GO Transit Electrification Study Update

Where Did The Study Come From?

GO Transit’s Georgetown corridor, home to many existing and proposed services, has not been a happy place for the Environmental Assessment process, especially on the southern end of the line.  Officially, this project was the Georgetown South Service Expansion (GSSE), now shortened to the Georgetown South Project.  However, the project has a troubled history thanks to:

  • Extreme insensitivity to local concerns about noise and vibration from the West Toronto Diamond grade separation project eventually resulted in a successful appeal to the Canadian Transportation Agency forcing GO to change its construction methods.
  • Proposals to slice through Weston with a widened rail corridor, including closing streets that linked the commercial strip on Weston Road to the residential communities to the east, infuriated local residents.  This was compounded by their discovery that, initially at least, much of the additional traffic on the corridor would be for the premium fare airport shuttle from Union Station.

This established a confrontational relationship between GO and corridor residents.  When Metrolinx published The Big Move, it was obvious that vastly expanded service would be operated along this line including:

  • All-day service at least to Brampton on the Georgetown line
  • All-day service to Milton
  • Peak period service to Bolton (a line that now has no GO operations but shares the corridor to the north end of Weston)
  • All-day service to Barrie (a line that shares the corridor from Dundas Street south to the rail yards at Bathurst)
  • All-day service every 15 minutes on the Air Rail Link from Union to Pearson Airport operating via the Georgetown line and a spur to be built into the airport lands

GO was so preoccupied with opposition in Weston that it failed to take account of the quickly growing population around the rail corridor south of West Toronto Junction.  Aside from the question of daily train movements, GO further alienated residents with a proposal for the Strachan Avenue grade separation that would have created a major barrier within the new King West / Liberty Village community.  This matter was not resolved until intervention by Metrolinx and a compromise solution acceptable to the City of Toronto was adopted.

GO runs popular services, and as a provincial agency it is used to getting more or less what it wants.  Public participation and accommodation have not been GO’s strong suits.

When the Georgetown South project revealed that there would be over 400 train movements per day on the southern end of the corridor, residents were more than a little upset.  Their concerns about noise and pollution were not  helped by GO’s appeal to the greater good with claims that, overall, there would be less pollution thanks to auto trips diverted from highways.  Those highways are not in backyards in Weston, the Junction and Parkdale, and the benefits that might accrue on Highways 400, 401 and 427 were little comfort to those who would see their local rail corridor gain vastly more traffic than it has today.

From this swelling activism came a demand that GO electrify its system to reduce noise and pollution levels in the neighbourhoods through which it travelled.  Electrification had been considered before, but only in the context of the Lake Shore corridor, and only for lower service levels than The Big Move contemplates.  This has always been a “nice to do” that gets shunted aside thanks to budget constraints and a desire to concentrate on building service.  By late 2009, the demand for a detailed study reached a level where Queen’s Park and Metrolinx could not dodge the issue, and GO’s Electrification Study was born.

Although GO had looked at electrifying the Lake Shore corridor, and their studies had been updated a few times over the years, the information in those studies did not speak to a full network view.  Moreover, service plans were based largely on then-existing schedules with modest allowance for growth.  A much more ambitious scope of work was essential, and the Terms of Reference created by an advisory committee laid this out in October 2009.

Stakeholder Workshops

GO Transit engaged a consulting team to conduct the study, and part of this process involves workshops with interested parties from a variety of backgrounds as well as general public meetings.  To date (July 3), there have been two “stakeholder workshops”.  The first dealt with the project overview and structure, and a good deal of time was spent in establishing credibility and trust between the parties.  One outcome of this process was the addition of an extra meeting in the schedule so that the draft version of the study conclusions could be reviewed before its wide release and the inevitable hardening of content that occurs once a document is formally published.

The second meeting was held on June 15, and the overview material at this workshop was substantially the same as that presented to a Georgetown South Open House on May 27th.  Page 10 of this document shows the general outline of the study and an important component in its comparison of options.  There was considerable debate about the assumption that the base case should presume that Tier 4 Diesel technology would be in place before electrification occurs.  In the event that Tier 4 is not available or economically feasible, or that electrification proves more attractive in the short-to-medium term, the base case could well be the existing Tier 2 Diesel operation.

In other words, it is conceivable that at least part of GO’s network could move directly to electrification without going through an intermediate Tier 4 stage.  That’s an optimistic view, but one which electrification advocates advance at least so that the cost of a Tier 4 conversion is not treated as a sunk investment that must somehow be recouped prior to electrification.  Exactly how the study will deal with this situation won’t become evident until the next round of meetings in the fall.

The Rolling Stock Technology and Options Report

The June 15 Stakeholders’ meeting dealt primarily with the draft Rolling Stock Technology and Options report from LTK Engineering Services.  A summary of this report’s findings appears in the overview document linked above starting at page 22.

For those who don’t know them, LTK is a well-established and respected transportation engineering firm who, among other things, were part of the renaissance of Light Rapid Transit (LRT) in the United States.  They are feet-on-the-ground folks who know their way around transit systems and railroads.  This report contains credible information about rail technologies and their application to GO’s network.  LTK is also working on a review of system operations and power supply which is expected this month.  It will deal with important issues such as the level of service planned and possible given network and station capacity, as well as the technical issues related to bringing power to the rail lines.

The scope of the study is the GO rail network including planned extensions to Kitchener-Waterloo, St. Catharines, Barrie/Allandale, Bloomington, Bowmanville and the Air Rail Link.

A long list of technology options was reviewed from the mundane (diesel or electric locos) to the fanciful (maglev or hydrogen fuel cells).  An essential filter on this review was that the technology be proven, commercially viable, compatible with the GO infrastructure and capable of handling projected service levels.

Only a handful of options survived this process:  diesel, electric, or dual-mode locos hauling bi-level passenger cars, or bi-level electric multiple-unit cars (EMU, similar to subway technology).

The scale of investment and the criticality of the GO network is such that this is not the place to toy with whatever untried piece of high technology might have advocates whispering in the government’s ear.  Rail technologies are well-established world-wide, and we can do without yet another Queen’s Park folly in the name of industrial development.

The one exception in the technology list is the Air Rail Link which, due to its much different service requirements from regional GO services, will be operated with single-level cars, either diesel or electric MU.  Indeed, it is unlikely that the structures to be built for the airport spur would be able to support a locomotive-hauled train.

The next step in the study was to identify the appropriate corridors for electrification, at least as an initial subset of the network.  Although the May and June public meetings talked of this as a work-in-progress, comments at the recent Metrolinx Board Meeting showed the self-evident conclusion that the Lakeshore and Georgetown corridors would be the first round.

Some have remarked that we have paid quite a lot of money and taken a lot of time to reach the obvious conclusion.  Sadly, they are correct, but I must challenge the sense that the process is worthless.  GO/Metrolinx is learning a lot about rail technology and the implications of technology choices.  Things that may be “obvious” to advocates sometimes take time to seep into the official world view, and a well-documented study puts to rest many of the diversions and erroneous assumptions that have clouded debates on future GO operations and technologies.

A parallel study now in progress will address capacity issues at Union Station.  Growth in inbound capacity to Union is limited by track layout, signalling, platform dwell time and passenger volumes.  Trains have grown to 12 bi-level cars, and this creates platform and stairway demands, especially if GO, like the TTC subway, starts to carry significant counter-peak loads that will compete with peak-direction travel for platform space (think of Bloor-Yonge Station for a worst-case example).  Train length is also constrained by the ability of locomotives to accelerate and haul fully-loaded trains.

From time to time, I hear rumours that Metrolinx is considering an underground expansion option at Union.  This would be quite an engineering feat given the need to provide a lengthy approach ramp and to build a new station under a busy working operation in land that is below the water table.  Any such scheme necessarily will use electric trains, likely EMUs, to deal with ventillation and gradients.  As an aside, if Metrolinx cannot figure out a reasonable way to expand Union’s capacity, this will seriously compromise plans for frequent, high-capacity service on GO’s major corridors. 

GO is even studying the possibility of offloading demand at subway interchanges so that all trains would not have to run through to Union Station.  How the TTC is supposed to handle such demands on top of existing riding and expected growth is a mystery.  Bad enough that GO does not want anyone in Toronto thinking of the commuter rail network as an optional way to get people downtown.  Now, they want to dump GO passengers onto the TTC subway.  That GO is even considering this option shows how out of touch they are with the larger network context in which they operate.

Chapter 3 of the Rolling Stock Technology report includes a detailed technical description of the characteristics of various types of propulsion.  This shows the tradeoffs and limitations between locomotives and self-propelled cars, as well as diesel vs electric power.  Some things simply do not scale up to bigger and faster trains because of physical limits on engines and the way that power is transferred between wheel and track.

Diesel MU trains, a technology often proposed for GO operations, are practical only for shorter consists.  In theory, one could operate a 12-car train of DMUs, but at a substantial additional cost for equipment, operations and maintenance thanks to the duplication of propulsion gear on every unit in the train.  An alternative would be to use sets of cars with powered and unpowered units, but this drives up the requirements for the powered cars.

Demand on all of the GO corridors is such that full-sized trains are required at peak times, and the smaller trainsets would mainly be for off-peak services.  They could be coupled into longer consists, but the additional cost of making and breaking trains for the period between the peaks would limit their usefulness.

I will leave interested readers to digest all of the details in the report.

Concluding Thoughts

One intriguing point not mentioned in the report, but likely to show up in operational projections, is the question of line capacity and technology.  Metrolinx’ own Benefits Case Analysis of the Lakeshore corridor claimed that diesel technology could not handle the demands foreseen in The Big Move.  However, these demands and future projected service levels have been ramped down, and GO now holds that the service they are likely to provide will not demand electrification.

However, the same BCA calculates that the electrification project (based on the BCA’s methodology) would have a benefit:cost ratio greater than 1 for all scenarios.  This is an amusing example of how the Metrolinx BCA methodology does not always produce the “right” conclusion to fit Metrolinx’ political objectives.  Moreover, the assumptions used in the BCA are considerably different from those in the Rolling Stock report, notably demand levels and train lengths.

Some at Metrolinx have made unfortunate remarks about the viability of electric trains such as a claim that they encounter problems in cold weather.  When one considers the widespread use of this technology, including in countries with climates at least as challenging as that in southern Ontario, one wonders about the “expertise” leading this study.  Thank goodness we have real experts among the consultants who know what electric trains can do.

Over coming months, we will see the first truly thorough examination of the electrification question GO/Metrolinx has produced, and with luck the findings will not be rewritten to suit a political objective.  This won’t prevent them from being ignored, but at least the information will be available, and wild claims that electrification is too expensive or impractical will have to contend with the study.

Metrolinx spent a lot of time drawing lines on maps without considering how it would actually provide the services its plans imply.  Now that we’re into the technical details, Metrolinx is on a steep learning curve.  Of course, one might wonder why this ever-so-expert organization had so much to learn in the first place, and how much time was lost to its biases and ignorance.

Delicious is the irony that this education comes courtesy of citizen activism and political pressure, the very factors that Metrolinx and Queen’s Park so roundly rejected.

46 thoughts on “GO Transit Electrification Study Update

  1. [This comment was submitted to the main Metrolinx agenda article. I have saved it for the separate thread on the electrification study.]

    Steve, the Rolling Stock Technology Report names FRA crashworthiness standards as a limitation to lighter vehicles and technology. To what degree will the Caltrain approval set a precedent for us here in Canada?

    Steve: The problem with the Caltrain (and other similar solutions) is that it depends on signalling and train control changes affecting not only GO but also other users of the lines. This could be achieved on a few GO corridors, but far too much trackage is shared with the mainline railways and with VIA.

    It’s an interesting idea, but I would not want to hold GO network improvements hostage to getting approval for this scheme from the railways (whose tracks are used by almost all GO services) and the federal government.


  2. Couple notes: I remember VIA operated an experimental DMU a number of years ago, the Danish IC3. Now I do remember that they had some issues (around setting off crossing gates if I remember correctly) they did operate in mixed traffic to Niagara Falls. I can’t believe that these were FRA compliant, and the signalling system to NF was not changed, so TC has allowed them to operate in mixed Freight / Passenger traffic before.

    Second, I think the time and effort in consist breaking apart / putting together is overblown. Recently in Munich, I rode in on the S9 line from the Airport, and they combined two (loaded!) EMU consists at a station on the way into the city. This took about 2-3 minutes to complete. Even if they were not allowed here to do that with passengers on board, it surely could be done quickly and easily without much extra staffing costs.

    Steve: The make/break trains issue is related to rules that require complete brake tests.

    In the short run, the lines that will be electrified are those that operate with full-sized trains all day. Debates about alternative forms of equipment for the lighter lines is interesting, but not central to a decision to electrify the major routes of GO’s network.


  3. This is the 12th electrification study since 1980. Those undertaken by the real railroaders of the “old GO” confirmed the validity of the technology, but always concluded it would take a major provincial political decision to make it happen. The lost opportunities abound.

    The greatest fumble came in 2001, when GO had the chance to purchase the 39 mothballed General Electric E60C-2 motors and all of the hardware from the aborted Nationales de Mexico’s Mexico City-Queretaro electrification project, as well as a lot of gear from the de-energized BC Rail Tumble Ridge operation. That would have enabled us to electrify the entire Oshawa-Hamilton corridor for $300 million, including coversion of the E60C-2s to AC traction.

    The “new GO” team thought so little of that 2001 study that a current senior executive, who deserves to remain nameless, gave me his personal copy of the study in 2002 with the comment, “It’ll never happen so I don’t need it.”

    Just for comparison, the recent Metrolinx Lakeshore Line benefits case analysis pegs the cost of electrifying GO from Oshawa to Hamilton at six times what it would have cost in the early years of this decade.

    The whole electrification issue reveals the depths of the intellectual and moral bankruptcy of Metrolinx and the current GO crowd, who bear no relationship to the great railway-hardened managers of the past.

    The public consultation process has been a sham. The only positive point to date has been the LTK rolling stock study. We would do well to just fire the whole Metrolinx brigade and their army of Canadian consultants (“the usual suspects”) and ship the entire project to LTK.

    If this is what passes for leadership and public inclusion in today’s Ontario, then we’re in deep trouble. Of course, given the past performance of Metrolinx, we’ve known that for a long time. Their motto seems to be, “How can I screw thee? Let me count the ways.”

    As always, electrification will come down to a political decision at the highest level, namely the premier’s office. At the last electrification workshop, the Metrolinxers admitted as much. I guess they view that revelation as an opportunity to run for cover and hide their incompetence and contempt of the public by shifting the blame to McGuinty.

    And sparks fly upward.

    Steve: I do not agree that the public consultation has been a sham. It may have been intended that way originally, by extension from previous GO/Metrolinx exercises, but the consultants (ARUP and LTK) are both experienced in railway matters and do not appear to be trying to skew the outcome. They have professional reputations much bigger than Metrolinx, and are not part of the “usual suspects” who depend on a steady stream of work in the GTA.

    If anything, the problem with credibility has lain outside of the consultation process with comments from senior folks in Metrolinx and the government making uninformed remarks that presuppose the study’s outcome.

    We all know that electrification will cost a lot of money. That’s not the issue. The question is how much, in a broader sense of capabilities and side effects, will a failure to electrify saddle the GO system with for decades to come.


  4. It seems to me that we won’t get a realistic assessment of future service level until we implement at least some of the meaningful service improvements to date, and see what they do to ridership levels.

    Only once we have the long promised 30min off-peak Lakeshore service for which all this lovely new un-used track was laid….. will be be able to see what kind of incremental ridership boost in both peak and off-peak this may trigger.

    In peak, of-course, we already have trains at, near or over capacity, so at least 3 more in-bound rush hour trains are required on Lakeshore just to meet current demand.

    Similarly, until we test at least 1 non-Lakeshore route with hourly, all-day and counter-peak service, we don’t have a good test case to know with certainty the implications.

    If GO would just get on with it (it largely has the required infrastructure) we could test the assumptions and plan more thoughtfully with less conjecture.

    Steve: Counterpeak/offpeak services depend on people being able to get from GO stations to their ultimate destinations. Many stations sit in the middle of parking lots and have very infrequent local transit service. This is a fundamental flaw in Metrolinx’ plans — they look to their own services but don’t consider that “local” service is essential to their success and have no plans to fund improvements in it.


  5. Steve, I think you’re exagerating GO’s aims in making it more attractive for people to transfer from GO Train to subway to comlete their journey. Currently, the connection between GO and subway stations are almost all poor (Danforth/Main St, Oriole/Leslie, Bloor/Dandorth West). The best is Kipling, which is too far out to be useful. If GO was to make it easier to transfer to the subway, then it’s services would be more useful for those travelling places other than the downtown core. I certainly don’t think GO wants people to change at Danforth and then take the subway to Queen St (say).

    Steve: I am not exaggerating. There is a separate substudy going on right now in response to the future capacity problems at Union to find places where GO could offload passengers to the TTC and avoid running trains into downtown. As you point out, the opportunities for doing this are limited, but the fact GO is looking at this shows how desperate they are to fit all of the people their plans project into a rail plant that cannot accommodate the trains. Of course, they could have come to this recognition before they published The Big Move, but that would have throw cold water on the plans and given some recognition of real-world constraints. Now they’re making up for lost time.

    EMUS….One big joy of EMUs is that it makes splitting trains a lot easier. Yes, you have do a complete brake test, but GO Trains on the Leakshore already have a longish layover at the end of each line. The current time for a brake test is basically how long it takes someone to walk the length of the train twice (or two people half the length, twice… etc.), to check the brakes go on and off correctly… but surely a modern EMU can have some computer do that? (Yes you are trusting a computer, but currently you are trusting a dial on a pressure guage. Sooner or later you have trust something.)

    Steve: The making and breaking would likely be done at Union to convert a long inbound peak train into multiple short off-peak trains. This would happen at a location that is short on time and space for that sort of activity. Modern trains couple easily today in Toronto … they are called subway cars, and in the days when the TTC made and broke trains regularly, it took almost no time at all. However, the rules are different for mainline equipment. If we make the provision of new cars requiring significant changes in mainline rail standards part of our argument for electrification, we have only added a level of regulatory complexity to the political difficulties of getting GO and Queen’s Park to electrify. A good argument can be made that our standards should be changed, but tactically, I don’t think it wise to make the issue any more complex, or give Queen’s Park any more reasons to delay.

    As for climate: Sweden has the SJ X40, a double-decker EMU operating in a cold climate. Enough said.


  6. Hey,

    Does anyone know if there is any work being done to unify the crashworthiness standards between the US and Europe (and Asia)? I guess the initial question would be is that even possible? Followed by, would it be politcally doable with regards to increased competition from the more developed european market?



  7. The idea that electric trains are somehow incompatible with cold weather is simply laughable. In Sweden, electric trains are almost universal; even the city of Umeå, which is farther north than Iqaluit, will have electric commuter trains beginning this autumn.

    In Norway the situation is similar. Even the high-altitude icefields where the ‘ice planet’ scenes in The Empire Strikes Back were filmed have an electric railway running through them.


  8. Steve: I am not exaggerating. There is a separate substudy going on right now in response to the future capacity problems at Union to find places where GO could offload passengers to the TTC …

    It may be coincidence, but GO has just put up lots of new signs at Danforth, pointing the way to Main Subway station.

    Steve: Nothing like a convenient walking transfer!


  9. Maybe the problems with electric trains came from the GG1 (In the Boston Washington corridor) habit of drawing snow into its cooling vents and shorting out.

    Some of GO traffic that currently goes to Union station could be better offloaded at other locations in the City. Currently there is not much choice but with additional LRT lines (Like Eglinton) this may be effective.

    There is a lot of talk about Metrolinx being ineffective. The “Learning curve” may be a key point to its most valuable function. That of binding the political side (Where the money is) to the local transit agencies, including GO (That must live with the day to day operations). Over time it may be critical that GO and Metrolinx maintain separate functions even though they are within the same agency.


  10. The idea that Union Station does not have enough track capacity for significant service expansion seems a bit far-fetched to me. There are numerous other through stations in the world (e.g. Amsterdam Central) with a similar number of tracks which handle much more train traffic than Union; they just run their train service much more efficiently. Union Station needs to:

    1. Increase the speed and acceleration of all train traffic, by means of electrification, EMUs and track/signal upgrades. This allows trains to arrive and depart from platforms more quickly.
    2. Decrease the dwell time of trains at platforms – intercity trains in Europe, even high-speed trains, often only spend a few minutes loading and unloading passengers at stations before leaving. VIA trains should not spend 30 minutes waiting in the station because this wastes a lot of track capacity which could instead be used by GO.
    3. Trains should be through-routed whenever possible, e.g. trains from all the western GO train lines continue east on another line after a brief stop at Union. This avoids wasting track capacity and time reversing trains at Union.

    Regarding terminating GO trains at Dundas West/Main to unload passengers onto the subway, it should really be the reverse to relieve the TTC.

    Steve: Some of what you propose will be possible once the new signalling is in place at Union, but even with this, there are limits to how many trains GO can push through that station. One issue with dwell time is the design of the bilevel cars. They can carry lots of people, but they must all get on or off via a limited passageway. There are also issues with platform and stairway capacity, some of which will be addressed by the Union Station reconstruction now underway.


  11. What are the ‘much different service requirements’ of airport trains? Seems to me the only major difference is that they require a little more luggage space, something easily provided by removing one or two seats on the lower level of several cars of a regular go train.

    Steve: By this, I mean that you do not need a 2000-passenger train every 15 minutes. Also, the structures planned for the airport spur won’t hold locomotive hauled trains, and the station at the airport is designed for shorter consists.

    The 400 plus trains through the Weston corridor, which as you say has upset the community, would be a fraction of that number if the airport rail link was eliminated and airport service provided by Go as part of its Georgetown all day service. A 20 minute frequency is about 100 trains per day. Convert the existing airport people mover to electric traction (the manufacturer’s web site says it can be converted) and extend it to a new Go station at Woodbine (proposed in the corridor plans anyway), to connect (comfortable cross platform transfer, with seating and heat) with an initial 20 minute Brampton Go service. And if such service were electrified it might just pass muster with local communities and commence without waiting for all the tunnelling and other work envisaged.

    Steve: The planned service is 4 trains per hour, but since what goes up must also come down again, that’s 8 trains/hour past any point on the line. If service runs 18 hours per day, that’s 144 trips on the ARL. To this you must add the effect of what was originally claimed to be a future 10 trains/hour on GO Georgetown for, say, five peak hours, and for those living at the south end of the line, comparable service on the Milton and Barrie lines. That’s another 150 trips for peak direction travel, not to mention the returns. Finally, there was to be half-hourly service on the three lines in all off-peak times giving 6 trains per hour times three routes times 13 hours of service.

    The airport people mover does not have the capacity needed to handle the proposed travel from downtown to Pearson. The airport’s a bit ashamed they bought something that limiting, but they’re not saying it very loudly. Meanwhile, there are discussions about whether the Eglinton and Finch LRT lines should serve all terminals once those lines eventually get to the airport.

    Such combined service would save two platforms at Union, reduce diesel (or electricity) costs, reduce emissions (if diesel), and eliminate the biggest thorn of all – the rip-off fare.

    I recall Go plans in the time of the Peterson government were to ‘double deck’ Union station, such were anticipated demands.

    One serious constraint at Union in my view is the narrow platforms which for safety require long trains to crawl through the station, taking valuable time. Regretably the renovation does not appear to change that. Perhaps platform edge doors would allow faster approach. Also some of the central tracks at Union are very long and might accomodate two trains by creating a virtual terminus for some tracks in the middle of the station, to increase capacity.

    Steve: The platform width is dictated by the column spacing in the building under the station. Plans for double-decking run aground on, among other things, the fact that the lower level is being used for an expanded pedestrian concourse. When people talked about using the space for trains, the station had not become surrounded by new buildings with their own pedestrian demands.


  12. The only person naive enough to design a “walking transfer” between the subway and GO at Main (at least in the current configuration) is someone who’s never had to walk over that bridge in the middle of the frigid winds of winter, or the blazing heat of summer. Even waiting for a bus or streetcar on that bridge is an opportunity to freeze to death. I did it once – I would never do it again.

    These two locations obviously were never designed to connect to one another.

    There are commuters who live at Gerrard/Main who take GO downtown rather than ride the subway or take the streetcar. It’s much faster, and more comfortable, even if you have to stand. I can’t speak for the west end, but I can’t see anyone who’d be willing to offload onto the TTC at Main – even if the connection wasn’t so inhospitable.


  13. Why is the Union GO bus terminal? Would not all-day rail service make it completely redundant? When more Union capacity is required, the train shed could be extended east to Yonge allowing for two 12-car GO trains to be housed end to end. There is enough space for the shed and the angular approach tracks which would be east of Yonge. Enough space too for a couple stub platforms directly above where the bus station currently sits. Need more waiting/ticketing space? I’d keep an eye on the Dominion Public Building. Union Annex? My point is there is a lot of potential capacity at Union. And if we got close to exceeding that, we’d probably also me exceeding sidewalk capacity in the area and totally swamping the YUS line. And then we can ask ourselves the bigger question: Is there any limit to which we encourage GTA sprawl?


  14. TTC and GO built the Main Street subway and Danforth GO stations at about the same time, 1968 and 1967 were when they entered service, respectively. They didn’t talk to each other back then, and there’s still some left to be desired in that department today.


  15. I agree with Andrew that VIA trains spend far too long sitting at Union. VIA has 24 departures and 26 arrivals at Union each day (only two of which run through), and I bet their total dwell time is far in excess of the 180 trips operated by GO.

    On the EMU making/breaking front… I may be wrong, but my understanding was that the rules say you have to a brake test, but don’t say how. (Can anyone give a link to the exact rules on this?)

    Seperate point: GO is looking to expand the usable platform space to permit double-berthing of trains as a way in increasing capacity. Given several of the platforms extend far beyond the train-shed, this seems very feasible.

    Steve: There will still be an issue with stairway capacity, although this will be substantially expanded when the new west GO concourse opens in a few years.


  16. “The only person naive enough to design a “walking transfer” between the subway and GO at Main (at least in the current configuration) is someone who’s never had to walk over that bridge in the middle of the frigid winds of winter”

    The GO station’s entrance is no longer on the bridge (and hasn’t been for a few years). The station is accessed from the north by a ramp with its entrance at the foot of the bridge. Hardly an effective transfer, but a lot better than the old narrow staircase down from the middle of the bridge.


  17. I’m not sure why anyone would stand on the bridge at Danforth station waiting for a streetcar; those stops were removed years ago for safety reasons.

    If you’re heading to Main station, you simply walk there. It’s not ideal, but it’s only 300 metres door to door. No bridges, just the walkway from the station to Main Street, and then along Main street to the subway. Heck, if you take the streetcar to Danforth station from the west, it’s a 220 metre walk just from the stop at Danforth Avenue to the station.

    I’ve been walking and riding to that station for years, and I can’t recall every walking across that bridge in my life.

    It’s not perfect, but an underground tunnel between the two stations would be just as long. I suppose you could build some fancy streetcar subway between Gerrard and Danforth, and build a Queens Quay [type] station in the middle to service the station … but is that a great way to spend money?

    As for the design, I don’t think anyone seriously examined commuter rail transport when Main Station construction was started. The original GO service was put together on a shoe-string budget … and I’m not sure that they even realised it was going to be a success. It seems unfair to criticize TTC and GO for what happened back then.

    The 400-metre walking transfer between Leslie and Oriole stations, however, requires some explaining!

    If you arrive at Main station and you’re getting on the streetcar westbound, it’s just as easy to simply walk out the south entrance to the station, down Main Street to Gerrard. 250 metres to the streetcar stop.


  18. One approach to Union that should be possible to at least study if Metrolinx is doing the coordination properly is a DRL run with mainline EMUs routed off the GO network. As an illustration, something along these lines is what I’m thinking, whereby the core urban demand for the DRL can be served by frequent GO service, and a new underground GO terminal gets built near but not directly part of Union.

    Obviously this is going to require electrification, and that the DRL be express only, but as far as I can tell this is all for the good, a locally oriented DRL seems most likely to disrupt and damage the streetcar network. Bear in mind that this is a pretty common approach in Australia (new build semi rapid transit frequency grade separated commuter rail approaches to the CBD), and that while it will almost certainly somewhat degrade the service quality on the DRL itself compared to a dedicated subway, it will solve both the subway and Union capacity issues in one project.


  19. Anne wrote:
    “The only person naive enough to design a ‘walking transfer’ between the subway and GO at Main (at least in the current configuration) is someone who’s never had to walk over that bridge in the middle of the frigid winds of winter, or the blazing heat of summer.”

    You don’t go over the bridge any more. You now take a tunnel under the tracks. This has been the case for several years.

    “I did it once – I would never do it again.”

    I did the GO Danforth TTC Main Street transfer 20 or 30 times this past winter, and I fully expect to do it again. It’s not ideal, but I find it useful.

    I was taking the subway to a destination on Bloor St. I certainly wouldn’t want to transfer from GO to TTC if my final destination was near Union Station, just so that GO could avoid Union.

    Karl Junkin wrote:
    “TTC and GO built the Main Street subway and Danforth GO stations at about the same time, 1968 and 1967 were when they entered service, respectively.”

    GO didn’t create the Danforth station from scratch. That site had been in use by Grand Trunk and Canadian National as a passenger station since the 19th century, and was still in use by CN in 1967.

    GO wasn’t forced to use the same site, but they were constrained to put their station somewhere along the existing rail line. They weren’t about to lay tracks on a new route. An obviously better station site doesn’t leap to mind.

    The subway was new construction, of course. I can’t say how hard it would have been to route it a little further south at Main St. to provide a better connection to GO.

    Steve: Don’t forget that the subway was designed and under construction long before GO even existed. Taking it south of the Danforth would been difficult because the original line was to the north, and the target destination (Warden) was up at St. Clair.


  20. Looking to NCarlson’s comment, it seems to be a good idea. I just have one question: Is it possible to convert the entire Richmond Hill GO line to LRT service (e.g. change it from GO to TTC service)? I ask this because it seems the line has viable all day service: There are many local transit connections on the line (Viva, Sheppard subway) to provide connections to off-peak service. In town, the line is located to many areas of high density (Thorncliffe Park, Don Mills/Lawrence, Eglinton office towers). I think the only thing holding it back is having to use bi-level trains when there will never be enough riders to pay for service off peak.

    Steve: Two problems here. First, the north end of the line is CN territory and they won’t give it up easily. Also, the future demand projected for this line is based on 10 minute peak and 30 minute off peak headways. There are lots of empty seats on off peak bilevel trains on the Lakeshore line too.


  21. @NCarlson: “The station is accessed from the north by a ramp with its entrance at the foot of the bridge. Hardly an effective transfer, but a lot better than the old narrow staircase down from the middle of the bridge.”

    @nfitz: “I’m not sure why anyone would stand on the bridge at Danforth station waiting for a streetcar; those stops were removed years ago for safety reasons.”

    Uh-oh – I appear to have been having a flashback… Yes, you’re both absolutely correct. So, point taken (I’ll admit I have a somewhat blinding historic dislike for the exchange between GO and the TTC at that spot). That entrance ramp (which I’d forgotten about) is a big improvement over those stairs. Back in the old days I took the GO from Scarborough, but got off at Main from time to time for business reasons. I was sometimes picking up or dropping off AV equipment, training material, etc… for presentations. Whether I had to go north to the subway station, or south on either the Main bus or Gerrard streetcar, there seemed to be no convenient way to travel between that station and the TTC in inclement weather, even after the ramp was built (which admittedly I only used two or three times before I changed jobs).

    What seems obvious is that an exchange between GO and TTC at that spot is a considerable inconvenience to passengers unless some pretty radical changes are made. Not to mention that that area has developed a higher crime rate (e,g, more frequent muggings) over the last few years. Not an ideal spot to offload GO passengers.


  22. Steve:

    In your response:

    “In the short run, the lines that will be electrified are those that operate with full-sized trains all day. Debates about alternative forms of equipment for the lighter lines is interesting, but not central to a decision to electrify the major routes of GO’s network.”

    I think you missed what my point was– not about alternative equipment, but the need for FRA / TC compliant equipment. Non compliant equipment (if I am correct about the IC3 train-sets) *did* run in mixed, relatively high-speed, corridors alongside freight equipment in the past.

    I am more than willing to be corrected on the IC3 experience.


    Steve: Sorry about that. I had gotten sidetracked into the “short trains for light off peak services” discussion on that.


  23. Re: transfer from Main subway to Danforth GO: at the time they built the new entrance to the station I don’t know why they didn’t think about a better connection to the TTC at the same time – especially given the significant redevelopment on that corner (SE of Main/Danforth). Given that amount of redevelopment it would have been relatively easy to build either an underground walkway to Main station, or create a transfer point by building a bus bay off Main beside an enclosed shelter.


  24. According to this excellent e-book on GO’s birth and early days,

    “There was a long-established station at Danforth, from the days when that was an outer suburb on the east side of Toronto. Most of the intercity trains made a station stop there, as did the Uxbridge commuter.”

    It continues:

    “At the same time that the commuter service was being planned, the TTC was advancing plans for the construction of the Bloor Subway line, that was to follow under Danforth Main, a short distance north from the CN tracks. It would have been an advantage, if we could have had a convenient interchange station between the two lines. Since the CN line offered no possibility of relocation to come closer to Danforth Main, we discussed with the TTC whether the alignment of the subway could be diverted to come close to the CN tracks. Unfortunately it was already too late, and the designs were already committed.”

    So the main issue was that plans for the BD were just that bit too advanced. If GO had been thought up a year or two earlier, (or the subway a year or two later) we might be a in a different situation.

    Also: Danforth an “outer suburb”… there’s a tricky concept for us young whippersnappers.

    Steve: There were farms in Scarborough then. I walked “out in the country” on Finch Avenue once between an apple orchard and a field of sheep.


  25. At the risk of getting us off on a side tangent (Main St./GO Danforth)

    I would point out that at the time of subway planning, for this area, Main Square had not yet been built (that was ’72, I think)….

    And the land would have been available for a station.

    I would also venture to note that Warden/St. Clair still is a daft spot for a station (surrounded by ravine and creek on 3 sides) to put a stop; a more sensible route would have been to Warden/Danforth; then if you had to route it N/E, stops at St. Clair/Kennedy and then Eglinton/Kennedy would have worked better.

    Of course they were trying to re used the old Cdn Northern route and associated hydro corridor to cut cost, instead of thinking about good urban planning……..

    Steve: An LRT line was planned at one point east from Warden via the Canadian Northern, just as there was a platform provided at Kipling for an LRT line to the airport.


  26. The Brake Test Requirements are very interesting (and mostly applicable to freight trains). I would consider the “intelligence level” of a GO double decker to be considerably higher than a freight car.
    This raises a couple of questions:
    1: Are the brakes on a GO train just standard tripple valve air brakes the same as any freight or Via train, or are they electrically controlled by electrical connections through the coupler like on the subway?
    2: Is there a brake diagnosis capability in a GO train sufficient to inform the engineer of a brake problem on any car?


  27. Given that Union handles more people than NYC’s Grand Central it makes sense to look for other locations to relieve some of the pressure. Could the old station at Summerhill be reclaimed from the LCBO?

    Steve: It is a much smaller station. The larger problem is getting track time from the CPR as it is their main line across the city. Also, it would deliver passengers to the subway at a point where it cannot handle additional peak direction demand.


  28. “Not to mention that that area has developed a higher crime rate (e,g, more frequent muggings) over the last few years. ”

    Oh good grief. We live in one of the lowest-crime cities in the country; and Main/Danforth is hardly a dangerous area!


  29. From the “POLICE BEAT” column in the Beach Metro – May 4th 2010 edition:

    “A man was swarmed near Main Street and Danforth Avenue on May 1. At about 10:30 p.m. the 40 year-old victim was approached by four males wearing disguises. One kicked him, knocking him to the ground, then the suspects took money from his wallet and fled the scene. The victim was not seriously injured during the robbery.

    A young woman was mugged near Victoria Park and Danforth Avenues on the afternoon of May 6. Shortly before 5 p.m., the 18 year-old victim was approached by two males. One grabbed her iPod, and both suspects ran westbound. The victim was not hurt during the robbery.

    A young man is recovering after a robbery attempt went bad on May 8. At about 10:30 p.m., the 20 year-old victim was near Main and Danforth when two males approached him and asked him about his shoes. One of the suspects swung a knife at the victim, and when he raised his hands to protect his face, the suspect stabbed him in the arm. The suspects fled the scene empty-handed, and the victim was taken to a hospital for treatment of his injuries.”

    Steve: Two of the incidents mentioned happened late in the evening, not at peak periods when transfers between GO and TTC would, in the mani, be happening. Also, Vic Park and Danforth is down the road. If we start expanding the “zone of influence” of crime reports in gauging locations for transit, we would doom chunks of the city to poor service on the grounds that they are unsafe. If anything, this could worsen the problem through isolation rather than improve it.


  30. Main/Danforth intersection itself is not a problem; the social housing along Stevenson southwest from there is another matter. I speak as a former resident at the Main Square complex.


  31. I don’t understand why FRA compliance is even an issue. I’ll put aside the fact that Europe spec rail cars are safer than Americans, because we have an even bigger precedent:

    Via Rail already runs rail cars originally built by Alstom for Europe. They are not FRA compliant, and VIA runs them on CN railways every day.

    Why, then, would Europe-spec DMU be a problem for GO?


  32. Luke: VIA’s Mark 4 carriages were given a bit of a re-working by Bombardier before they went into service here. I don’t know how substantial that was in terms of safety standards, but I suspect the key point is that they’re passenger carriages drawn by American locomotives, rather than being self-powered units.


  33. Similar crime reports can be found for any major interesection in Toronto.

    Heck, looking at the reports for June, there are hundreds of arrests near downtown subway stations – particularily near Union Station … compared to a handful along Danforth.

    Can we all take off our tin-foil hats please?


  34. I seem to remember that the Renaissance sets lock out their rear washrooms to provide a crumple zone as part of their FRA compliance waiver but I stand to be corrected there.

    Let’s look at the big picture – we can pick a non-FRA compliant design and get a waiver but then where does it get built and would there be follow on orders for other Canadian and US systems? The Renaissance cars were not immediately suited to the Canadian winter, but there’s no guarantee that a cold-climate car would be suited to operations at 34C so any “European” car would require extensive testing prior to acceptance even with an FRA waiver.

    Ideally the Province would make sufficiently firm commitment to electrification to justify an assembly line here in Ontario with the cars being optimised for Canadian trackage (not a gauge issue but rather track quality and suspension tuning), signalling and climate rather than shoehorning these into an existing design made elsewhere. Hopefully the design would be suitably attractive to other electrifying systems like AMT, and systems which might be getting there by the end of the main GO orders like West Coast Express.

    As for climate and the effect on electric traction – I don’t worry about winter so much but I do worry about the resiliency of Toronto’s electrical grid in the light of yesterday’s disruption. Adding thousands of kW to peak load in summer will require politicians to face up to the need for additional generation and distribution, but there is no sign yet that the people who will live near these facilities will look kindly on that. Additionally, increasing train frequency and thus heat transfer from friction may cause more incidents of track deformation during hot days.

    Steve: In today’s news, the IESO (responsible for the electrical grid) commented that the total demand yesterday did not hit the total available supply. Possibly there are local constraints in portions of the network, but total generation capacity was not the issue.


  35. On the IC3s: during the trial, VIA operated a train that came into Toronto from Kingston in the morning and, I believe, back again in the afternoon, using IC3s. Shortly after starting this operation, it was determined that due to their light weight, they had some trouble being detected by the signalling system, a problem that has always been an issue for self-powered cars but was a bit worse for the IC3s compared to something like an RDC. They were taken out of service and if I recall correctly, leaves and other crap also seemed to stick to the wheels, making the electrical contact for the signalling system more difficult. I also seem to recall that they were fitted with some sort of brush that would help keep the wheels clear and this allowed the IC3s to be returned into service for the remainder of the test.

    Gordon wrote, “Are the brakes on a GO train just standard tripple valve air brakes the same as any freight or Via train”

    They are the same as on VIA, but not freight. In North America, passenger brakes have two main differences than freight. First, they operate at a higher pressure (I believe about 110-120 psi compared to about 90 for freight – someone else may know the exact numbers). Second, passenger brakes can be ‘eased off’ once applied, while freight brakes can only be fully released. For this second reason, when mixed trains are put together, passenger cars must go behind the freight. Of course, on Amtrak’s Auto Train, the auto carriers go at the end, but they are equipped with passenger brakes.

    Steve wrote, “The making and breaking would likely be done at Union to convert a long inbound peak train into multiple short off-peak trains”

    Interestingly, the report on rolling stock assessment mentions near the end of section 3.3, “Further, if two DMU routes merge as they travel toward a feeder station, it may be possible to adopt a European practice on some low density lines of coupling two small trainsets into a mid‐sized consist to travel together under a single operator to Toronto Union Station.” Of course, it does go on to mention that things like brake-line testing could make this impractical.

    Steve: My statement was in the context of trains of multiple DMU sets running as full-length peak trains, and then breaking down to shorter units for off-peak.


  36. Steve said: “If we start expanding the “zone of influence” of crime reports in gauging locations for transit, we would doom chunks of the city to poor service on the grounds that they are unsafe. If anything, this could worsen the problem through isolation rather than improve it.”

    I agree with you, but my original point was about lack of strategic planning and foresight: that this area (without some significant changes which COULD HAVE and SHOULD HAVE happened before now but no-one seemed interested in) is not a good choice “as is” for GO offloading from Union for several reasons, recently increased crime being only one of them.

    (btw – that article was pulled from the first Beach Metro I happened to pick up. There are other examples of mugging which happen during the day. While the men posting here thus far aren’t too concerned about personal safety, I believe a good number of women would be – and quite a few men I’d warrant).

    I also agree that some appropriate transit infrastructure investment could go a long way to improve that particular community and negate that consideration for commuters. But it seems no-one has cared about that community for years now and additionally have missed opportunities to make investments (GO/TTC) when they were relatively easy and cost-effective.

    But my bigger point here is about a seeming lack of foresight and long-range planning in transit as it impacts the community level, both by the City and Province.

    If I understand your post correctly, the electrification study wasn’t originally planned for (and represents an unplanned extra cost), but came up because of “swelling activism” within the community due to a “confrontational relationship between GO and corridor residents” and “Extreme insensitivity to local concerns”.

    But (and I think this is partly what you’re alluding to) couldn’t, and shouldn’t, this requirement have been foreseen long before this? If there were transit plans of this nature in place, shouldn’t the affected communities have been CLEARLY informed at the initial planning stages? Shouldn’t every local building permit and infrastructure investment from that point forward have had to keep that in mind once those plans were known? If the density pre-existed, shouldn’t the rail plans have taken electrification (and/or other options to minimize noise and disruption) into account right up front, so that the ‘actual’ costs could have been evaluated as part of the overall plan? The need to lessen the load at Union has been known for some time, and the idea of an interchange between GO and TTC at Main has been floated (almost) since its inception. So why no action towards this before now?

    Our transit and city planning forefathers seemed to better understand the concept of making investments in infrastructure that wouldn’t necessarily be used by the current generation, but that positioned them for long-range future growth: investments made when they could take opportunity of lower costs and minimal community disruption. A wander around this site can pull up many such examples. I live a few blocks from the R.C. Harris Water Treatment plant, which is an example of exactly that kind of investment, and is still beautiful, functional, and adds greatly to the community generations after it was built.

    But it seems that the recent infrastructure projects which have caused such community furor could all have been foreseen long before (e.g. the examples you’ve mentioned above, Greenwood and Donlands second exits, Ashbridges Bay LRV), the community included in the initial planning process, and the objections evaluated and compensated for. But instead – for the residents – they have appeared to come up “last minute in the planning process”, most with extreme time pressure. And I have to ask, why?

    Re: Main/Danforth: there have been opportunities over the years to rectify the lack of GO/TTC connection, including in 2004 when the owner of Main Square was given the rights to build two additional towers in exchange for some fairly bare-bones community investments. How difficult would it have been to either build a connection, or at least put in place infrastructure for a future connection, at that time? We seem to be working – at least at the community level – reactively rather than proactively.

    See this city report at page 13, Section 10.7.

    Wikipedia shows a picture looking from the GO station towards Main Square (Danforth Ave and Main Station are behind the towers).

    For the most part, the way we run the nuts and bolts of transit in Toronto appears to have held up surprisingly well considering its funding challenges (customer service and the 501 being notable exceptions). It seems to me that something larger is broken, and that appears to be primarily the planning and design process we use for city, transit and infrastructure planning.


  37. Mark, as far as climate is concerned, would not a model which has been used in both Spain and Sweden comply with any extreme weather we have in Toronto?


  38. The IC3 did not have traditional brake shoes on the wheels like all other FRA type trains in Canada. Brake shoes help keep the wheel surfaces clean. This was the primary reason that IC3 slipped on leaves and had poor contact with track currents through the wheels for triggering signals.

    Montreal uses EMU trains. How well do they cope with winter, brake tests and FRA compliances?


  39. I really hate to take this thread away from the subject of electrification but since the Renaissance cars have gotten a mention in one post I have a question about them. Weren’t some of those cars scrapped just a few short years ago?


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