New SmartTrack/GO Station Designs (II)

On March 6, 2018, the City of Toronto and Metrolinx hosted a meeting at Scarborough City Hall to present the two new SmartTrack stations proposed for the Stouffville corridor. This follows on from a meeting to present the west end stations, and the series will conclude on March 21 with a presentation of the downtown east side stations (East Harbour and Gerrard-Carlaw) at Queen Alexandra School.

The Scarborough meeting dealt with two stations: Finch-Kennedy and Lawrence-Kennedy.

The audience was not particularly supportive of the project. Complicating this situation was a group of presenters who seemed either not fully in command of information about the stations, or unwilling to engage in discussion, and a moderator who lost his credibility as an impartial actor. Some statements were, to put it charitably, badly misinformed on two key issues.

Service Levels

The viability of the Scarborough SmartTrack stations, especially the one at Lawrence which will replace the existing RT station, depends on service frequency. Past Metrolinx publications including the GO RER website claim that the line will see seven trains/hour of which four would run through to/from Lincolnville and three would run to/from Unionville. (For details, see my previous article A Few Questions For Metrolinx.) Originally, all trains were to stop at all stations, but Metrolinx has recently changed their service plan so that only the Unionville trains will run “local” and stop at the SmartTrack stations (among others). This fundamentally alters the attractiveness and usefulness of the service.

At the meeting, a Metrolinx representative claimed that the service plan was actually for seven local trains, not four, as well as the four express trains. This is the first time that service plan has been claimed for the corridor. Whether it is actually possible given the absence of passing tracks and the effective headway of under six minutes is quite another matter. An express train can only make up more than the time between two locals if it can overtake them. Metrolinx has not presented a track design that would allow this, and the corridor is constrained for additional tracks especially where GO must co-exist with the Scarborough RT. The whole point of the 4+3 service plan was to fit within the capabilities of planned GO RER infrastructure.


The attractiveness of a train in the GO corridor as part of the local transit system also depends on the fare that will be charged. Although Mayor Tory’s SmartTrack plan claims that free transfers would be available between the TTC and GO, information from Metrolinx varies with options including:

  • A flat fare structure as promised by Mayor Tory with free transfers.
  • A discount for GO+TTC usage similar to that now in place for riders who pay with single fares on Presto (not passholders).
  • Reduced GO fares within Toronto, but not necessarily to “TTC” levels.

It is irresponsible and misleading for anyone at a public meeting to say definitively what the fare structure will be. This has not yet been negotiated between Metrolinx and the City of Toronto, much less approved by the two bodies as to the cost sharing arrangements. Toronto is supposed to be on the hook for all “SmartTrack” costs, and a subsidized transfer fare would be on the City’s account.

A further problem is the question of how extensively a “Toronto” fare would apply on the GO network, whether it would be valid on the “express” trains running in the SmartTrack corridor, and whether it would be valid at all stations including existing GO stations like Agincourt and Bloor (Dundas West), let alone on other GO corridors like the Lakeshore East and West.

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A Few Questions For Metrolinx

The recent publication of updates to the New Stations review together with information at two public SmartTrack station meetings raises several questions about Metrolinx plans and their methodology in evaluation of the worth of new facilities.

In attempting to dig through the contradictions, I asked Metrolinx for the detailed background reports for their updated “business cases” for new stations, and was advised that there are no reports beyond the technical paper that is part of the board’s agenda for their March 8, 2018 meeting.

This is not a credible statement.

The evaluation of new stations depends heavily on the projected demand at each location. This demand depends on several factors:

  • The frequency and capacity of service provided at the station
  • The travel time to destinations for trips served by the station
  • The cost of a trip
  • Feeder services for riders including connecting transit routes and parking lots

Land use patterns around the station are also a factor, but they are secondary in two senses. First, demand projections are generally run against a fixed land use model while changing other factors such as service frequency and cost. Second, land use is not under the direct control of a transit agency while service and fare factors are, and they can have a much more immediate effect on demand.

The newly modelled demand for stations follows on from the Initial Business Cases (IBCs) of 2016:

The overall methodology and approach to modelling used in carrying out the business case analysis is consistent with the approach used in undertaking the 2016 IBC’s and has been independently peer-reviewed and validated. In particular, the current business case analysis measures and captures the same key benefits (e.g. new station users benefit from the station) and impacts (e.g. delays to upstream riders due to the station). The current business case analysis for new stations take advantage of updated input information, including GO rail service assumptions, land use, connecting rapid transit infrastructure, and a refined approach to ridership forecasting and modelling.

The economic and financial cases for each new station depend on forecasts of how travellers will respond to the presence of a new station. Stations can support increased system ridership by providing a new access opportunity that may be closer to household locations and employment, school, or other travel destinations. Individuals who use the new station benefit by saving time relative to their previous travel option – travelling farther to another GO station, or using a different transport mode such as subway, bus, or auto. Existing GO passengers that do not use the station, on the other hand, can be delayed if they travel on a train that now stops at the new station. Examining travel time savings, delays, and modal shifts is the focal point of the business case analysis. [p 7]

Metrolinx is all about “transparency”, and in that spirit here are several questions about their models and plans.

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