Metrolinx Contemplates LRT vs Subway (Updated)

Updated February 8, 2012 at 7:40am:  I have often described a suspicion that there is a fifth column within Metrolinx working against the TTC and LRT plans.  Royson James in the Star gives us a view into that organization in which we clearly see how it suits some at Metrolinx to misrepresent what the Toronto of David Miller and the TTC were doing.  This problem goes back years, and was evident during preparation of “The Big Move”, but the Metrolinx love for secrecy, for holding all of the substantive discussions behind closed doors, kept this out of sight.  Now Metrolinx may be faced with a vote at City Council that could run directly opposite to the scheme some at Metrolinx secretly have supported for years.  Will Metrolinx and Queen’s Park listen?

Original post from February 7 below:

On Monday February 6, Metrolinx held a press conference to outline its position on the current subway vs LRT controversy.  This article is a summary of the presentation (which is now available online) and a commentary on it.

I have taken a breather from the Chong report because of its size, the fact that it is now available online, and my desire to review Metrolinx position first.  That agency has somewhat more credibility than and “Toronto Transit Infrastructure Limited”.


The presentation is intended to “provide information” on the Eglinton line as outlined in the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Mayor Ford, and to restate the principles embraced by Queen’s Park and Metrolinx.


  1. Sound Regional Transit Planning.  Any projects must “achieve sound transportation objectives for the City and the region” and be in tune with the regional plan, The Big Move.
  2. Budget and Cost.  The maximum budget available from Queen’s Park remains $8.4-billion (2010$).  Any plan must remain within the overall total as well as projected yearly cash flows.  Additional costs must be paid by the City or some other partner.
  3. Penalties.  Queen’s Park will not pay any penalties resulting from changes sought by the City, and the penalty costs and losses from the MOU (the Ford document) remain the City’s responsibility.
  4. Cost of Delay.  Further delay is unacceptable to Metrolinx, and any costs this triggers must be paid by the City.
  5. Traffic.  “Any plan should minimize adverse impacts on traffic to the extent reasonably possible.”

Point 3 begs an obvious question of how the Province can hold Toronto responsible for costs incurred because they were foolish enough to proceed on Mayor Ford’s say-so without ensuring Council’s approval.  As we know from the recent legal opinion, the Mayor cannot bind the City to a contract without Council’s consent.

Point 5 is unclear about whether this refers to traffic problems during construction or after a line has opened.  During construction is of interest because this affects both cost and elapsed times for big projects like Eglinton.  The TTC’s construction schedule for an all-underground version is extended out to 2022 because they don’t want to dig up every station location at the same time.  If this were allowed, say as part of a sweetened deal with a private partner, the cost would come down.


The west/central portion of the Eglinton project is common to both versions of the plan, and it is “making good progress”.  Metrolinx and the TTC are working to allow an alternative procurement strategy (putting more responsibility in the hands of a private partner), but certainty is needed on what exactly will be built in the eastern portion.

Current Plan

This is shown as a map with the following components and costs:

  • Metrolinx Crosstown Project:  $8.18-billion
  • Sheppard East Subway Project:  $2.75b
  • Sheppard West Subway Project:  $1.48b
  • Sheppard Subway Yard:  $0.5b

It is worth noting that the total here for Sheppard is $4.73-billion.  This is the “TTC” estimate for Sheppard, not the lower so-called “Metrolinx” estimate cited in the Chong report.  Is there something about the cost of Sheppard Metrolinx knows that they did not share with Gordon Chong and KPMG (who wrote the section of Chong’s paper where this appears)?

Benefits of the Current Crosstown Plan

Just the title of this section is intriguing because, of course, Council has never approved this plan and strictly speaking, it’s not “current”.

Metrolinx claims that there will be a reduction of travel times from Kennedy to Black Creek by 25% as the line will operate at 30-32km/h overall.  Of course, the subway-surfrace variant would operate at this speed too, and the only question is the speed over the section from Leaside to Kennedy.  Part of this section will be grade separated (around Don Mills Station) although the extent is not yet confirmed.  The total distance from Brentcliffe to Kennedy is about 8km.  From Black Creek to Brentcliffe is a bit over 10km.  In other words, the section where any improvement in time can possibly occur is 8/18 or about 45% of the line.

To achieve a 25% increase overall, the speed improvement east of Brentcliffe would have to be 55%.  We know that the speed used for underground operation is 30-32, and this means that the presumed speed for surface operation would be only about 20km/h.  This is lower than the figure actually used by the TTC in the Eglinton line’s published description (22-25km/h) and it also ignores the change in access time to the more widely-spaced stations on an underground alignment.  The difference is between a 15 minute trip (at 32km/h) and a 24 minute trip (at 20km/h).  If the higher TTC speed (25km/h)  is used, the surface trip falls to 19 minutes.  Much will depend on the degree of surface transit priority afforded to the LRT.

Metrolinx cites reliability because an underground line would be completely separated from traffic.  Conversely, a surface line would have to interact with traffic and pedestrians at intersections, and there would be some effect on left turns and signal cycle times.

They also cite “convenience” because the Eglinton and SRT routes are linked.  Note that this arrangement is not peculiar to the underground proposal, and nothing prevents the TTC from doing this for a subway-surface version of the line.  The TTC’s concern is that demand north of Kennedy is higher than on Eglinton, and they don’t want to operate a very frequent “SRT” service with short turns at Kennedy to accommodate a smaller demand west on Eglinton.  This is an issue of operational convenience rather than necessity.

Metrolinx cites higher ridership, especially in the peak, on an underground Crosstown line as compared to the subway-surface route.  This is a direct effect of their demand model which is very sensitive to running times, and which redirects a considerable amount of traffic from the Danforth subway to the Eglinton line.  Whether this is desirable is quite another matter given concerns about the capacity at Eglinton/Yonge station.  A related question is the potential benefit of a Downtown Relief Line intercepting demand on Eglinton at Don Mills.

Overall, Metrolinx states that a fully grade-separated line doubles the capacity of the project.  This is true in the sense that more and longer trains can be operated if the line is all grade-separated, but it also begs the question of the effect on overall cost of providing a fleet and yard sufficient for that capacity and whether LRVs are appropriate for a route that never runs on the surface.  The presentation returns to this issue later.

Light Rail Vehicles

About $76m of $770m of the contract for 182 Bombardier LRVs has been spent to date.  The “current plan” reduced this number to 135 by the elimination of the Finch and Sheppard routes, but these vehicles are suitable for “other LRT applications around the region and province”.  The strongest endorsement of LRT comes here:

“Metrolinx remains confident that LRVs are a good choice given their flexibility to operate at surface, in tunnels and on elevated guideways, with a low floor and high capacity”

Metrolinx notes that the LRVs were intended to operate partly in tunnels in the original plan.  They cite other examples of Los Angeles, Seattle and San Francisco.  Closer to home, one can look at Edmonton, Philadelphia and Boston (where streetcars have run underground for over a century).  The important point about all of these is that the LRVs do not stay underground when there is no reason for them to do so.

LRVs are low floor vehicles which, in the Metrolinx implementation, will load level with the platform (unlike the surface streetcars which must use a ramp because they operate in mixed traffic).  The low floor aspect of the cars is a “small component” of the overall vehicle cost and project.

Metrolinx notes that:

“Having a low floor provides flexibility for the vehicle to be used in a surface application, when the line is extended west towards Pearson airport or north and east further into Scarborough”

Vehicle Capacity

Metrolinx cites capacities for three-car trainsets ranging from just under 10k/hour at a 3 minute headway (20 trains/hour) to just under 20k/hour at a 1.5 minute headway.  This can accommodate projected ridership beyond 2051.  Surface operations in a median are limited to 8-9k/hour because frequent trains and high pedestrian volumes would interfere too much with road traffic.


What was once a $6.5b project is now an $8.2b project and limited funds are available for other routes.  There will be fewer stations because of their higher cost underground.  Metrolinx states that although this version costs more, it “delivers greater benefits”.  Whether this calculation is offset by the benefits lost through not building other routes is unclear.

Going Forward

Metrolinx and Queen’s Park seek a single position from the City.  They “remain committed” to partnering with Toronto, but “clarity is required”.  Any City position will be evaluated against the principles stated earlier.

I cannot help pointing out that there already is an accepted Memorandum of Agreement dating from 2009 between all of the parties and especially City Council.  It would be difficult for Metrolinx to claim now that the network the MOA contemplates (the 5-in-10 Metrolinx plan for Eglinton, SRT, Sheppard and Finch) would now fail this test.  Tinkering with the plan by Council could re-open the question of what is an “acceptable” request.

The next installment in this drama lies with Council, and political concerns will dominate although this will be disguised by concerns for technical matters.  We may learn again why Canadian winters are too cold for surface operation and other tidbits from Ford’s fountain of transit knowledge.