Metrolinx June 2010 Meeting Preview

The Metrolinx Board will meet on June 29.  This article is a preview of the agenda, and I will report on the meeting itself later in the week.

Among the items of interest:

Proposed extension of the Sheppard LRT to the UofT Scarborough Campus

The line would run south on Morningside from Sheppard and terminate at one of three options available:

  • The Aquatic Centre
  • The main UTSC campus
  • Centennial College campus

Because UTSC has a master plan that conflicts with the approved Scarborough-Malvern LRT alignment in its Environmental Assessment, the cost of the extension is about 10% higher than originally thought.  One might ask why the EA didn’t take UTSC’s master plan into account.

New funding for this extension would be required, and this could not be justified for a two-week event.  However, building this connection will provide an eastern anchor for the Sheppard LRT and connections to other services focussed on the UTSC campus.

This would make a nice pre-election goody in the 2011 budget.

Benefits Case Analyses

Four Benefits Case Analyses have come forward for approval:

  • Dundas BRT
  • Hurontario LRT
  • Durham-Scarborough BRT
  • GO Stouffville Full Service

In addition to the report linked above, there is a presentation deck in pdf format.

For some time I have been planning to comment on the Metrolinx BCA methodology, but other things have distracted me from this (and many other) task.

Three major complaints I would make about the process are that:

  • The BCAs treat the economic activity of building a new line as a benefit, but do not consider this in relation to what might be generated by another project.  In effect, expensive projects are rewarded with higher standings on this count than cheap ones.
  • The BCAs treat the monetized value of avoided auto trips at a fully-allocated price per kilometre rather than a marginal cost.  Early BCAs used the marginal cost and, therefore, presumed that trips diverted to transit would save only the cost of operating an existing vehicle for the full distance of a commute, not that they would eliminate the cost of the vehicle.  However, much of the GO/Metrolinx plan presumes that people will still make a car trip to reach transit, and therefore the cost of owning the car will not be avoided for all of the new transit riders.
  • The BCAs look at projects in isolation rather than considering the combined effect of multiple implementations.  The best-known example of this is the trio of Richmond Hill GO and Subway projects as well as the Downtown Relief Line and capacity expansion on the existing subway system.  These must be reviewed as a package, not in isolation.  In the case of the two Mississauga services reviewed here, it is obvious that a Mississauga LRT network would have an economy of scale — only one shops and carhouse, not two — if both the Dundas and Hurontario lines were built as LRT.  There would also be routing options for service using both of the routes depending on demand patterns.

The Big Move 2.0

Metrolinx has come to recognize, like many outside of the organization, that The Big Move was a good first step, but even when it was published it needed work, and leaving a review for a full five-year cycle is impractical.  Many factors including the economy, a recognition that some of TBM’s assumptions were faulty (for starters, a demand model unconstrained by the inherent capacity of network elements), and the need to integrate GO Transit’s own 2020 plan lead to a need for reworking “TBM 1.0”.

Metrolinx will launch a “2.0” version with a draft version this fall and a final version in late 2012.  This work ties in with the need for a funding mechanism that actually matches the level of spending Ontario needs to provide if we are to achieve the hoped-for modal shift from auto to transit travel.

Consultations on TBM 2.0 are planned following release of the draft.

I hope that there will be a better understanding of the options available in producing a regional plan, and a realistic appreciation of the cost of diverting trips to transit over coming decades.  Also, this time around, transit advocates might be regarded as potential allies rather than as enemies to be neutralized.

Project Prioritization

A related report to TBM 2.0 talks about prioritization of projects.  Despite all the fine words in Move Ontario, GO 2020, and other pronouncements, it is clear we cannot build everything at once.  A mechanism to prioritize is needed.

However, what bothers me is that this could become a de facto way to delay projects indefinitely, or prevent their even getting into TBM 2.0 just as many projects in early drafts of TBM 1.0 never saw the light of day in the public reports.  If we are to rewrite TBM, we need to know what has fallen off of the table, what we have conciously decided not to build because, it will be claimed, we cannot afford it.  Those decisions should not be taken as a prelude to publishing a draft plan, or at a minimum, the “nice things we can’t afford” list should be an appendix to the draft so that everyone can debate what’s in and what’s out.

The appendices to the report show clearly how GO and Metrolinx have their own set of projects.  Some of these are common to both plans, but many GO projects are system expansions (additional tracks, for example) that would not show up in capital planning for TBM.  Similarly, the TTC has a huge capital budget for maintenance and replacement of older equipment and plant.  These projects compete with new builds for money at all levels, and too often, the prioritization exercises forget that keeping the wheels turning and the lights on is an integral part of running a transit network.

Metrolinx recognizes that “State of Good Repair” takes priority, but it will be interesting to see how they weave this into their overall plans.  In particular, one must ask why SOGR on GO should be able to compete for funding on a Metrolinx list when even larger TTC projects go begging.  Regional planning should include regional capital planning regardless of who operates the service.  Even if Queen’s Park on contributes part of the cost, that’s money from provincial revenues than could be crowded out by a shiny new project, or GO’s special relationship as an operator within Metrolinx.

Electrification Study Update

This report is an overview of the current status of the process, and it’s already out of date.  For full information, please go to the Electrification mini-site.  That site includes the recent Technology Assessment report that was discussed at a few recent public meetings.  I will comment on that report elsewhere, but in brief, find that it is a level-headed document giving a realistic view of what is and is not possible with various real and hypothetical rail propulsion technologies given the corridors to be operated and the service designs proposed.

19 thoughts on “Metrolinx June 2010 Meeting Preview

  1. I hope that someone brings up the Hurontario/Dundas economies of scale that as you say is obvious in the meeting … I can’t imagine them building a BRT to Hurontario and then an LRT up to Square One … if I was still living anywhere off of Dundas I wouldn’t be too impressed with that plan, as the mall is a major destination (movie theatre, playdium etc.).

    I wonder how much thought is being given to future route possibilities as part of these plans? It seems to me that it’s likely that eventually Erin Mills will have streetcar or BRT from Clarkson north to Erin Mills town center (or further). It would also make sense to put in an east-west route on Eglinton or Britannia eventually.

    I wonder also if there is any thought about airport connections from the Hurontario route. Potentially if there are good connections at the 403 and 401 it would be a good route to use from east of Hurontario. But I’m wondering if they have thought about whether extending LRT further west on Dundas would draw more rides from western Mississauga/Oakville to the airport.

    Also, connections to UTM and the Sheridan research park and the potential for additional development in those areas could possibly be interesting to explore.


  2. Sheppard East LRT Extension

    If I can visualize this correctly isn’t this extension part of the original plan for the Scarborough – Malvern LRT line? I thought that there was a turn back going to be put into the Scarborough – Malvern line to allow for this service. If this is the case then this line would be a pre-build of part of the latter. It makes very good operational sense to have a major destination at each end of the line as this allows for more uniform loading and better utilization of facilities.

    Steve: That is correct. The TTC, in the best tradition of transit planning hereabouts, studied each of the Transit City lines individually, with their own EAs and consultants, and completely missed the opportunity to fine-tune the plan by looking at how parts of various lines would work together.

    I am afraid that they are trying to appear too fair by listing all the pros and cons. Some of the cons seem artificial so that they will appear balanced, specifically that the service could be provided by better bus connection. They are correct in saying that a two week athletic event is not justification for building the line but it could be a rational for completing it early.

    Steve: This also shows up a problem with The Big Move in that it was so focussed on regional, downtown-oriented traffic that it completely missed the possibilities at UTSC. With Rob Prichard now in charge, there is little chance of that happening.

    GO Electrification Study

    I have just finished reading LTK Engineering’s draft report and am pleased that they have examined all possible, and some impossible options, in a fair and balanced manner. It is important that they have commented on the impossible options to keep some politician from raising the spectre of Son of MagLev again.

    I find that it gives a valid comparison of the benefits and drawbacks for each of the 4 major technologies, diesel locomotive, electric locomotive, DMU and EMU, plus hybrid operation. They also note that Caltrans has permission to run non FRA compliant service. This would be a large money saver up here and could really tip the balance to EMU operation. I just hope that the politicians can take a long term view, i.e. beyond the next election and that the Metrolinx rail types can look at something beyond the status quo.

    Steve: The LTK report, and I hope others to follow on operations and power requirements, give a refreshing real-world view of the situation. They are not pandering to whatever fly-by-night technology project might have the ear of the Premier, and they are accurate in presenting the capabilities and limitations of each of the options. Metrolinx has already been forced to recognize the problems of capacity on the GO network and the impossibility of running service (and hence carrying riders) at the levels forseen in The Big Move. However, getting to levels they hope to achieve will not be possible without electrification.

    I will be happy when Metrolinx staff and consultants stop portraying electric operations as, almost, second rate and problem-laden. Electric trains run all over the world in all sorts of climates, and claims to the contrary just make Metrolinx look ridiculous.


  3. TBM as an abbreviation of The Big Move is a little confusing, as TBM is an abbreviation for something else that is no stranger to this site.

    Steve: I did that on purpose. A large machine that chews through piles of money in the dark for years without producing any visible product.


  4. In the case of a BRT for Durham Region, how will that service interact with frequent full-day service on the Lakeshore East line? The only station close to the corridor is Pickering, but both the train and the bus corridors are important trunk routes for Durham Region.

    Steve: I suspect that these will serve different markets, but your point is valid. The BRT arose from local plans in Durham while the train service is a provincial project. Among the problems of The Big Move is the lack of attention to local details such as this.


  5. What is the justification for putting so much of the agenda behind closed doors? Most of the closed session items seem like they’d be in the public interest to publicize.

    Steve: This has been an issue ever since the “new Metrolinx” was constituted. Queen’s Park has a great fear of public discussion, and the rules for Metrolinx require only a small subset of its business to be discussed in public. Some members of the Board are trying to change this, but it’s an uphill battle.

    Public debate is messy, and it actually exposes the limitations of knowledge in Board members and staff, but it’s ever so useful in keeping an agency open about its business and expertise, such as that may be.


  6. I was reading a Waterloo Warrior article on their LRT project and noticed a mention on their headway:

    “Headways (time between trains) for the LRT system are likely to be quite high, with expected headways to be every ten minutes during rush hour, every 15 minutes off-peak, and every 30 minutes on evenings and weekends.”

    Toronto’s Transit City headways are supposed be similar to the subway, that is 2-3 minute at rush hour and 5-6 minute at other times.

    I find it interesting that people have gotten so used the headway service of the TTC, until they visit other cities and find out that the TTC provides better headways service than most others.


  7. With regard to EMUs… the Electrification technology report notes that Transport Canada would allow European-style EMUs provided that (1) they are beefed up to FAR standards OR (2) “temporal seperation” from other heavy rail passenger/freight stock OR (3) some form of positive train control is introduced.

    The “OR” is important, as it means any of those would work. (1) slightly defates the point of European EMUs, because beefing means you loose any cost savings from choosing off-the-self. (2) would work on corridors with few freight trains only (Stouffville, Richmond Hill and Barrie) – but that ignores the interaction with other trains at Union (which includes GO’s and VIA’s existing heavyweight stuff), so I think that’s not practical.

    That leaves (3) – which amounts to implementing some sort of signal system which stops the train if it passes a signal at danger. Currently, there is *nothing* which does this (beyond the train driver’s skill). However, simple measures to do this have been around on mainline railways in the UK for 50+ years (AWS), and the UK has recently finished rolling out a more robust system (TPWS) which takes account of the train’s speed. The installation costs are fairly low, because the equipment on the track need only be linked to the aspect of signal next to/above it – nothing needs to be added back to the signalling control centre.

    Durham BRT: Highway 2 buses and Lakeshore East trains serve very different markets. The trains mostly get people to downtown Toronto and points westward. The buses serve local trips within Durham region, and also to Scarborough/UTSC. Frankly, I think DRT should sort out its spagetti mess of existing routes into a nice grid system first. That will do more to increase ridership than a BRT scheme, and at lower (or no) cost. There are signicant portions of Pickering, Ajax, Whitby and Oshawa that lack all-day two-way bus service. The first requirment of people taking transit is that transit serve their origin and destaintion. Everything else is secondary.


  8. Re: extension of the Sheppard LRT to the UofT Scarborough Campus

    One potential problem is the frequency of branches. If they run the trunk route on 5-min headways and split it evenly at Morningside, then each branch gets 10-min headways and that is not particularly impressive. In fact, that would be worse than the existing bus service.

    Perhaps they should run all revenue service to UTSC if they foresee a considerable demand to that destination, and use tracks east of Morningside only to access Conlins yard. Obviously, then Sheppard east of Morningside would need bus service, which can probably run to SCC via Milner.

    Steve: I would not be surprised if that’s what they wind up doing.


  9. “A large machine that chews through piles of money in the dark for years without producing any visible product”

    That’s not a TBM … that’s a MetroJINX. Do we need to read through a 50-page report that states the obvious? Let’s see … mag-lev is out, EMUs are probably our best bet, and the grass next to the tracks, just like our logo, is green.


  10. I’d dare say that the LTK electrification technology report is the only credible piece of consulting work that has been done for Metrostinx in its entire four-year history. But what would you expect from a firm that was formed by a bunch of guys who helped electrify the Pennsylvania Railroad in the first place? It is a tragedy that LTK would have to spend time (and public money) eliminating ridiculous technologies such as maglev and the unbuilt hydrogen trains that McGuinty agreed to give $30 million to Bombardier to develop. But at least all of this useless junk is now off the table and we’re down to four equipment options.


  11. W. K. Lis said, “I find it interesting that people have gotten so used the headway service of the TTC, until they visit other cities…”

    Very true. Quite a few other cities have LRT and HRT systems with headways similar to what is proposed for KW (10 min peak; 15 min mid-day; 30 min evenings). In the past two months I had the chance to visit San Diego twice and their LRT system is operated like a rapid transit system (2-3 km distances between some stops), but the headways are pretty much like the KW proposal. Though, a section downtown and another section in the north-east are served by two interlined routes, so frequencies on those parts are more or less doubled.


  12. Tom West wrote about Durham, “I think DRT should sort out its spagetti mess of existing routes into a nice grid system first.”

    Aww, but they’re doing such a nice job of being just like Calgary without the C-Train! 😉

    Anyone who has ever taken a bus in Calgary will understand this as one quickly gets the impression that there is some law against having a bus stay on one street for more than eight blocks.


  13. I for one am sad that we won’t be converting the entire GO network to hydrogen operated mag-levs…it’s a sad day for transit in southern ontario 😉

    Steve: And don’t forget all the engineers who will be thrown out of work developing new technology we could export around the world, or, well, um, er, maybe to Vancouver.


  14. Steve,

    On a sort of related note, the province has just announced $300 in funding its portion of the Kitchener-Waterloo LRT. The feds have already announced roughly $160 million, so there’s a bit of a gap still to close, though it’s possible that the feds might provide that gap (Kitchener-Centre and Kitchener-Waterloo are very marginal Conservative ridings).

    The MOT announcement is here.


  15. Regarding headways: Amen to W.K. Lis. This past weekend, I was visiting Washington DC, ironically experiencing far less security than people in Toronto that day. They actually let people walk right up to the White House fence.

    Anyway, I made use of the Metro a lot, and while it was useful and welcome, it left some things to be desired. This was particularly true when we tried to use the system at around 7 p.m. on a Saturday. We boarded the red line and transferred to the green line and experienced 15 minute scheduled wait times each time.

    Given the large crowds who were on the platform when it was still eight minutes before the next train to arrive, there is clearly a demand for more service at this time, but just as clearly, Washington’s transit authority doesn’t have the funding to provide it.

    The Washington Metro also seems to have fallen on hard times in other departments. A lack of maintenance on the indirect lighting systems have made the underground stations dark and dingy, in my opinion, and the magnetic card readers produced excessive line-ups as the dense system and pay-as-you-leave system stumped tourists, and as half of the card readers seemed to be out of service (and not all of them were listed as being out of service, either).

    The TTC could greatly improve what they are doing, but they are doing a darn sight better job of things than many of the cities around it.


  16. Hey … we’re about to see what happens with Presto! and how much cash that it can chew up. My forecast, is that Presto (where did the money go?)! will make paying an ATU member $125K/annum to sit in a fish-bowl for extended periods of time to read The Sun, look economical by comparison.

    So Nero wasn’t really a fiddler, but MetroWANX sure knows how to fiddle with mission and vision statements while the scheduling too many services remain as dysfunctional as it was in 1999.

    Attending a board meeting is truly Theatre of the Kafkaesque.

    Steve: One of the unpublished parts of Presto! is that the back-end contract is transaction based, and needs the huge volume of TTC fares to justify the system. However, if TTC implements open payments using credit/debit cards, Presto’s back-end contractor, Accenture, is cut out of the business. Queen’s Park is losing a bundle on this, but doesn’t want to admit it.


  17. George Bell writes:
    “I for one am sad that we won’t be converting the entire GO network to hydrogen operated mag-levs…it’s a sad day for transit in southern Ontario ”

    We clearly have not received the necessary guidance from our new insect-swan overlords from Alpha Centauri to let us implement this post-human technology. We must deploy more traffic signal heads; despite our valiant efforts on St. Clair, the message hasn’t gotten through to Alpha Centauri yet!

    I, for one, WELCOME our new insect-swan overlords!


  18. Let me just add a footnote to my earlier praise of LTK Engineering Services’ study for Metrolinx.

    When the rail car market faltered and began to drag the Budd Company down, many of its engineering and design staff went over to LTK.

    When Bombardier finally squashed Budd with Canadian Export Development Corporation loans and guarantees, the venerable firm threw in the towel and another raft of first-class people joined LTK.

    No wonder the Metrostinx electrification rolling stock study is the only piece of consulting work they’ve commissioned that is logical, thorough and authoritative.

    Here’s an idea. Why don’t we just clear out 20 Bay Street and put LTK on a long-term contract to fix the multiple messes that are Metrostinx? Nah. Too logical.


  19. A major difference between head end and multiple unit operation is one of cost versus acceleration. One power unit per train has lower cost at the expense of acceleration capability. Multiple unit trains with all cars powered maximize acceleration but come with a cost.

    There is an intermediate possibility where the train consists of both power cars and trailers.

    Some Eurostar trains use front end power, and the car immediately behind has motorized trucks fed from the power unit (Basically as a cow and calf configuration). The allows better acceleration capability without sacrificing any capacity in the passenger car for transformers controls etc. It is likely that motorized trucks could be added to the current bi-level cars.


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