The Don Valley Layover: Metrolinx Replies

Recently, I wrote a piece to tie off the loose ends of the Don Valley Layover project in response to an article in the Globe & Mail. See: The Don Valley Layover: History and Options

Metrolinx sent a response to this article on October 7, 2021, which is presented in its entirety below. I have added headings and my own responses.

I thank Metrolinx and their Media & Issues Specialist, Fannie Sunshine, for their commentary on my proposal.

Electrification of the Richmond Hill Corridor (Bala Sub)

I wrote:

On the west side of the valley, the Bala Subdivision (Richmond Hill Corridor) would be upgraded with electrified double track from the Union Station Rail Corridor (USRC) to Pottery Road (a level crossing north of Bloor Street).

This explanation makes sense operationally, but the amount of electrified track is much greater than needed to act as a reversing area for trains from Union. This begs the question of whether there are other intended or possible uses.

Metrolinx responded:

Broader electrification of the Richmond Hill corridor to Richmond Hill and Bloomington is not in the GO Expansion Program. The future track requirements are a change from what is there now, but that is for currently planned and funded service, not broader expansion of the Richmond Hill Line.

This does not explain why Metrolinx requires electrification so far north of the Union Station Rail Corridor (USRC).

Midday vs Overnight Operation

I wrote:

The Environmental Assessment covering this facility is clear that the intent was for 7×24 operation with three shifts of workers and overnight train servicing. Metrolinx claims that this is not their intent and that the track would only be used to store three trains mid-day between the two peak periods. However, they have also pressed for early completion of this storage yard to replace capacity that will be temporarily lost from the Don Yard at the east end of the USRC due to construction (possibly the Ontario Line and other reconfiguration of tracks just west of the Don River). The Don Yard stores trains overnight.

Metrolinx responded:

This location will only be used for midday storage. We do not regularly store trains in the Don Yard overnight (trains may stage there on emergent purposes, but they are not stored), so the premise that Don Valley will be used to replace overnight storage at Don Yard is not accurate.

I wrote:

The original proposal included overnight servicing of trains (cleaning and fuelling). If trains will only be stored during the mid-day period, the work that would occur, and the supporting facilities, would disappear. Another mid-day storage area, on the Lake Shore East corridor near Midland, has none of the facilities planned for the Don Valley Layover. If the Layover does not require service buildings, then there is more flexibility in its possible location, and much less land is required.

Metrolinx responded:

We are currently reviewing the building requirements for midday storage, and will share the updated design as it is developed in 2022.

The traffic impact study for the Don Valley Layover was quite clear in stating that there would be three shifts of workers and that the site was for 7×24 use. This subsequently changed, but the support buildings needed for the originally-planned operation remained in the design. Metrolinx is now reviewing the need for these buildings.

The need for early provision of the Layover well in advance of service growth that would trigger it, but as a side-effect of the loss of storage in the Don Yard, was raised as a justification for proceeding soon with the project by Metrolinx in a community meeting.

This is independent from whether Metrolinx does or does not use the Don Yard overnight today.

Storing Trains West of the Don River

I wrote:

The Bala Sub and the Don Branch both run north from the USRC on the west side of the Don River. Originally there were two tracks (one used for switching freight) on the Bala Sub and one on the Don Branch. Today, there is only one Bala Sub track as far north as River Street where a second track splits off and provides a siding to south of Pottery Road. The eastern Don Branch track is overgrown but would be reconditioned under Metrolinx’ plans.

The distance from Eastern Avenue to the point north of River Street where the Don Branch crosses the river is about 1.5km. This is slightly longer than the planned layover on the east side of the river. Metrolinx currently does not plan to triple track this section, but there is definitely room as past usage shows.

Metrolinx replied:

The width of the corridor is narrower in some locations than what is shown, as it follows the shoreline of the Don River. The buildings would need to be on the east side of the tracks to access the stored trains. There is not enough room to put the support buildings and wayside power next to the Don River, and allow for safe train operations on the Bala Subdivision.

The Don Branch track, though overgrown, is still there and is the one adjacent to the river. It is retained and improved in the Metrolinx plans.

The buildings might not be required, per Metrolinx’ earlier reply. As I mentioned in an earlier article, a new layover facility on the Lake Shore East corridor at Midland does not have support buildings.

Nothing prevents a third track (present in the photos, but not there today) on the west side of the corridor, adjacent to Bayview Avenue, from being used as a storage area. This would avoid the need to cross the “live” Richmond Hill tracks to reach the stored trains.

If an access point and small parking area were required, they could be located east of Bayview at River between the north end of a possible storage track and the beginning of the existing siding on the Bala sub which occupies a corresponding part of the Metrolinx right-of-way.

Over to you, Metrolinx.

4 thoughts on “The Don Valley Layover: Metrolinx Replies

  1. Coincidentally Metrolinx announced their diesel based service between London and Toronto – which I assume has to park somewhere for the day – Don Valley? I don’t understand how Metrolinx can propose this as a viable service. It’s a 4 hour commuter journey, leaving at 5:20 am to get to Toronto for 9:13 am, work a short day & skip out to catch the 4pm train to be back in London for 8pm.

    It’s this level of thinking that brings me to the conclusion that GO Expansion is wildly overfunded and could easily get half of its budget cut. Then with a more critical eye we would see things like the Don Valley Layover cut, London cut, Gormley, Kirby etc and I am sure Steve could provide a serious critique of what are solid investments vs the Mirabel of Trains.

    Steve: The London trains are simply extensions of KW trips and so there is no net requirement for more midday storage. In fact the trains will overnight back in KW because there are no facilities in London they can use.

    This is a political move just as the so-called Niagara service was. Even pre-covid, ridership on that extension was trivial, but it gave the DoFo regime the ability to crow about the new service.

    When we start planning transit service for people rather than for photo ops, we will be a lot further ahead, but I’m not sure the folks at Metrolinx would know how to do this.

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  2. The trains are only to be stored during off peak hours and the RH line doesn’t run trains during off peak hours. Why then isn’t there sufficient room on the Don Branch above eastern to store and safely service the trains? Lots of room for the ‘honey wagon’ to make its rounds and for personnel to safely access the trains directly from Bayview. There is always lots of folks and maintenance equipment moving safely through the area now. Don’t see a need for buildings as USCR is in close proximity.

    Steve: I think Metrolinx plans to add some off peak service on the RH line if demand ever recovers, and they also need one track as a reversing track for trains from Union. But nothing prevents the reassignment of track usage so that the track closest to Bayview is storage and easy to access. Metrolinx’ answer contradicts itself, but that is not unusual for an organization with big internal communication problems and projects unaware of each other’s work.

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  3. I am glad that we are finally building transit but why store only three trains or restrict to day time usage only? Imagine if Bombardier streetcars or the McNicoll Bus Garage came with the restriction to be used during day time only, it would not be a good use of our resources.

    Steve: Trains are stored downtown during the daytime, in the countryside at night, to avoid dead-heading costs. Less central storage is needed than overnight storage because many trains remain in service between the peak periods and don’t need to be stored.

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  4. I think many people have lost all trust and confidence in Metrolinx. When the CEO himself gaslights the public and other branches of government and when a judge needs to slap down the CEO for treating contractors unfairly regarding COVID precautions, then it’s impossible for anyone to take anything Metrolinx says seriously. If you regularly lie to our faces about the big things, how can we trust you about the little things too? After the election, I think the CEO will have to be fired. I think maybe the whole board of directors will have to be fired too. It’s the only way to restore trust in the system.

    Steve: Housecleaning an organization like Metrolinx can be a challenge because you need some continuity and people who can be trusted. The worst case is a reign of terror that makes anyone who might be able to contribute go into hiding for fear of being swatted down. That said, there is a culture of hiring your friends as consultants so that they don’t show up on the books as head count nor in the “sunshine list”, not to mention the idea that P3 contracts are the default way to procure contracts. How much of this will change depends a lot on who forms the next government.

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