Metrolinx Board Meeting September 12, 2019

The Metrolinx Board met on September 12, 2019, but there was not much of substance on the public agenda. Presentations consisted as much of rehashing old news (including he oft-announced service improvements on GO Transit), but almost no substantive policy discussions.

Links here to the Agenda and Video for the meeting.

Ontario Line Initial Business Case (Video at 23:35)

This report was presented by a team of four from Metrolinx:

  • Mathieu Goetzke, Chief Planning Officer (Acting)
  • Malcolm Mackay, Project Sponsor for the Ontario Line, and until 13 days ago an engineer at TTC with 13 years experience, now transferred to Metrolinx. His previous major TTC projects included the Relief Line and the Union Station second platform.
  • Duncan Law, Head Sponsor for the subway program
  • Becca Nagorsky, Director for Project Planning

As I have already reviewed the Initial Business Case (IBC) in some detail, I will not dwell on that here, but will flag comments during the presentation and discussion of particular interest.

There were two threads on which nobody remarked, but which were significant given the way that the Ontario Line was announced:

  • The project details are far less advanced than the bluster of the original announcement might have indicated, and Metrolinx acknowledges that significant technical challenges remain for the design.
  • Language implying the general incompetence of the TTC to build a “modern” rapid transit line is much reduced if not eliminated from the discussion.

These are welcome changes, but we now face the need to build something because the Premier announced it.

Mathieu Goetzke introduced the presentation saying that although the Initial Business Case (IBC) was published in July, they are now going into more details. The Preliminary Business Case (PBC), the next step in the process, must resolve some issues and Metrolinx needs to “activate all possible levels” to address project costs. (See video at 27:00.)

Duncan Law continued in this vein saying that it was important to recognize that the IBC is an early stage of the project. Both the Relief and Ontario Lines are underpinned by the recognition that more capacity is needed. With roughly 50 per cent of the Ontario Line being at or above grade, there would be cost savings. Moreover, with the line separate from the existing subway system, there is an opportunity for technology change that would not otherwise be possible. There is a big difference in this outlook from saying that the TTC uses out of date technology.

Becca Nagorsky echoed the remark that the IBC is a first phase saying that its purpose is to define the project’s goals that must be preserved through the life cycle of more detailed design. She continued what has become a standard Metrolinx comparison of the original Relief Line project to the Ontario Line considering only the Relief Line South. This works from the assumption that the Ontario Line’s technology change will save so much money that the Relief Line North, as a conventional subway, does not even come into the discussion. This precludes the possibility that future design work might discover that the Ontario Line could be more expensive than originally thought, but by then the idea of going back to a subway project will be difficult, if only for political reasons. (There are parallels with the now-entrenched concept of a Scarborough Subway.)

The capital cost projections include anticipated savings due to “risk transfer” to a private sector partner in a Design-Build-Finance-Maintain (DBFM) P3 arrangement, but as with so many P3 schemes, there is little explanation of how exactly this is achieved. In particular, there is always the possibility that circumstances and designs will change, and the private sector “partner” will not assume this risk.

Note that none of the Benefit-Cost ratios exceeds “1” indicating that any version of the project does not produce a “profit” within the Metrolinx benefit-cost methodology. This came up in discussion a bit later (see below). The important issue here is that a large project such as the Ontario or Relief Line has benefits (and possibly costs) that the methodology does not capture notably the value of increasing resiliency in the rapid transit network by provision of alternate routes, and the enabling of projects such as the Richmond Hill extension that would otherwise overload the system.

A new addition to the discussion is a map showing the supposed benefit of the Ontario Line to residents of low income areas. It is no surprise that the OL (and the full RL to Eglinton that preceded it) benefit low income areas such as Thorncliffe Park and Moss Park, but there is a bizarre problem with the map which shows a reduced access to low-income jobs for residents between the Spadina Subway and the Barrie GO corridor south of Eglinton, far from the Ontario Line, not to mention Flemingdon Park north of Eglinton. There is something wrong here with the underlying model, but nobody at the meeting picked up on this.

Duncan Law bravely observed that “we are trained to challenge how things have been done” and this will lead to cost avoidance in the design (video at 38:00). He noted that early works on the route would be accelerated, although this is a tactic already in place (after much political fighting with Mayor Tory who eventually embraced it) for the Relief Line. At this point, Metrolinx is considering what their options for the OL design are before they take them to the public for comment, and they are still at an early stage.

In other words, they have a line on a map, but even that may change, and they fear alarming the locals with designs that are not yet definitive.

Malcolm Mackay spoke about the early works and the importance of co-ordination with large programs in the corridor to “leverage” contracts and consultants for other projects such as delivery of the (now) six track structure from East Harbour to Gerrard (four GO tracks plus two for the OL). There is also the potential role of Transit Oriented Development (TOD) works where some OL work could be combined with private development. However, it is not clear whether the likely construction timeframes of East Harbour and other projects would mesh with the schedule for construction of the OL.

In a marvellous piece of bafflegab, the presentation notes:

To demonstrate visible progress and to de-risk the schedule, a progressive works program is being contemplated with a ground breaking target of 2020 – 2021. [p 20 of the PDF]

What this means is that if Metrolinx actually undertakes some work soon, there will be political benefits of “progress” (shovels in the ground) and would-be bidders for the larger project will see that it has progressed beyond a political slogan and a line on a map. It is unclear just how much will actually be achieved by 2020 when the requests for qualifications and proposals (see chart below) occur.

Among the potential early works is design work the Don Valley crossing and possible launch sites for tunnel boring machines (TBMs). The decision to place some of the OL at or above grade means that there are more transitions in and out of tunnels than would be the case with an all-underground line, and launch sites at the transitions are required. These have significant effects on their locations as recent experience on the Eglinton Crosstown shows.

Mathieu Goetzke observed that the Queen Street corridor has challenges, but of course that would also have applied to the RL at least as far west as Osgoode Station. There is the larger question of the choice by the RL project of Queen versus a route further south, and again that is both a technical and political decision that is now set in stone.

The Next Steps slide below contains the troubling observation that Metrolinx will work to “understand community engagement” as if somehow Metrolinx has been operating in the dark while the Relief Line project went through its assessment and consultation stages. In a telling, but common, misuse, Metrolinx describes what they will undertake as “fulsome” intending to imply “copious” or “substantial”, but the word can also mean “excessive and insincere”, the fawning behaviour of one who insults by being overly complimentary. Metrolinx and GO before them have a long history of insincere public participation.

Discussion by the Board raised various questions starting with one from Michael Kraljevic who asked how much of the work already done on the Relief Line can be used for the Ontario Line? Mathieu Goetzke replied that work on the Queen Street corridor “feeds in” to the OL project, and Queen is “incredibly complicated”. The northern branch of the OL was built in part on the Relief Line North study. Malcolm Mackay stated that all of the work done so far will still be used giving the example of an underground station where geological information would inform design for a nearby structure. Some strategies that were “not successful” will not be pursued for the OL.

Regarding the construction challenges listed in the IBC, Vice-Chair Bryan Davies asked about “showstoppers” in the project. Duncan Law stated that there are none in the project “at this stage”, and he claimed that the benefit is that we see the risks now. Undoubtedly there will be several challenges, but the team will work through them, he said. The objective is to get people to jobs and home. Integration with GO for local and regional travel is important, Low continued. Environmental Assessment amendments will be required including a review of technical options for the OL. There is a “significant mountain to climb”.

Consultants have been engaged for the EA process, but subways tend to be environmentally positive, said Mackay, Metrolinx claims, and challenges with the elevated sections will be overcome.

These comments really are a dodge of the main question about the ability to reuse work already completed. The basic fact is that the OL alignment diverges considerably from the RL in places, and the detailed RL work, including public consultation, does not reflect the OL plan as it now stands. Again, we hear that this is a complex, challenging project, a rather different characterization than the self-confidence of the line’s announcement.

Director Paul Tsparis asked how the OL project helps to alleviate pressure on Line 1, and how is the TTC helping on that front.

Malcolm Mackay trotted out the usual list of TTC efforts including:

  • Larger trains
  • Painted tiles on the platforms at St. George and Bloor-Yonge to channel waiting passengers
  • Automatic Train Control
  • Bloor-Yonge Station expansion

The reference to larger trains is getting tiresome whoever cites it because the “new” Toronto Rocket (TR) equipment has been operating for some time now, and their extra capacity was long-ago consumed by latent demand. The painted floor directions may have some effect, but the big problem at busy stations is that platforms become totally filled even with a slight delay and this prevents easy exchange of passengers with trains. As for ATC, Mackay despite his years working at TTC, was unsure of the dates when it will be implemented. He also neglected to mention that more service requires more trains and, eventually, more train storage when the TTC exhausts what it now has. If the province takes ownership of the subway, this problem will land in their lap.

This was capped off with an observation that going north to meet the Eglinton Crosstown is a “beautiful addition to relief” to Line 1. Well, yes, many advocates have been saying this for a very long time while others downplayed the importance of continuing north of Danforth. Even Metrolinx flagged the added relief of the northern extension, and this informed support for work on it by the previous provincial government.

Michael Kraljevic asked about the benefit cost ratio where the value is less than one, although the P3 arrangement is alleged to improve that factor. How does this line up against other subway projects?

Mathieu Goetzke replied that it is hard to get a ratio beyond 1 with brand new infrastructure. GO improvements have good numbers because they build on legacy infrastructure. Moreover other modelling techniques would pick up economic development issues that are not included in the Metrolinx model. Phil Verster explained that Metrolinx does not consider benefits outside of purely transit ones, and the wider economic benefits would make every transit business case a good one. A case will always be touch-and-go for tunnels to get to a ratio of 1. Goetzke added that the OL can enable other works [e.g. the Richmond Hill extension].

This is quite an admission for Metrolinx who have wrestled with their business case analysis for some time. In a political climate where projects must at least break even, the benefits that are balanced against costs have a huge influence on the results. This can include both the scope of benefits (how wide a net is cast to capture benefits) and what payback period is used in the calculation. If the scope is too wide, there is a risk that presumed benefits are not entirely due to the project itself. If the timeframe is too long (Metrolinx uses 60 years), there is a financial problem of substantial expenditure in the short term for savings that might or might not accrue over the very long haul. Moreover, a large proportion of the “benefits” do not capture revenue that can be used to pay off project debt, but rather accrue to transit riders in reduced travel time and increased mobility.

These approaches can be defended on the grounds of “city building” and the long term, cumulative effect of having more transit infrastructure. However, the attempt to make any one project “pay its way” can distort how it is evaluated for political reasons.

Footnote: The Metrolinx Blog includes an article which emphasizes that the Ontario Line will not be built on unproven technology. The ghost of the UTDC and the Scarborough RT still haunts provincial decisions.

Ridership Initiatives (Video at 1:13:19)

Metrolinx ridership for the second quarter of 2019 is up 4.1% over the same period in 2018. However, children did not ride free a year ago, and when they are removed from the “before” numbers, the remaining ridership rose by 5.2%. It is worth noting that the TTC attempts to count children even though they ride free on the system, and so ridership numbers for the two systems are not directly comparable, at least on that basis. There is also the challenge of defining a “ride” when trips can involve a series of transfers and the benefit of the two-hour fare on Presto. The whole question of reporting demand on the GTA network needs work, including granularity about when and where people actually travel.

Statistics reported by APTA show commuter rail up 2.1% among reporting agencies, and bus ridership down 1.0%. GO bus ridership is up 4.5%.

A detailed map (PDF) shows the ridership by station across the rail network. There is no data for the bus network where there has been some controversy about which services should be maintained and which should be cut. Moreover the rail network counts do not distinguish by time of day to break out growth, if any, in off-peak travel as GO moves beyond peak period, peak direction commuting service to downtown Toronto.

Ridership growth varies by corridor and station. The high roller is Barrie with a 10.6% growth in the corridor. Kitchener us up 5.6% and Lakeshore East is up 4.8%.

GO is doing a lot of online marketing which they report as being quite successful, and there is an uptake of e-Tickets as a way of purchasing fares. Many of the promotions are for attractions in the off-peak period and for casual users who would be new to the system.

GO regards riders in Toronto as “transit natives”, people familiar with what transit can offer, and markets to them differently than to potential riders in the 905. Whether this is valid all the way out to the 416/905 boundary is hard to say.

The lower base GO fares are driving ridership within Toronto, but there was no discussion of the effect that will occur if the GO-TTC co-fare arrangement ends thanks to lack of funding from Queen’s Park. This has already affected riders on the UPX who no longer get a UPX+TTC discount. All the marketing efforts in the world can be undone by fiscal policies that affect fares and service.

Presto Quarterly Report (Video at 1:28:08)

Director Janet Ecker asked about efforts to minimize TTC criticisms of Presto. From what she is reading, criticisms of the system way off base. She asked how Metrolinx is trying to deal with this.

Phil Verster replied that it is illuminating to see how some comments get headline status and do not reflect what’s happening on the ground. Things are challenging, he said, and Metrolinx continues to work closely with TTC. There are claims that Metrolinx feels are not valid, and they have encouraged the TTC “to put this behind us”, not to go to dispute resolution.

Annaliese Czerny, Executive VP, PRESTO, felt that it was a shame the story is not about new products and better experiences. Verster was optimistic about making progress with TTC to move to a better future – new devices, open payments – and that this will be the story rather than problems. Czerny noted that TTC is an active and positive partner in the process for future developments.

This was the usual positive Metrolinx spin on PRESTO, but it was undone by the TTC when they released their agenda for the Board Meeting to be held on September 24. In it, the CEO’s Report is quite clear that the TTC will pursue arbitration under their PRESTO contract in an attempt to obtain payment of lost revenue due to non-delivery of a working fare system.

With PRESTO readers on every bus, streetcar and fare gate, and with PRESTO fare vending machines and self-serve reload machines at every station, the provincially-led fare card system has given our customers many benefits, but also many challenges.

Over the summer, I met with Metrolinx President and CEO, Phil Verster, to discuss the outstanding claims between the parties and the status of the outstanding deliverables of the contract for the implementation of PRESTO on the TTC. It is clear from our discussions that Metrolinx considers the contract deliverables complete.

So, while these discussions were informative about the positions of each organization, we were not able to reach a common understanding and agreement. We did agree that the next step is to proceed with arbitration, which is the dispute resolution process provided in the contract.

We are working with external counsel to review the process and finalize material and submissions. As we outlined in our report to the Board in June, the TTC does not consider the contract closed. Rather, there are significant deliverables outstanding, including open payment and account-based technology (which includes equipment), equipment to provide PRESTO Tickets on buses and streetcars, an acceptable third-party distribution network and Service Level Agreements for all equipment.

[TTC CEO’s Report at p. 14]

A major problem with Metrolinx’ perception of a “working” system is that they assume that any rider who encounters a fare machine that is out of service will use an alternate just as they would at a GO station. However, on crowded transit vehicles getting to another reader, let alone another fare machine for tokens or cash, can be very difficult and many riders do not bother to try. If they have a Metropass on their card (or a two-hour fare from a previous tap), this really does not matter because they have already paid, but for other riders this represents lost revenue to the TTC. Credit card holders cannot pay at all because this function rarely if ever worked.

Regular riders are familiar with the situation and just shrug when their tap does not register. I personally encounter this problem at least once a week, and see others having the same problems with unresponsive machines even more often. Things may be improving, but perfection is some distance off and Metrolinx has a lot to answer for from the earlier days of their PRESTO implementation.

Metrolinx tests the availability of fare equipment by “pinging” each device (sending a signal to a machine that elicits a response simply saying “I am here”). However, that function takes place at a low level within the hardware and the application software could be hung even though the “ping” gets a positive response.

Metrolinx measures of PRESTO access are likely too rosy because of assumptions about how easily riders can access the machines and about what constitutes a “working” box when tested remotely.

19 thoughts on “Metrolinx Board Meeting September 12, 2019

  1. When will the GTHA fare integration or the TTC to MiWay, Brampton Transit, YRT, or DRT discount be implemented?

    Steve: Discounts only arrive when someone wants to pay for them. The folks at Queen’s Park have made it quite clear that transit subsidies are going down, or are being pushed onto municipal governments. Don’t hold your breath.


  2. I started off thinking my post would be about P3. Ontario has yet to have an honest discussion on what it entails, how the future financing of transit hinges on it (for better or worse) and how other jurisdictions lever it to their advantage, in ways that are abstract to Ontario….but the cynicism kept growing deeper the more quotes I read. I’ll let others deal with those aspects in their comments. Steve uses the term “bafflegab”. He’s being diplomatic…

    I’m now fixated on this:

    Regarding the construction challenges listed in the IBC, Vice-Chair Bryan Davies asked about “showstoppers” in the project. Duncan Law stated that there are none in the project “at this stage”, and he claimed that the benefit is that we see the risks now. Undoubtedly there will be several challenges, but the team will work through them, he said. The objective is to get people to jobs and home. Integration with GO for local and regional travel is important, Low continued. Environmental Assessment amendments will be required including a review of technical options for the OL. There is a “significant mountain to climb”.

    NASA originated the term “Murphy’s Law”. We’re all familiar with it. But more went wrong than what even Murphy predicted would.

    So NASA created “Houlihan’s Law”. Houlihan thought Murphy was an optimist.

    But Metrolinx has now created “Duncan Law”. I invite readers to connect the dots…


  3. Referring to Table 2 of Metrolinx’s(Mx) IBC, Metrolinx reports Relief Line South ridership as 206,000. The City report estimates a range from 90,400 to 189,600. There is an 8% difference between 206,000 and 189,600 and 128% difference between 206,000 and 90,400.

    There is proof that Metrolinx has made errors in their estimates in the past. A Metrolinx estimate failed a reality test when it projected more riders with less frequent service at the SmartTrack Kennedy Station. In the Metrolinx report GO Expansion New Stations Modelling, Table 5 showed 9,200 daily trips based on 15 minute train service at the Lawrence-Kennedy Station. A City background report EX29.1 NEW SMARTTRACK/GO RER STATIONS TECHNICAL & PLANNING UPDATE, (bottom p42) reported, for the same station, current 7,500 boardings on the SRT 4-5 minute train service.

    The Metrolinx estimate failed a reality test, it projected more riders, (9,200 vs 7,500) with less frequent service (15 minute vs 5 minute) which is contrary to accepted transit norms.

    Steve will recall the Scarborough SmartTrack public session where the Mx representative refused to provide frequency of service to a Mx ridership estimate. The whole audience wanted an answer.

    Metrolinx’s methodology is based on population densities, primarily from the 2010 census and sampling through an annual questionnaire of travel.

    The City’s methodology for estimating ridership is far more sophisticated, using a simulation model incorporating actual public transit utilization, future population density modeling and time of day factors. In addition, there are experts who can add latent demand and trending demand flow knowledge. Metrolinx has no on the ground expertise.

    Greater sophistication does not assure a more accurate prediction.

    There are no guidelines measure the accuracy of an estimate.

    The $12 billion Ontario Line project should be based on a serious ridership estimate, not a guess.


  4. Hmmmm. So, Metrolinx compares costs and benefits for the DRL South to the entire OL for its economic and financial cases?

    Notwithstanding “conceptual alignment” for the OL and the legère-de-main on the part of Metrolinx in the report, what could possibly go wrong when comparing a full line to part of a line?


  5. I feel stupid for admitting this, Steve, but as a member of the public, I am confounded as to the importance I am supposed to attribute to a Benefits-Cost Ratio.

    As I recall, significant portions of Transit City (Sheppard/Finch, the alternative for Eglinton that was selected) had ratios estimated at below 1, but the city and province proceeded with them.

    Steve: The problem is always in how one defines “benefits” and the time period over which one assumes these will accrue. There is a “worth” to many projects that is not always captured by the BC model, of which one example is the worth of having a network with alternate paths to spread demand.


  6. I like the Ontario Line plan. The only problem is that all this bickering over technology choice and elevated vs underground is going to ensure that nothing gets built just like the SRT replacement that never got built. If you want something built, then let us unite behind the Ontario Line proposal from the Ford government. The Ontario Line proposal may not please everyone but nothing will ever please everyone and if you will only build something that pleases everyone, then nothing will ever get built.

    Steve: It is Doug Ford and his ego that brought on the proposed alignment and technology changes for the Relief/Ontario line just as in Scarborough it was Rob Ford who started the whole subway fever. We seem to be trying to please te Fords whose transit plans never actually get anywhere.


  7. These numbers seem more sophisticated than the previous set, but it seems like they’re cherry-picking which numbers to show so as to put the project in the best light. For example, they show low-income job access instead of general job access specifically because the Ontario Line goes to Flemingdon Park (funnily, by the time the Ontario Line is built, the low income job areas on the map will have been gentrified and displaced by then), and they show total time savings instead of ridership numbers (probably because the longer length likely doesn’t improve ridership that much, but people will save time by riding for a longer distance). The P3 “discount” they show seems completely unbelievable though.

    I’m wondering if Metrolinx has already decided to give up trying to build anything before the next election and is just going through the motions on everything. When they announced their UP Express plans, it seemed like an empty PR exercise. All sorts of exciting UP Express improvements that will happen right after the non-existent GO electrification project? What was the point of even studying that?


  8. Ming writes: I’m wondering if Metrolinx has already decided to give up trying to build anything before the next election and is just going through the motions on everything. When they announced their UP Express plans, it seemed like an empty PR exercise. All sorts of exciting UP Express improvements that will happen right after the non-existent GO electrification project? What was the point of even studying that?

    I could have written answers at length, but they would have been based on the same quicksand we’re being sold.

    Suffice to say: “A neurotic is a man who builds a castle in the air. A psychotic is the man who lives in it.” – Jerome Lawrence.

    Ford is the psychotic, and Verster is the neurotic that presented the plans for his castle.


  9. @Ming The UP express was yet another LIBERAL failure that needs to changed at great expense after merely four years. To start with, why don’t they change every UPX train to a three cars set as some of them have only two cars? Are all of the platforms long enough for trains with four cars? If yes, then change all trains to four cars.


  10. @ Doug:

    The failure started with the Feds and they left it to the province to finish. Unfortunately the province followed with the garbage the feds left behind. The original schedule, Union to Pearson could have been done with 4 trains of 3 cars in 22 minutes leaving on 3 car train as a hot spare and one for servicing.

    When Metrolinx bowed to pressure and put in the stops at Bloor and Weston it added to the running time so they needed 5 trains for service. If they ran 3 car trains they would not have a hot spare and a train for maintenance, so rather than increasing the order by another 3 cars they did it on the cheap and tried to get away with 2 car trains. The cars are no longer manufactured in North America so UP yours Express has an orphan fleet, like the Scarborough RT.

    Also the platforms are only 3 cars long and lengthening the one at the airport would be prohibitively expensive. So no, the platforms are only 3 cars long, the airport cannot be easily expanded to 4 cars, they don’t have enough cars to even run full 3 car service and they cannot buy any more unless they can convince Sonoma Marin Area Rail Transit to sell some of their cars.

    The cars have 480 volt 3 phase auxiliaries instead of the normal 600 volt 3 phase that GO uses so they store the cars in the VIA yard instead from what I have seen because VIA uses the same voltage and has room to spare.

    The elevated section leading to the airport has some ridiculously tight curves and cannot carry locomotives or overly heavy cars. Another job well done by the brain trust at Metrolinx. If they electrified the cars they might be able to improve running time enough to get away with running 4 trains of 3 cars each but they would still be unable to expand service.

    And Metrolinx was created to put professionals in charge of regional transit planning. We can see how well that worked.

    Steve: The best thing the “professionals” at Metrolinx are good at is saying “Yes Sir! Right Away Sir!” to their political masters and stonewalling critics who suggest that they just might be misguided.


  11. There seems to be some selective history regarding UPX. I say up front, I don’t know very much and stand to be corrected – I am also guilty of selective recall.

    In 2008, the Ontario government negotiated with SNC for a public-private partnership (P3) for a UPX concept. Two years later, the P3 deal collapsed, Metrolinx ended up directly owning and operating the service. SNC couldn’t find the financing because lenders did not feel that they had sufficient protection from a ‘no market’ risk – that service could not attract enough riders to be a viable business. The lenders were right. Riders were not interested at the price UPX needed to charge. SNC bailed out, Metrolinx was left holding the bag.

    The initial adult one-way fare of $27.50 cash and $19.00 Presto was already subsidized but attracted few riders, starting at 3,250 riders a day and declining to 1,967. In 2016 fares were reduced to $12 for cash and $9 Presto. Ridership averaged 10,000 per day.

    My understanding is that the UPX does not generate revenue to cover its operating costs and I have no idea of the impact of capital financing costs.

    The low income taxpayers are paying for a service designed for the pleasure of higher income users of the service.

    It seems, to me, to be an example of a P3 project that went bad. I understand they are looking into making the Ontario Line a P3 project. It will be very interesting to see the assessment of “no market” risk – that service could not attract enough riders to be a viable business.

    Steve: When SNC asked the McGuinty Liberals for a guarantee on UPX, they were told to get lost, and the deal fell apart. How much will private bidders be willing to accept without guarantees from Doug Ford? Will we ever know given that Metrolinx will throw a blanket of “commercial confidentiality” over whatever they sign. How desperate will Dougie be for a deal before the next election, and will he give away the store so that his project can be launched?


  12. The term “P3” evokes reactions from many directions, and it’s unfortunate, as it’s one of the few ways to get badly needed transit built.

    Just as with housing, very few people buy outright, they mortgage, lease or rent. Does that make ‘buying on time’ a negative proposition? In some cases, yes. In many cases, the outcome is positive. And so it *can be* with ‘P3’. The devil is in the details.

    Just as with buying a house and undertaking a mortgage, you’d be an idiot not to get expert advice. And so it is with P3 … or any other financial matter of size. The record of the Ontario Gov’t, at least in transit matters, has not been good.

    There’s lots of blame to assign to many parties at QP, but rather than enter into a detailed examination of those mistakes, and faced with a regime at this time that is the mother of all mistakes, best to quote some historical reference:


    By 2008, there had not been significant progress on the project because of failed consensus in negotiations, regulatory hurdles and community opposition. In June 2008, the Ontario government revised the environmental assessment process from a required three-year period to six months, and later that summer it resumed negotiations with Union Pearson AirLink Group on terms for a public-private partnership.

    In November 2008, Metrolinx, the Ontario government agency for Greater Toronto and Hamilton transportation, released its Regional Transportation Plan titled The Big Move, outlining how an airport rail link was part of a strategy to establish multi-directional high-order transit connectivity to the Pearson Airport district, in addition to the Mississauga Transitway, rapid transit corridors along Highways 427 and 407, and light rail transit lines along Eglinton and Finch Avenues. In December 2008, Metrolinx became the proponent of new EA that would simultaneously assess a combination of both the UP Express and GO Transit’s Georgetown South expansion.[18] The final Environmental Project Report was released on 30 July 2009.

    Metrolinx takeover

    After two years of failed negotiations and financing difficulties, the public-private partnership between Ontario and the Union Pearson AirLink Group was called off in July 2010, and Metrolinx was handed responsibility to directly own and operate the service. Metrolinx established the new operating division that would become Union Pearson Express. The name ‘Air Rail Link’ was used as a placeholder until the official name was unveiled on 29 November 2012.


    From Wikipedia entry for UPX

    To put the blame solely on ‘P3’ misses the real point: Most involved were wearing construction boots to a waltz competition. Blaming the orchestral score for the disaster that ensued is disingenuous to say the least.

    Other jurisdictions have done very well with P3s. But they know how to dance, and know enough to get instruction when they can’t.

    Like it or not, money is being thrown in every direction this election, and very little via the Cdn Infrastructure Bank. Thinking the Province will commit anything of substance is a pipe dream.

    P3, administered through the CIB is one of the few hopes we have. It’s not if it will work or not. It’s a case of it has to. Just keep QP out of it. It’s time for the Feds via the CIB to deal directly with municipalities. This has Constitutional implications, but there’s many other areas the Feds are already doing this. Housing, for instance.

    Ironically, it’s been Conservative regimes as much as Centrist or Left of Centre regimes in other jurisdictions that have made this work well. In Canada’s case, the Conservatives *of today* have enough trouble walking a straight line, let alone putting them on a map.

    The Big Blue Machine served this Province well. But they knew how to govern. I leave it at that.


  13. Steve, have you given any thought to the potential bridge that it supposed to come out of the cliff face west of the Leaside bridge? I’m not entirely sure I buy that the most suitable approach would be to shoot up Minton Place. Logistically this seems like a nightmare and environmentally, I’d be concerned with the number of trees that they’d have to remove from the cliff to make this bridge a reality. Would an EA look at items like potential erosion along the cliff? I’m still not buying that the Leaside bridge isn’t suitable.

    Steve: To use the Leaside bridge would require an elevated structure as the planned technology cannot run at grade on the bridge deck and there would be big issues getting the line onto and off of the bridge at each end considering the curves involved. There is also the issue of the bridge’s support capacity. This came up during the Don Mills LRT planning, and the spare capacity the bridge once had for a future streetcar line to the Leaside industrial district was used up to support widening to six lanes decades ago. It is going to be very interesting to see what Metrolinx proposes for the structure under and north of Minton Place. I really don’t think they got past drawing a line on the map at the point they announced the line.


  14. For me Toronto lacks a good Master Transit Plan to build and also when discussing public transit, that there is not enough money to do everything. There is no method to rank projects in order, based on evidence and agreed criteria. I find it wrong that projects are decided by power politics.

    I think Mike Harris was wrong to remove funding support for the TTC operating costs, leaving Toronto the most disadvantaged major city in North America.

    Local politicians can’t properly plan a Master Transit Plan for Toronto. I feel the Cdn Infrastructure Bank is so remote from understanding local transit issues that they should be hands off on deciding transit projects for Toronto. They can be involved after the decision has been made. The colossal failure of Metrolinx causes concern whether added layers of bureaucracy contribute anything. CIB is just a much needed sugar daddy.

    In 1967, Montreal had a very short subway line compared to Toronto. Today, Montreal has a reasonable grid, far better than Toronto. Montreal has been continually tunneling for years and continues to this day. Montreal has steadily progressed in public transit despite the power politics at the local and provincial level. Montreal gets plenty of money from the Provincial government.

    There is something wrong with Toronto. The Provincial government has exploited the vacuum but there is no “evidence” it can do a better job. I don’t believe the Federal government can solve Toronto’s public transit problems. If Toronto had a plan, then the Fed’s can help fund it.

    The emotions are the frustrations due to the failure planning for public transit in Toronto and the gridlock of the roads. Our current batch of politicians aren’t up to the job, PC, Liberal, NDP or Green.


  15. Does it frighten anyone to hear that the current generation of bright lights at Metrolinx doesn’t know if the UPX elevated structure can handle conventional equipment?

    It can’t — and that was well known back when these foolish decisions wer made. It’s a bit sobering to find that there is already no institutional knowledge at this far-from-elderly organization.

    Then, the issue of conversion of the orphaned Sumitomo DMUs to electric operation. Oh, please. That was a lie right from the start. Steve and I both had Metrolinx honchos quietly admit that to us many years ago. It wouldn’t be cost-effective and the technical challenges are large.

    If UPX ever gets electrified, the current fleet is kaput here. Best to just give the cars to SMART in Northern California to add to their fleet, which is already orphaned compared with other U.S. systems using DMU equipment.


  16. Greg: Agreed on all points. But beyond that, and I do question Wightman’s total numbers, while agreeing with his gist above (I’ve gone over this point in other forums with reference), IIRC, there’s enough cars now to form five complete 3 car sets, one set remaining spare and/or for servicing (I’ll try and find the exact reference and post it later, it is an important point)…so why are there so many two car sets being run instead of three car ones?

    I live adjacent to the line, I constantly look and note that two car sets continue to outnumber three car sets, and can only conclude that due to on-going service issues, that’s the best that UPX can do, assurances of a few years back that service issues were resolved, and they’d all be three car sets.

    Some two-car sets are without the toilet car. I’ve been caught out on that more than once believing their claim of ‘a toilet available on every train’. Or being on a full three car set and the toilet locked for service reasons. One rushes to the station, only to find the station toilet locked, but no problem, there’s one on each train! (Not)

    It’s a damn good thing UPX don’t fly planes…

    As a small addition to how ‘lumbering’ those sets are, the exact same engine (albeit perhaps less the exhaust treatment unit) is used in the UK’s Class 220.

    Note the top speed as well as acceleration on these units, 125 mph. That’s because as well as being DEMU, with the prime mover running a generator, and the bogies using electric motors, these units are of much lighter construction, exactly as would be the case when and if ever Metrolinx attain electrified RER sets.

    Unlike Ottawa’s OC Transpo, apparently a waiver wasn’t applied for to use non-FRA compliant stock for UPX. As to why is an enduring question in itself, as here’s a list of agencies and companies assisting Ottawa’s O-Train project [from Transport Canada]:


    City of Ottawa
    Transport Canada
    Human Resources Development Canada
    Canadian Pacific Railway
    Canadian National Railway
    VIA Rail
    Carleton University
    Public Works and Government Services Canada
    National Capital Commission
    Ottawa Police Services
    Women’s Initiative for a Safe Environment
    Transport 2000
    Canadian Transport Agency
    Local citizens and advocacy groups

    Here’s the City of Ottawa’s own website link on it:

    One has to wonder where the present federal government dialog is on this? We all know Metrolinx tie their shoelaces in Gordian Knots, but the Feds are also complicit.

    Now, getting back to the claims by Metrolinx of ‘how easy it will be to convert the Sharyos to electric propulsion’ … all evidence of those pages has disappeared. lol! For good reason. The claims were absurd. But then, most of everything surrounding UPX is absurd, including the recent separation again of the fare and Presto system and the expense of installing the ludicrous UPX only card reader stalks. It seems the gearbox is jammed between reverse and idle.

    Steve: If anything typified the arrogance and stupidity of Metrolinx, it was the UPX project. With a separate division whose management spent more time going after industry “awards” even before the line was operational, the entire project was all about show, not substance. It was a government project and Metrolinx spent far too much time polishing its image. Only when the government finally asked the basic question “why is ridership so low” and the fare structure was changed did UPX start to think in terms of regular riders.


  17. I don’t think the UP Express trains are orphaned. California took delivery of 4 new trains just last year. Nippon Sharyo is one of the few companies with a design for a modern self-propelled diesel train that can operate in North America, so I’m sure they won’t abandon that competitive advantage.

    I just realized the irony of Metrolinx touting the socioeconomic benefits of the Ontario Line for low income neighbourhoods while designing the system so that it goes underground in richer neighbourhoods but comes out above ground in low income neighbourhoods.

    Steve: I would not call south Riverdale – where underground Relief Line has become the elevated Ontario Line – “low income”. I understand the idea behind your spin, but you also miss the very different design of the Thorncliffe/Flemingdon area where an elevated structure would not run right beside housing. I am not defending the scheme, but there is more context to look at than the socioeconomic index.


  18. Ming writes: I don’t think the UP Express trains are orphaned.

    To be absolutely correct, they’re not. At great expense and inconvenience, they can still be made in Japan, as they always were, but now also assembled and finished there, which was done previously at the now destitute Greater Chicago (New Rochelle) Nippon Sharyo plant.

    Even when the plant was still extant, the assembly line was disassembled to allow for NS’ large Amtrak project which ‘broke’ the US operation. Once the DMU assembly line was disassembled, the price quoted per unit doubled. And they weren’t ‘cheap’ to begin with, not to mention their teething problems being fitted out to North Am specs.

    Long story short…*effectively* they are orphans, or to phrase it another way, SMART and UPX are orphaned siblings.

    Google search results for SMART order and Nippon factory demise.

    Greg is essentially correct in stating “give them to SMART”….they do still have value, I’m sure a deal can be done with SMART. As time goes on, however, that value will shrink. Someone at Metrolinx understands it’s best to ‘cut losses’ on them. Or they will end-up selling them at scrap value.

    In my previous post, I stated I’d find the actual number of cars UPX has, It’s 18. Go figure as to why they’re still running so many two-car trains!

    As I stated earlier, I live adjacent to the Georgetown Corridor, and it never ceases to beguile me as to how such a potent corridor is so incredibly underutilized. And why does Metrolinx insist that four tracks are needed when other nations, like Japan and Germany just to name two, mix express and locals, and with *much tighter timetables* that they maintain, on two tracks?

    In some instances, in Germany, one section of single track about sixty km hosts both ICE once an hour and local trains, both directions! Obviously state of the art signalling and passing tracks are used.

    Metrolinx is a prime example of yesterday’s generations of technology running today. London’s Thameslink, a mainline railway, runs through tunnel under the core of London 24 tph (trains per hour) and Crossrail when fully operational, will do same or better. Over 30 tph is theoretically possible.

    But Thameslink does it ATO (Fully automatically save for driver closing the doors, not that the human touch is necessary for that, just prudent) in the underground tunnel core section.

    And Toronto? We use crayons to draw silly concepts on fading paper. And insist four tracks are necessary to run both airport and commuter trains together.

    Crossrail is a company wholly owned by both the UK national (federal) gov’t and Greater London as two equal shareholders. It is run as a corporation. Thameslink leases space on the national rail network, but is privately financed.

    What I find astounding is that Metrolinx has ‘imported’ Brits with this knowledge to work on their planning, and yet none of this know-how seems to be gaining traction here. ‘Metros’ as per the past gen’s thinking does gain notice. But full mainline has leap-frogged that. If you’re going to build it, build it to satisfy all demands, not just local.

    The Ontario Line is like using VW vans for bus routes. Ontario has the opportunity to do the airport express, RER, and other future ventures with one type of modern mainline electric rolling stock. And all inter-operable.

    And examples are already running elsewhere.


  19. Stephen Saines | October 2, 2019 at 10:35 am asks:

    “Greg: Agreed on all points. But beyond that, and I do question Wightman’s total numbers, while agreeing with his gist above (I’ve gone over this point in other forums with reference), IIRC, there’s enough cars now to form five complete 3 car sets, one set remaining spare and/or for servicing (I’ll try and find the exact reference and post it later, it is an important point)…so why are there so many two car sets being run instead of three car ones?

    The problem is that they always want a “Hot Spare” one that is available to go into service to replace one that dies in service. There are 5 trains in service right now. The running time one way is between 25 and 28 minutes which does not leave them enough recovery time to turn back in the 30 minutes window necessary for running 4 trains on a 15 minute headway.

    There are 2 trains at the airport for about 5 to 10 minutes at most times depending on how well the service is running. Two trains cannot be at Union at the same time.

    You have to have 1 set free for maintenance and 1 as a hot spare. They typically run 2 three car sets and 3 two car sets or 3 three car sets and 3 two cars sets from what I have seen when I ride the Georgetown lines. I have often seen them change of train sets at Union but I don’t know if it is to balance usage for for bad order cars.


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