Ontario Line Design Changes Again

Updated March 27, 2021: The reference to third rail power pickup for the Ontario Line was incorrect and has been changed. According to the December 2020 Preliminary Design Business Case the line will use 1500V DC overhead power supply.

As originally announced, the Ontario Line was intended to run along the GO Lake Shore East corridor between the Don River and Gerrard Street with the new rapid transit tracks straddling the GO transit line as shown in the map below.

Discussions with the Riverside and Leslieville neighbourhood have been fraught with concerns about the combined effect of the two new Ontario Line tracks, the stations, the expanded four-track GO corridor and the infrastructure needed for electrification. This has been the subject of previous articles and I will not rehash the issues here.

At a community meeting on March 25, 2021, an unexpected piece of news was revealed not by Metrolinx staff, but by City Councillor Paula Fletcher: Metrolinx has changed the design so that the Ontario Line tracks will run on the west side of the GO corridor.

I asked Metrolinx for their comment, and here is their reply:

As part of our planning, we have been exploring alternatives that will allow us to incorporate some of the feedback from the community. The updated plans are not yet final so it is too early to provide details or images.

One thing we are looking at is shifting both Ontario Line tracks to the west side in the corridor, rather than on either side of the GO tracks.

Once finalized, we will be sharing the updated plans related to the configuration with the community in the coming weeks at a public consultation.

We are still conducting environmental assessments for the area, which include a Joint Corridor Early Works Report and an Environmental Impact Assessment Report for the whole line.

Email from Metrolinx Media Relations, March 26, 2021

This has many implications including the total space needed for the six-track corridor, the placement of electrification infrastructure, the effect of stations on their neighbourhoods, and transfer provisions at the key East Harbour Station.

From a construction point of view there are benefits to keeping the OL tracks together:

  • There is no longer any need to tunnel under the rail corridor so that the eastbound track can reach its position south-east of East Harbour Station, nor to tunnel again for the tracks to rejoin at Gerrard before heading up Pape.
  • Only a single shared bridge over the Don River will be needed.
  • The two directions of the OL can share a centre platform rather than requiring dedicated platforms, including access elements like escalators and elevators.
  • Structures for GO can be better separated from those for the OL which will now lie beside the GO tracks, not astride them.
  • Construction of the OL should have less effect on the adjacent GO operations.

The possible downsides or side-effects include:

  • The consolidated eastbound and westbound platforms and station structures are now all on one side of the GO corridor possibly affecting areas and buildings that were previously outside of the construction area.
  • The minimum clearances for GO electrification will have a greater effect on the east side of the corridor because the eastbound OL track will no longer provide some of the separation needed from nearby buildings and vegetation.
  • The claimed benefit of across-the-platform transfer between GO and OL services at East Harbour is now reduced. All transfers will have to go down to a concourse level to switch between trains.

At the March 25 Metrolinx Board meeting, management presented an overview of the Ontario Line and the benefits of above ground construction. This alignment change was not mentioned at all. Notable by its absence was any reference to the convenience of across-the-platform transfers, a major selling point for the OL as a potential way to offload demand from Union Station.

When originally announced, the Ontario Line would provide across-the-platform transfers with GO at both East Harbour and Exhibition Stations to redirect some GO traffic to the OL and offload Union Station. At Exhibition, this design has already proved to be impractical and the OL station will be entirely north of the rail corridor. We appear to be on the verge of seeing a comparable change at East Harbour. This was a major selling point for the OL design.

As I discussed in a previous article, aspects of that presentation put a better spin on Metrolinx plans than might actually be deserved. With the change in the track layout, a further issue pops up: the proximity of buildings or vegetation to the electrified GO trackage.

Here is a diagram showing the minimum clearances from adjacent vegetation (mainly trees) on an electrified GO corridor:

In a context where buildings are nearby, the diagram changes a bit, but the basics are similar.

These drawings show a two-track GO corridor, but Lake Shore East will have four tracks, plus the Ontario line tracks. If this view looked northeast, the OL tracks would be on the left side, probably to the left of the pole holding the overhead system.

In that configuration, the “no vegetation” zone to the left (west/north) would be occupied by the OL itself which should have much less restrictive requirements for nearby growth because it uses overhead power at a much lower voltage than GO trains. However, on the right (east/south), the outermost GO track is now at the edge of the corridor and clearance requirements for electrification apply. [Corrected March 28/21 to reflect overhead rather than third rail power supply.]

An illustration of a park on the line must be seen in this light. This shows a mature tree immediately beside the sound wall and the overhead support poles. As shown, it is within the clear zone required for electrification.

In the management presentation, Metrolinx claimed that the Ontario Line will actually make the neighbourhood quieter, although they did not explicitly say “quieter than today”. This is something of a stretch because there will still be more GO trains, and many of them (thanks to the Bowmanville extension of GO service) may well be diesel.

This is an example of a fundamental problem with Metrolinx planning for this corridor: they conduct separate studies and community sessions for the Ontario Line and for the GO Expansion and Electrification program rather than producing a consolidated plan showing the effect of all three changes planned over the coming decade.

A further exaggeration, intended to show how all of this work has a beneficial end even though it might affect the community, lies in claims of environmental and congestion benefits of the project (regardless of its alignment).

All of the new transit riders on the Ontario Line are assumed to represent avoided auto trips complete with their congestion and pollution. There is no guarantee that fewer auto trips will be taken in the future due to a backlog of demand for road space, and due to population growth.

A common remark Metrolinx has made about The Big Move regional plan is that it will at best keep things from getting worse. In areas where there is already heavy traffic and congestion, it is not realistic to assume that the day the OL opens, roads will suddenly empty of cars. This is a bogus position, and Metrolinx should know better.

The original Ontario Line scheme was sold on its benefits for GO interchange and because it was claimed to fit within existing Metrolinx lands, more or less. Gradually these claims are coming unglued, although many of the underlying issues were clear the day the line was announced.

Postscript: An Alternate Alignment from the Don River to Carlaw

In my previous article, I alluded to a possible alignment that would splice the Ontario Line into the Relief Line’s alignment running up Carlaw from Eastern. From East Harbour, the OL would have travelled east parallel to Eastern Avenue and descended below grade, then veer north to hook into the Relief Line route at about Logan Avenue.

This scheme depended on the Ontario Line being entirely on the south/east side of the rail corridor at East Harbour rather than astride it (as in the original OL plan) or on the north/west side as in the revised plan.

With the proposed shift of the Ontario Line to be entirely on the north/west side of the rail corridor, this scheme is no longer feasible.

10 thoughts on “Ontario Line Design Changes Again

  1. Not surprising, a plan that was rushed through like this needs needs revisions.

    But one thing that still needs addressing, has Metrolinx ever come out and said that limiting GO and VIA to four tracks will be sufficient in the long term? Or have they just stuck their heads in the sand to go along with this? And will Greenwood Yard just to to waste, instead of being used as was planned with the DRL?

    Steve: There was a time when they thought three tracks were enough for everything, but that was before the idea of running really frequent GO service came along. That said, if they cannot manage with four, especially with a signal system that could handle closely spaced trains, they have a big problem.

    As for Greenwood, the question is where it fits after a new yard is built at Kipling (Obico), a project the TTC has been dragging its feet on for years. I think that they would wind up reconfiguring it at least in part to be a carhouse with the major work on Line 2 cars moving west. There was also talk of expanding its use as a yard for the fleet of work cars.

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  2. As soon as I started reading I realized that this contradicts the whole purpose of the Ontario Line and it’s cross platform transfer. You pointed it out in the next sentence. I always thought this was a false reason, because the only way someone will transfer from GO to OL is if their destination is on the OL – and in which case as long as the transfer is easier than at the massive Union Station (which won’t be hard), people will do it with or without a cross-platform transfer.

    I think the correct Ontario Line route through this area is similar to the original route (~2016). You will notice that the low point (below ground level) was not even under the Don River – it was going underneath Carlaw. Here’s what you do – from Downtown, tunnel under the Don River and reach the previous Broadview station. Here it continues east (maybe 60m south of Eastern) and becomes shallow, and it crosses Carlaw going above the sewer line. Then it curves north onto Pape straight up to the Don Valley. From the GO Corridor to Pape, it would be cut-and-cover, and then relaunch to head north (or in exchange for locals not having an elevated rail line through their neighbourhood for the next 100 years, make it cut and cover the whole way, which speeds construction but extends disruption, measured in months, to the entire length). With these newer trains, they can maybe tighten the curve radii to minimize expropriation around the curve. Not tying into B-D at Pape also saves a boatload of money.

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  3. Was there an earlier announcement that the Ontario Line was going to use third rail, or is that just inherent to some of the other design decisions they’ve made?

    For some reason I thought that it was going to be overhead power like the Crosstown, although that might still have smaller clearance requirements if it’s a different voltage?

    Steve: All of the illustrations of sample vehicles showed third rail power pickup (e.g. the Canada Line in Vancouver).

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  4. Thanks again Steve, and commenters.

    There’s ZERO doubt that we need Relief, but I wish we could stand back and think foremost of Relief Function, vs. a megaproject,, though it’s good to be thinking of getting to Eglinton. Given the 1957 plan had both a Relief South, North, NE, and West component going out to Islington, I suggest it wouldn’t be too big a deal to have another year or two for more planning, and not the scheming which taints most everything, and with the lull in transit usage, there’s a tiny bit of breathing room, moreso with the small Relief function of the Danforth bikeway, and also having Gerrard more linked.

    What seems most important now is to make better connection between Richmond Hill GO and the TTC, and not at Union either. So how about GO/Metrolinx fulfill what was in the last Metro OP and study connections between Eglinton/Don Mills and Oriole? Two quick options are the digging out of that spurline now a RailTrail for some form of transit connection – and build it big enough for all technologies please – and some form of tunnel/transitway on or under Don Mills.

    There’s been 25 years since that OP; might be able to have some progress??

    Having construction begin first on this segment of linkage to Eglinton is really sensible, and it’s top-down, just like our Dougtator does things. And practically, while there’s seeming to be flex in plans ie. going over the Don not under, there are still a host of Big issues remaining in the lower segments, and a lack of interest in exploring the good options, like tunnelling in the core and likely in Thorncliffe, and doing surface options for triage transit south of Thorncliffe, and yes, why can’t we put a subway on the Don Valley Parkway and save a billion or three?

    Maybe, if Metrolunx is using Copenhagen as an example, we could spend a million to bring a few of their planners over to work on our schemes to make them in to plans that have more respect for logic and communities and tax dollars too, not what smells like a set of projects to use up allegedly scarce capital for clunker transit that will have operating costs too, all not borne by those making the decisions and plans.

    If the Ford level really is committed to improving transit, they should give a billion directly to a new non-profit with some political reps, but also community leaders and transit experts, with paid staff from the interest to clean up the processes, though this might be a dangerous precedent for them, and the Liberals and NDP as well of course, at all levels.

    And in another reform, how about having all the politicians bear some personal financial responsibility for a few of their choices, and some of the over-run and operating costs? Or at least lose their driving privileges as a lifetime penalty…

    Steve: The Don Mills/Oriole link is not going to happen. It depends on going through a residential neighbourhood, but more importantly on having GO trains cross over the CP mainline between Leaside and Don Mills if the GO trains are going to come down the Don Branch to the core. CPR absolutely rejects this sort of operation on their line. They don’t even want a less-frequent Peterborough service getting in the way of their freights, and that why HFR will probably use the Uxbridge Sub (Stouffville corridor), not the Don Branch and CP Belleville Sub, to leave town.

    This point has been made many times.

    BTW Queen’s Park has no authority to compel the CPR to do anything. Railways answer only to the feds.

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  5. Steve said: Notable by its absence was any reference to the convenience of across-the-platform transfers, a major selling point for the OL as a potential way to offload demand from Union Station.

    When originally announced, the Ontario Line would provide across-the-platform transfers with GO at both East Harbour and Exhibition Stations to redirect some GO traffic to the OL and offload Union Station.

    Walter said: As soon as I started reading I realized that this contradicts the whole purpose of the Ontario Line and it’s cross platform transfer.

    Worth repeating, $11 billion is at issue.

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  6. What is needed is Alternate research. Some say “Think outside the box”, I say “Throw away the box”.

    Scrap OL. It wonders all over the place.

    Expand Yonge Line to 4 tracks. NY City has this with Express trains running on 2 separate tracks.

    Dig down below the present line AND stay directly below Yonge Street in a straight line. Go down 50+ feet below all sewers, water, gas, hydro, fiber cables etc. If necessary build dams and foundation supports for high rises buildings.

    Do this between Union and Eglinton just like the original subway! This is where people are and where they want to go. Not wandering all over the place like the Ontario Line proposes. Massive disruption. Massive dollars.

    Steve: Sounds easy, but it fact this is extremely hard and expensive. NY has express trains because their system was built that way.

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  7. Thanks again Steve, and commenters. And especially for the reminder about how rightfully territorial the rail companies are about their lines/services. So maybe we can think of tunnelling up to Oriole, and not have GO cross-over come south? Or a cut and cover through the rail trail or portions thereof? And with that option, I sure hope we aren’t going to build our options shut again with all the massive devilopment at the NW of Don Mills and Eglinton site – we really must lay out a corridor and not have more repeats of sell-out of transit options for private profit and some tax revenue as is the standard pattern in the core by everyone.

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  8. As soon as I started reading I realized that this contradicts the whole purpose of the Ontario Line and it’s cross platform transfer. You pointed it out in the next sentence. I always thought this was a false reason, because the only way someone will transfer from GO to OL is if their destination is on the OL – and in which case as long as the transfer is easier than at the massive Union Station (which won’t be hard), people will do it with or without a cross-platform transfer.

    That much should have been obvious when Metrolinx heralded their overground solution as superior to the underground option because it solved the relief line’s antiquated and terrible transfer problem for GO commuters at East Harbour. I seem to have missed their slide and discussion for the elevated station at Eglinton.

    Anyone with functioning grey matter would have come to the conclusion that the much hyped OL cross platform was only ever meant as a bullet point on the powerpoints to justify whatever Metrolinx’s pushers wanted. The reasoning was as flimsy as the city’s reasoning for ramming the relief line down to Toronto’s city hall.

    Speaking of pushers what’s the connection (if any) between Verster and Schabas? Did they cross paths when Verster was embroiled in scandal back in Europe? There are so many problems associated with bringing the line to the surface for the sake of a measly 2 kilometres that I find it difficult to believe Phil would go to bat for Mr. Skytrain unless they had a handshake/wink-wink agreement from somewhere.

    Steve: Just how Verster and Schabas might be related I don’t know, but Schabas was the architect of that ridiculous SmartTrack scheme on Eglinton West. How he got to be a senior architect of Metrolinx work is a mystery. Moreover, as a consultant, we have no idea of how much he is paid. Ben Spurr traces the background of the Ontario Line in the Star.

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  9. The slide where it states:

    Wherever possible, these noise walls will be surrounded by trees, plants, and attractive landscaping to enhance the appearance of the space for the community.

    Is missing the asterisk. * Subject to change after project is approved and budgets are reduced.

    Steve: Oh … like the Davenport Diamond project where Metrolinx reneged.

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  10. The first thing the Province should be doing is find a new consortium to build future transit projects. After the Eglinton debacle I have no idea why Metrolinx is still a consideration.

    Secondly, this unnecessary project won’t even be functional until at least 2030. Already pushed backed three years.

    The pandemic may well have changed the way people work in the future. Daily commuting to the core may just not be as necessary and that would be a good thing.

    Subway lines see peak use during morning and evening rush five days a week. That’s about 6 hours a day, 5 days a week. Does it really make sense to spend in excess of $10B for a transit link that is at capacity perhaps 30 hours a week and wait 10 years for it to happen?

    The original Relief Line from Pape was ready to go and made sense. Given the bizarro world of politics I guess that’s why it’s not going to happen.

    As for the link north from Pape to the Science Centre I believe there is a better, cheaper and more expedient way. It could be accomplished quickly with dedicated, enforced transit lanes at peak hours and electric buses.

    Don Mills Road from Sheppard to Overlea is six lanes wide. The dedicated lanes are already in place. Overlea would need to be widened, including the bridge, to Millcreek. The Millcreek bridge is already wide enough. From Millcreek the buses would travel via tunnel to Pape station.

    I see no reason why that idea would not effectively move a significant amount of commuters during peak for far less construction cost and far sooner implementation.

    Politics withstanding.

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