Metrolinx will be holding an online consultation on Tuesday, June 29, for its Don Valley Layover scheme. There is a lot of misinformation on this proposal coming from Metrolinx, but as with so many of their schemes, they are bulling ahead.
Full disclosure: I live immediately adjacent to the proposed storage and servicing facility on the east side of the Don River north of the Prince Edward Viaduct. I have a direct interest in the effect of Metrolinx plans and the effect they will have because of the potential for noise and light pollution.
First, it is important that readers understand Metrolinx plans and the supposed function of what they wish to build.
Updated June 29, 2021 at 8:00 am: Additional drawings regarding sound level measurements have been added as well as a commentary on peak versus averaged sound levels.
GO Transit New Facilities
The plans are part of the GO Transit New Track and Facilities scheme which includes new layover yards in various locations around the system. This plan already has Ministerial approval and could proceed at any time to detailed design and construction.
GO Transit plans two new facilities in what they broadly refer to as the Richmond Hill Corridor. The purpose of the two are sometimes confused in Metrolinx presentations with the result that the debate becomes tangled thanks to one plan’s being confused with the other.
As the corridor leaves Union Station, it runs along the north edge of the rail embankment and then swings north along the west side of the Don River. This corridor actually contains two separate railways as they then were.
- One is the former Canadian National Bala Subdivision. This takes a meandering path north and is owned by Metrolinx to the point where it crosses the CN York Subdivision, the east-west freight route parallel to Highway 7. North of that junction the line is still owned by CN. The Richmond Hill GO service uses this route.
- The other is the former Canadian Pacific Don Branch which linked Union Station to the CPR’s main line at the former Leaside Station. The line was abandoned decades ago for rail service, but it was bought by Metrolinx. It splits off from the rail line on the west side of the river roughly at Rosedale Valley Road, crosses to the east side, and runs beside the DVP to Pottery Road where it crosses on a high bridge.
The map below shows the corridor from the south end of the Don River (left) to Pottery Road (right). (For a high resolution version of this plan, click here.)
The West Side of the Valley
From the point where the Don Branch splits off northward, there are two tracks on the Bala Sub, one of which is a long siding and not in as good condition as the main line beside it. This trackage will be upgraded so that both tracks are in good condition. In the image below, the Bala Sub is the upper of the two lines. The Brick Works is the complex of buildings in the upper right.
This is an area where Metrolinx has previously done work to reduce the effect of the Don River undercutting the rail line during high water events. The shoreline is reinforced at locations both north and south of the Prince Edward Viaduct where the river meanders close to the rail line. The famously flooded GO Train was marooned a few years ago at the north end of this segment.
It is ironic that whenever electrification advocates have asked about the Richmond Hill corridor, one of the standard excuses has been “it floods, and that’s not good for electrification”. In best Metrolinx style, their tune changes when it is a project they sponsor themselves.
Metrolinx plans to electrify the two rails as far north as Pottery Road so that this area can be used for two functions:
- Storing trains between the peak periods.
- Using the Bala Sub as a turnaround area
The idea behind the turnaround is that many eastbound trips now end at Union Station, but the trains occupy platform space while the crews set up to return westbound. If all trains ran through Union and reversed somewhere out of the way, then more platform time would be available. The Bala Sub upgrades and electrification will allow trains from the west, from the Barrie corridor for example, to arrive at Union, offload and then continue east onto the Bala sub where they would reverse for the westbound trip.
It is self-evident that a single GO train does not stretch from the Union Station Rail Corridor to Pottery Road. The extended electrification will allow storage of trains between the peak periods, effectively as an expansion to the existing capacity on the Lake Shore corridor west of the Don River.
The East Side of the Valley
GO Transit had originally proposed that the existing single track on the Don Branch be expanded to a fan of three tracks ending at the south side of the Prince Edward Viaduct. This scheme ran into intense opposition because it would involve building in the river’s flood plain and would undo years of work to re-naturalize the area.
The tracks on the Don Branch are at a higher elevation than those on the Bala Sub, and much less prone to flooding. However the access route to these tracks from Union Station does flood and could trap trains in the Don Valley Yard.
Metrolinx shifted their plan then to use the Don Branch up to the south end of the bridge at Pottery Road which has not seen trains in decades, and which would have to be rebuilt for active service.
Here is the bridge when the line was active with the VIA Peteborough commuter train and the Brick Works (when it was still an active business) in the background. The north end of the proposed storage yard would be just south of this bridge.
The facilities would include a building and parking lot just north of the Viaduct and a service road parallel to the existing railway along its length from Pottery Road south to the point where it crosses to the west side of the river.
That plan would require the removal of many trees on land that Metrolinx does not now own, as well as regrading of the railway to provide for the access road. It is important to note that although only one “access road” is labelled on the drawing, there are actually two and the unmarked one runs the length of the storage area beside the railway with provision to turn vehicles around at each end.
The structure in grey in the middle right centre is a Toronto Hydro substation. At the bottom of the image are the western edges of three high rise apartments. I live in the middle one.
When Metrolinx conducted noise and vibration studies, they established a “receptor” at the senior’s home, Broadview Manor, on the corner of Danforth and Broadview (bottom centre in the image above). They did not study the effect on the residential area north of Danforth and much closer to the proposed yard.
Update: The commentary and drawing below were added.
Receptor R07 is the senior’s home which is further away from the proposed layover area than buildings along the valley’s edge and is buffered from any noise originating in the valley by the valley wall, effectively a large sound barrier.
A further problem comes with the projected noise level from the layover. The sound contours clearly show locations where the locomotives on both ends of the three 12-car trainsets will be parked. The central “bubbles” are larger because there are two locomotives at these points versus one at the north and south ends.
The sound contour represents average values over a period, not peak levels. This is important for a location that will be empty much of the time and where the trains will be connected to wayside power. However, for a period after arrival and before departure, the locomotives will be running and this is particularly a problem before am peak departures. This has already been a problem for residents near GO’s Don (aka Wilson) Yard east of Union Station where, despite Metrolinx claims, diesels are left running for extended periods in the yard.
Average sound level projections do not reflect these variations.
They are big on noise walls, but those are useless for people who live above the corridor, not beside it.
Although the area above looks barren, this is a winter photo and probably several years old. Here is what it looks like in the summer as seen from my personal vantage point. For reference, the substation is just out of frame to the right and it links to the hydro lines that pass above the Metrolinx site. This is an established forest that is the product both of natural seeding and deliberate work to reforest the valley floor. (The photo was taken on June 27, 2021.)
The Don Branch, hidden under a lot of greenery, runs immediately to the west of the DVP behind the Jersey barrier.
The drawings show only a plan view, and a major problem is created by Metrolinx need that the entire site be at the same elevation as the railway line.
Here is the plan view of the service building and parking lot just north of the bridge.
The corresponding cross sections show the height of the retaining wall needed to build up from the valley floor to track level.
Metrolinx presents a future view of the yard as seen from the valley floor where the structure would, in the fullness of time, be hidden behind greenery. They completely omit consideration of the view from above.
When Will the East Yard Be Active?
Metrolinx is rather evasive on the subject of the hours during which trains would stored and serviced in the Don Valley Yard.
In the presentation deck for an April 15, 2021 public meeting, Metrolinx claimed that the yard would only be used to store and service three trains between the peak periods.
This directly contradicts information in the EPR Traffic Study which clearly shows that overnight operations are planned.
On a site visit, Metrolinx was challenged about the hours of operation and replied thus:
When asked regarding the concerns of residents west of Cambridge Ave as to hours of operations, noise and lighting, the response was ‘night operations are not planned’…at this time, but it was vague and there is no assurance that these folks will not be living above a 24/7, fully lit service operation in the future.Source: Floyd Ruskin on Facebook
“At this time” is a killer phrase that leaves Metrolinx in the position of operating overnight whenever this fits into their service plan.
This is clearly anticipated by an 11pm to 7am shift as shown above and the traffic at the 7 am and 11 pm shift changes.
The traffic study, speaking of the Don Valley Layover, states:
This Traffic Impact Study has been developed to inform the City of Toronto and Metrolinx of the potential transportation impacts associated with the Don Valley Layover facility. The layover facility operates as a storage site for temporary rolling stock [sic]. Only minor inspections or deliveries are expected at this facility. The proposed facility will operate 24/7 throughout the year with three shifts of employees.New Track & Facilities TPAP – Final Don Valley Facility – Traffic Impact Study, p. 11
Even if trains are only stored on the Don Branch during midday, most of the works needed for a full 24-hour facility will be required including an access road along the rail line and some provision for staff quarters and parking. The real question is why this facility is needed at all.
Metrolinx discounts use of space on the Bala Subdivision (west side) in a recent blog article saying that this track is already in use despite the fact that they plan to establish a storage and turnaround area there without benefit of supporting buildings and roadways. It would appear that the project team for the west side of the valley is not talking to the team for the east side.
What Are The Alternatives
The first thing Metrolinx must do is to establish when they will require additional storage. What are their service plans and the build-up of the various corridors around Toronto? Are there storage areas elsewhere? Why would they store and service trains overnight downtown when they are needed at the far ends of their route to begin morning service? Will future service extensions open up new possibilities for yards?
The Don Valley Yard will probably host diesel trains from the Milton corridor which is not planned for electrification. The Bala Sub storage area will probably host trains from the Barrie corridor which will be electrified. From a servicing point of view, electric trains do not require wayside power as an alternative to running the diesel engines. However, that only eliminates one of several problems with the Don Valley Yard plan.
Metrolinx does not address any of this, and indeed with an approved study already in hand, they do not have to. Construction crews could appear any day without notice.