Debates on the effect of Metrolinx service expansions often turn on noise and vibration effects, the degree to which any new or modified service will change the communities through which lines pass. Nowhere is this more striking than in Toronto’s Riverside district where an existing three-track GO corridor will be widened with a fourth GO track plus two Ontario Line tracks.
Reviews of the effects along the GO and OL corridor are hundreds of pages long for those who have the stamina to dig through appendices in so-called environmental reviews, but the material is inconsistently presented. Three separate projects affect this corridor, but no study considers the combination of three services.
This is a major oversight, and it hobbles any public consultation. Metrolinx appears either unable to answer valid questions about the effects of new services, or worse unwilling to reveal information that they should already have. Past experience makes communities distrust what Metrolinx says especially if “consultation” sounds more like cheerleading for decisions made long ago by sage transit wizards.
Updated 4:15 pm: Due to an error in a spreadsheet, the summary counts are off a bit because existing service was included in future totals. This has been fixed.
GO Lakeshore East
GO forecasts a substantial increase in the service level on its LSE corridor as shown below. Note that a considerable number of diesel trains remain because service beyond Oshawa to Bowmanville will not be electrified and the study assumes that they will remain as diesel. This is a change from an earlier version of the analysis when all service would have ended at Oshawa and all trains would be electric.
Some Metrolinx staffers do not appear to be aware of this change judging from comments in online consultations.
Illustrations and figures here are taken from Appendix G6: Lakeshore East Impact Assessment Report in the GO Rail Network Electrification Addendum.
The numbers in the chart above and the tables below do actually line up when one takes the trouble to adjust for differences in presentation, but this is not immediately obvious. For example, the 89 “Total Existing” revenue trains above do not include trains from the Stouffville service, nor the VIA trains. The “Non-revenue” count appears to include the two freights.
In the Riverside context, the chart is misleading because most of the new “non-revenue” movements will occur in other parts of the corridor, not in the Riverside segment.
There is no provision for any future change in VIA service notably the proposed “High Frequency Rail” scheme which will likely leave downtown via the LSE corridor.
The info in the chart and tables is consolidated below.
The difference in Non-Revenue train counts (108 in the chart vs 21 in the table) is due to these moves occurring elsewhere in the corridor.
GO Stouffville Corridor
As on the LSE corridor, GO plans a large increase in service on the Stouffville corridor. This service shares the LSE corridor between Union and Scarborough Junction and adds substantially to the train count in Riverside.
Almost all of the service will be electrified because Metrolinx owns the corridor all the way to the Lincolnville terminus. There will be more Stouffville trains than LSE trains because the Stouffville corridor will operate with six-car rather than 12-car consists.
None of these trains is included in the chart for the LSE corridor above.
The train counts specific to Riverside are different from those show in the chart. The table below is extracted from an appendix listing the “ultimate” service level.
As on LSE, the train count for the Riverside segment does not line up with the chart. In particular, there are no non-revenue Stouffville movements shown for the south end of the corridor. They are all north of Steeles where the line’s trains will be stored.
The background studies for the Ontario Line do not include a detailed service plan or count of train movements, but there is a chart showing the overall planned level of service in the Preliminary Design Business Case.
The proposed service level for this line has changed somewhat between the Initial and Preliminary Design versions of the Business Case.
For the purpose of this article, I have used the 2030-2041 operating concept with 34 trains per hour peak, and have used 18 trains/hour off-peak as an average. Service 20 hours per day is assumed because this is the range for all TTC subway lines. (Actually it is longer allowing for build down and build up of service overnight.)
The Post-2040 counts are shown for comparison.
Combining Three Services
When the numbers above are consolidated in a table, here is the result. Just over half of all train movements will be “subway”, that is to say whatever technology is chosen for the Ontario Line. Metrolinx calls this a “subway” on their website, and who am I to say they are wrong?
The table below was replaced at 4:15 pm on May 22.
When this is charted, the huge difference between existing and future service levels is quite evident. The layout of this chart is generally the same as the Metrolinx corridor summary charts, but with service for all three projects consolidated.
[The chart below was updated to correct an error where the “Existing” trains were included in the “Future Total” count.]
The future counts are organized by service type below with different classes of motive power indicated by colour: shades of red for diesel, shades of blue for GO electric, and green for “subway”.
Not All Trains Sound the Same
There is no question that diesel trains make more noise than electric ones, although I suspect that if anyone ever harnesses the hot air coming from various transit Poobahs* we will have the quietest trains on the planet.
[* “Poobah” is a character in Gilbert & Sullivan’s The Mikado and the name, among other connotations, “has come to be used as a mocking title for someone self-important or locally high-ranking and who … exhibits an inflated self-regard” (Wikipedia).]
Just because there will be many more trains than today does not mean that they will be louder proportionate to their numbers.
Diesel trains are particularly noisy thanks to the engine which generates the electrical power that actually drives the motors to move the trains. They make more noise eastbound (uphill) than westbound (downhill) in Riverside because they have to work harder.
Electric locomotives are quieter because their power is generated elsewhere. The same is true for “subway” cars which are equivalent to what, for mainline rail operations, we call “EMUs” (electric multiple units). The distinction is that EMUs can accelerate and brake faster than locomotive-hauled trains because the tractive effort is applied on most or all wheels of the train, not just on the locomotive. (There is a limit to the force that any one wheel can apply to the track before it slips. More powered wheels means more force can be exerted yielding faster acceleration.) Metrolinx plans do not currently include any EMU operation except for the Union Pearson Express, now a DMU (diesel multiple unit) train where each car has its own diesel propulsion unit.
Another important distinction in evaluating sound is that a continuous sound is different from one with occasional spikes well above background levels. It is pointless talking about an “acceptable” all-day average sound level if this is punctuated regularly by much noisier events. A good example is the relative sound level from the DVP (which is not exactly quiet in its own right) compared to the roar from road racing which has become quite common in our pandemic era.
Electric trains are preferable because they will not have the diesel roar, but they will not be completely silent either.
If Metrolinx were doing its job properly, they would produce a consolidated service plan together with a noise and vibration assessment for the three services. This would go a long way to transforming unease, if not outright alarm given the relative number of trains now and in the future, into at least grudging acceptance. It would also validate whether the proposed “mitigation” of sound walls is up to the task that the consolidated service of one train every 48 seconds on average (20 hours divided by 1,505 trains) will represent.
[The frequency was corrected from 43 to 48 seconds on May 22 at 4:30 to adjust for a previous error in totalling the amount of future service.]
The Noise & Vibration study for the Stouffville corridor includes maps of noise effects. These are important because the corridor will operate almost exclusively with electric trains, and this provides a starting point for any comparisons.
The illustrations here show side-by-side the existing and future sound levels for the segment from Lawrence East Station in the north to Scarborough Junction in the south, as well as a comparison diagram showing where and by how much the sound levels change. [Click on any image in each group to open them as a gallery.]
Noise contours for the Lakeshore Corridor were included in its appendix, although nothing is shown west of Pape Avenue where the Ontario Line will join in. It appears that the noise modelling for this segment (Pape to Don) was left to the OL study, but that will not be available until early 2022 thanks to the “expedited” review process enacted by the current government to sweep much of the pesky EA activity out of the way of transit projects.
The LSE corridor study notes that:
Adjusted Noise Impacts that were predicted to be greater than 5 dB in some cases; The investigation of mitigation on the LSE Rail Corridor is driven by the increased traffic volumes associated with the Stouffville Rail Corridor. No adjusted noise impacts over 5 dB were predicted east of the Scarborough Junction, where the Stouffville Rail Corridor branches north. The negative numbers seen in Table 2 are the result of the future predominantly electric train fleet replacing the existing full diesel fleet. Although train volumes are increasing, this increase is off-set by the use of quieter electric locomotives.
The Stouffville corridor differs from LSE in that it has, relatively speaking, almost no service on it today, and so the hundreds of trains planned are a substantial increase, even if they are electric.
As examples of the combined effect of LSE and Stouffville service in the LSE corridor, here are the comparable drawings for the segment between Greenwood and Warden during “daytime”. In spite of the addition of many trains, the lion’s share of these are electric. Although the bands widen in the future service scenario, the degree of change is small.
Here are the nighttime contours. There is a small area north of the right-of-way east of Danforth Station where the change is sufficient to require some mitigation (purple in the third drawing below).
With the level of detail already available east from Pape, it is hard to believe that Metrolinx could not publish at least an interim projection of noise levels further west based on the already-published service plans. Considering that the OL will more than double the number of trains/day in this segment, this is not a trivial problem. Indeed, it is odd that Metrolinx can propose “mitigation” for whatever noise there might be if they do not actually know what they are dealing with in the first place.