Updated January 22, 2021: Replies from the City of Toronto to several questions seeking details of the proposed service and demand modelling have been added.
The ongoing saga of SmartTrack, once billed by then-candidate John Tory as the saviour of Toronto’s transit, took another hit with the publication of an update on the SmartTrackStations project.
As originally proposed, SmartTrack looked like this. The line ran from Unionville to the Airport Corporate Centre with 22 stations, mostly new.
It was supposed to open this year (2021). That has been pushed back to 2026, and even that could be a soft date if GO’s expansion plans are delayed.
It would have worked hand-in-glove with GO Transit’s Regional Express Rail concept as former Metrolinx Chair Rob Prichard enthused in the project’s promotional literature:
The project contemplates making the GO train corridors virtual “surface subways” with service so frequent and fast that the trains became an irresistible substitute for driving, thus significantly mitigating traffic congestion. Imagine going to the GO station confident that the next train will be along soon, just like when we go to a subway station.Robert Prichard: Transforming the Way We Move. Address to the Empire Club April 23, 2014. Cited in Surface Subways for Toronto from John Tory’s election website [since removed].
Many parts fell off of this plan including:
- The proposed Eglinton West branch to the Airport would have required a mainline rail corridor from Mount Dennis to the Airport. This was not technically practical, and plans for this area reverted to the western extension of the Crosstown LRT.
- Instead of being a dedicated service with its own fare structure, SmartTrack stations will now be served as part of the GO network using whatever fare arrangements are in place by the time service begins.
- The City’s plan now includes only four stations on the Weston-Scarborough corridor, plus one on the Barrie corridor that had previously been part of GO’s plans.
- The most recently deleted stations were at Lawrence East and at Gerrard as these locations will be served by the Scarborough Subway Extension and the Ontario Line respectively. Bloor-Lansdowne has become a “City” station while Spadina-Front remains a “GO” station.
Park Lawn and Woodbine, also shown in the map below, are “GO” stations that are not part of the SmartTrack plan.
Of the stations that remain in the project, their viability deserves reconsideration:
- Three of the stations (Finch-Kennedy, St. Clair-Old Weston and Bloor-Lansdowne) are projected to have little walk-in trade.
- Transfer traffic at two stations (Finch-Kennedy and Bloor-Lansdowne) may be limited by competing nearby services including the Scarborough Subway terminal at Sheppard-McCowan and the subway-GO connection at Dundas West.
The original SmartTrack plan projected very high all-day demand:
The SmartTrack line will have a conservatively estimated ridership of 200,000 per day. This is the equivalent of about half the daily ridership of the existing Bloor-Danforth line.Source: The SmartTrack Line from John Tory’s election website [since removed].
To put this in context, this is about two-thirds of the entire GO Transit network, pre-pandemic. That is simply not possible with trains running every 15 minutes that must also carry riders from other GO stops.
The demand projection depended on a level of service and fare structure that will not be part of whatever “SmartTrack” is by the time service finally operates to the new stations. When SmartTrack was “sold” to Council, a different service level, station count and fare structure were cited than now appears to be likely.
Indeed, Metrolinx had already change its future service plans and announced their miraculous discovery (a mix of local and express trains) at a Toronto Region Board of Trade event. Frequent service at SmartTrack stations would not be possible if the express trains did not stop there.
The report makes clear a change in service planned for the SmartTrack stations that Metrolinx watchers had suspected for years, namely that the frequent “subway like” service touted for SmartTrack had been replaced with much less frequent GO service.
From the main report:
|2018 Version||2021 Version|
|Service Concept||Program service levels will be 6-10 minutes during peak periods and 15 minutes during off-peak periods.||Program service levels will be the same as the planned GO Expansion-level service for the corridors in which the Stations reside, with a minimum service level of two-way, 15-minute frequency commencing upon full implementation of GO Expansion service, with more frequent service to be determined on a market-led basis and subject to ridership demand.|
Updated January 22, 2021:
I posed questions about service levels to the City of Toronto. Here are the responses from the Transit Expansion Office.
Q: What service frequency was assumed for peak and off peak service?
A: Program service levels will be the same as the planned GO Expansion-level service for the corridors in which the Stations reside, with a minimum service level of two-way, 15-minute frequency commencing upon full implementation of GO Expansion service, with more frequent service to be determined on a market led basis and subject to ridership demand. [This is the same text as in the report Executive Committee.]
Q: What stops (other than the new ST stations) would trains on this route also serve? In other words, do the ST trains make all local stops including the new stations?
A: All GO stations (e.g. Agincourt, Kennedy/Eglinton, Scarborough Jct., Danforth)? Stouffville trains will call at all stations, one note we haven’t made this mandatory at Danforth, which is currently on the LSE service group.
Q: Is it assumed that the “SmartTrack” service will be through-routed at Union Station as in the original proposal so that a rider originating on the western leg can ride through Union to East Harbour without changing trains?
A: We have mandated trains to run through Union station to East Harbour from KL St Clair etc – we have left a degree of flexibility whether the trains terminate on Stouffville or LSE.
Q: Was the model capacity constrained (e.g. by size and number of trains)?
A: The model wasn’t capacity constrained. Below is the forecasted service frequency.
|Pk Hr||Contra Pk Hr||Off Pk Hr||Pk Hr||Contra Pk Hr||Off Pk Hr|
|East Harbour||LSE||4 tph||4 tph||4 tph||4 tph||4 tph||4 tph|
|STF||2 tph||2 tph||2 tph||4 tph||4 tph||4 tph|
|Finch East||STF||2 tph||2 tph||2 tph||4 tph||4 tph||4 tph|
|St. Clair W||KIT||2 tph||2 tph||2 tph||4 tph||4 tph||4 tph|
|King Liberty||KIT||2 tph||2 tph||2 tph||4 tph||4 tph||4 tph|
|Bloor-Lansdowne||BRI||1.4 tph (2.5 tph avg)||0||2 tph||4 tph||4 tph||4 tph|
In brief, the opening day service at all stations except East Harbour will be half-hourly growing to at least quarter-hourly at an unspecified future date. This is a far cry from “subway like” service claimed in SmartTrack promotional literature. These service levels will deter transfers between frequent TTC service and less-frequent GO/SmartTrack service.
As for fares, the whole idea that somehow riders on trains in GO corridors could pay via two different tariffs with free transfers to/from TTC service was always hard to believe. It is now clear that a “TTC” fare will be achieved by forcing everything, including local TTC service, into a regionally integrated system that, judging by Metrolinx’ long-held preferences, will be based on distance travelled.
Updated January 22, 2021:
I asked the City about fare levels:
Q: What fares were assumed, especially any provisions for transfers to/from connecting TTC routes?
A: Fare setting for the Program will be considered in the broader context of regional fare integration.
Council and Torontonians were misled as they have been on more than one transit project.
A related problem, considering the size of the investment, is that the lion’s share of ST riders will not be net-new to transit, but rather will be diverted onto ST trains by the lure of a faster, and possibly less-crowded journey.
In total, the five stations are projected to attract a combined 24,000 boardings and alightings during the average weekday peak hour. Taken together, the five new stations are projected to attract 3,400 new daily riders to Toronto’s transit system by 2041 every weekday. Ridership would likely be higher with full fare integration between the TTC and GO Transit.Source: Technical Update, p. 3
Note that by counting both boardings and alightings, these figures double the number of trips because anyone who “boards” must eventually “alight” somewhere. This will count everyone who makes a trip on GO twice for the network as a whole.
Time savings were illustrated by a “SmartTracker” website (still active as of January 20, 2021 at 3:00 pm) to demonstrate how one might make a faster journey with ST in place. The calculated ST travel times did not include any wait time for the train because service was assumed to be very frequent.
Projected values are in the Technical Update for each station, but they do not show the network as a whole. “Person Minutes Saved” are calculated by multiplying the riders for a station by the extra time they would have required to make the same trip if the ST station did not exist. For a station that is off of the beaten path like East Harbour, this translates into a large total saving.
It is not clear which lines were in the “base network” without the ST stations, and in the particular case of East Harbour, whether the Ontario Line was there or not. In other words, what is the extra riding and time saving due to SmartTrack as opposed to the Ontario Line? We don’t know because this information is not in the report. Another key missing piece of information is the service level assumed in the model.
|Station||Peak Hour Boardings & Alightings||Person Minutes Saved||Notes|
|Finch-Kennedy||4,600 (*)||> 250,000||Demand primarily from bus transfers|
|East Harbour||13,000||> 1 million||Major development node and transfer point with Ontario Line|
|King-Liberty||3,200||> 175,000||Major residential neighbourhood|
|St. Clair-Old Weston||300||Limited demand, but some development possible. Project will include road reconfiguration between Keele and Old Weston Road.|
|Bloor-Lansdowne||2,900||Connection to subway poor|
How Much Will “SmartTrack” Cost?
The City’s original budget for SmartTrack was $1.463 billion of which $585 million would be from the pool of Federal infrastructure funding. The project is now smaller because there is, net, one fewer station and some elements originally included have been deferred to a “phase 2” (and a separate budget line). However, the total is unchanged probably due to inclusion of other options in the design such as the City-initiated Keele-St. Clair project.
Cost estimates for specific stations have not been released yet, only the totals: $1.195b is for base station infra and $268 is for city initiated station requirements. That’s a cost/station of over $200 million, rather substantial for a line that is not underground.
Metrolinx will carry the operating and maintenance cost of the stations which they will own, and they will get to dictate the service level. Fare revenue will flow to Metrolinx who will set the tariff.
How this would interact with City policies on reduced fares for low-income riders is difficult to say, but the higher GO fares could work against any benefit for low-income areas the new stations might otherwise provide.
Finch-Kennedy station will be located mostly north of Finch which will be placed in an underpass. The location today is a simple grade crossing . The primary source of demand here will be transfer traffic to and from the Finch East bus services. Bus stops will be in the underpass with stairs and elevators up to track level. It is not clear how the bus service will deal with surge loads of transfer passengers from a comparatively infrequent train service or what creature comforts will be provided for waiting bus passengers.
The analysis notes that this station would “likely benefit” the most from full TTC fare integration. This is no surprise considering that the catchment area of the Finch East bus overlaps that of the Scarborough Subway Extension that will terminate at McCowan and Sheppard with considerable feeder bus service.
According to the Technical Update, the area east of the station is a potential site for development. Without some new density, the area around the station might fail to meet the provincial targets for station areas.
East Harbour Station
East Harbour GO/SmartTrack station lies between the Don Valley Parkway and Eastern Avenue in the middle of what will, someday, be a major new office development. The station will do double-duty serving GO trains on its inner tracks and Ontario Line trains on the outer tracks. This design is intended to encourage cross-platform transfers between the two lines to give an easily-accessed alternate route into the core for GO riders.
An important distinction here is that only two of the four GO tracks have a platform, and any train on the central pair of tracks cannot stop here. This raises the obvious question of just how “important” a node this will be if some trains bypass the station. The track arrangement further east on the corridor (at Scarborough Junction) implies that the central tracks will be used by the Lakeshore East service while the Stouffville service runs on the outer tracks. Metrolinx refuses to publish a service plan that would clarify their stopping patterns and train frequencies at each station.
The station will attract ridership primarily from the new development around it and from Ontario Line transfer traffic, although the opportunities for transfers could be limited by the number of trains that actually stop here.
Walk-in passages are provided at both ends of the station, but the station is some distance from nearby residential development where there are (or will be) competing TTC services. There will also be entrances in the middle of the station integrated with the development and the future southerly extension of Broadview Avenue. That extension, which includes a proposed streetcar extension south from Queen to link into the Waterfront East LRT network, will not be built until the station is complete.
The map below does not give a wide enough view to show how both the existing Distillery Loop on Cherry Street and the future Waterfront East line on Queens Quay are closer to existing and planned development than East Harbour Station.
Unlike the East Harbour Station, King-Liberty provides platforms that will serve four of the GO tracks in this corridor making more frequent service possible. There is an access to the extreme east end of the station just at the point where King Street dives under the rail corridor, as well as from a proposed second bridge at Joe Shuster Way and Sudbury Avenue. However, details for those western entrances are not shown in the map, and a station building at Sudbury Street is listed as part of a future phase.
Although this station will provide link to Union thence to East Harbour, the question of service levels and fares remains. Those who choose GO over the TTC could find that they will walk further, wait longer and pay more for the privilege of using this new station.
The area around this station already meets the growth targets for major transit stations, although additional development is certainly in the future.
St. Clair-Old Weston Station
According to the Technical Update:
The development of St. Clair-Old Weston Station is being coordinated with the St. Clair Avenue West Area Transportation Master Plan (TMP). The station project is anticipated to include the St. Clair Avenue West widening and Gunn’s Road extension recommended in the TMP
The station is in a difficult location with only fair connectivity to surrounding transit routes, although there are many of them. This is a classic planning mistake of counting the number of routes (512 St. Clair, 41/941 Keele Local and Express, 89/989 Weston Road Local and Express, 127 Davenport, 189 Stockyards, 168 Symington) without thinking how they would actually relate to the station. The very low projected demand here suggests that “not at all” would be the appropriate answer.
Some route gerrymandering and/or inconvenient walks may be involved in transferring to/from GO here, and as at other locations the service level and fares will be a key consideration.
Projected demand here is very low with only 300 peak-hour boardings and alightings combined. This station exists as much for political reasons as for any sensible planning.
There is already a considerable amount of residential and commercial development nearby, although it does not yet meet the provincial targets for major transit stations.
Bloor-Lansdowne Station was conceived as a sop to the City of Toronto in exchange for the intrusion of the Davenport Diamond project about 1km to the north. The basic idea was that if the neighbourhood would have to endure the imposition of the new GO flyover between the Barrie corridor and the CPR’s North Toronto line, there should at least be a station.
How much use that station will actually be remains to be seen. The rail corridor is west of Lansdowne, and a transfer to/from the subway would involve a long walk, over 300m not including the distance walked on the platform to reach Bloor Street. The Technical Update states that:
The vast majority of ridership at this station is projected to come from transferring passengers, with a low volume of walk-in trade.
The usefulness for transfers will be further compromised when the planned direct link between Dundas West Subway Station and the GO Bloor Station opens.
Three elements of the original plan have been deferred according to the Technical Update:
- The southern access tunnel, stairs and elevators are deferred to a future phase.
- The pedestrian bridge over Bloor Street West is deferred to a future phase.
- The multi-use path east of and parallel to the rail corridor is deferred to a future phase.
Although the City has taken over responsibility for funding this station, they do not appear to be getting much for their investment.
SmartTrack: The Original Plan
The following documents were published as part of John Tory’s 2015 election campaign. They are no longer available on his website.