Metrolinx Trims Yonge North Subway (Updated)

Updated March 24, 2021 at 10:00 am: In response to feedback about my remarks regarding the area around the “Bridge” station on the new Metrolinx alignment, I have added a section at the and reviewing the Langstaff Gateway Plan.

On March 18, 2021, Metrolinx released their Initial Business Case for the Yonge North Subway Extension (YNSE) to Richmond Hill together with a refinement, a Supplementary Analysis of their preferred option. There is also a short presentation deck on this subject on the agenda for the Metrolinx Board Meeting of March 25, 2021.

The IBC was originally completed in mid-2020 but it has not been public until now. Some aspects of it were reported at the time in the Toronto Star. (The report appears in the meeting agenda for September 10, 2020 in the private session.)

Updated March 21, 2021 at 9:20 am: A reference page linking to YNSE reports has been added for those interested in the proposal’s history.

The project chronology shows how long this extension has been in various planning stages. The Metrolinx Benefits Case Analysis was published over a decade ago in 2009, and it was updated in 2013. Options studied at the time had more to do with staging than with alignment choices:

  • Option 1: A six stop extension from Finch Station to Richmond Hill Centre with intermediate stations at Cummer, Steeles, Clark, Royal Orchard and Langstaff.
  • Option 2: A phased extension first to Steeles including Cummer Station, with the segment north to Richmond Hill to follow.
  • Option 2A: In addition to the shorter subway extension, service on the GO Richmond Hill line would be improved to every 20 minutes in the peak period.

Regional growth plans tilted the preference to Option 1 as a way to support a node in Richmond Hill.

The fundamental problem which the IBC and its supplement seek to address is that the cost of the extension had grown to $9 billion in 2019 from an original estimate in the 2007 approved plan of less than $3 billion. The project was taken over by the province as part of its rapid transit upload after preliminary design and engineering by TTC and YRRTC (York Region’s rapid transit agency) showed a substantial increase in the cost.

Part, but certainly not all, of that change is explained by inflation, and one must wonder whether the original estimate was low-balled to gain approval for a project with political appeal in York Region. Another problem is that “cost” is reported in different ways by municipal and provincial planners, and it is not clear that all of the increase is on an apples-to-apples comparative basis.

In the June 2020 IBC, Metrolinx evaluated three options as shown on the map below.

  • Option 1 (turquoise) is the original alignment that follows Yonge Street to a station at Langstaff, and then swings east to a terminal at Richmond Hill Centre.
  • Option 2 (blue) includes a new stop “Bridge-West” at Highway 407 and a station at High Tech Road.
  • Option 3 (pink) turns off of Yonge at Kirk Drive, cuts under the Holy Cross Cemetery and follows the CN Bala Subdivision with stations at “Bridge-Centre” and an High Tech Road. This was the preferred alignment in the IBC.

Here is a closer view of the north end of the line showing all three options.

Option 3 shown in pink above is the preferred one for reasons I will describe below, but there were concerns that it cut under the corner of Holy Cross Cemetery. This led to the alignment proposed in the Supplementary Analysis.

At the Don River crossing, the revised alignment swings west and then turns east following a route to the CN Bala Subdivision (GO’s Richmond Hill corridor) further south than in the original Option 3 shown above. The subway runs under the CN corridor where it passes under the cemetery, and then surfaces to run alongside the railway tracks.

Another major change in the design is that some stations have vanished, although depending on how the budget works out, they could gain a reprieve. The affected stops are Cummer/Drewry, Clark and Royal Orchard.

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