SmartTrack Update: More Questions Than Answers (October 13 Update)

For the coming three evenings, October 10-12, the City of Toronto, Metrolinx and the TTC will host open houses to present and discuss plans for six new SmartTrack and two new GO Transit stations. Although material for all stations will be part of each event, stations “local” to each site will receive more emphasis than others.

Each meeting will run from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m., with a presentation at 7 p.m.

  • Tuesday, October 10, Scarborough Civic Centre, 150 Borough Dr.
  • Wednesday, October 11, Riverdale Collegiate Institute, 1094 Gerrard St. E.
  • Thursday, October 12, New Horizons Tower, 1140 Bloor St. W. (new location)

Note: The location of the Oct. 12 meeting has been changed and it is now across the street from the originally announced site (which was Bloor Collegiate).

Updated October 11 at 10:30 pm: There continues to be confusion about just what “SmartTrack” service will look like, and this is not helped by the City’s presentation. Details can be found in the June 2016 Metrolinx report. For further info, see the update at the end of this article.

Updated October 13 at noon: Metrolinx has confirmed that the Barrie corridor trains will operate through to Union Station, not terminate at Spadina/Bathurst Station as I had originally thought. However, the operational details have not yet been worked out. For further discussion, scroll down to the section on the Spadina/Bathurst Station.

I attended a media briefing that covered the materials to be presented and the following article is based on that briefing which was conducted by City of Toronto staff. Illustrations here are taken from the deck for the media briefing which is available on the City of Toronto’s site. Resolution of some images is constrained by the quality of data in the deck.

[In the interest of full disclosure: A “Stakeholder Advisory Committee” (or SAC) has already been meeting on this, and I was invited to participate, but declined given my concern with a potential conflict between “advisory” and “journalist/commentator” roles. It is no secret that I believe SmartTrack is a deeply flawed concept. Its implementation is compromised by fitting a poorly-conceived election promise into a workable, operational scheme for the commuter rail network. Any “debate” is skewed by the need to pretend that this is anything beyond campaign literature.]

The intent of these three meetings is to conduct the first detailed conversation about these stations with the general public. Early designs appeared in the “Initial Business Case” for the stations, but these have been revised both for technical and for philosophical reasons. Specifically:

  • The City does not want to build traditional GO stations dominated by parking.
  • The interface between the new stations and the transit network (both rapid transit and surface routes) should be optimized.
  • Strong pedestrian and cycling connections are required.
  • Stations should be close to main streets.
  • Stations should support other City objectives such as the West Toronto Railpath and parallel projects such as the St. Clair/Weston study now in progress.
  • Transit-oriented development should be possible at stations.

This is a list that to a typical GO Transit proposal in the 905 would be unrecognizable. GO Transit’s plan ever since its creation has been to serve auto-based commuting first and foremost with ever larger parking structures that poison the land around stations. Local transit was something GO, and later Metrolinx, simply “didn’t do”, and the idea that Queen’s Park might fund strong local transit as a feeder to GO services has been limited to co-fare arrangements.

The situation within Toronto is very different, and there are connecting routes on the TTC that individually carry a substantial proportion of the daily ridership of the entire GO network. Moreover, if GO (or SmartTrack, whatever it is called) will be a real benefit to TTC riders, then the process of getting people to and from stations must not depend on parking lots that are full before the morning peak is even completed.

The new stations will go into existing built-up areas, not into fields with sites determined primarily by which well-connected developer owns nearby property. Residents will be consulted about how these stations will fit their neighbourhoods, how they will be accessed, and what might eventually become of the community and future development.

A big problem facing those who would present “SmartTrack” to the public beyond City Hall insiders and neighbourhood activists is that almost nobody knows what SmartTrack actually is. This is a direct result of Mayor Tory running on a design that could not be achieved, and which has evolved a great deal since he announced it in May 2014. In brief, it is three GO corridors (Stouffville, Lake Shore East and Kitchener) plus an Eglinton West LRT extension, but this differs greatly from what was promised in the election.

Service levels for SmartTrack are described as every 6-10 minutes peak, with off-peak trains every 15, but this does not necessarily match Metrolinx’ announced service plans for their GO RER network onto which SmartTrack is overlaid. The idea that there would be extra SmartTrack trains added to the GO service was killed off in 2016 in the evaluation of possible operating modes for the corridor.

Fares on “SmartTrack” are supposed to be “TTC fares”, but this is a moving target. Voters understood the term to mean free transfer onto and off of SmartTrack trains as part of their TTC fare, but with all the talk of regional fare integration, it is far from clear just what a “TTC fare” will be by the time SmartTrack is operating.

Even that date appears to be a moving target. City Staff referred to 2025 when GO RER would be fully up and running as the target date for “integration”, but Mayor Tory still speaks of being able to ride SmartTrack by 2021 while he is presumably still in office to cut the ribbon.

At the briefing, many questions arose from the media, and the answer to almost all of them was “we don’t know yet”. It is clear that the Mayor’s plan has not proceeded beyond the half-baked stage, and many important details remain to be sorted out.

  • What is the status of Lawrence East Station and how does it fit with the recently announced review of this (and Kirby) stations by the Auditor General?
  • How will an expanded GO/ST presence at Lawrence East co-exist with the SRT which will operate until at least 2025, if not beyond to whenever the Scarborough Subway opens?
  • What are the arrangements for City/Province cost sharing on the stations, especially since Lawrence East was originally to be a GO station, but its future as such is unknown?
  • What will be the cost of the new stations once design reaches a level where the numbers are credible? The range of $700 million to $1.1 billion has not been updated since the matter was before Council.
  • Will all stations on the SmartTrack corridor honour ST fare arrangements regardless of whether this is a city-built station under the ST banner?
  • Why should GO riders who are not on the SmartTrack corridor pay regular GO fares, while those using the ST route have a “TTC fare” for their journey? The most obvious contrast in this case is between the existing Exhibition Station on the Lake Shore corridor and the proposed Liberty Village Station on the ST/Kitchener corridor, but there are many others.
  • What service levels will be provided, and how will they affect projected demand at the stations? Were previously published estimates based on more ST service than Metrolinx actually plans to  operate? How will constraints at Union affect the ability to through-route service between the Stouffville to the Weston/Kitchener corridors?
  • If the City wants more service than Metrolinx plans (assuming it would even fit on the available trackage), how much would Toronto have to pay Metrolinx to operate it?
  • Where are the residents and jobs that are expected to generate ST demand, and how convenient will access to the service actually be considering walking time, station geometry (stairs, tunnels, bridges, etc) and service frequency?

The stations under consideration are shown on the map below. A common question for all of these locations will be that of available capacity on the GO trains that will originate further out in the corridor. Without knowing the planned service design for “GO” trains and “SmartTrack” trains, it is unclear how often, if at all, there will be short-haul ST trains originating within Toronto as opposed to longer-haul GO trains from the 905. The availability of space on trains could affect the perceived service frequency if people cannot board at stations near Union (just as long-suffering riders of the King car complain about full streetcars).

Updated October 10, 2017 at 10:30 pm

After I posted this article, I realized that there was an important part missing, a commentary on the “consultation” process  itself.

A big problem with many attempts to seek public input is that the wrong question is posed, and factors are taken as given when they should be challenged. In the case of SmartTrack, the basic question is “why do we have SmartTrack at all”.

The original scheme was essentially a real estate ploy to make property in Markham and south of the Airport more valuable by linking both areas with a frequent rail service to downtown. Reverse commuters were a big potential market for this service. In the course of becoming part of the Tory election campaign, the focus turned inward, and SmartTrack became the line that would solve every transit problem. The claims about service frequency, fares and integration with other local and regional service were complete fantasies, but they gave the impression that Tory “had a plan” as distinct from the bumbling proposals of his opponent, Doug Ford, and the lackluster efforts of Olivia Chow. Tory even got professionals to declare his scheme a great idea, one giving it an “A+” on CBC’s Metro Morning, but this was for a version of SmartTrack that was unbuildable.

Now, over three years later, we are still faced with the myth that SmartTrack is a real plan, that it is anything more than what GO Transit would have done in the fullness of time. We are, in effect, being asked about the colour of tiles in stations when we should be asking whether the stations should even be built at all. There is no guarantee that service can be overlaid on GO’s existing plans to provide anywhere near what was promised in the campaign – a “surface subway”. Metrolinx has been quite firm on the subject, and going to the frequencies assumed by ST advocates would be well beyond the infrastructure we are likely to see on GO corridors.

The City will conduct its consultations, but the hard question – Why SmartTrack? – will never be asked.

For the October 11 update, please scroll to the end of the article.

Weston/Kitchener Corridor

St. Clair/Keele/Weston Station

The intersection of St. Clair Avenue, Keele Street and Weston Road was once the centre of much industrial activity, but it is now a built-up collection of new housing and big box stores. Just east of the intersection, St. Clair dives under the GO Weston/Kitchener corridor through a narrow underpass that is only four lanes wide. This area is the subject of a separate study to reconfigure and improve local streets and transit.

The illustrations below show the original proposal for this station, the revised version and the circulation plans. The revised version is based in part on work now underway for the area study, and importantly it recognizes the need for multiple paths through what were once impenetrable areas.

A challenge for this site is the grade separation close to the intersection. This makes a direct link between transit service on the major nearby routes almost impossible (512 St. Clair, 89 Weston and 41 Keele).

Liberty Village Station

Liberty Village Station is something of a misnomer being located north of King Street when the actual area giving its name is south of King to the Lake Shore West rail corridor. An important consideration for this location will be the access times from various points within the dense residential developments north and south of King to this station, as compared to the streetcar service including possible improvements on both the King and Queen routes in reliability and capacity.

Access to the proposed platform is from below with a concourse linked to entrances both at King itself, and north of the rail corridor at the intersection of Dovercourt and Sudbury.

Lake Shore East Corridor

Gerrard Station

Gerrard Station has been considerably revised and shifted to the northeast. This better fits with the proposed location of a corresponding Relief Line station (where the route will jog west from Pape to Carlaw) as well as to potential development on lands north of the rail corridor.

An intriguing question for construction planners will be whether to prebuild some parts of the RL station so that the site does not have to be disturbed again when and if that project gets underway.

Worth noting in the revised design is that the TTC bus and streetcar terminal (which included provision for an extended 505 Dundas route) has been removed. Frankly, it did not make much sense.

East Harbour Station

East Harbour will be a complex node in the transit network serving a major development at the former Unilever site with GO and ST services on the rail corridor, a north-south Broadview streetcar extension (running south to the line on Commissioners Street), and with a Relief Line station just to the north at Broadview and Eastern Avenue.

Details of how all this will fit together are incomplete because the stations will be integrated with planned development. Although this is nominally a “SmartTrack” station, it is clear that this will also be a major stop for GO if the employment development expected in the eastern waterfront materializes.

Geometrically the station is challenging because it must also fit among the Gardiner Expressway ramps to the DVP and existing GO Transit facilities on the west side of the Don River. The rail corridor itself is also part of the flood protection system for the east side of the river.

Stouffville Corridor

Finch East Station

The original plan for Finch East Station included a parking lot and a bus terminal with bays far more numerous than the routes that pass here. Also, there was no grade separation with Finch Avenue even though Metrolinx had announced support for this plan.

The new station includes the grade separation, with buses stopping in the underpass, and the station is shifted south because it can now straddle Finch.

Lawrence East Station

Lawrence East Station is a truly appalling design when one considers that its intent is to replace the existing bus/SRT transfer point with a bus/GO/ST transfer.

Today, buses loop into the RT station and serve a platform on its west (southbound) side with an at-grade RT-to-bus link. The northbound platform is reached through an underpass.

The proposed station eliminates the bus loop and places the bus transfer on top of the Lawrence Avenue overpass. Stops there would be linked to the station below by elevators and stairs, if the diagrams are to be believed. There is no evaluation of the need for shelters for stops that would now be very exposed at the top of the bridge, nor for the capacity of transfer movements between the trains and buses.

This ludicrous arrangement is the end result of reconciling the Scarborough Subway (which has lost its Lawrence East stop) and SmartTrack (which in theory provides a replacement for the RT connection).

Still to be determine is the fate of the RT station and service which cannot possibly co-exist with the SmartTrack design, but which Council has committed to keeping in service until the Scarborough subway extension opens (supposedly in the 2025 timeframe).

Barrie Corridor

Bloor/Lansdowne Station

The station at Bloor/Lansdowne was added by Metrolinx to placate the neighbourhood in its fight against the “Davenport Diamond” project that will create a grade separation at Dupont where the Barrie corridor passes over the CPR North Toronto Subdivision. The battle cry, in brief, was that if they had to put up with the rail overpass, they wanted a station too.

Alas, it is unclear just how convenient this station will be. Physically it must lie south of Bloor Street to provide room for the rail corridor to rise above the height of the CPR by the time it reaches Dupont. The Barrie line is some distance from Lansdowne Station, and that station box lies to the east, not to the west, of Lansdowne. By the time the BD subway reaches the rail corridor, it is in deep bore tunnel, and is not in striking distance of an easy extension west from the existing station.

This is not a “SmartTrack” station or even corridor, and it is unclear what fare arrangements would exist for riders using this line as part of their commute to downtown. One might argue that with a direct subway-to-GO link pending at Dundas West Station, subway riders would be much more likely to make the transfer to a GO service at that location if they were bound for downtown.

Spadina/Front Station

The station at Spadina and Front would be located the yard now used by GO for midday storage of trains. The service concept is that Barrie line trains would terminate here and passengers would then, somehow, find their way into downtown. This would work for people on the corridor who worked west of the core, but otherwise, they would face a hike east from Spadina.

When this was first proposed, there was a scheme to bring the Relief Line to the same location as a downtown distributor, but with that line’s shift north to Queen, such a connection would be difficult if not impossible.

Update October 13, 2017: Metrolinx confirms that Barrie line trains will in fact operate through to Union Station.

This presents operational problems because of conflicts with track occupancy and platform usage. In the diagram below, it is clear that there will be one track east of Spadina Station leading east to Union. Current plans for the Barrie corridor call for a 15 minute peak service with the result that the link to Union would see a train every 7.5 minutes on average. That is easy to achieve on single track, and indeed the UPX now operates to its terminal in the same manner on a 15 minute headway.

However, the tracks at Spadina Station are on the north side of the corridor, north of the UPX approach to Union. If the Barrie trains do not shift to Track 1 (displacing UPX), then the two services must cross each other’s paths with a total of 16 movements per hour. This is doable for urban transit operations (subway terminals have more conflicting movements), but far from ideal and it would create a barrier to service upgrades on either line. It is hard to believe that in 10 years the electrified Barrie corridor will be constrained to four trains/hour.

As for UPX, this is bound up in the more complex set of plans for the Kitchener corridor that could eventually host UPX, RER trains and a high speed service to London. If, by then, the “UPX” service becomes a shuttle operation between the Kitchener corridor and the airport, the need for a “premium” station on Track 1 at Union will disappear (although High Speed boosters will no doubt want this space for their showcase service.

Metrolinx has recently spoken of plans to reduce the number of tracks at Union and widen some platforms to improve circulation space for riders. This would happen concurrently with through-routing of services east and west of the station so that platform occupancy, now an extended period for reversing trains thanks to mandated railway practices, would be substantially reduced. An integral part of such changes will be the elimination of routing conflicts through the approaches to the station so that the “fan” of services radiating from Union (Lake Shore West, Milton, UPX, Kitchener, Barrie, Richmond Hill, Stouffville, Lake Shore East) do not conflict with each other. [End of update]

The revised version of the station includes provision for access from the proposed Rail Deck Park. Such access would have the advantage that the station would not depend on the relatively narrow sidewalk space now available on Front Street, but this still leaves the problem of circulation east to the core.

Next Steps

Following these meetings, there will be a further set of refinements to the designs and evaluation of environmental issues for the sites. The next round of public meetings will be in early 2018, and the whole matter, including updated cost estimates, will go to Council later in the spring with the intent that Metrolinx could issue an RFP for construction in the fall.

Totally outside of the official study are the political considerations at both the City and Provincial levels. At the City, there will be a strong push to keep the idea of SmartTrack as a real addition to local transit alive despite service designs from Metrolinx that suggest ST will not be as good as its advocates claim. How much added station cost the City is prepared to bear to keep ST alive remains to be seen. The two Barrie line stations are to be funded by Metrolinx, but the six ST stations are on the City’s tab.

Then there is the small matter of who will be in charge at Queen’s Park by fall 2018, and how warmly they feel about Metrolinx and its many projects.

With respect to the Eglinton West LRT, nominally part of SmartTrack but not part of this round of meetings, the City expects to have an update for this project out for consultation in November 2017.

Updated October 11, 2017 at 10:30 pm:

One of the questions nobody in the political realm seems to be able to answer is “just what is SmartTrack service”.

This question was answered in the June 2016 Metrolinx report which examined four options and explicitly discarded two that would have involved extra “SmartTrack” service overlaid on the planned GO-RER operations.

The service designs were explained in more detail in the following table:

Options C and D have the same service levels, but these vary along the route. Different long-haul service levels are mixed in with a service of “short turn” trains every 20 minutes. For example, the Stouffville corridor has four trains running through to Lincolnville plus three trains that would turn back at Unionville. On Lake Shore East, the combined service is more frequent because four of the Lake Shore trains make local stops each hour on top of the seven originating from the Stouffville line.

The combined service levels shown here may change due to improvements in the planned through services (notably on the Kitchener corridor), but limits remain on the amount of service Metrolinx will agree to operate for the investment they are prepared to make in infrastructure.

34 thoughts on “SmartTrack Update: More Questions Than Answers (October 13 Update)

  1. Considering that the Barrie line is planned to dump their passengers at Spadina, the main use of the Barrie/Lansdowne station will be many of those coming south headed to the core served by the subway.

    As expected, the Barrie/Lansdowne station design remains a joke. Regardless of the Davenport grade separation, the station could extend a dozen metres north of Bloor to avoid pedestrians crossing the street! There’s no technical reason it couldn’t extend 50m north of Bloor either, partially overlapping with the start of the grade. The accessible car would still stop on the part with no grade.

    The only reason why it isn’t designed this way is that it means rebuilding the Bloor St. overpass, which is expensive. In other words, these bad connections are, as usual, about cheaping out.

    This station should be a first-class GO/subway connection, not an afterthought.


  2. Why do Gerrard and East Harbour need ST if DRL is going ahead? Sounds like one will get killed for cost savings.

    Steve: Part of the ST mythology is that it is a first step to add capacity, and the RL comes later as a second wave. All of this is simply a sham to keep alive the idea that ST is “needed” as distinct from GO Transit upgrades that would be in the pipeline anyhow. This will not change, at least until Tory is re-elected and can afford to change his tune. However, I doubt anyone in his office, including Tory himself, is thinking subtly enough to take this approach, and unfortunately Council has to sign on to SmartTrack before the election.


  3. It’s so touching to see that while Mayor Tory’s SmartTrack puppy has died, he just can’t bear to let it go so it may receive a decent burial. Perhaps he can ask his developer friends, who gave him the original one, to buy him a new puppy.


  4. Chris said: “Why do Gerrard and East Harbour need ST if DRL is going ahead?”

    Don’t we want to have multiple interchange points between the city rail network (whether it ends up being called SmartTrack or GO RER) and the local route network?

    If there are no stations between Main St and Union, then a) more riders will have to transfer at Union, and Union is very busy already; and b) there will be less redundancy to help cope with any problems at Union.

    Steve: Both the RL and ST will stop at Gerrard and at East Harbour, although the relative convenience of the two transfers remains to be seen with East Harbour appearing slightly longer as the stations would not be on top of each other. That said, on the Lake Shore East corridor, a station spacing of East Harbour, Gerrard, Danforth is rather close for “commuter rail”. It is unlikely that GO would contemplate a station at Gerrard without the SmartTrack scheme.


  5. Steve, your 7th question refers to

    “How will constraints at Union affect the ability to through-route service between the Stouffville to the Weston/Kitchener corridors?”.

    What constraints are there at Union?

    My understanding is that the long time that GO trains currently dwell on platforms (when they do continue onwards) isn’t a technical limitation, but an operating decision related to the schedules. Are you thinking about platform safety and/or boarding/alighting rates and/or time to get passengers off the platform?

    Steve: The issue is platform capacity and the implications of more frequent service made possible by through-routing. GO has finally recognized that it would be preferable to reduce the number of tracks to allow widening of some platforms, but the timing of this work is uncertain.


  6. Terminating the GO Barrie Line shy of Union is a terrible idea. The line is packed with riders who mostly travel to the financial district and universities and stopping short of Union would be challenged.

    Steve: As I said in the article, there originally was a scheme to handle downtown distribution with the Relief Line, but both its proposed route and likely construction timing make this an unlikely solution.


  7. Is there any discussion of relocating some transit stops at St. Clair and Keele to improve the quality of the connection? As it stands, it looks like people will have to cross the intersection in two directions before boarding a streetcar. The intersection itself is a bit far away, and it might be easier to board at Old Weston Road.

    Steve: The stops at Keele are dictated by the combination of the road grade and by the future configuration of the intersection once St. CLair is widened by two lanes. It is very unlikely that the stops would be moved to the east side of the intersection. I agree that for someone travelling west to get to the GO station, the stop at Old Weston Road would be a better access considering that this route will be possible once the intersection, underpass and road network are reconfigured.


  8. As someone who lives at Donlands/Danforth and works at Warden/Highway 7, I’m very excited by the plans for a Gerrard stop on the Stouffville GO line (or “SmartTrack”). It’s closer and more convenient stop location for me than the existing Danforth stop or the potential East Harbour stop. There is also a fair bit of new mid-rise development already built in the area south along Carlaw, so I think the station has strong merits independent of convenience for myself.


  9. ST stations on top of UPX on top of GO on top of Subway Stations at Bloor and DundasW/Lansdowne.

    GO stations in the middle of farm fields in Vaughan.

    In South Etobicoke, where there are tens of thousands of new residents in the Humber Bay Shores area, no new GO stations, no SmartTrack.

    That map is a cruel joke. New subway extensions, Relief Line stations, LRTs, GO stations, and Smart Track in every region of Toronto – and beyond – except South Etobicoke.


  10. I still struggle with why ST is seen as anything but a distraction. Yes, a couple of stations in the outer 416 for core bound would improve access to the core for some in the outer 416. Yes, actually having coordinated service with the TTC makes a lot of sense, in terms of running buses into stations. No this never had a snowballs chance in hell, of providing meaningful relief for the Yonge subway.

    Would we not be better served focusing any major money on the signalling project and any Yonge street improvements that would improve frequency and reliability as the short /medium term fix? The rest of the resources on actually getting on with RL planning, and a focused roll-out? It seems clear that we are spinning our wheels and distracting from real solutions. Does this not just serve to further muddy the waters on a series of already messy debates? Could we not agree today, that service as far as Eglinton, on a RL will be required long before it can be built, and that the current debate around ST is little but a distraction? Would not building an RL, that had a Lawrence Station, and a Sheppard Station, not provide better access for the western half of Scarborough and eastern part of North York and all of East York, than any half baked ST solution ever could?

    Steve: Yes, on all counts, but that’s not what Tory ran on when he claimed that ST would eliminate the need for any other projects, including the Relief Line. He and his advisors were full of crap, but it’s his crap, and he will continue to push that project above all others.


  11. Geometrically the station is challenging because it must also fit among the Gardiner Expressway ramps to the DVP and existing GO Transit facilities on the west side of the Don River.

    If only there were a way to not have the Gardiner ramps in the way. If only…


  12. Don’t underestimate the number of people who would use the Bloor/Lansdowne station to head north to York University.

    Steve: I am not underestimating them, but it will not be the most convenient of transfer connections. Also, the TYSSE will have been in operation for years before this station opens, and the travel pattern with a transfer at St. George will be well-established. Note also that the Barrie line does not stop AT York U while the TYSSE does. Will the extra cost of a GO fare for part of the trip be worth the delta in travel time?


  13. Steve said: The issue is platform capacity and the implications of more frequent service made possible by through-routing. GO has finally recognized that it would be preferable to reduce the number of tracks to allow widening of some platforms, but the timing of this work is uncertain.

    I suspect that horse bolted as soon as the first construction hoarding went up at Union about five years ago and Metrolinx is only just now getting around to closing the stable door…

    Liked by 1 person

  14. These open houses are a waste of time just like similar ones TTC puts on. They only tell you what they intend doing, they never take any suggestions seriously. I no longer go to any of them.

    Dumb Track is a mess, big time. It will only discourage GO riders with longer trips due to added local stops. Tired workers going home from Union may find no seats for their long ride until local Toronto riders get off.


  15. Steve: I agree that for someone travelling west to get to the GO station, the stop at Old Weston Road would be a better access considering that this route will be possible once the intersection, underpass and road network are reconfigured.

    Hopefully minor improvements at the Old Weston stop (Like an additional crosswalk at the western end of the eastbound platform to the north side of St Clair, or moving the eastbound platform to the east side of the street) will be considered in the interest of improving connections to surface routes. Without improvements in local connections, you’re looking at a cumbersome, unattractive transfer. Such an outcome would be ironic in the face of the stated attempt to limit parking, and encourage people to arrive on transit, etc.

    Steve: Be sure to look at the “revised” layout for the GO station including the new roads on the east side of the rail corridor.


  16. Metrolinx has not come out and said how the Smart Track trains will operate. If it is a headway based operation, the extra stops will not be a huge deterrent to GO riders. Think of the TTC today. A metro train pulls into an underused station like Chester. Since not that many people are boarding or disembarking, the train guard can open and close the door very quickly. Then the train would head off to the next station. Using GO operation procedures, the train might idle at a station for a minute to meet a schedule. If a train is scheduled to depart Smart Track Finch East at 13:01, the train waits at the platform until that time regardless of how few are boarding. This will make riders cringe.

    I have mentioned this before. Bilevels are not the best type train set for this type of operation. Bilevels have too few doors. For a frequent stop and frequent service, one would want a train set with many doors. People need to board and disembark quickly. EMUs can mask more stops by accelerating and braking faster. However, station dwell time is something that technology cannot mask. The Stouffville corridor is not that wide. It is very difficult to add sidings to facilitate express / local service.


  17. The future stop at Downsview Park would also make a better connection to York U if you are taking the Barrie line.

    Steve: But this begs the question of total trip time and convenience if one makes the transfer first and Bloor/Lansdowne and again at Downsview simply to cut out the Lansdowne-St. George-Downsview trip on the subway.


  18. The thing that confuses me about this plan is that the eastern leg of the route between the Lakeshore East corridor to just north of Steeles is a single track. How do they expect to operate an intra city service which can only go one-way? Unless they plan to double track this section which will be very expensive given that properties are built up along either side of the corridor.

    Steve: Yes, there are plans to double track as much of the corridor as possible, but any single track sections will constrain the bidirectional headway.


  19. If there are going to be single track sections on the Stouffville leg, can anyone tell me what the minimum headway achievable is? For ease, assume no travel time through the single section, just the 2 minimum separations as trains from opposite directions are interleaved.

    Single track certainly takes out nearly all the tolerance to schedule deviations.


  20. By the time the stations at Lawrence East and Finch are ready to be built, the entirety of the line from Scarborough Junction north to Unionville will be double tracked. They’ve been working on it for some time now.



  21. Right now, due to the single track on the Uxbridge sub, the minimum possible headway is 1 hour. Basically, it takes about 30 minutes from Union to Unionville and the same in return. This is due to the lack of siding on the line where trains can meet somewhere in the middle and pass each other. This is also why there is no counter flow service during rush hours.

    When the double track is built between Kennedy and Unionville station, it might be possible have a train every 40 minutes or so. Right now, it takes 17 minutes for the trip from Union to Kennedy station. Multiply that by 2 and add a few minutes for dwell time, crossing diamonds and contingencies, 40 minutes service is possible. It will also make counter flow service possible.

    To get to 15 minutes service both ways, it will require two tracks to connect to the Kingston sub.

    The biggest constraint on the line is the curve between Kennedy and Scarborough GO stations. Double tracking is relatively easy between Kennedy and Unionville stations. After double tracking, it will still have to compete with traffic on the line with LSE and Via Rail trains.

    To get to 6 to 10 minutes service like Mr. Tory promised, we are talking the realm of in cab signaling, moving block signal system and ATO type operations. EMUs might be faster, but they are still not as agile as a metro car. Less braking performance means more separation of trains on the line. A Via Rail train using GE Genesis pulled LRC cars have very different braking and accelerating characteristics than an EMU. When those two types of train meet on the Kingston sub, it will have to operate on the lowest common denominator.


  22. @Benny Cheung

    As always, I must qualify that I’m very much a novice, just learning railroad functionality. I do attend Metrolinx and SmartTrack public meetings. As I understand it, basic headway on the Stouffville line that Metrolinx committed to SmartTrack was 15 minutes based on a dual track block signaling system. City planners complained and Metrolinx devised a “blended” train railway trick where engineers stuck to agreed speeds and they would run two trains into one block giving headways of 7.5 minutes. Within months they revised that commitment to 8.3 minute headways. Don’t know how it works, and don’t know the increased risk.

    Steve: The 8.3 minute headway is an average, not a fixed value. It is 7 trains/hour composed of a 15 minute Lincolnville service and a 20 minute Unionville short turn. In practice this cannot be operated exactly as described because it would result in some trains operating very close together. If this were a mix of local and express trains, this might be workable with careful operational planning, but all trains are going to run local.

    My gut feeling is that Metrolinx is still making up some of this as they go along to avoid pricking the SmartTrack balloon or saying “oops, it won’t work”.


  23. “Metrolinx has confirmed that the Barrie corridor trains will operate through to Union Station, not terminate at Spadina/Bathurst Station.”

    That seems to have been a very recent change. The Wednesday SmartTrack meeting proudly displayed the layout of the proposed Spadina/Bathurst Station. One consultant present said it would help serve new development near Front & Spadina. Meanwhile, I could picture several hundred people from a Barrie Line train walking 15 minutes towards Union Station.

    Steve: Quite bluntly, I think that Metrolinx has yet to really think through the implications, but does not want to piss people off with the idea of a forced march from Spadina eastward. If I were feeling really unkind, I would suggest that until the Minister decides what their policy is, they don’t have one.


  24. I still think it’s questionable whether SmartTrack will be built at all. The mayor has repeatedly shown himself to be unable to make tough decisions or to find funding for big projects. Toronto is booming right now, so the the city’s budget should be flush enough to fill up rainy day funds and to complete repair backlogs. Instead, the budget struggles to stay balanced, and one-time development charges are being diverted away from infrastructure and into keeping taxes low for suburban house dwellers. As soon as the next recession hits, all big projects will be cancelled because the budget will be in such bad shape, so it’s mostly a question of whether the mayor can get any projects off the ground before the next recession. I just don’t see it happening.

    Instead of trying to find a revenue source of his own, the mayor seems to have focused entirely on trying to get some other level of government to pay for the city’s infrastructure. But it seems like the federal government is realizing that it’s tapped out, and is trying to find new revenue just to brings its own budget into balance. Wynne definitely won’t fund SmartTrack beyond her own commitment to RER, and she crushed the mayor’s plan to get the rest of the GTA to fund Toronto infrastructure through toll roads. I get the strange vibe that John Tory is using his podium as mayor to help get the provincial conservatives elected in the hope that they’ll throw some goodies back at Toronto, but I haven’t heard of any interesting funding promises from the conservatives.

    Honestly, unless the mayor suddenly becomes a different person after the next election, I think he’ll turn out to be an ineffectual dud on the transit file. I now look at SmartTrack plans the same way that I look at Rail Deck Park plans: just wishful thinking.


  25. Thanks for all of this Steve. One sure has a strong feeling that it’s all meant to help outer-suburban riders/people/interests far more than urban riders, and just as the core is out-voted by the old suburbs, so is the new “City” outvoted by the outer suburbs, so that’s what we are getting – transit to help the outer ‘burbs, and at what cost to the core? (A: lot$). So it’s not OK that we can’t manage to think of something in a surface Relief line from Dundas St. W. to Main, and even the Lansdowne to Main via Union would be something.

    The more far-flung riders may become less receptive to plans however, when the realities of the dilution of regional service to local starts to hit with crowded trains and delays. Maybe we need some form of sub-regional even express service within the City, from the TTC, but that’s a new idea/service and less-easy to provide at times, especially in the needed new corridors. We have to explore different options and go beyond all tracks coming to Union, and it has to be surface-oriented for both cost and the relative speed of doing, if we could trust the ‘plans’ and the ‘planners’.


  26. Malcolm N says, “No this never had a snowballs chance in hell, of providing meaningful relief for the Yonge subway.”

    You know that the current modeling for the DRL has an exceedingly negative net present value, so much so that even facetious proposals that are in many respects ludicrous would have almost an equivalent total value.

    I however sympathise with and respect your position on the matter, and would say that the best way to justify the DRL is not simply relief but to lower the cost of doing business through developing economies of scale. There are substantial synergies between GO RER/Smartrack and a future downtown subway. The first provides the core with access to a vast underutilized talent pool coming from across the GTA, and the second allows for massive scale. If you are able to reduce cost structures associated with business and improve access to talent in such a way as to be able to justify private investment to build a Canadian version of Canary Wharf (10-15 million square feet of office and retail) then you will easily be able to get the funding for a down town subway.

    If you truly want the DRL the policies around it must be diligently designed, otherwise it will forever have the same fate as the snowball you mentioned.

    Steve: One big problem with NPV calculations is that they are done for one line at a time, not for the network. I have never seen a presentation that shows the all-in cost of NOT building the DRL in terms of heroic improvements needed on the YUS, assuming they are even feasible, and the cost (real and imputed values) of putting all our eggs in that one basket.

    If we can avoid a $1-billion rebuild of Bloor-Yonge Station, and can leave the YUS with a modicum of spare capacity, the network as a whole would operate better, and transit would be more attractive to riders. All of this has a value which has never been included as an offset to the capital cost of the DRL. That’s what happens when people want the figures to “prove” that a project won’t work, and for years that is exactly what the TTC did. Finally, Metrolinx and Queen’s Park realized that they could not build the Richmond Hill extension and fit all of the new riders onto even an upgraded YUS.

    Please don’t tell me about NPVs and Business Case Analyses. The whole process, for years, that I have seen coming out of Metrolinx and others is bankrupt, an exercise in “proving” whether transit is a good idea. but only when it suits the Minister’s or Mayor’s desire for a photo op or campaign slogan.


  27. NPVs are also subject to manipulation based on various assumptions, particularly the discount rate that is used. Manipulating the discount rate can provide wildly disparate answers, depending on what one wants to prove.

    Discount rates are “justified” based on arguable criteria, but there is a wide range of criteria that “makes sense. For example:

    Rolling 10 year inflation rate: – maybe 2 or 3%
    Rolling 50 year inflation rate (Transit lasts a long time): – maybe 8 or 10%
    Marginal Cost of Borrowing: What ever you say it is.
    Supposed return on an alternative use for the funds – anything at all up to really high rates depending on the “assumptions”.

    There are also assumptions about ridership projections, value of benefits from the project (if it saves the average rider 20 minutes is that worth 10 or 100 dollars?), future costs, operating costs and more.

    NPV appears to provide a simple number – positive good and negative bad. However it is not that scientific. It is highly entwined with the biases of the researcher.

    One thing I can say with some certainty. If the SSE is analysed and the NPV assumptions are set so that the answer is 1 – neutral – the DRL would be highly positive – maybe a 12 or 15. (My biases evident.)


  28. Steve says, ”If we can avoid a $1-billion rebuild of Bloor-Yonge Station, and can leave the YUS with a modicum of spare capacity, the network as a whole would operate better, and transit would be more attractive to riders.”

    Let us accept your premise and compare the DRL to another project that would accomplish the exact same criteria. The DRL will be called “good” and the product of “evidence based planning”. Now let us compare it to the most ridiculous “bad” project based on “political bias, gross incompetence, and a complete disregard for societies welfare”, this one will be called multi seat helicopter taxis.

    Both can be designed to shift the same number of people away from the Bloor-Yonge station, let us ignore the fact that the helicopter taxi is faster and will provide a superior point to point service that would be preferred by most users, let us only focus on basic costs. If you use the 30 year bond rate attributed to the city of Toronto credit rating and discount the associated cash flows for each project to the present period you will find that the “good” project and the “bad” project are almost equivalent.

    Does this mean that the DRL is necessarily bad the simple answer is no. What it means is that the criteria and the methodologies used to evaluate the projects are incomplete. A DRL solely based on relief will never see the light of day, it is in no way cost competitive. If you actually care about the project you must expand the way you think about it to include economic competitiveness and population growth.

    Steve: I presented a variation on this type of “estimating” some years ago when I used the published cost/seat for Swan Boats plus the cost/km of building a second Panama Canal to demonstrate that Swan Boats were vastly superior (at least on capital costs) to any rapid transit technology on offer in Toronto. Far too many politicians and “professionals” get away with this sort of thing every day.


  29. If a magic genie were to appear and grant us one transit wish, what would it be? Poof, all built & ready to run! I would ask for the DRL. To Eglinton, at least.

    Alas, I have never heard of a politician think in 30-year timelines, it’s more like a chicken in every pot, today.

    Alas, the average voter goes along with it, who is going to put a chicken in my pot today, not next year?

    I know that members of this blog community are not your average citizens. We are better informed & knowledgeable.

    Yet, we hope that those in decision-making power make the most logical choices.

    If the Wynne Liberals expect my vote in the next Ontario election, they had better smarten up regarding transit and the bear hunt. Cancel funding for the SSE and “Smart” Track, fund DRL instead. It did not look good for them pushing for the Kirby and Lawrence East GO stations. I am sure that Patrick Brown will kill the SSE if he becomes premier.

    Steve: I’m not sure Brown would have to deliver the coup de grâce to the SSE. All he needs to do is say “there’s no more money beyond the original commitment” and let the City wallow in trying to fund the inevitable cost increase itself. That’s why the Sheppard subway ends at Don Mills. Mike Harris turned off the taps.


  30. I have watched air ambulances land at downtown hospitals. It’s a slow process, very noisy, and kicks up a surprising amount of dust. The idea that point-to-point helicopters are even feasible as replacements for infrequent bus routes, let alone heavy transit, is laughable. Unless your NPV is based on hilarity.

    Steve: The helicopters were proposed as a joke to illustrate the folly embedded in the “analysis” conducted regarding transit proposals. Swan Boats, on the other hand, are deadly serious and should not be mocked. You might hurt their feelings.


  31. Steve said: “One big problem with NPV calculations is that they are done for one line at a time, not for the network. I have never seen a presentation that shows the all-in cost of NOT building the DRL in terms of heroic improvements needed on the YUS, assuming they are even feasible, and the cost (real and imputed values) of putting all our eggs in that one basket.”

    Yes, and the value of a network is heavily dependent on its connectivity. One that is connected in a way as to provide connections between additional nodes has a greater chance of creating real value, to the rest of the network, whether that be diverting traffic, or creating additional points of real value in the network. I am of the opinion that one of the core failures with regards to the notion of satellite development centers, and why they did not flourish as expected, is that they were not at a node of rapid transit, but at the outer ends. The reality is bus routes seem transitory, not an anchor for billion dollar investments. The DRL to Sheppard, with a significant point of intersection between the Crosstown would likely provide real interest to the Don Mills and Eglinton area. This would be even more so, if there was an LRT east on Sheppard.


  32. Peter Strazdins says, “If the Wynne Liberals expect my vote in the next Ontario election, they had better smarten up regarding transit and the bear hunt. Cancel funding for the SSE and “Smart” Track, fund DRL instead.”

    Although I believe the proposals for Smartrack and GO RER can be improved, the existing proposals do in fact target the very pressing need for equality of opportunity and the already very concerning levels of socio-economic polarization within the city. These plans target the need to reorient economic growth toward areas the region has competitive advantage in (most of which need a strong centralized business district.

    I strongly disagree with your premise that the DRL and Smartrack/GO RER are mutually exclusive. To see the problem as only one of relief is to see only a very small part of the real issue. The DRL can be designed to provide substantial economic growth that can actually make the project profitable, and Smartrack/ GO RER will ensure that all people across the region can share in the wealth it creates. If you actually believe in the value of the DRL you absolutely must take a broader more complete account of its potential value and design public policy in a way that captures it full potential.


  33. These open houses are a waste of time just like similar ones TTC puts on. They only tell you what they intend doing, they never take any suggestions seriously. I no longer go to any of them.

    Last year for the first time I made an effort to go to some of the open houses for the combined SmartTrack/SSE/DRL/Waterfront/Eglinton/swan boat projects and sadly I have reached similar conclusions. The project people clearly have their picks in mind and develop the studies to point at them.


  34. I would like to comment on the negative remarks toward the open houses.

    I am not going say they make a significant contribution to improved transit. I will say this is the only time you meet Metrolinx staff and the only opportunity Metrolinx staff ever look outside their fortress. When I go to these meetings, Metrolinx staff go out of their way to avoid me because I tell them exactly what I post here, and they don’t like to hear it.

    Secondly, there is the odd politician who attends. If you stand up and advocate something and the audience applauds, it catches their feeble attention. Most importantly, there are faulty notions posted on this blog from people who have never attended a session and do not care to be properly informed.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s