Revised December 29 at 12:15 am: The section on the Finch LRT has been moved to the end and expanded to clarify an alternate proposal for the underground connection between the Yonge subway and the LRT station.
In the two previous articles in this series on the Eglinton and other LRT lines, I mentioned that the TTC would receive an update at its December 16 meeting on the status of the projects. Seasonal festivities and other matters have diverted my attention, and I’ve been remiss in not reporting on the news, such as it is.
The discussion was intriguing as much for its political as its technical content. Two factors, related to some extent, will force decisions that, to date, have been avoided about priorities and about the mechanism of project delivery.
- With the award of the 2015 Pan Am Games to the GTA, there is a desire to have everything up and ready to go with time to spare before the event itself. This affects both the SRT and the proposed Scarborough-Malvern LRT.
- Although Queen’s Park, through Infrastructure Ontario, is enamoured of “alternative procurement” (code for private sector development of public infrastructure), actually launching a project on such a basis is now acknowledged to add about one year to the delivery time. This affects both the SRT and the Finch West LRT which were to be delivered in this manner.
Under the original project schedule, the SRT would still be under reconstruction as an LRT line when the Games took place in 2015. If this is to be avoided, the start date for the project must be advanced to 2011 or delayed until after the games. The latter option is dubious considering that the SRT is, technically speaking, on its last legs and keeping it running reliably into the Games period may be challenging. TTC staff will report on these issue in January, and another round of public meetings is expected in the same timeframe.
Of course, staff will also finally have to produce a design that shows an LRT conversion, rather than an ICTS-centric scheme. They will have to modify the connection at Sheppard both as an interim terminal (the northern section to Malvern is not yet funded), and to provide a track connection to the Sheppard LRT so that Scarborough LRT trains can use Sheppard carhouse.
The Kennedy Station redesign is also affected by the LRT conversion as the SRT will no longer be a separate entity from the Eglinton LRT lines.
When the Games were announced, there was much talk of accelerating construction of the Scarborough Malvern LRT running east from Kennedy via Eglinton, then north via Kingston Road and Morningside to UofT’s Scarborough Campus (UTSC). What has not been examined in detail, probably because people still think of the “SRT” as an “ICTS” line, is the early construction of the northern 2km of the Malvern line from UTSC north to Sheppard.
I suspect that the running time from Kennedy to UTSC via Eglinton, or via a temporarily extended SRT via Sheppard could be comparable, and for a short-term operation would make much more sense. The UTSC site could be served by trains on the S(L)RT from Kennedy and by trains on the Sheppard LRT from Don Mills giving good access not just for people using the BD subway to reach Kennedy. Longer term, this option would provide service to UTSC long before the planned date for the Scarborough-Malvern line.
Metrolinx is considering this option, but the TTC and City are plumping for funding of the full Malvern LRT line.
The “alternative financing procurement” (AFP) issue arises because the contract with the private developer imposes an extra layer of complexity, preparation and management that does not for a project delivered in the “traditional” manner by the inhouse TTC project. Any private arrangement must have a defined product along with a mechanism to ensure compliance, and design must reach a detailed enough stage that a bidder can make a concrete proposal. This pushes back the start date for any project using alternative procurement by about a year.
In the case of the SRT, it would likely not be possible to make the target date for completion, according to preliminary comments at the TTC meeting, if the new line was to be up and running by the winter of 2014/15, well in advance of the Games.
In the case of the Finch West line, the delayed start triggers a political problem because there is so much focus on Scarborough. Why should Downsview and Rexdale have to wait behind reordered priorities that could complete the Scarborough LRT network all in the name of serving the Games?
For all of Transit City, the TTC will deliver the projects on Metrolinx’ behalf, but we don’t yet know how the next layer down will work for the AFP projects. However, regardless of how the new lines are built, the TTC will operate and mainten them.
Project Co-ordination and Standardization
The TTC will have a program manager within their Transit City department responsible for the projects. In theory, this should provide one-stop shopping for a number activities that were at times disorganized on the St. Clair project. The TTC and City will co-ordinate all construction activities, including those of utilities, to avoid scheduling problems, minimize effects on neighbourhoods, and to simply keep everyone informed of what is happening.
Detailed information will be maintained on the project websites, services such as Facebook, and other media. The real issues here will be timeliness, accuracy and completeness, all weak points in TTC web-based information sources.
An important change from the St. Clair project will be an attempt to bundle utility work into the main LRT construction contracts rather than having each part of the work proceed separately under different contracts. This will ensure good planning and co-ordination because the same company will do all of the work in a section of the route. Better scheduling should also be possible so that affected parties and neighbourhoods can know when to expect work to affect them and to be completed.
One troubling aspect is the development of a standard 36m street cross-section for the LRT lines. This is all well and good where 36m is available, but in some cases this is not true.
On Finch from Yonge to Bathurst, the City plans to widen the street to 36m based on a long-standing part of plans for the area. Other parts of the Transit City network are not so simply to address, and as I have discussed here before, parts of the TTC are still in denial about the difficulties of placing a reserved lane (regardless of the vehicle technology) on a narrow street.
Acquisition of Carhouse Properties
City Council has approved acquisition of properties for maintenance facilities on the Eglinton and Finch West lines. The Eglinton property is at the old Kodak lands in Weston, while the Finch property is between York Gate and Norfinch.
Sheppard East LRT
Construction of the Sheppard East line is now underway with two preparatory projects:
- Sewer and watermain replacement on Sheppard.
- GO Agincourt grade separation. This would have occurred eventually for improved GO service on the Uxbidge Sudivision, but construction of the LRT line provided the trigger to get this done now. The detour road is under construction, and the actual grade separation work will occur in 2010.
Two LRT and road contracts will be let in 2010, and the target opening date is September 2013.
This project originally included an extension of the RT to Malvern Centre, but the funding provided will only take the line to Sheppard as a first stage. This is now an LRT conversion project, not an ICTS project, and its scope is therefore greater than a replacement of Mark I with Mark II ICTS technology.
A few years ago, a study of the SRT’s future was clearly headed to a recommendation that the line be converted to LRT, but this was before Transit City was announced. Somewhere between the public meetings (which were clearly pro-LRT) and the final staff report to the Commission, the idea of an LRT conversion was downplayed because:
- Both the ICTS and LRT options cost roughly the same for the existing section of the route from McCowan to Kennedy. Now that the line will be both extended and will be part of a larger LRT network, the ICTS option does not make sense economically or operationally.
- The shutdown time for an LRT conversion was projected to be quite long relative to Mark II ICTS. Since then, the changes needed for the ICTS option have turned out to be greater than originally expected, although still not enough to make the shutdown times equal. The TTC should produce a project plan that maximizes the amount of work that can be done before a shutdown is required.
The original construction start was projected as 2012 with revenue service in 2016. However, as noted above, this conflicts with the Pan Am Games in 2015 when all services should be operating. We will learn in January what sort of construction schedule the Games will require.
The TTC is now developing a schedule for the project, and is designing the at-grade sections of the line. Construction of the at-grade portion from Jane west to Commerce Blvd. will start in mid 2010.
The tunnel boring machines (TBMs) will be tendered in spring 2010, and the tunnelling launch site (east of Black Creek) will be tendered in the fall. These jobs are timed so that the launch site for the TBMs will be ready when they are delivered in late 2011.
The opening dates for each section remain 2016 (Renforth to Eglinton West), 2018 (Eglinton West to Kennedy) and 2020 (Renforth to Airport).
Finch West LRT
The EA for this line was also on the agenda for this meeting, and it was approved for transmittal to Council where it will be discussed in late January 2010. Panels from the last round of public meetings are available on the project website.
Geotechnical studies as well as structural analysis of bridges on the route is underway, and a draft feasibility study of an extension to Woodbine Live! and Pearson Airport is complete. This material has not yet been released and, no doubt, suffers from the same uncertainty about routing through the airport as the Eglinton LRT line.
Construction start is planned for 2011 with revenue service in 2015. These dates may be revised depending on the outcome of discussions about procurement and project management (see above).
An illustration in the Commission presentation (not available online) was slightly different from that in the panels linked above.
Finch-Yonge station’s connection between the two lines is very roundabout. The more recent illustration shows the arrangement in a 3D view rather than only in profile. In a masterpiece of understatement, a note on this drawing says that “refinement of concept to enhance passenger transfer convenience will be conducted during preliminary design”. That’s putting it mildly. The proposed arrangement requires passengers to descend two levels from the LRT station and then arise onto the subway’s centre platform from below.
The problem arises because of the relative elevations of the station components and the placement of the LRT station. In the existing station, the subway is two “levels” below grade while the mezzanine linking to the various entrances and to the bus loop is one below. The LRT station would also be one below and would fit between the roof of the subway structure and Finch Avenue.
The LRT station is centre platform and cannot, therefore, directly connect to the existing mezzanine. If the LRT were a side-platform station, then it could operate something like the Sheppard-Yonge connection with at least the north (westbound) platform having direct access to the subway mezzanine. A link from a centre platform or an eastbound-only platform would go under the LRT structure and then back up into the mezzanine. It is ironic that a surface LRT station would make the simplest transfer connection to the subway, structurally, although it would completely foul up access to the bus loop and traffic on Finch Avenue.
The proposed LRT station is directly under the Finch/Yonge intersection straddling the subway. If the LRT station were further east, the lateral connection described above would connect into the mezzanine level passageway between the main part of the subway station and the bus loop east of Yonge, and there would be no need to dig down below the existing subway structure.