TTC Capital Budget 2010-2019 (2): Subway Fleet and Service Plans

The TTC Capital Budget contains many projects related to subway fleet, capacity and future operations.  Collectively, these projects amount to billions of dollars and many of them are not yet funded.

There are two major problems faced by subway planners:

  • Everything has a very long lead time, and plans made today need to balance between overspending on capacity we might not need and underspending that could produce future constraints on service.
  • Everything costs a lot of money, and unexpected additions to the budget can crowd out other necessary projects.

Large organizations and projects share issues familiar to many:

  • Left hand, right hand.  One department plans on the assumption that another project will actually happen in the announced manner and on a definite timescale.  Plans change, but co-ordination is less than perfect, and plans go out of sync.
  • In for a penny, in for a pound.  A project is “sold” politically on the basis of improvements it can bring.  However, actually achieving these improvements triggers the need for many follow-on works that are not budgeted.  Proponents of the first project in this chain innocently claim that they were simply creating the ability for some future enhancement.  Privately the attitude may be that the politicians would never approve something if they knew how much it would actually cost.  In a robust economy, the extra funding is always found somewhere, but when times are tight, budget surprises are unwelcome.

Both of these effects can be seen in the TTC’s subway fleet and service plans. Continue reading

Rethinking the Waterfront West LRT

The TTC’s 2010-2019 Capital Budget contains a project description for the WWLRT that throws the whole project into serious doubt.  Metrolinx funding has been deferred to 2022, and the schedule for the project now looks like this:

  • 2022 Construction starts; Park Lawn Loop is built
  • 2026 Service begins from Exhibition Loop to Dufferin
  • 2028 Service begins from Dufferin to Park Lawn
  • 2029 Service begins from Park Lawn to Long Branch

Most of the Lake Shore community residents who have attended EA meetings to discuss the design and effect on their neighbourhoods will have to wait two decades to see the project implemented.  Whatever happened to Toronto’s “Transit First” model for the waterfront?  Must we wait for the complete condoization of Lake Shore before anything happens with transit service?  How relevant will 2009 studies be if the project isn’t actually in operation until 2029?

This project has been gerrymandered throughout its history to suit whatever pet project (pro or con transit) happened to be on the front pages, and the idea that the line might actually have some useful transit function often appeared secondary.  Indeed, the original 1990 study describes a line that is unrecognizable in today’s plans which have been updated by amendment without any formal public participation or any sense of overall direction for the project. Continue reading

Metrolinx Electrification Study Terms of Reference

Metrolinx will seek a consultant to undertake a system-wide study of GO electrification with the intent of completing a report by December 2010.  A Request for Proposals (RFP) will be issued with the intention of award in November, and commencement of work in December 2009.  This is an aggressive timeframe for a project of this scope.

The proposed Terms of Reference (ToR) for this study are now available online.  They will be discussed at a meeting of the Metrolinx Board on Tuesday, October 20 at 11:45 am.  If approved, they will form the basis for the RFP.

My comments about the ToR were added here at about 6:30 pm on October 15.

Overall, the Terms of Reference are thorough and address many of the issues raised by the community.  Indeed, it is odd that Metrolinx was so defensive about its Georgetown South EA and associated claims regarding emissions considering the breadth of issues that will face the electrification study.

[Note that some remarks here duplicate replies in the comments thread which were posted before I updated the main article.]

The document linked here includes a covering report and the recommendations of the Community Advisory Committee created to advise Metrolinx on the ToR.  That Committee received input from, among other places, a “stakeholders meeting” in which I participated.  Some, but not all, of the issues raised by participants at that meeting have found their way into the ToR, or were already present.

I cannot help being amused (ROTFLMAO), but also dismayed by the following comment:

The GO System Electrification Study is a critical next step in the implementation of the Metrolinx regional transportation plan. It is a timely and important step in advancing the expansion of the GTHA regional transit network. In the continuing Metrolinx tradition that values community and stakeholder input, the Community Advisory Committee enhanced and enriched the quality of the work.  [Page 3]

There are a few community groups who would beg to differ with the claim that Metrolinx has a tradition of valuing community input.  This insults the many people who worked to raise important issues on the Georgetown South study, but for their pains were dismissed as NIMBYs while Metrolinx spun the issues to favour its own position.  Metrolinx is better known for secrecy and isolation than for community involvement.

The ToR are quite clear in requiring input from a broad range of interested and affected parties, and this will be a welcome change if there is no attempt to manage responses to fit a pre-determined conclusion.

A few broad issues are worth mentioning before I review specific sections of the proposal.

  • The study will review diesel and electric options, as well as two as yet unnamed alternative technologies.  Such alternatives have to be possible, realistic and viable, although how a study ending in 2010 would establish that capability for, say, a decade in the future is beyond me.  The last thing we need is another proposal based on a technology that’s just out of reach, or one where the GTA would become the guinea pig to demonstrate a new system. 
  • The distinction between the Union-Pearson Rail Link (UPRL) and Metrolinx/GO is becoming ever more difficult to discern.  For all practical purposes this service is being designed by GO, its infrastructure is built and paid for by GO, and all of the legal processes including Environmental Assessments are handled by GO.  There is little or no public participation by the so-called private partner, SNC-Lavalin, and recent press reports confirmed that a contract does not yet exist with that partner.  Given the level of public investment and involvement, the time is long past that SNC-Lavalin should abandon this scheme so that it can be properly integrated with GO’s plans and operations.
  • The methodology for evaluating environmental effects is much changed from the system used in the Metrolinx EA.  Rather than considering the airshed as a whole and trading off alleged reductions in pollution on the 401 for increases in Parkdale, the study must look at local effects related to distance from the rail corridor.  Of course, when the alternatives under comparison are trains-vs-trains, the concept of displaced trips fades in importance except for situations where technology “A” can carry and attract more riders than technology “B”.

Comments below are keyed to specific numbered sections within the ToR which form Appendix A of the linked document. Continue reading

Will Diesels Roar Through Minister’s Loophole?

Ever since Ontario’s Minister of the Environment, John Gerretsen, announced that the Georgetown South expansion of GO services, plus the link to Pearson Airport, would be allowed to proceed subject to a number of conditions, there has been much spin in the press by both side of the argument.

My position is quite clear in two previous posts:  the numbers used by Metrolinx to substantiate their claims about comparative pollution of auto and train travel are seriously flawed to the point that claims made by Metrolinx and the govenment are simply not true.

One additional problem came to light earlier today.

On its website, Metrolinx characterizes the decision as follows:

Trains operated by GO Transit on the Georgetown rail corridor and the Union Pearson Rail Link service must use Tier 4 state of the art engines when the service expansion begins or as soon as the technology is commercially available.

However, the order actually reads:

2. All trains utilized for GO Transit that travel to, from or through Georgetown along the Georgetown South Corridor shall be Tier 4 compliant when service begins or when Tier 4 compliant technology becomes commercially available.

3. All trains utilized for the Union-Pearson Rail Link in the Georgetown South Corridor shall be Tier 4 compliant when service begins or when Tier 4 compliant technology becomes commercially available.

The wording of item 2 above is curious.  Only trains that “to, from or through Georgetown” are subject to the order.  This omits the following services from the scope of the order:

  • Proposed frequent short-turn service to Brampton,
  • Trains to Milton which use the corridor south of West Toronto diamond,
  • Trains to Barrie which use the corridor south of Dundas Street, and run parallel to it for some distance to the north,
  • Trains to Bolton, a proposed new peak period GO line, which uses the corridor to the point where it turns west over the Humber River.

However, Metrolinx has no compunctions about including these trains in its calculations of diverted trips, saved emissions and, of course, the benefits of Tier 4 diesel technology.

Either the order is oddly and badly drafted, or there is a deliberate attempt to limit its scope while giving the impression that all new trains will have the latest in pollution controls.  The former would be mere incompetence.  The latter casts both Metrolinx and the Government’s position in a much darker light.

The Minister of the Environment owes everyone a clear statement regarding the intent of his order.  If it applies to all trains that will operate on the rail corridor beginning roughly at the Strachan Avenue grade crossing and ending at Georgetown, then say so.  If not, then explain why the frequent services planned for the heavy Milton (future Cambridge) and Barrie routes will operate with Tier 2 diesels.

Fun With Figures at Metrolinx (2)

Yesterday, I wrote about the Metrolinx calculations purporting to show improvements in pollution due to all the new diesel trains that will run in the corridor.  In that article, I concentrated on the GO services and the off-the-scale error in estimates of trips that would be taken.

This error — assuming all trains would be completely full, all day, both ways — dilutes the pollution per trip assigned to each passenger, and also inflates the pollution “saved” by auto trips that are diverted to transit.

A comment in that thread came in from John Galeazza:

Re. Pearson traffic growth.

Come now are we saying that Pearson has not seen a 4 fold increase in traffic over the past 20 odd years? Take a look at Pearson’s reports (they’re available on the GTAA’s website) in both passenger volume and aircraft movements there has been a steady increase.

To say that we shouldn’t use a piece of infrastructure because it has steadily fallen into disuse is farcical in my humble opininion. If that were the case GO would never have gotten started on the old freight/passenger lines that became “useless” with the arrival of the airplane and the car.

In my original reply (which has been hidden from the thread), I questioned the estimated ridership in the corridor for the air-rail link. Thanks to an arithmetic error (yes, even I make them, but at least I admit it when they happen), my comment would up addressing a false premise. That’s why I pulled it. Continue reading

Fun With Figures at Metrolinx

Monday’s approval of Metrolinx’ plans to run diesel trains on the Weston/Georgetown corridor stirred up lots of discussion here, in the mainstream media and at City Hall.  If this approval rested on solid data and projections, we could simply argue the fine points and debate rollout plans.  However, the claims made by Metrolinx for emissions from the project, comparisons with auto travel and supposed reductions by redirected auto travel depend on calculations that are transparently wrong.

In brief, Metrolinx assumes that every GO train trip, both ways, every day, all day in the corridor will be completely full of passengers, all 1,900 of them (a fully seated load on a 12-car train).  This absurd premise overstates the likely ridership by a factor of at least 4, probably greater (details follow later in this article) with the following effects:

  • Pollution caused by the trains is a fixed number determined by how many trips they make.  If there are fewer passengers, the pollution per passenger trip is much larger than claimed by Metrolinx.
  • If there are fewer passengers, then fewer auto trips are diverted to rail.  This does not affect the pollution saving per trip (presuming that one even agrees with this premise), but the total saving is greatly reduced because so many fewer trips are diverted.

Opening day (2015) traffic projected for the corridor is 184 GO trains and 140 UPRL (Airport) trains.  The total trips calculated by Metrolinx for the corridor GO services is 349,600 per weekday.  To put this in context, the entire GO rail system carries about 180,000 passengers per day today.

In practice, the trains will carry nowhere near 1,900 per trip on average.  Peak travel will be heavily inbound in the AM and outbound in the PM, with lightly loaded trains in the counterpeak.  During the off-peak, loads will be much lower than at peak, and some trips (notably inbound late evening runs) will be almost empty.  The same patterns can be seen on the Toronto subway system.

I am inserting the break here for those who don’t want to read the gory details, although the conclusions are down at the end. Continue reading

Weston Corridor GO/UPRL Approved, But With Conditions (Update 4)

Updated October 7 at 8:00 am:

Toronto Councillor Michael Thompson, who could not possibly be labelled part of Council’s left wing or a Miller loyalist, has written to George Smitherman, Minister of Energy and Infrastructure, urging that he pursue electrification immediately.  Many of the arguments in this letter echo those of critics of the Minister of the Environment’s approval of diesel operations in the Weston Corridor.

This places Smitherman, a possible mayoral candidate in Toronto, in an intriguing position.  Does he take a Queen’s Park view and parrot the standard line “clean diesels now, but electric maybe, someday”, or look to the election campaign and move to support Toronto Council’s view of the issue?  Thompson himself could be a mayoral candidate.

Updated October 6 at 10:35 am:

Interviews with Keith Brooks of the Clean Train Coalition are available online from CBC (select the item “Diesel Not Good Enough”) and from AM640 (select the item “Keith Brooks — October 5th”).

Updated October 6 at 10:10 am:

John Gerretsen, the Minister of the Environment, seems unable to stay “on message” when discussing electrification with the media.  On CBC and in the Globe, the Minister is quoted as saying that electrification is “too expensive”, and yet in a letter to Keith Brooks of the Clean Train Coalition, the Minister states:

“Many requests were made to require Metrolinx to electrify the Georgetown South Corridor. Metrolinx has committed to conducting a study to look at the best technology for the entire GO Transit rail network of the future, which is required before electrification of the corridor can be considered. I have reminded Metrolinx of its commitment to further study the possibility of electrification for the entire GO Transit rail line, which includes the Georgetown South Corridor. If the study results in information or recommendations that could have positive impacts on the environment, I expect Metrolinx to implement the recommendations as expeditiously as possible.”

Either electrification is too expensive, and should not be considered now, or it will magically become acceptable following the study.

If the Minister is making soothing statements to community groups, why doesn’t he make the same statements to the media?  Possibly because the “too expensive” excuse wouldn’t wash if there’s a study whose outcome may show that electrification is cheaper and better?

Updated October 6 at 6:55 am:

Brodie Fenlon at The Globe covers this story including comments from several of the community and government folks involved in this issue.

Tess Kalinowski at The Star has a short piece, and The CBC reports on the issue.  CBC radio coverage notes that John gerretsen, the Minister of the Environment says the approval will allow the diesel connection to the airport to open by 2015.  This is clearly in aid of the Pan Am Games bid, and an unanswered question is “what happens if we don’t get the bid”.  Has this project approval been railroaded [sorry about that] to sustain Toronto’s bid credibility?

The Minister is also quoted by the Star and CBC as saying that electrification is too expensive.  Does this prejudge the outcome of the very electrification study Metrolinx is about to undertake?  Why study a technology we have already rejected?  Are we seeing the real face of Queen’s Park’s “public consultation” here?

Original post: 

This evening, Ontario’s Ministry of the Environment announced that the Georgetown South GO project has been approved, but with conditions required to ensure that it meets claims for environmental improvements and mitigation, if needed, for any harmful effects.

The press release and detailed announcement of terms are available online.

In brief, the Minister requires that GO Transit and the Union-Pearson Rail Link abide by several conditions.  It is noteworthy that the UPRL is explicitly included because through much of the discussions, it has been treated as an off-limits deal between the federal and/or provincial governments and a private company, SNC-Lavalin, who would implement and operate the service. Continue reading

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.

Continue reading