After leaks to the Star and the Globe, and a private release to the City of Toronto, Metrolinx made public its Initial Business Case for the Ontario Line, Queen Park’s proposed alternative to the Downtown Relief Line.
The entire document reads as if it were drenched in perfume with a rosy comparison of a modern, inexpensive Ontario Line to an expensive DRL complete with outmoded technology. It is as much a sales manual for the Metrolinx proposal as it is an apples-to-apples comparison. Indeed, the DRL comparator is doomed to look worse simply because it is the shorter version of the line. The intent is to convince the reader that no reasonable person would support any other scheme.
The chart below is one of many that inevitably shows the OL as superior for the simple reason that it covers more ground. The question is whether it can all be built for the price quoted and in the projected timeframe. There may be arguments for parts of the OL compared to the DRL, but the Metrolinx comparison goes out of its way to denigrate the DRL wherever possible and in the process reveals some short-sighted “planning” that is more a question of scoring political points than of giving a technical comparison.
Any new rapid transit line, regardless of technology, cannot help but succeed in the DRL/OL corridor given the density of population and jobs along its length. Contrary to the long-established Toronto practice of building rapid transit where politicians and their developer friends hope to spur local centres away from downtown, the DRL/OL corridor is packed with potential demand already. Even more demand will come from provision of an alternate route into the core from the existing crowded subway network.
Travel times from Thorncliffe Park and neighbouring areas to the core are substantially improved by a new line, no surprise at all.
Planning for downtown growth is years behind what is actually happening.
Population and Employment growth in Downtown Toronto has accelerated, and has already exceeded 2031 forecasts. Population growth is also very high in the Downtown; however population density itself is more diffused, with pockets generally along existing subway lines as well as in neighbourhoods with lower average household incomes. [p. 19]
At this point, the OL cost estimate is very preliminary because there is no detailed design for the line. From experience with other Toronto projects, we know that there is a very wide margin for error in cost estimates. Metrolinx flags several potential issues along their route, but gives no indication of how these might affect the design, the cost or the potential construction period. It is simply not practical or reasonable to give a “business case” or a “cost benefit ratio” when there is such a huge potential variation in the estimate.
Moreover, Metrolinx gives a discount to the Ontario line on the dubious pretext that with risk transfer to a private sector partner, the costs incurred will be lower. This depends on a very well-written and managed contract, as well as an owner (the province) willing to hold a loaded gun to the builder’s head if they don’t deliver. The 3P (a purpose created coalition) always has the option of going bankrupt, or asking for an enticement as happened to get the Crosstown project back “on time”.
On Thursday, Verster gave his clearest acknowledgement yet that it’s possible that date could end up out of reach.
“(The deadline of) 2027 is hugely ambitious,” said Verster, but “this is the time for us to be ambitious.” He asserted that by building much of the line above ground, it can be completed quickly.
But, said Verster, that when Metrolinx starts the procurement process next year, if the bidding companies say “it can’t be done in 2027,” his agency “will declare that immediately.”
That’s all very well, but delivering the full OL two years before the proposed completion of only the DRL South segment from Pape to Osgoode Station is a big selling point, along with the lower pricetag. Get double the line at only a modest extra cost, and get it faster. Who would choose anything else?
Does SmartTrack Still Exist?
There was a time when mayoral candidate John Tory conned Torontonians with the lure of SmartTrack, a service that would exploit spare capacity in the GO network to provide a “surface subway” carrying hundreds of thousands of passengers daily with frequent service at TTC fares. Over the years, SmartTrack has dwindled to a handful of new GO stations where current Metrolinx plans will provide trains every 15 minutes, a far cry from what was sold to voters. Frequency is critical in making a service attractive especially if actually using it requires riders to travel out of their way to reach stations.
At one point, Tory claimed that SmartTrack would make the Relief Line unnecessary. The rising crisis in subway capacity forced him to acknowledge that both the RL and some form of ST would be useful with each serving a different market.
The IBC for the Ontario Line does not mention SmartTrack by name, and the ST station at Gerrard appears to have fallen off of the map. The remaining potential ST stops are labelled as “proposed” GO rail stations.
Metrolinx cannot make up its mind whether it is a regional or a local carrier. A common political problem is the assumption that there is extra capacity for moving passengers within the City of Toronto when an attempt to achieve this could work against regional goals. Fare policies originally discouraged short haul trips, but then were changed to make them more attractive both on GO itself and for GO+TTC travel. Recently, however, the long-term availability of provincial subsidy for this policy is in doubt, and GO expects municipalities, already suffering from funding cuts, to make up the difference.
The IBC is quite clear about GO Transit’s role, at least from the point of view of its authors.
Metrolinx is now investing more than $20 billion in the GO Expansion program to expand the rail system, with faster and more frequent trains and the capacity to carry three times as many passengers by 2041. GO Rail will continue to serve primarily longer-distance trips, and is being developed in existing corridors with all trains running to or from Union Station. However, the GO Rail system does not serve all parts of Toronto, nor does it serve many shorter distance trips. [p. 14]
A final irony lies in the shared parentage of both the Ontario Line and SmartTrack by a consultant who once worked for the Tory campaign and now enjoys a senior role at Metrolinx.
Metrolinx routinely dismisses the TTC subway as yesterday’s technology by reference to the use of large, manually driven trains and the TTC’s “bespoke” track gauge.
In fact, plans for the DRL included full automation with stations using platform edge doors, and the only real question would be whether there would still be a one-person crew on board.The IBC acknowledges that with headways in the 90 to 120 second range, the DRL would be capable of 33-44K/hour capacity, easily covering the future demand projection for this route. The capacity range cited for the alternative technology is 29.3-34K per hour.
As for the gauge, that is a legacy of a decision in the 1940s to build the subway to the same gauge as the streetcar system (4′ 10 7/8″ or 1495 mm) as against standard gauge (4′ 8 1/2″ or 1435 mm). Contrary to Metrolinx claims, this does not impose a pricing penalty on equipment especially when large numbers of vehicles are procured in a batch. However, it does give them a talking point with which to bash TTC plans for those who don’t know any better.
The IBC makes an outrageous claim for standard gauge equipment:
Generic standard gauge technology, which enables competitive procurement and protects for possible future extensions onto GO rail tracks. [p. 31]
The rolling stock that would be procured for the OL cannot interoperate with mainline rail services for a variety of reasons including crashworthiness, station design (platform height and location), and the simple fact that a frequent “metro” operation would leave no room for other trains. Statements like this show that the Metrolinx authors do not understand their technology and are willing to say anything to hype their proposal. This needlessly undermines their credibility.
Bombardier is churning out TTC gauge cars for the “legacy” streetcar system and standard gauge versions of the same vehicle for Metrolinx and Kitchener-Waterloo’s ION line. The challenge for the TTC streetcars has more to do with steep grades and tight curves than with the gauge of the track. These constraints do not apply to the subway system.
[Corrected] Historically, Toronto’s streetcar system was built to a broader gauge to allow wagons to use the groove in horsecar rails when navigating muddy streets. This was a condition of the original Toronto Street Railway Company’s franchise in 1861.
The franchise also required the TSR to provide sleighs in the event that snow made horsecar operation impossible. It is unclear what approach the Ontario Line will take.
There are arguments to be made for building part of any new line at or above grade, but this option simply was not on the table in a political environment where only “subways” were acceptable for transit proposals. Moreover, any scheme to build within the GO corridor would be routinely met with “GO away” from Metrolinx who wished to preserve any available space for their regional operations.
Clearly, the rules have changed.
The Ontario Line’s alignment has evolved since the original announcement, and even now it has not really been pinned down.
It is the “representative alignment,” for purposes of this Initial Business Case. The alignment will evolve throughout design development and procurement, as more information is known about geotechnical conditions, built and natural environmental impacts, potential development integration, and other factors. [p. 30]
In other words, the design cannot possibly have progressed to a detail level because factors not yet explored could change what is now only a doodle on a map subject to refinement.
Contrary to original claims that the OL would share much of the DRL’s alignment, and hence the design work already done on this, only two segments of the OL duplicate the DRL: On Pape from Danforth south to the rail corridor at Gerrard, and on Queen from east of Sherbourne to Osgoode Station. The rest of the OL is on a completely new alignment for which no preliminary engineering work has been done.
Three portions of the line would run at grade or on elevated structures:
- At Exhibition Station east to about Strachan Avenue.
- From east of Cherry Street parallel to the rail corridor northeast to Gerrard.
- From the south side of the Don Valley at the north end of Pape across to Overlea Boulevard, and thence east and north to Don Mills and Eglinton.
The section along the rail corridor presents a number of problems that Metrolinx has not addressed including:
- The availability of space in the corridor for four GO Transit tracks plus two OL tracks, not to mention space for station platforms and access/circulation structures.
- The lateral separation requirements between main line railway operations in the GO corridor and the light metro technology proposed for the OL.
- The space required for electrification structures for the GO operations (support towers, overhead catenary).
- The space required for SmartTrack stations platforms.
- The implications of the OL tracks bracketing the GO corridor rather than running along the north/west side of it to provide “across the platform” transfer capability at East Harbour Station.
The northeastern part of the OL would be an elevated structure on Overlea Boulevard and on Don Mills Road. This may run into less opposition for the visual intrusion by the structure than in the Riverdale segment because much of the area is not built up close to the road. Only at stations would there be a substantial presence over the street for platforms and access structures. Actual neighbourhood reaction must await detailed design proposals which are notably lacking in the IBC.
The corridor through Riverdale is tight and Gerrard Station has many potential problems. Here is the Google Maps view of the area.
Clearly visible on the bridges crossing Gerrard and Carlaw is a provision for a fourth track that GO plans to add to the corridor. This is required to give a pair of tracks to the Lakeshore East service, and a pair to the Stouffville service.
The OL would emerge somewhere in what is now a shopping centre to come from a tunnel under Pape and turn southwest in the corridor. The simplest station location would be on the north/west side of the GO tracks because this would avoid the need to rise up enough to get over them. However, as we will see later, Metrolinx proposes that the OL tracks straddle the GO tracks and this means that at least the eastbound/northbound OL track must go over or under the rail corridor.
A particular problem here is the proposed SmartTrack station whose platforms would be adjacent to the outer two tracks of the GO corridor. Space for these as well as access paths and structures must be included in considering the total right-of-way needs. If the Gerrard ST station has actually be abandoned from GO plans, this should be stated explicitly. It never made much sense with a DRL/OL station at the same location, and a joint station nearby at East Harbour.
Logan Avenue and Dundas Street Crossings
As at Gerrard/Carlaw, there is clear provision for a fourth track on the existing bridges that would be build along the south/east side of the corridor. No station is planned here, and so the OL needs to fit in two more tracks whose location would depend on whether the line will straddle the GO corridor or lie on one side.
Queen Street is the proposed location of a “Leslieville” station, even though that term actually applies to an area further east. There will not be a SmartTrack station here, but any OL station must fit around the existing structure and its complexity depends on whether it straddles the GO tracks or lies to one side. The “straddle” layout doubles the number of vertical access elements required (escalators, elevators, stairs) because a single platform cannot be shared between the two directions.
Historical note: The rail corridor was originally at a lower elevation than it is today, and it crossed Queen Street at grade. Riverdale Station, closed in 1926, served this location roughly on the northeast corner of Queen and DeGrassi Streets. The corridor was rebuilt onto a long berm to grade separate it and that is the configuration we see today. Here is a “before” view looking north at Queen.
East Harbour Station
One of the big selling points for the OL is the relative simplicity of East Harbour Station. Rather than having a deep station under Eastern Avenue, the OL would operate at the same elevation as the GO/SmartTrack service with across-the-platform transfers to the outer two GO tracks. These will likely host the Stouffville service, although the ability to do this depends on a more complex junction at Scarborough than now exists to allow eastbound Stouffville trains to dip under the main Lakeshore corridor and turn north.
Here is a diagram Metrolinx uses to show the East Harbour arrangement.
This diagram is somewhat misleading as quite obviously there will have to be a circulation mezzanine below the tracks to provide access between all of them. East Harbour will be a GO Station where all trains should stop because of the importance of planned development here. Therefore the direct inbound transfer from GO to OL would only be available to riders on the Stouffville Line, not those on the Lakeshore. The situation is similar outbound.
West of East Harbour Station, the OL would have to fly over the GO Lakeshore corridor (eastbound OL track only) and the Richmond Hill corridor (both OL tracks) to reach the transition point west of the Don River for descent into the downtown tunnel. This would occur just east of Distillery Loop on land that is now earmarked for development and a new school. The IBC says that the line would rise “within the rail corridor, but it is unclear just where the vacant land for this exists.
Metrolinx appears to make their proposal needlessly complex by having the OL straddle the GO corridor, and it will be interesting to see if this scheme is dropped in future updates, possibly a victim of “value engineering”.
Crossing the Don at Leaside
The proposed bridge across the Don north of O’Connor would lie west of the existing Leaside Bridge which links Pape and Donlands to Millwood and Overlea.
The OL would come straight up Pape Avenue, but rather than veering over to the existing bridge alignment, it would continue straight north under Minton Place and pop out the hillside onto a new bridge. This would be a long structure across the DVP and the Don River bringing the line to the Millwood/Overlea intersection and the start of the elevated structure through Thorncliffe Park.
An historical note: In various discussions of surface routes such as a “Don Mills LRT”, people have asked about using the Leaside Bridge. When it was built, it included extra steel to carry a proposed streetcar line that would have linked the Leaside industrial area to the main system via Pape Avenue. This was never built thanks to the Depression in the 30s. The extra strength in the bridge was used to allow widening from four to six lanes with the new structure cantilevered out from the original. Designers of the Don Mills LRT concluded that there was precious little strength remaining to support an LRT track structure and vehicles.
Here is a photo from the Toronto Archives showing the bridge when it was new in 1928. The eagle-eyed will recognize the light poles as TTC-style with their characteristic top caps.
Thorncliffe & Flemingdon Parks
The route through Thorncliffe Park would use the existing median on Overlea Boulevard for the elevated support structure, except at Thorncliffe Park Station where platforms and access structures will require additional real estate at grade. The turn north onto Don Mills would begin somewhere west of the Overlea/Don Mills intesection to avoid the existing school buildings.
An important point about this is to note just how big the residential area south of Overlea Boulevard is and, indeed, all of Thorncliffe Park. A rapid transit station here will be a huge improvement, but not everyone will be within a short walking distance and a local bus feeder service will be essential.
The run north on Don Mills to Eglinton would likely be in the middle of the road, and an interchange station to the Crosstown line, its bus terminal on the northeast corner, and links to planned development.
The IBC speaks of an alternative alignment, but this receives scant attention
An alternative route would follow the CP Rail corridor and then run along the south side of Eglinton Avenue and would serve the Flemingdon Park neighbourhood through the station at Ontario Science Centre/Eglinton Avenue. [p. 30]
If the line runs north to Eglinton from Thorncliffe Park, it will have to co-exist with the Crosstown’s structures which are already in place. Moreover, this would leave the Ontario line facing east at Don Mills rather than northward, the logical direction for an extension.
As at East Harbour, Metrolinx makes claims for “across the platform” transfers at Exhibition. This is simply not possible between all of the tracks and services at this location, and a circulation mezzanine under the tracks is the most likely way people will access the many platforms. The area will include four GO tracks, the OL tracks and the TTC streetcar tracks (with a planned extension to at least Dufferin). It is quite clear that transfer to/from all services on the level is impractical
Indeed, even knowing if this were feasible would require a level of detailed design well beyond what Metrolinx has presented, or likely has even started beyond the back-of-a-napkin stage. This type of subtle error in the document throws the overall planning into question.
One good aspect of the design is that there has been no attempt to gerrymander the route to directly serve Ontario Place. There are many venues at Exhibition Place, some closer to the rail corridor than others.
The Ontario Place/Exhibition Station is located at a reasonable distance from large event venues, BMO Field (31,000 capacity), Budweiser Stage (16,000 capacity) and Coca-Cola Coliseum (7,800 capacity) as well as conference and trade show centres, including the Enercare Centre and Beanfield Centre. Sports, entertainment and trade shows attract nearly six million visitors a year to the area. Good practice is to locate rail stations some distance from large event venues, to enable crowd-management and mitigating unsafe crowding on platforms. [p. 33]
Calling the station “Ontario Place” may serve the provincial ego, and it would continue a practice of naming stations for something that is not particularly nearby (e.g. “Pioneer Village” station).
In any event, some type of people mover will be needed to circulate passengers south from Exhibition Station if Ontario Place and any developments there are to be truly accessible year-round, including periods when the Exhibition grounds are impassible. Who will be willing to build and operate it, almost certainly at a loss, is a separate issue.
The Ontario Line’s bridges over the Don Valley at Eastern Avenue, Millwood Road and Overlea Boulevard, as well as the elevated viaduct sections through the proposed East Harbour, Thorncliffe Park and Flemingdon Park present a greater potential for disruption to the natural environment and communities. Piers are required to support the bridge structures which will result in the permanent displacement of natural features. Additionally, elevated guideways expose the trains to the open air, increasing potential for additional noise and vibration impacts for residents and other sensitive receptors (film studios, hospitals, concert halls, etc.) due to frequent train passage. Yet, the elevated/at-grade sections would represent between six and seven kilometres out of the total alignment (under half).
South of the Millwood Bridge crossing, elevated/surface tracks are proposed to be located within the existing GO Rail corridor, expanding it rather than requiring the building of brand new infrastructure. Along Millwood Road, as well as sections of Overlea Boulevard and Don Mills Avenue, preserving the natural environment whilst building a bridge over the Don Valley and an elevated guideway will prove more challenging. [pp. 60-61]
Actually, the portion to run along the GO corridor is not “south of the Millwood Bridge” but rather southwest of Gerrard Station.
Metrolinx makes virtue of its route because it would not use the Broadview/Eastern DRL station as a Tunnel Boring Machine launch site.
The proposed worksite for all tunnel boring launches [for the DRL] are at the East Harbour site, in land vulnerable to flooding and potentially contaminated.
The proposed tunnel boring machine extraction shafts downtown and near Pape Station are located in tight urban areas and may provide a number of challenges, which may result in the need to abandon components of the TBMs below grade. [p 84]
Instead, a site near Exhibition Station would be used, although it is not clear that there is actually room for such a facility between the GO corridor, the TTC and other nearby structures and utilities. In any event, the implication is that a bore would drive east and north from Exhibition, across downtown, south to the rail corridor at Parliament emerging east of Cherry Street.
The Exhibition Place site provides space for tunnel construction, potentially using rail access to limit road haulage of excavated material, tunnel liners and rails. This can reduce costs and impacts while actually speeding construction of the line. [p. 33]
This claim requires detailed study to determine if this actually is a viable launch site.
At a rough estimate, this tunnel would be about 6km long. By comparison, the Eglinton Crosstown tunnel from Black Creek to Brentcliffe is about 10km long, although it was bored in segments with the portion east of Yonge having its own launch site and TBMs. The western segment from Black Creek to Yonge took about 2.5 years. The project included two crossings of existing subway lines where the structure is not yet completed. In theory, the bore from Exhibition to Cherry should be possible in a comparable time, but this will require ideal conditions along the route (the Eglinton project made better time than originally expected). There has been no discussion in either the DRL or OL plans of how the TBM(s) would pass under the subway at Osgoode and Queen Stations.
A separate tunnel drive would be needed between Gerrard and the Don Valley in Leaside, but the report is silent on the direction that would be taken or where the TBM launch site would be located. The Gerrard end would require demolition of some of the existing commercial buildings adjacent to the rail corridor. The northern end would require demolition of houses near the valley.
Where impacts to the natural and built environment are concerned, a tunneled alignment, such as that proposed by Relief Line South, avoids major impacts to communities, fauna and flora. However, because of the type of soil, tunnelling under the Don Valley along Eastern Avenue would likely require some form of ground treatment to be undertaken, as described in the Relief Line South Environmental Project Report. Additionally, fire regulations require emergency egress in the form of emergency exit buildings at prescribed intervals along underground guideways, which increases the temporary and permanent footprint of a tunneled alignment. [p. 60]
Emergency exit buildings will be required on the Ontario Line’s underground segments just as on the DRL. This is a generic requirement for any rapid transit tunnel. The difference between the two schemes lies in the amount of at and above grade construction on the OL.
The IBC project schedule refers to station boxes, and also describes stations as conventional three-layer structures with a platform, mezzanine and street level. Although the elevated route through East Harbour simplifies that station, many other stations would be underground at a considerable depth to clear existing utilities and structures. For a conventional station box, this implies the same sort of upheaval along the route as we have seen on Eglinton. Station platforms on that line are 97m long comparable to the planned 100m for the OL.
Completely absent from the IBC is any discussion of running trains in a single tunnel with stacked tracks and stations substantially inside the tunnel itself. This type of design would eliminate the need for a deep dig down to the entire station as opposed vertical shafts at either end of the platform.
Three alternatives were evaluated in the IBC that drop single stations from the design. In the first, the station at Flemingdon Park is dropped allowing for an alternative alignment from Thorncliffe Park to Eglinton by way of the proposed Maintenance Facility site. In the other two, Cosburn or Corktown Stations are omitted.
The stations were retained to maximize the number of potential riders within walking distance. Even so, bus feeders will be essential to the line just as they are to the existing subway network.
A train Maintenance and Storage Facility is assumed to be located alongside the CP Rail corridor, in the area of Wicksteed Avenue and Beth Nealson Drive. If the line is routed via Flemingdon Park, a connecting track would be required to the line at Overlea Boulevard. [p. 30]
The IBC claims that the DRL proposal included links to Greenwood Yard both via a “wye” junction at Danforth and via a separate direct tunnel connection. The latter claim is something of a mystery because it would have run from Gerrard Station under the GO corridor east to the yard, but this scheme never made it into the final version of the DRL plans.
As long as the TTC persists with its plan to rebuild the existing T1 fleet on Line 2, Greenwood will continue to be the home for that fleet. However, any new fleet would trigger the need for another yard on two counts. First, the new fleet is almost certain to be six-car trainsets like the TRs on Line 1, and these will not fit inside Greenwood Shops which was designed for married pairs of cars, not full length trains. Second, the new and old fleets will have to co-exist, at least in part, and there is no place to store a new batch of trains.
The TTC/City are already acquiring property near Kipling Station (the old Obico yard) for a new Line 2 maintenance facility. Originally this was intended to be built and open soon enough to free up Greenwood for DRL trains, but that entire scheme is on hold.
A major unknown is the question of trains for the Scarborough extension and the signalling system that will be used there. We could very well see the relatively antique technology of block signalling installed on a brand new subway because the TTC has dragged its feet on converting Line 2 to ATC, a change that would require a new fleet.
Effects on Subway Network Demand
The projected demand on the Yonge line at Bloor is projected to rise quite substantially by 2041. Today, the line is constrained by its signal system which limits headways to about 140 seconds and design capacity to about 28,000 passengers per hour. With the shift to Automatic Train Control in 2022, the TTC hopes to eventually reduce headways to 110 seconds and raise capacity to 36,000 per hour, although this will be challenging.
It is physically possible to stuff more riders into a subway train than the 1,100 TTC uses for service planning, but this cannot be sustained. If a train is loaded to crush capacity, station dwell times go up because passengers cannot easily enter and leave trains, and this translates to less throughput at major stations. Moreover, a higher capacity on the line will increase the demand on platform and circulation space at stations. Whether the 36k/hour number will actually be achieved remains to be seen.
This shows how critical the addition of new capacity is to bring riders into the core. Even with a line north to Don Mills and Eglinton, there will not be a lot of headroom on Line 1 by 2041.
The diversion of riders from Yonge to the OL will reduce transfer demand at Eglinton and at Bloor, but the volumes will still be above those seen today. Two important aspects of crowding at interchanges are completely absent from the studies:
- The effect on outbound demand in the PM peak on Line 2.
- The platform constraints at St. George.
With more frequent service on Line 1, passengers will be delivered in the PM peak to the Line 2 interchanges at a rate 27% greater than today, but there is no added capacity on Line 2 which is currently planned to stay with its existing fleet and signal system into the late 2030s.
There is a $1 billion project on the books to build a separate eastbound Line 2 platform at Yonge Station in much the same way as Union Station was rebuilt with separate platforms for the University and Yonge services. However, this will not add any capacity to the Bloor line, merely provide more space for waiting passengers.
At St. George, there are no plans to increase capacity, and this would be difficult because the station is hemmed in by buildings.
Moving to 36k/hour on Line 1 may deal with the demand crunch on the trains, but it will trigger problems for station and transfer capacity.
A vital note about the chart below: the reduction in crowding is relative to projected future demand with the “Business as Usual” scenario, not relative to current conditions.
Metrolinx makes the point that transfers between lines will be simpler with the Ontario Line that with the DRL alternative.
… key transfer stations provide an opportunity to further integrate the transit network. Where Relief Line South was designed with stations as deep as approximately 40 metres below ground, Ontario Line assumes some elevated guideways, especially at key transfer stations. Beyond reducing costs, building stations closer to the surface, under or above ground, reduces access and egress times to and from stations and makes transfers between transit modes more convenient. Travel demand modelling also looked at the overall impact of
deep stations compared to stations close to street-level (either elevated or underground) to test how passengers might be expected to respond to different station access times. The impact of longer access time was substantial, suggesting up to a 15% decrease in ridership when stations are very deep compared to stations located close to street level. [p. 55]
In fact, the underground portions of the OL will be at a depth governed by the need to stay below utilities and building foundations just as is the case with the DRL. In particular, there is no reason to expect the OL stations along Queen and at Danforth to be any shallower than their DRL equivalents. At Don Mills and Eglinton, the distance between an elevated OL and the Crosstown line could well be longer than if the OL passed under the Crosstown. The stations at Gerrard and at Queen (“Leslieville”) may have marginally better access times, although this depends on how they are fitted around the GO corridor.
To some degree there will be transfers from the downtown streetcar routes to the OL, but for many riders, changing modes will not represent a time saving given the relatively short distance between potential transfer points and the core, and the time penalty of changing routes to get a few stops’ worth of “rapid transit”. This will be particularly true if streetcar service quality can be maintained and improved through the core area.
Moreover, although the OL could absorb some ridership growth that would otherwise go to the streetcar routes, there are large areas served by the four major downtown lines that are far from proposed OL stations, and yet will likely see increased residential density and demand. Anyone who thinks that the OL (or the DRL) can replace the streetcar routes does not understand Toronto geography. If anything, the biggest constraints to streetcar ridership growth are the lack of a fleet large enough to handle demand and priority on city streets to move transit as effectively as possible.
Costs and Revenues
Fares and O&M Costs
For the demand modelling, the following fare structure was assumed:
2018 TTC-level fare at all GO stations within City of Toronto Boundaries
2018 Double-Discounted Fare GO/TTC
2018 TTC fare on all TTC routes (including the projects herein evaluated)
2018 Distance-Based GO fare structure, except within City of Toronto
2018 Ride To GO fare discount YRT/GO
This is not the fare structure supported by the current government at Queen’s Park. From other studies, notably on the SmartTrack and Scarborough Subway, we know that the assumed fare has a big effect on modelled demand. If the low fares assumed for GO and for GO+TTC trips do not materialize, this would affect the relative attractiveness of trips including a GO component.
Buried in the cost estimates are Net Present Values for both the marginal new fare revenue of the Ontario Line and its Operating & Maintenance costs. Even with all of the projected demand, the line does not break even on operations, and that includes a saving in surface route operations because the OL would replace frequent bus services from Flemingdon/Thorncliffe to Line 2.
The capital cost estimates are at this point very rough. When an agency does not even know exactly where its line will go, whether it will physically fit in parts of it proposed corridor, and what tradeoffs might be required between cost saving and feasibility, there are many factors that can affect the final number.
The table below does not include any provision from development at stations that might be subject to a “Transit Oriented Development” tithe. Metrolinx has yet to prove that TOD revenues could fund complex rapid transit stations, and of course the current attitude to any development taxes is that they should go down, not up. There is a big difference between selling surplus land on a rail corridor to an adjacent development and levying a charge on new builds to recoup the cost of a nearby station.
Broadly speaking, the Ontario Line is projected to cost about 50% more than the Relief Line South while delivering twice the length of new rapid transit. The roughly 10% discount assumed for P3 delivery is dubious, especially if the project is rushed, and therefore not specified in sufficient detail, to meet a political opening date rather than one that is technically and professionally responsible.
From a staging point of view, beginning the tunnel at the southwest end of the line while the maintenance yard will be at the northeast guarantees that a staged opening of the core section will be impossible. This presents the political problem that the city will endure all of the upheaval of construction on faith that the entire line will actually open when promised.
Important questions remain about the degree to which use of the GO corridor might compromise future GO plans for additional service and electrification. That has a value, but it is not included in the Ontario Line’s cost.
Overall, there are some ideas in the Ontario Line that are worth looking at in detail, but Metrolinx really needs to get beyond its love for condescending remarks about the existing TTC/City plans which were shaped by the political environment of their day, including the then-orthodoxy at Queen’s Park.
Phil Verster and his crew now must deliver, and there will be a strong incentive for Metrolinx to present the best possible face for the project. A good comparison has been the Scarborough Subway project which, regardless of one’s opinion on the scheme, suffered from low-balling the cost estimate practically from the day it was proposed. The degree to which accurate information about that line was hidden is now well-known. Metrolinx is an even more secretive organization than the City/TTC and there is little reason to expect that they will be forthcoming with information.
Whatever it is called, a Relief Line linking Don Mills to downtown is too important to be fouled up in posturing and secrecy.