With the emergence of two candidates for Mayor of Toronto who support the Scarborough LRT scheme, we are bound to hear much talk about how long construction would take, how long SRT riders would be forced to ride shuttle buses, and when the line might open. In this context, it’s worth looking back at Metrolinx plans before various politicians decided to buy votes in Scarborough with a subway line.
The TTC’s original plans were to rebuild the SRT before the Pan Am Games. That schedule went out the window when then-Premier McGuinty pushed out the delivery plans for the Transit City projects so that most of the spending would occur after the provincial deficit was under control if not eliminated.
Also lost in the shuffle was the idea that the Sheppard LRT would be in operation before the SRT shutdown as an alternate route for people from northern Scarborough to reach the subway system.
Metrolinx revised timelines were based on three overlapping stages of the project:
- Build the new maintenance shops at Conlins Road including pre-building a portion of the Sheppard LRT for use as a test track. (This portion would be part of the link to the future Scarborough line and would be needed even if the Sheppard line were not yet operating.)
- Build the north end of the Scarborough LRT line from Sheppard to a point just east of McCowan Yard.
- Rebuild the existing SRT as an LRT line. Only this part of the project would require a shutdown of SRT service.
As momentum grew for the subway proposal, it suited proponents to treat the entire project timeline as the shutdown period for the SRT, and thus we began to hear of a four-year long period when riders would be taking bus shuttles. The situation was not helped by the fact that Queen’s Park and Metrolinx talked of the Scarborough LRT opening “by 2020” even though it could be finished far earlier.
In July 2012, I wrote about the “One City” debate at Council, and in that article asked:
Metrolinx needs to explain why the shutdown period for the SRT has grown to four years. Is this a question of project complexity, or of Queen’s Park’s desire to stretch out cash flows?
This prompted a response from Metrolinx Vice President of Rapid Transit Implementation, Jack Collins:
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
[Email July 13, 2012]
A year later, as a result of some subtle changes in wording of government announcements, I pursued the question again. Jack Collins replied:
In the “5 in 10 Plan” presentation to the Metrolinx Board in May 2010, we deferred the light rail delivery dates for all projects and Eglinton LRT and Scarborough LRT were shown as completing in November 2020.
Since May 2010 there have been additional changes to LRT schedules that were a result of an MOU and the Sheppard East subway debate and those changes have impacted Sheppard East and Finch LRT in-service dates, but we have held to the original November 2020 dates for Eglinton and Scarborough LRT. The wording “in-service date of 2020” is perhaps more precise, although it does not give a month in 2020 and I am not sure “by 2020” is any more or less definitive.
To be clearer, the project team is working towards a goal of being in-revenue service during the month of November 2020 for both the Eglinton Crosstown LRT and Scarborough LRT. That said, there is still a chance that Scarborough LRT can be opened earlier. As I have previously indicated to you, Metrolinx will limit the SRT shut-down period to no more than 3 years. Assuming a contract award for the combined Crosstown and Scarborough LRT Design, Build, Finance, Maintain contract in early 2015, the successful proponent will need to complete enough design during the balance of 2015 to allow construction to start in 2016. We anticipate that construction could start between McCowan Station and Sheppard and on the new loop for SLRT into the new Kennedy LRT station. We will be asking the proponents to identify a construction staging plan that minimizes the SRT “shut-down”. The plan is to open Scarborough LRT as soon as feasible, but until we have a contractor on-board with an approved contract schedule and staging plan, it is bit difficult to pin down the exact dates on when the SRT will be shut-down and the new line opened.
On the Scarborough/Sheppard Maintenance and Storage Facility Design, Build, Finance and Maintain contract we hope to award the contract in October 2013. Early construction works for drainage and site leveling was completed last year and design should start in 2014 with construction going about 2.5 years from late 2014 through early 2017. This date is tied to Light Rail Vehicle delivery and having LRV’s available for final building and systems acceptance testing.
[Email July 8, 2013]
This was further clarified:
Plan is to start work in late 2015 but in areas that do not require a shut-down of SRT. Metrolinx will also review proponents plans to limit the shut-down to 3 years or less. That may delay the shut-down until late 2016, but still makes an earlier opening than November 2020 possible for Scarborough LRT.
We do not want to start a shut-down until all the other elements like TTC final design approvals, supply of traction power substations and signaling systems etc. are advanced enough to limit the shut-down duration.
[Email July 8, 2013]
In private conversations with Collins, it was clear that Metrolinx was hoping for a 2.5 year shutdown, but could not commit to that until bids for the work were in hand complete with project staging proposals. Thanks to the subway campaign, we don’t actually know what might have been possible.
Even if a new Council embraces the LRT scheme again (and assuming that the Scarborough Liberal Caucus doesn’t throw a monkey-wrench into the works at Queen’s Park), we would be lucky to see any construction start before 2016, but that would be on the portion of the project that does not require a shutdown. The question then would be whether the whole project could be compressed by a desire to get it completed quickly.
We will hear a lot of hot air during the election campaign with claims and counter-claims about the LRT and subway options. Metrolinx, the TTC and City staff owe the public clear, unbiased information about these options and how they would fit into the larger planning exercise for regional transportation now underway.