A Very Busy GO Corridor (Updated)

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.

Illustrations and figures here are taken from Appendix G5: Stouffville Impact Assessment Report in the GO Rail Network Electrification Addendum.

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.

Ontario Line

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.]

Noise Contours

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.

14 thoughts on “A Very Busy GO Corridor (Updated)

  1. This is an outstanding article and analysis of an array of LSE train count numbers & types, which helps all of us put into perspective what we are facing on the Joint Corridor in total numbers of trains in graphs. I knew it would be big number- but this is just gob-smacking – 1600 trains per day. Almost unbelievable is Metrolinx’s claim that the corridor will be quieter after they double it to 6 tracks, than it is now – and their promises that noise wall will mitigate this kind of train traffic. The numbers don’t lie like the Poobahs. On behalf of the LSE CAC, kudos and many thanks!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Returning from the Beach(es) along Queen Street yesterday, I think it was around Broadview, I looked out the streetcar window to see a “Metrolinx” store-front, replete with ‘all the right thoughts’ and ‘manner of acceptance’ displayed ostentatiously in the ‘correctness adjusted’ front window, there to be your friendly public servant …ostensibly this is where the local rats on the Resistance report when they’re not having ‘Community Compliance’ sessions ongoing.

    Isn’t it truly odd that the agency that should be inundated with kudos now has to sell its purpose to the very people who pay its way?

    It’s not just Presto cards they’ll be checking, folks. “Compliance” cuts a wide swath.

    Steve: Partly because of their own ham-handedness, Metrolinx spends a bundle on “Community Relations” fixing problems after the fact rather than letting the community engage up front for buy-in. Waterfront Toronto (the pre-Fleissig version) earned respect and a fortune in pro-bono contributions from communities. Metrolinx squandered their chance with the arrogance of people who know what’s good for you.


  3. My concern with the Ontario Line plan has always been that limiting the railway corridor to four tracks will not be enough for future GO and Via service, and I still doubt it will be enough, especially if Via HFR ever happens, never mind real High Speed Rail.

    Do you think more than four tracks will be needed?

    Steve: A lot depends on signalling and their service plan. I don’t think GO contemplates really frequent service, and they’re already worried about overloading Union Station and diverting trips to the Ontario Line.


  4. This is a tour de force analysis and I hope it is reviewed by the Federal Impact Assessment staff to demonstrate the need for an understanding of the cumulative impact of all these projects. Sadly Metrolinx is dodging what their contribution to the total picture is and the Feds have yet to provide details on VIA HFR to complete what this corridor will look like.

    Powerless as it is, it’s up to City Council to demand from both the Province and the Feds to talk to each other and come up with a workable plan. That should result in burying the OL so that there is room for HFR and future inter-city rail.

    Steve: The Feds appear to be almost obsessed about emission reductions, and hence all transit projects are automatically “good” because they get people out of cars (or prevent them from buying cars in the first place). However, the “environment” is a lot more than this including neighbourhood effects. There is the parallel question, always ignored by Metrolinx, of whether the money could be spent to better effect elsewhere.


  5. I share the same concerns as Marc, and I don’t buy Metrolinx’s excuse. If Union Station gets overcrowded in the future, they could consider a tunnel along Wellington to take some of the those trains. That is why I never considered Wellington for any type of Relief Line.

    The problem is, all those trains heading to Union or Wellington have to still pass through the Riverside corridor.

    I don’t mind elevated or at-grade & grade-separated transit and they have their place (such as Eglinton West). My main objections in Riverside were that it takes away from the rail corridor options in the future, that there were other ways of reducing costs from the last Relief Line routing, and it needlessly creates animosity with the locals. The City came up with a Relief line routing along Eastern to Pape. When this was changed to include the Carlaw jog, and forced the subway to great depths to get under the Carlaw sanitary sewer, it added huge costs. Instead of reverting back to the previous plan as Metrolinx should have, they had their grandiose plan of a cross-platform transfer which drove the planning for several years. When this transfer proved impossible, they didn’t dare reconsider their ill-conceived routing.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I wonder if Metrolinx could use dual mode trains on LSE so that it could mitigate at least some noise from the diesels. While it doesn’t address noise increases from number of trains, it could at least help cut noise from diesels.

    Steve: Dual-mode brings weight penalties for the locomotive, and does not get around the limitations of tractive power for locomotive-hauled trains as opposed to MUs. I suspect that Metrolinx won’t give up diesels for many years until they can get EMUs with supplementary power for operation in off-wire areas. Also, they are going to have lots of diesels sitting around once they switch services to electric, and they are probably trying to maximize their lifespan.


  7. I’m not following the Via HFR angle. Every map I’ve seen and discussion I’ve read says they’re planning to use the Don Branch. The overall plan should actually reduce the number of Via trains on the LSE, with only local service along the Kingston sub still using that section.

    Steve: That plan directly contradicts Metrolinx plans for a storage yard using the Don Branch. Hence the concern about extra service on the Kingston and Uxbridge Subs for HFR.


  8. It’s not clear to me why so much diesel needs to remain on LSE. I would expect a plan to have more frequent electric service to Oshawa or closer, and less frequent diesel service out to Bowmanville. That’s the service plan for the Stouffville line, more frequent trains to Unionville, less frequent further out. I always assumed LSW and LSE would be electrified first because of they have by far the highest ridership.

    Regarding the existing diesel locomotives GO owns, there are still uses for them, such as Kitchener service, Barrie, the mentioned Bowmanville, Richmond Hill, etc. My guess is that given the substantial service level increase planned network wide, GO will need a lot more units and so as one line gets electrified, its diesel units can go to another line’s service increase.

    Steve: The Initial Business Case for the Bowmanville extension proposed substantial service beyond Oshawa:

    “Peak half-hourly diesel services to/from Bowmanville operating express between Union and Pickering GO Station, operating eight-car bi-levels hourly during the weekday off-peak (all operational hours outside of the AM and PM peak periods) and six-car bi-levels every two hours during weekends.”

    In effect, this means that every other train would run through to Bowmanville and the large number of diesel-hauled trips on LSE.


  9. I think there’s the risk of that conflict, but it also sounds like they’re coordinating planning. I’d be surprised if they couldn’t resolve it in a way that allowed HFR to proceed (and move off the LSE corridor).

    Steve: The quote from the Metrolinx Engagement site has been expanded below to include the full Q&A.

    Don Valley Layover and VIA HFR
    Dec 2, 2020 – 13:05

    VIA is currently planning a new rail service called High Frequency Rail (HFR), which would connect Toronto to Peterborough, Ottawa, and Montreal. It was my understanding that VIA was intending to use the Metrolinx-owned Don Branch for part of its route to run its trains to Peterborough. Looking at the renderings of the GO Don Valley Layover facility, it looks like this would block that from happening. Will the Don Branch be used for VIA HFR, and if so how will Metrolinx accommodate this project?

    Dec 7, 2020 – 19:29

    The proposed Don Valley Layover Facility will be utilizing the Don Branch, which is currently owned by Metrolinx but has no service running on it. This Don Valley Layover site is essential for Metrolinx’s operations as it will allow trains to quickly and efficiently drop passengers at Union Station and allow for improved movement and reduced congestion. The site is ideally located in proximity of Union Station to allow for off-peak train storage on Metrolinx’s existing property. In addition to this the train services on the Don Branch are limited by the level of rehabilitation required to restore the historic Half Mile Bridge.

    Subsequent to design funding by the Canada Infrastructure Bank, a Joint Project Office (JPO) is being established to progress the design and cost estimates for VIA Rail’s High Frequency Rail proposal. Metrolinx and VIA Rail are working together on this matter and will seek to maximize the public benefit of infrastructure investments. Metrolinx has shared its plans for the Don Valley Layover and the New Track & Facilities TPAP Project with all Federal Railway agencies, including VIA Rail, as part of the TPAP consultation efforts. We will continue to work with VIA Rail and the Canada Infrastructure Bank as they advance their planning and detailed design for High Frequency Rail.

    Steve: That says they are aware of the situation, not that the HFR is going up the Don Branch. That would only be the start of their problems because they would then have to run over the very busy CPR mainline to some point east of the city before branching off onto a dedicated right-of-way.

    Also Metrolinx response is a bit confused because they are talking about the quick turnaround function planned for trackage on the west side, the Bala sub, whereas the Don Branch is supposed to be only for overnight train storage. If this is true, it is conceivable that HSR could operate over this link during hours when there were no trains stored here, but I suspect that’s a service plan Metrolinx would not agree to. Moreover, if Metrolinx would be willing to forego this storage area for HFR, then they should also be able to forego it to avoid the environmental effects in the valley it would bring.

    I hate to say this, but it is not uncommon for answers from Metrolinx to betray a lack of full understanding of the situation and how all the pieces would fit together.


  10. Some background. There is a regulation that requires noise mitigation measures be installed on projects that increase noise levels over 5 db. The RER expansion project did raise noise levels over 5 db. Metrolinx (Mx) was able to deny some residents noise mitigation measure on the grounds that their existing ambient noise level was over 80 db. So even though the RER was increasing the noise level, Mx saved money by refusing to install needed noise mitigation measures.

    Apparently there are some grades on the LSE that require the locomotives to really rev up their engines to the 80 db level. Acceptable noise levels are 56 db but there are no laws to enforce it. Mx saves money by not installing noise mitigation for residents living in 80 db regions. Mx brings the Ontario Line to the surface through Riverside to save money, yet the Ontario Line is a waste of money. The right thing to do is to install noise mitigation anywhere where noise levels exceed 56 db. It is not law and Mx never does anything right.


  11. Given these figures, it would be straightforward for Metrolinx to calculate actual noise and vibration levels. The figures for for GO diesel, VIA and subway trains should be no worse their existing versions; there are enough examples of electric trains (even in North America) to obtain real world figures.

    Having lived in close proximity to rail lines covering all kinds of motive power types (diesel locomotives, electric locomotives, electric multiple units and even diesel multiple units), I can say the *noise* from electric power is vastly less. If you’ve lived on a fairly busy 2-lane road, that is more noise. If noise was my primary concern, I would rather live

    Steve: There appears to be some text missing here in the comment.

    Vibration is another issue – electric trains create somewhat less vibration (because they are lighter) – but how much vibration you feel in your house is dependent on what’s in the ground between you and the tracks, and on the building you live in.

    I feel the vibration from medium sized trucks going past my current house, but not large ones – the resonant frequency of my floor joists aligns with the former but not the latter. Where I used to live, I felt the vibration from trains in winter but not summer – because the ground dried out in summer, changing how vibration was transmitted.

    Consequently, all Metrolinx can do is calculate the total/peak vibration *produced* – but there’s no practical way to find out the effects on every individual house. All I can see is if the current diesel locomotives cause some form of resonant vibration, then the new trains probably won’t – because they’ll produce some different frequencies. However, the converse might also be true!

    Steve: I am quite sure Metrolinx has already done these calculations. There is very detailed info on the LSE, but it stops at Gerrard Station where the OL merges in. In their work, they take into account the effect of switches (e.g. for turnouts linking adjacent tracks), but there are none in the Gerrard to Eastern segment. It’s all just tangent rail. Whether they have updated their studies to allow for the new alignment of tracks with the OL tracks both on the west side and the GO tracks on the east side of the corridor, I do not know.


  12. Separate from noise/vibration: For the Bowmanville extension, Metrolinx will be building a new track alongside CP’s (single-track) main line. That track will be exclusively for GO Train use. It could be electrified without any effect on CP’s operations; electrifying would create obvious benefits for GO. Yet it isn’t… and I don’t know whether that’s because CP is being annoying or Metrolinx is penny-pinching or both…

    Steve: I suspect CP does not want electrification on or beside their tracks.


  13. @tompw:

    Even if Metrolinx puts its own track alongside CP it is still on CP property and electromagnetic interference, especially at 25 kV, could be a problem. There are probably ways of overcoming it, I know there are, but if CP were to allow it, it could be a way of putting the camel’s nose under the tent and neither CP nor CN wants electrification anywhere near their right of way.


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