued focus on peak travel to the core can be dangerous as we have seen with the TTC.  Off-peak and counter-peak trips will be highly dependent on local transit, and GO’s success will depend on local transit systems becoming more than peak hour extensions of the commuter rail network.

GO’s plans are similar but not identical to those of Metrolinx, and service improvements tend to come sooner in GO’s version of the network.  GO’s service details, especially for the off-peak and counter-peak demands, are more detailed.  All of this is set out in a table at the end of the Service Plan linked above.

Overall I believe that GO has a good plan and in many ways a stronger one than Metrolinx because it considers the more detailed operational aspects of the commuter rail network.  The 2020 target is credible and means that we will see real changes in construction and operation, not just in media briefings and photo ops.

25 thoughts on “GO2020: GO Transit’s Answer to Metrolinx

  1. I can understand why the TTC would not want fare intergration with GO Transit. Anyone visiting Union Station during the rush hours will see that a lot of people use both services. If the TTC intergrates their fare with GO (if Mississauga Transit is an example) then you have to find a way for the TTC to get that lost revenue back again.

    I would like to see better service on GO – people will use a service that is fast and reliable, or they will drive.


  2. Steve,

    I have many thoughts on the GO plan, which I will try to post later.

    But Wotan’s comment got me thinking….

    What ever happened to the second platform project at Union (TTC)?

    Its been years, and I’m pretty sure the sewer relocation has been finished for ages.

    Obviously they desperately need that new capacity now, never mind with improving GO services and more LRTs feeding the station.

    Steve: The work continues. Have faith.


  3. The results on some lines will certainly be interesting. I would use the Richmond Hill line to get back into the city on the way home from work, except that the last bus into Toronto leaves a little after 2pm… long before I get off work. Now train service is magically set to appear without the intermediate train-bus service. That’s quite am impressive leap in service quality, even philosophy, and I very much look forward to the results.

    However, regarding Union Station, more attention needs to be given to the Midtown Corridor for an alleviator, but this is unlikely to move within the 2020 timeframe, because Metrolinx has not given priority status to Goods Movement, which includes the GTA West corridor which is supposed to open up the Midtown line by giving CPR a new east-west route across the top of the region. This must be revised in the foreseeable future, so that big problems can be avoided, rather than fixed after they appear and damage ridership in the process.

    Since the GTA West corridor is well out of GO’s control or influence, it should consider adding stations around Union Station to offload passengers in other parts of the core. Exhibition is an example of such a station, although Exhibition is not an ideal setup, nor is that even Exhibition’s intention. Other stations can include a Distillery station for the Stouffville and Lakeshore East lines, a Liberty Village station for the Georgetown, Barrie, Milton, and future Bolton corridors, and a Regent Park station for Richmond Hill. This would require significant improvements to the streetcar services here, including the ones that don’t yet exist in the Portlands, as well as in the King West area, as it is these services that will connect people to their final destinations east or west of downtown if not within walking distance of those new stations. GO has, according to the city, been warming up to the Distillery station idea, and the Liberty Village station idea has its own movement applying pressure as I understand it. A Regent Park station isn’t on anybody’s radar but mine as far as I know, but would allow a Richmond Hill train to connect to the 501/2/3/4/5, and Portlands streetcar services that run through on the Queen or Broadview corridors, from that one station. As a corridor that is eyed as an alleviator for Yonge, such a station could be extremely valuable to the Richmond Hill line, assuming said service improvements can materialize.


  4. The problem is not people crowding Union as much as trains. There are only so many tracks. What might be needed is a serious re-work of the station train platforms. Perhaps I’m crazy but they might need to add a second level of tracks just to make all the trains fit.


  5. Karl, your comments/information regarding possible new downtown stations is intriguing. Personally, I’ve never been too comfortable with relying on Union station as the single, huge rail hub serving the city core; I think this is short-sighted and frankly a little bit dangerous (putting all of our eggs into one basket, so to speak), and it does nothing to alleviate the already problematic overcrowding of that part of the city and its transport infrastructure.
    A western station where the rail lines cross over Queen Street East near Degrassi St. might be interesting, particularly given the possibility of a subway under Queen at some point. The key is interconnectivity.


  6. If the King Transit Mall ever came to fruition, it would provide a quick, frequent alternative route to the Financial District and the rest of downtown.


  7. For any high-speed rail service, Windsor (Detroit) to Québec City, it would add even more crowding to Union Station.
    I was brainstorming: don’t add more trains to Union Station, but a high-speed corridor could be set up along the Finch hydro right-of-way, at a cheaper price. If the trains are to be electric, then why not shift them up there.


  8. Because people arriving into Toronto want to be downtown. Personally, one big advantage of train over plane is that the train station is always in a good location (save for Windsor).


  9. The shame is that the railroads don’t have more space to add more tracks at Union. Perhaps we should accomodate Go by expropriating some of the surrounding buildings to the south–say everything down to Harbour Street — and expanding the track layout.

    Steve: I have to assume that you are joking. This would include places like the Air Canada Centre, and you would almost certain have to take out the Dome as well, not to mention a few condos and office towers. The mistake was made years ago when so much of the rail corridor was earmarked for redevelopment and its capacity for more trains was sold off.


  10. There’s lot of available capacity.

    Look at what they did with the RER in Paris. They have multiple levels of underground platforms.


  11. Steve,

    Do you believe that Union Station can meet all the demands that are projected to put upon it with existing track capacity?

    And if not; are there any real solutions? (elimination of all freights in the corridor and pulling in all the outside tracks?; or adding another level of tracks, above or below the current trainshed?)

    Steve: That depends on which demands and projections you are looking at. GO and Metrolinx have very different ideas of what will flow through that facility. Freight is not an issue at Union, and GO is already adding a new track at the south end of the trainshed. A second level is a huge problem because of the long approach ramps needed for the change in level and the almost certain need to switch to full electrification to avoid ventillation problems.

    The physical structure of Union Station does not allow for platform rearrangement because the columns in the building line up under the tracks. Platform widths cannot be modified unless we reduce the number of tracks through the trainshed, a counterproductive move.

    A major problem lies on the approach to the station from both the east and west where the number of trains per hour are limited by the width of the rail corridor.


  12. Matt G Says:

    “The shame is that the railroads don’t have more space to add more tracks at Union. Perhaps we should accomodate Go by expropriating some of the surrounding buildings to the south–say everything down to Harbour Street — and expanding the track layout.”

    Also if the city is serious about removing barriers to the lake, doing that would do just the opposite and would completely make the argument for removing the gardiner invalid!

    Double Deck it, thats probably the best idea. There’s already 10+ Tracks, which is much more foresight then most other cities so it was not a mistake at all. Now add another level above and increase capacity without increasing barriers.

    A station to the west may not be necessary but to the east it should work well. The idea of putting one at Queen St East with connections to a future Queen Subway sounds like an excellent idea.

    Steve: Better connections with the existing subway network, especially on Bloor-Danforth, would allow those who now travel all the way to Union to make a simpler connection. Never mind Parkdale Station, why has it taken so long to build the second entrance at Dundas West?

    Also, don’t forget that the Lakeshore West corridor never comes near the subway even if one were on Queen as that line is likely to swing up the Weston corridor, not continue west to Sunnyside.


  13. I wonder who GO is trying to emulate here. Is their model to be like LIRR/NJT/Metro-North and provide frequent service, much of it electrified, on a 7-day basis but keep the big-train focus?

    Or are they looking to be more like SEPTA, which is something less than commuter rail and something more than a subway. (Smaller trains, many stops, frequent service)

    Or maybe Metra, something inbetween? A densifying network that is adding crosstown lines, extensions and better service? Will take some effort to get to their 11 existing lines, 237 stations, 290,000 daily riders but would be sweet indeed. (GO has 160,000 riders)


  14. On the eastern Approach to Union, is there not more room for through tracks by relocation or shrinking of the storage/layover facilities?

    There is some room for this is the west as well, I think, I recall seeing many trains stored near Spadina.

    Further east and west I’m not sure what the corridors can actually hold. Four tracks maybe? Five at a push?

    So where is the bottleneck that could not be rectified? Just at the station door step?

    Steve: The yards at Don and at Spadina are essential to GO’s opertions. They allow peak period trains to be stored downtown rather than dead-heading back to the yards. It would be very diffucult, not to mention more expensive, for GO to bring all of the pm peak service in from Mimico.


  15. There are two points that have been made that are worth discussing:

    Steve, your comment about GO connections to the existing subway network is perhaps one of the biggest missed opportunities in this city. The situation at places like Dundas West and Leslie/Oriole is absolutely shameful. I am aware that there are some engineering issues at Dundas West, but it is absolutely worth the cost to be able to have a solid connection there; as for Leslie/Oriole, that GO station should have been moved and connected years ago in order to help relieve the Yonge subway.

    As for the capacity issues at Union Station, I think we are beyond the point where we should be discussing major capacity enhancements; Union is already the country’s busiest transportation hub (busier than Pearson as Steve has mentioned), and the focus there should be on improving the experience for the millions that already use it. As for capacity increase, I think we need to be looking at spreading things out a bit better. Good indoor connections with the subway network as mentioned above is a great start, as is exploring the possibility of building some new rail stations and/or reactivating dead stations such as North Toronto (Summerhill LCBO). Local transport discussions seem to completely neglect the possibility of expansion in intercity rail transport (VIA Rail) and the extra demand that would place on the system.


  16. I think that GO should be participating as a stakeholder in discussions about the Gardiner demolition east of Jarvis. Something that I’ve mentioned on here before, when one looks at the structure of the on-ramps at Jarvis, the final reconfiguration post-decommissioning could open up a lot of space from Yonge St. eastwards, where a new expansion of Union Station might be feasable to construct. The environmental assessment for this study is apparently supposed to take 5 years, this needs to be accelerated somehow (which, from a data collection perspective, is difficult since data needs to be analyzed closely from a year-round collection period).


  17. Steve,

    ….boy have I got sidetracked on this thread…. oh well.

    For train storage; couldn’t they re track part of the old Danforth Yard?

    The south side yard is now a subdivision; but the north side just has a cheap self-storage facility set-up. The type that makes me wonder if it still isn’t railway land (or Canada Lands Corp.)

    There would be room for at least 4, maybe 5 tracks on that land.

    That’s pretty close to downtown.

    There’s also the old freight storage tracks on the east side of the Don Roadway; south of the old Lever Brothers Factory. They’re barely used at all; and just 2 min. east of the GO Don Layover tracks.

    Just thinking out loud. You’ll correct me if my ideas are too much out in the wilderness.

    Steve: The stuff on the Don Lands is likely earmarked for some other development as part of the eastern waterfront plans. That whole area is going to change quite dramatically.


  18. At the last meeting regarding the Lower Don Lands, I remember it was stated by the city and/or consultants that the yard on the east side of the Don River James was referring to is apparently staying put.


  19. A few comments on the above comments.

    1 Move GO, or some of GO’s trains farther North, say to Summerhill or the Finch Corridor/
    Most of these people are going to want to go downtown so all you really do is overload the YUS line.

    2 Widen the ROW from the Ex to the Don.
    There is not much room for widening through Union, but eight or ten electrified track with some sort of ATC through there should be able to handle 200 000 people per hour easily at 20 000 per hour per track which is not overloading the service. It is one train every six minutes on each track at the station.

    3 Double decking.
    I do not think it is necessary but with electric commuter service you do not need the long approach ramps that you would with diesel hauled coaches. You could convert incoming kinetic energy into potential by coasting up hill into the station and convert potential back to kinetic by going down hill upon exiting.

    4 Storage yards.
    These are a necessity if you are going to have trains enter and exit Union with a minimum of delay. You cannot “turn” trains at Union as it will create too long a dwell time. A yard at Danforth might be a little too far away as you would need to add another track from Union out to handle dead heads. The storage for the west end service needs to be east of Union and vice versa so that there is no need to reverse trains at union as this leads to conflicting movements and creates a bottle neck. East end service must be stored west of Union and west end service must be stored east of Union to allow through operation of trains..

    The existing track to the east has two lines going up the Don Valley with a possibility for 4 tracks out the CN Kingston Sub as there used to be two mainline tracks with a spur lead on either side. To the west there are four tracks going out the Dundas Sub as far as Willowbrook with three tracks beyond to Bayview Junction. Four tracks or more could go up the CP and CN lines to the Junction and beyond. We are not lacking in track capacity but in control capacity. Since the commuter wreck in California that killed over 120 it seems inevitable that some form of positive train control will become mandatory. If the GO lines are electrified and provided with positive train control/automated train control it will be possible to run a lot more trains into Union than is happening now. What is needed is an increase in the ability to handle the pedestrian traffic through Union Station. Automated Train Control will allow GO to easily handle 200 000 passenger per hour into Union Station. The pedestrian traffic flow paterns need to be increased to handle it.


  20. I say: The shame is that the railroads don’t have more space to add more tracks at Union. Perhaps we should accomodate Go by expropriating some of the surrounding buildings to the south–say everything down to Harbour Street — and expanding the track layout.

    Steve Responds: I have to assume that you are joking. This would include places like the Air Canada Centre, and you would almost certain have to take out the Dome as well, not to mention a few condos and office towers. The mistake was made years ago when so much of the rail corridor was earmarked for redevelopment and its capacity for more trains was sold off.

    Matt G responds: Absolutely I was kidding. I was alluding to the lack of foresight in parcelling off the railway lands whole hog rather than selling off the airspace and protecting the track bed.


  21. Robert, just a quick follow up to your “comment on my comment”. I definitely recognise that most (current) GO passengers are headed for downtown, and that that could exacerbate peak capacity issues on the subway. However, I think moving some services here is worth exploring, at least some VIA and Ontario Northland Rail services. If you look at European cities where rail is the most important inter-city travel mode, they all have more than one rail station.

    In any case, the midtown corridor is not that far north of downtown, and there are still a fair number of jobs north of there as well as in the vicinity; a station at Spadina/Dupont Subway for GO trains would also help spread the demand a bit.


  22. On the subject of the GO plan … ( I said, I would get back on-topic eventually)…

    Overall, I think its a very credible service plan which I look forward to seeing delivered. Though, I have a couple of reservations.

    One is the push for service, even peak-service to areas that are still farmer’s fields, some, right in the middle of the Greenbelt. That seems counter to the anti-urban sprawl policy we all favour, and the province’s greenbelt and smart growth policies seem to suggest they desire.

    So full service on existing core lines, YES; extension of full service to Hamilton; YES.

    But service to Bolton or Uxbridge? Not so thrilled with that.

    I worry this a facilitation of more low-rise, sprawled subdivisions which is ultimately inconsistent with good urban planning and protection of what little prime agricultural land we have left.

    Missing from the list is ‘fixing’ the alignment of GO Richmond Hill. I realize this is not a completely easy fix; but neither does it need to be grossly complex or expensive. The bottom line is we need to suck some traffic off the Yonge line; and to do that GO needs to sharpen its commute time to the core. Even shaving six or seven minutes would do wonders; assuming we can manage this for under 100M; which I’m reasonably sure we can. Even less, if those costs are integrated into track expansion programs required for two-way, hourly service, as now proposed.


  23. Not sure how many people are still reading this thread, but a quick reply to James:

    Regarding service to the greenbelt areas, I couldn’t agree more. In my opinion our biggest transport planning problem is actually an urban planning problem; if we keep building outwards then we will never, ever be able to catch up, even with nice new GO stations. It’s time to get serious about stopping this region’s endless growth and start fixing service to the hundreds of existing city/suburban neighbourhoods that are nowhere near being well-served.

    Regarding Richmond Hill GO, I’ve investigated this line extensively in the past, and indeed there is an opportunity to shorten the route via an abandoned rail corridor that splits from the line south of York Mills, and rejoins north of Eglinton. This corridor is significantly less curvy than the one that is used now for that stretch, and thus would permit higher speeds. As it stands today, the trip from Oriole station (Sheppard/Leslie) to Union is scheduled at about 20 minutes, and by my calculations this could go down to about 15 minutes, which is very competitive with the Yonge line and could potentially help with Yonge crowding in a big way (particularly if the Sheppard/Leslie TTC-GO connection is improved and a new GO station at Eglinton/Celestica is built to connect with the Eglinton Crosstown LRT).

    Steve: That connection south of York Mills is now a bicycle path and hasn’t had tracks on it for years. There would likely be complaints from the neighbours too as this was only ever used as an emergency interchange between CN and CP, not for regular service.


  24. About the now abandoned Leaside line connecting CN’s Bala sub at York Mills with CP’s Belleville Sub near Eglinton/Leslie, Steve wrote, “There would likely be complaints from the neighbours too as this was only ever used as an emergency interchange between CN and CP, not for regular service.”

    This is incorrect. CN had track in Leaside with running rights over CP via the Leaside line. Sometime in the mid-90s, the last of CN’s tracks were abandoned and shortly thereafter the Leaside line was abandoned and its tracks were taken up and the bike path was created. Regular freight service continued to operate until the early 90s. How regular was it? I am not sure how many days per week it ran, but I do know it was very regular on Friday evenings passing through usually just after one Richmond Hill GO train deadheaded back to Willowbrook between 7 and 8 pm (somewhere I have video of this, if I only had a VHS player!).

    Steve: The level of use you cite is much, much less frequent that a regular GO service. In any event, there haven’t been trains there for over a decade, and the railway cannot claim “we were here first”.


  25. Steve wrote, ‘In any event, there haven’t been trains there for over a decade, and the railway cannot claim “we were here first”.’

    True – the other point I forgot to mention is that the tracks were taken up *at level crossings*. I don’t know the specifics in our jurisdiction, but in many (most?) jurisdictions throughout North America, if a railway wishes to abandon a line (and remove tracks to avoid having to maintain them) but wants to keep open the possibility of use in the future, the tracks through grade crossings must be kept in place. If grade crossings are totally removed, any chance of rebuilding the line must be treated as a new project (for EAs and such).


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