Kitchener-Waterloo Opts For Light Rail & Gets Instant Funding

Kitchener-Waterloo  has been working away at a Rapid Transit plan since 2004, almost entirely out of the Toronto media spotlight, including mine.  (A large amount of background detail can be found in the “Reports” section.)

Earlier this week, on June 24, Waterloo Regional Council approved the line which will be built initially with LRT in the north (KW) end, and BRT to the south in Cambridge.  The first big surprise came Friday in the Kitchener-Waterloo Record who reported that both Ottawa and Queen’s Park were planning to fund the project.  News of this reached me while Toronto Council was wrangling over funding for the purchase of new streetcars.

No sooner had Waterloo approved the LRT line, but local Cambridge MP Gary Goodyear announced that Ottawa would contribute $160-million to the project whose total estimated cost is $790-million.  This took Regional Chair Ken Seiling completely by surprise.  Support also came from Kitchener MP Stephen Woodworth who pointed out that this money will come from the “Build Canada Fund”, not the “Stimulus Fund” and therefore the project is not constrained by the latter’s March 2011 cutoff.

Meanwhile, the Liberal MPP for Kitchener, John Milloy, announced that Queen’s Park will provide two-thirds funding for this project.  If you do the math, this leaves Waterloo Region with a comparatively small cost, roughly 1/6 of the total.  The project also has support from local Conservative MPP Elizabeth Witmer.  Bipartisan enthusiasm for transit is a refreshing change from Toronto where transit projects are used to score political points by the right wing of Council. Continue reading

How Much Will GO Electrification Cost? (Update 3)

Updated 10:15 am, June 27:  Metrolinx has decided to release GO’s electrification studies without a formal Freedom of Information request.  They will be available online sometime in the next two weeks once they are converted to a suitable format.

Updated 12:30 am, June 23:  A list of existing commuter rail operations including those with electrified operation has been added at the end in response to a bogus claim in a Metrolinx FAQ.

Updated 9:50 am, June 23:  Another Caltrain newsletter shows the benefits of electrification and the benefits of EMU operation.

Much of the debate on the Weston corridor study, formally known as the Georgetown South Service Expansion (GSSE) Environmental Assessment, focuses on noise, vibration and pollution effects from the substantial addition to train traffic in the corridor.  One major option, electrification, was not included in the EA on the premise that this conversion will, possibly, be done sometime in the future, but not now.

Responding to public pressure, Metrolinx will launch a detailed study of system-wide electrification for GO.  The first step will be to strike a consultative committee of various interested members of the public to  advise on the terms of reference for the study.  The committee should be appointed by the Metrolinx Board in July 2009.  Once the terms are nailed down, the study itself is expected to take until the end of 2010. 

Alas, this is far enough in the future that it will have little outcome on what is actually built in the short term.  Also, by looking at the full network, and having cited very high figures for a complete conversion, I can’t help wondering if Metrolinx hopes to derail support for a movement to electrify “now”.

Unfortunately for Metrolinx, GO has already studied electrification of the Lake Shore corridor first in 1992, then an update in 2001, and, I understand, another update in mid-2008.  Do we really need another study for this most important of GO corridors?  Can we estimate, broadly, the cost of converting the Georgetown corridor based on the Lake Shore study?

Metrolinx was asked to release the Lake Shore studies, but in a splendid example of contempt for the public, they require a Freedom of Information request to release documents we all know to exist in the first place.  As of June 26, the requirement for an FOI request was dropped, and Metrolinx will post all of the GO studies online within the next two weeks once they have been formatted for that medium.

The FAQ for the electrification study (linked above) states:

Q. Hasn’t a study already been done?

A. Yes. A smaller study was done for the Lakeshore West line only.

Well, no, actually the April 2001 update covers Oshawa to Hamilton.  Moreover, this may not be the entire system, but it is certainly the heart of GO’s network and information here gives order-of-magnitude values that can be used when looking at other lines. Continue reading

Is GO Transit Bad For Your Health? (Update 2)

Updated June 27 at 10:10 am:  The study of noise impacts is now available on the Metrolinx Site.  I will review this and other reports in a future post.

Updated June 23 at 9:45 am:  The detailed studies of air quality and health impacts are now available on the Metrolinx site.  I have not had a chance to read through them yet, and will probably not be commenting on them for a few days.

On June 15, the Toronto Board of Health (an agency that operates independently of City Council but on which some members are Councillors) considered a report from the Medical Officer of Health concerning the impact on air quality of the proposed service expansion in the Weston rail corridor.  The recommendations in this report were amended by the Board (see item 24.4 in the decisions of the Board).

The MOH had been asked by both the Board and by the Parks and Environment Committee of Council to review the potential health impacts associated with diesel fumes from the proposed increase in diesel train traffic in the corridor.  Noise issues were not addressed by the MOH’s report although they are mentioned in the Metrolinx Part II document for the Environmental Assessment now in progress.

The full Part II document is available online.  A much reduced version of the information is available via the consultation portal, but I don’t recommend it. 

Many people from communities along the corridor appeared at the Board to make verbal presentations.  A common theme in their submissions was that the large increase in diesel traffic in the corridor will have an adverse health impact on those who live, work and go to school nearby, especially children who are more sensitive to pollution effects.  In particular, there was a concern that overall air pollution may be contributing to the rising rate of asthma among children, and that the levels expected in the rail corridor, although mostly within “standards” may disproportionately affect families living in the corridor.

Speakers asked that the Board strengthen the recommendations of the MOH which they did by inserting:

The Board of Health … requested Metrolinx to electrify the Georgetown South Service Expansion and the Union-Pearson Rail Link prior to implementing expanded service (Clause 3.a of the decision).

This decision does not bind Metrolinx, but indicates that the BOH considers this to be the preferred way of dealing with the corridor. Continue reading

Toronto Will Finance Its Own Streetcars (Updated)

Updated June 26 at 10:15 pm:

Today, Toronto Council voted 36-6 to proceed with funding of the purchase of 204 new streetcars as described in my original post (below the break).

During debate on the proposal, a few items of clarification were brought out that were not in the initial report.

  • The bus midlife refurbishment project has not been completely dropped, but cut back by 70% of the original allocation.  The TTC will perform a trial refurbishment of one bus in 2011 in anticipation of the first of the recently purchased buses reaching its 9th year.  Based on what is found (body condition, etc.), the future funding for this program will be readjusted.  The new fleets are expected to be much more robust than the older generations of buses, but we won’t know for sure until they actually reach the age when rebuilding would normally be expected.
  • The paving project has been cut back by 50%, and is subject to review based on actual conditions.
  • The fire ventillation upgrade program has been cut back by 50%, but this work has also been consolidated with the second entrance program in stations where this is applicable.
  • All other projects (Eglinton bus terminal, station modernization, Collectors’ booth renewal) have been cut by 100%.  The Eglinton terminal may not actually be needed, or at least at the originally planned size, because the number of routes connecting at Eglinton Station will be far lower after the Eglinton LRT is in operation.

From a financial point of view, all of this is a big shuffle.  For the time being, the TTC defers work that was currently planned for funding via City borrowing.  This is replaced in the capital budget with borrowing for the new streetcars.  In parallel, the City will make application to Ottawa for over $600-million worth of projects that would have been financed by the City, and which can be completed within the timeframe to qualify under Ottawa’s rules for “stimulus”.  On a 1/3 share basis, this will yield about $200-million in federal funding.  Additional funding is expected to be available from other non-stimulus programs.

The net effect is that future City spending will be reduced by an amount roughly equal to the funding for the new streetcars.

Furthermore, the TTC will review its capital budgets for the coming years, and it is possible that parts of some deferred projects could reappear based on then-current funding availability and priorities.

This decision is even more important that the original 1972 move by Toronto Council to save the streetcar network.  Not only does this ensure that network’s continued existence, it will expand the fleet and underpin the Transit City routes.  Indeed, a suburban LRT network was the goal behind Streetcars for Toronto’s activism on behalf of the streetcar system.

We’re not quite at the end of a long road, but I would like to share today with the Streetcars for Toronto Committee, some of whom contribute in the comments on this site from time to time:

  • Andrew Biemiller (original chair), John F. Bromley, Mike Filey, Robert Wightman, Howard J. Levine, Chris Prentice, Ros Bobak and Greg Gormick.  (Apologies if I have omitted anyone in the fog of time.)
  • In our work we were strongly supported by former Aldermen Paul Pickett and the late William Kilbourn, as well as by the office of then-mayor David Crombie.

With luck, we will ride new streetcars and even a new line or two before the 40th anniversary of the decision to retain the streetcar network. Continue reading

How Many Streetcars Do We Need?

Recent comments by Adam Giambrone, Chair of the TTC, suggest that 30 to 40 percent of the streetcar fleet is out of service in the shops, and that bus substitution will be required on some routes come the fall.

Those of us who follow the TTC have been waiting for a definitive fleet plan for some time, and hope to see one, finally, in the July Commission Meeting Agenda.  Meanwhile, I thought that I would set the stage by reviewing the current scheduled service to see how it may evolve over coming months.

The fleet contains 195 CLRVs (one of the original 196 has been scrapped) and 52 ALRVs.  The scheduled service beginning June 21 is 123 CLRVs and 38 ALRVs.  This is 63% of the CLRV fleet and 73% of the ALRV fleet.

Peak AM requirements by route are:  Bathurst (9), Carlton (32), Dundas (14), Queen (31 ALRV), Lake Shore (3), Downtowner and Kingston Road (11), King (27 CLRV + 7 ALRV), Spadina (15), Harbourfront (6), St. Clair (6).

What we don’t know is the number of cars that are permanently out of service with problems that cannot be or are too expensive to fix.  In effect, we don’t know what the true size of the available fleet might be.  A CLRV overhaul program is in progress (the affected cars are those with the new entrance layout and revised rear seating), but this is not as extensive as the original plans to replace major subsystems such as the electronics package.  This program takes some number of cars out of the pool, but should gradually replenish the fleet.  We don’t know how quickly this is happening, nor how reliable the “new” cars are.

In August, peak requirements will drop by another 11 cars when the 502/503 routes are converted to bus operation, although this will be offset in the fall when the 505/506 routes revert to their standard arrangement in the west end.  The May schedules for these routes required 53 cars in the AM peak compared to 46 today.  A further 9 cars will be needed to restore the 504 King line to its May schedule.

Late in 2009, the 512 St. Clair line’s service will be restored at least to Oakwood, later to Lansdowne.  However, this route is now using a captive pool of cars trapped north of the underpass work at Dupont and Bathurst, and there are, I believe, enough cars in that pool to handle this extension (combined with appropriate schedules where cars spend more time in motion than laying over at terminals).

The TTC needs to explain how it plans to manage streetcar service over the next three years, not to mention service improvements for capacity and the commencement of service in the eastern waterfront.  How long will new streetcars simply make up for failing CLRVs and ALRVs rather than contributing net new capacity to the network?

Funding for New Streetcars (Updated)

Update June 19 at 10:20 am:  My interview today with Metro Morning is now available online.

The Toronto Star and Globe & Mail report that Premier Dalton McGuinty and Mayor David Miller will announce that the purchase of 204 new streetcars Toronto will proceed.  This is expected to occur on Friday in Thunder Bay.

There is no word at present on the status of funding from Ottawa.

Meanwhile, a study prepared for Bombardier shows that there would be significant benefits to both Queen’s Park and Ottawa both for job stimulus and for tax revenue that would come back to them from this order plus the follow-on option for Transit City cars.  The study is available on the Globe & Mail’s Toronto Blog (in small print down at the bottom of the article).

An important component of the calculation is the premise that the Transit City fleet will have 50% Canadian content, not 25% as in the initial 204 cars for the “legacy” streetcar system.  This substantially increases the economic impact of the combined order.

One troubling comment in the Star’s article is that the existing cars are “failing so fast, the TTC anticipates having to use buses on some routes later this year”.  Well now, if memory serves, TTC staff were asked to produce a report on fleet availability and planning back around the start of 2009.  This was expected to surface in April, and the latest I have heard is that we might see it in July.

Considering that the TTC will have parts of various lines shut down for track or other repairs, the idea that they don’t have enough cars that work is laughable.

  • 512 St. Clair won’t see service west of Bathurst until late 2009 at best
  • 504 King is cut back to Queen and Roncesvalles this Sunday until late 2010
  • 505 Dundas is cut back to Bathurst Station for July and August
  • 502 Downtowner and 503 Kingston Road will be replaced by buses for the August and September periods due to track replacement at Bingham Loop (why this is taking so long is a total mystery, and I cannot help thinking that it is a handy excuse)

The reliability problem with our streetcar fleet is known, but what is alarming is the lack of information about what is really happening.  The TTC wrings its hands about problems with adding service to accommodate new demand, and they don’t even have enough working cars, they claim, to run the existing service.

Why are they failing?  What is happening here?  What’s the big secret?  Are we simply trying to save money by cutting back on maintenance?

Answers please!

Service Changes Effective June 21, 2009 (Updated)

Updated:  The Service Summary is now available online.

The June/July schedule board period will bring many seasonal cuts to transit service on the TTC.  I will not list all of them, but the real issue will be to see whether they are reversed in the fall.  A few cuts in this round are identified as a response to budget concerns (see my previous article about Metropass use and its effect on revenues).  If this is just reasonable belt-tightening, that’s just good management.  If this is a return to the bad days of stealth service cuts even while riding grows, the TTC is in for problems. Continue reading

Metrolinx Speaks With A New Voice

For the past few months, Metrolinx has been rather quiet as Queen’s Park worked through the legislation abolishing the old board and merging GO Transit into Metrolinx.  How is “Metrolinx 2” going to work?  What are its priorities?  The transitional board has been meeting informally, and signs of change have been obvious in recent announcements such as the GO Electrification Study.

On June 9 and 10, the new President and CEO of Metrolinx, J. Robert S. Prichard, more commonly known simply as “Rob”, gave similar speeches to the Greater Toronto Marketing Alliance and the Building Industry and Land Development Association.  These are available from the Presentations page on the Metrolinx site in both text and Powerpoint versions.  (Both are saved as PDFs.)

Much of the content is in the “rah rah, we’re a new agency with a new mandate” cheerleading vein, but some points are worth noting.

Metrolinx has a mandate to actually do things, and do them quickly.  In times past, this took on an aggressive, negative tone attacking NIMBYism and suggesting that anyone perceived to get in the way would be pushed aside.  Today, the need for action remains, but it is presented as a widely supported, long overdue program to reverse the damage of lost decades of underinvestment in transit infrastructure.

Prichard cites priorities he has received from Premier McGuinty, and the focus is on results, not on process. 

  • Get it done.  Residents … are tired of announcements.
  • Improve the quality, reliability and availability of GO Transit.
  • Develop an investment strategy to fund programs beyond the initial $10-billion already allocated.

That list implies things were not happening under the old Metrolinx, and we’ve heard rumblings about unco-operative, foot-dragging politicians.  More about them later.

Yes, we are all tired of announcements, and it’s refreshing to know that not only will money be pledged, it will actually be spent.  (Earth to Ottawa: Are you listening?)  I have shelves full of plans, but I can’t actually visit the sites or ride the lines because they remain only on paper.  In a few cases, this is a blessing in disguise. Continue reading

Safety for Lake Shore Streetcar Riders

As a followup to the Waterfront West thread, “Ed” left a long comment which really belongs in a post of its own.  My own comments follow at the bottom.

I’ve been thinking about safety for riders on Lake Shore Blvd.

Currently, there are safety islands west of Humber loop through Louisa, and east of Long Branch loop through Thirtieth. The long central part of Lake Shore has no safety islands.

It’s been my experience that motor vehicles speeding by the open doors of a streetcar is a regular occurence on Lake Shore; I suspect that it’s a likely occurence *every* run. Why?

  • suburban area; drivers not really familiar with streetcars and the door laws
  • fast traffic on Lake Shore
  • wide road

This [last point] deserves attention: drivers seem to feel that the further they are from the streetcar, the more they’re allowed to pass. On Queen itself, the prime points for cars zipping past open doors seems to be eastbound and Shaw and westbound at Ossington, where there are clear additional right-turn lanes. This is the same behaviour that leads MTO to put signs up saying “Stop for School Bus with Signals flashing BOTH DIRECTIONS” on four-lane highways.)

Note that St. Clair had safety islands for just about every stop along its wider part (roughly east of Old Weston Rd.), and the width of St. Clair is quite similar to the width of Lake Shore, taking the varying widths of both roads into account.

Finally, the long and potentially dangerous walk to and from the curb makes stops slower along Lake Shore than they would be on central-city routes with equal numbers of embarking/disembarking passengers (outer ends of the Carlton car, for example).

Is the answer putting in safety islands all along Lake Shore?

Unfortunately, the speed of motor vehicles on Lake Shore, and again a general unfamiliarity with street railways, results in safety islands being struck (delaying streetcar service!), and also the safety islands distracting drivers who then run the red light (or so I suppose — for some reason, I see a lot of red-light running on Lake Shore at intersections where there’s also a safety island, for example at Long Branch Ave.).

With go-around-either-side safety islands disappearing on St. Clair due to the ROW, they will remain only in a few scattered locations in the city (offhand: Dundas at Bloor, Bathurst at Queen, Main and Gerrard, Queen at Kingston) prompting motorists to hit the remaining ones as things they just don’t understand or are unfamiliar with.

Also, I just went and measured the lane width inside a safety island; it’s 3.0 metres from the edge of the island to the centre line. This isn’t too much of a problem with cars (though you get splashed in rain and snowy conditions) but Lake Shore also has a lot of truck traffic, particularly in the west end. Trucks are allowed a width of 2.60 metres; so two trucks meeting at 39th where there are safety islands facing each other have 80 cm *total* to miss each other and also the safety island. This is one reason I often wait at the curb, instead of on the safety island.

And I’ve seen a semi-trailer sideswipe a streetcar going in the opposite direction at 39th. Maybe significantly, the tractor had western Canadian plates. After a 6 or 8 hour shift on the 401, he made it down Brown’s Line and then just couldn’t place the rig properly when faced with an oncoming ALRV in a safety island gap?

So, what are the potential solutions?

1) Status quo/do nothing (not attractive).
2) Put in safety islands all along the route (still a problem with auto/island collisions and trucks passing centimetres from your face as you wait for the car).
3) Drastically narrow Lake Shore through lanes so safety islands aren’t necessary.
4) LRT so there is no traffic passing by the safety islands and less chance of a motor vehicle getting confused and trying to split the sides of an island, thus running into it.
5) Move to bus operations on Lake Shore.

Of these choices, I expect the locals will be in favour of:

1) These are the ones who don’t ride the TTC at all, and I have confirmation from WWLRT planning that they haven’t looked at safety issues on Lake Shore yet; certainly safety wasn’t a significant part of the LRT presentations.
5) Hey, buses are “superior, quicker” technology, right?

Personally, I’m in favour of 4) or 3). I bet the anti-LRT crowd dislikes these choices equally — even though 3) would solve a number of other issues raised in Lake Shore transportation planning workshops.

This all begs the interesting question of whether issues with access to streetcars — the walk from the curb, the vertical height to board, the width of the “safety island” and the comfort of riders on that island — can be addressed without going for a full-blown right-of-way.  (At the risk of beating a worn-out drum, better service would also shorten the length of time would-be riders have to wait on an island.)

The recent charette held by the Lake Shore Planning Council produced a lot of concerns and ideas, and although this happened after the formal cutoff for feedback to the TTC’s study, I hope that this material finds its way into the hopper.  The TTC was represented at the charette, and that’s a good sign.

Now we await an updated set of design options and, one hopes, more sensitivity and less lecturing from the TTC at public meetings.

Bombardier Markets Streetcars

Normally, I wouldn’t use my site to plug a manufacturer’s products, but with some recent discussions here about the relative merits of ICTS/Skytrain and streetcar/LRT technology for Scarborough, I have to make an exception.

LRT is well established all over the world, and Bombardier uses its market presence to great effect in their promotional material.  The jumping off point is a press release for the “Olympic Line” in Vancouver, a streetcar line (and that’s the term Bombardier uses) that will operate during the 2010 winter games using cars loaned by the Brussels system.

But it gets better:  more details are on Bombardier’s Vancouver 2010 Streetcar page which proclaims “The Streetcar Returns to Vancouver”.  You can view the information, photos and videos in the pulldowns yourself.

If anyone thinks that Bombardier might be ashamed of its streetcars, that it needs a Toronto ICTS line to justify its existence as a major vehicle supplier, well, just look at this site.  This is not just a Vancouver page, but a catalogue of Bombardier’s technology, almost all streetcars, worldwide.

Toronto, that “world class city”, lost decades in transit progress to an attitude typified by former megamayor Mel Lastman who said “real cities don’t use streetcars”.  We have a lot of catching up to do.