The agenda for November 23rd’s meeting of the Metrolinx Board is now online and it includes several reports of interest. Here I will deal with GO transit performance and capacity issues. In a future article, I will turn to Presto (and the proposed TTC implementation which is also on the TTC’s agenda for November 23), the Air Rail Link, and planning issues at “Mobility Hubs”.
Ridership on the GO rail system for September 2011 is 9.6% above 2010 levels, and for the bus network, the increase is 4.7%. This strong growth in ridership will strain GO’s ability to add service fast enough either by running more trains or, where possible, making existing trains longer. A report later in the agenda addresses the problem of capacity in the rail corridor and station at Union, and shows how the era of simply adding a new train here and there to keep voters in the 905 happy is just about over.
GO’s target for seat availability on peak period trains is 80% (1 in five passengers, on average, would stand). However, they are only achieving 64% (1 in three passengers stands). Although they are looking for more time slots in which to operate trains, this is limited by track layout, conflicts between GO and other services and limitations at Union Station.
Those of us who attended workshops on either the Georgetown corridor plans or the Electrification Study have heard of parallel work on network capacity, but this is the first any report has surfaced publicly. The information here is troubling, but also long overdue as part of the debate on GO’s future.
At long last, Metrolinx is discussing the problems of actually implementing the brave new world we were shown in The Big Move rather than just drawing lines on maps. While some have agonized over “congestion” and road capacity, we have ignored the vanishing ability to offer alternatives by transit. Not only do we have funding problems, we also have physical limits to what existing transit infrastructure can deliver.
Union Station has two limits on its capacity: the number of trains that can operate through the corridor and the number of passengers that can be handled by the network of platforms, stairways and concourses. Downtown population is expected to grow 80% from 2006 to 2031 (from 71k to 130k). While this may contribute some of the growth in commute trips to the core, the employment growth is expected to be 25% on a much larger base (315k to 400k). Peak period transit demand to the core will grow by over 50% (156k to 236k).
All of these factors will place the transit network downtown at or beyond capacity by 2031. Indeed, Union Station is expected to reach capacity after the current 10-year GO expansion plan completes. Although pedestrian capacity in the concourse is more than doubling with the “dig down” and the new west GO concourse, the capacity of the tracks will not increase proportionately.
Union Station Demands and Opportunities
Passenger traffic at Union is expected to double or triple relative to 2006 by 2031 (the actual figure depends on the capacity to run trains that we build). This is a staggering growth in demand, and it will not be solved with band-aid fixes to the transit system. A few more trains here and there will simply vanish in the tidal wave of new customers. Moreover, the historic pattern of treating GO and TTC as separate networks simply must end — they are one network, they must be planned and funded as one network.
There are only two major classes of change that can be made: either we must stuff more trains and passengers through existing facilities, or we must add new capacity via alternate routes.
Six groups of options were considered:
- Better TTC/GO integration notably at Eglinton/Weston, Bloor/Dundas and Danforth/Main.
- Satellite GO stations at Liberty Village, Bathurst and Cherry Streets.
- Service on the North Toronto Subdivision (connecting to the subway at Summerhill or Dupont Station).
- A Downtown Relief Line from the Danforth Subway to Dundas West via Queen or King through downtown.
- A GO tunnel via Queen linking services in the Weston corridor to the Richmond Hill and Lake Shore East corridors.
- A GO tunnel parallel to the Lake Shore route.
The first three of these were rejected as they do not provide sufficient relief at Union, although they may be worthwhile in their own right for other goals.
Two variations of option 4 were studied in more detail:
- A: A TTC DRL line from Dundas West to Danforth
- B: A hybrid configuration with a DRL from Exhibition Place to Danforth, and a new GO station in the current Bathurst North Yard for the Georgetown and Barrie services.
For option 5, services from the Milton and Georgetown corridors would use a tunnel under Queen, and would be through-routed with the Richmond Hill and/or Lake Shore East corridors with subway connections at Osgoode and Queen Stations.
For option 6, there are also two sub-options:
- A: A Lake Shore tunnel that dodges north to Queen to connect with Osgoode and Queen Stations. (This has obvious problems with finding a clear alignment to and from the rail corridor.)
- B: A Lake Shore tunnel that would serve a new Union Station near Yonge Street.
Of this list, options 4B and 6B were deemed the best for a variety of reasons, and these will be studied in more detail. A full DRL (option 4A) does not make the cut in GO’s analysis because it does not address the Union Station problem. Indeed, GO’s main interest in the DRL is that it would provide a distributor/collector service between a new Bathurst station and the downtown core.
Transit integration is essential to making this scheme work, and part of this will be true fare integration between the TTC and GO.
The growing downtown population will contribute a substantial counter-peak flow away from the core. Projections of station capacity (stairs, waiting areas, platforms) must include provision for this traffic.
In brief, if we don’t build new GO capacity both in the central corridor and in our ability to handle passengers, Toronto will not have the capacity to handle the projected growth in core-oriented commuting.
Moreover, any scheme that involves putting GO underground demands electrification, and the foot-dragging that we have seen at GO on this issue must end. Electrification is also a factor in line capacity and speed improvements even for trains running on the surface.
Union Station and Rail Corridor Capacity
This study considered the requirements to serve three future scenarios:
- Completion of current GO expansion plans including the Airport Link (2015)
- Serving the base case scenario of the electrification study
- Serving the full Big Move plan (2031)
The 2015 peak hour capacity provides only slightly more than we have today: 4 Airport Link trains plus 2 more VIA trains. Although trains can be added within the peak period, the peak hour is completely spoken for. This is a major constraint on the growth of peak period GO service.
The Electrification Study base case requires 17 more peak hour trains, and a further 38 (approximately) are implied by The Big Move at full implementation. This is well beyond current capacity.
One option considered was a dig-down to provide four additional tracks and associated platforms. However, this is a very challenging project both in siting the tunnel portals and in providing access down to the platforms. This leads us back to the study of alternative routes discussed above.
The Downtown Relief Line
The TTC’s study of a DRL is now underway and is to be completed in early 2012. The scale of the problem is daunting when one considers the future demand into the core area as well as the possible additions to the network that will pump more demand onto TTC facilities. Although other changes such as resignalling and station capacity improvements are mentioned, there is no sense of when these will be exhausted or which of them provide added capacity at reasonable cost. Until we see the TTC’s study (or at least see a public meeting where an interim version might be reported), it’s impossible to know whether this will do more than support the TTC’s anti-DRT bias.
The maps used by Metrolinx all show the DRL ending at Danforth, and this is extremely short-sighted because it does not provide an intercept for traffic on the new Eglinton line.
None of this will happen without substantial funding, and the timing of requirements does not sit well with current Provincial plans that push much of the “big dollar” projects into the latter part of this decade (and beyond). Moreover, this is all infrastructure “downtown” although it will exist to serve commuters to and from outlying areas. Politically, the GTAH needs to accept that central Toronto will continue to grow. That growth, plus pressure on transit from the increased cost of auto commuting, demands big spending downtown.
GO’s role as a truly regional carrier will require full fare integration with the TTC, and that has a cost. We cannot demand that people pay double fares within the 416. However, a lower combined fare will also encourage within-416 demand on GO making its capacity problems even more critical.