Metrolinx Board Meeting June 26, 2014 (Corrected)

Correction July 1, 2014: In the original version of this article, I attributed a comment to Metrolinx Chair Rob Prichard regarding the sharing of information between bidders on rapid transit projects, and expresssed my surprise that this did not match the process I was familiar with from my own public sector experience. In fact, the remark was with regard to sharing information about questions to Metrolinx from candidates in the municipal election.

The procurement process does include sharing of information via addenda to Requests for Information issued to all bidders as mentioned in the Rapid Transit Quarterly Report. I regret this error and frankly cannot understand how I scrambled two very different topics together.

However, the process for dealing with candidate questions at Metrolinx is completely different from that followed by the City of Toronto. Where Metrolinx preserves confidentiality about questions a campaign might ask, the City posts responses to any query online so that no candidate has the advantage of professional advice not available to others. The basic premise is that the staff works for Council, not for an individual member or candidate.

As a public agency, Metrolinx should be providing information to everyone. The discussion (which starts at about 21:10 of the meeting video) emphasizes that Metrolinx has no part in the election, and yet the confidentiality of information exchanges could offer an advantage to a campaign that is unknown to other candidates.

Original Article  from June 29, 2014:

The Metrolinx Board met on Thursday, June 26 in a quite celebratory air. With the provincial election out of the way and the return of a pro-transit Liberal majority to Queen’s Park, Metrolinx sees a rosy future for transit expansion. They wasted no time telling anyone who would listen about the great work now at hand.

Among the items of interest were reports on:

Another burning question about the recently announced funding is just how much money is on the table, especially how much is new money as opposed to funds earmarked for specific projects like RER or previously announced/expected for projects in the “Next Wave” of Metrolinx undertakings. It didn’t take the assembled media long to notice that the GO RER scheme would gobble up much of the $15b earmarked for transit in the GTHA. I will return to this in a separate article.

Flooding in the Don Valley

A heavy rainfall over the central part of Toronto on June 25 caused extensive flooding in the Don River that closed the Don Valley Parkway, the Bayview Extension and the GO Richmond Hill trackage. “What is GO doing about this” was a hot topic even before the meeting was underway.

GO President Greg Percy talked about short term and long term fixes needed to make the line immune to floods. In the long term, the “big fix” will require that the line be regraded so that the track is higher than expected floodwater levels, and that the foundation is impervious to washouts. Such a project would not be cheap, and would likely be bundled with any upgrades required for the proposed Regional Express Rail service on this route.

In the short term, GO is working at specific locations where tracks were undermined by water in the July 2013 floods including:

  • Embankment stabilization project at mile 3.2 on the Bala Sub.
  • Embankment failure monitoring as a pilot project at mile 10 on the Oakville and Bala subdivisions.
  • Installation and re-sizing of various culverts near mile 10 on the Bala.

For those who don’t know the railway nomenclature, the Bala Sub is the Richmond Hill line, and the Oakville sub is the Lake Shore West line. Mileages are measured from near Union Station where these branch off from the Union Station Rail Corridor.

(All railway distances are quoted in miles because that’s how they were originally surveyed, and all locations along the routes is specified by these mileages. Similarly, the subway is measured in “engineer’s chains” which are 100 feet long as opposed to the 66 foot chains used in land surveying.)

Here are photos of the embankment work on the Bala Sub just south of Bloor Street (mile 3.2) in its early states on April 17. The work is now nearly complete, and a substantial rock wall has been built behind the piles here. Also visible is the degree of erosion from river flow. The location where a GO train was stranded on flooded tracks in July 2013 is not far north of this point.

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The GO Transit Quarterly Report talks of both the difficult winter operations for 2013-14 and also of the move to half-hourly service on the Lake Shore corridor, but gives no information about ridership effects of either of these events.

Regional Express Rail

Anyone who participated in the Electrification Study workshops will know that GO and Metrolinx were certainly not leaping at the opportunity to transform their services. Although frequent, all-day GO service was an essential part of The Big Move, the work needed to implement it was not proceeding quickly beyond the Lake Shore and Georgetown (now KW) corridors where shorter-term goals drove the need for improvements.

The original study reported in 2010 on the options and economics of electrification, and concluded that the best candidates were the those two corridors based on the service levels likely to operate in them. The lines with less planned service would, of course, have fewer trains and trips that would benefit from a change in technology, and the implementation cost would not be recovered in savings and operational benefits as quickly if at all. In 2010, the cost of full network electrification was estimated at $4b in then-current dollars.

The implementation plan for a full network conversion stretched over nearly 30 years for various reasons including the rate of capital spending, the staging plan for migration to a new GO fleet, and the desire to concentrate on the primary corridors. Even then, a project just to convert Lake Shore and Georgetown would stretch over two decades, and work on the Barrie, Stouffville and Richmond Hill corridors would not even begin until years 22, 29 and 32 respectively. This schedule was met with wild laughter when it was published, but it has until quite recently remained the only official pronouncement on timing for a full electrification.

Now, Metrolinx claims it can complete the network in ten years. They admit it will be a challenge, but say it can be done. What we now require is a detailed plan that is driven by a desire to achieve change on the GO network rather than delaying it for so long as to be meaningless.

An important change in the outlook for RER is the recognition that electric and diesel operations can co-exist with diesels handling the outlying parts of the network with infrequent service. Metrolinx also acknowledges that a mix of equipment is needed to serve different types of demand and service.

The presentation speaks of “RER” as a successful mode and shows examples from Paris and Stockholm which are only two of the many cities with this type of network. I cannot help thinking that Metrolinx has “discovered” regional electric rail service in much the same way that LRT was “discovered” after a long period when provincial policy refused to acknowledge its existence. The two modes are not that far apart technically, although obviously LRT is aimed more to local, in-town services right down to near streetcar implementations. In both cases, there are alternatives to “the way we always do things”.

As usual, Metrolinx will filter their plans through a Business Case analysis. This could prove illuminating depending on the mechanics of such an analysis (see the report on Economic Analysis later in this article). One fundamental question with transit expansion is not just “how much will it cost”, but “what are the implications if we don’t build it”. Another is to examine how groups of projects can be more than the sum of the parts, but also that building every line on the map could waste scarce funding on pieces that contribute little to the overall plan.

Fares are mentioned here only in the context that increased ridership will bring more revenue, but this will not necessarily offset additional costs of the GO operations, not to mention local transit services to feed GO routes. This topic does come up, however, in the Yonge Relief Network Study. Any business case analysis must look not only at fares as they now exist, but at how they will change in a truly integrated regional operation where attracting riders may take precedence over maximizing fare revenue.

The total cost is a matter of some debate. In the staff presentation, GO President Greg Percy quoted $15b, but CEO Bruce McCuaig said that it could be in the $11-12b range. Chair Rob Prichard, during the post-meeting media scrum, thought it could be whittled down even further, maybe to $9b. The idea of local municipal contributions also floated by but without specifics. Considering the paltry amount Queen’s Park gives to local transit today and the extra costs providing service to an expanded GO will entail, expecting the municipal sector to pay toward that expansion is remarkably arrogant.

Metrolinx really needs to get its act together because both the amount and source of the funding must be clearly understood. (I cannot help remembering how the Miller/Giambrone administration was pilloried for the uncertain cost estimates on Transit City. Why should Metrolinx be immune from such scrutiny?)

One important issue related to cost will be the degree to which GO operations must meet current US Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) standards. According to Greg Percy, GO is talking to Ottawa about relaxation of these standards for commuter operations, but this is entangled with the debate over dangerous goods movement.

The scope of work is daunting and more extensive than the Electrification Study complicated because the new infrastructure must not only deal with co-existence of electric infrastructure with railway operations (including freight on lines GO does not own) but also with substantially higher service levels (frequent, all day). It is one thing to make room for a one-way peak period service every half hour, and quite another to accommodate 15 minute headways both ways seven days a week.

Among the necessary “success factors” is a commitment by Queen’s Park to ongoing funding. This is not a project that can be turned on and off to suit the whims of a Premier more interested in this week’s polls than in long-term network building.

Corridors that remain under ownership by the freight railways, CN and CP, will have to meet their requirements, and past discussions have not been particularly welcoming according to GO officials.

The list also includes Union Station for “capacity, clearance and grounding, and heritage approvals”. This is troubling because the work now underway at Union was supposed to have taken the requirements for electrification into account.

Some infrastructure for service improvements is already in place with Lake Shore now operating at 30 minute off-peak headways, and off-peak service planned for Kitchener-Waterloo in 2015. That, however, is only a start for a much larger project and service buildup. A very rough project chart shows planning, engineering and design occurring in the first three years with construction and service rollout through years 9 and 10. [Presentation at page 13]

This is a huge collapse of what was shown as a three decades plus implementation only a few years ago. To put this in context, we will see a complete transformation of GO Transit at or before the timing of proposed subway lines in Toronto (Scarborough 2023, Richmond Hill sometime in the 2020s at best, DRL further off again). It is amazing what can be achieved, at least on paper, when a government is committed to a project.

Needless to say, the RER scheme was discussed in the context of proposals floating through the Toronto mayoral campaign, notably John Tory’s “Smart Track”. With great tact, both CEO Bruce McCuaig and Chair Rob Prichard emphasized that Metrolinx is looking at all proposals, but that it would be inappropriate to comment on them.

Staff will report back to the Metrolinx Board in September 2014 with more details.

Will Ontario see this through, or will RER, like Transit City, be stillborn thanks to changes in policy, fear of the total cost, and impatience for results that support election campaigns?

Yonge Network Relief Study

Metrolinx together with the City of Toronto, the TTC and York Region, are reviewing a wide range of options for “relief” of the demand crunch on the Yonge Subway and Bloor-Yonge Station. This report is an update on the study’s current status.

Everyone has an idea of how “relief” should be provided, indeed of what the word even means.

The situation is hardly new. Back in the late 1980s, the subway was bursting with riders long before growth in the 905 started to funnel them by the thousands into subway terminals. Two things happened: building downtown rapid transit proved unpopular both for downtown and suburban politicians, and the recession of the early 90s lopped 20% off of the TTC’s annual ridership. The problem solved itself, at least for a time, although the nature of the demand is more complex today than it was 25 years ago.

Relief isn’t just about the central subway system, but of the regional road network that cannot handle all of the trips it should be serving. When we talk about “relief”, competing interests want to ensure that they get a slice of the spending pie, and the one-project-to-solve-all-problems approach simply cannot succeed.

Since late 2013, the study has conducted various public sessions to explain its work and to collect a long list of suggestions. This list contains just about every scheme that anyone has ever floated and we have now reached the point where it must be trimmed. Everyone’s pet project cannot survive into the final evaluation. Through the summer, the study team will winnow down the list into “scenarios”, groups of complementary proposals, for detailed review and public feedback.

The April 2014 public responses are not surprising, and the public is actually ahead of the transit professionals and government on many issues, notably:

  • Speed up the process
  • Governments and agencies should work together
  • A network approach is preferable
  • TTC, GO and other local agencies should be one network
  • Balance short and medium term “fixes” with long term solutions
  • Funding must be reliable
  • Political influence on planning is a concern
  • The relationship to both the City of Toronto’s Relief Line study and the review of The Big Move should be clarified

What was originally planned to be a multi stage process boiling down the long list of ideas, through a medium list and then a short list and finally bundles of short list ideas will be compressed. Now, the culling of higher performing ideas will happen quickly, and these will be bundled into the “scenarios”.

Of course, the original plan was structured both to defer significant decisions beyond the elections and to avoid annoying people by dropping too many pet projects from the list too early. Now, the provincial mandate is to get things moving, and languid, inoffensive consultation just doesn’t fit the mood of the day.

The over 150 ideas proposed by various parties will be divided into four groups:

  • The idea fits into a possible relief scenario.
  • The idea is worth doing in its own right and should be done no matter what scenario is chosen.
  • The idea is good but does not address the relief problem; it would go into the hopper for other studies including the Big Move update. Examples include the Transit City LRT lines that are not yet part of the first or next wave of Metrolinx projects.
  • The idea is not feasible for construction or operation. At this point, this category includes all of the schemes for building new capacity parallel to or along the Yonge corridor including a Bay Street subway or additional tracks/tunnels for the Yonge line. The study has been generous in the options left on the table including schemes to use the “Leaside Spur” which is now a bike path, not a rail corridor.

The types of issues to be reviewed include:

  • Increased TTC/GO service integration
  • Revised GO operations including new stations
  • Relief line options
  • Frequent GO services within Toronto including shuttles to Danforth or Kennedy and new stations
  • Rapid transit parallel to or on the Richmond Hill corridor including use of the Leaside Spur and Don Branch
  • Bus infrastructure and priority

The complete list of “higher performers” is on pages 22-24 of the presentation. Several of these will fall off the table once someone actually considers the implications of their implementation.

An important part of the study is that the schemes will be evaluated for alternate future land use scenarios as well as various transit network implementations. Unlike The Big Move, we will see the behaviour of different subsets of ideas to gauge how well these perform relative to each other.

Other areas to be considered include fare policy, travel demand management, active transportation and transit oriented development. It will be interesting to see whether these are presented with a clear-eyed view of the possibilities for each option and the recognition that each of these behaves differently for different parts of the travel market.

Public participation will initially be online starting, according to the report, in “late June” although I suspect they have missed that date already. More detailed work, short listing and final consultation will come in the fall.

The first question in debate on the report came from Chair Rob Prichard who asked whether a relief subway line will be needed in addition to the RER network. When will Metrolinx have a position on the need for a DRL?

Leslie Woo, Metrolinx VP of Planning and Innovation, replied that the RER concept was always in The Big Move, but the big change this time around is the commitment to deliver it quickly. This affects evaluation of a relief subway line, although the change may only be a question of when it is required, not if. How much effect will the RER have in 10 years on demand pressures that drive the need for a DRL.

There are lots of myths about what the DRL or other lines will achieve, and this is the first consolidated review of all options. The study will complete in early spring 2015.

Prichard noted that the TTC’s Andy Byford says that a DRL is his top priority. Woo replied that in the absence of anything else, something must be done soon to address capacity problems. Both medium and long term fixes are needed.

Newly minted board member Anne Golden (formerly head of the Transit Revenue Panel struck by Premier Wynne in 2013) said that she is told “by people who know about transit” that the DRL is not needed. There are times my respect for board members falls through the floor when they prejudge the outcome of studies and, in the process, hint at what those studies should conclude. Any need, or not, for the DRL is context specific and depends on what else might or might not be done.

It is impossible to know today whether “the fix is in” for one outcome over another, but definitely the RER scheme changes the landscape in which all rapid transit proposals would be evaluated including various subway extensions near and dear to various political hearts. As both the Metrolinx and City studies progress, we will see whether the assumptions and tradeoffs represent well-considered planning, or the machinations of politicians with too many crayons in their desk drawers.

Legislated Review of The Big Move

The Metrolinx Act requires that the regional plan, aka The Big Move, be reviewed every ten years counting from 2006. Work has begun on a new iteration of that plan with 2016 as the goal for completion.

The new plan’s development process will differ substantially from the first iteration:

  • The starting point will be an existing plan plus works already in progress or completed, not a grab bag of wish lists from every municipality in the GTHA.
  • Improved accountability and transparency (hardly a Metrolinx watchword) will, it is claimed, flow from Queen’s Park’s “Open Government Initiative”.

Those two bullets interact because any new plan must be seen to be developed with open provision of information, analysis and consultation, not by Ministerial press conference or election announcement. Many important issues of process, let alone content, must be addressed:

  • Financing cannot be ignored, and the viability of a plan must include a clear statement of how it will be paid for both in capital and operating budgets.
  • The role of municipal transit in provision of feeder/distributor services to the network must be an integral part of the plan.
  • Service and fare integration are essential to getting the best benefit from the entire network. Continued pride in a high farebox recovery rate may come at the expense of a network attractive enough to make a real difference in transportation behaviour.
  • The limitations of transit to relieve congestion must be clearly acknowledged. The vast majority of transit proposals (measured by potential ridership) deal with commuter trips to Toronto’s core, and this does little for people whose journeys are not served by that network. A few buses an hour on a reserved busway do not make much of a dent in auto traffic.
  • The plan cannot be presented as an all-or-nothing proposal with no sense of which components contribute the most, the soonest to a better network.
  • The almost total absence of freight traffic from Metrolinx discussions must be addressed including questions about just how much highway capacity is actually available for a variety of road users. This is analogous to discussions now underway about the appropriate allocation of road space within the City of Toronto.
  • The concept of “mobility hubs” must shift from a scattershot review of every transit intersection with a Metrolinx logo on it. The focus should be on integration with land use plans so that growth at the most important hubs is nurtured. Equally, there must be a recognition that just because two routes intersect, the location is not necessarily appropriate for development as a hub.
  • Pearson airport must be more than a destination for a premium fare service from downtown. The polite fiction is that the UPX is a worthwhile investment, a position disputed even by the Provincial Auditor. In fact, UPX is a legacy of a long-gone Ottawa scheme inherited by a former Premier who didn’t have the sense to kill or restructure it when he had a chance. If Metrolinx is serious about changing modal splits in the region, then they must treat Pearson as a major transit node not just for businessmen but for everyday riders including the huge workday population in the airport’s vicinity.

To Metrolinx’ credit, some of these issues already appear in their report, albeit with less aggressive wording than I use here. The promise of Metrolinx and The Big Move has been throttled by timidity, by an unwillingness to commit to large-scale spending or to the revenue tools needed to make this possible.

Public input to the process begins in fall 2014 and runs into 2015 with “Draft vision, goals and objectives” followed by a “Strategic framework”. Somehow, Metrolinx must avoid this following the path of so many EAs in which those who wish to contribute to the process are bored to tears defining process, but never getting a chance to talk about content. Whether the many “stakeholders”, interested parties of all stripes, will be content to wait until mid 2015 to sink their teeth into substantive policy and draft networks remains to be seen.

The worst possible situation, one all too common with “public participation” would be for the push for study completion to overtake the opportunity for meaningful input. From sessions I have attended and from feedback I have heard from others, the last thing people want to do is to waste their time commenting on a plan whose content was decided long before they were asked.

Indeed, if the Wynne government expects to have any credibility for its transportation platform in the 2018 election, then real progress and real attention to the needs of the GTHA are required.

Rapid Transit Quarterly Report

In the Rapid Transit Quarterly Report we learn some of the complexity associated with farming out a large portion of the Eglinton Crosstown line:

The Request for Proposal (RFP) for the Design-Build-Finance-Maintain contract for the Eglinton Crosstown Light Rail Transit (LRT) project was released on December 20, 2013 to the two pre-qualified consortia: Crosslinx Transit Solutions and Crosstown Transit Partners. During the 42-week in-market period, there will be approximately 45 design and topic meetings to provide feedback to the Proponents to assist in the preparation of their submissions, which are to be submitted in October 2014. These two proponents have submitted over 100 Requests for Information (RFIs) to date and six post-tender addenda have been issued in response. The purpose of these interactions with proponents is to ensure fully compliant bid submissions in the fall of this year. [Pages 1-2]

What is unclear is how much of this process would not exist in a conventional procurement, and what extra costs the project will bear to support the rhetoric that PPPs are good for us. What we do know from previous descriptions of the process is that it adds about one year’s work to an already immense project.

[Text originally in the article has been deleted here.]

Elsewhere in the report, we learn that the Finch and Sheppard LRT projects still have some life in them:

After a competitive selection process the Technical Advisors for the Finch West and Sheppard East LRT projects were awarded on February 15, 2014 to AECOM. The project management team for the Finch West and Sheppard East LRT projects commenced mobilization in early March and is proceeding to review documentation and identify critical activities. Metrolinx are working on next steps for the Finch West LRT procurement as a Design Build Finance Maintain contract utilizing Infrastructure Ontario. [Page 2]

When I spoke with former Transportation & Infrastructure Minister Glen Murray [our paths crossed at a social occasion] before the new Cabinet had been announced, he assured me that the LRT lines were still alive. It is intriguing to note that two Metrolinx web pages contain reference to them as current projects, and one even mentions the SRT to LRT conversion.

Toronto Light Rail Transit Project

The Toronto Light Rail Transit Plan is funded and underway. The Plan features a network of 52 kilometres of light rail transit lines running underground and at street level that will connect Toronto with comfort, convenience, reliability and speed. The Eglinton Crosstown LRT will run from Jane/Black Creek Drive to Kennedy Station, with 10 kilometres tunneled underground from Mount Dennis to Don Mills. The Finch West LRT will run from the new Finch West Station on the York-Spadina Subway extension to Humber College. The Sheppard East LRT will operate from Don Mills Station to Morningside Avenue. The Scarborough RT will be rebuilt and extended to Sheppard Avenue, and connect with the Sheppard East LRT. [From the Progress in Toronto page]

… and …

Toronto Transit Projects

The Government of Ontario is moving forward on its commitment to deliver the largest rapid transit expansion in the history of Toronto.

The Government of Ontario has committed $8.4 billion in support of new transit for Toronto.

  • The Eglinton Crosstown LRT will add 19 kilometres of new transit from Mount Dennis (Weston Road) to Kennedy Station.
  • The Sheppard East LRT will add 13 kilometres of new transit along Sheppard Avenue from Don Mills subway station to east of Morningside Avenue.
  • The Finch West LRT will add 11 kilometres of new transit along Finch Avenue from the planned Finch West subway station at Keele Street to Humber College.
  • A $1.48 billion investment to replace the current Scarborough RT.

[Edited text from the Metrolinx Transit Expansion page]

Recent statements by Premier Wynne have been taken in some quarters as emphasizing that plans as they now stand should not be messed with by local Councils, but others sense that her government would be open to rethinking the Scarborough situation.

One obvious conflict (which has been mentioned already elsewhere on this site) is that the proposed frequent service on the Stouffville corridor would directly compete for passengers with the Scarborough subway and render the business case for that subway untenable.

The wild card throughout any such discussion is the Scarborough Liberal Caucus which notably includes the new Minister of Infrastructure, Brad Duguid. Will a surface network including major GO improvements plus LRT sway Scarborough’s support away from a subway extension to a more varied and extensive set of both local and regional projects?

The Annual Report for the year ended March 31, 2014 includes an Account Receiveable for the work done to date on the Scarborough LRT project in the amount of $78,963,000.

Economic Analysis and Investment Strategy

Metrolinx is quite proud of its planning process including the use of benefits/business cases analyses and “evidence based” planning. These are fine words, but when one looks under the covers, actual practice has left much to be desired.

Although I did not agree with everything in the critique of Metrolinx from the Neptis Foundation, we agreed on two points. The first was that the promise of The Big Move for what we now call “RER” was left unfulfilled right up to 2013 and has only now become a major plank in Metrolinx and government policy. The second was that the analyses purporting to establish the case for various projects were inconsistent in their assumptions, scope and methodology.

A near-fatal flaw in the implementation of The Big Move and analysis of its components is that project-specific reviews look at schemes in isolation. Whether the required investment (not to mention the bite taken out of overall available funding) is the best of competing schemes for the network is ignored. This is not just a question of which route or technology option might be chosen in one corridor, but of the relative benefit of spending on one project versus other parts of the network.

What Metrolinx hopes to build is a unified method for its analyses taking into account many components and doing so on a consistent basis.

Two additional components are worth mention.

Land Value Capture

Regular readers here will know that I consider the imputed value of future tax revenue thanks to transit investment to be just short of dishonest. Whatever one might call it (TIF or Tax Increment Financing is a common term), the premise that transit investment will create value that can be “captured” (for which read “taxed”) to recoup part of the investment is often founded on dubious premises.

Worst of these are the assumptions about the speed and scale of any new development that is truly transit-related, and the degree to which the market will absorb a tithe intended to recoup transit costs. This is a particular challenge if the land in question is not already on a prime site where location trumps price.

Another problem is that the benefit of a new line may touch a much wider region and set of properties than simply those where new development eventually occurs. How much more could or would existing landowners pay in taxes for the imputed increase in their land or buildings?

Which types of land use would be subject to the tax, and would it apply only to future value when and if the current use and ownership end? What other capital or operating budgets equally have a claim to the value of new development such as utility construction or schools? Too often, LVC/TIF for transit is discussed as if nobody else is at the table.

One of the more outrageous examples of this type of calculation was included in Markham Councillor Jim Jones’ plan for an Urban Rail line in the Stouffville to Union corridor. He presumed that a swath a few kilometres wide along the entire corridor (including much of the Toronto Port Lands) would contribute new tax revenue to pay for his scheme as if it were the only one that might benefit affected properties, or was even physically close enough to them to have an effect on their value.

Mayoral candidate John Tory hopes to raise $2.6b for a municipal contribution to his “Smart Track” scheme (an even longer version of Jones’ plan) through TIF revenues in the core area along the route. This is the same area where developers take every opportunity to reduce their tax exposure, not contribute to the imputed value of a new transit route on their properties.

In both cases, a pet project scoops the presumed uplift in value as if each project were the only one needing and deserving of funding from that source.

If nothing else, the Metrolinx study should establish a base line for estimating just how much this revenue stream is worth and what assumptions must be validated for it to be applicable to any new project.

Benefits Analysis

The second group of values that should be codified are the alleged benefits of an investment. Soft dollars such as imputed time savings and the value of road space released by trips diverted to transit should be counted on a consistent basis and reported separately in any analysis. Far too often these are used to produce a positive benefit:cost ratio when much of the “benefit” either cannot be captured through a tax or fee, or represents a transfer of investment to riders through subsidization of lower-cost travel. Getting people out of their cars has clear benefits as a planning strategy not to mention environmental benefits and the city’s ability to support higher-density development, but it is important that these benefits do not flow back directly, if at all, to the agency that funds the investment.

The values assigned to these soft benefits can skew an analysis by selective use of different values from one study to another. Codification of this process will ensure that at least the same scheme is used to compare all proposals rather than ad hoc methodologies for each project. There may still be disputes about the overall methodology, but at least we will be addressing the same issues in each study.

(One notable example is the compounding effect of the speed of a transit service. Demand models assign trips to faster segments, and so express routes get more riders than local ones. This increased ridership contributes to the imputed value of saved travel time and to the value of road space released by converted auto riders and to the value of saved travel time for remaining motorists. None of these benefits can be captured to offset the investment.)

Work to standardize benefits analysis is underway jointly with the Montreal and Vancouver regional authorities. Although working versions have been discussed at industry meetings, it is unclear when or if the methodology will be made public.

Its first application will be the analysis of the RER proposal, although given that the government has decreed that this will be built, the exact role of the analysis remains to be seen. Perish the thought that the centrepiece of an election campaign might be found wanting, and yet it will be essential to show the analysis, warts and all, to establish credibility.

Finally, I must say a word about “evidence based” analysis, a phrase we hear commonly around Metrolinx, but without much real sense of what this means. The effect of a transit investment may not be easy to measure especially if other factors at play complicate any cause-and-effect analysis. It is a trivial exercise to find new transit routes that had immediate economic effects and others that took decades to bear fruit.

Often, acknowledgement that different circumstances lead to different results is difficult to obtain because projects are sold on the promise of what will follow. “My new subway” will always show the benefit of the Yonge line downtown while “yours” will be doomed to mimic the sluggish development on Sheppard or at the outer ends of the Bloor-Danforth line.

In other words, the “evidence” to be considered must include the wider context in which an investment is made, not simply the desire to make a Minister’s line on a map look like the best government project of the century. Politicized analytical tools have no place in good planning.

81 thoughts on “Metrolinx Board Meeting June 26, 2014 (Corrected)

  1. Steve: Whether or not I write about the waste of time and money on studying Richmond Hill (or Vaughan or any other part of the 905) that does not change or invalidate my position on Scarborough. The situation there is the current problem, and that’s what I write about. As for the Metrolinx list of accomplishments and options for network relief, my gut feeling is that they are trying not to offend too many people by saying “not now” and “not ever” to people who still cherish some of the schemes on their list. If nothing else, the ones that don’t work need to be examined in enough detail to show that they don’t work, not dismissed out of hand.

    Scarborough should not be treated in the same breath as the 905, its residents fund the TTC, It is the largest Borough in the City of Toronto. All the other “main” Toronto Boroughs rightly or wrongly have subway to their cores

    If it doesn’t recieve a Subway to the heart of the City. It better be receiving a complete LRT network instead of the political patch work scheme currently proposed.

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  2. One of the things that I find interesting with regards to the reaction to the DRL, is the lack of understanding that this link or something else will be required in order to remove load from the Yonge line. Based on current growth I think you will see the line overloaded based on expanded capacity in a decade or so.

    The need for expanded capacity is required without extension or adding extra Sheppard load, or extending the Yonge or Danforth subway, just based increased load from the buses. The extension to Steeles may provide additional turn capacity at the north end of the line, however, it is unlikely to allow all the load from growth to be absorbed. Substantial capacity is required in the next 10 years, beyond what the new signals can support.

    Suggesting that you will only support a subway based on local density in the area, misses the primary purposes of the line. Perhaps the core represents less of the total office space of the region it once did, but it is still the major transit destination, and the current subway layout funnels too much traffic through the Yonge-Bloor intersection.

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  3. Steve:

    The fundamental problem with having every municipality in southern Ontario with a seat on the board is that Metrolinx would lose sight of the fact that, at its heart, it primarily serves Toronto and the portions of the 905 immediately around it. We already have an agency with that sort of reach: it is called the Ontario Government.

    Moaz: I’m starting to wonder if we may see a Metrolinx West (serving Hamilton, Brant and Niagara Counties/Regions) in a decade or three.

    Cheers, Moaz

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  4. RE: Rezone Pape as high density & others who don’t understand the concept of catchment areas.

    I find your train of thought hilariously narrow-minded. Of all of Toronto (and areas) RT corridors (including GO), only the Yonge line has “sustained high density” for the vast majority of the line, yet many many parts of the system are well-used. The concept of feeder buses is what increases station use (i.e. the catchment area) dramatically. Many Yonge line stations are only successful because of the connecting routes and mixed use destinations along it.

    Do I agree that we should be looking at land use planning when we want to build an RT line, YES, but the success of a line does not necessarily require super high density. If that was the case, the BD & Spad-Uni lines would be a huge failure, as would many of the GO corridors. Sheppard has high density, and the line doesn’t have the ridership to justify a BRT, let alone a subway which COSTS the city approx >$15 per ride in subsidy.

    Last I checked, the Scarb subway extension route as compared to the LRT route is changing from a medium density area to a low density corridor, which we are being promised will be rezoned up. Where’s your problem with that $3B boondoggle, not to mention that the route will not run right through the the highest density part of Scarb (STC)? If Sheppard is any indication, it will be another 15 years before we start seeing true redevelopment at least.

    The inner city suburbs have average single family home lot widths of 15-20 feet, so it’s already much higher density than the rest of the city (besides downtown) without needing mid-rise/high-rise towers. Not to mention the inner city walking culture, means that people are willing to walk farther to access RT.

    I agree with Steve that there are certain anchor sites, like Unilever and Gerrard Square which are the largest lots east of the Don until about Woodbine that should be obvious candidates for stations, not only because of the development potential, but they also intersect the GO lines. I also agree that building another stubway (i.e. stopping at Danforth) is stupid, but after 40+ years of DRL talk, any starting point would be good. I’ve often pondered if it makes sense to just keep tunnelling north and/or leave the tunnelling machines in the ground, where you can build stations & the other infrastructure later. I believe that the raw costs of tunnelling/lining ends up being about 1/3 of the total line costs, when you bring in stations, signalling, trains themselves, etc.? (Steve can you clarify)

    Steve: The costs Metrolinx is reporting for the Eglinton project show the tunnelling itself to be about $100m/km.

    How can east-enders not understand the benefits of a DRL?!?! You want a “1-seat” ride to B-Y station, but are willing to wait on a packed platform and miss several trains to get downtown? Not to mention how the Scarb extension and Crosstown will further overload this station?! You realize a DRL would ALSO be 1-transfer to get to the heart of the city, but would be a much shorter and more direct route to downtown.

    I try to have a lot more patience for the constant BS/ignorance, but now, I’m starting to understand the cynicism.

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  5. If Metrolinx were filled with execs well-versed in real-world construction and operations, they’d be following some advice they received from a highly credible outside party regarding the staging of the electrification plan. They were advised to start with the least problematic lines so they could learn from their mistakes, which are inevitable with a project of this vast scope. Lines totally under their control and with large windows in which to work without disrupting revenue service would be ideal. That narrows it down to the Stouffville and Barrie lines.

    Instead, Metrolinx rejected that advice and intends to proceed with the Lakeshore and Kitchener lines, both of which are going to be nothing but trouble, not the least reason being that they’re going to have to deal with the objections of the two freight railways. Good luck to them.

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  6. All this talk of electrification and no mention of the need to double track the lines first to support bi-directional service. Since they own the Barrie line and there’s no mid-day service on it, wouldn’t that be the easiest place to start? Hasn’t that line experienced the most ridership growth?

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  7. M. Briganti said:

    “All this talk of electrification and no mention of the need to double track the lines first to support bi-directional service. Since they own the Barrie line and there’s no mid-day service on it, wouldn’t that be the easiest place to start? Hasn’t that line experienced the most ridership growth?”

    I think they should also focus first things like this and other things required to make electrification work like switch improvements in lines that already have 6 trains per hour etc. They also need to make changes to the Union platforms, and infrastructure in the station to clear the platforms (as Robert Wightman has said, take out some platforms and tracks and add some escalators etc). There is a lot of work required to make electrification work, that should be done prior. Clearly these improvements will allow (assuming they train enough engineers) increased service without electrification, and for electrification to deliver they will be require anyway.

    For the Barrie line getting to 3 trains per our would be huge, let alone 15 minute service. Clearly, this could be supported without electrification. Personally I would like to see GO make regular incremental improvements, building all required other enabling work prior to electrification. Build the service as you go, doubling the service on the Barrie line is only 2 more trains per hour.

    I really wish we would look at the smaller projects that are required to enable the vision, especially where benefit can be had just from that.

    Steve: From a purely political point of view, this would provide some “quick wins” where riders/voters could see improvements soon, not in a decade. The real challenge will be to see if the Wynne government, unlike McGuinty’s, actually wants to spend money in the early years of a ten year plan, rather than talking about what will come, nut pushing actual building off to the never never.

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  8. GO’s crew are from Bombardier. They have ways of bringing people in a short notice if more conductors and crew are needed. Given enough money, they can also poach crews from CN and CP.

    The existing bilevels can be used with an electric locomotive. What they should do is order a set of EMUs just for the Lakeshore line. Any line with less than 30 minute frequency will need EMUs. The bilevels can simply migrate to other routes and pull by something like a Bombardier TRAXX.

    Running all day bidirectional service does not require double tracking. As long as there sufficient passing loops, it is possible to run bidirectional service on a single track. If we are running hourly service say on the Richmond Hill line, single track is sufficient. The best example of this is the Sekisho Line in Hokkaido.

    There should be an agreement with CN and CP that freight trains should not run during day time. Introducing a slow moving freight train will seriously reduce line capacity. Even if the entire GO network is electrified today, freight trains can always be pulled by electric Bombardier TRAXX locomotives. Once it leave the electrified area, it takes only about ten minutes to switch to a fossil fuel locomotive. In reverse, when freight trains enter an electrified zone, the fossil fuel locomotives are removed and attached to electric locomotives.

    There are many benefits of doing it this way since electric locomotives are much more quieter and generate less vibration. No one wants to hear rumbles in urban areas. Without a diesel generator, air pollution will be less.

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  9. Robert Wightman raises, as have others, the importance of getting some relief from FRA/TC rules, a subject that could well do with an airing – Steve, are you listening?

    Steve: This subject has come up repeatedly on this site in comment threads, and in the article on the Metrolinx board meeting, I noted that they will be seeking some sort of relief. Until Metrolinx makes a specific proposal, I do not see there is much point in going beyond what has already been discussed. Robert has made the point, more than once, that we cannot simply point at an infrequent service running on a quiet branch line with little or no concurrent traffic and say “see, it works”. In this case, we are dealing with two very busy freight lines of the CN and one of CP where “just run the freights at night” is not a viable answer. This is not a simple problem to solve. And, yes, in case you haven’t noticed, I am “listening”.

    Robert refers, I think, to ‘Rapid Transit’ as any service running on trackage not connected to freight railroads trackage, and which does not have to comply with FRA/TC rules. The Rapid Transit vehicles would also not have to comply with FRA/TC requirements and could be subway trains or the full length bi-levels. Thus we could envision two similar trains, one compliant, one not, running side by side on tracks that do not connect! What then might be required between those two tracks – a barrier, a fence, a larger than usual separation?

    Steve: This is not a practical arrangement on many lines because there simply isn’t room for dedicated tracks. Also, I believe that the rules re crashworthiness would still apply, but I will leave that to others to confirm. A particular problem is that CN retains running rights on the tracks they sold to Metrolinx, and if the need arises, GO service running non-FRA rules could be severely disrupted by the appearance of a freight on “rapid transit” territory.

    Robert also mentions seeking relief from the restrictions on running non FRA compliant trains on trackage that sees only one or two freight trains per week, such as Barrie line, where grade separation at CP main line (Dupont/Lansdowne) would be all that is required to free the entire line.

    Referring again to the Don Branch/Leaside Spur alignment, and to Robert’s comments, surely a direct and fast service from Downtown to Richmond Hill is anything but ‘useless’. The alignment I describe would be SEPARATE from CN and CP except for a conflict where the Don Sub (and CN beside it) meet the USRC (Bayview and Front). And since the once daily freight is now rarely seen, it becomes an excellent example of, as Robert says, ‘a couple of freight trains per week’, for which relief could be sought. The whole line then could operate as ‘rapid transit’, free of FRA rules.

    Robert talks of ‘all the buses’ heading toward Finch subway, buses that could call first at Langstaff or Old Cummer, and together with a single fare system, would significantly relieve the Yonge line at Finch, not at Bloor, freeing up capacity all the way down; and, I agree with Robert, make the Yonge subway line extension unnecessary.

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  10. Benny Cheung says:
    July 3, 2014 at 6:37 pm

    “GO’s crew are from Bombardier. They have ways of bringing people in a short notice if more conductors and crew are needed. Given enough money, they can also poach crews from CN and CP.”

    They cannot bring in crews on short notice if they require a 2 year probation period. As for poaching crews don’t be so sure as CN and CP have an entirely different style of operation and a lot of people would prefer the main line rail operation where there are no split shifts.

    “The existing bilevels can be used with an electric locomotive. What they should do is order a set of EMUs just for the Lakeshore line. Any line with less than 30 minute frequency will need EMUs. The bilevels can simply migrate to other routes and pull by something like a Bombardier TRAXX.”

    Electric locomotives are NOT the way to go for start and stop service. You need the benefit of EMU’s higher acceleration rate to be truly effective and you probably cannot electrify the CN and CP owned portion of the lines though GO has been paying to increase clearances on the CN and former CN lines for a long time.

    “Running all day bidirectional service does not require double tracking. As long as there sufficient passing loops, it is possible to run bidirectional service on a single track. If we are running hourly service say on the Richmond Hill line, single track is sufficient. The best example of this is the Sekisho Line in Hokkaido.”

    This is true but on a 15 minute headway you are going to need a lot of passing loops, especially in the rush hour when things start to get hairy.

    “There should be an agreement with CN and CP that freight trains should not run during day time. Introducing a slow moving freight train will seriously reduce line capacity. Even if the entire GO network is electrified today, freight trains can always be pulled by electric Bombardier TRAXX locomotives.”

    This switch takes time and money that GO would have to pay for, probably 10 times over and it would take more than 10 minutes.

    “Once it leave the electrified area, it takes only about ten minutes to switch to a fossil fuel locomotive. In reverse, when freight trains enter an electrified zone, the fossil fuel locomotives are removed and attached to electric locomotives.”

    I do hope you meant to say that the trains and not the fossil fuel locomotives are attached to the electric locomotives. Good luck getting CN or CP to agreeing to that. They own the lines and they are not going to stop freight trains for the benefit of GO trains willing. It is time to get serious here.

    “There are many benefits of doing it this way since electric locomotives are much more quieter and generate less vibration. No one wants to hear rumbles in urban areas. Without a diesel generator, air pollution will be less.”

    They may be quieter but they are not the ideal way to go; that is EMUs. The cost to electrify is very large and if what happened in Montreal is any indication it will not happen on CN or CP owned lines without a major fight. As Greg Gormick said, Metrolinx seems to want to fight a losing battle a la Don Quixote instead of doing something practical.

    You really need to look at this from CN’s and CP’s point of view to realize what you propose, while possible, will not happen easily.

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  11. Before non-railroaders prescribe solutions for situations involving the transcontinental freight railways, they should read the Canada Transportation Act and related pieces of legislation to understand the railways’ rights. Like it or not, they were told by successive federal governments to go run their businesses as they saw fit, provided they didn’t put too many trains on the ground or kill people. They are expected to totally fund their operating and capital needs and, if some public service gets in the way of that, then the public has to pay. Meanwhile, they get to run their shops the way they see fit to maximize the return on investment for the shareholders.

    There is absolutely no legislative method by which anyone can tell CP and CN when to operate their freight service on lines they own and maintain. I can just about imagine what the response would be if you told CP, for example, they could only make use of their Galt Subdivision in a narrow nocturnal window. It’s their main east-west corridor. Their attitude is that GO is lucky they’ll even clear time on weekdays for their eight morning-in, afternoon-out Milton trains.

    As for getting the freight railways to electrify their freight operations in GO territory, forget it. It’s not just the time penalty and capital cost involved. Their motive power needs to flow freely over their entire systems and be available for redeployment from territory to territory, as required. Electric locomotives dedicated to the GTA lines won’t do CP or CN much good when they’re short of motive power in Alberta or Iowa.

    Freight electrification is a lovely idea, but that ship sailed long ago in North America and it would take some cataclysmic event (or whopping big amounts of public capital) to even put it on the table again, as much as that saddens those of us who appreciate its unbeatable efficiency. Even Conrail ceased using electric motive power for its freight operations on Amtrak’s electrified Northeast Corridor in 1981, partially because it needed new motive power and that would have tied up a lot of capital that could only be used in a very small section of its operation.

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  12. MarkE said:“Robert talks of ‘all the buses’ heading toward Finch subway, buses that could call first at Langstaff or Old Cummer, and together with a single fare system, would significantly relieve the Yonge line at Finch, not at Bloor, freeing up capacity all the way down; and, I agree with Robert, make the Yonge subway line extension unnecessary.”

    If we cannot divert these buses perhaps we can look at actually building the Don Mills subway. This could then be the destination of a BRT in the Gatineau power corridor, and this could take some of the buses from Scarborough, and perhaps be used as a link to the GO Lines north of Union for people headed elsewhere, providing access to the Eglinton LRT, the Don Mills Subway and hopefully a Don Mills LRT. This would permit the existing GO lines to connect more effectively with the rest of the city.

    To make GO work we need both better loading access but also nearly as important is a way for people to access more of the city destinations more effectively than now. If the link to the TTC was a very high frequency and speed in more places, people might actually ride GO to Don Mills and Eglinton office area, or Yonge and Eglinton. The more of the city destinations are easily reached with transfer the more attractive GO will be. Does not perforce everywhere have to be subway (at least until the GO trains start emptying at these locations) but high frequency and not likely to get bogged down in traffic.

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  13. Benny Cheung said:“There are many benefits of doing it this way since electric locomotives are much more quieter and generate less vibration. No one wants to hear rumbles in urban areas. Without a diesel generator, air pollution will be less.”

    Yes, but many benefits come from getting more people onto the GO trains in terms of air quality and urban impact. If we are going to wait decades to get electrification in areas, let us start moving to get at least the more accessible benefits. If they do not proceed with switches and improvements in Union Station, you know they are not likely to proceed with electrification because the argument will be few benefits can be had without extensive other work. If they are serious they will proceed as quickly as possible with the precursor work that must be done anyway.

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  14. “Robert Wightman raises, as have others, the importance of getting some relief from FRA/TC rules”

    Not directly related, but I recently found out the proposed protocol for sharing the Waterloo Spur between freight and LRT has changed.

    The new proposal calls for freight to operate between 23:00 and 05:00, with LRT operating from 05:00 to 01:00. Yes, you read that correctly: there is an overlap from 23:00 to 01:00. However, there is a restriction in that only a single northbound freight movement is permitted during that time, and the LRT will use the other track for both directions.

    Now, I continue to deny that there is a real safety problem with full sharing, given the nature of the service, the speeds and frequencies of operation, and assuming the provision of a full signalling system (no more dark territory), but it’s interesting to see this slight relaxation of the rules. In practice I don’t expect LRT to run at full frequency that late at night so I believe the single track usage will likely not be a problem.

    This information is found in the Planning and Works committee agenda for 2014-05-27 on page 86.

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  15. Thanks Steve for the indulgence. I am aware space does not exist on most lines for extra tracks, but on the Don/Spur it appears there is. If the space was not there I would not suggest it, as both running GO trains on CP, and crossing CP, is a non starter. Nor have I suggested “just run the freights at night”. Again, I am not suggesting using one inch of CP’s tracks; instead, new tracks beside CP’s and a grade separated crossing.

    Steve: In my response, I was picking up on threads from others’ comments.

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  16. “There is absolutely no legislative method by which anyone can tell CP and CN when to operate their freight service on lines they own and maintain.”

    There is always expropriation.

    Steve: Actually, there isn’t. The provincial government cannot expropriate railway property. The feds would have to do it. Also, expropriation must pay fair costs including the cost of lost business or of diverting traffic to another corridor (which does not exist). You don’t get those rights-of-way cheaply just because you want them.

    “Freight electrification is a lovely idea, but that ship sailed long ago in North America and it would take some cataclysmic event to even put it on the table again.”

    You mean like global warming? If we are serious about it means reducing emission by 90% in Canada by 2050. That probably means converting all railways to electric and using them to move almost everything and everyone that now goes by road or air.

    Steve: I hate to say this, but railways as a percentage of all greenhouse gas generation, are trivial. Moving people and freight onto rail as you suggest would make a much bigger difference simply by diverting them from less energy-efficient modes. However, and I don’t want to be called a climate change denier for saying this, I think that politically it will take such severe, sustained problems with extreme weather to get anyone to intervene in “the market” that by the time we actually do anything, it will take a century to undo the problem. And that’s presuming world wide co-operation.

    I can hear the screams from the business community now about how we cannot possibly afford to change, and from motorists who won’t give up their precious cars. When you have a supposedly environmentally sensitive party running on a platform of limiting energy costs just to win votes, that tells you how far we have to go.

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  17. Greg Gormick said:

    “Before non-railroaders prescribe solutions for situations involving the transcontinental freight railways, they should read the Canada Transportation Act and related pieces of legislation to understand the railways’ rights.”

    It is important that Metrolinx discuss the limits of their rights on the tracks they do own (ie what rights CN and CP reserved on transfer) and where they do not own as well.

    I think that we also need to stop focusing on home runs. Robert’s point about EMU is important, also his point with regards to access to the industrial areas in the west end. When we are re-engineering the system we need to look at the required access that all locations require, such as Ford Oakville, and the feeder plants in the area. I believe there are a number of other industrial locations that will still require heavy rail access that need to be accommodated. These heavy rail corridors were not built to support commuter rail, and the need that built them has not gone away.

    Where we can have 2 rails for commuter and 2 for cargo great, however, that may not be the case everywhere. These needs have to be taken into account. While we are planning the use of rail corridors, we need to be aware of their current use. Also we need to look at what benefits can be had from more moderate improvements. How much service do we really need to add to get a substantial impact.

    Again what can we do to start, and what are trying to get with electrification. If we cannot run more trains because of a lack of track time, or platform space at Union, we will be getting better service, but not perforce more capacity. What are the other limits that come from good basic safety requirements? The other thing not much mentioned in limits to the ability at Union to move people away from the Station.

    If you plan 10 trains on 2 lines, 6 the other 5, and these trains are full at rush, and the traffic is actually core bound, I suspect the Path system and Union itself will be overwhelmed with foot traffic, even if the platforms and tracks can handle the trains.

    Steve: I think it is intriguing that in the discussion of road congestion, we often hear about the needs of the freight industry for prompt, speedy deliveries and highway capacity. When we talk about rail, we seem to treat what is after all its primary business as something we can push aside to simplify our transit needs.

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  18. Steve said:

    “I think it is intriguing that in the discussion of road congestion, we often hear about the needs of the freight industry for prompt, speedy deliveries and highway capacity. When we talk about rail, we seem to treat what is after all its primary business as something we can push aside to simplify our transit needs.”

    Yes interesting, it is as though either we think that the limits to rail are nearly meaningless or there are none, or that the effect of pushing even a small fraction onto the roads will not be an issue. Rail is a critical link, and road would be both prohibitively expensive, and would mean so many trucks it would be overwhelming.

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  19. Steve said:

    ”Often, acknowledgement that different circumstances lead to different results is difficult to obtain because projects are sold on the promise of what will follow. “My new subway” will always show the benefit of the Yonge line downtown while “yours” will be doomed to mimic the sluggish development on Sheppard or at the outer ends of the Bloor-Danforth line”

    I personally like to see things justified based on existing travel patterns, where you are satisfying a need that you can clearly identify. Building those, where you can build a network that will form more of a grid that will allow transfers to more locations better still. A couple of issues that I have with the subway extensions, is that they do not enable access to more of the grid, but just extend out access to the same areas. Yes, a longer Danforth line connects more of the city to Yonge and Bloor, but is that where the people in Scarborough want to go, and can the line there absorb it. The Eglinton and Sheppard LRTs have the advantage of supporting other destinations as well.

    More of the evidence should be support of existing travel patterns, less on the hopes and prayers of politicians for future development. Unlock additional & parallel capacity where the network is at or near capacity, and look at existing driving and bus loads as to where rapid transit is required, this is especially true if traffic and buses are at or near their capacity at peak. For instance is development at the DVP and Eglinton slow because it is not a good spot, or because capacity to this spot is already fully loaded? If you have a bus route running 35K++ per day and very heavily loaded at peak, perhaps a BRT or LRT is in order to meet this load. If that mode then fills you look at moving up the chain.

    Steve: “Don Mills & Eglinton” is often derided as a major node because it does not see growth by leaps and bounds. This is difficult given that two of four corners have land in the public sector (NE and SW), while a third is a major manufacturing facility (NW). Advocates for the Scarborough Subway talk about how people will come in by bus, never mind walking. Dare I mention Flemingdon Park, or Thorncliffe Park that, depending on the alignment, could have a station right in the middle of a high rise cluster?

    I don’t have to wish new development into existence for a “Don Mills” line, it is already there, with land for more.

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  20. Darwin O’Connor said:

    “You mean like global warming? If we are serious about it means reducing emission by 90% in Canada by 2050. That probably means converting all railways to electric and using them to move almost everything and everyone that now goes by road or air.”

    Let us not forget about reducing the greenhouse gas outputs from electrical generation and other industry, not to mention the methane from our sewage treatment systems and farms etc.

    The problem with the home run approach, is that it tends to lead to strikes. Let us approach each problem a little at a time. Moving car & bus to rail for transit is huge, even without electrification, and likely has more impact than electrification of buses etc.

    There are a lot of areas we can have smaller impacts that add up, without imagining that we are going to impose costs on the railroads that will merely have their loads replaced with far worse trucks.

    I would dare to think we would get more impact from using anaerobic digestion on farms and sewage systems and using that to generate electricity, than we will ever see from electrification of freight rail. The cost would also be likely radically less, and a better use of our money than the construction of solar. The power would be on demand (the type we really need) and methane is a far worse GHG than carbon dioxide.

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  21. Malcolm N Says

    “For the Barrie line getting to 3 trains per our would be huge, let alone 15 minute service. Clearly, this could be supported without electrification. Personally I would like to see GO make regular incremental improvements, building all required other enabling work prior to electrification. Build the service as you go, doubling the service on the Barrie line is only 2 more trains per hour.”

    Since the running time is 1h47 this would take 4 more trains each way or 8 extra trains. The total requirement would be 16 trains for a round trip time of 4 hours, given end change, brake tests and buffer time. This is not going to happen anytime soon.

    Mark E says

    “Robert refers, I think, to ‘Rapid Transit’ as any service running on trackage not connected to freight railroads trackage, and which does not have to comply with FRA/TC rules. The Rapid Transit vehicles would also not have to comply with FRA/TC requirements and could be subway trains or the full length bi-levels. Thus we could envision two similar trains, one compliant, one not, running side by side on tracks that do not connect! What then might be required between those two tracks – a barrier, a fence, a larger than usual separation?”

    I refer to rapid transit as any service that does not require Transport Canada compliant equipment and engineers. As Isaac points out it is possible to run freights and non compliant equipment on the same line as long as there is either a time or track separation AND permission of TC. This should be easily done on Barrie and Stouffville lines as they have only a couple of freight trains a week and could be switched over night.

    The Weston Sub to Bramalea still sees regular switching of the industries in Malton and northern Etobicoke and 2 Via trains each way. Beyond Bramalea you are on CN’s main line to Chicago and it is only 2 tracks through Brampton so forget doing anything fancy there unless you are willing to build a subway through Brampton with a new right of way from Bramalea to Silver Junction.

    The right of way, bridges and tunnels are all built to hold 4 tracks though only 3 will be built initially. Unfortunately 2 of the tracks will monopolized by the UP YOUR Express on its 15 minute headway with 6 mile block length. This means that there is only one track to handle all the rest though they can probably use short sections for passing tracks. The UP Express should be a rapid transit line with a branch to Bramalea. I would love to have a rapid station in downtown Brampton so I could have a one seat ride to Union but I am willing to makes an unnecessary, redundant and forced transfer for the benefit of the greater good.

    Service beyond Bramalea would still be current GO equipment with an across platform transfer at Bramalea. This would give three lines that could be operated with rapid transit rules though they would need to be electrified and re-signalled, preferably with ATO and the current signals left in place to protect interlockings and compliant main line trains when they get on the line. Two of these line could be through routed, probably Barrie and Stouffville as they go farther out of town and could be extended. The Weston line could possibly be through routed with the DRL and be a true rapid transit line.

    If you follow rapid transit rules with ATO you would only need one crew member instead of three so instead of running a 12 car train every 15 minutes you could run a 4 car train every 5 with no increase in crew requirements. There would need to be some change in how the handicap car works to eliminate the Customer Service Ambassador.

    MarkE says

    “Referring again to the Don Branch/Leaside Spur alignment, and to Robert’s comments, surely a direct and fast service from Downtown to Richmond Hill is anything but ‘useless’. The alignment I describe would be SEPARATE from CN and CP except for a conflict where the Don Sub (and CN beside it) meet the USRC (Bayview and Front). And since the once daily freight is now rarely seen, it becomes an excellent example of, as Robert says, ‘a couple of freight trains per week’, for which relief could be sought. The whole line then could operate as ‘rapid transit’, free of FRA rules.”

    It is basically useless because it does not provide for transfer to other members of the network when it is running in the Don Valley. I am not sure of your routing but I assume it is up the old CP line from USRC in the valley and then onto the CP mainline near Mount Pleasant Road [Steve interjects: I think you mean Bayview] then up to the old Leslie Spur line, now a bike path and then beside the Bala Sub to Richmond Hill.

    If it is this route it would require complete rebuilding and doubling of the CP line in the Don Valley including that long high railway bridge which is embargoed as unsafe. You would then need to go along the CP until you cross the next bridge, which would also need to be doubled to 4 tracks as CP will not let you use its tracks. The fun then starts when you try to build a double track line between the houses.

    Let’s see what this line would serve:

    1) Would it be able to go to Gormley? Probably not so you would lose all new stops north of Richmond hill.
    2) Richmond Hill
    3) Langstaff Road
    4) Old Cummer
    5) Oriole GO: should move to Sheppard
    New Stations
    6) York Mills: I assume that this is still on the Leaside Spur and cannot remember where it crosses York Mills [Steve: The Leaside Spur joins the Bala Sub a bit south of York Mills]
    7) Lawrence Ave at Leslie. OK would serve Don Mills community but the DRL or LRT would be more central.
    8) Eglinton: This would make for an interesting station given that it is on an embankment and Eglinton is on a slight grade. Connection to DRL at Don Mills Road would be more convenient. You miss the Science Centre, Flemingdon Park and Thorncliffe Park which would all be on the DRL.
    9) Leaside: This is in an out of the way location and not convenient to either Leaside or Thorncliife Park.
    10) Mt. Pleasant? If I remember this site it is in a cut and not convenient to much. [Steve: Actually, the Don Branch cuts off just west of Bayview and does not go near Mt. Pleasant.]

    South of here you are in the valley and not close to the Prince Edward Viaduct though you might be able to put a station in at Gerrard and or Dundas and or Queen but it is probably Lever Brothers or Cork Town before you get the next stop. This looks good on a 2 dimensional map but in 3 D its short comings are apparent.

    Steve: Another problem for any new station is that it must be long enough for whatever equipment you plan to operate. As for the Don Branch itself, regrading would be required from north of Gerrard to the USRC in parallel with planned changes to the Bala Sub in the same area to prevent flooding. (The Don Branch runs west of the river until north of Gerrard where it crosses to higher ground on the east side.)

    MalcolmN says

    “It is important that Metrolinx discuss the limits of their rights on the tracks they do own (ie what rights CN and CP reserved on transfer) and where they do not own as well.”

    Actually CN, and I assume CP, retain trackage rights on the lines that they sold to Metrolinx to run trains as needed for emergencies and to serve existing customers. I cannot think of any on the two pieces of track CP sold but there are a lot on the Oakville Sub, Ford, Petro Can refinery, many chemical and parts suppliers and CP has trackage rights on the Oakville sub and USRC to it former Don Valley Line (Belleville Sub). There is also fair bit of switching in Malton and North Etobicoke. I bet CN would love it if GO would switch the Barrie and Stouffville lines and drop the cars at an interchange track.

    Sorry for the long rant.

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  22. Rezone Pape as high density says:

    I would only support a DRL subway through low density Pape/Broadview if that area is rezoned for high density.

    There is high density along Pape and all the apartments buildings along Cosburn.

    Rezone Pape as high density says:

    Maybe you have not noticed but DRL subway is not going to Cosburn, Thorncliffe, or Flemingdon Park. The DRL subway is only going to be constructed as far north as the Bloor-Danforth Line and the last I checked is that it is going through low density Pape. Rezone that area as high density and then you can count on my support for the DRL.

    False. The final route has not been decided yet. One of the options is an 8.3 billion route from Dundas West to Eglinton-Don Mills.

    You should go to Metrolinx’s website to find out more.

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  23. Rishi L said:

    Scarb subway extension route as compared to the LRT route is changing from a medium density area to a low density corridor, which we are being promised will be rezoned up. Where’s your problem with that $3B boondoggle, not to mention that the route will not run right through the the highest density part of Scarb (STC)? If Sheppard is any indication, it will be another 15 years before we start seeing true redevelopment at least.

    Moaz: Fortunately or unfortunately the City of Toronto’s planning department is looking at redesigning the area around McCowan and Ellesmere (the McCowan Precinct) to create a high-density, mid-to-high-rise walkable neighbourhood that would create an anchor at what will most likely be the terminal of the Scarborough Subway. The nice thing is that if the LRT (and Chief Planner Keesmaat is on record with her support) is built instead, the McCowan Precinct would still be well served.

    Isaac Morland said:

    Not directly related, but I recently found out the proposed protocol for sharing the Waterloo Spur between freight and LRT has changed.

    The new proposal calls for freight to operate between 23:00 and 05:00, with LRT operating from 05:00 to 01:00. Yes, you read that correctly: there is an overlap from 23:00 to 01:00. However, there is a restriction in that only a single northbound freight movement is permitted during that time, and the LRT will use the other track for both directions.

    Moaz: I was at Taras Grescoe’s talk in Waterloo on June 19th (hosted by ROW, ION and Tri-Tag) at the Knox Church, kitty corner to the freight spur … and a freight ran through during the speech (around 8pm) … it was certainly an interesting sight. The thing we can learn there is that solutions can be found if people are willing to compromise, reasonably.

    I personally think that Metrolinx should be looking at electrifying the “Big U” as their RER pilot project. This would also resolve three challenges that Metrolinx has to deal with, namely:

    * offering two-way all-day services on more corridors than Lakeshore East and West
    * through-routing GO trains on more corridors
    * offering up GO as a regional express alternative to the subway and driving.

    Cheers, Moaz

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  24. Electrification of the railways is not as efficient as you may think. Unless the railway handles enough people or goods, electrifying would use more energy. When no trains are moving what are the wires humming for? I think it’s better to build up the traffic first. In Japan and Germany the traffic is there and has been built up over the decades and their statistics look great. Ontario can’t just jump into electrifying the GO transit and pass with flying colours. And as far as the buff force standards, it’s not just in case a GO train hits a 10,000 ton freight train, it is also for heavy trucks at level crossings AND 100 mph VIA trains.

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  25. Rail freight is different than all other freight service. Most rail freight are not time sensitive. I called Kindsersley Transport today for some quotes. Intermodial freight from Toronto to Vancouver is 7 to 10 business days. A direct drive full truck load would reach point to point in 3 business days. Rail exist to move heavy and relatively less time sensitive goods like timber and tar sands. Time sensitive like lobsters and buillion are moved by air cargo.

    Even if we force CN and CP to to abandon their rights to use GO tracks during the day time, it would not alter the slow nature of rail freight. It will still take 7 to 10 business days for intermodial cargo to reach Vancouver. Warehouses and cross dock facilities are always operated at night. It is not hard to implement, but it is whether the politicians have the will to change the laws.

    CN and CP are public traded companies. Yes, they have interest. But money can persuade them to renounce certain interest. I do not know what the cost is, but it is cheaper than GO building out their own corridors. Since Toronto is relatively built up, any GO lines using heavy rail equipment will require very expensive tunnelling.

    If EMUs are used on GO lines, there are many benefits. One of them is station capacity. Every time a GO train unloads at a suburban station, there is a race to the parking lot. Whomever leaves first gets to drive out first. This is fact. If we have more frequent and lower capacity EMUs, it would solve a lot of the burst load at the station. For transit to compete with automobiles, it must be fast and frequent. Running Bombardier bilevels every hour will move a lot of people, but it does not make transit attractive.

    EMUs will also allow GO to adjust capacity as needed. For example, on a midday mission, it can connect 16 EMU units together to carry many passengers. On a midnight mission, it can remove some of the EMUs and run it as a 4 car unit reducing cost.

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  26. As an add on to Greg Gormick’s comments:

    Is there an east-west rail route that doesn’t go through Toronto? I can’t see anything in the Trackside Guide and I think that CP and CN have dismantled/segmented their routes along the Ottawa river.

    Steve: The CN York Sub runs parallel to Highway 7, but that’s as close to “not through Toronto” as you’re going to get. When it was built, it was surrounded by farmland.

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  27. Steve sorry going back to the power corridors, you were saying about Hydro’s need to maintain access, and that they might entertain a BRT, would that mean that they would tolerate it because it would [not] interfere with the deployment of their equipment? If so could you build an LRT in road and use induction, or would the wires be high enough to be out of the way or too high so as to cause interference and grounding/induction concerns with high voltage?

    Steve: The issue is that the buses can go somewhere else if need be, but any rail mode cannot.

    Looking at it from overhead, there are a couple of power corridors that are very interesting in terms of express high speed services, to provide linkage across and around the city, especially if there was already a Don Mills subway, and an extension on the Spadina line through Steeles. I realize there are competing uses in some areas, however, their continuous nature is intriguing. It still baffles the mind that the city would dispose of parts of the Richview corridor.

    Steve: Don’t forget that the Finch hydro corridor does NOT go all the way to the west side of the city, but veers southwest just west of Highway 400. Every so often I see someone draw a line all the way across the city, and they clearly don’t know what is actually on the ground. The other one of interest is, of course, the Gatineau corridor running northeast from Don Mills south of the Science Centre.

    I am concerned that the government may hang its hat on addressing the majority of the transit needs through existing rail corridors, without respecting the degree to which they are already used, and the degree to which freight traffic on them, and its growth represent vital life lines to the economy of the city and province, as goods move in huge quantities into and out of the city. I have no illusion that power corridors represent a magic bullet either, however, as part of network they are interesting, providing their use does not unduly interfere with the operations of the power network.

    I however, also think that far too little respect is given to the idea that a right of way in median with proper signal control can provide a much improved ride. This is especially true, if the number of crossing intersections is carefully planned, so that where there is not a real need, a road does not cross, and a signal is not required. To the extent that roads do not need signals or at least close to equal signal time, and the major signals can be kept to every 500m to 1km or so on the outer arterial roads, signal priority along with reasonable stop coordination, can provide a smooth rapid transit experience. Signal priority can be designed so that the light is green when the vehicle is ready to depart the stop. This can provide large capacity, good speed and great access.

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  28. How nice it is to read comments from people who see the need to approach the admirable goal of GO electrification and service intensification pragmatically. It can be done in a way that doesn’t hamstring the main line freight operations and, in fact, brings benefits that will help shift some freight from truck to train. Unsnarling freight, intercity passenger and commuter traffic to the maximum extent possible has advantages for all three traffic types.

    The starting point has to be a well-informed commuter agency advising government on how to proceed logically, not on the basis of a wish list drawn up by politicians on the back of a cocktail napkin or ill-informed bureaucrats who have never considered the real-world constraints because they’ve never occupied positions in the real world of transportation design and implementation. You can’t do this stuff by just drawing lines on an electoral map.

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  29. Steve regarding the Finch power corridor, yes, and that dip south west, makes it look like an arc, where the it comes into the airport area, and then is further north in the areas where the city has actually grown further north. Not perfect but intriguing for a rapid service across the top linking other services. Hydro’s objection does make some sense would be awkward for maintenance to have to stop a route with 10 or 20k riders per hour on it at rush hour for a week. Still even a BRT could offer real capacity and convenience as a link from the north east to a Don Mills subway, and across the top in Finch corridor to the airport. Of course someone would need to look at the destination information.

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  30. There is absolutely no legislative method by which anyone can tell CP and CN when to operate their freight service on lines they own and maintain.

    Not provincially. The federal government can do whatever it likes, of course, including purchasing both railways or ordering them both to shut down, to use extreme examples.

    Steve: And you honestly expect any federal party to launch such an action?

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  31. Where we can have 2 rails for commuter and 2 for cargo great, however, that may not be the case everywhere. These needs have to be taken into account.

    Certainly. On nearly the entire Lakeshore route (Aldershot to Oshawa) you can have 2 tracks for passenger and 2 for cargo, no problem. On the tail into Hamilton downtown, you can’t.

    You can more often than not on the Toronto routes.

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  32. Benny Cheung said:

    Even if we force CN and CP to to abandon their rights to use GO tracks during the day time, it would not alter the slow nature of rail freight. It will still take 7 to 10 business days for intermodial cargo to reach Vancouver.

    Except that the railways have realized their past mistake of not adopting just in time freight operations and they have been moving towards it. Simply put, they have adopted the logic that a freight car that’s not moving while in transit between the shipper and the receiver is a freight car that is wasting money. Also, intermodal trains are not slow and operate on a schedule which takes 5 days to reach Vancouver from Montreal.

    Also, no one hauls tar sands outside of the tar sands because of the amount of waste materials it contains compared to the extracted bitumen.

    Benny Cheung said:

    CN and CP are public traded companies. Yes, they have interest. But money can persuade them to renounce certain interest. I do not know what the cost is, but it is cheaper than GO building out their own corridors.

    They have made their price clear: nothing less than a new Toronto bypass in the GTA for each railroad if GO wants to take control of dictating train priorities on CN’s and CP’s existing mainlines.

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  33. Anyone wanting to consider service on Hydro Corridors should consider how long it has taken to get Hydro’s approval for the Kipling Interregional Gateway-Hub-Terminal. Getting approval for the partial busway between Keele and Dufferin was no corporate picnic either.

    Cheers, Moaz

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  34. They have made their price clear: nothing less than a new Toronto bypass in the GTA for each railroad if GO wants to take control of dictating train priorities on CN’s and CP’s existing mainlines.

    Which seems kind of ridiculous at least for CP when they just ripped up their Ottawa Valley line less than 3 years ago. They knew full well that that meant that in doing that all of their trains then had to go through Toronto.

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  35. JeffreyM said:

    Which seems kind of ridiculous at least for CP when they just ripped up their Ottawa Valley line less than 3 years ago. They knew full well that that meant that in doing that all of their trains then had to go through Toronto.

    Not really when you consider how much of the rail traffic heading through Toronto is going from Montreal/Eastern Canada to the US via Windsor/Sarnia.

    But I do agree that the various levels of government were dumb in not ensuring that the Ottawa Valley route was preserved as a Toronto bypass.

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  36. The loss of the CP Ottawa Valley line as a through route in 2010 (following the abandonment of the CN line in 1995) certainly appears foolish in a strategic sense. But the two railways weighed the cost of maintaining those lines against incremental investments in their Sudbury/Capreol-Toronto and Toronto-Montreal line segments, as well as the additional transit times, and came to the conclusion that it made more financial sense to divert all the transcontinental traffic through Toronto.

    Even if the traffic between Montreal and western Canada went over those abandoned routes, including the growing volume of crude, it still wouldn’t make it possible to abandon the CN and CP east-west lines through Toronto, which are part of the two railways’ Montreal-Chicago corridors.

    As I said in my op-ed in today’s Toronto Star, the only answer is redrawing the GTHA rail grid to separate the freight traffic, GO and VIA as much as possible. It would be a monumental task, but similar strategies are being pursued in various U.S. locations. The issue needs to be investigated and I’ve seen nothing to indicate that anyone — including and especially Metrolinx — has done this. In fact, the only time it was ever addressed was during the Grange inquiry into the 1979 Mississauga derailment. Unfortunately, nothing ever came of it.

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  37. Steve:

    Actually, the Don Branch cuts off just west of Bayview and does not go near Mt. Pleasant.

    As I am sitting on a boat in Lake Huron it is not easy to check these details out. As soon as you said it I remember where it cut off. Thanks for the correction.

    Steve:

    Another problem for any new station is that it must be long enough for whatever equipment you plan to operate. As for the Don Branch itself, regrading would be required from north of Gerrard to the USRC in parallel with planned changes to the Bala Sub in the same area to prevent flooding. (The Don Branch runs west of the river until north of Gerrard where it crosses to higher ground on the east side.)

    While I am not in favour of any major expenditures to put more trains on this corridor, especially on the Leslie bike path, I do believe that GO had better get the tracks above the high water line.

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  38. Greg Gormick said:

    As I said in my op-ed in today’s Toronto Star, the only answer is redrawing the GTHA rail grid to separate the freight traffic, GO and VIA as much as possible. It would be a monumental task, but similar strategies are being pursued in various U.S. locations. The issue needs to be investigated and I’ve seen nothing to indicate that anyone — including and especially Metrolinx — has done this.

    Moaz: I think Metrolinx is just starting to become aware of the challenges that they are facing in the next decade thanks to 2 things: the Georgetown South upgrade being finished up (giving them an idea of how much money and time is required for these massive infrastructure projects, assuming they can get approval from the railways in the first place*) and the directive from the former Minister of Transport and Infrastructure to build towards a 15 minute RER Network (giving the challenge of building said network … and presumably electrifying most of it).

    Although Metrolinx has said they can electrify and add all-day 2-way GO Service in 10 years I wouldn’t be surprised to see a little bit of delays and push back.

    The other big problem is that the public and politicians still don’t understand the nature of these freight lines or the challenges and restrictions that Metrolinx and the railways face. That’s why we get proposals like the SmartTrack.

    Cheers, Moaz

    *the Georgetown South project is interesting because the CP Mactier sub will still remain at grade through Weston … and there will be no GO Train to Bolton (along that track) anytime soon.

    Steve: Service on the two CP corridors — to Bolton and to North Pickering — has been pushed back to the 25 year plan, and neither of these is included in the 10-year frequent service network, only the 7 lines that have service on them today.

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  39. Moaz says

    “*the Georgetown South project is interesting because the CP Mactier sub will still remain at grade through Weston … and there will be no GO Train to Bolton (along that track) anytime soon.”

    The Mactier sub is CP’s main freight line to western Canada. They were not going to put a 2% grade on their main line. That said IF and it is a very big IFF, GO ever gets to running trains up there it would not be physically difficult to make a track connection north of the underpass between the Weston Sub and The Mactier Sub. It might be very difficult politically though.

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  40. @Robert Wightman

    I would agree 4 trains is a huge stretch for the Barrie line and 3 even would represent a 50% improvement is service. 2 extra trains each day at rush even would be huge. My point remains do a little at a time. The bottlenecks will become screamingly clear. You pointed out some time ago time that could be save on this line if it were running light cars configured with a lot of seating. If we are going to electrify lines where we can create time separation would it not make sense to get away from fra-tc rules and run light rail style vehicles at a higher frequency, but lower specific train capacity. Would make for a smaller pulse at the various unload points and make it easier to incrementally improve service.

    If we are sticking with heavy trains adding one train at a time is the way to go. Just try to maintain a higher level of service through the day to make it more attractive. Add 1 train at rush in the busier hour as soon as you can and another a year or so later:-) If we stay heavy rail finding 20 or thirty crews to increase service on all line by a train or 2 per hour will be murder. Better to add gradually, and be honest about limits and where they are. 2 more trains each way per hour would be huge both in capacity and what is required to do it, ditto on Kitchener, and Stouffville.

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