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.

44 thoughts on “A Few Questions About the Scarborough RT Extension

  1. Simple idea – why not extend the subway along the existing RT line up to Ellesmere and then continue on as LRT from somewhere there?

    At least that allows the idea to possibly extend the subway north next to the other tracks in 30-40 years time all the way up to Markham.

    Steve: At Kennedy, the subway faces east, not north. Building north to Ellesmere would (a) put the terminal almost literally in the middle of nowhere and (b) require a complete reconstruction of Kennedy station to face north-south rather than east-west. Moreover, Markham wants an extension sooner than 40 years from now. This brings us back to the whole ICTS vs LRT debate and which could/would ever be extended north into the 905.


  2. @Brent
    It was more of a joke, I already knew about the demonstration in Hamilton, But it’s my fault that it wasn’t clear enough.


    Does Bombardier still own the Millhaven facility where the ICTS/ART where built and tested? If so, maybe with all the tracks they can “demonstrate” the ART MKII in the winter to show us they really have improved. 😉

    If we’re going to buy into this again we might as well see it operate in our Climate, not B.C. I think that’s a point you should bring up with the TTC.

    Steve: Yes, they still have it, and they had it when the Mark I’s were built. There is a film somewhere of a Mark I roaring through heavily piled snow. What it didn’t show was that this was powder, not heavy wet packed snow, nor did it address freeze up of the rails caused by heating effect of passing trains. As for Mark IIs, we know that Skytrain had all sorts of problems last November when it snowed in Vancouver. Case closed.


  3. @ J Johnson,

    I respectfully disagree with your proposal. To start with, the route would be significantly lengthened simply to shift the Sheppard Station further East (and not by much…1.4 km) and to add an extra station of dubious usefulness at Neilson/401. I say dubious because a huge chunk of the catchment area for this station would be the asphalt of the 401. To me that seems a significant addition of cost for very little ridership gain….and the costs would be significant if the hydro corridor was being given up.

    There is plenty of merit to your suggestions that the station at Centennial College should be moved deeper into the campus and that a station would be useful at Markham (especially if it could serve Tuxedo Court as you pointed out). I agree with the suggestions. However, they don’t necessarily require a Neilson/401 alignment to happen. Regardless of it’s LRT or RT, using elevation or tunneling these objectives could be achieved. Or in the case of LRT, if costs are a concern, a simple surface loop/dog leg into Centennial could also be built.

    I don’t get your point about how Sheppard Markham is flanked by the RT on three sides. It will have the SRT corridor on one side and it will have the SELRT running through it. Given the density being planned for this area (and it’s much higher than any of the other planned catchment areas, save Malvern) it will generate enough riders to feed the line. By contrast shifting the line to serve Neilson south of the 401, and Tuxedo Court would not generate as much ridership, or prompt as much development. I’d be concerned too that such a southward alignment would continue to pertpetuate the mistake of placing Bellamy station that far south to begin with (when most of its potential users are further to the north). Were LRT to be deployed, it would be perfect for running at-grade along Progress, moving the station further up Bellamy.

    Last point about the placement of Malvern Station. I agree with you completely that it might be better to place the station somewhere between Neilson/Tapscott and Neilson/McLevin. However, were this to be an east-west alignment that would mean burying the station (and some of the line) underneath the mall. And regardless of alignment you’d still have to make room for the bus bays and the kiss n ride. That’s probably why the TTC chose the alignment it did. The only practical way I can see for that alignment to be improved is to move the station to Neilson/McLevin and build the bus bays and other infrastructure on the south-west corner of the intersection across the Professional Centre. IMHO, this would be the best location to facilitate buses coming in from Morningside Heights or along McLevin or the redesigned Malvern bus routes that will probably come up Neilson.


  4. Steve

    Skytrain has definitely had its issues with snow, but this past winter we had other problems. Around Christmas we had pretty close to record amounts of snow and they did a better job than usual of keeping the trains going – but on Christmas Eve we had other issues resulting from the snow:


    How many times does a subway or LRT get shut down because of a tree fallen on the line? A western hemlock, I believe.

    Steve: Your photo shows a tree that would have blocked any technology. I believe this sort of thing has happened in Toronto but can’t remember the details.


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