This article continues a series begun with Ontario Line Sept/21 Consultations: Western and Northern Segments to summarize Metrolinx open houses for the Ontario Line.
The fourth session on the downtown segment, originally scheduled for September 30, has been deferred to October 7. A new consultation to deal with the just-released Draft Early Works EAs for East Harbour and the Joint GO/Ontario Line Corridor has been scheduled for October 5.
Updated Sept. 28 at 6:30 pm: A small section of text that was still in rough draft form when this article was published has been updated to “fair copy”.
Updated Sept. 28 at 11:30 pm: Minor revisions and sundry typos corrected.
This meeting was complicated by having two major reports land only a few hours before it started, and that skewed a lot of attention to material that community attendees were not able to read and digest in time, not to mention some confusion by Metrolinx itself about some of the fine details. Metrolinx keeps scoring “own goals” like this by claiming to want debate and discussion, but acting in a way that precludes this happening.
As if that is not bad enough, some of the key issues the community expected to hear about such as tree clearing along the corridor are still under study and there is not yet an inventory of what will be affected. With the billions available to Metrolinx, this late delivery suggests that it was a recent add-on to their workload, not something they could have undertaken months ago.
Needless to say, Metrolinx really does not want to talk about the “hybrid” scheme to route the Ontario Line from East Harbour Station to an underground alignment that would travel north on the already-approved Relief Line Carlaw-Pape route. More about this later.
According to the two Early Works documents, the combined scope of work is:
- reconfiguration of the existing Lakeshore East GO tracks to accommodate station facilities and future Ontario Line tracks;
- construction of station facilities such as platforms and entrances;
- replacement and expansion of the existing Eastern Avenue rail bridge to accommodate four Lakeshore East GO tracks and two future Ontario Line tracks; and
- site preparation activities such as grading, demolition of existing structures where required, and utility relocation or protection.
Joint Corridor: Eastern to Pape
- Reconfiguration of existing GO tracks to support future Ontario Line infrastructure;
- Replacement of the existing rail bridges at Queen Street East, Dundas Street East and Logan Avenue;
- Construction of new bridges at Dundas Street East and Logan Avenue to support future Ontario Line tracks;
- Construction of the foundations for GO Overhead Catenary System (OCS) poles and supporting infrastructure to accommodate future fourth GO track;
- Construction of retaining walls; and
- Construction of noise barriers, including east of Pape Avenue.
Reconfiguration of existing GO tracks involves more than just side-to-side realignment to fit in four where there are now three. Metrolinx plans to change the elevation of the rail corridor so that there will be a consistent 5m clearance under all of the bridges. This requires not just new bridges, but a change to the level of the railway between the bridges. The change is greatest at Eastern Avenue reduces gradually north to Gerrard.
An important note about the “Early Works” reports: With the exception of an Operational Noise and Vibration Study that looks at post-opening conditions for expanded GO and Ontario Line service, the Early Works reports consider only the effect of those specific works, mainly the construction activity, not of the permanent change to the neighbourhood or the effect of future GO or OL construction. That information will not show up until the final Environmental Assessment by which time it will be almost impossible to alter the plans.
The current project schedule for this section of the line is shown below.
Work on the new Lower Don Bridge that will carry the Ontario Line over the river is scheduled to begin in early 2022. The work covered by the East Harbour and Joint Corridor Early Works reports is slated for mid-2022.
The date for “vegetation clearing” is still to be determined as is the actual scope of work and remediation efforts. An Arborist’s report on the planned tree removals is in progress, but will not be made public until late 2021 or early 2022.
There is no mention in this chart of when work to install electrification infrastructure will occur, let alone when electric operation would begin and replace many of the diesel trains in this corridor.
This information is presented another way with slightly more detail and a longer timeline.
For a detailed view, see the gallery below which is copied from a Metrolinx animation.
Question & Answer Session
The Q&A went on for some time with questions pre-submitted via the web site, and with real-time chats. A consistent problem with this format is that Metrolinx is rarely challenged on their answers, and in the case of multipart questions might only answer part of what was asked.
As in my previous article, the sequence of the questions has been changed to group related discussions together.
Underground vs Aboveground in Riverside
This is a burning issue even though Metrolinx is treating the question as settled. Their past actions include:
- Presenting Toronto Council with a “response” to a request to examine a community-proposed alternative that went into great detail about several of their own alternatives, none of which is feasible, while ignoring the community alignment. They then claimed they had dealt with the issue when while actually misdirecting the debate to non-starter options.
- Distributing a householder flyer in Riverside that implied that information from community groups was not true when in fact it was Metrolinx that misrepresented the issues.
- Paying for “social influencers” to tout the Metrolinx plan as if they were representative members of the community.
There is a lot one can debate about the relative merits of an underground vs aboveground alignment, but Metrolinx’ approach to this is all about marketing. In the process they have seriously undermined their credibility on any question.
A parallel issue on the political side is the availability of billions to put the Eglinton West LRT underground and built a Scarborough subway at a cost more than double the original estimate, but an urgency to save money with an aboveground scheme for a few kilometres in Riverside.
Q: Why have you not done a side by side comparison of the underground and aboveground options?
A: We are very, very aware of a desire for an underground alignment like the proposed Relief Line South and of the community plan that respected transfer connection at East Harbour.
- The Initial Business Case (IBC) comparison was between the Ontario Line, the Relief Line South, OL and a “do nothing” option. The Ontario Line performed better, but there were concerns for the above grade portions of the line.
- GO expansion is happening regardless of what is chosen, and the OL design piggybacked on this.
- We have addressed the Noise and Vibration issue.
- Parks are getting larger.
- We will be working from within the corridor including the construction of retaining walls which are within the Metrolinx property line.
- The Relief Line South was compared side-by-side to the Ontario Line. With our revised side-by-side running “we are maintaining our cost structure”. We would not pursue this if it did not have benefits such as simpler stations.
- On the community proposal, we have done some high level comparisons. The cost would be $870M higher, and there would still be a need to deal with the midtown interceptor sewer, the Enbridge facility at East Harbour and sewer mains under Carlaw. In the TTC RLS plan, Carlaw station was $310M, and Gerrard was $345M. This is a big chunk of the difference. There is an offset of $100-130M for surface stations at Queen and at Gerrard.
- The current alignment performed well in the IBC and that’s what we’re going forward with. We have mitigated almost all of the community issues.
Comment: What is missing is a true side-by-side cost comparison showing the cost of the Ontario Line and the extra work it triggers in the Joint Corridor, the cost avoided by moving the OL elsewhere including elimination of the new bridges and the regrading of the GO corridor, and the cost of the proposed underground OL alignment. Info about components comes out in dribs and drabs rather than simply being presented in a report.
The IBC ignored the Relief Line North as if it did not exist and therefore included none of the benefit of tapping into ridership through East York, Thorncliffe and Flemington park north to the Crosstown at Don Mills and Eglinton. Metrolinx had been responsible for studying this part of the line, but dragged their feet on this work possibly because their real agenda was for what would become the Ontario Line. Work on the RLN stopped for the 2018 election and never resumed.
Q: Plans for vegetation removal are to be determined and the date for this work does not appear to be linked to the final EA. Is the decision going to be made before the EA?
A: The EA affecting this was already approved under the GO expansion program. More clearing is needed for the Ontario Line. The timeline still being finalized. We hope to be back with a more detailed schedule shortly.
Early Release of Notices on Title for Transit Lands
Q: At the North segment session, there was a question about early release of Metrolinx statements on title re transit lands. What is the status of this?
A: When we get a [P3] proponent on board and refine property takes, we are looking at releasing some of the property reservations to minimize the impact.
Q: Surely there is a preliminary list in order to reduce the number of properties with notice on title.
A: We have started property procurement process along the corridor. A notice on title does not mean there will be a property take. We are looking at refining the list once there is a ProjectCo. We will be working hard to reduce the effect on titles.
Noise and Vibration
Noise walls figure heavily in Metrolinx’ presentation of actions they will take to reduce noise along the corridor to acceptable levels. It was odd that during the entire September 23 session, there was no mention of:
- resilient track beds and rail fastenings that limit transmission of vibrations into the ground.
Metrolinx has talked about these before, although they are standard practice. Resilient track was used on the more-recently built parts of the TTC subway, and on much of the streetcar system. This was not newly invented by Metrolinx, much as they have talked about it as an innovation.
Metrolinx claims that the noise barriers will reduce noise levels by up to 10dB on average or roughly by 50%. This is true only in two of the modeled locations. A mixture of smaller reductions and increases is shown in the detailed breakdown of model results. (See the section about Noise & Vibration study details at the end of the article.)
To give the impression that there will be a 50% reduction in noise levels on average relative to current conditions all along the joint corridor is deeply misleading. This is a best-case figure cherry-picked for effect, and then quoted as an average giving the impression that at some locations the improvement would be even greater.
The noise barriers and retaining walls occupied much of the meeting discussions. Various issues are entangled in this:
- The effect of retaining walls along the corridor.
- The degree to which noise barriers will actually reduce sound from the trains.
- The combined height of retaining walls and noise barriers.
- The absence of design drawings showing cross-sections of the corridor and walls/barriers.
- The question of whether barriers should be opaque or transparent.
- The very late release of the Early Works reports only hours before the consultation with little time for participants to review the material.
A further problem is that an earlier EA dealt with the GO expansion program before the Ontario Line was added to the corridor. This is an “approved plan” although it addresses a different configuration from what will now be built. Metrolinx is trading on this “approval” to claim that aspects of their project are already past the point of change, even though the presence of the Ontario Line and the planned regrading of the GO corridor are substantial changes.
Q: The Early Works reports were released around 4pm. Nobody has seen them. After the community pushed back, Metrolinx added another town hall on October 5.
Metrolinx is putting the cart before the horse. The community still doesn’t know what the corridor will look like. There are no plans and elevations. We need to understand the combined height of the retaining walls and noise barriers. Regardless of vegetation, how do they absorb sound? It is too soon for this discussion.
Q: Some people may not want transparent noise barriers that allow riders in the corridor to look into their homes and yards.
A: We wanted light to go through walls [to give a more open feeling in parkland].
Q: Ontario changed the EA process to cut it short so that construction can begin as soon as the Early Works reports are finalized.
A: We want to correct the idea that the new EA is a short cut. It has added requirements. The process is quite robust with a lot of detail. If there is a concern other than transparent walls, please give feedback.
Comment: The process implemented to get key transit projects built faster telescopes many timelines that used to be sequential and are now both overlapped and shorter. Even when reports are incomplete and dumped on communities at the last minute, the clock still runs. The documents go into excruciating detail about flora and fauna, but much less on the effect of a project on neighbourhoods and people.
Q: The community can contact Metrolinx, but they don’t want to talk about the alignment and confirmed this in a letter to the city.
Q: Businesses and residents are required to promptly remove grafitti. Will Metrolinx promptly remove graffiti that appears on the noise walls?
A: The materials to be used are graffiti resistant. Metrolinx is working with the City on an arts program to reduce tagging. If we create a beautiful structure then it’s less prone to tagging.
We are codifying a graffiti management strategy with the City, and it will be available in next few weeks or month. Wait a month and then check in the community office for updates.
Q: Noise walls at Bloor/Lansdowne are covered with graffiti.
A: These walls were built some years ago. We have learned a lot about how to design walls to be good surfaces for public art. We also use a pigmented coating to simplify a standard repaint. Vegatative screening also works as a deterrent. Raspberry bushes – “nature’s barbed wire” – are quite effective.
Q: What is the actual size of the trains?
A: The RSSOM proponents [the P3 partner who responsible for train procurement, operations and maintenance] will determine the number of cars per train. There are three proponents bidding on this work. The ultimate capacity is based on 100m trains.
Comment: 100m is approximately two-thirds of the length of a subway station (500ft). Subway trains are 450ft long (6 cars at 75ft each). An important tradeoff between longer trains and service frequency is the size of the station (especially if underground) and the walking distance to exits.
Q: The presentation says that there will be noise reduction “at most locations”. Which locations don’t see this or have an increase?
A: Noise mitigation brings noise below existing levels at most locations. At five high rise buildings, there is some residual effects because noise walls don’t block upward transmission. High rises are at Carlaw/Dundas, one on Logan, one on Pape. See Noise & Vibration report for details.
Q: When you talk about 50% reduction in noise levels with sound walls, have you multiplied by the number of trains?
A: We have looked at the day and night periods and average the benefit over time. 10Db [a 50% reduction] is the average along the corridor. This varies depending on local conditions. There are more trains, but they will be quieter.
Comment: An important distinction, especially at night, is the difference between average and peak sound levels. “On average” there is no train present much of the time. It is the peak noise and vibration, especially from diesel locomotives, that is the problem.
The Noise & Vibration study considers average sound levels over a 16-hour daytime and 8-hour nighttime period. It does not consider peak noise effects, nor the combined effect of multiple trains passing at the same time.
There is a considerable variation in the predicted changes, some up, some down although almost all are less than 10dB either way. Again, Metrolinx cites the maximum benefit as an average. See the section at the end of this article for details of the N&V study.
Q: A resident of De Grassi Street hears and sees the trains all the time. There is a big difference between multiple trains passing at a time and a single train. Has Metrolinx considered only the noise from single trains, or from multiples?
A: Noise walls are intended to significantly reduce noise along De Grassi. We model all of the cumulative impacts of train passes, and the values come out lower [with noise walls].
Comment: Metrolinx did not respond to the issue of concurrency and peak noise from locomotives. This will be more of an issue in the future with more frequent GO service and a higher number of trains passing each other along the corridor.
Q: Is anyone on the panel or in the planning staff a resident of Leslieville/Riverdale, and do they have an opinion on this?
A: We are unclear on the question. Metrolinx employees are all across the GTA. We have representation from everywhere. There are various parts of “planning”. Our planners have a good ability to understand various neighbourhoods.
Comment: Metrolinx was being particular obtuse here. The question obviously is whether there is any local knowledge at all on the planning team, or if this is the product of a design team with a different frame of reference.
Q: Will we see street level to top of noise wall heights? The numbers you are giving minimize the total height. You want our opinion, but every opinion we have given you to date fell on deaf ears.
A: We talked about raising bridges which causes a corridor rise of 0.6 to 1.5m, then there would be a 5-7m noise barrier. They were planned to be clear, but other ideas may be floating about.
Comment: The issue has always been the combined height of the raised berm (or retaining wall) plus the noise barrier, a value Metrolinx consistently avoids providing.
Q: What is the actual dB value you are using? Have you done measurements with 1-2-3-4 trains? Have you done measurements with current trains at other locations?
A: Look at the Noise & Vibration report (in Appendix C). The report considers not just overall averages but also pass bys. The effect varies by location, and we have to be careful to model the actual three-dimensional character site-by-site.
Q: For the October 5 meeting, Metrolinx needs to clarify noise levels, sounds and train counts. Transparent noise walls will not work due to the elevated corridor in residential neighbourhoods, but might work in parks. Total height from grade outside of the Metrolinx lands to the top of proposed barriers should be provided together with a visualization of what this will look like.
For underground stations such as Queen/Carlaw, could they be built as part of site redevelopments such as the Choice REIT property (the Shopper’s Drug Mart). Show us what the underground option would look like. You now have a precedent of selling off sites to developers.
A: Parks vs back yards and the effect of transparent noise barriers in each case is useful feedback for detailed design. The aggregate height varies along the line because of grade changes, and there is isn’t a single number for the height. You need to take corridor today plus 0.6m to 1.5m for track elevation to get the height of future retaining walls. [Noise barriers would be on top of that.]
Q: Where will there be new bridges?
A: There will be new bridges at Eastern, Queen and Dundas for both GO and the Ontario Line. At Logan and at Gerrard, there will be new Ontario Line bridges.
Q: Will the sound barrier continue over the bridges or will there be gaps?
A: We are looking at the technical feasibility of noise walls on bridges and are confident that we can achieve noise and vibration reductions. Stay tuned.
Q: Have you considered the effect of announcements at stations and from trains, including door chimes, as part of the noise that the Ontario Line will generate? Problems have come up on other systems such as Skytrain from this type of noise.
Comment: During this discussion, there was a dispute about how many trains would operate in the corridor. Metrolinx claimed that the community figure of 1,500 was too high and that the number was actually about 900. This directly contradicts Metrolinx’ own Noise & Vibration study. See A Very Busy GO Corridor (Sept. 2021 Update)
Metrolinx has a page where one can listen to the simulated sound of trains of various types. Two of the six sites are not yet operational (beside Jimmie Simpson Park and at Tiverton Avenue). Some examples show trains eastbound with diesels pushing trains up the hill while others show trains westbound with the diesels coasting. This affects the sound profiles.
There is no simulation of electrified GO transit service even though almost all of the increase in GO traffic in this corridor is supposed to come from electric, not diesel, trains. It is obvious that if the GO service expansion does occur, but electrification does not, or is “delayed” due to budget problems, there will be a very substantial change in sound levels from the modeled levels.
Q: There hasn’t been much discussion of the area around Eastern Avenue. What is happening with the storage facility [on the north side of Eastern west of the corridor]?
A: We have plans for that building, but the eventual use of the space both during and after construction is not yet determined.
There will be noise walls in this section too including the portion north to Queen.
Q: What happened to Gerrard GO Station? There was a GO station in GO RER. Has this been dropped?
A: A station at Gerrard didn’t get the ridership to support two stations [at Gerrard and Queen]. The TTC, City and Metrolinx decided not to pursue a SmartTrack station there.
Q: How does the construction overlap with Lake Shore/Gardiner/Port Lands projects?
A: We are very well coordinated with the city. Traffic modelling is still underway for lane reductions for bridge work along the corridor. Our traffic models take into account all known schedules. There is a working group of the various public agencies to co-ordinate work in the Lower Don area.
Q: What portion of the construction will take place overnight?
A: Metrolinx is subject to very strict regulations. We will try for 7am to 7pm, but some work must occur overnight. We will keep this to a minimum. We require our contractors to adhere to more stringent requirements at night. We will let communities know when particularly noisy events are coming up.
Q: A resident who lives on the east side of Saulter Street. The rail corridor is behind his house to the east on a large berm. How will construction vehicles affect his neighbourhood? What is the maximum combined height of the berm and noise barrier?
A: Construction access will be from Eastern Avenue. Heights of the corridor and barrier are still under detailed design, and the current profile will change due to the new, higher bridges.
Metrolinx is sensitive to criticism that they will reduce green space in the corridor, primarily by removal of trees. They counter by pointing out that some parkland will be expanded following completion of the project.
This is somewhat misleading because in three locations, the new space is a thin strip of land that slightly widens existing parks, but which is located in an area that is now occupied by the rail corridor berm and trees. The new lands will be hard by the proposed retaining walls, and a combination of plantings and surface treatments of the walls will be needed to soften the effect.
Q: The parks get a bit wider but the backdrop is concrete and fencing. You will “soften” this with vegetation, but we live in a cold climate. How will you soften the parks in the winter?
A: It is important we don’t reduce the usable amenity space. Vegetative screens are important to soften the retaining wall, and we want to use plantings that work for four seasons. There has been a “very robust” dialogue with Toronto Parks & Forestry.
Q: Are you adding money for public realm improvements?
A: We are looking at refreshing some existing worn down stuff.
Comment: If Metrolinx is proposing neighbourhood improvements, they should provide a detailed list both for discussion and as the basis for actual commitment rather than just good intentions that could evaporate in the face of budget pressures.
The new spaces are shown below, but absent from the table is the total size of the existing parks and the percentage increase the new lands represent.
The Operational Noise & Vibration Study
The manner in which the predicted noise levels are reported requires careful reading of the tables in the study. Here is how these figures are described in the text:
As shown in Table 3-4, implemented noise barriers are predicted to be effective at reducing noise impacts for the purpose of meeting [MOEE/GO/TTC] criteria at all noise sensitive locations. Implemented noise barriers are predicted to reduce “with project” noise levels by 1 to 14 dB at 22 of 28 assessed noise sensitive locations. A 10 dB decrease is typically considered a “very significant” decrease of half as loud as the “without barrier” project levels.Joint Corridor Noise & Vibration Study at p. 27.
There are, however, a few problems with this statement:
- Comparing the existing noise levels with future conditions post project implementation shows an increase at almost all locations. (Compare “Existing Conditions” and “Future – With Project” columns. The differences are in the “Impact [dB]” column.)
- The future values are then reduced by the effect of the planned noise barriers. (“Future – With Barriers” and “Residual Impact [dB]”.) In most cases the residual impact (net change from existing to future with barriers) is negative indicating a net reduction in noise level, although there are a few exceptions.
- Where the residual impact is negative, the change varies from -0.4 to -10.3 dBA. This is less than the range cited in the text above, and certainly the average of all reductions is not 10 dBA or a 50% drop. Metrolinx gives the impression that this is an average benefit when it is actually the maximum.
Further methodology problems include:
- The noise and vibration generated by an eastbound diesel-hauled train is considerably louder than a westbound train because the latter are coasting downhill. Moreover 12-car trains with two locomotives are louder than 6-car trains with only one. There is no reference to the use of different model inputs based on direction or number of locomotives.
- Electric trains are quieter than diesels because there is no engine, per se, on board. Where electric locomotives are used (as proposed on GO), vibration issues remain because of the weight of locomotives as opposed to a train of electric multiple unit cars (EMUs) where each car has its own propulsion (like a subway train). There is no reference at all in the study to noise and vibration levels associated with electric trains, and it is not clear what sound profiles were used to model the large amount of planned electric GO service in the corridor.
- Calculations are based on equalized or average values over time [Leq], not on peaks caused by, notably, diesel engines climbing the hill eastbound [Lmax]. With more service, there will be more diesel hauled trains especially if service increases occur before electrification. None of the modelling considers the peaks caused by locomotives, the frequency of these peaks, nor the cumulative effect of multiple trains passing at the same time.
In almost all locations, the projected noise levels with barriers are lower than existing conditions, and therefore no special actions are needed. The exceptions are in high-rise buildings where noise barriers do not shield rail corridor noise. Even there, the changes are projected to be in the “insignificant” to “noticeable” range, from 0 to 4.99 dBA, and therefore do not breach the criteria in the Ministry of Environment, GO or TTC protocols.
Worth noting is the Ministry of the Environment/TTC protocol that allows a passing subway train to hit a level of 80 dBA, well above the ambient level along the line. This is taken as the maximum that would be allowed for an Ontario Line train, although the simulated sound level for them is clearly much lower. If a train were passing by at 80 dBA every 90 seconds in each direction, this would be a disaster for any affected neighbourhood. The criterion is clearly way out of date, probably applies to operations in tunnels, and inappropriate for this situation.
Although there are locations where vibration levels are predicted to rise, the mitigation for these effects through use of a resilient trackbed should offset the effect of the increased service. This is primarily an issue for GO trains which are much heavier than the OL trainsets will be.
In these maps and tables, there are two types of “Points of Reception” (POR):
- POW: Plane of Window (equivalent to the outer edge of a building)
- OUT: Outdoor
The detailed list of locations is in Table 2-1 at page 14 within the report.