On June 24, Metrolinx held an online consultation session for its proposed Don Valley Layover. I wrote about this on June 27 in Metrolinx’ Ill-Considered Don Valley Layover. This article is an update based on that session.
There have been many Metrolinx consultations recently, and a few common threads appeared sitting through this many hours of their presentations and Q&A sessions. Some of the frustration with Metrolinx comes from the way they present material, and from what appear to be shifting positions on key issues.
What Is The Don Valley Yard?
As a quick review, this “yard” is in fact a single storage track, the former CPR, now Metrolinx, Don Branch that once connected the CPR mainline at Leaside to Union Station. It is called a yard because the original proposal was for a three track yard south of the Prince Edward Viaduct.
Metrolinx proposes to convert the portion of this line for storage of three trains between the point where the line crosses to the east side of the Don River roughly at Rosedale Valley Road and the high level bridge near the Brick Works. The site is not accessible by public transit, although it is passed on one side by the DVP and on the other by the Don Valley Trail with many cyclists and pedestrians.
Here is the aerial view.
This will require the creation of a service road alongside the track for access to and from stored trains as well as supporting buildings and a small parking lot just north of the Prince Edward Viaduct. The site servicing plan, which includes buildings, roads, utilities and elevations (grey numbers on the diagonal giving the height above sea level in metres) is shown below. The buildings (from south to north) include an electrical building, and air compressor, a staff building and a sanitary waste building.
The valley floor rises gradually to about 80m at the western edge of the Metrolinx site, but the roadway linking the buildings is at about 88m. The parking area shown is on the valley floor, but there is a ramp for vehicles up to the level of the rail corridor. There is also a stairway from the parking up to the staff building. The land owned by Metrolinx is outlined in a broken black line “— – –”. Because of the change in elevation, a retaining wall (yellow in the aerial view) at least 8m high will be required except adjacent to the rail line.
The claimed purpose of the facility is to store three trains between the AM and PM peak periods and, possibly, to perform some light servicing on them. This does not align with the original proposal that clearly talked of a 7×24 operation with three shifts of staff. That might have been an error, a cut-and-paste job from one layover site to another, but the traffic study does speak of arrivals and departures corresponding to shift changes well outside of the midday period.
In any event, there is no provision in the plan for fuelling and Metrolinx claims that they intend to operate here only between the peak periods. We shall see.
What is the Don Valley Layover For?
Metrolinx originally described the layover as, in effect, expansion of the capacity in yards east of Union Station. This would allow three diesel trains that would otherwise have to return to another yard such as Willowbrook at Mimico between the peaks to stay close to Union. This is part of overall network capacity expansion for planned additional service.
Exactly when service would expand to the point the layover is needed is not certain, but Metrolinx has a new reason to build this as soon as possible. Other planned work east of Union Station will remove some storage tracks from use and trains will, instead, be stored on the Don Branch. That work is almost certainly the realignment of part of the yard to accommodate the Ontario Line. Trains are stored overnight today east of Union in the Don Yard, and Metrolinx trusts us to believe that they will not do this while “temporarily” the space in the Don Valley handles the overflow.
Construction is expected to begin in 2022.
A related layover track that was not discussed or mentioned at all will be on the west side of the valley. Metrolinx plans to electrify the Richmond Hill line (former CN Bala Subdivision) with two tracks as far north as Pottery Road. The existing track known as the Rosedale Siding will be upgraded. This will allow for temporary storage of trains and/or use of the Bala Sub as a turnaround area for electric trains from Union Station.
It is quite clear that Pottery Road is a long way from Union Station, and the electrification is vastly more than is needed simply as a turnback area. However, there are no service buildings planned on the west side. Metrolinx claims that the tracks are not available as an alternative to the layover facility on the east side, and that the passing siding is required for operations. They really need to be more forthcoming with their operational plans and options because the infrastructure they are building exceeds the claimed purpose.
Other potential storage yards within Toronto are already fully used, or have their capacity fully allocated to future operations, according to Metrolinx:
- Don Yard (east of Union) is fully spoken for, even after construction there completes. Property adjacent to the Don Yard in the Canary district is constrained by several factors:
- The Ontario Line portal west of the Don River and the approach to a new bridge over the river.
- The Richmond Hill line curve north from the Union Station corridor limits the length of any new storage tracks.
- A new school and housing east of Distillery Loop (not to mention the loop itself and the planned extension of trackage south to Queens Quay) will occupy land north of the rail corridor.
- Bathurst Yard (west of Union) is fully allocated, and will lose space to the planned Spadina Station on the Barrie line.
- Keating Yard is on City land that is earmarked for other purposes in the Eastern Waterfront designs including both the Gardiner/DVP interchange reconstruction, and future building sites. It is also physically difficult to reach for a train inside Union Station.
- The Rosedale Siding might be needed for a future Richmond Hill service. This is a surprising statement considering how long Metrolinx has resisted the concept of upgraded Richmond Hill GO service because of difficulties with the corridor, including flooding, not to mention the competing allure of the Yonge Subway Extension.
- The south end of the Don Branch (between the Union Station Rail Corridor and the bridge at Rosedale Valley Road) is not long enough for train storage without leaving a train partly on that bridge, according to Metrolinx. It is also considerably shorter than the Don Branch north of the bridge. Track in this are might be reconfigured in the future conflicting with its use for off-peak storage.
It is intriguing that there will be a new five-track, five train facility near Scarborough Junction. There is no provision here for train servicing. In theory there will be no need for diesel fueling or wayside power here because the Lakeshore Corridor and its trains will be electrified.
Metrolinx has mentioned that the Don Valley layover could be electrified in the future, but that will be a long way off as the GO Milton and roughly half of the Lakeshore service will continue to operate with diesels for many years and will require storage appropriate to that type of train. All the same, it is interesting that the Midland Layover Facility is intended for storage, and nothing more.
What About the Environment?
Creation of the Don Valley Layover will require doubling of the width of the Don Branch over its length. The line, abandoned for decades, is well grown-in with assorted vegetation that will be removed even if this is used simply to store trains without the associated servicing functions.
On this topic, Metrolinx’ position gets a bit muddy. They acknowledge that “this would be a challenging site” in the valley with parkland and flooding concerns. They speak of optimizing their design to keep the footprint as tight as possible, within their own right-of-way, reducing space requirements from three tracks to one. However, that change happened a few years ago and it is not in response to current community issues. They also stated that “don’t have all the answers” to concerns for this consultation, but claim that what will be constructed will have “minimal impact” on the Don Valley itself.
Another odd statement came here where Metrolinx said that over the next few months, they would be working to understand what they can do safely re the valley, community concerns, and operations; what types of maintenance will they perform and when, and where/when staff will need access. A few other times during the discussion Metrolinx gave the impression that the function of this layover is a moving target and that its purpose has evolved from whatever they might have planned originally.
The footprint of the site is 0.38ha. There will be “some vegetation removal” but Metrolinx is committed to retaining as much as possible with replanting and restoration to compensate. Vegetative screening will be a key element, and Metrolinx hopes that this will “accrue over time” so that facility will blend into the surrounding area. They hope it will “disappear”.
There will soon be an arborist’s review of the project area to flag what will be removed, or what might be relocated. That reference is a new one for Metrolinx who prefer clear-cutting and promises of trees yet unborn as replacements somewhere, eventually. Metrolinx routine talks about upgrading the tree stock by eliminating invasive and non-native species without ever considering that a mature tree has a value in its own right regardless of its species. We could cut down every Norway Maple in Toronto on the grounds that they are “invasive”, but the City would be much worse for it.
Flooding in the Don is rather common. From my own perch on the east bank north of the Viaduct, I have seen the Bala Sub underwater on several occasions. Metrolinx has reinforced their embankment where the river would previously undercut the railway just north and south of the Viaduct. The Don Branch is on higher ground and does not flood, at least not in the area where the layover is planned. However, access to both the Bala Sub and Don Branch where they run together does flood from time to time.
When asked about flooding, Metrolinx consistently ignores issues with that shared south end of the area and concentrates on the northern part where the Don Valley Layover will be. There is a footnote on the site plan above that TRCA has “expressed concerns about flooding” in the area around the servicing buildings.
Metrolinx stated that they would make “short term operational changes if there is a risk of track being flooded”. The considerations for this are different on the west side which would be electrified, although one of those “short term changes” could be simply to shut off the power.
One thing we do not know is whether the work now in progress to reroute and open the mouth of the Don River will reduce the instances of flooding further north.
On the question of noise, Metrolinx repeated the claim that they took into consideration sensitive areas nearby. In fact, they ignored residences immediately along the valley and only considered the seniors’ building at Danforth & Broadview. For daytime noise, there is no question that the DVP is the primary source, but this is not the case at night, especially when the weather is mild and windows are open.
Construction noise will be limited to the daytime because this is not an active rail line, and work will not conflict with train movements.
Asked about fuel and cleaning fluid spills, Metrolinx replied that they do not plan to do fuelling here and so the risk of a diesel spill is minor. It would come from a locomotive malfunction, not from onsite storage and piping. Despite the presence of a building dedicated to “Sanitary Waste Disposal”, they claim that they are not dumping toilets here. Possibly they have removed this from the scope of work, but should revise the design accordingly if so. The only other fluids will be water and cleaning products for the interior of the trains.
There was more in the conceptual plan, but Metrolinx is reviewing what work they will do at this site.
Metrolinx notes that they will use “Light sources that minimize impacts on the trail/park users and environmentally sensitive areas.” Well, if they are only planning to be there between about 10am and 4pm, light should not be an issue even on the darkest days of midwinter. At night, they can simply turn the lights off. This may sound like a trivial point, but it underscores a suspicion that provision for longer hours of operation is part of their plan.
Metrolinx claims that the project approval only covers a daytime facility (I believe that this statement is not correct), and that if they wanted to extend its hours they would have to get an amended EA. Considering that Queen’s Park regards EAs as a pesky nuisance, not a necessary control, that represents no guarantee at all.
As one questioner put it, “I don’t trust you guys”. Metrolinx has broken promises before, most notably on the Davenport Diamond project. Word gets around from one community to another.
Metrolinx plans to talk to many groups to refine their plans. This is not the mark of a “done deal”, but rather of an agency that is trying to preserve a scheme in the face of considerable opposition. Some of their problems are “own goals”. Effectively they have said “this is happening” and now seek everyone’s help (or complicity) in making the best of a bad situation.
One cannot help wondering just how much damage they would have done if various agencies and communities had not complained, loudly, about Metrolinx plans.
Metrolinx plans to organize a walk of the affected area an discuss work already done by the Bring Back the Don group who spearheaded the reforestation project.
What Have You Done For Me Lately?
Probably the most frustrating things to sit through are recitals of so-called changes in the project. Metrolinx insists on trotting out changes from past consultation rounds, but to an unsuspecting viewer (most politicians) it would appear that Metrolinx is “listening to the community”. This reaches a height (or nadir depending on one’s point of view) when a set of options reviewed does not match any of the issues of current importance.
If Metrolinx wants to include this information in presentations, there should be a chronology showing when each change occurred and which, if any, apply to issues now under discussion. If nothing else, this might prevent recent arrivals on project and communication teams from spouting the same stories over and over again.
In the case of the Don Valley Layover, they repeatedly cite:
- Change from a three-track yard to a single linear storage area. This happened even before the Environmental Plan was published in response to concerns about incursion into a sensitive area south of the Prince Edward Viaduct.
- Redesign of their buildings both to move north of the Viaduct and to stay within their own property. This appeared in mid 2020 in response to objections about building directly under the bridge from the City of Toronto.
Similarly for the Ontario Line alignment through Riverside, Metrolinx claims that they reviewed five alternatives to their proposal. However, none of these was the one proposed by the community.
They have the gall to hold meetings and write to City Council giving the impression that they are listening when they are simply trotting out old stories, old wine in new bottles.
At the end of the online session, someone asked what service does this provide our community, what benefit is there for people within a mile radius. This was not an attempt at NIMBYism, but in response to a meeting invitation that said, in effect, come and see how this project benefits “our” community. Metrolinx replied that getting people out of cars is a good thing, and traffic on the DVP can be moderated through investment in transit. This is a rather poor example, but typical of how Metrolinx attempts to spin its work.
For the record, there was no notice of this meeting to residents of the buildings adjacent to the site beyond whatever various community groups provided. Most people do not know this is happening.
Are You Open to Change or Not?
Recent consultations have included offers to review alternatives and to establish working groups with communities. This does not align with the clear Metrolinx position that they have an approved plan and that’s what they will build no matter what.
In the Don Valley, they are reviewing the actual function of the layover facility and what work might actually be performed there. There is an implication that the scale of the facility might be changed, but there is nothing definite.
In Thorncliffe Park, there will be liaison groups, but they will deal with the de facto version of the project while attempting to mitigate the worst of its effects.
There appears to be a shift in Metrolinx style, if not the content of their message. They have stopped treating affected communities as people who are simply in the way of “progress” or who just don’t understand how difficult building a transit network really is. Condescension is no way to win over an audience.
This is moderately refreshing, but old habits die hard especially for an agency working for a government with an uncaring, unstoppable agenda.
What About High Frequency Rail?
One of the perennial railfan fantasy games for some time has been the question of what route a high speed, or high frequency train service would use to get out of downtown Toronto. Most of the corridors already have a lot of service on them and plans for significant upgrades.
There are two contenders:
- From Union Station east and north via an upgraded version of the Don Branch to CPR Leaside, then northeast to some point where the line could break off onto its own right of way to Peterborough, Ottawa and Montreal.
- From Union Station east via the Lakeshore Corridor to Scarborough Junction, then north to a point where service could break off onto its own right-of-way to Peterborough, etc.
Whenever this has come up in discussions about Metrolinx corridor plans, the reactions have ranged from merely coy to incomprehension. The Feds are well-known for HSR/HFR studies, much less so for actually committing to building anything. This may change on July 6 when the Minister of Transportation Alghabra makes an announcement.
In any event, if the HFR were to use the Don Branch, this would require Metrolinx to find a new home for its trains. Moreover, the construction of an electric line there would affect nearby greenery due to clearance requirements, but not to the extent of the Metrolinx plans. The Stouffville Corridor is a simpler choice and, I suspect, the one that would be used.
We shall see.
Or maybe not.