How Long Will Rebuilding The SRT Take?

When OneCity was announced with much, if short-lived, fanfare back in June, the centrepiece of the scheme was a proposal for a Scarborough Subway.  Toronto could have a full-blown subway to the heart of Scarborough at a small price, and without the disruption associated with a long shutdown of the RT.

  • A subway would be built from Kennedy Station east along Eglinton and then north on Danforth Road and McCowan to Sheppard with stations at Lawrence, Scarborough Centre (shown as McCowan and Ellesmere on the OneCity map) and Sheppard/McCowan. (OneCity presentation at page 15)
  • Once the subway opened, the RT would cease operating.  Users of existing stations would have to access the subway at its new location.
  • The cost of this option compared to the expected cost of the RT conversion to LRT was $484-million.

According to OneCity (at Page 16) an SRT shutdown would take over four years during which service would be provided by a fleet of 43 shuttle buses.

When I wrote about OneCity, I received an email from Jack Collins, Vice-President of Rapid Transit Implementation at Metrolinx in which he said:

Your recent blog posting implies that Metrolinx or the Province has increased the duration of the SRT shutdown period from 3 years to 3 to 4 years.

This is not the case. The first time we heard 3 to 4 years was during the City Council debate on Wednesday concerning the One City Plan.

This duration did not come from a Metrolinx representative and in all our discussions with the TTC staff the shutdown has been three years, and hopefully less if we put our minds to it.

I wanted to assure you and your readers that even with an AFP type contract, the current Metrolinx plan is:

  • SRT will stay in service until after the 2015 Pan Am/ Para Pan games
  • The AFP contract will have a condition that will limit the shutdown period to no more than 3 years
  • As part of the AFP contractor selection process, contractors will be encouraged to come up with plans to reduce the shutdown period to less than 3 years

One might be forgiven for a bit of confusion here.  When Queen’s Park confirmed funding recently for the Toronto projects, the announcement included:

The Scarborough RT replacement and extension to Sheppard Avenue: work will begin in 2014 and be completed by 2020.

[This announcement originally said “2015”, but this was corrected subsequently to “2014” to align with Metrolinx plans.  However, the end date stayed at “2020”.]

When the proposed staging for the rapid transit projects was before the Metrolinx Board on April 25, the report proposed:

… the Scarborough RT replacement and extension to Sheppard Avenue, with a construction start of 2014 and an in-service date of 2019, …

and further:

The previous plan included a construction schedule for the Scarborough RT of 2015-2020. The schedule allows for the SRT to be in service during the Pan Am/Parapan Games in the summer of 2015, after which the service would be shut down for construction. Planning, design and engineering work will be completed prior to construction in order to minimize down time.

The revised plan will move up SRT completion by one year from 2020 to 2019. This would be accomplished by starting work on the extension of the line between McCowan and Sheppard as a first phase, allowing the existing service to continue until after the Pan Am/Parapan Games are completed.

The presentation slides included:

SRT replacement is a priority

The SRT has high, established ridership, it is near the end of its economic life and in need of replacement. Project acceleration has benefits and staging can be done to avoid any disruptions during the Pan Am/Parapan Games period.

It is quite clear from these statements that a four-year shutdown from 2015-2019 was contemplated, and this no doubt led OneCity proponents to quote such a term in their plan.

Metrolinx now claims that the shutdown will be for, at most, three years.  This means either that:

  • The line will close immediately after the Games in 2015 and re-open in 2018, or
  • The line will close sometime after 2015, possibly as late as 2017, in order to reopen “by 2020” as per the Queen’s Park announcement.

Either way, Metrolinx owes the City a clear statement of its intentions given the frequency with which construction schedules for the “Transit City” lines have been adjusted.  The current situation, according to Collins, is:

We are planning one AFP contract for both Eglinton and SRT to optimize procurement time and contractor selection.

As indicated earlier, the contractor will be required to not exceed a 3 year shutdown period for the SRT and hopefully the contractor will be able to improve on the shutdown period.

The overall schedule of work will be determined once we have a contractor on board at financial close. It is premature to set a specific date for the shutdown of the existing RT, the construction of the new LRT and its opening for revenue service until we have a schedule agreed with the contractor.

It is quite clear from this that the start date for construction is not yet settled, but that it is intended to be at most three years whenever it happens.  If this drifts out beyond 2015, this raises a question of the cost of maintenance and reliability of the SRT which is already a delicate flower.

Any discussion of the future of Scarborough’s rapid transit network must proceed on an informed basis.  Queen’s Park is somewhat misleading in saying that work will begin in 2014 and complete by 2020 if the construction schedule has not already been decided.  Even the 2014 date for prebuilding the extension from McCowan Station north to Sheppard is really subject to whatever the prime contractor for the project proposes.  The words “by 2020” do not inspire confidence.

Meanwhile, the OneCity advocates will have to refine their cost proposal for the subway extension.  They claim a subway cost of $2.3b even though an estimate done for Mayor Ford’s transition team by the TTC pegged the cost at $3.3b including vehicles but not including a new or expanded yard facility.  Given that the TTC has more T-1 cars than it needs to serve the existing Bloor-Danforth subway, it may be possible to extend the line without buying more cars (that surplus is a long story in its own right) or building a new yard.

TTC owns 370 T-1 cars.  The BD line requires 43 trains for peak service (258 cars) and Sheppard requires 4 (16 cars) for a total of 274 cars.  Add in spares at 15% and this brings the fleet requirement to 316 at 2011/12 winter service levels.  If all BD trains ran through to Sheppard, this would require roughly 13 more trains plus spares, half that with a turnback at Kennedy.  15 trains would cost at least $240m.

The TTC’s cost estimate for a subway to Scarborough Town Centre is $2.6b including vehicles.  Adjusting for the T-1 surplus would bring this down to $2.3-2.4b, the number claimed by OneCity for a subway extension all the way to Sheppard.

The whole debate between OneCity and Metrolinx, between a Scarborough Subway and the RT/LRT replacement, needs to proceed on a much more informed basis than it has to date.  With luck, staffs of the various organizations will bring credible information to Council in fall 2012 and will not “cook” the comparison of various options to suit political aims at City Hall or Queen’s Park.