The Toronto Board of Trade Shills for the Ontario Line

Over on Facebook, I was challenged for simply slagging the opinion piece The Ontario Line: Give the future a chance. Originally, I wasn’t going to comment, but there are enough half-truths in the article that it’s worth writing about them. This is a consolidation of the Twitter version of my reply with slight modifications.

This article is credited to Jan De Silva as a “Contributor”. She is identified as the President and CEO of the Toronto Board of Trade at the very end of the article. I would be very surprised if this article were not the product of Metrolinx itself. Too many of the arguments are stock Metrolinx boilerplate, including assumptions about the nature of criticism of their project.

Associations matter, especially when they aren’t acknowledged in the byline. If an article was by a policy wonk from the Manning Institute, for example, you would read it with a different media filter. If you read something from me, you put on the SwanBoatSteve filter. Identification of the author, of the voice, up front is important.

“billions of city dollars can be freed up for maintenance”

These are billions the city has yet to allocate in any budget. They are net new spending which will crowd other works. The only money we actually have is the accumulated revenue from the Scarborough Subway Tax and that’s less than $200 million in the bank. Moreover, everybody seems to be earmarking these $$$ for new projects like the Eglinton East extension.

Why is TO paying for an extension to a Metrolinx line? Ditto for the four surviving SmartTrack stations.

“some critics still fear using new technology for the Ontario Line”

This is a red herring used to cast aspersions against critics. We don’t know which technology might be used because in all probability the P3 proponent will come with their own technology partner just like the Canada Line in Vancouver. Other SkyTrain lines must use the Bombardier technology because they are part of a network, but the Canada Line was deliberately made separate to break Bombardier’s stranglehold as a vendor.

Unfortunately, the spec for that line was cocked up and the builder was able to cheap out on station size and train length. These are contract design/management issues, not technology issues.

“Some critics”, yes, but many critics have much more substantial objections.

“critics who claim that the Ontario Line is “drawn on the back of an envelope.” Even if that was true – and it never was – the Metrolinx and Infrastructure Ontario teams behind the initial proposal have been working with the TTC to refine their plans.”

Either it was a plan that needed TTC’s refinement, or it was a rough sketch enough to work for Doug Ford’s announcement. It was not a finished plan. The City’s own report states that it is at a very low level of engineering detail with wide potential variation in the cost estimate.

“Planning for this line incorporates greater use of above-ground rights-of-way”

There is a reason we put lines underground, sometimes needlessly, and it has a lot to do with neighbourhood effects and the political will to get transit out of the way of cars. These are separate effects depending on the location. Eglinton’s central section is underground because it won’t fit on the street.

Some people claim that surface operation elsewhere (including the extensions) shows socioeconomic bias against the affected areas. Cue the “poor Scarborough” theme. That story doesn’t work so well in Etobicoke.

“changes to how tunnels are bored”

The TTC was already looking at single bore tunnels for some projects. These work in some areas, not so well in others especially if the larger diameter triggers problems with the available space, utilities, groundwater and bedrock.

“lighter trains to facilitate easier river and overpass crossings”

True, assuming that the lighter trains are capable of providing the capacity required. More importantly, lighter and smaller trains affect the structure size be it elevated or underground.

“more standardization of stations above and below ground to build quickly and affordably”

Tell this to the politicians who want architectural grandeur as a mark of their importance. Some variation in stations is inevitable because of location, demand, etc.

We probably would not have to look very hard to find the TRBOT gushing over the designs for the TYSSE stations when they were proposed.

“Metrolinx and Infrastructure Ontario are merely proposing to use the same tools cities like Madrid, Barcelona and Paris use to build dozens of kilometers of new subways at speeds we’ve only dreamed of before.”

The important thing those cities have is (or was) money and commitment. They had senior governments (including the EU) willing to pay, and a political climate where plans were not rejigged every few years to suit someone’s ego. And they had plans that ensured a continuous program of construction rather than the stop-start situation we have in Toronto thanks to political meddling and competition to “build MY subway now”.

“Subway systems in all three of these world class city transit cities have multiple car sets on their tracks, and even used different gauges as technologies developed.”

This is another red herring. Toronto has had multiple car sets on its streetcar and subway tracks since the 19th century. Old heavy red “G” trains, larger lighter “H” and “T” trains, 2 car sets and 6 car sets, wooden streetcars, steel, PCCs, CLRVs and now Flexitys.

Gauge is a question mainly of history and system age. Suburban lines in Toronto were standard gauge until they were incorporated into the “city” system e.g. Long Branch.

“critics insist Metrolinx may not hit its 2027 target date for the Relief Line … And even if this solution took until 2029 – the target date for the earlier Relief Line – this route should be more effective at providing relief than originally planned, too.”

The fundamental problem with the analysis of the Ontario Line vs the Relief Line is that the RL South is the basis of comparison, and so of course a longer RL has a greater benefit. The fact that the RL North study was being run by the Province and was stalled is not mentioned at all.

“The Ontario Line also creates a true subway network, with connections to the Yonge University Line, the Eglinton Crosstown LRT and the GO system at Exhibition Station,  so riders on the shoulders of our inner suburbs can shift commutes to avoid other chokepoints from several directions.”

The reference to offloading GO is key and it applies also at East Harbour (although that station does not exist yet). The OL is as much a relief line for GO at Union as it is for the TTC subway. This is a valid goal, but it should be acknowledged so that everyone is aware how much future capacity will be dedicated to GO relief rather than subway relief.

The article is completely silent on neighbourhood effects along the way which are not trivial. This is not just two tracks for an updated version of the SRT, but a six-track corridor for GO and the OL. Yes, SRT trains are not as noisy as GO trains, and the latter might even be toned down when, if ever, they electrify. I am not holding my breath on that as it costs a lot of capital that Metrolinx does not have and does not want to spend.

20 thoughts on “The Toronto Board of Trade Shills for the Ontario Line

  1. Have Li’l Ol’ Jan explain her glowing support to these folks.

    She can also do some splainin’ to the Bombardier workers at the Thunder Bay plan (which isn’t getting the Ontario Line equipment order) and at ATU1587, who are going to take it in the neck twice. The first time will be when the operating contract goes to a new vendor and then again when the OL Frankenstein starts eating away at the existing GO rail system.

    To quote Blacque Jacque Shellaque in the Bugs Bunny cartoons, “Dis gonna be fun, you bet.”


  2. I’m so very glad you’ve put this critique/rebuttal up, a day ahead of Council as I fear that we’ll be stampeded in to a ‘deal’ that is anything but good for transit users, taxpayers, and Toronto. There is ZERO question we need Relief, but we’ve not been exploring what needs Relief eg. Danforth, Yonge, B/Y, and if a project really fits the bill, or 2 of 3 maybe, and what cost, and if there are other options, like say the Richmond Hill GO line, or a few other options often on the surface and involving political will. By themselves, the tweaks and smaller initiatives are small, but it’s the silver buckshot vs. silver bullet, which is recently a folly, or two.

    This puff-piece is silent as well about the ‘package’ of other projects we have to support to be having a ‘Relief’ project. These others are either bad for the system (overload extensions!), or substantial disrespect for the taxpayers eg. SSE and the Eglinton W LRT burial. Sometimes we hear some blather about respect for taxpayers and pushes to make some cuts to ‘save’, but penny-wise Ford foolish is far too often the course, as maintenance costs money, and that’s where we’ve cut a lot. If the Board of Trade was being honest and respectful of taxpayers and transit dollars not only would they be acknowledging there’s a LOT of undone maintenance etc. (and where is all of that coming from?), but they’d be honest about how much money we the CIty actually has for transit purposes, and as there’s ‘mathemagics’ in that estimate, they’d also push for a Vehicle Registration Tax to help fill that gap, (and we need help providing backbone and some discipline to the Council to have proceeds targeted towards transit especially).

    Instead of citing other cities results, as we’re desperately in need of better planning that would look at converting part of the DVP to a transitway, or perhaps even a subway, let’s spend a few million (not billion) in having variouis planners from outside of Caronto, Ontcario to come over and have total access to everything at all systems/lines, and give us some thoughts about how to handle regional, sub-regional and the milk runs.

    The Board is going to have to accept some responsibility too for the dismal state of transit here – they’ve been around for the last few decades worth of less-wise projects and deferred main-tenance, and upwards inflation of transit costs from users so that the system is a stand-out in its farebox revenue, while the excessways are free, and GHGs are High, with a lot uncounted. Yes, to Relief, absolutely, but the fastest relief is on-surface with political will, as a starting point, and this deal isn’t good enough, though yes, it was good to see an interest in getting up to Eglinton. But we’re at the point now I think we should aim for triage and bypass all Riverdale through the Don, and work on Relief of Danforth via Main/Danforth connection improval, and have reversible busways on the Danforth, combined with a bi-directional bikeway on N side.

    And sure work on a subway plan, but straight east-west through the core c. Adelaide, and once across Don go east on Queen to as far as Greenwood or Coxwell, then N, north again, and aim for the diagonal of Gatineau to help Scarborough.


  3. Isn’t this less of a criticism against the OL and the TBT’s support for it, and more of a plea that more (i.e. political commitment by way of money) needs to be done to support it?

    Steve: The TRBOT’s support includes a lot of puffery and snarks at “critics” of the Ontario Line. Metrolinx (who are almost certainly the true author if not Infrastructure Ontario) undermines their own credibility by putting arguments in “critics'” mouths, straw men that they can knock down without addressing the important issues.

    Metrolinx also is playing to the crowd (their audience at Queen’s Park) by “saving money” with the elevated structure even where it has to be shoehorned into a difficult area. Their planners just love to prove they are right and everyone else is wrong.

    Remember that the same brains trust that brought us the Ontario Line was behind SmartTrack including the proposal for a GO corridor along Eglinton west of the Humber River where there wasn’t space for it, and where the connection with the existing Weston corridor would be “difficult”. That’s what happens when you plan for an area you don’t understand and care only to make the doddle on the map work as a political campaign.


  4. So I understand, Steve: are you saying it can’t be done, or it can’t be done at the cost or in the time they claim, or it would be done better under the old plan for cost or time reasons or some other reason?

    I get that there may be criticisms, but if this is the plan that will get it done, and will have political commitment to do it, what is the main reason to oppose it, other than to just say the old plan may have been better?

    Steve: I do not accept that this is the best plan for several reasons including design changes that would improve it. The City is being asked to sign on to something that is at the early draft stage and may change and become more expensive possibly with the effect of the Province asking the City to contribute to “improvements” that should have been there all along. Then there is the total unknown of the operating cost of the lines the Province is going to build for us, costs which will not be covered by marginal fare revenue because most customers are already TTC riders.

    Finally, when “critics” of a plan are dissed with statements that are either false or have no bearing on the actual discussion, this is the mark of a writer with disdain for real debate, who prefers to use misdirection and knocking down “straw men” to establish that they are “right”.


  5. Jan De Silva is one of the most respected Canadian business personalities which is why we should all take heed when she says that the Ontario Line makes sense. Jan De Silva is a remarkable and a highly intelligent woman. The Ontario Line has been endorsed by every level of government, by every major party, by Professors, by business organizations such as the Toronto Board of Trade, by the experts at Metrolinx and Infrastructure Ontario, and pretty much every expert in the field. This is why it is time to stop bickering and start building.

    Steve: Sorry, but that article is full of misleading information. I do not care how “respected” Jan De Silva is, the article sounds like it was written by the government, not by her. If she wrote it herself, she is mistaken on several points. If she only lent her byline to what is, in effect, a press release, then she is at best unprofessional.


  6. A riff on a future transit story for Toronto’s asleep-at-the-switch media thanks to their failure to really dig into the Ontario Line toy choo-choo?

    But first came this:

    “Two quotes from TransLink CEO, Kevin Desmond, are very disturbing:

    “Desmond called the Canada Line, which just celebrated its 10th anniversary, a ‘smart investment.’

    But, he said, he hopes the region has learned that lesson, adding that ‘help is on its way’ for the Canada Line in the form of larger cars being delivered next year which should increase capacity by 25 per cent.”

    Source: Rail for the Valley


  7. And for whom do you work, Leopold?

    Steve: I believe that “Leopold” is one of the many pseudonyms used by one person who leaves many comments here, most of which are deleted.


  8. Do you [Steve] remember when I blew the whistle on the Metrolinx scam whereby they would “salt” public meetings with fearful staffers who would talk down opponents?

    The same thing happened recently with a guy on a Facebook site regarding passenger trains. He was a loyal defender of everything VIA did … until I pointed out to the other group members that he worked at VIA headquarters, a.k.a. Fort Fumble. He vanished fast after I outed him.

    I keep wondering if Leopold might actually be a certain Metrolinx wolf in sheep’s clothing. Are you listening Li’l Mikey? Phil?

    Caroline! Can’t you hear me calling, Caroline? What’s the matter? Are you deaf or something?”


  9. The biggest problem I have with the Ontario Line, aside from its name, is the wandering route that makes no sense. Every curve slows down trains AND every sharp curve adds noise that can be harmful to riders’ ears. Check out University line around Museum and worse Union station both ways both University and Yonge.

    Might make more sense to dig an express tunnel below the existing Yonge line! Just like in NY City! You already know the ridership is there and still growing. And, when one line breaks down you can use the other to move riders instead of waiting for a few buses. Cost will be billions but so what? It’s only money!


  10. What? With billions in play, there’d be people who’d fudge who they were to cheerlead a bad deal for transit users, taxpayers and the City core? Hmm, and so how about having every one of the politicians that approves anything over a billion cough up, say, — $200,000 of personal $ for a yes vote – would that help?


  11. I find it disturbing that the process of packing meetings to manipulate opinion or take away free speech appears to be increasing. If this is happening in the planned, coercive way that some of you have described, then the fascist originators should be called out by the media.

    Otherwise, we will be allowing ourselves to slip into the Trumpland that we all claim [press included] to abhor.


  12. I can’t locate it in my overflowing files just yet, but Darryl might like to see if he can find the article by The Globe and Mail’s Jeff Gray from back around 2009 concerning the Metro-stinx internal email regarding the co-opting of the public consultation process. Today is a big file clean-up day for me, so let me see if I can find that article and post it here.

    Nothing has changed in that regard since the lamentable CEO of that time who issued those staff instructions went off to his well-paid reward down in the Hamilton area. In fact, I would say the latest executive “corpse” is even more devious and underhanded.

    I should mention that Metro-stinx briefly considered coming after me about that memo because they suspected me of leaking it to Jeff Gray. Their miserable CEO of the time threatened to sic the OPP on me. But then one of his vice-presidents told him that I likely had even more damning material I could use against them.

    A threat like that was recently made about me by a certain executive cupcake at the ONTC on another matter. That was when where I released an email sent directly to me by one of their vice-presidents saying he opposed any revival of the Toronto-North Bay-Cochrane rail passenger service.

    Welcome to democracy in Ontario!

    Steve: It didn’t take much digging to locate the articles on the Globe’s website:

    Secret Draft Highlights Toronto Agency’s Strategy

    Metrolinx Document Condemned By Miller, Other Board Members

    Although the practice was described merely as a proposal that never had the weight of official policy, Metrolinx has always been extremely sensitive to criticism and very controlling in its management of public “participation”.


  13. Not only did this public servant threaten to go after me, so did his successors. They have such thin skins down at Metro-stinx, don’t they?

    That’s gonna catch up with them one day. Soon, I hope.


  14. The question to ask is not whether the RL is better than the OL, or vice versa.


    1) What can be done to the RL to reduce costs? or
    2) What can be done to the OL to improve capacity?

    For #1, consider using shorter (120m?) trains at higher frequency. It’s eliminating the Carlaw jog, which added great depth to many stations. It’s eliminating the track connection at Pape and using a train yard in Leaside instead. It’s using cut-and-cover in spots to reduce station depth, reduce cost and construction duration.

    For #2 is using longer trains (120m). It’s reducing the number of curves (just 1 big one from Pape to Eastern, instead of Pape to GO, then GO to Distillery area to Queen).

    By asking the right questions, maybe we can zero in on the right solution.

    Steve: If we’re going down that path, then there is an even more important question: why Queen Street? This imposes curves and construction challenges on both lines rather than a route further south.


  15. The Scarborough Subway, Ontario Line, Yonge Subway Extension, and the Underground Eglinton West LRT have all been nearly unanimously approved by Council. There were 23 votes in favour including Mayor Tory and only 3 opposed including Josh Matlow which is not surprising as Matlow opposes everything. Notably every single councillor from East York and every single councillor from Downtown Toronto except one (Krystyn Wong Tam) approve of the Ontario Line. Along the route of the Ontario Line, every single councillor except one (Krystyn Wong Tam) approve of the Ontario Line. This should settle any further debate on the Ontario Line.

    Steve: No, what Council did was to approve a deal between Toronto and Ontario that includes the concept of the Ontario line subject to many considerations. The Scarborough Subway has been a “done deal” at Council for years and voting against it is a wasted effort. The Yonge Subway Extension has also been a “done deal”, and the Council approval included a reiteration that it could not open before relief was provided to capacity on Line 1 downtown. Finally Eglinton West is only partly underground in the provincial plan. There remains considerable debate on the Ontario Line once details of its alignment and effects on neighbourhoods through which it passes are known, although Council is probably powerless to change whatever Metrolinx imposes on Toronto.


  16. I can’t get over the fact that after all these years of talking about replacing the SRT with an underground subway because “the people of Scarborough deserve a subway” and “the SRT is an orphan line with different technology/rolling stock than the rest of the system”, etc, we are now going to build the Ontario line with different technology/rolling stock, running at grade and elevated through several sections of the city, in part because it is more cost effective.

    Buying new Mark III cars for the SRT or converting the line to LRT would also be far more cost effective (yes, I realize that the tunnel between Midland and Ellesmere stations would have to be rebuilt) but that doesn’t seem to matter. The fact remains that the SRT elevated structure is still in very good shape, and it’s quite a waste to be tearing it down.

    The SRT runs mostly through commercial and industrial areas, and is very well suited for at-grade/elevated transit. If we can build above ground rapid transit through parts old Toronto, why on earth are we spending $4B+ to tear down a perfectly useable at-grade/elevated transit line in Scarborough (that operates in an existing rail corridor with absolutely no impact to vehicular traffic) to replace it with a subway?

    I know the Scarborough subway is a done deal now so I guess I’m just venting, but the money we are wasting here is truly mind boggling, not to mention the hypocrisy of Ford and others who only a year ago were still chanting subways, subways, subways!


  17. Steve asked, If we’re going down that path, then there is an even more important question: why Queen Street?

    In the past, I favoured Queen over Union as a destination for a relief line destination for passenger flow disbursement once they left the train (and likewise convergence for the home-bound trip). The thought, at the time, was that some passengers would leave the relief line for a short walk to their destination, while many would transfer to Line 1 to reach their destination. With a Union arrival, that drops EVERYONE on the train at one point, with a substantial number needing to head north up University, another substantial group needing to head north up Yonge, and a smaller group disbursing out of the station. Also, being the furthest point on Line 1 from both St. George and Bloor-Yonge, it increases the likelihood of people continuing to overcrowd those stations in their travels.

    By shifting the relief up to Queen and having stops at both Yonge and University, you split the people needing Yonge from the people needing University into separate stations to leave the train. Furthermore, within each of those groups, some will be heading north and some will be heading south. There is also an increased likelihood that a greater number will exit at one of those two stations for a brief walk to their destinations. Thus, lighter passenger walking flows. Being closer to Bloor, this would also shift the break-even point between using the relief line and continuing on Line 2 to reach downtown, which would reduce congestion at the transfer stations.

    Today, I’m not so sure the same picture exists. We now have more destinations south of Union, though having two stations with a connection to Line 1 still has a great advantage when it comes to disbursing passenger flow.

    It seems to me that if there is a serious move towards improving the streetcar connection at Union, with the addition of an eastern service, then a substantial advantage would be gained by having a relief line connect at Union.


  18. “Today, I’m not so sure the same picture exists. We now have more destinations south of Union, though having two stations with a connection to Line 1 still has a great advantage when it comes to disbursing passenger flow.

    It seems to me that if there is a serious move towards improving the streetcar connection at Union, with the addition of an eastern service, then a substantial advantage would be gained by having a relief line connect at Union.”

    A major problem to consider is that even before the construction mess there’s a large number of people moving through the Union Station are who are not transit savvy, nor high-density urban area savvy. These are the people who stop and stand in the middle of an extremely busy public walkway, or at the top of a staircase, or immediately beyond the threshold of a door because they aren’t quite sure where they are supposed to go next. Throw in the fact we’ve made the foolish decision that Union Station should be a retail destination for people to amble about and it’s a really horrible transfer area. Walking from Front to Bremner is already a nightmare. We should avoid compounding this problem by dumping another 10,000 people per hour at peak times right there.

    Steve: For clarity, if I were building the RL further south than Queen, I would come across Adelaide or Wellington, not Front Street. There is no room for an additional structure under Front anyhow. As for the volume of people trying to move around, I suggest that you have a chat with the development industry which is building as much as it can anywhere there is space. This is the primary source of all those pedestrians.


  19. I’m pretty sure the Toronto Board of Trade is a Conservative welfare program where conservative political operatives can hang out in-between jobs. They try to borrow the reputation of the Toronto business community in order to give themselves an air of respectability, but they make no attempt at actually reaching out to said community, listening to their concerns, or representing their interests. Unfortunately, this strategy works as the media often uses them as representatives of Toronto business, and the group uses that opportunity to espouse Conservative talking points. It’s just another conservative think tank.


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