Will the RT become LRT? (Update 3)

Updated October 2 at 11:15 pm:

In the comments thread, a question has come up about the originally proposed alignment of the SLRT.  This dates back to the Metropolitan Toronto Transportation Plan Review (MTTPR) and a study of alternatives to the Scarborough Expressway.  One of these was an LRT line starting at roughly Queen & McCaul running east to the CNR Kingston Sub at Degrassi St., then northeast via the CN to Morningside Avenue.  A branch would run north from Scarborough Junction following mainly existing and abandoned rail corridors to the Scarborough Town Centre.

That branch eventually became the SRT, but was moved to follow the Uxbridge Subdivision because the old right-of-way used in the first proposal was very narrow.  As you will see from the maps, this is not the very wide Hydro corridor that crosses the SRT line, but a much tighter route.

To orient yourself, the Uxbridge Subdivision runs just below the top edge of these maps which have north to the right.

South Part
North Part

Updated September 30 at 4:50 pm:

Item SC 28.30, which requests the TTC and Metrolinx to report in November 2009 on an LRT implementation for the SRT, was passed today by Council.

Item SC28.20 was ruled out of order and withdrawn.

Updated September 30 at 12:45 pm:

This morning, in discussion of another Transit City matter on the Council Agenda, Councillor Thompson asked TTC Chief General Manager Gary Webster about the status of the Scarborough project.  Among other things, Webster replied that:

  • TTC now feels that LRT is the appropriate technology for the route and is working with Metrolinx to define the technology and scope for the Transit City projects generally.
  • The funding announced by Queen’s Park is not sufficient to carry the SRT north from Sheppard to Malvern.

The debate will continue this afternoon, but I suspect the items listed in my original post below will not be dealt with until tomorrow given their place on the agenda.

Original post:

Toronto Council’s agenda today, September 30, includes items of interest regarding the Scarborough RT (SRT) line.

Item SC28.30, initiated on a motion by Councillor Michael Thompson, amended by Councillor Brian Ashton, (both former members of the Toronto Transit Commission), reads:

Scarborough Community Council recommends that:

1. City Council request the Toronto Transit Commission and Metrolinx to report back in November 2009 on a process to implement LRT Technology to match and work with Transit City, on the extension of the Scarborough Rapid Transit line, and request the conversion of the existing line between Kennedy and McCowan stations from its current I.C.T.S. Technology to LRT technology, matching the extension, consistent with Transit City.

Decision Advice and Other Information

The Scarborough Community Council requested Scarborough Planning and Transportation staff to report to the Scarborough Community Council, at its meeting on October 13, 2009, on the status of the Transit City as it impacts the Scarborough District including the status of Environmental Assessment studies relative to current networks.

In a related item, SC28.20:

Scarborough Community Council recommends that:

1. City Council request Metrolinx and the TTC to report back to the Scarborough Community Council by April 2010 on Scarborough Community Council’s position that the Sheppard East LRT will terminate at the Toronto Zoo.

2. City Council request Metrolinx and the TTC to reaffirm the commitment to a transit line extending to the Scarborough Town Centre.

The historic irony of this proposal is, of course, that the SRT was originally planned as an LRT line, but at the request of Scarborough Council, under considerable lobbying effort from Queen’s Park, was redesigned as an ICTS line.

These motions, collectively, would see an extended “RT” integrated in Scarborough’s Transit City LRT network and would provide for both east-west and north-south service as well as interlining to connect the Scarborough Town Centre with the Sheppard line.  This could allow service to operate from STC to the Zoo (as per the proposed extension) and/or the University of Toronto Scarborough Campus (UTSC).

I hope that Council formally embraces this position.  Throughout the Scarborough RT extension EA process, almost all of the proposals shown to the community were heavily ICTS oriented and there was no discussion of the alternative implementations possible if the line were LRT.  Notable examples are:

  • The absence of a track connection between the Sheppard LRT and the extended RT.  If the technologies differ, of course such a connection would not exist.  However, if an option for LRT were truly being considered, the junction at Sheppard would have included an alternative design with a connection.
  • The underground section for the ICTS route north of Sheppard could possibly be shortened for LRT depending on how the approach to Malvern Centre is handled.
  • The design for Malvern Centre station assumes an ICTS line on an elevated structure.  However, there are already proposals to extend the route further north, something that would be much more easily (and cheaply) achieved with an at-grade LRT.
  • The proposed yard for the extended SRT line could be replaced by consolidation into those that will be built for other parts of the LRT network.

None of this is a surprise to TTC staff who have talked, usually privately, about their preference for an all-LRT network in Scarborough.  With Council’s approval, this discussion can come into the open.

61 thoughts on “Will the RT become LRT? (Update 3)

  1. Steve,

    Do you have an image/map of the original Canadian-Northern alignment through Scarborough.

    I can clearly still see it north of Sheppard (on Google), but after that it gets hazy.

    Steve: See the update to the main post.


  2. Keith L said: I don’t think that tunnel can or should be eliminated. When it was LRT, it was disruptive enough (particularly between McLevin and Sheppard). And many residents had serious issues with the idea of elevated tracks that tower over their homes and backyards (particularly for privacy reasons). It might be less so as LRT, but the tunnel will still be needed because of the position of the hydro corridor and the presence of the SELRT on Sheppard. I think a short tunnel from just south McLevin to just north of Sheppard is more than adequate and would not be all that expensive.

    There are a couple of things I think could be clarified here. One is that you are only thinking about the options presented by the TTC, which excluded at-grade because ICTS is not capable of such when it comes to road crossings. At-grade (or slightly recessed) LRT would satisfy privacy concerns because you wouldn’t be able to see over people’s backyard fences. As for those that don’t have backyard fences, they obviously don’t have privacy concerns in the first place (they’re wide open to the property on the opposite side of the corridor).

    Two is that the SELRT is precisely why it shouldn’t be tunneled. We want the track connection with the SELRT at the very least for carhouse moves. This is needlessly complex and expensive if the rail-rail crossing is grade-separated.

    Three is the hydro corridor, that is to say, what hydro corridor? This is a preserved decommissioned railway corridor. Maybe you’re thinking of Highland Creek, which I very strongly suspect would make the tunnel unfeasible if crossing Sheppard at-grade since it’s unlikely it can dive down low enough beneath the creek in time at no greater than 5% grade.

    Elimination of the tunnel, including avoiding the hassles of going under a creek, makes this project a lot cheaper, and I’d dare say more attractive since it will be a more peaceful ride (tunnels are noisy for the riders since sound created in tunnels has no place to go). This creates a more social transit atmosphere. It’s one of those small thing that I think nobody thinks about because buses are so noisy as well, but would subconsciously be very appreciated. It wouldn’t be noisy for the neighbourhood and designing it to not be a privacy intrusion should be relatively easy. The challenging part is to design it in such a way as to keep the green space usable by the public. This is easily overlooked, but very important for public relations. We don’t want opposition to the project when we know we can avoid it if we’re careful.

    Keith L said: Depending on how the station at Malvern Town Centre is done, a second tunnel may be necessary. Though, maybe elevated is best here. The stations would have to be properly integrated into the Yellow Pages building and the Community Centre.

    There’s an important question here on alignment. Does it go along the north side of MTC, or does it go along the south side? I know there will be people pushing for a south side option, and I would have to agree with them; that’s where the existing density and walk-in ridership base is. I can see how people that are particularly concerned about parking and access to it might try to promote a tunnel here, but I believe that this would be unnecessary and unwise given the cost.

    The CP Belleville crossing, however, is another matter. For that, it probably should go into a trench and beneath the CP tracks, designed at the same time as a GO station there, since the road bridge is arched and therefore unsuitable for a station.

    Keith L said: One huge benefit of switching to LRT that nobody seems to have commented on is the possibility for more stops and reduced station spacing. They didn’t even have a stop at McLevin or Markham in the old plan. The only SRT extension plan was rather useless for Malvern in that regard. If they use at-grade LRT they can also place stops where they make sense like Progress and Bellamy instead of at some mid-block point on a Hydro corridor.

    Again, it’s not a hydro corridor, it’s a creek or a decommissioned railway corridor.

    Centennial College would be considered the Markham Rd stop. Even as LRT, it’d be difficult to justify both stations so close together. The ICTS Bellamy Station location was influenced entirely by the yard that is obsolete with LRT, and this is something that might be revisited. The ICTS proposal had Bellamy Station 400m south of Progress. As an LRT, I can see an opportunity to perhaps reduce that to 200m south of Progress, which would still allow McCowan Station to remain in its current location.


    I have heard TTC staff musing at past public meetings about redesigning Scarborough Centre Station entirely and bringing the tracks to a lower level. It’s an interesting opportunity that has me curious, but cautious. I was taken aback when I first heard staff talking about such a dramatic approach.

    There’s also pressure building in the last Council meeting for a Brimley Station and could lead to a showdown between City Staff and TTC Staff. This battle apparently dates back to 2006 as part of the Mark II plan. If Brimley Station is built as part of the conversion, it make a redesigned Scarborough Centre a viable option. I’ll be interested in seeing what Staff come up with on this one.

    Steve: Dropping the LRT to surface level through STC would be challenging given that it would have to compete with a lot of bus traffic, and such a conversion would add substantially to the cost and complexity of changes at STC station. The elevated should be capable of handling LRT without changes as it was designed for streetcars in the first place.

    As for Brimley Station, I’m not sure we want an at-grade crossing of Brimley given the frequency of service that will operate west and south of STC. If I were feeling peevish, I might ditch Midland Station which needs serious work to be adapted to low floor LRV operation.

    The TTC’s lack of a full presentation of an LRT alternative in the public meetings shows how biased the work they were doing was. Although they mentioned LRT as an option in passing, all of the designs were ICTS-specific and the public never had a chance to see what the LRT implementation might look like.

    I won’t say anything about the consultant’s study of the SRT that was clearly headed to a recommendation that the line convert to LRT, but magically was transformed into a pro-ICTS report after the TTC got finished massaging it. The TTC’s hands are not entirely clean on this issue.


  3. All this talk of branching … are you guys kidding?

    First, the TTC doesn’t branch or interline — that’s Commandment #1.

    Second, they have already stated that they will not fork the line in semi-exclusive on-street ROWs because they fear it will compromise the headway uniformity on the trunk section. If any line should be forked, it should be Eglinton in the west-end as it approaches the airport.

    The only argument in favor of eliminating ICTS that holds any weight is its snow/ice problem. Every other argument falls flat.

    Steve: Strange how you use TTC arguments when it suits you. ICTS is dead. Kaput. Get used to it. We have suffered with that ridiculous technology far too long.


  4. What Leo says about through routing down the SRT as a trunk being a risk to service quality has some truth to it, but really only if operations get overcomplicated. If we were to simply schedule enough trains for acceptable service on the inner SRT, run them inbound as fast as possible to Kennedy (irrespective of scheduled times and train sequencing) then have departures from Kennedy based on establishing even headways on (in order of importance) both the inner and outer sections the line should be reasonably reliable. Add some gap filler trains that turn back at STC or wherever the ROW ends and the operation really shouldn’t be any worse than what we have now.


  5. M. Briganti said: “The only argument in favor of eliminating ICTS that holds any weight is its snow/ice problem.”

    Additional arguments are the commonality of fleet / maintenance equipment, and the elimination of one yard location.

    Leo Gonzalez said: “If there are two or three or four branches using this trunk line, what happens when they get to Kennedy?”

    This is a good point. However, I suspect that TTC will not branch S(L)RT, since it will be built for 3-car trains while most of other light rail lines will be designed for 2-car trains only. They will just short-turn 1/2 or 2/3 of trains at Sheppard or at Centennial College.

    They might branch the Sheppard E line though: half of trains going to Meadowvale and the Zoo, the other half to Malvern Centre via the S(L)RT extension track.


  6. I think then biggest issue with keeping ICTS is that we end up with so many technologies to maintain, we have the subway, Street Cars, Transit City cars, ICTS and buses. The idea should be to merge technologies where we can. I expect that maintenance for a street car and a TC car should be virtually identical. I know I have said it before and will undoubtedly say it again, that street car lines should over the next 30 years, during regular maintenance be adjusted and realigned so that the next generation of SC/TC cars will be identical off the shelf cars. This would leave us 3 technologies, heavy rail, light rail and bus.

    Steve: The idea of a gradual refit sounds good in theory, but one big problem we have is intersection geometry. Where two four-lane roads meet, the curves are going to be tight. We have also built this into structures such as the curve in the tunnel south to west at Bay and Queen’s Quay, and many loops don’t have room for expansion or conversion to double-end operation. Also, the hills are a fact of life.

    That said, most of the subsystems on both cars will be quite similar and the main difference should be in whatever has been done to the trucks and suspension to accommodate the city system’s geometry.


  7. Changing the line over works even if capacity forces you to end all interlining. A 2 car LRV is as long as a 4 car ICTS, and so a 3 car LRV is as long as a 6 car ICTS (a bit longer in fact). Stations like STC and I think Kennedy were designed to be long enough to fit such a 6 car vehicle, and therefore it might make sense to have a 3 car train. The problem becomes where to throw them? While you *could* interline it with some other route, the question becomes which one? Unless all routes were 3 car trains, you’d end up with some 2 car trains and some 3 car trains. Then, unless you want to be coupling and decoupling cars all day, you’d have to either store these 3 car trains somewhere outside of peak, or use them all day every day on the interlined routes (and I doubt any of them have the demand for this, the empty cars would become graffiti targets.) That is why I’m not big on the interlining argument.

    However. The simple fact that they would use the same vehicles would save money, and interlining would indeed work for the time being. Due to that, I support this move.


  8. Subway cars are not double-ended, that’s why they’re in married pairs. That’s why we can see single-car transit city vehicles as well as 3-car consists, both of which are not possible in a married pair system. My point was that a single TC car can become separated from a consist in either direction at either end and take off on its own in either direction. The subway can’t do that.

    Steve: Sorry, I didn’t realize you were talking about the ability to make/break trains and always have a cab facing out at both ends. Subway cars can do that in pairs as you mention, although the new fleet is made up of 6-car units.


  9. Actually, as far as making and breaking trains goes, there is a significant difference between our subway cars and LRVs. Any LRV we consider is going to be a single automatic coupler, without independent brake lines, which the subway cars still have, and require an actual person to manually hook the lines up.

    That said, the only system I can think of that does any kind of on the fly coupling of trains before entering a trunk line is the Muni Market subway, and from everything I’ve heard that isn’t a line we want to be imitating. As for changing train lengths depending on demand across the day, my impression is that this involves quite a bit more labour than you could possibly save operationally. In terms of interlining problems with train lengths, the only place that I really see the problem occurring is Sheppard, and I suspect that it would not be wholly unreasonable to build three car platforms there.

    Now, as for my proffered architecture (short of extending Sheppard and BD to STC and adding a Malvern busway), I’d like to see the PROW extend to Sheppard, and use a median route to Malvern via Sheppard and Neilson (pretty close to option 2 from the BCA).

    Expand this with a second phase (sometime AFTER the rest of transit city presumably) continuing north of the Uxbridge sub to Sheppard for better through routing of Sheppard trains and a southern extension from Kennedy via Scarborough GO to Kingston Road. Eventually we might be able to outright replace the Stoufville GO train with some combination of LRT extension and diesel/electric tram trains.

    Steve: Here I think you go off the rails. STC is the centre of the universe for many in Scarborough, and your proposal would have Sheppard to Kennedy trains bypass STC. As for replacing GO’s Stouffville service, don’t forget that this line is planned to be extended further north in the Big Move, and that many people it serves want to go to downtown.


  10. Isn’t the original plan placed along the now defunct CNoR sub that went out to Ottawa?

    Steve: I believe so. See the maps that I linked from the main post.


  11. Making or breaking trains isn’t something you want to do often, because it requires extra staff that are specialized in doing so, the TTC long ago determined that the amount of power to run a 6 car train when a 4 car train could do, was cheaper then having the staff to lop two cars off the train, for Sunday and Holiday service, simply to put the 2 cars back on for the next days service. I think the only time they break trains now are when a car pair needs to be removed for servicing, and then 2 other cars are typically put in at the same time to remake a full train.

    I wonder though about how married a subway pair really is, there is a single car sitting out near Wilson yard, without it’s mate, I would assume they took it out there under it’s own power, so maybe that are not strictly married pairs anymore.

    Steve: Those married pairs can’t run on their own. Some equipment only exists on one of the two cars in the pair.


  12. Meanwhile, in Ottawa, our rail planners have gone absolutely crazy! They are NOW proposing, wait for it, a full-fleged, subway-style, HRT!! Some are even arguing it is cheaper “in the long run” than LRT!” Time to vote in a whole new City Council, and send the current bunch to a rest home.

    Steve: I can think of folks at the TTC who could be redeployed to Ottawa where they would fit right in and stop doing damage to transit planning in Toronto.


  13. Perhaps the “single” car at Wilson is 5754 – it was modified in November 1985 to be able to run as either an “A” unit or a “B” unit following the scrapping of mate 5755. It was thus able to operate with any other unit when circumstances required it. Last I heard, it was married up with 5720 following the scrapping of 5721 but that was many years ago.


  14. “Any LRV we consider is going to be a single automatic coupler, without independent brake lines, which the subway cars still have, and require an actual person to manually hook the lines up.”

    It is possible to have automatic couplers that also handle brakelines and electronics. I’ve seen them in action at railway stations, and it is very quick. Uncoupling involves the driver pushing a button in the cab and then moving away. Coupling is a more delicate, but once one part is next to the other, it still only requires pushing a button to link up brakes etc.


  15. Hi Steve

    The news about the ICTS system is great. I am curious, though, as to how this came about. The TTC has protected this line for so long that I am wondering how they finally changed their minds. Is it due to a change in personnel in the planning department or someone getting their arms twisted very forcefully?

    Steve: I think that there was a lot of lobbying from Bombardier via Metrolinx that was related to running a Scarborough to Airport service as a 3P with Bombardier as an untendered, sole-source provider. Aside from opposition to this from the City of Toronto, serious questions would now have to be asked in the context of many provincial sole-source scandals. Vancouver at least ran a competition, and — surprise! — Bombardier didn’t have home ice advantage.


  16. re: John Bromley : “Last I heard, it was married up with 5720 following the scrapping of 5721 but that was many years ago.”

    Yes, it was, but having been away from Toronto now for almost six years, I can’t remember if the pair was renumbered 5720-5721, ior 5754-5755. I’m thinking the latter.

    And Steve : “I can think of folks at the TTC who could be redeployed to Ottawa where they would fit right in and stop doing damage to transit planning in Toronto.”

    (makes raspberry sounds!!!!!). however, they would STILL do a better job than the current Ottawa lot. One of the proposed routes for the subway is to cut a trench similar to the Transitway along Scott St., or to keep the subway analogy, the open-cut sections between Bloor and Eglinton. This would follow the old BRITANNIA streetcar line using it’s old PRW. Problem: It’s now a park. Added Problem: smack in the middle of some of the most expensive and prestigious houses in Ottawa: Westboro (= North Toronto/Lawrence Park). Oh yeah. I’m SURE the neighbourhood will go for that!


  17. Looked like the car in question had been partly painted grey at some point and was not in shape for regular service. IIRC the cab was facing the station, so the other car should have been behind it. It could also be a car they are getting ready to scrap and pushed it out there to get it out of the way.


  18. I’ve seen comments suggesting that a negative factor for ALRT (ART, ICTS) is the unsightly blemish it presents as an elevated guideway, necessary for isolation of it’s third rail power.

    Isn’t LRT just as unsightly, with it’s overhead power distribution cables and wires?

    And I’m not clear on the consensus here (I’ve read a lot of the blog, but there’s a significant amount of information and opinion to digest); is there even a role for ALRT, and if so, where? Is not ALRT is positioned as an application for capacities between LRT and HRT? Is that generally agreed to by Steve and the other folks on this blog? Or is it a simply a solution seeking a problem?

    Steve: A guideway and elevated stations, especially if they run down the middle of a street, are a far greater blight than the overhead wiring for an LRT line. Elevated stations in the middle of a road require platforms and access paths (elevators, stairways) that would consume much of the space over an intersection. This sort of implementation generally works best when it is integrated into a building or when the line is on its own right-of-way crossing intersecting streets at right angles. Compare Midland Station on the RT which fits in the latter category, and imagine what it would look like over the middle of an intersection.

    ICTS/ALRT can handle some demands and operational requirements quite well, but it’s really a niche and a high-end niche at that. For example, I was very impressed with the automated operation in the early days of Vancouver’s Skytrain where the Expo shuttle linking two sites was superimposed on the regular service. However, that sort of thing doesn’t come along every day. Moreover, Vancouver had special considerations for its implementation — an old railway tunnel under downtown that would hold stacked ICTS trains, but not LRT due to the extra height needed for the larger cars and their overhead power supply.

    The capital cost of grade-separated construction, regardless of mode, are very much greater than building at grade. However, at grade is possible for ICTS only where there is no need to cross the right-of-way (part of the original Skytrain route is built that way). In the context of Transit City, certainly, some sections cannot be on the surface because there simply isn’t room, and the LRT line goes underground there. However, where there is room, the LRT routes will be on the surface and this substantialy reduces construction costs and simplifies stations.

    In Toronto, we are not building one line as a technology showcase, we are building a network. LRT better suits the requirements of a network including flexibility of future expansion. Some parts of Transit City would never be built if they had to be ICTS.


Comments are closed.