Metrolinx Resurrects Transit City (Updated)

Updated April 26, 2012 at 1:10pm:  This article has been updated to reflect discussions at the Metrolinx Board meeting of April 25, the press scrum following that meeting, and correspondence between me and Metrolinx to clarify some issues.

Notes from the Board Meeting and Press Scrum:

Chair Rob Prichard asked about the status of unrecoverable losses due to the diversion of Metrolinx effort from the original Transit City plan to the Ford transit Memorandum of Understanding.  Less that $10-million has been spent on preliminary engineering for the Eglinton tunnel east from Laird Station.  Potential extra costs from Bombardier for the vehicle supply contract are not yet known.  If these were simply inflationary increases, then the Metrolinx funding (which includes inflation) should cover this.  However, Bombardier may also claim additional expenses related to the delay.  Prichard urged staff to “negotiate” away as much of such claims as possible.

This issue came up again in the press scrum.  Metrolinx has always said that “others” must bear any extra costs due to the Ford delay, but the identity of this party is unclear.  Elizabeth Church from the Globe noted that Karen Stintz has pointed out that since the Ford MOU was never approved by City Council, the city can hardly be held responsible for the delay.

Both Rob Prichard and CEO Bruce McCuaig dodged around this and other questions related to Metrolinx’ role in pursuing the Ford plan in the absence of Council support, especially considering that Metrolinx hangs its return to LRT on Council’s clear vote for the original Transit City plan as the City’s definitive policy statement.  The Star’s Royson James described Prichard as being good at “ragging the puck”, but never managed to pin him down to an answer.

Prichard hopes that the value of the “extra cost” will be reduced to zero making this a moot point, or at least one small enough to fit under any nearby rug without most people noticing the lump.

Director Lee Parsons asked about the possible funding from P3 Canada and what this might enable.  Bruce McCuaig suggested that it might be possible to add to the scope of work with the additional money available through this federal program, but the dollar value is not large and Metrolinx must still pitch their projects to the P3C board.

Director Richard Koroscil asked what the differences were between the plan proposed here and the previously approved 5-in-10 scheme.

Jack Collins (Vice President, Rapid Transit Implementation) replied that these are mainly the slippage of Sheppard’s completion out to 2018 and the shift of the SRT completion back from 2020 to 2019.  The design team and project manager for the Sheppard project were disbanded when work stopped just over a year ago and a new team must be assembled.  Moreover, the project will now be delivered through Infrastructure Ontario (IO) as an Alternate Finance and Procurement (AFP) scheme, and this adds time for production of the contracts related to managing this process.

In the case of the SRT, the section of the route north of McCowan Station will be built while the existing SRT is still operating and this allows work to start sooner than planned on that line.

Director Rahul Bhardwaj asked about the requirement that the TTC implement the Presto smart card as a precondition of having these projects funded by Queen’s Park.  Bruce McCuaig replied that a proposal from TTC staff for an agreement with Metrolinx and the rollout of Presto will be going to the TTC board at its meeting of May 1.

Director Joe Halstead asked about the roles of three agencies — Metrolinx, the TTC and IO — in these projects.  Metrolinx will be the project owner.  IO will be the procurement agency.  The TTC will provide the design criteria, manage the design consultants and technical details of the projects, and will eventually operate the lines.

Halstead also asked about lessons learned from the St. Clair project.  Collins replied that Metrolinx will maintain a presence in communities to keep them informed as the projects evolve, and noted that the neighbourhood office for the Sheppard LRT that had been closed because of the Ford MOU would have to be reopened.

Director Doug Turnbull asked where Metrolinx stands on the role of subways.  Bruce McCuaig replied that Metrolinx supports subways such as the Spadina extension now under construction, and noted that “The Big Move 2.0” includes both the Richmond Hill extension of the Yonge line and the Downtown Relief Line.  Metrolinx will continue to support subways in this context.  Rob Prichard noted that Toronto Council had asked city planning staff for studies of a Sheppard West connection to Downsview and a Bloor West extension to Sherway.

Turnbull asked whether TBM 2.0 affects any of the four LRT lines up for approval.  Bruce McCuaig replied that the 2.0 document will review progress to date and incorporate new initiatives such as the GO electrification.

During the press scrum, Metrolinx clarified that The Big Move 2.0 will be published at the end of 2012.

Director Stephen Smith asked for a clarification of the AFP bidding process and the meaning of the term “Financial Close” in the project chart.  Jack Collins explained that the procurement would have several stages.  First, bidders would be invited to qualify to bid on the work.  Based on this, three would be chosen, and they would be given funding to prepare a more detailed proposal.  From that work, IO would make its evaluation and select a winner.  At that point, the overall contract and financing details would have to be nailed down, and this would be the “financial close”.  IO will rely on Metrolinx, the TTC and technical consultants for evaluation of the proposals.

Smith asked whether pricing would be affected by the level of activity in the construction market.  Collins replied that preliminary indications from the international market are good because work is drying up overseas.  Also, experienced resources now committed to the Spadina extension will be freed up starting in late 2015.

The report was approved by the Board, and most of us adjourned to the press scrum which was attended by Rob Prichard, Bruce McCuaig, Jack Collins and the usual bevy of Metrolinx communications staff.

After the discussion about “extra costs” noted above, questions turned to the location of the Eglinton tunnel.  It will definitely not go under the Don River because this would involve tunneling through bedrock.  The tunnel boring machines are designed for softer conditions (soil, clay, etc), not for hard rock, and this work would be very expensive.  The line will go under Don Mills Road and will provide for a future connection to a north-south route.

Questions returned to the role of Metrolinx and “the need for a clear and supportive partner” as they put it.  Elizabeth Church asked about the Mayor’s opposition to the LRT scheme.  Bruce McCuaig noted that Council had voted, and had delegated authority to the City Manager to execute contracts for these projects.  Rob Prichard observed that the Mayor and his brother speak for themselves, and that there is a broad consensus for the LRT plan.  Metrolinx won’t stand in the way of debate, but they have lots of room for working with the city.

John Lorinc asked whether Metrolinx is concerned about being “the meat in the sandwich” in the 2014 election?  Prichard replied “no”.  He observed that political actors have strong ideas, and we shouldn’t try to take politics out of transit.  However, we should keep our eyes on the main goal of better transit and less congestion rather than just fixating on four projects.  There will be a contract with the city for these four, and other projects may come.  Metrolinx should be steady in its execution of the projects and although there will be elections along the way, the recommendation is that these projects should be completed.

A few questions on the vehicle contract came up.

Would other cities outside the Metrolinx planning area be able to procure LRVs through the Metrolinx contract?  Jack Collins replied that this decision would be up to the local municipality (e.g. Kitchener-Waterloo or Ottawa).

Given the extended period between vehicle delivery and start of service on the first line (Sheppard), what will Metrolinx do about the warranty that could expire before the cars begin revenue operations?  Bruce McCuaig replied that this would form part of the discussions with Bombardier and final approval of the terms would come from Queen’s Park.  There will be two pilot cars built for Metrolinx but no dates are set yet for their delivery.

Royson James asked about Metrolinx’ role — are they simply following the political path of least resistance, or can we “take their recommendations to the bank”?  Bruce McCuaig replied that Metrolinx would give its best advice regarding regional transportation systems, and that they are the keeper of the long term view.

James asked why Metrolinx keeps changing its mind.  McCuaig replied that there are choices between technologies, and it’s not always a black and white decision.

Rob Prichard chimed in saying that there had also been changes in preference on the City’s side for Eglinton’s technology.  The Ford MOU had tradeoffs — a longer Eglinton tunnel was a gain at the expense of losing the Finch LRT (and the eastern part of a Sheppard line).  Metrolinx need to build projects that make sense, and they are “respecting democracy”.

Elizabeth Church noted that Metrolinx has changed its “expert opinion” especially on Eglinton, and this is frustrating to those who seek technical advice.  Prichard replied that between 2006-08, the original vision for Eglinton was all underground, a faster line attracting more riders.  However, the tradeoffs between costs and benefits led to a subway-surface arrangement.

This exchange led me to write for clarification because at no time did the City of Toronto endorse an all-underground Eglinton line, particularly not once Transit City was announced.  Even before, Eglinton was flagged as a corridor for improved transit and surface priority treatment, but not for a subway.  Prichard is mixing the Metrolinx planners’ fantasies of an all-underground Eglinton with official city and TTC policy decisions, and Metrolinx can hardly claim to be following the City’s changes in policy when in fact the drive for an Eglinton subway came from Metrolinx itself.

I wrote to Metrolinx:

At the media scrum, Rob Prichard talked about the to-and-fro of the city’s position on an Eglinton all-underground line.

It’s worth noting that several reports dating from 2005-6 including the City’s Official Plan and the TTC’s “Building a Transit City” showed Eglinton as a potential transit corridor, but talked much more of surface transit priority than of a subway. ‪

Yes, there was an older proposal for a subway west from Mt. Dennis to Renforth, but the projected demand was quite low and it was not taken seriously.

Therefore to suggest that there was any serious support for an Eglinton line completely underground … is stretching the point.

Metrolinx replied:

As The Big Move was being developed between 2006 and 2008, a variety of transit lines and technologies were modeled and considered in developing the full integrated GTHA system of the future, including Eglinton as a fully-separated rapid transit corridor. The Big Move does not specify whether sections are below ground or above ground.

Also, as Metrolinx worked with the City of Toronto and the Toronto Transit Commission, and a more detailed Benefits Case Analysis was undertaken, Eglinton was confirmed as grade-separated through the central section, and at surface, east of Laird Ave.

It should be noted that the benefits of a totally grade-separated Eglinton were weighed against all other rapid transit projects across the GTHA on a range of issues, including future land use, location of employment, integration with local transit, GHG reductions, the ability to serve communities of higher social need, and travel time.

You can judge for yourself whether there was a city position on the vertical alignment of Eglinton that would support Metrolinx’ claim.

John Lorinc got in a good last word with the question “Will you still support this plan in 2014?”

To assist readers in keeping track of the shifting completion dates for the projects, here is a consolidated chart of the original plans, the revised “5-in-10” plan, and the new 2012 version.

2012.04.25_Project Staging Chart

The original article from April 24 follows below.  Note that some route-specific information has been updated on April 26.

At its meeting of April 25, 2012, the Metrolinx Board will consider a recommendation from staff that sets out how work will proceed with Toronto’s rapid transit projects in light of recent decisions by Toronto Council.  Once this receives formal approval from Queen’s Park, we will be back more or less to the position just before the election of Mayor Rob Ford, but with projects needlessly delayed.

When Ford declared that Transit City was dead, Metrolinx couldn’t wait to negotiate a new transit plan even though Ford had no legal authority to replace an agreement by the previous Council without authorization from the new one.  Now that Council spoke so forcefully in support of the LRT plans for Eglinton, Finch, Sheppard and Scarborough, Metrolinx is ever so eager to fall in line with Council’s wishes.  With luck, the new plans may last long enough that we will actually build something.

A media briefing today (April 24) covered the main issues in the staff report and accompanying presentation.

Although the phrase “Transit City” has officially vanished from Toronto’s lexicon, Metrolinx conceded that, yes, we are more or less back to the Transit City plan with a few minor adjustments.

Eglinton LRT

This line will be built from an indeterminate point at or west of Black Creek to Kennedy Station and will open in 2020.  The western terminus and the alignment of the segment from Black Creek to Jane (or wherever) has not yet been decided.  This will be the subject of a report to the Metrolinx Board in June.

Although a line of this length cries out for a staged opening, this will not actually happen.  This is bound up in the procurement strategy and probably some of the cash flow planning.  The main tunnel project will be a conventional job of tendering for a specified job, letting the contractor build the tunnel, and then taking it over.  However, the stations will be separate jobs to be parceled out possibly as AFP (Alternate Financing and Procurement) with more of the design and project management left to the winning bidder.  Finally, major system contracts such as signalling will be let for the entire line fairly late in the project and, therefore, they won’t be available for a partial opening as far east as the Spadina or Yonge subway.

The line will open in late 2020.

Updated April 26:  Metrolinx has confirmed that the original plan for through service from the SRT to the Eglinton line has been dropped.  Here is their statement on the subject:

The previous plan for a totally grade-separated Eglinton-Scarborough Crosstown was a seamless 25 km one-seat ride from Scarborough City Centre all the way to the Weston/Jane area. With the change back to an 8 km surface section east of Laird Station to Kennedy, TTC Service Planning are concerned that they will no longer be able to balance the headways between the heavier passenger loads on the Scarborough Rapid Transit with the non-grade separated portion and the lower loading on the Eglinton Crosstown.

The TTC operating preference is to revert back to the old plan by separating the two lines at Kennedy station. The SRT will remain automated, and the Eglinton Crosstown LRT will have an operator. There will be a non-revenue connection at Kennedy, but its purpose is more for shuttling trains between heavy and light maintenance facilities and the maintenance-of-way.

Scarborough RT

Construction will begin on the northern part of the LRT project (McCowan Station to Sheppard) in mid 2014 while the SRT is still in operation.  Following the Pan Am Games in 2015, the SRT will close for reconstruction as an LRT line with reopening targeted for late 2019.  I asked why this is a four-year window even though the shutdown is planned for only three.  Metrolinx replied that the shutdown is only three years, but they are not certain exactly when it might occur.  Also, they hope that through the AFP process they will encourage the bidders to find ways to shave time off of the process.  However, it is too soon to make detailed projections and they are leaving room in the overall plan.

Conlins Road Maintenance Facility

The joint carhouse for the Sheppard and Scarborough lines will be at Conlins Road east of Morningside and Sheppard.  Some site preparation work has already been done here, but actual construction was put on hold pending the resolution of Toronto’s preferred plans for Sheppard.  This will be an AFP project with the builder responsible for maintenance of the building, at least for the initial decades of its existence.  It is unclear how we will get a 100-year structure out of a company whose responsibility will run barely a third of this, presuming they don’t sell that part of the contract after the building is up and running.

Corrected April 26:  Because the new Metrolinx LRVs will begin to arrive in 2013 2015, this project will be done in two stages so that preliminary facilities are available to receive and test the equipment before there is actually a line to run it on.  An eastern section of the Sheppard line will probably be built before the main project so that there will be some test track outside of the limits of the yard for the early cars.

Sheppard LRT

Construction of the Sheppard line will not get underway until mid 2014, although the pre-award period for this AFP will begin in early 2013.  Metrolinx acknowledges that there is a longer up-front period for the AFP process, but hopes that this will pay off in a faster project.  The fact that the opening date for Sheppard has now stretched out to late 2018 suggests that these hopes may be misplaced, and shows just how badly our first surface LRT project has been sandbagged by Ford’s opposition and Metrolinx foot-dragging.

The report includes no mention of a possible extension to the University of Toronto Scarborough Campus.

Updated April 26:  At the Metrolinx Board meeting, chair Rob Prichard (who has strong connections to UofT) encouraged staff to find a way to include the “Morningside Hook” taking the Sheppard line south to UofT Scarborough campus if project savings free up any more for extras.  UofT should hope that Prichard stays at Metrolinx long enough to ensure that this actually happens.

The Toronto Star included an article about this line complete with a drawing showing an across-the-platform transfer between an LRT train and a subway train at Don Mills Station.  This is different from the nose-to-nose connection commonly discussed where passengers would make the connection by walking east-west along a common platform.  In response to my query about which design they actually planned to use, Metrolinx responded:

The slide is a rendering of a side-by-side transfer, as you indicated. The presentation from the TTC open house in 2010 … had an end-to-end transfer arrangement. We will need to re-start the design process with the design consultants and finalize the transfer arrangement.

In other words, they have not made up their minds yet.

Finch LRT

The Finch line’s construction will start in mid-2015, not quite a year before the Spadina subway extension opens.  As on Sheppard, there is an extended advance period for bidder qualification and selection, and an four-year construction period.

Infrastructure Ontario and the Mysteries of Provincial Financial Reporting

Ontario policy dictates that all large projects funded from Queen’s Park be run through Infrastructure Ontario allegedly

“to maximize value and increase certainty of on-time, on-budget delivery and a cooperative design process”.

This doesn’t give the TTC or any of the existing project management handled by many private companies who have worked on transit in Toronto much credit.  Whether IO (as the agency is known) will actually achieve its goals remains to be seen.

The financial side has a particular twist in that the actual, as spent budget for the lines is an unknown quantity.  There is an overall budget of $8.4-billion, but these are 2010 dollars and already two years of inflation have pushed up the number.  The actual dollars will continue to rise from now to 2020, but there is no projection of what the final number will be, or reference information someone outside of the government might use to track whether “on budget” performance is really achieved.  (By contrast, TTC and city projects must show their spending projections including escalation factors out to completion, and authorized spending levels must be adjusted to deal with unexpected overages.)

In effect, simple inflation does not count as being “over budget” although it is well known that the cost of some items will rise faster than overall price indices.

One variant on this scheme is the vehicle contract.  It is possible that Bombardier may claim costs beyond inflation due to the delay in starting production.  If so, that’s a potential “cost of delay” which might be to the City’s account.  However, one might point out that the decision to delay was not taken or authorized by City Council.  This is an area where Metrolinx would do well not to encourage a debate about their complicity in whatever delay and associated cost the projects face.

Finally, Ontario hopes to obtain some funding from the Federal “3P” fund which is used to encourage AFP projects.  At this point, the amount they hope to receive is under $100-million, not a big contribution to the $8.4b, but every bit helps.

Election Complications

With so much of the work planned to start in 2014 or beyond, the effect of the next municipal election cannot be ignored.

If we presume that the left-centre political groups can agree on one candidate, then there is a reasonable chance that Mayor Ford will be dispatched from the scene.  However, if the opposition is split, and Ford manages to win re-election, we will be back to the question of his “mandate”, and strong opposition at both Council and Queen’s Park will be needed to counter his anti-LRT-streetcar bias.

In a few years, I hope that Toronto will not just be debating the fine points of these LRT projects, but of a wider menu through Metrolinx’ “Big Move 2.0” which has yet to make its appearance, and through financing options that will move us away from dependence on either the generosity of provincial budgets or the mystical powers of “private sector” investment in transit.

83 thoughts on “Metrolinx Resurrects Transit City (Updated)

  1. From what I heard at the commission meeting yesterday, the possibility of the dropping of Oakwood isn’t entirely the TTC’s fault, since Metrolinx is the controller of funding (I also get the feeling that Metrolinx isn’t a fan of many stations, based on the Eglinton surface-versus-underground debate).

    Steve: I am more surprised that Metrolinx’ hit list of stations to be dropped is taking so long to “surface” publicly. They have been targetting closely spaced stations for a long time. The one that still mystifies me is Chaplin, not exactly the centre of the universe for potential demand. If Oakwood is dropped, how can they justify Chaplin?


  2. @Calvin and Chad

    As well, due to space constraints, dwell times at surface transit stations tend to be more sensitive to the number of stations than fully grade-separated lines, since the latter usually offers more room for boarding and alighting streams of passengers to move around each other. Furthermore, surface transit stations have a limit of one entrance per platform, unless the TTC entertains the idea of creating a second access point (consisting of a very tall inaccessible staircase/walkway connecting platform and sidewalk).

    RE: Chaplin versus Oakwood

    I had thought Chaplin was recognised as particularly important for local access due to the surrounding terrains.

    Steve: Originally, Chaplin was going to be a tunnel boring machine extraction site, but that idea seems to have been dropped.


  3. How much money would actually be saved by removing Oakwood station? It seems like a somewhat short-sighted decision. You save a little bit now but you make the line that much less convenient and accessible forever.


Comments are closed.