How Many Trains Will Fit Through Union Station?

During the Metrolinx Electrification Study, those of us who attended various workshops became aware that there was a parallel study of capacity issues at Union Station.  The electrification plans are, among other things, in support of operating better service on GO generally, but if that service won’t physically fit through Union Station and its approach corridors, there’s a big problem.

That problem is independent of electrification per se because The Big Move from Metrolinx depends on substantially improved commuter rail service.  No capacity, no additional service.

At the recent Metrolinx Board meeting, GO’s President, Gary McNeil, presented an update on GO operations and construction activity.

GO President’s Report & Presentation Deck

The report includes a reference to Union Station capacity:

… Retaining wall construction is well underway to allow for an additional track in this corridor. The Union Station capacity study has been completed, with the result that in the near term, there is capacity at this station to meet needs. With the start of design of double berthing and new south platform, this will provide access required for service expansions. This work is anticipated to be completed in the next five years.  [Page 8]

After the meeting, I requested a copy of the study to learn what conclusions it might have reached. Various working papers from the study had been leaked, but they were neither definitive nor entirely coherent on how to deal with the problem.

Metrolinx has now replied that:

At this time, a detailed public component of the Union Station study is premature as we are undertaking on-going research. Specific information will most likely be available for the public when future potential projects develop from this study.

The purpose of the study is to assess the Union Station Rail Corridor (USRC) train capacity at four time points:

  • existing;
  • completion of planned infrastructure in 2015 and implementation for service improvements, including the ARL;
  • Electrification Reference Case (ERC);
  • and 2031 (Big Move planning document).

In doing so, we hope to identify opportunities to increase capacity by making more effective use of existing and planned infrastructure.  We also hope to identify the infrastructure needed to address any capacity shortfalls.  This study provided only a technical analysis, and Metrolinx will consider its opportunities after further assessment.

However, there is a good deal of material to get started on.

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The TTC’s 1991 Operating Budget

In my article about David Gunn’s opinion of what’s wrong with the TTC, I mentioned the 1991 Budget introduced as the TTC was having its record year of ridership in 1990, but was on the brink of a recession and unprecedented cutbacks.

The major objective of the proposed TTC operating budget for 1991 is to provide a better product and thereby to attract more riders to the TTC.  This will not be an easy task at a time when other demands on the taxpayers’ dollars are escalating, and with the economy headed into a recession.  The proposed budget is best summarized in one word:  balance — a balance among the needs of TTC riders and the taxpayers of Metro Toronto and the Province of Ontario.

[From Proposed 1991 Operating Budget, November 14, 1990]

This budget was introduced by TTC Chair Lois Griffin, a Councillor from the then Rexdale-Thistletown ward of Etobicoke which took in the northwest corner of the city down to Highway 401.  The south half of this ward is Mayor Ford’s home turf.  Al Leach, who would later preside over the amalgamation of Toronto as part of the Harris government, was Chief General Manager.  Neither of them could be called radicals.

David Miller was not yet a member of Council having lost on his first try to the incumbent in 1991.  He was successful on a second try in 1994.  Adam Giambrone was 13 years old and had not yet become active in the NDP.

In the face of economic difficulties, a conservative Commission was advocating service improvements as the best way to gain and hold ridership, and none of the ills that might have afflicted transit could be blamed on a previous administration’s misguided policies.

November 1990 Proposal For 1991 Operating Budget

By March 26, 1991, staff recommended that the budget be trimmed to compensate for falling ridership and for flatlining of the Metro Toronto subsidy contribution.  This flatline was relative to the budget submission, but the drop in riding was hitting revenue and would have triggered a greater subsidy need without offsetting changes.  This led to proposals for service and staffing cuts, although some additions stayed in the budget for safety and reliability reasons.

In reading the 1991 proposal, it’s notable that even before the heart of the recession, there were concerns that some TTC practices needed improvement.  In the years to follow, we would see just how badly the cumulative effect of putting off repairs would hit the TTC.

By July 1991, the projected budget, including cuts requested by Council, was back at the TTC.  Total expenses had dropped from the original $686.1-million proposed in November 1990 to $675.1m.

A few excerpts from my deputation at the time:

Transit riders expect a lot more from the TTC than their counterparts in New York, Philadelphia or Chicago, and we must work to meet Toronto’s expectations.  Simply being better than everyone else is not good enough.

No matter how good the subway service, if someone cannot get to and from the subway reliably, they will not use it.  If someone’s trip is not served by the subway, they will not attempt it by an unreliable or overcrowded surface route. … The fine-grained surface network will never be duplicated by the subway network.

The common complaints about crowding suggest that the average rider does not see the “average” loading conditions which may meet the service standards.  The empty space in buses at the back of a platoon is of little use to the riders crammed into the first vehicle. … providing better service with your existing fleet improves your productivity, makes your service more attractive and defers the need for additional vehicles.

I have often spoken of the need for the Commission to be advocates for the transit system. … Cities become “world class” because people living there care about all the parts that make up the whole.  Your job is to care about the transit system and to tell all of us how we can get it back not merely to “the better way”, but “the best way”.

[Letter to the TTC, November 20, 1990]

The TTC’s decline in the early 90s was so severe that the proposed budget for 1996 was $673.5-million, almost the same as the approved budget in 1991, and ridership was projected at 376-million.  When David Gunn talks of Toronto achieving only a 15% increase in riding, he forgets those dark days and the system he inherited when he joined the TTC in 1995.

David Gunn Slams Toronto’s Transit (Updated)

In the July 5th Globe and Mail, Stephen Wickens has a full-page article in which David Gunn slams the TTC, Metrolinx, and just about anyone else in sight for the looming disaster that passes for transit planning in Toronto.  I agree with much he says, although we will obviously differ on the future of the streetcar system which Gunn would replace with a fleet of articulated buses.

What most interests me about this article will be the fallout, the debate, if any, at City Hall, and the degree to which Gunn’s advice is cherry-picked to support whatever argument anyone wants to make.

It’s also rather sad that this much-needed broadside against the state of planning in the GTA has taken so long to appear.  Many of the issues have been debated on this blog and others, whatever our opinions on individual topics, while critical coverage in the mainstream press is hard to find.

Updated July 10, 2011 a 8:00 am:

While I concur with some of David Gunn’s comments, there are issues where he misses the mark, sometimes quite badly.  Many have already weighed in through the comments thread, and here’s my take.

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