Staging the Electrification of GO Transit

For a good part of today, April 18, a conversation has flown back and forth via email between me, Karl Junkin of TRAC, Mike Sullivan and Rick Ciccarelli of the Weston Coalition, and Robert Wightman (a frequent contributor to comments here and a member of the original Streetcars for Toronto Committee).  I will not attempt to précis all of the threads, but thought it worthwhile to bring the discussion out into a broader context in this blog.

The problem, in brief, is to ensure that the electrification of the Weston/Georgetown corridor happens sooner rather than later and that the number of diesel trains operated on that corridor is kept to a minimum as service builds up to projected levels.

We had quite a discussion about dual mode locomotives with the major points pro and con boiling down to:

  • Bombardier produces a dual mode locomotive which is operating or on order in a few cities.
  • This locomotive could handle a 10-car GO train, but not a 12-car consist.
  • Dual mode would allow electrification to proceed in smaller increments with diesel operation beyond the end of the electrified territory.
  • These locomotives are very expensive, and the added capital spent on them must be weighed against the cost of electrification.
  • They need both diesel power and the power conversion equipment to convert the 25KV distribution voltage for use by the train.  Because there are, in effect, equipment for two power plants, you are always towing around one that isn’t doing anything, but both have to be maintained.

The idea lurking behind this is to maximize the amount of electric operation in the Weston corridor at least as far as the airport in keeping with the desire of communities along the corridor to minimize diesel operation, noise and fumes.

Various links of interest:

Railway Age article (quoted on another site).

Bombardier specification sheets for existing New Jersey and on-order Montreal equipment.

Specification sheets for GO’s current equipment (here and here, similar content).

Recently, I threw a new variation into the discussion by suggesting that there could be two separate fleets of locomotives.  Purely electric locomotives would be used to hall the service on the all-day section of the Lakeshore and Georgetown lines, and diesels would be used for peak period express trips running on the extended routes.

This arrangement would mean that all off-peak service would be electric, and diesel operations would remain only for peak extensions and for lines that had not been converted for electric operation.

There are downsides to this, notably that more infrastructure would be needed to get to the point where electric service could start, but it would achieve much of the goal of reduced diesel operation in the major corridors without requiring electrification to the end of service territory.  It would also eliminate the need for dual mode locomotives — whether this is a “benefit” depends a lot on where you stand on this type of operation.

Finally, all of this assumes that “Blue 22” would be electrified from day 1.  This seems highly unlikely given current arrangements with the proponent, SNC Lavalin, who are not even providing new equipment for their service.  Whether the proposed structures for the airport access tracks can even accommodate future electrification is unknown, and I would not be surprised to hear how we couldn’t possibly force SNC Lavalin to include this in the initial build.

Metrolinx is showing its usual colours on this whole issue saying that the project to get new service on the Weston corridor is far to important to delay, and that electrification is something for the future.  They are not making a lot of friends along the line on this count as well as on other structural issues involving neighbourhood impacts.  I will explore those in a separate post.

Stellar Stupidity From Astral Media

Torontoist reports today on an ad campaign for Virgin Radio that may seem innocent to some, but is to others, me included, in extremely poor taste.

The ad exhorts passersby to “Give Your Radio a Reason to Live”, and features a portable radio perched on the edge of a subway platform, unplugged, obviously ready to end it all.  Cute, but not when you contemplate the issue of suicide and its role not just on the subway but life in Toronto in general.

Jonathan Goldsbie’s article delves into the background of transit shelter advertising and how this ad came to be shot, apparently without the TTC realizing what was happening, in the first place.

The ads will be removed, but meanwhile Astral Media (who also happens to own Virgin Radio) needs a few lessons about intelligent and sensitive use of public space.

[A note to all who might comment here:  For reasons that should be obvious, I will only entertain discussions about advertising and the control of images in public spaces.]

Praxis II Showcase 2009 at U of T

When:  Wednesday, April 15 from 9:00 am to 7:00 pm

Where:  Bahen Centre Lobby, 40 St. George Street

What:  First year engineering students spent half a term identifying and researching issues of usability, accessibility, and sustainability within the TTC system.  This led to 80 “Requests for Proposals (RFPs)” of which the top six were selected as design challenges to be solved during the second half of the course.


  • Improving Passenger Safety Near TTC’s Exposed Subway Tracks
  • Solving the Heat Loss Problem
  • Improving Wayfinding Signage on the TTC
  • Service Delays Caused by the inefficiency of Passenger Dynamics Into and Out Of Subway Cars
  • Revising TTC Bus Interiors to Maximise Space and Boost Passenger Satisfaction
  • Improving the Emergency Response System on the TTC Subways to Decrease Delay Time and Increase Safety

For more information, please see the full invitation.

Weston Corridor Meetings Start Tonight

Metrolinx and GO begin their series of open houses for the expansion of tracks and service in the Weston corridor tonight.  Politically, this project has moved from a concern just in the town of Weston to a growing controversy along the line as neighbourhoods learn of the potential impact on them.

Among the issues are:

  • How many tracks are required to handle the planned service
  • To what degree does the proposed Air Rail link (Blue 22) affect track layouts
  • What pollution will be caused by a high level of diesel-hauled trains in the corridor
  • Why isn’t the line being electrified, and what effect would this have on track and equipment needs
  • What is the effect of increased service on existing grade crossings in Weston and at Strachan Avenue

GO Transit fought a long battle with the Weston Community Coalition over issues in their neighbourhood during an earlier GO-managed study of the line.  GO used the term “NIMBY” in an attempt to marginalize this opposition, and that term crept into recent provincial announcements about the need for an enhanced (read less vulnerable to opposition) transit environmental assessment process.  Sadly GO and their new partner, Metrolinx, do not seem to have learned much about meaningful public participation, but now face opposition from other neighbourhoods and possibly from the City of Toronto itself.

The open house schedule is available at the project website.

How Much Should the Eglinton Line Cost? (Update 1)

Update 1, April 15, 2009:  Although the original Transit City report gave Pearson Airport as the western terminus of the Eglinton line, the cost estimate only covered the portion to Renforth.  Approximately 3 km of additional construction are required to bring the line right into the airport, and the cost of this was not included in the 2007 estimate.

The underground section of the line was originally planned to lie between Keele and Laird Drive, but this may be expanded west to Jane and east to Don Mills (except for the river crossing).  This additional tunnelling is included in the recently announced cost estimate.

Original article:

Today’s Globe & Mail contains an article by Jeff Gray about the constantly escalating estimates for the Eglinton “LRT” line.  Gray cites the original estimate of $2.2-billion in 2007 compared with $4.6-billion figure included in the recent McGuinty funding announcement.  Nobody quite seems to know why the cost has doubled in two years. Continue reading

Metrolinx Cancels April Board Meeting

The planned April 24 meeting of the “old” Metrolinx Board has been cancelled.  A May meeting still appears in the events list on the Metrolinx website, but it’s anyone’s guess at this point which version of the Board will exist by then.

Among the long-awaited reports that were expected this month is the Benefits Case Analysis for the Eglinton line.  Meanwhile work continues on design work leading to Transit Environmental Assessments by the City of Toronto and TTC.


As I write this, there are now 10,001 approved comments on this site.

Congratulations to you, the readers and prolific writers (and even to those of you who only lurk most of the time) for making this site as good as it is.  If I only wrote articles hoping that someone read them, it would be a dull place.  The comments, both those supporting what I write and those of a differing slant, really make this a discussion, and the threads evolve very quickly.

So, as they used to say, keep those cards and letters coming!

GO Transit Contemplates Customer Satisfaction and Station Design

Today’s GO Transit board meeting (yes, that Board still exists) included presentations on two related items:

  • Customer Satisfaction and Loyalty Survey
  • Station Access Strategy

The link between these, although they were separate items on the agenda, is that people who cannot conveniently get to GO services won’t use them.

Board members were in a chatty mood, and asked many questions of the presenter, a Transportation Planner from GO’s staff who acquitted herself well on a variety of topics.  I could not help noticing how many questions with a direct relevance to customer experiences, to feelings people have about GO, to problems of convincing more people to use the system, came from the politicians on the Board.  These are members who have a direct relationship with GO customers and potential new riders.  Other members spoke too, but the preponderance of questions informed by a direct link to constituents and municipal issues was quite striking.

All of this will be lost on the new consolidated Metrolinx board where, we are told, politicians would just get in the way. Continue reading

Why Do Streetcars Bunch Up?

Over at torontoist, Adam Giambrone responds to a question about bunched service outbound from Mimico on the Lake Shore with a collection of the usual lame TTC excuses about irregular service.

This is getting tiresome, and it is distressing to see the TTC Chair spouting so much of the party line from TTC management.  The reasons for irregular service, according to Giambrone, are:

  • Bunching caused by minor variations in the time spent at stops and traffic lights.  This applies to frequent routes where the headway (as cited by Giambrone) is fairly close to the variation in delay times.  The last time I looked, the best scheduled service on Lake Shore is every 8’40” on Saturday afternoons, rather worse at other times including peak periods.  Minor delays at stops do not account for bunching.
  • Traffic congestion.  Yes we have heard this before.  The point, as we have seen in many of my analyses of route operations, is that congestion is manageable, and bunching should only occur when there is an actual blockage of service.  See below.
  • Traffic signal delays.  Yes, signals are being changed to give priority to transit vehicles, but this has already been done on much of the Queen route.  Major intersections, where traffic engineers feel that transit priority could be counter-productive by its effect on cross-street traffic, run on their regular cycle.
  • Surge loads.  Yes, they happen, but they don’t explain routine bunching.  Moreover, on Queen, the line uses all-door loading at major stops.
  • A shortage of supervision.  See “traffic congestion” above.  The TTC feels that if it can just put a small army of route supervisors in the field with better technology to let them know where the cars actually are (see Next Bus display at Spadina Station when it works), they can manage the service better.  As some comments in the Torontoist thread point out, there is a big problem with operators leaving terminals more or less when they feel like it causing ragged service, and little seems to be done to manage the gaps and bunches out of the service.  This happens on many routes.
  • Short turns, larger vehicles, more service.  This bullet in Giambrone’s presentation is, to say the least, unclear.  We know that busy routes have delays and need short turns, although changes in the management style for the 501 eliminate most of the need for this tactic (a point completely missed in the article).  Larger vehicles will help provided that the total capacity of the route is also increased.  Queen has suffered for decades with the effect of a reduced number of cars providing allegedly equivalent capacity.  Between cases where short cars are running in place of long ones (and they get late because they can’t handle the demand) and the larger impact on waiting times of missing cars, the change to wider headways has been a disaster for riding on the line.  There is no indication that the TTC understands this problem.

There are three fundamental problems with service on Queen and on Lake Shore (where the original reader comment arose):

  • The Long Branch 507 should never have been amalgamated with 501 Queen.  The route west of the Humber River has a large amount of local demand, but the decline in service quantity and reliability of the merged route has never been acknowledged.  The TTC just does not understand that service is important on the outer parts of lines, not just at Yonge Street.
  • The amount of service on Queen is insufficient to provide a reliable headway and capacity for demand.  The TTC may point to declining ridership over the years, but this is not reflected on other parallel routes like King or Dundas.  The irregular service drives away riders.
  • Route supervision leaves a great deal to be desired.  For clarity I don’t just mean the guys standing on the street corners making notes on their clipboards, but the whole strategy of how a line and its operators are scheduled and managed.  The TTC is working on this, but changes are slow to come.

I have begun detailed examination of Queen route operating records for December 2008 and January 2009, and will be publishing results from this work here soon.