SmartTrack: Now You See It, Now You Don’t!

Oliver Moore in the Globe and Mail reports that there have been major changes to the SmartTrack plan, to wit:

  • The western branch of the service to the Airport district will be provided by the western extension of the Eglinton-Crosstown LRT as originally proposed.
  • “SmartTrack” per se will operate as a heavy rail service overlaid on GO Transit with the initial phase running from Mount Dennis to Kennedy Stations.
  • The northern extension of “SmartTrack” to Markham will be a separate phase of the project.

The map from the Globe & Mail is reproduced below.


According to Moore, the cost of adding SmartTrack to GO under this configuration would be much, much less than the originally quoted figure for the entire line. In turn, this would free up substantial capital spending headroom in City plans for other projects.

SmartTrack service at 15 minutes (the level proposed in Tory’s campaign) is far too infrequent to attract much riding, and especially to make a dent in demand on the existing subway interchange at Bloor-Yonge. We saw this in the June 2015 Metrolinx demand projections that were far more favourable to a Relief Line operating north to Sheppard and Don Mills. However, getting SmartTrack service down to as close a headway as every 5 minutes will be challenging for Metrolinx and for the corridors through which this would operate. There are no details yet on how this would be achieved.

The Eglinton West LRT has always been the superior way of serving this corridor compared to the heavy rail SmartTrack scheme. ST foundered on major problems with constructibility and neighbourhood effects, issues that were dismissed in a stunning display of cavalier “expert” knowledge during the campaign. Planning by Google Maps from an office in the UK has its limitations, but Tory’s campaign relied on this “expertise”. One shameless professor even rated ST with an “A+” in the CBC Metro Morning interview.

Keeping the first phase of ST confined south of Eglinton on both branches limits the operating costs the City must bear if this to be truly a “Toronto” project with “Toronto” fares, and it avoids the complexities of building into the 905.

Indeed, SmartTrack began as a real estate development scheme to make commercial property near the Airport and in Markham more accessible from downtown in a series of studies that actually claimed the market for downtown office space was static and falling. Yet another expert should be eating crow pie from his perch on the Metrolinx board. It was never clear why Toronto should shell out billions to improve property values in the 905, and this task now falls clearly to Metrolinx where it belongs.

The eastern leg of SmartTrack, north from Kennedy, obviously competes with the Scarborough Subway Extension, and there is no need for two routes serving the same demand, especially when GO already plans substantially improved service in the rail corridor. The long-standing issue of SSE demand may be clarified by the absence of SmartTrack as a competing service.

It is no secret that my own position would be to revert to the LRT plan in Scarborough, but that train has probably left the station, especially if the City can “save” a small fortune by scaling back on SmartTrack.

These changes could also foreshadow a revised schedule for the LRT projects at a time when “shovel ready” projects are in demand to soak up new federal spending. Eglinton West’s LRT extension is relatively easy to build, and it could be started soon enough to complete concurrently with the main Crosstown route. There is also the matter of the Sheppard East LRT including its proposed service linking to UofT Scarborough campus.

Coming weeks may bring many sputtering denials, or possibly, much improved clarity and acceptance of an – at last – realistic plan.



Eglinton Crosstown Station Names Settled At Last

After an extended discussion at its December 2015 Board Meeting, Metrolinx has decided on names for three stations on The Crosstown that were in dispute.

  • The station at Dufferin will be called “Fairbank”, as originally proposed, after the name of the original community.
  • The station at Bathurst will be called “Forest Hill”, as originally proposed. Although outside of the traditional centre of this community, the Bathurst/Eglinton intersection does lie on the edge of the borders of the original village.
  • The station at Lebovic/Hakimi will be called “Hakimi Lebovic” to recognize that the street changes name as it crosses Eglinton. Originally this was to be “Lebovic” station after the older and longer street of the two, and then the TTC Board, egged on by member Glenn De Baeremaeker, changed the name to “Hakimi” (the location isn’t even in his ward). Metrolinx adopted a “Solomon-like” decision to use a double name.

The Board held a teleconference meeting to discuss one item, the staff report on proposed names. The report proposed staying with the single name “Hakimi”, but this idea did not survive long in the rather short debate. Director Janet Ecker proposed “Hakimi-Lebovic” saying that this preserved some of “the integrity of the process”, but Director Bonnie Patterson wondered why this had not  been the original proposal.

The problem turns on the matter of a hyphen, and such punctuation offends the Metrolinx naming standards. The question of great import: to hyphenate or not to hyphenate? One director pointed out that the hyphen could indicate a link between the two families (as in a compound name), and this tipped the decision against the hyphen.

On a related note, all stations whose names are not already those of intersecting streets will get a subtitle, much as the stations on University Avenue have today, to identify the intersection they serve. Chair Rob Prichard suggested that people unfamiliar with their location could look at the signs on station walls to get the supplementary name, but subway riders will quickly tell you that this is not always possible depending on where a train stops and whether one can even see out of the window. There is also the basic question of access for those who cannot see easily or at all.

The entire exercise has the feel of massive face-saving for Metrolinx staff and the station naming protocols developed with much fanfare. The double name was described by Chief Planning Officer Leslie Woo as being in a grey zone, on the edge of the protocols. This is just plain silly. Many stations will have names that do not match the intersection they serve, and locations with different street names on opposite sides of a line are common (there are at least four on the Finch West LRT alone).

The protocols should be amended so that:

  • Double street names are allowed as station names where appropriate and where another option, such as a major nearby landmark or neighbourhood name, is not available.
  • Station “subtitles” should always be used to clarify a station’s location at a major cross street.

These “protocols” were not engraved in stone and they do not warrant worship as if they are immutable. Two basic issues were missed in creating them, and Metrolinx should be honest and humble enough to address this. “Nevermore” is not the correct answer in this circumstance.

Meanwhile, on a related topic, the actual name of the Eglinton-Crosstown name is still in debate given that the TTC has moved to line numbering. Will it become “Line 5”, or will someone complain that Toronto has scoffed all of the “premium” numbers for its rapid transit routes on a regional basis? At least GO Transit uses letters rather than numbers, and we can avoid a prolonged debate about who gets to use “Line 1”.

Such are the weighty matters that burden transit planners and politicians.

TTC Fleet Plans 2016

This is the first article in a series reviewing the details of the TTC’s 2016-2025 Capital Plan. The topic here is the plan for the TTC’s three “conventional service” fleets: subway cars, streetcars and buses.

The Capital Plan provides for two types of spending: vehicle acquisition and major overhauls. No transit vehicle lasts until its design life without overhauls, and these are a substantial portion of the annual budget

The fleet plans for each mode are summarized in the charts linked from each section of the article. The information in them has been adapted from the TTC’s Capital Plan “Blue Books” which contain details on every project. In some cases, the numbers have been reformatted for clarity, and information has been consolidated from multiple charts.

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