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.

17 thoughts on “How Long Will Rebuilding The SRT Take?

  1. I am hearing lots of talk about costs, but not much talk about benefits.

    What is the projected travel time savings, multiplied by some reasonable value of people`s time?

    Steve: It’s not clear whether you are talking about the subway or LRT option, and so I will try to respond in both contexts.

    For the LRT option there will be a small saving in travel time for riders between STC and Kennedy because of (a) the relocation of the SRT to an underground level where the connection to the subway will be much shorter and (b) the elimination of Ellesmere Station.

    For the subway option the saving will be greater because (a) there will be a through ride without a transfer on the subway, and (b) the stops at Midland and Ellesmere will be eliminated.

    For riders originating north of STC, the difference in travel time depends on where they come from. The subway will have only one stop at Sheppard, while the LRT will serve areas between Sheppard and STC. It is also more likely in the future that the LRT would be extended northeast to Malvern Centre than the subway.

    As for the value of people’s time, I very much doubt that the capital cost of either of these projects can be offset by that imputed saving.

    According to Toronto`s Medical Officer of Health, health-care costs due to the lethal poisons in car pollution are $2.2 billion per year.

    Note: Car drivers also poison and kill 440 people in Toronto each year and poison another 1,700 people so seriously that they have to be hospitalised.

    Will the Scarborough subway extension make a dent in this toll of death, injury and health-care spending?

    Saving people`s lives, saving people from serious injury and saving scarce health-care dollars are all valuable benefits that should be part of the debate.

    Steve: Whether it’s an LRT or a subway, the projected demand is considerably higher than what the SRT carries today. Some of the additional riding will be natural growth, some will be latent demand for which there will finally be room, and some will be from trips diverted to the RT either from other transit routes or from autos. Given that the SRT is mainly a “bridge” route, and the trips on it are destined further away than Kennedy Station, the net change in travel time will be a relatively small part of the overall journey. Part of the increase will come from pushing the SRT or subway north across the 401 where only bus service is available today. That, I suspect, will be the major source of new trips provided that there is good feeder service to the LRT/subway terminal.


  2. What exactly are the required changes for the SRT to accept LRT trains?

    My understanding was that a couple of tunnels have to be heightened, and an over-head power line needs to be hung up. Surely the latter can be done over a number of weekends, while the old trains remain in service?

    As for widening the tunnels, I’m also having trouble understanding why that would be a 3-year project?

    Steve: It’s nowhere near as simple a conversion as you make out.

    The tunnel at Ellesmere is too small to hold anything other than Mark-I ICTS cars (the current fleet). This design was deliberately changed from a larger tunnel when the SRT was built to prevent the TTC from going back to the original LRT plan for this route. The new tunnel must be deeper and wider because of the larger cars and clearance for the overhead power supply. This means a new tunnel, not simply minor adjustments.

    The existing stations have high level platforms, but the LRVs are low platform cars. This means that either the tracks and station roofs must be raised or the platforms lowered. Some of those platforms are integral parts of bridge structures (e.g. Midland Station). If the platform level is changed, this also affects the landings for escalators and elevators.

    At Kennedy, there will be a completely new station for the SRT underground. At some point, construction of access to this station would require the existing line to shut down so that a ramp and portal to the new station could be built.

    The power supply for the SRT is completely incompatible with the new LRVs (and with the rest of the TTC system for that matter). This is not just a matter of stringing wires, but of replacing substations and feeder systems.

    The signal system for the LRT will be a complete replacement for the one used by the SRT.

    I am sure that there’s more, but that gives you an idea of the scope. That said, I suspect that the length of the shutdown is as much as question of the will (or lack of it) to get the project done as quickly as possible as it is a matter of engineering and construction limitations.


  3. Maybe more important than the duration of construction is how construction will be mitigated, and what the replacement service will look like. (Warning: lots of back-of-envelope numbers coming up.)

    Replacing the SRT during rush hour would require a headway of about 50 seconds (70 buses per hour). Add in the existing Nugget express service, and you get to 45 seconds (80 buses per hour). (These are rounded numbers based on today’s headways with 220 passengers per RT train, and 55 per bus.) How will this operate?

    Will we simply run platoons of three buses (all packed) every 2 minutes, running non-stop from STC to Kennedy? Run a third of the service to stop at all the existing RT stops? Or will there be an effort to shift travel patterns so that we’re not focusing so much travel onto STC or onto the SRT corridor?

    Steve: In previous studies and reports on the SRT replacement, the TTC has talked about running many of the bus services express from STC to Kennedy as this is the primary demand. Some routes that now terminate at STC may be extended to Kennedy to reduce transfer times and passenger congestion at bus bays. Originally, the plan was for the Sheppard LRT to be operating in 2013 so that some demand could be diverted west to Don Mills Station. Thanks to provincial meddling, this is no longer possible.

    If necessary, what roads can handle another 80 buses an hour (in addition to existing service)? More importantly, what intersections can handle the extra bus traffic (especially where left turns are involved, or near the station entrances where we’re already funneling multiple routes)? 80 buses an hour is equivalent to roughly 2 buses every cycle… on some left turn movements there may not be enough room for even a fraction of that. Will all buses follow the same route (not critical if service runs non-stop STC to Kennedy) or will service be dispersed between two or three streets to lighten the load? Can service be routed differently NB and SB to minimize the use of left turns? Will we need to retrofit existing infrastructure for long-term temporary bus priority measures? Should we do this proactively regardless of capacity need, so that we can improve speed and reliability and reduce fleet requirements for the duration of the replacement service? What is the cost of these improvements?

    Steve: The TTC has also spoken of the need for transit priority measures. However, if most of the buses are running express, they will not need to move to and from curb lanes to serve stops and will not contribute a lot to existing traffic flows except when, as you note, turns are involved. I don’t think anyone has worked out the details yet.

    Where will the buses load and unload passengers? Presumably the bus bays at STC and Kennedy are already all spoken for. A packed bus (especially an Orion 7) takes a considerable length of time to fully unload and load — in the order of a minute and a half maybe? If the passenger demand requires 45-second headways, we’re looking at 3-bus platoons requiring three loading spaces at both STC and Kennedy, and that assumes service runs like clockwork. If you assume more service variability (probably a pretty fair assumption), look at increasing the requirements to 4-6 bays at each location. Does this mean that we’re looking at building a new dedicated bus terminal at both stations? And if so, where would you fit this in, how would you work the pedestrian connection to the Danforth subway and to the existing bus terminals (and reduce the impacts of transfers), what kind of platform facilities are required (e.g., shelters / weather protection), and is this accounted for in the costing?

    Steve: Your comment about Kennedy is odd considering that the TTC routinely converts the SRT to bus operation now and has bus bays available for the purpose. If there are multiple services (an STC express, a local shuttle and some routes extended to Kennedy), then some sharing may be needed but I don’t see this as insurmountable. No, we are not looking at building a new terminal because, long term, the number of buses routes at Kennedy will decline.

    Will the TTC have articulated buses by 2015? To what extent will that affect service requirements? Does the TTC’s fleet planning rely on having those artics on existing high-demand routes, that would no longer have them if they were all siphoned off to the SRT shuttle? What are the implications on fleet planning and bus garages?

    Steve: The TTC is currently tendering for new buses including artics. I don’t know what the fleet plan looks like today as it has been messed with by various policy decisions including delays to opening of LRT lines and the changes to service standards (more crowding) that may or may not be unwound in future budget years.

    These are a lot of things to consider, and I am curious as to whether any concrete plans have been made. I’m sure the TTC has contingency plans for SRT shuttle service for when there is a short-term closure (since it is not unknown for the SRT to be shut down now and then… too cold, too hot, too much snow, etc.). But there’s a big difference between a “make do” replacement service that only lasts for an hour or a weekend, and a service that will be relied upon every day for three (four?) full years. And this is ignoring the political considerations (“These replacement buses are third world service! Scarborough is getting screwed again!” etc.).


  4. What would be the merits of abandoning the existing east-west aligned Kennedy subway station (to then be utilized by the Eglinton Crosstown Line), in favor of constructing a new station on a diagonal such that it would be possible to “re-purpose” the SRT corridor for subway operations? Apart from a new tunnel from Ellesmere Stn to Scarborough Centre wouldn’t this be a more affordable alignment that doesn’t completely put to waste the money previously spent on the SRT corridor. It may require some land expropriation to the west of the north-south segment to accommodate larger subway cars, but as this primarily industrial land (back alleyways in many cases) the effect would be minimal.

    Even the elevated section from Midland eastwards could be utilized by the Sheppard LRT as part of a branched service (Don Mills-Scarborough Centre via Agincourt GO) mitigating those calls for a Sheppard subway extension.

    Steve: There are several problems with what you propose. First, an LRT line will not fit through Kennedy Station because the tunnel is not high enough to give clearance for overhead power collection. Second, if a diagonal subway station were built, it would necessarily be on the same level as the existing station. This would require Eglinton trains coming into the east-west station to have a level crossing with the subway entering its diagonally aligned station. The alignment from Ellesmere to STC would probably be completely different (likely along Ellesmere or Progress) because the existing route follows Highland Creek, not the best place to be building a subway tunnel.

    While it may be possible to shoehorn a subway line into the existing RT alignment, it would not be easy or cheap, and there would still be an extended shutdown of RT service while the line is converted.


  5. What is causing the shut down to take as long as they are expecting it to? The line currently uses the same gauge, so other than modifying the power supply I would think no new rails would be necessary along the current route. I suppose the bulk of construction would be to renovate the stations to be low floor, but should this really take 3(+) years? If they could work on multiple stations at the same time, I would think it could be done in as little as 1 year, and certainly no more than 3.

    Steve: See my remarks to a previous comment on this issue.


  6. Steve said:

    “For the LRT option there will be a small saving in travel time for riders between STC and Kennedy because of… (b) the elimination of Ellesmere Station.”

    And also:

    “The existing stations have high level platforms, but the LRVs are low platform cars. This means that either the tracks and station roofs must be raised or the platforms lowered. Some of those platforms are integral parts of bridge structures (e.g. Midland Station).”

    So it sounds as though it would likely be technically easier, and perhaps less expensive, to keep Ellesmere station and eliminate Midland. What was the rationale behind this decision? Is ridership at Midland station significantly higher?
    I’m also unclear regarding the future of McCowan station. Will it be rebuilt as well?

    Steve: I suspect the problem with Ellesmere is the abysmal bus connection. As for McCowan, Metrolinx is being a bit coy about stations, and I would not be surprised to see McCowan disappear.


  7. Isn’t the discussion about replacing the SRT with a subway extension instead of LRT academic given that the province says it’s too late to change from the LRT plan?

    There also seemed to be a lack of enthusiasm on City Council to change the plan or to raise taxes for a subway extension.

    Steve: Yes, but that debate is going to come before Council this fall, I am sure. It’s worth having accurate information “out there” compared with the claims of OneCity. The “affordability” of the Scarborough Subway was the single most important part of that plan, and it skewed the debate badly.


  8. Obvious solution, to greatly reduce the number of buses needed:

    – Double track the Stouffville GO line and run frequent service
    – Run passenger service on the CP line from Pickering to Milton

    These two lines are urgently needed anyway, so this would provide an excuse to build them now, as both serve northeastern Scarborough.

    Steve: Nice idea, should have been done a long time ago, but won’t happen in the time frame of the SRT rebuild. GO is quite firm about not handling “inside 416” traffic. I don’t agree with them, but that’s government policy these days.


  9. Steve: Your comment about Kennedy is odd considering that the TTC routinely converts the SRT to bus operation now and has bus bays available for the purpose. If there are multiple services (an STC express, a local shuttle and some routes extended to Kennedy), then some sharing may be needed but I don’t see this as insurmountable. No, we are not looking at building a new terminal because, long term, the number of buses routes at Kennedy will decline.

    The EA shows plans for a temporary bus terminal expansion at Kennedy to accommodate the bus traffic during the shut down period, unless this scheme has been abandoned?

    Steve: The comment I was replying to implied a new permanent structure rather than a throwaway, but yes the EA did talk about an extension. I have not heard whether this is still part of the plan or not.


  10. Is there sufficient space for a double track GO Stouffville line beside the SRT, and future LRT?. From the vantage point of the SRT the space looks tight. If there is not sufficient space, then perhaps a subway option might be called for so as to free the SRT space for a double tracked GO line, albeit some far off day.

    Steve: I believe that there is enough room to double-track the Uxbridge sub. There is a row of vegetation between the rail tracks and the backs of the industrial properties to the east.


  11. So it sounds as though it would likely be technically easier, and perhaps less expensive, to keep Ellesmere station and eliminate Midland.

    Steve never answered the direct question.

    Yes, Ellesmere is significantly quieter than Midland. The 2009/10 passenger figures give only 1360 people per day at Ellesmere, compared to 3020 at Midland. Ellesmere is actually the quietest station in the entire network, even lower than Bessarion.

    Like Steve said, it’s due to the awful bus connection, and also the neighbourhood. There is very little around the station to drive traffic there.

    Steve: I never answered the question because the real issue is the appalling inaccessibility of Ellesmere Station. Yes, it would be easier to adapt, but nobody would use it. Of course, if we build the Scarborough Subway, there won’t be a stop at Ellesmere or Midland either.


  12. It seems to me TTC should be seeking to secure funds for a mid-life update of the T1 fleet while the surplus exists, since large numbers of cars could then be off site without impacting service and reserve requirements. Instead TTC will wait until the fleet is further committed and then be only able to refit cars in dribs and drabs or worse attempt to justify an excessively expensive full early replacement with TRs.

    Steve: The biggest shortcoming of the T-1 fleet is that not only to these cars not have ATO, retrofitting it to them would be very expensive because they were not designed for it. This is actually an issue for proposed service increases on the YUS because the TR fleet on order isn’t big enough to handle this. When the fleet plan was done years ago, all subway cars were counted as interchangeable, but now they aren’t. Now that Queen’s Park isn’t pumping out money quite like they used to and expects a substantial local contribution, buying cars before old ones wear out isn’t quite the political priority it once was.


  13. Do you know if the current fleet will be scrapped after retirement or would another system be interested in refurbishing them?

    Steve: There is no market for these cars and they will be scrapped.


  14. Steve, regarding a conversion to subway you stated that:

    “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.”

    However, based on the numbers you provided, the TTC has 9 spare sets of T-1. If every train went right through, the TTC would only require 4 more sets, not 15. And presumably the TTC could turn some of the trains back at Kennedy – perhaps enough to cover those 4 sets. What 15 trains would be required?

    Steve: My point exactly. The problem is that “saving” money on buying more T-1s for a BD extension is offset by buying more TRs for YUS to replace the T-1’s that were originally counted as “available”.


  15. I recall you always thought that Metrolinx wanted to revert to ICTS (Mark II) technology.

    You mentioned the tunnel problems for LRT vehicles. I am still unclear if the Mark II cars do not fit through the tunnels or just that they do not achieve desirable clearances. If the latter, then I am sure something less than desirable is acceptable and the tunnel could stay – greatly reducing the down time. From the 2006 report, I cannot determine exactly what the full story is. I am sure that at least half the car lanes, shoulders, sidewalks, etc. are less than the current desirable standards.

    If the trains would fit, is there any chance that Metrolinx tries to revert to Mark II in order “listen to Council concerns” to reduce the downtime of the SRT. (Assuming also that the SRT would not be run through with Eglinton – which I understand is that current plan). Similar to the B-D extension to STC, this would allow the Eglinton LRT to only have one yard (in the West end), but I have not heard any concerns about this.

    Steve: The Mark II cars won’t fit through the tunnel either. However as high floor cars, they would be able to serve the existing station platforms. Either an expanded McCowan Yard site or a new Mark II yard would be required as an alternative to Conlins Road carhouse on Sheppard. I still don’t entirely trust Metrolinx on this issue.

    It will be interesting to see whether the tender call for the project includes the option of a proponent suggesting an alternative technology to LRT.


  16. I don’t know if this has been asked, but how long would the construction of a Scarborough Subway take as compared to the SRT reconstruction?

    I also have (so far) seen nothing from Stintz that clearly states that she wanted this Scarborough Subway extension built now or after the Pan Am Games (or thought that it was possible).

    It does seem more and more that a Scarborough Subway would not be a terrible idea, if supplemented with LRT service on Sheppard East and Eglinton East (as well as better bus service on Ellesmere) … too bad everything got bogged down with the Sheppard Subway extension proposals, not to mention the different ideas about what was going to be done with Eglinton.

    Cheers, Moaz

    Steve: For a subway of that length, presuming it will be a deep bore tunnel, we’re probably looking at three to four years after the EA, design, etc. are out of the way. I’m using the Spadina subway extension as a reference point here. The fact that there are few stations relative to the length of the route is advantageous (although I suspect there will be political pressure to add a few). In any event, it’s a moot point unless the funding can be sorted out with Queen’s Park and the cost brought down to the level claimed by the OneCity proponents.


  17. I must confess to a particular anti-subway bias here in that an LRT along the SRT route would provide us with an open cross-country line unimpeded by the operation constraints involved with an in-street centre reservation line. We would thus have in-street, underground {Eglinton} and an open cross country operation which, together, would be very good for showing what LRT is really capable of e.g. LRV’s can go just as fast as subway trains in the right conditions.


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