The Metrolinx Board meets on February 14 with an agenda that, as usual, features a rather long private session followed by a shorter public one. There will be brief updates on GO Transit and the PRESTO farecard project, a Customer Service Committee update, and one substantive item – updates to the regional plan, The Big Move, and feedback from the public consultation sessions now in progress.
Updated February 15, 2013 at 9:10 am: Notes from discussions at and after the Board meeting have been added to this article.
Update 2 at 12:45 pm: The date for Board approval of the Investment Strategy has been clarified.
This report is largely a rehash of 2012 changes and improvements with no indication of plans for the coming year. Metrolinx is hamstrung in part by the change in government at Queen’s Park and the impending budget. Until they know how much additional subsidy they will receive for the fiscal year starting April 1, they will not be able to commit to service improvements. Moreover, this sort of announcement often involves someone at the Ministerial level.
Although the GO 2020 plan provides some indication of where the system would like to be, this document is getting a bit dogeared as it originates from late 2008 in the era before GO/Metrolinx amalgamation. A later item on the agenda formally brings GO 2020 and The Big Move into alignment, but it also pushes some projects out into the longer timelines (15 and 25 years counting from today) of the regional plan. There is no real sense of which services, beyond a few for which construction is underway, will actually materialize. In turn, that is tied up in the Metrolinx Investment Strategy and new ongoing revenues that may or may not be implemented, and the degree to which these fund operating rather than capital costs.
The current year-by-year arrangement is an inevitable result of the way Queen’s Park operates, but this stifles advocacy and leaves current and would-be riders with no sense of when the system will improve. Always transit tomorrow, not transit today.
With a six percent growth rate, GO obviously has a market. Packed conditions on some trains indicate that latent demand could push this rate higher if only more service were operated. As GO grows, its ability to achieve a high farebox recovery ratio will decline especially when services expand on a policy basis – e.g. all-day two-way service or opening/expansion of routes – rather than simply the addition of trains in already busy peak periods. This requires a financial plan and the will to increase operating subsidies completely separate from capital construction projects and their ribbon-cutting opportunities.
Metrolinx has not published any projections of what its future might look like or the scale of spending required under various scenarios. The new Minister of Transportation, Glen Murray, could do worse than encouraging a more activist role from Metrolinx and a frank discussion not just of lines on a map, but of what services will be provided and how we will pay for them.
Updated: During his presentation of the report, GO President Gary McNeil observed that as long as the region continues to grow, GO will never have enough capacity. Expansion of service beyond the peak period is essential to handle this challenge by shifting some demand to the shoulders and allowing commuters to change their work hours. However, new train capacity is generally consumed within 6 months.
I spoke with McNeil after the meeting, and he confirmed that the constraint on capacity expansion is track time both on the corridors and at Union Station.
Train operations during the snow storm on February 8 achieved 85% “on time” performance. GO’s storm plan was used and this includes the conversion of all express trains to local service. Because trains do not need to pass each other, the amount of switching is reduced and the possibility of delays due to frozen switches is reduced.
In reply to a question about the gap in capacity and the degree of service integration with local transit systems, McNeil replied that local systems are not at capacity, but are trying to increase service to GO. At Oakville Station, 35% of passengers arrive by transit, but service design is complicated by the “wave” nature of demand meeting trains.
During a later discussion of updates to The Big Move, a question arose about charging for parking at GO lots. A tax on commercial parking spaces around the GTHA has been proposed as one of the future “revenue tools”, but this discussion turns onto the lots GO already owns. Metrolinx is open to the idea, but CEO Bruce McCuaig cautioned that motorists will expect better service in return for their payments.
“Service” requires a combination of capital and operating funding to expand track capacity, buy more trains and pay the net cost of carrying more passengers. These improvements won’t happen overnight, and might not specifically benefit locations where large parking lots exist.
To put this idea into context, assuming that all spaces are occupied on every business day, the 65,000 spaces represent 16.25-million space-days per year. Every dollar of parking fee would generate about $16m annually, not a large amount on the scale of Metrolinx spending plans.
The farecard uptake by riders of GO and local systems in the GTHA continues with January 2013 totals of 470-thousand active cards in January 2013, 58-million “taps” and $238m in fare revenue collected. These figures are reported at every Board Meeting, but they would be more meaningful if expressed as a percentage of market with trending information to show where and why the growth happens.
Today, the growth rate is high with the “tap count” rising from about 10m to nearly 60m in less than a year. However, that is mainly caused by the conversion of GO riders from legacy fare media, a “bump” that cannot be replicated on the GO system next year. Similarly, as new transit systems like Ottawa and Toronto come online, they will contribute large increases to PRESTO activity, but this will mask information at the detailed level with one-time growth numbers. What proportion of fare revenue, for example, is collected with PRESTO on the GTHA local systems, how fast is this growing, and what barriers exist to greater market penetration?
PRESTO’s next major step will be the rollout of its “Next Generation” technology in Ottawa. This is beginning to ramp up with a full rollout planned for April. After a failed attempt in 2012, this is a crucial test for PRESTO’s credibility going into much larger markets than its home system, GO, notably a planned TTC implementation in 2014-15.
For its part, the TTC has been silent on changes to its fare system, and this discussion needs to come out into the open as soon as possible. Implementation of the TTC’s byzantine transfer rules is impractical with a new fare payment system, but there is no sense of what alternative might be used such as distance or time-based fares.
A related policy discussion at Metrolinx and Queen’s Park must focus on truly regional fare integration. This is more than simply having one card a rider can use on multiple systems, but a real integration of revenue streams across multiple operations including GO Transit. PRESTO is only a tool, but there has been little public discussion of revenue and cost sharing models, fare structures, and the goal of providing a “seamless, integrated” structure that does not penalize riders and distort travel patterns with fare boundaries.
Updated: Ottawa is in the early stages of their PRESTO rollout with 17k “taps” per day on a base of 13k issued cards, a ratio suggesting that more people have cards than use them for round trips by transit on a daily basis. There are “no problems” with the rollout (press reports from Ottawa may tell a different story), and 98% of transactions are successful on a “first tap” basis according to the newly appointed VP of the PRESTO division, Robert Hollis.
Plans are underway to improve the card registration process, an area of annoyance to new users, and to simplify operation of the PRESTO website.
PRESTO has achieved an 80% market share for GO riders, and the number is up to 50% in Brampton. Figures for other systems using PRESTO were not cited.
In Toronto, PRESTO plans to begin rolling out on the surface system when the new streetcars begin revenue operation in April 2014. (I have been advised by the TTC that a report on fare policies will come to the Commission sometime in spring 2013.) Detailed planning for the TTC rollout is in progress with the first phase targeted at the streetcar lines and intersecting subway stations. Pan Am Games support will focus on routes serving venues for that event. (Whether this is actually practical given the integrated nature of the TTC network and its fares remains to be seen.)
GO continues to have strong support among its riders with an “overall satisfaction” rating of 78%, and 80% of riders would recommend the service to friends. While these are good numbers, like so much else at Metrolinx they need context. What level of service quality will be needed to sustain this level of satisfaction? What challenges will GO face as its corridors bump into capacity limitations, and the drive-park-ride model runs out of room for more commuters?
Parking is becoming a problem at GO stations, and this is flagged by the Customer Service report. Schemes to increase utilization now underway include reserved parking for car pools, shuttle services to remote lots and support for car sharing. What is missing here is the local transit component, an issue flagged by participants in the Big Move consultations.
On January 6, there was a two-hour power outage at Union Station that uncovered shortcomings in emergency power distribution notably to fare machines and elevators. The station is under construction raising problems of ad hoc changes, but these things must be planned for. GO is working to ensure reliable power for operations at this critical station in the future.
This report requests that the Metrolinx Board formally approve changes to the Big Move plan proposed in December 2012. Some of these are intended to bring GO 2020 and TBM into alignment while others recognize shifting priorities and/or implementation constraints for various routes and services.
Feedback from affected municipalities has been mixed but generally positive. Of particular note is the discussion of constraints to service expansion in some corridors, an item notably absent in the line-drawing exercises of some planning. Some of the requested changes fall outside the review now underway, but will be incorporated in the mandatory 2016 update of TBM on which work will start in 2014.
Originally, provision of all-day service to Milton was in the Metrolinx 15-year plan, but the updates propose shifting this to the 25-year timeframe.
For the Milton corridor there are significant infrastructure and operational challenges that mean it will not be possible to deliver two-way, all-day service all the way to Milton in the 15-year time horizon.
Additional tracks and potentially numerous grade separations are necessary are a pre-requisite to the expansion of service to Milton. The construction is especially challenging through built-up areas. This rail corridor is largely owned by CPR, a private third party operating freight rail. Their approval is required for any service and infrastructure expansion. Metrolinx continues to assess impacts, and negotiate with CPR, on ways to build the required infrastructure, recognizing the need to protect the natural and urban environment.
Two-way, all-day service can be delivered to Meadowvale in the 15-year timeframe, but the full extension to Milton can only be delivered over the 25-year horizon.
If the issue is corridor improvements, any physical constraints now in place will still exist regardless of the timelines, and care will be required to avoid encroachment that could impede future expansion. An obvious question is whether this is a matter of construction difficulties or of the project’s cost and its effect on the overall financial plans.
Deferred Implementation of Other Corridor Services
The proposed services to Bolton and Havelock have been shifted to the 25-year plan as has two-way all-day service for the outer portions of the Kitchener and Barrie corridors.
Both would require infrastructure upgrades, especially the Havelock service where, despite political support from Ottawa, we are unlikely to see trains in the near future. Track time is constrained on the inner part of this line between the CPR yard and downtown.
A more detailed review of the Havelock corridor will be included in the 2016 update.
A major change in priorities is the shift of the Downtown Relief Line from the 25-year plan to the 15-year plan. This project is also part of the “Next Wave” of projects competing for funding through any new revenue tools.
The City of Vaughan has asked that Metrolinx consider a further extension of the Spadina subway north to Major Mackenzie. This will be reviewed in the 2016 update.
Financing and Construction Industry Constraints
Buried in a proposed TBM describing the Investment Strategy is the following text:
The RTP capital and operating program is one of the most ambitious transportation programs in Canadian history. To see this program through, construction costs must be spread out using responsible long-term debt. Metrolinx will use debt appropriately and responsibly. Like a mortgage on a house, using long-term debt to finance major infrastructure enables the financial burden of that project to be paid by present and future beneficiaries, meaning people can benefit from the facility sooner. Additional revenues required will increase over time to better match the improved service people will experience.
Capital expenditures are also subject to the capacity of construction contractors and engineering firms to meet the labour and expertise needs entailed by the different projects. Labour and equipment shortages or the lack of enough engineering and design firms can raise construction costs and delay project completion dates, ultimately pushing the full realization of the RTP further down the road. Market readiness and the availability of skilled labour will therefore be an important consideration in the investment profile and system expansion will have to be scheduled accordingly. Metrolinx is already working closely with Infrastructure Ontario, in particular, to manage the capacity of the market to deliver this historic infrastructure build program. Metrolinx will continue to plan for and advance all projects, taking into consideration that implementation timelines for some projects are significantly longer than others.
Aside from upfront capital expenditures, the Investment Strategy will be implemented taking into consideration the need to support the ongoing operations, maintenance and rehabilitation costs of new and existing infrastructure. Furthermore, the benefits and costs of infrastructure and service improvements will be traded off to maximize efficiency in getting the best transportation system for each dollar invested.
This text raises important issues and deserves more prominence in ongoing debates.
First off we have a recognition that debt will be required to finance some of Metrolinx’ projects. This may always have been the intent, but the explicit statement gives a different context for new revenue tools and a $2-billion per year income stream. Pay-as-you-play is not the intent for the capital program, a quite reasonable position given the lifespan of the assets to be built. The question, then, is the scale of upfront construction so that services can be provided in the medium rather than the long term.
This brings us to the question of whether the plan is too big to build and the concerns about industry capabilities raised above. When the Transit City LRT plan was put on the back burner by the McGuinty government, one stated reason was that the industry couldn’t absorb all of the work. For the comparatively simple Finch West and Sheppard East projects, that is a troubling argument – if we can’t get $1-billion LRT lines built for want of industry capacity, how can we possibly undertake a 25-year plan of multi-billion dollar projects? The real goal, of course, was to defer the spending on these lines into the latter part of the decade.
Metrolinx needs to review the rationale for its project timelines in light of new revenue streams and of a government that may be more supportive of building sooner rather than later. Indeed, that is another question for the new Minister and a chance to undo some of the damage to the credibility of transit plans brought on by the McGuinty regime.
Consultation about The Big Move is underway across the region under the rubric of The Big Conversation. These sessions will end on February 19, 2013. A download is available of the kit used for these sessions. It includes brief descriptions of technologies, projects in the first and second waves of TBM, and an overview of funding tools used in other major cities. The purpose of the kit is to allow “home brew” discussions among interested groups outside of the formally facilitated workshops. The information is similar to the content of the main site for TBM, but it is organized to support specific discussions.
Metrolinx has a big problem going into a year where voters will be asked to support new revenue tools that will generate at least $2b annually for new and improved transit. As an agency, Metrolinx and its plans are almost unknown. Many projects have been announced, but few have actually been launched, let alone completed for revenue service. The danger of being ignored as background noise must give Metrolinx execs sleepless nights.
The feedback from participants has been supportive, but with a sense of urgency, of getting on with improvements people can see and use. Local transit and system integration are important issues, as is off-peak, weekend, two-way service so that GO is supporting a transit lifestyle, not just commuters. A telling quote was:
”The lack of integration has created a system that is not worth my time to use.”
The “integration” talked of here is much more than having one green card with which to pay fares. It is full service integration so that local and regional services operate as one system regardless of the colour of the buses or who drives them. The key word is “time”, a commodity motorists prize, something badly co-ordinated transit services can waste with infrequent service and ineffective transfer connections.
Update 2: The date for Board approval of the Investment Strategy has been clarified.
Feedback from these session will be summarized in a report to be posted online, and Metrolinx will continue to seek input from various groups across the GTHA. In April, a final report will be presented to the Board with the intent of going to a public session on May 27 for formal approval before the June 1, 2013, legislated deadline.
(although the next public meeting is not scheduled until May 27). By that time, the Investment Strategy should be substantially completed in draft aiming at publication for the June 27 Board Meeting.
Updated: Various issues came up during the press scrum after the meeting including:
- Does Metrolinx have plans to take over the TTC, or at least its rapid transit system? CEO Bruce McCuaig replied that Metrolinx has an obligation to integrate regional transit, but that this refers to service and fares. A takeover is only one way to achieve integration, and this can also be one through collaboration among multiple system operators. McCuaig noted that the travelling public wants outcomes and they are not concerned with governance structures or political boundaries. Chair Rob Prichard stated that any discussion about system amalgamation lies elsewhere in government. Metrolinx needs to be able to respond if asked about the implications, but they are not “advocates” for such changes.
- Will Metrolinx ensure “efficiency” in its current spending as part of its plan to seek new funding? Bruce McCuaig spoke of the cost recovery ratio for GO mistakenly equating high fare revenues with efficiency. He then turned to the procurement process for capital projects, and cited Alternative Financing and Procurement through Infrastructure Ontario as an example of how Metrolinx would seek good value. Rob Prichard observed that the scale of investment required for The Big Move is much larger than the level of savings that could be achieved by trimming existing spending.
- What will be the effect of new revenue tools on non-users of the transit network? Bruce McCuaig replied with the commonly cited benefits of redirecting travel flow off of the road network, increasing land values, and better capacity for goods movement. (My own feeling about this question is that those answers are becoming shopworn, especially considering that Metrolinx itself has argued that The Big Move will only prevent congestion from getting worse, on average, not that it will actually improve conditions.)
- What are the least popular of proposed new revenue sources? McCuaig dodged this question saying that feedback varies among different groups and he did not want to prejudge the outcome of the consultations now underway. He noted that there was a lot of support for the general principles, but that Metrolinx needs to publish more information about how the tools are used elsewhere and how they might be implemented in the GTHA.
- What will be the fare for the Union Pearson Express? Discussions are underway, and there will be a firm proposal on this in late 2014. (That’s quite a non-answer considering the provincial Auditor General’s less-than-complimentary remarks on the UPX project.)
I agree with you that most of GO’s service is carried by trains and not by buses. I just think that right now trains face many more limiting factors than buses do… Meaning that growth on the bus side can probably be achieved faster than growth on the train side.
The big limiting factors for train service is track time on the network and capacity for train movements at Union. The solutions (expanded tracks, new Union west station) are costly and depend on cooperation from CN, CP and various levels of government.
In contrast GO can run more buses without having to ask anyone and can turn to Metrolinx to push for more bus lanes on highways without having to deal with any other governments (except Toronto but I’m sure they wouldn’t mind uploading the DVP and Gardiner).
More bus Lanes, a new bus terminal at Lakeshore and Bay, and a few other new terminals, combined with 20min service frequencies, would encourage many drivers (and some public transit users) to “Get on the GO.”
Steve: GO may be able to add more buses, but don’t forget that the capacity of a 20′ service, 3 buses/hour, is roughly the same as one car on a GO train. The number of buses GO needs to operate to achieve a large increase in ridership presents quite a challenge for their fleet planning and their budget.
Reading about Ottawa’s 2nd attempt with Presto Next Generation, not sure you’re idea Steve of offering easy quick refunds for delays has been built in. Look how much trouble Ottawa is having.
The Ottawa Citizen had story of man who tapped early to confirm monthly pass and then sent in circles trying to get refund for $2.60 overcharge. What’s going to happen when TTC comes online I can’t quite imagine.
Wouldn’t Meadowvale-Milton be the easiest section of the line to add more tracks to? Between the 407 and James Snow Parkway, there is farmland beside the tracks. The real constraint is around Streetsville, where there is very little room, a level crossing and several sharp curves. Between Cookville and the Junction, where most of the demand is, it ought to be possible to quad-track the line by expropriating parts of some industrial properties, but would be more difficult than east of Milton. Unfortunately, the new CEO of CP is so anti-passenger than convincing CP to allow this might be difficult.
No one has mentioned the concept of a maximum daily fare where a new fare is charged on every new vehicle entered. Some of those fares would be charged at the base fare, the one straddling the maximum at an amount less than the base and all subsequent fares at zero cost. This system has several advantages:
The base fare can be set at a lower level that the current single fare which will encourage local trips.
Most (or all) of the daily maximum would be used up by commuter trips and evening or lunch hour personal outings would be free which would encourage the substitution of transit for car trips.
There is no charge during vacation time if local transit is not used.
It is much easier to set fair fares for multimodal (e.g.. GO and TTC) trips – though the GO fare would be higher – it also would have a daily maximum. (It was never clear to me in London whether the tube and bus maximums – while different – were affected by adding both fare expenditures together or whether they were separate.)
The is great pleasure in looking on the computer and seeing the fares billed at zero. It’s like winning the lottery.
The downside would be for people who take short local trips on two vehicles. However, this would still be offset by the likelihood that the daily maximum would be reached and some trips would be free.
This is not great thinking on my part – it is simply my understanding of the working and experience of/with the Oyster Card in London. I choose to carry a MetroPass, but with my current usage patterns I come nowhere near earning any free trips. A daily maximum smart card would be highly desirable for me.
Steve: You are describing one of the fare models the TTC was talking about before they were strongarmed into accepting PRESTO. There could be daily, weekly and monthly maxima that would provide the equivalent of a pass for the period in question if someone took enough rides in the period to go past the limit. All of this would be reconciled on the “back end” as part of monthly billing rather than doing it in real time. The model, of course, presumed the use of a credit/debit card as the “fare card”, not a stored value card like PRESTO with all the problems that model entails.
Milton used to have all day 2 way service in the 90’s. Now it needs many upgrades and 20 years to return? Ridiculous.!
Also, a DMU fleet used for off-peak service could also be used during peak periods for counter-peak service. No?
Steve: The problem with “counter peak” service is that it becomes “peak” within the length of the rush hour unless a line is extremely long. A one-way trip between Union and Milton is one hour long. A “counter peak” train coming inbound at, say 4 pm, will reach Union at 5 and must be able to make an outbound trip with adequate capacity. Similarly, a 4 pm outbound train will be inbound just after 5, and it will be a full sized train whether that is needed or not. This is a basic fact of life on transit systems with highly directional demands.
Milton, nor any other corridor, ever had trains every hour off-peak and every half hour or less (as GO plans eventually). The implications for track time and potential interference from freight traffic is much, much higher at the planned level of service on major GO corridors in the 2020s and beyond.
I suppose that having Metrolinx pay for the cost of additional track, expropriation and the grade separation of 4 level crossings might help convince the CP board and shareholders that the project is worthwhile.
Steve: Possibly, but there are also physical constraints along the line that do not depend on the CP board.
Why is it so hard to begin taxing residents & commuters for transit infrastructure in a growing Province? If you live/work here and want a better standard of living there’s a cost to keep growing.
I don’t get the posturing that continues today. I shake my head when I read timelines of 15-25 years for transit which would barely be enough if it was built today. And when they say 15-25 years they really mean 20-40.
Is there really any hope in our political landscape?
Steve: As long as political and media hucksters convince voters that governments always waste money, and that any improvement can be achieved through “efficiency”, the debate is lost before it begins. This approach is at last falling out of favour, but it’s still a hard sell. Also, we have many years of governments finding any excuse they can not to spend money, but trotting out the same announcements (I won’t dignify them with the term “promises”) to the point where nobody believes them.
Steve responded to Michael Greason:
There is no reason why this cannot be implemented with PRESTO. It is currently done on a monthly basis on GO in with 3 tiers (8.75% off single fare for first 35 rides, 87.75% off for next 5 rides, then the rest are free) and on Oakville Transit with 2 tiers (“ticket” fare paid for first 37 trips in a month, then the rest are free). I quoted the word ticket because Oakville Transit is eliminating adult tickets after March 31.
Burlington Transit also implements it monthly in 2 tiers (ticket price charged for first 36 rides, then the rest are free) while MiWay (Mississauga) implements it WEEKLY in 2 tiers (ticket price charged for the first 12 rides, then the rest of the week is free).
Steve: Yes, PRESTO can handle this type of fare up to a point, although I am not sure if it can handle multiple tiers (daily, weekly and monthly maxima all at the same time). The monthly cap has been part of PRESTO’s model for GO Transit to duplicate the functionality of a monthly pass. As for the TTC, I mentioned the point because they were already considering this sort of thing when they were looking at a smart card system separate from PRESTO.
One important technical issue is that with the move to “open payments” and the acceptance of credit/debit cards, whether PRESTO will be able to offer this type of fare for cards that are not part of its own system with on-card logic and storage.
The interesting item that comes up is the supposed support for new revenue streams. People seem to be in favour of these until it affects them. Look at the up roar from people when asked if they would be willing to pay for parking at GO lots. I remember the hue and cry when the TTC re-instituted charges on it suburban parking lots. No one would use them; they would just be a waste of space. Has anyone tried parking at Kipling lately. The lot is full before 10 a.m. The same will happen with the GO lots. There will be a drop off in ridership for a while then it will come back stronger than ever.
GO has, I believe, 65 000 parking station spaces at its stations so each charge of $1.00 per day would raise $16.25 million dollars. The average cost for the parking garages is about $40 000 per spot so a charge of $1.00 per day would build just over 400 new spots per year. A charge of $3.00 per day would provide 1200 new parking garage spots per year. If it is presented this way then it might be an easier sell but in any case it is a necessary charge.
When I worked in Toronto I took the GO trains to Bloor and the Subway to Bathurst. I always walked to the station, 12 minutes, to leave the parking spots free for others who lived farther away. Besides getting out of the lot was a zoo. When I take GO into Toronto now I usually take the first train so would have no trouble finding a parking spot but I still walk. Commuter systems elsewhere charge for parking, why not GO? If the right is so adamant about getting rid of free perks lets get rid of free parking also, and reduce the subsidy of the road system to that of GO users, just under 80%.
Ford, the Sun and the fringe of the right do not comprehend basic economics. You cannot keep reducing income while maintaining services. There are 10 kinds of people in the world; those who understand binary and those who don’t.
How to pay for transit in a way the public can get behind: tax increases for commuters, combined with SALARY CUTS to the relevant decision making bodies that have let transit deteriorate to the current state: this would raise the required revenue, get the support of the public, and weed out the posturers who impede progress.
Steve: Sadly, many of the guilty parties have long retired, or “been retired” by the voters. Rob Ford’s followers think that his opponents are all a bunch of posturing pinko commies, while Ford Nation economics ties the city in knots. Identifying the folks who are “posturers” depends a lot on your point of view.
Has GO given any serious thought to through-routing more corridors? I realize that since there are 7 rail corridors one would stop at Union Station and reverse…but what about the other four (since Lakeshore E & W are through-routed, at least for the all-day portion of the service)?
Steve: By the time GO is running two way service on enough corridors to make this worthwhile, it is certainly an operating scheme they may consider. However, the demands are not well balanced with, for example, the Georgetown line being busier than its eastern counterparts, not to mention being a candidate for electrification.
For those who don’t understand the meaning behind Robert Wightman’s comment of “There are 10 kinds of people in the world; those who understand binary and those who don’t.”, that’s 10 in the binary numeral system, or base-2 numeral system, not base-10. In base-2, there are only two digit characters, 0 and 1 (off or on). Therefore 10 in base-2 is equal to 2 in base-10.
Next week, base-16 or the hexadecimal numeral system.
I had a question regarding the Stouffville GO train line. From what I understand, the line is a single track which is completely owned by GO Transit (i.e. there is no commercial traffic on it). Putting in a second track is obviously an expensive option atm, given all the other lines which have priority.
I was wondering if it were possible to do something similar to the Ottawa O-Train? Over there they manage to have two trains running in opposite directions on a single track by having a “passing track” at Carleton Station. The two trains are timed so that they meet and pass each-other at this station.
If it were possible to do this on the Stouffville corridor it could double the capacity of the route. I also imagine this would be a lot cheaper and quicker to do than putting in a second track all the way to Lincolnville.
Is something like that feasible?
Steve: Quite feasible, and likely how, short term, GO will deal with potential directional conflicts. However, if you want reasonably frequent bidirectional service, there is a point where passing tracks are not enough as too much is lost to the requirements of tight scheduling.
Moaz Yusuf Ahmad says:
GO does this now though they do not advertise it. The first train inbound from Georgetown runs express to Pickering then runs west as a local; after that I do not know what it does. I know that there are other trains that do this. The only line that does not do this is the Milton because it uses CP crews and they are not cleared on all the CN and ex CN lines.
W. K. Lis says:
HEXADECIMAL, I am still trying to get myself around octal.
Joshua Tossavainen says:
I believe that there are still a few industries, especially around Milliken, that CN switches. CN unfortunately retains the right to run freights to service left over customers and to use the tracks for emergency service. The corridor is also very narrow in places and might be difficult to double track.
Robert Wightman said:
I expected that there must be some runs that are traveling beyond Union Station … I think that this is an example of something that GO ought to advertise or at least find a way to tell more people about.
Otherwise it remains a secret for those who are familiar with the system … like all those people who wait on Platform 4B* for the Lakeshore West train (coming to Platform 3A) so they can board faster and get a choice seat.
* It took me about 3 trips to understand that waiting on Platform 4B was an option … at first I stayed in the concourse, afraid of missing my train … but quickly realized that I need not worry since the Lakeshore West train always used Platform 3A.
Steve: I suspect they don’t tell people about it because operating arrangements may change, and what was a through train may cease to be on a future schedule, or in cases of bad weather where they make up things as they go along.
Most of the industries served by CN via the Uxbridge subdivision are along the Geco spur that runs west from immediately south of the Kennedy station. Except for an operation just north of Lawrence, other CN sources of activity along the Uxbridge S/D proper have become inactive to my understanding.
I guess that until the days of all day GO Service happen, we need a GO-Riders’ Efficiency Guide…with a disclaimer for winter storms.
Joshua Tossavainen wrote:
This has been done in one place already. When the grade separation with the York Subdivision and 14th Avenue was built. The line is double-tracked through there, however I do not know if the switches at each end of the double track are RTC controlled or not at this time.
Then, on that topic, Robert Wightman wrote:
Any industries served on the Uxbridge Subdivision have to be switched by crews from the Kingston Subdivision as I believe there are no longer any connecting tracks with the York Subdivision since the grade separation. There definitely is no longer a connecting track in the southwest quadrant, and I’m pretty sure the northwest was removed as well.
Steve: From the satellite view on Google Maps, it is clear that there is no longer any connection between the two lines.
Calvin Henry-Cotnam says:
I know from listening on the scanner that there are still switching moves on Uxbridge and Newmarket Subs though not a lot. At least with the removal of a track connection at the York Sub we do not need to concerned about emergency detours of freight trains on Uxbridge.
I would like to suggest to the reader that there is significant political value that can be gained by modestly improving the Stouffville GO line. A modest investment that increases accessibility and lowers the cost to this line in Scarborough will significantly increase the provincial government’s flexibility to implement less politically palatable transit projects.
Steve: I am less convinced than you are. Improving one line may produce support for GO funding in that corridor, but there is much of the GTHA to which the Stouffville line is utterly unimportant. The challenge is to produce a plan that spreads the benefits around the region in a timeframe where most people will actually see some improvement. No individual line warrants special pleading or queue jumping unless it is vital to the network as a whole. Stouffville does not come close.
At the Eglinton Crosstown consultation this evening I asked if losing a station at Eglinton and Leslie would affect the chance of having a connection with any future GO Crosstown line running from, say, Kipling to Agincourt.
Apparently that line (which has been on the City of Toronto’s Official Plan for a while) is even further off in planning than any improvement to the Milton line … maybe into the 3rd Wave.
Although I suppose that a connection at Don Mills just north of Eglinton could be a better option as mobility hub … given that you could have DRL, the Eglinton Crosstown and one day a GO Crosstown line all coming together.
Steve: It would be difficult to include a station on the CPR at Leslie and Eglinton as it would have to be entirely north of the valley crossing. A direct connection to the DRL would be more useful over at Don Mills. While Leslie would make sense as a surface stop, I cannot see it ever having a significance beyond local traffic.
Metrolinx won’t release the market study that was slammed by the auditor looking at usage vs. fare for the airport link. The Auditor says that projected ridership numbers are way lower than we have been told.
Metrolinx won’t release the study citing the desire to not give information to competitors. Not sure who else exactly is building another airport link. As we all know, and Metrolinx finally admitted in their electrification study, if they had gone electric there would be more stops, more revenue, and lower maintenance costs. The people were right.
If a passing track on the Stouffville GO-train line is feasible, how much, roughly speaking, would it cost? And where would it be best located?
Steve: I will leave this to the railway gurus who comment here. An important consideration is that a passing track must be located where it works for the line’s schedule. As a simple example, if there are two trains on the route, then the passing track has to be at the half-way point where they will meet. However, if a third train is added, then the passing points change. These locations may not correspond to areas where there is property easily available. As the service level increases, a point is reached where the line must be double-tracked.
Joshua Tossavainen says:
PNR RailWorks did a complete upgrade of the line in 2012 and put in a mid point passing siding. I don’t know if they ever put in a reverse flow train or not but I cannot see it in their current timetable.
From their newsletter:
It takes 54 minutes for the GO train to go 22 miles from Kennedy to Lincolnville and 43 for Kennedy to Stouffville. Since the Stouffville train gets 17 minutes to get to Union from Kennedy and the Lakeshore gets 19 to get from Scarborough the travel time to Scarborough is minimal, say 3 minutes. The line is about 22 miles long with a new passing track at the York sub, 10 miles from Scarborough Station and about midway up the line. All time starting with a 0:00 are clock times and occur after every hour. The Lakeshore base service hits Scarborough inbound on the 0:22 and out bound on the 0:29. It should be possible using 2 trains and the passing track to run an hourly shuttle between Stouffville and Scarborough.
Service would leave Scarborough on the 0:35 and arrive at Stouffville at about 0:22. If you could leave Stouffville on the 0:30 they would get back to Scarborough on the 0:17. This would allow convenient meets with the inbound and outbound Lakeshore trains plus a convenient connection with the subway at Kennedy, and eventually the Eglinton and Scarborough LRT lines. No new equipment would need to be purchased nor would any infrastructure need to be built.
Granted 10 car GO trains would be over kill but they are free in the off peak and would not need any special dispensation to run with the odd freight. If the O-trains from Ottawa ever became surplus this would be a good home for them but I doubt if you could justify the expense of them, unless the crewing costs are exorbitant.
I Google Mapped the line and found 4 sidings that appear active, 2 off the east side between Lawrence and Ellesmere and 2 on the west side between Finch and the hydro right of way. These would have to be switched in the wee hours of the morning if non-compliant equipment were to be run.
Would this service make economic sense? I doubt it but it could be a good pilot project because it does not require any capital costs. Perhaps the good burghers of Markham could be called upon to subsidize part of the test.
Steve, I wonder if you or anyone else on here knows the fate of CP’s former Don Branch.
I ask because, while driving north on the Bayview extension this morning, I saw work vehicles and crews doing something on the weed-covered track farthest from the road (which I know is the former CP track). The work site was just south of Bayview and Pottery Road. This caught my eye, because I think it is the first activity of any kind on that line since CP ran the Holiday Train down there several years ago.
I turned around and headed south on the DVP to take another look. Not only could I see that crew, but I could also see another group of workers with a heavy piece of machinery (I could not see what it was exactly) doing something to the bridge which carries the Don Branch over the river (just after it splits off from the former CN Bala Sub and heads over to the east bank of the river). I could see men in hard hats and fluorescent jackets down on the riverbank, indicating to me that their work had something to do with the bridge.
I racked my brain to think of what the heck these guys could be doing down there on a disused rail line. The only thing I could think of was that they were starting to dismantle the line and tear up the tracks! There certainly wouldn’t be any reason for Metrolinx to rehabilitate the Don Branch, not now that Metrolinx has punted the idea of using that line for a Peterborough-Havelock service off into its 25-year plan (meaning off a cliff into Never Land). There probably isn’t even any reason to do a survey of the line. But has Metrolinx actually given up on using the Don Branch altogether? (If so, will the “Half-Mile Bridge” near the brickworks be coming down?)
Just wondering if the eventual fate of the Don Branch came up at the Metrolinx board meeting, or at any other meetings that you are aware of. And if anyone who knows what those work crews are up to on the south part of the old Don Branch, let’s hear it!
Just a follow-up: the trucks working on the tracks are from PNR Railworks. It does indeed look like they may be lifting the rails, though it is difficult to see clearly from the road.
I also misstated the location where I saw one of the two work crews. It was on Bayview just below Rosedale Valley Road, not Pottery Road. My mistake.
Steve: The line is right outside my apartment. I will keep an eye on it. The rails now there would have to be replaced anyhow. As of 5:00 pm on February 21, the rails at Bloor Street are still there.
In my view, they might as well tear the damn thing up, because a Peterborough GO service is a loooooong shot. I’d like to see it, sure, but there are tons of very complicated and very expensive obstacles, as well as more pressing demands on Metrolinx’s resources.
A post on Transit Toronto said that the works are for an upgrade to the Rosedale sub down to Queen St.
Apparently this includes an extension and double tracking that would allow for better service on the Richmond Hill line.
Steve: Link please? What you’re talking about implies work on the west side of the valley (Bala Sub), not the east side (Don Branch).
To be honest I agree with you. The central premise is that there is significant political and economic value to be found in GO rail improvement. For a modest investment across the entire GO rail network the provincial government can get significant value for their investment. My proposal is very reasonable, a few extra urban stops, better fare integration in the 416 and a few more trains to satisfy the pent up demand of an ever increasing morning and evening commute.
For an increasingly weak Provincial Government an immediate investment in GO rail transit that is well publicized will likely yield a significant economic and political dividend. There are no other transit projects that can provide this type of value for the Provincial Government, period.
Steve: The operative word here is “investment”, something Queen’s Park has been loathe to do especially on the operating side. Big ticket construction projects, preferably as far in the future as possible, have been their stock-in-trade, and it’s no wonder they lose credibility.
Steve, sorry I should have been more specific … the post was on the Transit Toronto forum, not the site itself.
Jon Johnson says:
Each new stop adds about 4 minutes to the travel time, something that I am sure will go over well with the people who travel in from farther out. The next problems is that many of the trains are standing room only and do not have the capacity to make an impact of reducing unsatisfied demand.
The thought of adding extra trains involves huge capital costs, not just for equipment, as they would need to improve line and station capacity. It might seem strange that a service that runs every 20 minutes in the rush hour cannot handle more trains but the problem is in signal block length and passing capacity. As long as GO has to follow TC FRA rules it is very expensive to increase service.
The other problem is track capacity at Union. GO claims they can run 6 trains per hour per track (8 with double berthing which probably involves bring in two trains at the same time from opposite directions) and this is probably true given the current operating rules and platform width. I still believe that GO would be better off with fewer, and much wider, platforms and stair wells.
GO started out with a test service on then underused CN rail lines that were made redundant by the new yard and by-pass track. It worked well at the time and no one could foresee its growth. Unfortunately trying to expand with the same type of service is proving very expensive. Metrolinx should really look at something like City Rail in Sydney the light rail line in St. Louis which closer to an interurban than an LRT.
In response to Robert Wightman:
Although I recognize there are modest technical issues to expanded GO rail service, each issue can be reasonably resolved.
I have questions about your diction. When you say,
What do you mean by huge. Is it huge compared to a packet of gum, or huge compared to the Apollo program. When you assess the size of the investment you must express it relative to the rate of return on the investment. In the case of GO transit the Net Present Value of the project is very large. The benefits per dollar invested are far greater than many of the alternatives. There are huge economic, social and yes political dividends to be gained. The only real question is what is the maximum amount of money that can be invested before the rates of return begin to decrease?
If Ontario wants to succeed the GTA must succeed, if the GTA is to succeed GO transit MUST excel. There are no two ways about, anything else is idle chatter.
Steve: That’s a valid analysis in the abstract, but it still does not address the larger question of whether investment in a specific branch of the GO network will yield benefits commensurate with the cost and with what might be achieved elsewhere. Everyone has their pet line they would like to see improved, but too many analyses are conducted one project at a time. An example at the other end of the scale is the Downtown Relief Line which is very expensive, but which avoids large costs elsewhere in the network and provides additional capacity. The overall cost/benefit may not be as bad as the sticker price could imply.
Jon Johnson says:
By huge I mean excessive in return for value added to the system or as they would say in business: “RETURN ON INVESTMENT.” The benefits to be gained are greater than would be for building the equivalent road capacity but I contend that they should have stopped building commuter rail years ago and switched to a better system.
I question your use of the word modest in the term “…there are modest technical issues to expanded GO rail service, each issue can be reasonably resolved. ” Is the building of a second downtown station because Union Station and rail corridor can’t handle more passengers by using the current operating rules a “modest issue” or do you mean that Metrolinx will keeps its pants on to be modest?
Metrolinx is wasting a small fortune in real dollars, over many millions, in upgrading the Weston rail corridor to only turn it over to the probably useless UP Yours Express. A new double track line from Union to Pearson to carry 4 three car trains per hour. The maximum capacity of each train is 250 people to be generous, 4000 per hour or 18 000 per direction per day, if each train is full. Is this a modest expenditure for a good benefit? I know Benny, it will attract the international jet set. If they had used this money to build a high speed more conventional rapid transit line they would have carried a lot more passengers per dollar spent. The rate of return would have been much higher.
1 There will be no electrification in my lifetime. There is no money for it, especially if Hudak gets in.
2 It will be a number of years, > 10, before there is all day 2 way service on the lines that need it.
3 The “investment strategies” that Metrolinx is working on will turn out to be smoke and mirrors. What they need to do is call it what it is, new taxation and revenue raising methods. They are not going to invest a pile of money with Warren Buffett and use the dividends to build transit lines.
Metrolinx is wasting a lot of money building the wrong system. If they spend enough it will eventually work but at what cost.
As with all major investment projects there is the question of equity, and the political ramifications of voter perceived inequity. Although most of the studies done on transit projects account for associated costs reasonably well, they tend to poorly account for the costs related to negative and positive political externalities. Even though I personally prefer the DRL, I believe GO transit investment can be implemented in a far more equal and equitable way. Aside from GO transit’s significant economic, and social benefits, the political benefits have the potential to be huge, no other project can positively affect close to half of the provincial population, and at the same time boast a reasonable price tag.
In order to overcome political paralysis GO transit and its potential costs and benefits must be looked at in aggregate across the entire network. Yes certain lines will be more cost effective than others, so long as the investment is reasonably equitable the projects should be accepted. On this point political value outweighs the minor cost differences. We must not miss seeing the forest because our eyes are focused on a single tree.
Steve: GO Transit does not serve half the provincial population, and a project on one line can hardly be described as having an effect on that scale. You are inflating what started out as a discussion about the Stoufville service into a view of GO as the saviour of at least our part of the known universe.
Jon Johnson says:
It is my turn to ask for an explanation of your diction. What do you mean by “…a far more equal and equitable way”? Is spending a lot of money for very little return on GO “far more equal” because it spreads the useless spending over many regions versus benefiting many times the number of people at a lower cost per passengers in only a few regions? GO transit as it is currently conceived cannot help many 416 users at a “reasonable price tag” because it does not have the capacity, end of story! It cannot get the capacity. What are the “… modest technical issues to expanded GO rail service, each issue can be reasonably resolved” that you refer to. You object to my use of the term huge but you do not define your terms; please do so.
While you dislike my use of the term huge you like to use it.
What are the political benefits? Keeping certain parties in power? What are minor cost differences? You complain when I am qualitative rather than quantitative so I would like to know you definition of minor.
Steve: I would jump in here just to say that one cannot on one hand talk about cost effectiveness and equality, and then turn around and talk about what is basically political opportunism — where the votes are, which property developers stand to gain from network expansion, etc. Either we are building a network to serve the GTHA, or we are building one to support whoever is in the Premier’s office by buying votes in key ridings. McGuinty is gone, and we have yet to see whether Wynne will bring a fresh outlook on the issues.
My problem with Metrolinx and GO is not what they are doing but how they are doing it. They are solving a 21st century problem, conurbation congestion with 19th century technology, main line passenger rail service. I will grant that GO has been at the forefront of introducing modern equipment, but it still runs on 19th century rules. I did a comparison of GO’s Barrie line with the St. Louis LRT line which is 46 miles long. Using St Louis’ timetabled speeds it could run the Barrie line with a 25 minute time saving for the trains to Barrie at a much better headway, 15 minutes to Barrie, 10 to Aurora and 5 to King, at a much higher capacity, up to 20 000 pphpd on the inner end. This is not using a system designed to run at maximum service levels but simply superimposing what is running now on one line onto the Barrie corridor. I am not saying that this is the ultimate best ever answer. I am just complaining that Metrolinx is not examining ALL the options.
Now what do you do with all those GO bilevels? Sell some off to other systems and use the rest to serve the southern Ontario Corridor from Windsor/Sarnia to Ottawa and Kingston and beyond, perhaps even Timmins. After all it is the Government of Ontario Transit. Let it serve Ontario. Its equipment is a lot more useful than VIA’s, and its ticketing system is approaching current compared to VIA’s which is really in the 19th century.
Steve: I think we have beaten this issue to death, and I will not let any further comments on the subject through beyond those already in the queue.
So with regards to the Stouffville GO train corridor, I guess it boils down to whether or not Union station could handle the extra train? The way I’m picturing it right now, a passing track would roughly allow for one train from Stouffville to Union station per hour, as opposed to one every two hours. Is that too much for Union station to handle?
*When factoring in all the other trains that have to go to Union Station*
Steve: I am not quite sure what you are driving at here. There are already five trains inbound in the AM peak on roughly a 40 minute headway. More than one passing track would be required to maintain an outbound service, even hourly, in the face of that inbound service (same problem in the PM peak). Track time isn’t an issue during the off-peak at Union, but you seem to focus on service as an all-day operation while missing the problem of peak capacity to absorb counter-peak service.
This is the last comment on the subject I will approve as we have overworked this topic.
Streetsville actually isn’t a problem, there is space along the line available, including through the station itself. The only pinch point between Erindale and Meadowvale is the Credit River bridge. The problem areas as I understand them are between the 427 and Confederation Pkwy due to how close some buildings are to the line, including Cooksville Go Station itself, and of course the problem of “swapping sides” of the CP lines between the Junction and Kipling.
To review the stations for bi-directional traffic:
Kipling: Already has 2 tracks and island platform, though track 1 has not been used in some years I believe. It has been used to store Autorack and wellcars for CP.
Dixie: Enough space for additional platform south of existing line and additional tracks as well.
Cooksville: Problem … existing station allows only 2 tracks between stair/elevator headhouses, embankment north of tracks already encroaches on residential … finding space for additional track will require major rebuilding of south side of tracks including most of existing station buildings there.
Erindale: already set, has 2 tracks/island platform and CP freightline bypass.
Streetville: Has island platform but no bypass, sufficient space to add line west of existing right of way.
Meadowvale: Single platform but some space North/East of station for additional track.
Lisgar: Space south of station for additional platform/track, though somewhat tighter than at other stations.
Milton: Some space … don’t see any issues.
If grade separation is a requirement for increased frequencies on the Milton Line, then Streetsville could run into the same problems Weston is dealing with. While there are only 4 level crossings, track geometry and development patterns make grade separation or closures difficult.
Ontario St. in the north is the only road access for about 20 homes west of the track. I guess you could sink the tracks like what is being done at Strachan. Otherwise, it could be closed with the provision of road access south to Tannery St. through the development of vacant lands.
Tannery St. has a business immediately east of the tracks and a residence immediately west of the tracks. Broadway St. runs parellel to the tracks on the east and having Tannery rise over the tracks will make for a complicated intersection. Again, it would probably be easier to sink the tracks as it would allow for the access to Ontario St. if the crossing was closed.
Thomas St. runs into the same intersection problems as Tannery with Broadway and a short industrial street, Emby on the west side. If the sunken tracks continue here it would have about 270 metres to reach the platform at the Streetsville station. More if they could raise Thomas slightly over the tracks. Otherwise you run into the problem of having to reconstruct a station.
The crossing at Queen St. is also just under 300 metres from the end of the station platform. Coupled with a bend in the tracks and a working flour mill whose access road is also a residential street less than 40 metres away from the tracks make for what is likely the most complicated crossing to eliminate. I doubt trains like inclined bends. Expropriating some property to re-allign Queen St. over the tracks could be one solution, as I think the mill may still use a siding for deliveries. The rest are done by truck, which adds another wrinkle. Otherwise, they could simply be forced to bite the bullet and keep this crossing as is.
There is land southeast of the crossing. The tracks could possibly be reconfigured at the loss of one property southwest of the crossing to make grade separation possible, but it’s all a very expensive proposition.
I’m guessing this whole scenario is partly why mid-day service on the Milton Line only went as far as Erindale!
There are grade crossing issues well before Erindale as well (from East to West, stations added for location clarity):
Loreland Av, almost a driveway but is the only access to a trailer storage yard south of the tracks
Stanfield Rd, actually a fairly busy road with entranced very close to the crossing north and south.
Haines Rd, less busy but similar to Stanfield otherwise… but with commercial instead of industrial use on north side of crossing.
Wolfedale Rd, busy but there’s room for grade seperation
Erindale Station Rd, ditto
In Streetsville, Queen/Mississauga Rd is only a problem with Reid Dr, if you reroute Reid there isn’t a real problem with an underpass there. Another option would be to route Queen down Reid, under the Credit River RR Bridge and back up, though it would be a fairly long detour. I’ve heard the Kraft Milling plant has been slated for closure more than a few times, if thats the case then it opens up alot of space both sides of the line.
Thomas St, is an issue but doing a half down half raise should allow an underpass without cutting off any of the surface streets (though they will need to be regraded obviously) and without altering the station entrance.
Tannery St, just cut it off, it’s only access to a couple houses, those people can go around via Thomas to reach downtown, maybe add a pedestrian bridge there. If the crossing really needs to stay a constant upgrade from the end of the platforms on the railroad should allow an underpass there with sufficient space to relevel back for Streetsville Junction.
Ontario St, while it is cut off now, it could be connected via the school boundary to Pioneer Dr/Siberry Rd and/or to Tannery.
Tenth Line is a busy crossing but an underpass is doable with some rearranging of the Bus entry for Lisgar
Ninth Line, lots of room for grade seperation
Sixth Line, ditto
Fifth Line, ditto
Leaving the Milton Line out because it’s operated by CP — and supposing you leave the Georgetown line out because it doesn’t have a good “match” — Barrie-Stouffville has pretty neatly matching ridership levels as of 2010. Apart from where the Barrie Line crosses CP (there are plans to grade-separate that, right?), it’s also a “freight-free” route, so it shouldn’t be too hard to maintain a reliable schedule despite the length.
It would require a few passing sidings somewhere or other, but through-running these lines should be able to free up some platform space & dwell time at Union. And who knows, someone might even go from Kennedy to York University.
Running 6 trains per hour per platform is an implied dwell time of 10 minutes, which is frankly *long*. Through-running should be able to get you better than that even with a lot of people loading and unloading. A number of the tracks have platforms on both sides; I suppose no consideration has been given to a “loading side” and an “unloading side”. Of course not.