Plans for GO Expansion Omit Key Features

Metrolinx has launched another round of consultation for various projects that make up the GO Transit Expansion Plan. Information on these is scattered through various pages on their site.

The consultation runs until December 11, 2020.

There is an interactive map of locations where changes are proposed, although it can be tedious to navigate because the default map does not have street names. (You can change this by selecting a different base map from the options in the upper right of the display.)

This map shows roughly the location of the Ontario Line corridor, but gives no detail about extra space, although the map is not to be taken as definitive. Nothing is shown of potential stations for the OL, and there is no information at all in the map for the several proposed SmartTrack stations.

This means that the scope of the project review and the combined effect GO Expansion will have with other projects is not known. Moreover, it would be foolish to approve a project based on a spec that did not include two major additions that are somewhere in the Metrolinx pipeline.

Stations, be they for the Ontario Line or for GO/SmartTrack require platforms and circulation elements (stairs, elevators, roads) but there is no hint of the space these will take.

Future GO Transit Propulsion Technology

Metrolinx often refers to electrification as a pre-requisite for the frequent service that they plan to operate. The network will have a mix of electric (whether locomotive-hauled or multiple units remains to be seen) and diesel-hauled trains. The diesels would be used on the outer portions of GO’s network that Metrolinx does not own and where relatively infrequent service does not justify the expense of electrification infrastructure.

Notwithstanding Ontario’s recent mutterings about hydrogen energy, that scheme has (thank goodness) disappeared from the Metrolinx lexicon. It is not an appropriate technology for the long train, frequent service plan that Metrolinx intends to operate.

Electrification requires infrastructure including the overhead contact system (OCS) along the rail corridors and power substations along the routes to convert electricity from Hydro’s distribution voltage to the level used by the trains.

The sequence of conversion is not yet settled, although the inner part of the Kitchener corridor is a likely first step so that the Union-Pearson Express could be electrified. Enough time has passed since any of this was discussed, and circumstances are far different today. The whole question of the staging and timing of electrification will depend on how fast Ontario wants to pay for it and how soon Metrolinx actually operates frequent electrified service.

Scarborough Junction

The existing junction at Scarborough between the Lake Shore East and Stouffville corridors is woefully inadequate for the future service plans. The Stouffville line is accessed via a single track that curves north from the Lake Shore corridor, but frequent service will require double track. Operationally there will be a pair of tracks with the south/westbound service roughly on the current alignment and the east/northbound service on a new track. This triggers the need for a grade separation.

The existing grade crossing at Danforth Road will be replaced by an underpass.

Where Is SmartTrack?

The proposed SmartTrack service, first announced by then-candidate John Tory in the 2014 Mayoral race, would have several stations, but there is no sign of them on the map for the GO Expansion project.

Here is the map of SmartTrack stations and proposed service levels as presented to City Council in April 2018. Note that this is not the same as what Metrolinx plans to operate according to their expansion plan.

Detailed designs for SmartTrack stations were presented by Metrolinx and the City in 2018. They are covered in three articles:

Finch East

Finch Avenue is a proposed SmartTrack station location. This is now a grade crossing, and although several grade separations are proposed along the Stouffville corridor, this is not one of them. Adding a station here, and then subsequently deciding that a grade separation is needed, would be an expensive afterthought. The Metrolinx plans give no indication of what might be involved.

However, the City’s design for a Finch Station shows a grade separation. This would be outside of the GO Expansion project’s scope, but it should be included for completeness.

Lawrence East

The proposed station at Lawrence East is a very tight fit if the existing SRT station remains in place. Given the possible timing of projects and drifting completion date for a Scarborough Subway, this could be a challenging location. Note that no provision for this station appears on the map below.

Gerrard

Gerrard Station is particularly difficult. When it was designed, the Relief Line would have been underground and would have conflicted with anything added to the GO corridor. Now, however, the Ontario Line will be above grade in the GO corridor and will dive into tunnels where Gerrard SmartTrack station would have been. The Ontario Line station is proposed to be southwest of the proposed ST station.

The pink box around the rail corridor below is notional indication of the Ontario Line, but it is not a definitive map of its requirements, notably the station structure.

East Harbour and Leslieville

The station at East Harbour will support the planned development of the same name. As at Gerrard, when the SmartTrack layout was proposed, the Relief Line would have run outside of the rail corridor (under Eastern Avenue). Now, however, the Ontario Line is an integral part of the corridor.

The Ontario Line also has a proposed station at Queen Street (the misnamed “Leslieville” station which is actually in “Riverside”). There is no indication on the map of the space that will be required for either the expanded East Harbour Station nor for the Leslieville Station.

Considering that the work to build this portion of the Ontario Line is supposed to occur concurrently with the GO Expansion construction, this is a major shortcoming in the design as presented.

Finally, as the Ontario Line surfaces along the rail corridor near Parliament Street, it will potentially affect the Don Yard (outlined in orange below) but this is not shown in the plan.

Liberty Village Station

SmartTrack includes a station at Liberty Village on the rail corridor north of King Street. This is a tight area for a station, and it should not be added as an afterthought.

There is no indication of this station on the plans, nor of changes a joint GO-Ontario Line station will trigger at Exhibition Station.

St. Clair & Keele Station

Although there is a proposed ST station at St. Clair, no provision for it is shown on the plans.

Other Non-SmartTrack Stations

Bloor-Lansdowne Station

Although it is not part of SmartTrack per se, a station near Bloor and Lansdowne is supposed to be part of the Davenport Diamond project. It is not shown here because it is not part of the GO Expansion scope.

Park Lawn Station

A station has been proposed at Park Lawn on the Lake Shore West Corridor. Like the Bloor/Lansdowne station, it is out of scope of the GO Expansion.

The Don Branch Layover Facility

Metrolinx plans to convert its unused Don Branch (the former CPR connection between Leaside and Union stations) as storage for three trains. This would be located between the high level bridge over the DVP and the point where the Don Branch crosses from the east to the west side of the Don River near Rosedale Valley Road. This is intended as a light servicing location, and it would have a collection of buildings adjacent to the rail corridor just north of the Prince Edward Viaduct.

The effect of this project on an area in the valley that has undergone considerable regeneration is a matter of concern for local advocates of reclaiming the Don River Valley.

It is not clear whether the need for this storage facility is triggered by the loss of space at the Don Yard on the Lake Shore Corridor caused by the Ontario Line.

Full disclosure: I live in an apartment overlooking this site. This is what it looked like in October 2020. The existing rail has been overgrown with weeds and trees for three decades since the last VIA commuter train to Peterborough ran here in 1990.

The last train here ran in 2003 or 2004, according to a comment to this article by John Thompson, when the CPR ran a company train pulled by CP’s Hudson steam locomotive 2816 up to Leaside from Union Station.

16 thoughts on “Plans for GO Expansion Omit Key Features

  1. The City seems to think that a station at St. Clair and Keele is in the cards, as it’s in the midst of a planning study with the premise that a station is coming in the short-term future. It would be great to have a station there for revitalizing and promoting redevelopment in the Stock Yards area. It would also result in improved transit access to more affordable mixed-income neighbourhoods in Toronto, which would mean more equitable transit expansion overall.

    Steve: All City plans have to assume SmartTrack because it is part of official policy, but one has to wonder when such basic information as new stations is omitted from a major GO expansion project map. As for improved transit access, maybe. Much depends on the degree to which ST is actually integrated with the TTC at a local fare level rather than priced as a premium service.

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  2. It’s a bit shocking to see the map for the proposed Danforth Road tunnel to include lands apparently owned by “The Corporation of the City of Scarborough” — a full 20 years after the amalgamation that eliminated that city!

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  3. Hey there, to your comment about it being tedious to review the projects because there are no street names: You can change the basemap to something with street labels.

    Thanks for compiling!

    Steve: Yes, but that should be the default.! I will replace all of the images now that I see where the option to change the base map is.

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  4. I bet the ownership in Land Registry is not updated if an owner “changes their name” and somewhere there is a legal document saying that all the assets and liabilities of the Corporation of the City of Scarborough have been assumed by the Corporation of the City of Toronto.

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  5. Hi Steve,

    I read in your article that GO plans on storing three trains on its unused Don Branch. Is that the set of tracks that goes over Brick Works? It would be cool seeing a GO train parked on those tracks, not to mention the free advertising GO would get as hundreds of motorists pass by those tracks on Bayview Ave.

    Steve: No. The storage area (as shown on the map) extends along the west side of the DVP from Rosedale Valley Road up to the Bloor-Bayview cutoff south of the high level bridge.

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  6. Hopefully the Don Valley Storage yard does not pass the Environment Impact study. A flood plain is no place to store, let alone do maintenance to trains. I would rather see them shift this facility to the Harbour lands, though access would be tough.

    Oh wait … we are talking about the same Conservative government that is destroying wetlands in Pickering to build a warehouse on a minister’s permit.

    Guess it will be water (or trains) under the Danforth Bridge!

    Steve: Actually, the track that is the proposed storage area has never flooded in the years I have lived right beside it. The one on the west side of the valley, GO’s Richmond Hill corridor, is quite another matter.

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  7. Why is grade separation not included at Finch and Steeles in the video on the Stouffville line? What new stations are being constructed on the Stouffville line?

    Steve: To be cynical, I would say that Metrolinx has omitted Finch because they expect the City to shell out for it as part of the proposed SmartTrack station there. However, there is considerable opposition to this station in the neighbourhood.

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  8. Hi Steve, sorry your response wasn’t clear. Is the grade separation at Finch already under construction with Metrolinx hoping that the city would pitch in or is it not yet under construction? I think that the grade separation at Steeles is already under construction but am not 100% sure. Is the station at Finch already under construction? What about Lawrence? Why not build a station at Ellesmere as well? There is a lot of residential development that has happened at Ellesmere near the Stouffville line tracks with more development on its way.

    Steve: No grade separation at Finch. There is a proposed SmartTrack station there, but the neighbours object to what will be needed to make it possible. Steeles is definitely being grade separated. Lawrence is already grade separated and is a proposed ST station. Ellesmere has always been left aside. It has no bus connection (or more accurately a very inconvenient one), and was not included as a potential ST station either.

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  9. Thanks for the answer, Steve. What I don’t understand is why Metrolinx would spend so much resources to grade separate at less busy (in terms of road traffic) crossings such as Havendale Rd and Passmore Ave but not at the very busy (in terms of road traffic) crossing at Finch?

    Steve: Because I think they expect Toronto to pay for this as part of a future station.

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  10. It seems like some of these challenges would be alleviated by having the Ontario Line rails paired on the northwest side of the rail corridor rather than straddling the corridor…

    Steve: But then they could not set up the “across the platform transfer” they are so keen on to offload traffic from the Lake Shore trains headed into Union Station.

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  11. SmartTrack is still stuck in the zombie state, but the plan to grade-separate the Scarborough Junction is very welcome regardless. It will help with the frequency, SmartTrack or not.

    Steve: Yes, they resisted this part of the project for a long time, but cannot possibly operate the combined frequency of traffic on the two lines, Lake Shore and Stouffville, without it.

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  12. Hi Steve,

    I live right in the cross-hairs of the OL close to the proposed Gerrard Station (First Avenue – Riverdale). Any insight into how they are going to fit the additional tracks above ground in this area? Do you think Metrolinx will go ahead with “plans” as designed for this joint OL-GO corridor or do you think they will have to redesign? What do you think this redesign will look like?

    Steve: I could crystal ball gaze, but really don’t know and don’t want to contribute to speculation. The unanswered question right now is whether there will be only an Ontario Line station, or if the Gerrard SmartTrack station is still “alive” in the plans. Frankly I don’t think it makes sense to have a GO/ST station here, but “sense” and “SmartTrack” are words that don’t belong in the same sentence.

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  13. Looking at the plans for the Scarborough Junction it appears that it was not designed to leave room for a future fourth track on Lakeshore East to the east of the junction, even though Guildwood Station was rebuilt recently with room for a fourth track. Also a reply from Metrolinx on their online consultation for this project confirmed they did not consider a fourth track.

    Are they needlessly limiting themselves here, or do you think a fourth track could be added in the future?

    Steve: I’m not sure, but considering how many other inconsistencies there are in GO’s plans, I am not surprised.

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  14. Dec. 5-20

    The last time the CPR line up the Don Valley was used was in 2003 or 2004 when CP’s Hudson steam locomotive 2816 pulled a company train up to Leaside from Union Station. The railway actually reinstalled the connecting switch just south of Millwood Road; but then, it was a CPR operation. I photographed this train above the Parkway at the time.

    John Thompson

    Steve: Thanks for the info. I will update the article.

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  15. I heard from the GO expansion project that the Danforth GO station is going to be renovated or revitalized in some way.

    Do you know the scope and/or timeline for that project?

    Steve: Metrolinx has not published details yet, but the addition of a fourth track to the Lake Shore East corridor will require changes at stations along the way including Danforth.

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