An interesting article on the site Pedestrian Observations was recently linked on Twitter by Taras Grescoe (@grescoe), the author of Straphanger. In Comparative Subway Construction Costs, Alon Levy attempts to bring together projects worldwide, adjust for currencies, inflation and other factors to derive comparable US$ values for subway construction. The numbers are interesting in light of complaints about overpriced construction in Toronto.
The underlying problem, of course, is that no two projects are the same. Varying proportions of underground construction, different soil/rock/water conditions, variations in station numbers/size/depth, not to mention rolling stock procurement and yard/maintenance facilities all affect the total cost and hence the cost/km. Stir in political differences and the ease or difficulty with which projects are approved, and the number of variables is quite high.
All that said, Toronto’s costs are not wildly out of line. This is not to say that they may not be excessive, but the cause could be our extended design and approval process and a preference for deep bore tunneling that drives up construction costs compared to shallower cut-and-cover.
The argument for LRT has always turned on the availability of a surface option where it is practical. Whether we choose to exercise this in every possible case is another matter.
There are cases where underground construction is the only practical way to build a line, but that should not condemn Toronto to building only subways without looking at alternatives.