SmartTrack Reduced to a Handful of GO Stations

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 Version2021 Version
Service ConceptProgram 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.

StationService GroupUponOpeningFutureMinimums
Pk HrContra Pk HrOff Pk HrPk HrContra Pk HrOff Pk Hr
East HarbourLSE4 tph4 tph4 tph4 tph4 tph4 tph
STF2 tph2 tph2 tph4 tph4 tph4 tph
Finch EastSTF2 tph2 tph2 tph4 tph4 tph4 tph
St. Clair WKIT2 tph2 tph2 tph4 tph4 tph4 tph
King LibertyKIT2 tph2 tph2 tph4 tph4 tph4 tph
Bloor-LansdowneBRI1.4 tph (2.5 tph avg)02 tph4 tph4 tph4 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.

StationPeak Hour Boardings & AlightingsPerson Minutes SavedNotes
Finch-Kennedy4,600 (*)> 250,000Demand primarily from bus transfers
East Harbour13,000> 1 millionMajor development node and transfer point with Ontario Line
King-Liberty3,200> 175,000Major residential neighbourhood
St. Clair-Old Weston300Limited demand, but some development possible. Project will include road reconfiguration between Keele and Old Weston Road.
Bloor-Lansdowne2,900Connection to subway poor
Source: Technical Update / (*) The Finch-Kennedy value is not in the report, but is derived from 24K total cited above less published values for other stations.

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

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.

King-Liberty 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

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.

28 thoughts on “SmartTrack Reduced to a Handful of GO Stations

  1. Without turning a shovel, SmartTrack has achieved all that it was ever designed to do.

    Get Tory elected.

    As to why some of the websites are still up, that’s the real mystery.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. With a full complement of stations, the City’s study estimated 14,500 daily rides.

    SmartTrack Ridership Analysis by Eric Miller et al at the University of Toronto.

    So much for evidence based decision making.

    Steve: What is so sad in all of this is that SmartTrack was sold on the basis of very frequent service at TTC fares, but Metrolinx was never interested in that scale of operation. Even at the point where Council considered options for service plans that were watered down from the original scheme, Metrolinx was planning even less service because they did not want to commit to upgrading their network for very frequent urban operations. But their planners were happy to get in bed with Doug Ford to push for a completely separate line.


  3. Hi Steve your comment at the St Clair station having projected low demand is that from a gov study? I’m shocked by that, the amount of building going on and people moving into this area is crazy. People are dying out for this connection, it consistently talked about in the neighborhood.

    Steve: Yes, I know it is talked up a lot there. I suspect that the demand model runs into a few issues including where people living there are actually going and how easy, or not, access to the station will be compared to the existing surface network. One of the big problems when conclusions, but no supporting details, are published is that there is no way to figure out where the projections come from.

    If I wanted to be really, really cynical, I might think that the station is a Trojan horse to get funding for the road redesign so that it can jump the queue and be paid for out of “transit” money.


  4. Steve said “If I wanted to be really, really cynical, …” You (justifiably) cynical about transit plans, say it ain’t so!!


  5. Steve wrote: …Metrolinx was planning even less service because they did not want to commit to upgrading their network for very frequent urban operations

    Steve, for those of us with less detailed knowledge, could you explain (in an article if necessary) what technical, physical or contractual barriers exist in moving an electrified RER network from 15 minute bidirectional service to, say, the 5-10 minute service envisioned by SmartTrack and some earlier Metrolinx documents? You’ve covered this subject before, but I’m not sure if you’ve done so directly and completely in one place.

    Steve: There are several overlapping factors at work here.

    First is the signal system which must be able to handle close headways, and under which all trains in the corridor must be able to operate including non-GO movements. This must extend the length of corridors that will have frequent service together with electrification. Frequent service will also affect lines with grade crossings because if you run every 6 minutes both ways, that’s a crossing every 3 minutes on average and a grade crossing just won’t work. For a long time, Metrolinx tried to put off the Scarborough Junction rail grade separation, but finally they had to accept that their service could not run without it. Track and platform layouts also affect the service plans that can be supported, especially if there is a choke point.

    There are operational issues that Metrolinx is starting to address in their medium-range plans including through-running at Union Station and short dwell times, together with the ability to handle passenger volumes there. It is clear they are already worried about this in their repeated reference to offloading GO onto Ontario Line trains at East Harbour and Exhibition to reduce demand at Union. I think that they are grasping at straws there, and really wish they would publish more details on the what they foresee.

    Probably the biggest problem is that Metrolinx (and their funders at Queen’s Park) do not see themselves as an urban operator. This affects funding and the plans that can be built on it. Although Metrolinx claims that electrification is still on the table, I have my doubts about just how soon we will see it. Staying at wider headways puts off that problem but also locks us into the performance characteristics of diesels. A related issue is that more service and passenger, especially demand that is counter-peak and off-peak, puts stress on parking as the “solution” to getting people to stations. It’s not just a question of running more trains, but of providing strong financial support for local transit and last-mile travel in general.

    The fundamental question through all of this is “how much do you want to spend”, not just on capital but on future operations. Metrolinx does itself no favours by thinking it can somehow break even and/or have the private sector pay for new infrastructure. This is blind, stupid political orthodoxy at Queen’s Park, but the idea that we could get something-for-nothing through the private sector goes back into the Liberal days of Wynne and McGuinty.

    “Planning” has become so politicized that it is hard to know which constraints are real and which are emphasized to buttress the political flavour of the day. There is also the game-playing of low-balling project estimates to get through the sale/approval process only to “discover” that costs and scope must change, possibly elbowing other work off of the table.


  6. Eglinton West in Etobicoke was originally planed as a “heavy rail” or some other LARGE commuter transit branch off the Weston railway corridor for SmartTrack. Replaced as an extension of the Eglinton Crosstown LRT. (The original, original plan was for an Eglinton West LRT, which basically what they returned to.)

    Steve: Except that the “LRT” is a subway for much of its length in Etobicoke because Doug Ford doesn’t like “streetcars”.


  7. Hi Steve. First time commenting, so want to say a big thanks for all the work you put in here.

    I find the City’s continued use of the name SmartTrack to be pretty disingenuous. Originally it was a single line running through Union. I had imagined it as a conversion of GO lines to something more metro like. Now it’s just “SmartStations”.

    The part that is confusing is what is the difference between a SmartTrack station and a GO station? It seems to me that the only difference is who oversees the construction and funding – City of Toronto vs Metrolinx. That seems evident when looking at the map and Spadina-Front is a GO station and Bloor-Lansdowne is SmartTrack. Is that just because Spadina-Front was already considered by Metrolinx and is on their land, whereas Bloor-Lansdowne is not?

    This SmartTrack stuff has me thinking about the Ontario Line. What do you think about having the Ontario Line extend west from Exhibition by going underground and curving up Dufferin to the Kitchener GO corridor at Queen and Dufferin with a connecting GO stop there. From there it would go onto the corridor and head off to the airport replacing the UPX and add infill stations like St.Clair-Weston. It makes more sense to me to have metro stations along the inner city portion of the corridor than having long haul GO trains stop at St.Clair-Weston, King-Liberty and Spadina-Front.

    Steve: In reply to the second version of your comment, no it was not removed. WordPress only “remembers” you for the current session and will display comments as pending review during that period. If you leave and come back, the fact that you “own” a pending comment is lost and it does not show up. However, I can still see it and get around to reviewing whatever has come in from time to time.

    The only difference now between a “SmartTrack” and “GO” station is who pays for it. Once a “SmartTrack” station is built, it is at the mercy of GO/Metrolinx.

    If the Ontario Line were going to head out to the airport, it really should turn north before Exhibition and go northwest under the rail corridor. The route you propose via Dufferin preserves the Exhibition stop but would be harder to build. It would certainly be more expensive. There isn’t room in the Weston corridor for the OL to straddle GO tracks the way Metrolinx plans from the Don River to Gerrard. In any event, that’s a lot of new line to replace some of the GO service.

    By the way, Spadina/Front station is on the Barrie line, not on the Weston corridor, and SmartTrack trains (or whatever they are called) will not stop there. Neither will the OL because at that point it is running under Queen. The purpose of the Front/Spadina station is to provide some offloading of the Barrie trains west of Union. It would have made more sense if the Relief (later Ontario) Line had come across downtown further south, but the powers that be wanted it under Queen, hence its dipsy-doodle wandering.


  8. I Heard that GO (Metrolinx) have plans to renovate / revitalise the Danforth GO station.

    Do you know any plans about that?

    Steve: GO is adding a fourth track to the Lakeshore East corridor, but the station remains.


  9. Some thoughts regarding the stations:

    1. The lower ridership projection for St Clair may be in part due to the fact that the area is already well served by transit. The residents can take the streetcar to St Clair West subway, or a short bus ride to the Bloor subway.

    But it is possible that the model is inaccurate and underestimates the demand.

    2. The Bloor / Lansdowne station is kind of useful, for the riders from the north of Barrie line to access the Bloor subway and reach destinations west and east of downtown. Although one can argue that such trip patterns are more relevant for the Metrolinx cross-regional mandate, and should be less of a priority for the city-led project. At least the demand projection isn’t bad.

    3. The peak demand projection for the East Harbor station is massive (13,000 pph), and I would be concerned about the platform space and people’s circulation if that projection is accurate. The dwell times of both the OL trains and GO trains may be affected, too. Especially the GO bi-levels can’t let the riders quickly alight or board. We may be in the process of designing another Yonge&Bloor style bottleneck here.

    Thinking that it might be wise to remove the St Clair station, and reinstate the Gerrard station in order to spread out the transfers between the OL and the GO services.

    Steve: Bloor-Lansdowne station suffers from a long walking connection to the subway. Anyone who is already on a train here inbound would be just as well to stay on to Union which is not that far away. In the afternoon peak, one would be trying to board a train after it had left Union outbound with a full load. It always amuses me when people talk about a “convenient” transfer without thinking of the existing loads on trains or the effect of the time and distance on getting from one route to another. I suspect that the demand at Bloor is overstated and does not take into account the physical issues of the transfer connection.

    There is also the question of service frequency (15 minutes), a possible extra fare, the availability of alternate routes, and the actual destination of trips.

    A big problem at East Harbour is that a GO train will stop now and then disgorging many riders who cannot be immediately absorbed by the next OL trains.

    I really do not think that the people planning this give much thought to how stations and transfers behave.


  10. What do you think a possible rolling stock could be? I think something similar to the class 345’s that will be used on the Elizabeth Line in London, however they would have to meet certain requirements.

    Steve: I have no idea. Much will depend on whether it is a truly open competition. Ontario has a long history of buying equipment where it suits their political goals.


  11. Thanks for the reply and clarification Steve.

    I thought that the OL/LSE/ST corridor would 4 track, with OL on the outer 2 and LSE/ST on the inner 2. Is the plan to make it 5 track with the possibility of express trains running down the middle?

    Steve: No, it is a 6 track corridor. 2 for OL on the outside, and 4 for GO/ST (local + express) on the inside. There are crossover provisions between the GO tracks to suit the stopping patterns of various services.

    My hare-brained idea about a western extension of the OL assumed that no new track was required because I thought it was already using the existing track on the eastern corridor.

    Regarding Bloor-Lansdowne, I think you’re right about the poor transfer connection. I’d much rather see that money go to other projects.

    For Finch-Kennedy, I have a local perspective because my wife and I recently moved within walking distance of Agincourt GO specifically because of GO Expansion. I wish these stations wouldn’t be designed and planned in isolation. If Finch-Kennedy should be built, then so should a BRT or LRT for Finch East and it should be integrated into the station.

    I could say the same for St Clair-Weston, replace Gunn’s loop with a proper LRT/GO station and then extend the LRT west to Jane, but now I’m transit dreaming again…

    Steve: The sad part about Agincourt, of course, is that the grade separation there was part of the early works for the Sheppard East LRT. Finch East will be a challenge because a lot of service in northeastern Scarborough will feed into Sheppard-McCowan Station on the SSE. Service there will be much more frequent than at Finch East which will initially see only two trains/hour building eventually to four (the same service will also be at Agincourt).


  12. @John Look for the Stadler Caltrain units in the Bay Area for an example of something that could be used for an electrified GO service.

    “Off the shelf” European EMUs like the 345 Aventra units used in London wouldn’t meet US/Canadian crash standards. (The different approaches RE: standards are long and complicated.)

    The Infrastructure Ontario page on the “GO Rail Expansion On-Corridor Works” has rolling stock builders as partners in 3 of the 4 prequalified teams (Siemens, Bombardier, Alstom) – all of which have experience building double decker trains/electric locomotives.


  13. I discovered that detail about the grade separation for the Sheppard East LRT when I was looking into moving here. I’ve looked at the underpass many times and imagined LRV’s rolling through. Sad indeed, but at least it gets used for GO Expansion now.

    In the recent City by-election here in Agincourt, every single candidate pledged to build the Sheppard subway extension. Many of them simultaneously pledged to lower taxes. It reminds me of the original SSE/LRT debate.

    Speaking of the SSE, I hadn’t thought about the Sheppard-McCowan Station impact. In light of that, it also seems like money better spent elsewhere, a familiar refrain.

    I am (selfishly) a big fan of East Harbour though. I spend a lot of time in the Port Lands and the idea that I can take a quick train to East Harbour and hop on a short LRT ride to get there instead of sitting on the DVP is something I’m really looking forward to.


  14. Steve wrote: Although Metrolinx claims that electrification is still on the table, I have my doubts about just how soon we will see it. Staying at wider headways puts off that problem but also locks us into the performance characteristics of diesels.

    Cancelling or further delaying electrification is a chilling thought. The future station plans are impractical for diesel. Woodbine, my @#S

    Heck, the current station spacing in some cases is poor enough for diesel.

    When do you think electrification will actually commence on each line, currently?

    Steve: I am waiting to see what sort of bids Metrolinx gets for the OnCorr packages, and whether Queen’s Park gets cold feet. At some point, the whole mythology that this can be achieved with someone else’s money – private sector contributions – is going to fall apart. Do the Tories see this as essential to holding votes in the 905, or can they get by with running a few more trains?


  15. Why is the Bloor-Lansdowne station south of Bloor? Is the grade north of Bloor too high already under the diamond separation plan? Transfer to subway would be rather better north of Bloor. I hear Metrolinx likes its new expropriation powers – low density light-industrial around Wade Avenue could be a target…

    Steve: The grade up to Davenport has to start immediately north of Bloor pushing the station to the south.

    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 usefulness for transfers will be further compromised when the planned direct link between Dundas West Subway Station and the GO Bloor Station opens.

    If you’re on the Barrie line heading southbound, the subway connection at Dundas West appears to be a somewhat poor alternative. If you work on, say, Dupont, going down to Union then back up on TTC is a stupid option that will see you driving instead. Has Metrolinx discovered that there are destinations in Toronto beyond Union and Queen yet?

    The value would be in taking people who might be coming in from Aurora/Vaughan/North York and heading to destinations along Bloor… it’s a local connection, it might not make sense with stopping 12-car trains there – it would make more sense with a shorter, more frequent, fare-integrated EMU service, and a station in a better location for transfers… so basically not this SmartTrack plan at all…

    Steve: I was thinking of transfers from the subway eastbound to GO southbound which will be much simpler at Dundas West. If you’re on the Barrie line inbound, I suspect that simply riding to Union would be faster than changing at Bloor/Lansdowne for most destinations. For people headed to midtown (e.g. UofT campus), changing trains at Downsview is a lot simpler.


  16. Simon H said:

    In the recent City by-election here in Agincourt, every single candidate pledged to build the Sheppard subway extension. Many of them simultaneously pledged to lower taxes. It reminds me of the original SSE/LRT debate.

    Speaking of the SSE, I hadn’t thought about the Sheppard-McCowan Station impact. In light of that, it also seems like money better spent elsewhere, a familiar refrain.

    It is the voters’ fault to tolerate the baloney politicians offer.

    Mayor Tory’s legacy will be spending $1.4 billion for SmartTrack stations serving 14,500 rides a day and the being the driving force for spending $6 billion for the SSE serving 105,000 rides a day. These ridership numbers are for bus capacity, not even LRTs.

    Tory and Debaermaeker were single minded about these projects, no talk of alternatives.

    Councillors pander to their car-centric constituents, pay lip service about concern of the quality of public transit and truly don’t care about wasting taxpayer money.

    Money truly could have been better spent elsewhere to improve the quality of life for transit users. Steve’s work to provide sound measures of surface transit service is another example of getting the most value for taxpayer dollars.

    These concerns are merely electronic bits on this blog, not understood by voters.


  17. Bloor-Lansdowne would chiefly be helpful for southbound Barrie travellers to get anywhere on Bloor west of Christie. That can’t be a lot of people.

    One overlooked destination is Pearson, using a transfer from the Barrie line to UP-Bloor rather than BD-Lansdowne. Yes, it’s a 400m walk, but Union transfer is no picnic either and it’s still faster than staying onboard to Union and doubling back. It could mean a traveller catches an earlier train than they would have otherwise. Still a fairly thin justification for spending any money, much less $200M (avg).


  18. In the Jan 22 update of this article, there is a train frequency table split by ‘opening day’ and ‘future’.

    The GO Expansion website lists 2025 for new stations constructed and 15 minute service on Stouffville.

    So… what dates or years do those ‘opening day’ and ‘future’ columns refer to?

    Steve: It is a mystery. The table was supplied by the City of Toronto. All I did was to reformat it. I have been trying to get straight answers out of Metrolinx on service plans for ages with little success beyond the usual boilerplate replies.


  19. If we want GO to be more of a metro service (as Tory’s SmartTrack “London-style” pitch implied, and as GO’s every-15-minutes plans imply), then we need it to have transfers everywhere it can to build up a rapid transit grid. Stations at every feasible transfer and fare integration are the two biggest things needed to make GO truly regional. And frankly, there’s not _that_ many feasible transfers between GO and major TTC lines that we _can_ build even if we want to.

    Yeah not a lot of people currently go from Aurora to, say, Dufferin and Bloor. But that’s also because it’s a real pain to make that trip. I used to take GO as a regional trip to see family, but I don’t anymore (and likely won’t post-pandemic), because I moved, and even though the trains pass within 10 minutes’ walk of my house, it takes ~40 minutes to get to a GO station. So if you were to do a study of current GO riders, their origin/destinations, I won’t show up and nor will the potential for a stop near me.

    Having said that, that station location at Lansdowne is unfortunate. At least extend it over the bridge to north side of Bloor please.

    Steve: A bridge over Bloor was included in the original plan, but it was “deferred” to a future phase to trim the project within the budget. The only reason the station even exists is as a sop to people who were fighting the Davanport Diamond grade separation project. They will have a station, but I suspect it will be of little use compared to the TTC network.

    Some years back, Metrolinx planners, some of whom frankly should have been relegated to a kindergarten with crayons, published a map of potential stations at intersections between lines. Many of them were easy to dismiss by anyone who knew the lay of the land and the demand patterns, but that didn’t matter. Look at all those connections!

    You are close to a GO corridor, but not to a stations, in the classic bind of “last mile” connections (although 40 minutes is a lot more than a mile). Metrolinx is a parking lot operator first and foremost, and has never wanted to encourage the growth of local feeder transit with better funding. The station at Bloor/Lansdowne is seen by them more as a deterrent to long haul riders who will have to pause in their journey than as a transit interchange, and it is only being built because they have conned the City into paying for something that originally was a quid-pro-quo from Metrolinx.

    In all of this they can count on John Tory’s desperation to keep “SmartTrack” alive. In the current economic climate, it would not surprise me to see some of the GO expansion projects delayed or curtailed (with more “future” components). Tory will be lucky to see a train stop at his stations while he is in office even if he stays for a third term.


  20. Steve: The grade up to Davenport has to start immediately north of Bloor pushing the station to the south.

    Surely with enough money, they could manage to put the station on the grade, adjust the grade, make the station straddle Bloor, or something? It just seems so much more useful north of Bloor than south.

    Maybe I’m just obsessing over lines on maps? 🙂 Maybe the station just isn’t useful at all, period full stop? I dunno.

    Steve: There are technical limits on grades for rail corridors even with electrification. One problem looking at the corridor on a wider scale is not just that one has to get over the CPR at Davenport, but there is already a continuous grade from the bottom of the Newmarket Sub at Dundas Street up to St. Clair and beyond. The need to climb that hill is added to any extra elevation needed to get over the CPR. A related problem is that it is very likely the grade separation will be completed before the Barrie corridor is electrified, and so diesel hauled trains have to be able to handle the grade too.

    And, no, in my mind this station is not useful at all, but it gives the impression of “doing something” that seems far more important than good planning these days.


  21. At St Clair / Weston Stn there is also the 127 Davenport Bus which is not listed.

    Steve: Ah yes. I will add it to the list. The point I was making, of course, is that just having a lot of connecting routes does not mean that they all represent frequent services to which riders on the GO corridor are likely to transfer in significant numbers if at all. For a “planning” report to just count the routes without addressing what trips they might serve is just a tad amateurish.


  22. Russ mentioned this in his comment:

    One overlooked destination is Pearson, using a transfer from the Barrie line to UP-Bloor rather than BD-Lansdowne. Yes, it’s a 400m walk, but Union transfer is no picnic either.

    It might be easier for people on the Barrie Line to transfer to the Eglinton line and ride to Mt Dennis which is planned to have a stop for the UPX rather than walk across Bloor. Involves transferring to the Crosstown but better than a walk.


  23. Stan wrote: It might be easier for people on the Barrie Line to transfer to the Eglinton line and ride to Mt Dennis.

    I doubt that the double transfer plus Eglinton ride would be faster, but am prepared to be wrong. At this time however, it would also add a TTC fare to the trip cost.

    Steve: So much of this speculation depends on which elements of the future network actually are built and when. The time penalty of every transfer, especially to a comparatively infrequent service, can offset the benefit of just staying on board and going “the long way”. For example, we do not yet know in detail how long it will take to get between the Barrie line and the Crosstown at Caledonia Station which is extremely deep, nor how convenient the link will be at Mount Dennis from Crosstown to UPX (which of course could involve a wait if you miss the train). As and when the Crosstown actually reaches the airport, it might be simpler just to stay on that line rather than changing to UPX. All of this is hypothetical because I still do not believe that Ontario will undertake all of the improvements they plan, at least on the currently proposed schedules. In the short to medium term, there is the small problem of the airport regaining its status as a major destination. Remember the plans for “Union Station West”?


  24. Is it fair to call it Smart Trick, and not Smart Track?

    Steve: The real magic would be to make “SmartTrack” reappear as a useful entity. Tory is a magician with a threadbare and not very productive top hat.


  25. @Bill R:

    I definitely appreciate Steve’s work to analyze and understand our surface (bus/streetcar) transit, as well as capital expansion vs operation costs. For more regular transit enthusiasts/proponents like myself it’s really helpful to contrast what we think the area needs vs what it actually needs.

    It was interesting that neither GO Expansion nor SmartTrack was even mentioned in the Agincourt by-election. For the Sheppard Subway extension, I was surprised that even the most progressive candidates endorsed it.

    I wonder if it’s still possible to kill SmartTrack, or if the funding quid pro quo that Steve mentioned has doomed the city to build these stations. History has shown that if it’s one thing that Toronto is great at, it’s killing projects.

    Steve: I think that the Sheppard Subway has taken over the mantle of the “Scarborough Deserves …” from the SSE now that this project is more or less a sure thing. Some who support it may well think it really does not matter because it’s so far in the future that everything will change before it is formally approved. The problem is that having the subway on the map precludes anything else like an expanded LRT network from being discussed.

    I remember years ago asking Howard Moscoe why he was supporting the Spadina subway extension. He laughed and said that it was not worth fighting something that would never be built. That’s how we get stuck with bad choices when politicians decide that the fight “today” is not worth the effort.


  26. At several public transit presentations in Scarborough, Hilary Holden would present the Eglinton East LRT (while killing the Lawrence East subway station) and she was adamant that the Sheppard East LRT was still fully funded and next on the list. (The Finch West LRT had jumped the queue ahead of it.) SSE planning was still struggling despite killing the hardest part (building the Lawrence East station which is 8-10 stories below grade) so with one stroke of the pen Tory took the funding for the Sheppard East LRT and put it to continue preliminary design for the SSE.

    When you look at the Sheppard subway, the western terminal is Yonge. Pre-covid the Yonge subway is still full for the evening rush hour at Sheppard, not a great destination. There is truly need for East/West rapid transit in Scarborough above the 401. I know the Sheppard buses are full but City Planning has said Finch is the most heavily used bus route in North America. Finch West has industry and York U; Sheppard west, not so much.

    The squeaky wheel gets attention, but this city has never seriously considered ridership when making transit plans. The Eglinton East LRT is budgeted in the $4+ billion (but currently unfunded) with no ridership models.

    Steve: Weekday ridership counts for 2018:

    • 39 Finch East: 21,900
    • 939 Finch East Express: 35,100
    • Total: 57,000
    • 36 Finch West: 47,300
    • 85 Sheppard East: 26,200
    • 985 Sheppard East Express: 14,400
    • Total: 40,600
    • 84 Sheppard West: 20,000
    • 984 Sheppard West Express: 7,800
    • Total: 27,800

    There is no question that Finch has always been the heavier corridor, but Sheppard has the subway thanks to Mel Lastman. The Transit City network included Finch West from Yonge westward, and Sheppard East from Don Mills as, effectively, an extension of the subway. It was a link in eastern Scarborough to Malvern (and to the northern end of the Scarborough LRT network), and it picked up the existing GO Agincourt Station (SmartTrack and its Finch station had not been invented yet).

    Definitely there is an argument for better transit on Finch East, but at this point it looks like all they will see is some red paint, and not for a few years. For LRT, Finch East also had the problem of the narrow section in North York that was untouchable. Sheppard and Finch are mismatched on either side of Yonge, but that’s how North York developed.

    By the way, Hilary Holden had the unenviable position of carrying the can for a plan she knew was BS, but which was a political product to make the SSE “work” in the overall context of salvaging the Scarborough network. She left not long after that whole exercise.


  27. Is the Danforth Go Station still part of the new and revised SmartTrack plan?

    Steve: Danforth is an existing station. The SmartTrack project in the City’s capital budget is for new stations. As to which trains will stop at which stations, you can read various schemes that have been published over time by Metrolinx, but they change and should not be counted on. For example, the table of service frequency I got from the City was the first time I had seen any reference to the initial level of SmartTrack service being half-hourly in some locations. All of this is bound up in the service levels and demand GO will have when SmartTrack is finally launched, if ever.


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