An ongoing problem for anyone attempting to work with Metrolinx on their projects is the lack of transparency, the fog through which details emerge, if at all, on what they actually propose to do.
Distrust of Metrolinx to deal fairly and honestly with communities and their political representatives led to widely-supported motions when Council considered two reports regarding Metrolinx projects on October 1, 2020:
- EX 16.4 Metrolinx-City of Toronto Master Agreement for the GO Expansion Program
- EX 16.5 Provincial Priority Transit Expansion Projects – Subway Program Status Update Third Quarter 2020
Included here are Council motions regarding:
Also included are recent replies to queries from me about the Ontario Line.
West Toronto Railpath
The Railpath is a “multi-use trail” (any human-powered travel but no motorized vehicles) paralleling the Weston rail corridor. An extension south from Dundas at Sterling Road to just north of King Street is in the works, but this could run aground on Metrolinx requirements for land in the corridor.
Residents in the area have already been through one bait-and-switch exchange with Metrolinx who renegged on a planned design for the rail overpass at the Davenport Diamond that would have seen substantial beautification and softening of its effect. Now that is a separate project looking for funding rather than integrated into the construction.
Councillor Ana Bailão represents the area, and her motion confers permission to City staff to undertake the necessary land agreements with Metrolinx that ties land for GO corridor expansion to land for the Railpath. If this cannot be achieved, the question returns to Council rather than being sorted out at the staff level without any political input.
EX 16.4 1 – Motion to Amend Item moved by Councillor Ana Bailão (Carried)
That City Council authorize the Executive Director, Corporate Real Estate Management, in consultation with the General Manager, Transportation Services, to negotiate, enter into, and execute agreements, as may be required, with Metrolinx, for the acquisition and disposition of necessary real estate interests required in connection with the West Toronto Railpath, including transactions that may not reflect fair market value, subject to the funding for the cost of the real estate interests being available within an approved capital budget, and on such terms and conditions satisfactory to the Executive Director, Corporate Real Estate Management, and in a form satisfactory to the City Solicitor; in the event the Executive Director, Corporate Real Estate Management is unable to negotiate an acceptable agreement to acquire the sufficient real estate interests from Metrolinx required to construct and operate the West Toronto Railpath Extension, the Executive Director, Corporate Real Estate Management will require further City Council authorization before entering into any land rights agreements in favour of Metrolinx for the GO Expansion Program along the West Toronto Railpath.
Don Valley Layover
As part of the GO Transit expansion program, Metrolinx plans to build additional train storage in many areas around their network. One of these is on the land of the former CPR Don Branch on the east side of the Don Valley adjacent to the DVP between roughly Rosedale Valley Road and the High Level Bridge near the Brickworks. This would store three trains, but it requires a service build and parking just north of the Prince Edward Viaduct adjacent to the rail corridor.
This scheme has aroused concern about placing such a facility in an area that is undergoing regeneration. One proposed alternative is to put the storage on the west side where, for part of its length in the area, the Bala Subdivision (GO Richmond Hill line) is double tracked.
A motion by Councillor Paula Fletcher whose ward lies east of the valley requests a review of this plan by various officials with a report back to the November 18, 2020 Executive Committee.
The date is no accident as it is not unusual for requests of this nature to languish within the bureaucracy either because they have no due date, or because other agencies such as Metrolinx refuse to coooperate. If that happens, the report should say so rather than giving Metrolinx cover.
A more general part of the motion directs City officials to update Councillors generally on the effects GO expansion will have in their wards.
EX 16.4 4a – Motion to Amend Item moved by Councillor Paula Fletcher (Carried Unanimously)
1. City Council direct the City Manager and the Executive Director, Transit Expansion Office to advise Metrolinx that the City strongly recommends that Metrolinx undertake a study, in consultation with the City, General Manager of Parks, Forestry and Recreation, and TRCA which considers the possible impacts of this proposed facility on the Don Valley Park and the implications for the City’s Ravine Strategy, and a full range of alternative solutions and locations for the Don Valley Layover Facility Metrolinx is proposing as a part of their GO Expansion project; and report back to the Executive Committee at its meeting on November 18, 2020 on the outcome of this request.
2. City Council direct the City Manager and the Executive Director, Transit Expansion Office, if Metrolinx does not agree to the request in recommendation 1, to conduct a study, in consultation TRCA and the General Manager of Parks, Forestry and Recreation on the possible impacts of this proposed facility on the Don Valley Park and the implications for the City’s Ravine Strategy, and a full range of alternative solutions and locations for the Don Valley Layover Facility Metrolinx is proposing as a part of their GO Expansion project; and include as a part of developing that report stakeholder and public consultations.
3. City Council direct the City Manager to provide an update on recommendations 1 and 2 to the to the Executive Committee at its meeting on November 18, 2020
4. City Council direct the City Manager and the Executive Director, Transit Expansion Office to update local City Councillors directly on the status and impacts of GO Expansion impacting their wards.
5. City Council direct the City Manager and the Executive Director, Transit Expansion Office to review the proposed plans for the Metrolinx’s layover facility and report back to the Executive Committee at its meeting on November 18, 2020 on all the expected uses of that facility and its impacts on the natural environment in and recreation uses of the Don Valley.
Recent changes to legislation regarding environmental reviews have worsened an already-bad situation by allowing Metrolinx to defer production of an actual “impact study”, a review of what their plans might actually do, to the last possible moment when review and changes are almost impossible.
This defeats the purpose of political consultation either with Council or with the general public and mocks the concept of local input. Metrolinx knows best and we will all meekly accept what they put on the table.
The recent Environmental Conditions Report for the Ontario Line project is a particularly damning example. There are thousands of pages reviewing conditions of buildings, the natural environment and even the general feelings people have about where the line might go. However, in the absence of an actual design, one cannot comment intelligently. Even worse, if one attempts to get details to clarify what may or may not be an objection, the response is “not now”, the details will come later.
In considering the update on Metrolinx rapid transit projects, City Council overwhelmingly approved a motion by Councillor Paula Fletcher requesting various clarifiations to be provided by City staff for the November 18, 2020 meeting of Toronto Executive Committee.
That date echoes the request regarding GO Transit expansion effects and puts both City officials and Metrolinx on notice that Council expects to be informed about what is going on.
This includes information that Council requested a year ago (see discussion of report EX 9.1 by Council later in the article).
A further request to City officials is for a comparison of the right-of-way and cost implications for both the Eglinton Crosstown western extension which is to be built underground, and the Ontario Line segment through Leslieville which is to be build on a narrower corridor above ground.
All of this is requested in by mid-November. Whether Council will actually get all they ask for is another matter, but this will at least put Metrolinx on record as saying either “we don’t know at this time” or “we will not tell you”.
Council Motion re Ontario Line Design October 2020
EX 16.5 2 – Motion to Amend Item moved by Councillor Paula Fletcher (Carried 21-2)
1. City Council request the City Manager to review Parts 19 to 22 of Item EX9.1 headed “Toronto-Ontario Transit Update” adopted by City Council at its meeting of October 29 and 30, 2019 and to report back on those to the November 18, 2020 meeting of the Executive Committee and specifically address:
a. impacts on, both during construction and post-construction, on Jimmie Simpson Park and Recreation Centre and the seven other nearby parks;
b. the results of the study requested in Part 21 of Item EX9.1 on the impact on road operations of the proposed changes to the railway corridor to accommodate GO Expansion and Ontario Line, specifically the rail bridges at Eastern Avenue, Queen Street East, Dundas Street East, Logan Avenue, Carlaw Avenue and Gerrard Street in order to safely service six new tracks and Metrolinx’s response to that study;
c. potential risks and safety challenges of urban transit vehicles, like Toronto Transit Commission subway trains, running adjacent to heavy rail on railway lines and include :
1. an analysis of the crashworthiness of the technology proposed for the Ontario Line;
2. verification that Metrolinx is consulting with the Canadian Transportation Safety Board on the safety of running Ontario Line subway cars directly beside heavy rail cars in the GO corridor; and
3. advice provided by the Canadian Transportation Safety Board on the safety of Ontario Line subway cars running alongside heavy rail cars in the GO corridor; and
d. other information requested by City Council, specifically impacts on local business during construction, proximity of tracks to buildings and houses both for construction purposes and for operations, impact on maintenance of supportive housing for construction and for operations as well as all other matters raised in those recommendations.
2. City Council request the City Manager to report to the November 18, 2020 meeting of the Executive Committee on:
a. the price comparison of constructing the Ontario Line above ground as compared to underground from Don River to Gerrard;
b. the price comparison of constructing the Eglinton West LRT underground as compared to above ground as originally planned; and
c. a comparison of the width of the railway track bed corridor where the Ontario Line is proposed to run aboveground from Don River to Gerrard and right-of-way width of Eglinton West where the LRT extension is proposed and a description of the adjacent built forms for each.
Council Motion re Ontario Line Design October 2019
In October 2019, Council considered a similar update about Metrolinx projects and, among many actions, requested information on a number of issues that affect the surface portion of the Ontario Line in Leslieville.
Clauses 19-20 of the recommendations approved by Council arose from an amendment moved by Mayor Tory at the Executive Committee. Clauses 21-22 arose from amendments moved by Councillor Fletcher at Council.
A year later, City management has not yet reported on these items in all likelihood because Metrolinx does not want to discuss these issues publicly. Indeed, without a detailed design that will not be available until the second quarter of 2021, some of these questions cannot be fully answered.
EX 9.1 Toronto-Ontario Transit Update
19. City Council direct the Deputy City Manager, Infrastructure and Development Services to engage with Metrolinx through the next stages of detailed design and the Transit Project Assessment Process to mitigate the potential local impacts of the four new transit lines, with particular focus on the above ground sections of the Ontario Line and to ensure City staff are involved in reviewing and informing plans for:
a. safety, including City safety standards;
b. noise and vibration;
c. proximity of tracks to buildings and houses;
d. construction impacts and constructability;
e. impacts to local services and amenities including parks and community centres;
f. station location and integration with local communities;
g. accessibility; and
h. business impacts.
20. City Council direct the Deputy City Manager, Infrastructure and Development Services to request Metrolinx to mitigate the impacts described in Part 19 above and to consider options for constructing further portions of the Ontario Line underground, where local impacts cannot be reasonably managed.
21. City Council direct the Deputy City Manager, Infrastructure and Development Services to immediately study the impact on road operations of the significant expansion of the rail bridges at Eastern Avenue, Queen Street East, Dundas Street East, Logan Avenue, Carlaw Avenue and Gerrard Street in order to safely service 6 new tracks and railbed, and the required rebuild of the Lake Shore Bridge as part of the Gardiner take down; and that this information be forwarded to Metrolinx to be considered in their amended Transit Project Assessment Process.
22. City Council request the Deputy City Manager, Infrastructure and Development Services to formally inform Metrolinx of the City’s safety standard requirements to operate passenger rail in a shared track bed with heavy rail.
Metrolinx Replies to My Queries
I have been attempting to get answers from Metrolinx on some of these issues as background to articles for this site, but with little success. Here is a recent exchange.
My question to Metrolinx on September 29, 2020:
You have now released the “neighbourhood” page for the segment of the Ontario Line from the Don east and north to Danforth.
It shows a generic layout, and only shows the rough location of the OL tracks and stations, not of the new GO track layout.
An issue that I have raised with you before has been the regulations regarding lateral spacing between mainline railway tracks and tracks for lighter weight “rapid transit”. Has this issue been resolved for this segment of the line, and if so, how?
The reply from Scott Money at Metrolinx Media Relations, October 1, 2020:
The sections of rail corridor that will accommodate separate Ontario Line tracks alongside tracks for GO trains and other rail operations are similar to other rail corridors at home and abroad that successfully accommodate different tracks for different types of rail operations. These include:
- Scarborough Rapid Transit and Stouffville GO train operations between Kennedy and Ellesmere roads;
- Line 2 and CP railway operations between Bloor Street West and Kipling Station;
- Calgary South LRT and CP railway operations between 39th Avenue and Somerset-Bridlewood Station;
- Docklands Light Railway and Network Rail operations between Stratford and Pudding Mill Lane stations in London; and
- the Berlin S-Bahn and the German Federal Railways operations for the entirety of the Ringbahn line in Berlin.
Metrolinx is using internationally recognized evaluation frameworks to determine what mitigations may need to be put in place to ensure reliable and safe Ontario Line operations. These include the Common Safety Method for Risk Evaluation and Assessment and the European Standard for railway applications to demonstrate reliability, availability, maintainability and safety.
Note that this does not actually address the geometry of the Ontario line or the required spacing between modes, but merely lists several cases where they co-exist. For example, the SRT tracks and the GO Stouffville line are not immediately adjacent to each other. The European citations may not be applicable because of different standards in those jurisdictions.
A related problem in the corridor is how Gerrard Station will be fitted in considering that this is not just an Ontario Line Station, but also a proposed SmartTrack station.
My question to Metrolinx:
I noticed that the Gerrard Station design makes no mention of a proposed SmartTrack station at this location. Has it been dropped from the plans?
Metrolinx replied with boilerplate that does not address the question of whether a ST station has been included in the design at Gerrard.
As a transit agency, Metrolinx is doing our part by responding to the urban environment and areas that are growing with increasing demands of service. These areas have been identified as growth areas as part of the City’s Official Plan, and the Province, the City and Metrolinx continue to work together on the planning and design of SmartTrack. Further information on the SmartTrack program will be available at a later date.