Metrolinx Realigns Yonge North Subway Route

In an uncharacteristically co-operative move, Metrolinx has responded to local complaints about the planned route of the Richmond Hill subway extension under the Royal Orchard neighbourhood.

Originally, the Yonge North line would have run north under Yonge Street including Richmond Hill Station and a storage yard for trains to the north. The revised alignment takes the subway east to the GO corridor before it passes under Highway 407, and the subway runs on the surface north from there with two stations.

The TTC plans a new surface yard north of Richmond Hill, although it is not clear who will pay for this and whether it is still part of the YNSE budget. It is listed as part of TTC Capital and Real Estate plans, and this suggests that part of the extension’s cost (the need for more train storage) remains in the TTC’s lap even though Ontario is funding the subway itself.

The new alignment was announced on the Metrolinx blog on December 8, 2021. I wrote to Metrolinx that day asking for details of the planned vertical and horizontal alignments, and they replied on December 9:

We are preparing to release an update to the environmental assessment for the project in the new year, which will contain more detailed analysis on this specific route. This route will also be the basis for the analysis we complete for the Preliminary Design Business Case, which is also tracking for release later in 2022. 

Email from Fannie Sunshine, Metrolinx Advisor, Media & Issues Communications

The information surfaced (so to speak) not long afterward, certainly before an updated EA or Preliminary Design Business Case. Metrolinx obviously thought better of their initial withholding of the route’s details.

On December 15, Metrolinx CEO Phil Verster wrote a letter to the Royal Orchard community going into this change at some length, and even more was provided in an online consultation session on December 16 including its presentation deck.

Horizontal and Vertical Alignments

Here is an overview of the two routes.

The horizontal alignment has been changed by placing the east-west segment directly under Bay Thorn Drive to minimize the amount of tunnel that is directly under house. This requires that the curves at either end be tightened to make sharper turns from Yonge to Bay Thorn, and then from Bay Thorn into the GO corridor. The Bridge Station planned adjacent to the existing GO Langstaff Station is not affected.

Below are the original horizontal and vertical alignment in more detail. North is to the right.

The subway would initially swing west of Yonge Street and cross under the Don River. It would then travel northeast under the residential neighbourhood with a portal in what is now an industrial area south of Langstaff Road to a surface station under the highway.

The proposed alternative has both sharper curves and a deeper path. The tunnel under the Don River is almost twice as deep (31m vs 16m), and there is a long climb to just east of Royal Orchard Park where the vertical alignments meet up. The new alignment will require slower operation than originally planned because of the tighter curve radii.

If a Royal Orchard Station were ever added to the plan it would be considerably deeper in the new alignment than the old at a depth comparable to some of the proposed downtown stations on the Ontario Line.

The vertical alignments are compared in the drawing below.

Two alignments proposed by Transport Action Ontario were rejected because of various issues such as the effect on planned developments, the complexity of the portal and Bridge Station, and the extra cost of these schemes. Metrolinx states that its revised proposal keeps the project within its budget.

Noise and Vibration

Metrolinx makes the point that railway technology has improved with respect to noise and vibration, and cites the “floating slab” technique used on the Vaughan extension of the Spadina Subway as an option. In fact, this technique was first used on the original Spadina line that opened in 1978, and later on Line 4 Sheppard. It is not exactly brand new, although certainly more recent that the track bolted to the tunnel floor on older parts of the subway including the existing North Yonge line to Finch.

Metrolinx used the low noise level where Line 1 passes under the Schulich building at York University to demonstrate what can be achieved when a line uses this track construction technique.

Subways built with a floating slab must have larger tunnels for the extra depth the slab requires, and this increases their cost. A problem for the TTC on older lines is that adding vibration isolation is difficult because there are limits on raising rails for additional padding within limited tunnel clearances.

A “building within a building” technique is used to isolate theatres from the buildings in which they sit and from vibrations originating outside. Examples include:

  • The 1,135 seat theatre at Koerner Hall (2009)
  • Theatres within TIFF Bell Lightbox (2010)
  • The 2,000 seat Four Seasons Centre used by the Canadian Opera Company and the National Ballet (2006).

In all cases, the “box” enclosing a theatre sits on rubber discs just as the floating slab subway structures do, albeit on a grander scale. I have had the experience of being in all of these rooms almost alone just after the doors are opened, and they are astoundingly quiet.

The perception or absence of noise and vibration within some buildings is a direct result of building design adapting to existing conditions. The subway as a “new neighbour” has to fit in with what is already there.

Why Are There Two Stations?

Metrolinx proposes both a “Bridge Station” just north of Langstaff Road, and a “High Tech Station” a short distance north of Highway 7. These are unusually close together for an organization that preaches the value of widely spaced stations as a boon to travellers.

The real reason for two stations is obvious when one looks at planned development north and south of the Highway 7/407 corridor, and there will be one station to serve each cluster.

These are growth areas in York Region’s plans and the subway is intended to stimulate them. This follows the Metrolinx philosophy that a “Transit Oriented Community” must be concentrated in walking distance of stations rather than having a line depend on feeder services for demand.

Bridge Station will double as a transit hub:

The new route will create a multi-modal transit hub at Bridge Station, which connects the subway to GO train, GO bus, York Region Viva bus rapid transit and the local bus network. Bridge Station will be accessible from Highway 7 and will remove approximately 130 buses on the roadways per peak hour from travelling into Richmond Hill Centre. Our plan will bring the many people who will live near Bridge and High Tech stations within a 10-minute walk of rapid transit.

Phil Verster letter to residents of the Royal Orchard community, December 15, 2021, p. 2

Is This a Case of “Who You Know”?

There is a marked difference in this community to the way that other neighbourhoods have been treated on Metrolinx projects. There was little attempt at gaslighting residents as the “only people” who were opposed to the alignment, and by implication to transit itself. York Region, of course, is territory the government hopes to keep in the 2022 election.

Metrolinx can change plans when it wants to.

Metrolinx’ relationship began poorly in Thorncliffe Park regarding the new Maintenance and Storage Facility and its effect on local businesses. They have now announced a joint project to convert a nearby building already planned for a replacement mosque to provide space for businesses and other community benefits.

If Metrolinx took this approach before just dropping their scheme on the community, they would have avoided much grief and established that they were really sensitive to local needs and culture-specific issues, rather than just spouting platitudes.

The situation is not so cordial down in Riverside where the cost and complexity of an alternative is considerable, not to mention its interference with the now-planned and intensified East Harbour development. Still, Metrolinx could have been less aggressive in their approach and secretive about the evolution of their plans, some of which changed on the same day as public meetings. Arrogance and hubris were much on display by Metrolinx.

If Metrolinx could learn that scoring “own goals” is really bad for their credibility as an organization and for their patrons, the Government of Ontario, then transit planning and consultation could be less contentious and more productive.

19 thoughts on “Metrolinx Realigns Yonge North Subway Route

  1. I continue to question whether there is any present justification for extending the Yonge subway to Richmond Hill. Are tens of thousands going to head to downtown Toronto for (office) work? Current loadings clearly wouldn’t support that. Improving GO would probably be sufficient to accommodate pre-COVID traffic. Post-COVID, will there be that much business?

    Of course, adding significantly to Yonge traffic is really not feasible without an alternative for downtown-bound traffic on the Danforth end of the Bloor subway – again IF heavy downtown traffic reappears. The “Ontario Line” is supposed to address this problem. Of course, it has LESS capacity than a simple subway from Broadview or ??

    Overall, I suspect these projects have more for construction companies than transit users.

    I realize that I sound like an old curmudgeon. I AM an old curmudgeon. But absent evidence that downtown traffic is really going to return, does any of this really make sense?

    Andy Biemiller

    Steve: You are close to the mark with your comment about construction companies. At the heart of this is the idea that massive residential construction can be justified by putting in a subway. This happened years ago with “downtown North York”, Mel Lastman and the Sheppard Subway. I still remember talking to Lastman about the possibilities of an LRT network, and his reply was “real cities don’t use streetcars”. There is a big problem with subway envy among the suburbs coupled with the whole “xxx deserves a subway” trope that mistakes spending billions on one line for providing transit to the region.

    As for downtown, we will have to disagree on its comeback (or not). My feeling is that once the pandemic is out of the way, it will fill up nicely even with part-time workers, but planners’ dreams of regional employment centres (which never worked very well to begin with) will have a harder time getting established.

    The larger threat to downtown is transportation network strangulation as affordable (even to the “middle class”) housing moves further and further away and commutes become impossibly long.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Hello,

    Thank your for your very informative article. I am a resident of Royal Orchard community and I am ok with minor adjustment to the new route through my neighborhood.

    Question for you: Do you know when they will make the final decision whether to add a station at Royal Orchard Blvd to Yonge? I, and most people in the neighborhood, would like one. Since we are going to put up with massive construction for many years, I think we deserve one. Having a station there will benefit surrounding community for many years to come.

    Thank you.

    Steve: Given the circumstances I suspect a decision is more a political than a planning issue, and will depend on the government in power. They’ve only just announced the new alignment, and are cagey about whether a Royal Orchard Station would be included in the project.

    Like

  3. Downtown is already filling up. Look at Google Maps traffic during rush and you’ll see the DVP, Gardiner and many downtown streets are jammed solid.

    There is a case for YNSE from a network connectivity perspective. However, I think it should have been elevated where possible and much closer to the surface.

    Hell, my windows face onto Yonge near the Royal Orchard station. But I would support elevated on Yonge if it meant lowering costs and getting a station at RO.

    Like

  4. Slower trains and a more expensive potential infill station in a less convenient location to avoid burdening 28 households with a tunnel 25 metres underground. It’s nice being in a swing riding.

    Liked by 3 people

  5. It would shorter and cost effective keep it on under yonge then curve Northeast just before south of 407 in line with the bus terminal and High-tech , station at a Northeast Direction then join aligned with the railway at grade to a north yard possible to have at grade 16ave. station…. Replace Bridge station with customer path from High-Tech station to planned future 407 BRT route the distance is so short by one city block. Then having a complication of a snake bend on the line, ” keep it simple seamless efficiency ….”

    Like

  6. I feel that the Royal Orchard folks overplaying their case a bit. There wouldn’t be much impact on their houses with the previous version of the route, and there will be even less impact with the newest version.

    At the same time, while Metrolinx maintains that swinging to the Bala Sub rail corridor is the only way to reduce the cost of the Hwy 7 station, that doesn’t sound entirely convincing. In the area bounded by Yonge Street, the Bala Sub corridor, Holy Cross cemetery in the south, and High Tech road in the north, there are no houses and no immovable entities. Maybe Hwy 407 is practically impossible to move, but it is possible to thread under it if needed.

    Everything else is movable. Hwy 7 can be rerouted, the road connecting it to Yonge can be rebuilt, the storm water pond relocated. The VIVA terminal, Silver City, parking lots can be shifted or repurposed, the warehouses south of 407 closed etc.

    Due to all of that, hard to understand why Metrolinx rejected any route that would stay under Yonge till the north corner of the cemetery, and then gently veer east. Not so much to appease the Royal Orchard folks, but rather to avoid sharp curves on the route. They could still have 2 stations, one near / under the 407 just west of the rail corridor, the other (High Tech) in the rail corridor and in the exact same place as per the current plan.

    Maybe Metrolinx did the research and found against any such plan, but I didn’t see that reported anywhere.

    Steve: The change is all related to property development around the proposed Bridge and High Tech Stations.

    Like

  7. Who is paying for the extra cost? Why do I have a suspicion that it is not going to be York Region?

    The owners of “single family residential properties” are already reaching into my pocket to grab a grossly disproportionate amount of government spending. See: streetsblog.org.

    I do not believe in a “reverse Robin Hood” where those who are wealthy take from those who are poorer. What I do believe is that owners of “single family residential properties” should pay taxes that more accurately reflect the cost to the municipality of servicing those properties.

    Like

  8. Steve, as a resident of the Royal Orchard Community, your comment that Metrolinx was being uncharacteristically cooperative raises a question: Who are they cooperating with? It certainly wasn’t us.

    This is an attempt to repair their reputation as bureaucratic bullies and to combat what you so accurately describe as their “own goal” syndrome. If you look closely at Verster’s statement the use of such phrases as “wherever possible”, “averaging a more significant depth” and “continue to support” is evidence of a big vague pretend.

    For example, we wanted to fact check the number of homes involved in Metrolinx’s before and after scenarios. We can’t because Metrolinx won’t show us the detailed alignment. Their focus in their announcements on the reduced number residential homes directly above the tunnels completely ignores scores of other structures that will be significantly impacted by the transit corridor.

    Metrolinx must be aware of their questionable reputation and so are pretending to make amends, perhaps so they don’t become an election issue. Isn’t the $50 million to Thorncliffe Park cut from the same cloth? Your first commenter suggested the YNSE is about a mega assist to development industry. I agree.

    Be wary of Metrolinx bearing gifts. No matter the pretty packaging what you receive is coal, plain and simple.

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  9. The mosque leadership doesn’t represent the Thorncliffe community, they don’t even live here!

    This 50 million deal was negotiated in secret.
    Metrolinx lies to our community and politicians and you.

    Mosque already raised money tens of millions for new location and renovation, they bought it years ago and have been renovating all year 2021 already! Room for local stores, for a community space, religious education, women’s prayer, and funerals all already planned and paid for before Metrolinx!

    Metrolinx must pay city 50 million for bigger and better public rec center, library and study spaces to help our kids to succeed. This is waste and discrimination!

    Steve: From what I have heard of the neighbourhood dynamics, this does not surprise me at all. That said, the big issue here is that Metrolinx could have made provision for relocation of the business park where the yard will go rather than just treating this as a property acquisition. Now they are buying their way out of an embarrassing screw-up that didn’t need to happen. My biggest complaint is with Metrolinx management who create these situations in the first place and then go into intensive damage control mode rather than being open and co-operating with communities in the first place.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Your first commenter suggested the YNSE is about a mega assist to development industry.

    A few of us suggested months ago that the roundabout route of the Ontario RT line downtown was also due to the influence of developers. If there’s one group that Ford is kissing ass for, that’s the one.

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  11. When you look at the presentation material, Metrolinx did not look at the Transit Action Ontario proposal. They had a bridge across the Don River. They had a shallow Royal Orchard station under Yonge. They had cut-and-cover up Yonge to the Cemetery and then rising to grade for the CN Corridor – resulting in the exact same at-grade Bridge Station.

    Metrolinx look at tunneling (TBM) the whole way, with likely larger tunnels to make the “S” curve to get to the CN Corridor, and being at such depth that an at-grade Bridge Station was not possible.

    They also need to know if the Royal Orchard Station is being built. If it will exist, then being shallow on the North side of the Don River will be a massive savings. So by ignoring this information for now, and calling it a potential station – the cost cannot be compared properly.

    This is another example of Metrolinx not studying the proposed idea. Likely they are ignoring good ideas, studying poor ones – and then concluding that they were correct all along. They did something similar in the Riverside area when the City asked to study a route with at-grade East Harbour station and then underground along Eastern to Carlaw to Pape. Metrolinx boldly said they considered the options and they were not feasible. Although in reality they studied 5 alignments that were nothing like what was asked of them.

    Steve: The basic problem with the Transit Action proposals was that they didn’t fit with development plans which, after all, is what all subway construction is about these days. Down in Riverside they repeatedly talked about looking at alternatives that didn’t work implying that this was in response to the Eastern/Carlaw routing. Only late in the day did they talk about that scheme, and even then they misrepresented it.

    That super deep Royal Orchard Station will never be built.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. I wonder if it has to do with the income level of the neighborhood. Just a thought.

    Steve: Riverside is often cited as a bunch of rich crybabies who don’t want an elevated railway. Their problem is that the riding will never, ever, ever elect a Tory candidate.

    Like

  13. An added note:

    Now that I think about it, the Richmond Hill extension might make up for reduced traffic further in. But that’s an expensive way to add traffic – IF I’m right that pre-pandemic transit traffic won’t completely return. And I still think an improved Richmond Hill GO line – via Don Mills and Leaside – would do the job for a lot less (but over the bodies of Don Mills suburbanites).

    Cheers, Andy

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Yup, there’s a real tilt to some interests, and not the broad public interest, and not just with this foolish extension, (which shafts riders further in), but also with the Ontario Line and the other projects of Mr. Ford. We really need to have a broader re-assessment of what is better to be done, regardless of what friction and pushback may occur, including from drivers as a possible option is part of the Don Valley Parkway perhaps, if billions matter. And let’s also remember the federal Liberals are part of this as some federal $ assisted in technical plans, because it’s suburban votes, not a good transit network.
    And will other parties be standing up for citizens, taxpayers, and transit users and future generations??
    So far, crickets….

    Like

  15. Unrelated question Steve, when will you release the article on the 95/995 York Mills?

    Also another question, maybe it’s just me, but I notice that the TTC uses significantly less busses on the York Mills/Ellesmere corridor compared to a road like Lawrence East, Sheppard East, Steeles East etc. while trying to maintain a 10 minute or better headway, it doesn’t end up well, the route has been seeing service every 15-20 (even 25 sometimes later in the day) minutes now compared to the 10 minute or better that the TTC advertises. Btw, I’m located in the main corridor area, not beyond UofT where the service is every 20 minutes for the 95A. It also doesn’t help when Leary wants to stop short turns and when the only short turn service, the 95C runs on weekdays only until 7PM.

    Thank you.

    Steve: Probably not until January. I am planning a review of several routes in Scarborough.

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  16. Can you publish the ridership numbers used to “justify” the RICHmond Hill stubway? It is funny how all of the hypocrites wanting to cancel the Scarborough subway are silent now even though that the Scarborough subway costs much less than the RICHmond Hill stubway and even though that the Scarborough subway is expected to have much more ridership than the RICHmond Hill stubway.

    Steve: The documents you seek are linked below:

    All of these are available on the Metrolinx site if you take the trouble to look.

    The daily ridership numbers for the Scarborough and Yonge extensions are 105,000 and 94,100 respectively. Of these, Scarborough is projected to attract more “net new” riders, but this number is suspect because the base case assumes that the SRT has been closed for many years and therefore the subway will gain back transit riders that were previously lost. For the morning peak hour, the net new projections are 12,000 and 4,900 respectively. In both cases, the primary function of the extension is to shift existing transit riders to a new express line.

    Scarborough is projected to carry about ten percent more riders on an all-day basis than Richmond Hill. The travel time savings, measured in person minutes, are much higher for Richmond Hill because almost all riders will board at the outer end. By contrast, demand on Scarborough will be split between the three stations, and the travel time savings will be smaller. The lines are almost the same length.

    When the two projects were announced by Premier Ford in April 2019, their costs were estimated at $5.5 billion (Scarborough) and $5.6 billion (Yonge).

    This whole “poor Scarborough, rich Richmond Hill” trope is very tiresome.

    In both cases, these lines are the product of political considerations and the fact that GO Transit would prefer that these riders be on the TTC system rather than on GO to the extent that GO could serve the demand (not everyone is going to Union Station).

    Like

  17. Thank you Steve for the ridership numbers, business cases, and cost estimates. Your answer shows that I am right, the Scarborough subway costs less and will have more ridership than the RICHmond Hill stubway. Can you now explain why you actively support the RICHmond Hill stubway but you fought the Scarborough subway for over a decade?

    Steve: I do not “actively support” the Richmond Hill subway and have always argued that more should be invested in making the Richmond Hill GO a credible alternative for the riders who can use it. If you go back far enough, you will find that my feelings about VIVA is that it should have been an LRT network. You are fundamentally misrepresenting my position.

    The numbers being used to “justify” the RICHmond Hill stubway are out of date. We need new numbers and a new business case in a world dominated by COVID-19.

    Steve: The same could be said for any of the major projects now in the works including Scarborough.

    The Scarborough subway and the Eglinton Crosstown West LRT are now under construction. The state of the art tunneling machines have arrived from Germany. We could have saved so much money and have the Scarborough subway up and running already if people like Steve were not up in arms against the Scarborough subway. I remember Steve advocating for the TBMs from the Eglinton Crosstown LRT to be sold for fear that they would be used to build the Scarborough subway. I wonder if Steve is an undercover salesman wanting to sell high tech German tunnel boring machines.

    Steve: Your memory is badly screwed up. I have never advocated selling the Eglinton TBMs to prevent their use in Scarborough. You are full of shit as usual. I will resume blocking your comments.

    Like

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