A Few Questions About the Scarborough RT Extension

Updated 11:25 am:  Information about maximum gradients added as well as a comment about costing of the underground alignment north of Sheppard.

Last week, the TTC and City conducted an open house for the Scarborough RT extension project.  As regular readers here know, I have long advocated that the RT technology be changed from ICTS to LRT, but there is little sign of a move in that direction in the materials on view at the open house.  A single panel (page 32 in the presentation) says that the technology is yet to be determined, but the design clearly is based on an RT implementation.

This is rather odd considering that a rethink of the RT/LRT debate has been floating around since last fall when Metrolinx produced its report comparing the benefits and costs of various alternatives for the RT extension.  If a real comparison were underway, we would see two designs that reflect the requirements specific to each technology and exploiting the advantages of each.  Moreover, the keep/replace decision would be part of the larger context of the future of the existing RT and its place in the context of Transit City.

Back in 2006, after a study of the RT’s future, the TTC adopted a policy of retaining the ICTS technology.  The context for that decision was very different from today:

  • Neither Transit City nor the Metrolinx Regional Plan had been formulated, much less announced, and a “Scarborough LRT” would have been a free-standing new LRT just as the RT is a self-contained implementation of ICTS.
  • “Rapid Transit” plans consisted of a network of higher-order bus routes plus modest subway expansion.
  • The decision was taken in the context of replacing the existing line, not of extending it to Malvern and, possibly, beyond.

In less than a decade, the RT will truly be a technology orphan, an ICTS line surrounded by a network of LRT lines.  However, the 2006 policy decision has yet to be revisited.

The TTC, echoing a tactic used decades earlier, has created a scenario that demands complete grade separation of the RT extension by claiming an 10,000 per peak hour demand for the line.  However, this only applies to the section between Scarborough Town Centre and Kennedy, not to the whole line.  Demand north of Sheppard is projected to be only 2,500 by 2031.  (During the original LRT scheme’s debates in the 1980s, TTC claimed that an elevated LRT would be needed through STC to avoid isolating property south of an LRT right-of-way.  The LRT proposal took the hit of what was then considered an intrusive elevated structure thus paving the way for ICTS.)

The design shown at the open house was clearly prepared for an ICTS implementation.  All of the illustrations show trains that look suspiciously like Mark II ICTS, and the route is integrated only with the existing RT, not with Transit City for vehicle maintenance.

Several questions remain unanswered:

  • If this were an LRT line, why does it need a separate maintenance yard?  At most, the line would need a storage yard, but heavy maintenance could be performed at the proposed carhouse for the Sheppard LRT.  What is the additional cost of supporting a technology for one line?  The FAQ talks about possible savings from a consolidated LRT maintenance facility, but the design shows a carhouse that would only be needed for ICTS.
  • The RT extension passes under Sheppard with no connection to the LRT line.  As an ICTS route, this is logical, but not as LRT.
  • Demand north of Sheppard, by comparison to other Transit City routes, is well within the capability of LRT, but there is no provision for a “short turn” service at the Sheppard Station, nor of a transition to at-grade operation in anticipation of extending service beyond Malvern.
  • Structures appear to be sized for ICTS, not LRT, both in the underground section and at stations.  What is the effect on cost for LRT?
  • Although it is impossible to know from the presentation, what is the maximum gradient on the line and is this appropriate for the Transit City LRT vehicle specification?  This question is answered in a comment below left by Karl Junkin.  The answer is “yes” the proposed alignment is within Transit City vehicle specs.
  • What would be the price of ICTS and LRT options?  We already know that vehicles for each technology cost roughly the same (about $5-million each), but the LRT cars are much larger.  What other differences would there be in an LRT implementation?
  • The evaluation of alignments north of Sheppard includes a footnote that cost comparisons are based on an at-grade alignment through the old rail corridor, not underground as the plans now show.  What is the extra cost of going underground, and would this be needed for an LRT line running with less frequent service?

Difficult though this may be, the TTC needs to address the technology issue for the entire RT line and do this in the larger Transit City context.  Many design issues hinge on the technology choice notably the reconfiguration of Kennedy Station.  If this will be a junction of three LRT lines (Eglinton, Scarborough-Malvern and “RT”), the layout will be very different from that with ICTS technology on the RT.

The short-sighted 2006 policy decision to retain ICTS must be reviewed.  Too often, I hear rumours and comments suggesting that support for ICTS is dwindling among transit professionals in Toronto, but none of this surfaces in public debate.  We need that debate now.