This meeting mainly dealt with the Early Works portion of the Ontario Line and GO Expansion projects between the Don River and Gerrard Street including construction effects and post-completion conditions.
A separate EA looking at the Ontario Line overall including future operations and mitigation of noise and vibration issues will be available in early 2022.
Metrolinx assured everyone that no construction work will begin until the Minister approves the Early Works Environmental Assessment, but that statement is true only as far as it applies to things in the EA.
Other work such as vegetation clearing was approved in the GO Expansion and Electrification EAs, and could start any time. Clearing is already in progress elsewhere in corridor and on the GO network. In the Joint Corridor it will begin later this fall, but specific dates have not been announced. A strange statement by Metrolinx claimed that any removals for the Ontario Line will not take place until the EA is approved by the Minister. This is potentially misleading given that approvals already exist by way of the approved GO Expansion.
Metrolinx appears to be less then forthright about their actual timeline. Meanwhile, they claim that consultation will continue as the project goes into detailed design. That will not occur until well into 2022.
Metrolinx and Trees
The image below shows the existing conditions on the east side of the corridor north of the Jimmie Simpson Recreation Centre. At this point the park is fairly wide and all of the trees are right against the fence at the Metrolinx property line if not on their right-of-way. None of these trees will survive the clearances needed both for the GO expansion and electrification because they are on or severely overhang Metrolinx’ land.
All of the good words about managing trees assume that they would actually remain and need protection. Metrolinx has still not published an Arborist’s Report on the existing trees, and there is a conflict between when they claim this will be available (maybe at year-end 2021, but more likely early 2022) and when they would like to begin cutting trees (fall 2021).
Although Metrolinx proposes “compensation”, this is only for trees outside of their lands today. Those within their corridor will simply vanish. There is no guarantee that replacement trees will be anywhere near the Joint Corridor, and they could be miles away. This would be a tradeoff within the GTA as a whole, but it is little comfort to the neighbourhood to know that their forest has been relocated to a woodlot in the Rouge River valley. Even if the “compensation” trees, at a 3:1 ratio, are planted locally, it could be challenging to find places for them nearby.
This is an example of the flaws inherent in the so-called “EA” and “Early Works” process where information needed to evaluate effects will not be available until it is too late to modify plans (assuming Metrolinx would even contemplate this).
Metrolinx claims that tree removal will be largely within the corridor, with as little as possible outside. The GO expansion and electrification program is already approved, and this affects many trees even if the Ontario Line were not present. Metrolinx will be back to the community with details, and a study for the additional requirements of the Ontario Line will be done separately.
That is an example of Metrolinx trying to sneak ahead with work under the GO corridor approval already in place. If it were not for the Ontario Line, the layout and elevation of the GO tracks would be quite different, and the effects would be considerably less than for the combined corridor.
Where trees conflicting with the corridor lie outside Metrolinx property, they will be replaced on a 3:1 basis, but trees within the corridor will simply disappear along with their shielding benefits. An Arborist’s Report on the corridor is underway but will not be available until late 2021 or early in 2022 with removals to follow in the second half of 2022. This claim does not align with project schedules showing tree clearing to begin in 2021.
Again, Metrolinx plays loose with approvals already in place for GO (even though the project scope has changed significantly from what the GO EA anticipated) and the approval still pending for Ontario Line works.
I will return to Vegetation Clearing Zones later in the article.
Three illustrations show Metrolinx’ version of what parks along the corridor will look like including transparent noise walls and vegetative cover on retaining walls.
These are misleading in key ways:
- The trees shown are mature. If they are replacement trees, the parks will not look like this for decades allowing for the period of construction and then growth of new plantings, assuming that they actually occur where shown.
- In the illustrations of Bruce Mackey Park, large trees are shown close enough to the corridor that their crowns would overhang into the exclusion zone for electrification.
- If solid noise walls are used in locations closer to houses than those shown here, the combined effect of the retaining wall, sound wall and lost vegetation will present a much greater visual intrusion that these drawings imply.
A landscaping map in plan view (looking down from above) would show the actual relationship of trees to the corridor and whether the views shown in the drawings can actually be achieved.
An alternative retaining wall treatment includes seating shown here in Jimmie Simpson Park.
The retaining and noise walls look good because of tree cover, but the view could be very different depending on when trees are replaced, how long they take to mature to the size shown and whether the noise barrier is transparent or opaque.
Retaining Walls and Noise Barriers
Because the combined GO/Ontario Line corridor will fully occupy the Metrolinx lands, it will not be possible to use a sloped berm as at present. Instead, retaining walls will be installed so that the corridor, in effect, sits on a box six tracks wide. As part of the project, the track level will be raised by over one metre at Eastern Avenue tapering northward to Gerrard so that clearances under bridges can be improved to a standard 5m.
The map below shows the height of retaining walls needed along the corridor. They vary along the route depending on local conditions up to 7.5m high. To this will be added a 5m noise barrier for a combined height of up to 12m.
Metrolinx plans to use transparent noise barriers to reduce the visual effect, but this was not uniformly well-received by some in the community whose homes are located close to the corridor where trains would pass much more frequently and closer than today.
The highest noise and vibration impacts will be on the west side of the corridor. Metrolinx projects that noise walls will limit the effect of new services in the corridor, and will in many cases reduce noise below existing levels except for residents of a few high rise buildings where the change is not deemed to be “significant”.
Noise levels depend on many factors including the number of trains, the motive power (diesel or electric), the length of trains and number of locomotives (if any), operating speeds, grades, the elevation of tracks above the surrounding community and any screening effects from structures and vegetation.
The diagram below does not represent the actual configuration through the Joint Corridor where the tracks are up to 7.5m above surrounding lands. Another important distinction is that higher frequencies such as wheel-on-rail noise tend to be blocked by walls, whereas low frequency noise from diesel locomotives originates higher above the ground and tends to diffract around barriers. Sound absorbing material could be used, but this would preclude transparent noise panels.
Metrolinx states that they are trying to take all fluctuations into account in their projections including the number of train passbys/day. There will be more passbys, but they will be significantly quieter.
The estimated sound levels are stated on an “Leq” basis which averages noise over two periods each of which have legislative protocols for allowable levels. “Daytime” runs for 16 hours from 7am to 11pm, while “Nighttime” runs for 8 hours from 11pm to 7am. This scheme has a basic problem: there are considerable quiet periods when no train is present and these are averaged with the much louder noise of passing trains. Moreover, busy peak periods are combined with less intensive off-peak service.
I will return to the issue of noise levels later in this article.
The map below shows new bridges that will be installed along the corridor. These are in three groups corresponding to the contracts in which they are included:
- East Harbour Transit Hub (Late 2022)
- This will include a replacement for the GO bridges crossing Eastern Avenue and a new bridge for the Ontario Line
- Joint Corridor Early Works (Mid 2022-2024)
- Replacement GO bridges at Queen, Dundas and Logan.
- New Ontario Line bridges at Dundas and Logan.
- North Structures project (Starting Late 2024)
- Ontario Line stations/bridges at Queen and at Gerrard.
- Minor changes to GO bridges at Gerrard.
There are no construction plans yet for how this work will be done with minimal interference to road operations and TTC services.
Survey on Design Issues
Metrolinx is conducting a survey on various design issues. It will be available until October 14, 2021.
Q: What is the cost comparison of [the Metrolinx proposal] vs the “Munro” option? What can be done to reduce the cost such as going up Pape, not Carlaw, and/or going cut and cover up Pape all the way to Minton Place?
A: We understand community concerns. The Lakeshore East GO expansion was going to occur no matter what, and the Ontario Line could piggyback on GO. The original plan did not have continuous noise walls.
Underground, we compared the Relief Line South to the Ontario Line, and the OL performed much better from a business point of view. It was up to us to design solutions for effects in the corridor such as noise, changes to parks and tree removal. We have ways to provide a very attractive build and made the parks bigger.
The reality of an underground alignment is that it is more expensive. The “hybrid alignment” [Metrolinx’ term for the “Munro alignment”] is not without its challenges. The two underground stations cost over $600m, and the longer alignment adds over $300m. We still have to deal with very large utilities (Enbridge) and dip underground quickly [at East Harbour]. Leslieville/Carlaw is a vital interchange station for the Queen streetcar, and deletion of the station is not an option. Further north, there is the midtown interceptor sewer which was a problem for the Relief Line South [RLS] design too. The total difference is over $800m net of credits for not building the aboveground alignment in the GO corridor.
We firmly believe that this is the right solution because of the way we can mitigate effects in the aboveground alignment, access to stations is better, transfer times are faster. Cut and cover on Pape would be disruptive, and there is a high water table, soft soils and a narrow right-of-way which does lend itself to cut and cover construction.
Comment: The whole idea of reverting to the Pape alignment from Eastern to Gerrard and of building the entire line under Pape north to the Don Valley strikes me as an attempt to sabotage consideration of the “hybrid” scheme rather than to support it. There was a political battle about which route to take north to Gerrard, and Carlaw won out because the road is wider and construction would produce less disruption there. Going cut and cover all the way north to Minton Place (south side of the Don Valley) would produce major upheavals in the communities it would pass through.
Q: You will never convince this city you have chosen the best analysis until you provide a detailed analysis of the “Munro” option.
A: Costing information comes from the previous work on RLS. Our path forward is with the current alignment. The extra cost of over $800M would have a big impact on the project. There are issues from the city and community [with the Joint Corridor alignment] and we’re addressing them. Figures from previous estimates of the RLS cost are in the Business Case reports for the Relief Line and in the July 2019 comparison of the two.
Q: Why is the plan for tree removals not part of Early Works report? We only have 30 days for comment and no timeline for when the Arborist’s Report will be available.
A: The Early Works report provides a project footprint. We assume conservatively that we will have to remove the trees within the corridor. Some of that will continue in Joint Corridor segment later this fall, and additional trees will be removed when Ontario Line EA has been completed in late 2021 or early 2022. “We will stay within the project footprint”, and we will prioritize replacement plantings within the community.
Comment: It is difficult to believe that with the need to regrade the GO corridor and shift the location of the tracks that many of the trees now in the corridor will remain after the “GO only” works. Metrolinx should clarify exactly what they mean, and which areas will be cleared when. This has the makings of a major blow-up if the entire corridor is cleared as “early works for GO” starting in fall 2021. The corridor redesign for the OL and GO is one package from the community’s point-of-view, but Metrolinx attempts to dodge questions by treating them as two with approvals already in place for some major works. Some aspects of the GO changes exist only because the Ontario Line has been added to the mix.
Q: Will you extend the 30 day limit for comments given that two large Early Works reports were released at the same time?
A: There is a regulated process that sets the time limits. It’s not unusual. We’ve tried our best. We need to close out the process so that the feedback can be incorporated in final Early Works report.
Q: From MPP Peter Tabuns: There is a protocol for complaints [about noise], but it doesn’t explain how it works including the speed of reply and any authority to intervene. How are you going to set minimum standards so that they will be meaningful? Will we be able to see monitoring data? Will there be penalties. What we have now is thin/vague, but if you don’t set out protocols, we can’t accept them.
A: Yes we have a 24h call centre. Calls will be immediately dealt with and passed on. This is an important part of our projects, and the requirements are in the tender documents.
We are committed to holding contractors to standards. The Noise & Vibration plan must be submitted before work begins. There are alert levels below standards so they know of problems developing. Metrolinx will adhere to the City’s vibration bylaw.
Q: From MPP Tabuns: Why are Queen and Carlaw stations $300m each, but the budget for Pape which is more complex is less, and the King/Bathurst station is only $200m?
A: Gerrard Station was very deep because of a sewer. Carlaw Station was challenging due to the small site. Overall relatively small savings are available [through design changes], if any.
Q: Councillor Paula Fletcher:
- City Council just passed a motion asking Metrolinx to send the wall designs and specs to [the City’s] design review people.
- We all know where the property line is, but there is a 30m zone of influence where the city has no control over what Metrolinx might do.
- When will you actually call the station by its proper name “Riverside”?
- In Early Works Report section 126.96.36.199 the Summary of Public Feedback describes opposition to the aboveground route as “by several individuals”. Is that an appropriate assessment of breadth and depth of opposition?
- Wall designs: We have been working quite closely with City planning, transportation, the transit expansion office, and parks. These concepts have been discussed and are well understood by city departments.
- Zone of influence: This is an area where special measures may be needed for construction. Notices are on title, but and we are looking at MPP Tabuns’ suggestion of narrowing notice period. We expect that we will not be executing many of these rights. We will keep close to the community on this.
- The present name is a working name only. Ultimately the naming will be done with community, TTC and City input.
- We’ve done our best to capture feedback. If there is something you feel we should be elaborating on, we can do our best to update our language.
Noise and Vibration
The remaining questions dealt with noise and vibration issues.
Q: From the Chair of the Ontario Line Community Advisor Committee in Riverside:
- We have read the reports. Our CAC would grade them with an “F” because there is so much information missing about further effects and mitigations. When you finally do present this [in the EA report], we will not be able to comment or change the design.
- The Federal funding for the Ontario Line has a requirement for an environmental plan. The Metrolinx planning is missing many components addressing issues of community concern, and in particular has no comparison of noise for construction and operation for the Metrolinx and “hybrid” options. We ask Metrolinx to do better.
- Why is Metrolinx not meeting the standard noise and vibration limits of 55/50 dbA [day/night]? Why are they basing evaluation on a 30-yr old TTC protocol?
- Standards allow for the higher of 55/50 dbA or the current existing levels. This is standard practice across all noise guidelines especially in big cities where you expect more noise than in rural areas. The protocols allow for a 5db change before mitigation is required, but we are trying to get a reduction from current levels.
- In the streamlined approval process, the alternatives assessment has already been done. We assess the selected option starting with a preliminary design concept. Some reports do not come right away as they depend on detailed design such as tree removals. The Lakeshore East corridor removals were already approved as part of GO expansion. This is not new info. Species at risk will be updated closer to detailed design.
- The Federal government has audited the OL project, approved our process, and advised that there is no further need for their involvement.
Comment: There was no “alternatives assessment” carried out for the Ontario Line beyond its arrival as a fait accompli designed by Metrolinx and announced by the Premier as the centrepiece of his subway plan.
Q: The East Harbour report does not appear to include the Gardiner take down and effect on traffic during construction.
A: Joint Corridor construction noise mitigation measures are existing best practices. Re the Gardiner, there is a a Lower Don Precinct co-ordination group including Metrolinx and many other agencies and utilities working in this area.
Q: What will you do if noise is too loud?
A: We will be maximizing the distance between construction equipment and “sensitive receivers” [the engineering term for locations that have already been flagged as locations to be measured and monitored]. These receptors are addresses such as Fontbonne Ministries.
Real time monitoring is a very important part of the work so that Metrolinx can jump in quickly. There is some confusion here between GO and OL activities because a lot of GO work cannot be in prime time [when trains operate].
Comment: Note that construction noise problems are monitored on a peak noise basis, not for average sound levels over the day as is done for regular train operations. There is a clear conflict in approaches to two situations.
Q: I was a resident along the Canada Line while it was put in place. Let’s move beyond construction. It will be painful, but what is long term livability of the city? My concern is that we are moving to a constant state of tinnitus because of constant presence of trains. How has this been factored in?
A: The noise levels have been factored in to 16 and 8 hour (day and night) projections, and the level should be lower than existing. We are trying to go beyond the requirement and maximize the benefit to reduce noise.
Q: Eastbound trains are much noisier than westbound trains [because of the uphill grade eastbound]. Many of your simulations use westbound trains. Does your noise level projection distinguish between directions? You talk about average sounds, but it’s the breakthrough sound and simultaneous trains.
A: The noise model does consider train speeds and whether they are accelerating or not. In the sound demonstrations we have had some feedback about multiple concurrent passbys. The main idea was to contrast OL electric trains vs diesel, and noise with or without a barrier.
Comment: Note that the question about train direction was not answered. There is a big difference between GO trains powering up the hill with one or two diesel locomotives and a westbound train coasting downhill. Ontario Line trains are EMUs (electric multiple units) like subway cars and will have (mainly) wheel-on-rail noise and motor whine.
Q: We are going to 1500 trains/day from 160. You have still only given us one choice of noise wall panels. Clear walls are not acceptable where people’s houses back onto the tracks. Retaining walls need to be designed with vegetation. Don’t show clear walls as a fait accompli.
A: We committed to looking at different materials, and we’ve heard you loud and clear.
Comment: The number of trains is meaningless without knowing the sound profile of each type of train that will operate in the corridor. Metrolinx has not provided this information even though it is basic input data to any model, and could also be used to show comparisons of noise levels with various service designs.
Metrolinx talked about how riders will have a better experience with the sun streaming in. That is an obvious advantage of aboveground construction, but with the obvious tradeoff of effects on the communities through which the riders will pass.
There are three metrics cited by Metrolinx when they talk about noise levels.
- Lmax : This is the maximum noise level in a period or associated with an event such as a passing train.
- Lpassby : This is the average noise level during the period when a train passes a location and is audible.
- Leq : This is the average noise level over a period of time, typically many hours.
A lot of planning typically looks at Leq over an extended period, and Metrolinx uses the 16 hours from 7am to 11pm as their “daytime” and the other 8 hours from 11pm to 7am as “nighttime”.
Noise levels can be affected by the distance from a source, shielding between the source and the listener including barriers and vegetation, and the weather, among other factors. If the ambient noise level is already high from other sources (road traffic, stationary equipment such as air conditioning on buildings, a roaring waterfall), then the amount of sound added by a passing train might not change Leq very much, possibly not at all. Metrolinx goal is that the new sound levels with the service operating are no higher than existing levels.
Obviously, these levels are not the same all day long, nor is the level of service on the GO and OL corridors, not to mention the mix of train types (diesel- or electric-hauled GO trains with one or two locomotives, 6 or 12 cars; Ontario Line EMUs; eastbound or westbound trains.
The GO service operating today is comparatively infrequent and each train pass is a distinct event. (Anyone who has even eaten at the patio of Bonjour Brioche is familiar with this.) However, as the number of trains increases, those events will overlap more and more possibly to the point that there is never a moment without a train somewhere in earshot.
This is particularly important for the noisiest of them, the diesels, but all trains make their contribution. GO service plans call for the number of diesel trains to stay roughly the same as today and all growth will be with electric units. However, if electrification is delayed, then the diesel-electric mix and resulting sounds could be very different than what has been projected.
Metrolinx talks of the GO Expansion as being an approved project, but the Noise and Vibration report for that work explicitly excludes the area that would be shared with the Ontario Line recognizing that the future noise will be from a combination of services. There is no “already approved” noise study for the Riverside area with only a GO expansion.
Metrolinx used an analogy of filling a tub with water by a continuous stream or by pouring in buckets of water. Either way the tub is filled with the same amount of water. This is equivalent to Leq where it does not matter how quickly or slowly the tub fills. However, pouring buckets results in short bursts of water followed by intervals when the hapless servant trudges off to the well for a refill. Lpassby (the sound of pouring water) and Lmax (the initial splash) occur from time to time but not constantly.
Another analogy familiar to many is the extremely high noise of a passing motorcycle at 2am, or a nearby lightning strike. Individually, that is really annoying and might wake people up, but on an Leq basis, it is small change unless a constant parade comes through all night long.
Both types of noise profile can affect people. A peak noise can distract, overwhelm conversation or wake sleepers, while a steady background noise might simply annoy and contribute to the sense that it is never really quiet with the windows open.
Vegetation Clearing Zones
From the GO Transit Electrification Plan visual impact assessment report:
[…] as part of the electrification project, a Vegetation Clearing Zone is required in order to provide safe electrical clearances to any existing vegetation along the rail corridors. The Vegetation Clearing Zone entails vegetation removals within the area encompassed by the overhead contact system/2 X 25 kV feeders plus an additional 2 metre offset area on either side of the OCS components or 2 X 25 kV feeders. As a result, the total clearing area is defined as 7m measured from the centerline of the outermost tracks to be electrified/feeder routes on either side of each rail corridor/feeder route. The 7m zone is considered a maximum removal zone; during detailed design, the 7m zone may be reduced in certain areas where/if possible based on the final OCS design.
Recommended mitigation measures (where required) have been developed as part of the Visual Impact Assessment, and may include one or more of the following as appropriate:
• As part of detailed design, efforts will be made to minimize visual effects as much as possible.
OCS (Overhead Contact System)/Rail Corridors
• The installation of OCS infrastructure will affect the viewshed along the rail corridors, particularly in areas of vegetation/tree clearing. Visual impact mitigation strategies for OCS will be identified and incorporated into the detailed design process. These strategies will address the range of visual conditions, area allocations, and mitigation needs that will be found along the corridor. Areas of ‘high’ visual impact will be identified and specific design measures will be incorporated to mitigate visual impacts of OCS.
• The Metrolinx Tree Compensation Protocol requirements will entail offsetting tree loss as much as possible/feasible through planting of trees in other areas and in affected parks wherever possible; which will also help offset/minimize visual effects due to tree removal.
Note that this text predates announcement of the Ontario Line.
In September 2021, Metrolinx used the diagram below to show the clearance requirements for OCS and feeders along the Joint Corridor. There are a few important omissions in this drawing:
- The “clearing area” is defined above as “7m measured from the centerline of the outermost tracks to be electrified [or] feeder routes on either side of each rail corridor/feeder route”. That is to say, 7m out from the track centreline except when there is a feeder cable closer to the edge of the right-of-way in which case the 7m is measured from that cable.
- A 7m clearance zone is shown between the OCS for the Ontario Line and the centreline of the nearest GO track. However, there is no comparable clearance zone shown on the east side of the track.
- The location of feeders for the GO OCS is not clear, but if these are closer to the edges of the GO corridor than the outer track centrelines, then the 7m clearance would be measured from the feeders, not from the centrelines. This affects placement of trees on the east (GO) side of the Joint Corridor.
- No clearance area is shown for the Ontario Line OCS. This line will operate at a lower voltage, but Metrolinx has not published any specs for how far into the OL right-of-way, if at all, any vegetation can protrude nor how much clearance should exist outside of the right-of-way by analogy to the 7m rule for the GO OCS. This affects placement of trees on the west (OL) side of the Joint Corridor.