In two previous articles I review new station plans for the Weston and Stouffville corridors that are part of the SmartTrack scheme. This article turns to stations on the Lakeshore East corridor at Gerrard/Carlaw and at East Harbour.
At a public meeting on March 21, 2018, there was a large crowd who raised many of the same issues from residents along other parts of the corridor.
Cost: Capital, Operating and Future Fare Integration
Metrolinx’ recent report on new stations included a capital cost estimate of $1.195 billion for the construction of six SmartTrack stations. A report on the overall financing of SmartTrack, which also includes the proposed Eglinton West LRT extension, is expected to be on the April 2018 Executive Committee agenda.
However, there is no information yet on an operating agreement for SmartTrack service or for the cost to Toronto of “fare integration” between the TTC and GO/SmartTrack services. Metrolinx representatives tend to be evasive when pressed on these issues for the simple reason that they don’t have any answers. If there are concrete proposals on the table between Metrolinx and the City, there has been no indication of any details. This is likely to be a very delicate matter heading into an election at both levels of government and a possible change in provincial transit policies.
If fare integration requires additional subsidies, this will probably be substantially at Toronto’s cost, and could represent a diversion of transit operating dollars from other needed improvements to the wider TTC system. There is also the question of whether integrated pricing will eventually extend to all GO services within Toronto, and the potential for cost increases if the amount of service is expanded from planned GO/RER levels to the claims made for SmartTrack at recent public meetings.
The current peak service levels planned for parts of the corridor, as described on the Metrolinx website are:
- Weston corridor: Four trains/hour between Bramalea and Union overlaid by four trains/hour to Mount Pleasant of which two/hour in the peak direction would extend to Kitchener. The Bramlea trains would provide the “local” service stopping at the new SmartTrack stations.
- Stouffville corridor: Four trains/hour between Unionville and Union overlaid by three trains/hour to Lincolnville in the peak direction. The Unionville trains would provide the “local” service.
- Lakeshore East corridor: Four trains/hour between Oshawa and Union.
If express trains on either corridor, including the Oshawa service, stop at any of the new stations, this would be at East Harbour given the projected demand.
The original service design proposed in June 2016 was for all trains to run local, but Metrolinx has revised this to a mix of local and express trains. The claim of 6-10 trains/hour (corresponding to headways of 10 to 6 minutes) at SmartTrack stations which has been made at all three of the public meeting simply does not line up with current Metrolinx plans. It is misleading to claim that SmartTrack will in any way be “subway like” at this service level except at the express stations, which do not even include all of the existing GO stations.
Metrolinx has talked of trying to increase the local service, but the infrastructure has not been designed for this. Moreover, it is unclear who would pay the cost of more local “SmartTrack” service and the added infrastructure this could require.
Noise and Pollution
A major issue for residents along the Lakeshore corridor west from Scarborough Junction is the potential for noise and pollution as the level of GO service increases. Metrolinx is less than honest in its discussion of this issue because the context of the new station studies takes a narrow view of the station effects, not of the wider issue of the accumulating increase in all types of service.
At the currently planned service levels, there will be the following trains on the Lakeshore corridor from East Harbour to Scarborough Junction:
- Four trains/hour each way on the Oshawa service
- An unspecified number of extra “express” trains in the peak direction to/from Oshwas
- Four trains/hour each way on the Unionville service
- Three trains/hour in the peak direction to/from Lincolnville
- VIA service including possible future upgrades to train frequency
This gives in the range of 20 trains/hour in total, or one every three minutes. Some of these will eventually be electrified, but not necessarily all of them, and in any event Metrolinx is likely to improve service from existing levels before the electrification is in place. (There is also the possibility that a new regime at Queen’s Park will derail the electrification project.)
If SmartTrack service were provided every 6 minutes (10 trains/hour), and assuming that this would be achieved in part by having the “express” trains stop at SmartTrack stations, this would add a further three trains/hour each way. It is quite conceivable that the corridor could see combined service with a train passing every two minutes on average, and two trains passing at the same time is a likely event.
Any noise studies must take into account the cumulative effect of all services, their stopping patterns, the possible mix of propulsion technologies including a worst case all-diesel configuration, and the effect if service is improved beyond the planned levels to achieve the claimed SmartTrack frequency.
Metrolinx and the City owe us all a thorough, public discussion of service and technology plans, and the implications for the neighbourhoods through which GO/RER/SmartTrack will operate.