The Scarborough Junction Mystery

As part of the GO Expansion plan, Metrolinx had intended to grade separate the junction at Scarborough Station on the Lakeshore East corridor to eliminate the conflict between frequent service on the Stouffville corridor which runs north, and on the Lakeshore line itself. Plans call for frequent, electrified service on both corridors. All Stouffville and about half of the LSE trains will be electric. Some diesel operations will remain on LSE for trains that will run beyond the end of planned electric territory at Oshawa.

Approval for this project was granted at the end of February 2021.

The Environmental Project Report for the Scarborough Junction Grade Separation TPAP was available for public review from December 22, 2020 to January 20, 2021. It has been reviewed by the Minister of the Environment, Conservation and Parks.  The Statement of Completion has been issued, and the project can now proceed  to the  detailed design and implementation phase. 

Source: GO Expansion Program Website

Here is a map of the junction as it appears in the Environmental Project Report:

Four consortia were prequalified for the GO OnCorr project in May 2019, and the RFP process closed on November 30, 2021. The successful bid will be announced sometime in 2022. The consortia include major international rail operators including SNCF (France), MTR (Hong Kong), RATP (Paris) and DB (Germany).

In April 2021, transit video blogger Reece Martin posted an interview with Metrolinx CEO Phil Verster on a variety of topics. Verster talked about a shift in how major contracts are handled including early involvement of proponents in the design phase. The portion of interest includes the following exchange which has been edited only to remove pauses and add punctuation.

PV: Let me give you an example Reece. Just practical examples speak a thousand words for me.

RM: Sure.

PV: We have three big projects overlapping at the new East Harbour Station that we are working with Cadillac-Fairview and the City of Toronto to get built in the Docklands area. And the three projects are: GO expansion, we want more trains on the Lakeshore East; the Ontario Line is going to have platforms at East Harbour; and then we want to build East Harbour itself which is going to be the Union Station of the east. So these are three massive projects that are intersecting.

From the really quality work that we got done by our GO Expansion team, it was evident that if we had a third platform, sort of a centre platform, in the station, we could increase the capacity of trains that can stop at East Harbour by about 8 trains per hour at the peak higher than the 12 trains we had intended. So we can now stop 20 trains an hour rather than just 12, and that 20 years from now when capacity gets constrained at Union Station, we will have saved 2 of the 16 roads. We would have freed up by having this platform in terms of reducing the switchover times between lines which then occupies capacities. So we make in effect 8 trains on 12 increase in capacity at East Harbour, we save 2 platforms out of 16 at Union Station.

But more than that at Scarborough Junction by putting a centre platform at East Harbour, a couple of kilometres down the way at Scarborough Junction, we can now avoid building a rail grade-to-grade separation which saves us $140 million.

RM: That big flyover that you guys had planned before.

PV: Exactly. Now that’s not required because of a station design choice we made further upstream that benefits Union Station as well as East Harbour as well as to the east [?].

You see this is innovation. Now this sounds really boring perhaps for other people that are not sort of rail geeks like people like you and me, but I’m telling you this is unique stuff and it’s super exciting to make these changes. I call these once in 60 year, once in 100 year type decisions that we are making now that will massively benefit this network 50, 60 years from now.

Talking Transit with the CEO of Metrolinx, posted April 15, 2021

It is quite clear that Metrolinx had a revelation about its proposed design for the LSE corridor almost a year ago, and this reflects various design changes that have occurred along the way.

  • Originally, at East Harbour Station, the Ontario Line would have “straddled” the GO corridor with the eastbound OL track on the south side, and the westbound OL track on the north side. This would have permitted across-the-platform transfers with “local” GO trains running on the outer pair of tracks while the express trains ran through on the inner pair. This arrangement was touted in an October 2019 Metrolinx blog article that remains online.
  • The straddle option turned out to be problematic not just at East Harbour, but further up the GO corridor at Riverside/Leslieville and Gerrard OL stations which would be much more complex with split platforms, as well as the need for two portals at each end of the surface-running OL segment from west of the Don River to Gerrard Street. Metrolinx abandoned this scheme, and shifted the OL to the north side of the rail corridor. The across-the-platform transfer, previously thought to be essential, was abandoned.
  • This change allows all train-to-train interchanges to occur at a concourse level under the tracks much as at Union Station. In turn, that also makes possible a platform arrangement with stopping by all GO trains, not just those on two of four tracks.
  • From a rider’s point of view, it does not matter which track a particular GO service uses, and it is a short step to allocating pairs of tracks to each of two services, rather than to local and express trains. That eliminates the need for the grade separation at Scarborough. (There are implications for Danforth and Scarborough Stations, but that’s a separate matter.)

This is all very interesting stuff, although I would hardly use the term “innovation” to describe moving away from the original straddle design (something else that was an “innovation” in its time) that way. One might ask why it took Metrolinx so long to come up with this scheme and, in the process, simplify operations, increase capacity and reduce project costs.

In a recent Twitter exchange, I asked Metrolinx to confirm or deny that the grade separation had been removed from the project. The GO Expansion team replied:

The reference concept includes minimum service level requirements – how the winning proponent chooses to do that (which grade seps to build, trains, signaling, etc.) is up to them. The contract is designed to spur market innovation in this way.

Metrolinx has completed the necessary TPAPs for all potential grade seps, so needed approvals are in place for financial close, expected in the first half of this year. Once the proponent is on board, we can confirm with certainty which grade separations will go forward. 2/2 ^pp

Tweets by @GOExpansion, January 4, 2022

In other words, the design is up to the winning proponent, even though everything on the Metrolinx website still claims that the grade separation is part of the plan including this October 2020 article in their blog which has not been removed or amended.

Twitter is not an ideal place to get into technical discussions, and it was also obvious that reconfiguration of the platforms and track allocations would have other effects at East Harbour. Therefore, I wrote to Metrolinx seeking clarification of their position.

As presented in all of the consultation materials and discussed in an article on the Metrolinx Blog, there will be a flyunder at Scarborough Junction where the outer eastbound track will connect to the Stouffville corridor via a grade separation to eliminate the conflict with through service on the Lake Shore corridor.

In an interview with Reece Martin on YouTube, Phil Verster talks about a change in the configuration at East Harbour and at Scarborough Junction that eliminates the need for the flyunder and increases capacity at Union Station. Although he does not go into the details, this implies that the allocation of LSE corridor tracks to services will change so that the Stouffville trains will use the northern pair of tracks and the LSE trains will use the southern pair. Coupled with an added platform at East Harbour and through-routing of services at Union, the capacity of the combined corridor is improved by reducing train conflicts and by improving operations at Union.

This is an interesting idea, but when I raised, via Twitter, the question of why it was not reflected in published materials, the response from the GO Expansion team was that decisions on configuration were up to whatever proponent is selected for the GO OnCorr program. That directly contradicts Phil’s enthusiastic statement that this change is happening and the decision has already been taken by Metrolinx.

The only way to reconcile these positions is to say that Metrolinx has not actually “decided” on which configuration to use, but will “suggest” the new scheme as an option for bidders. Alternately, one of the bidders already came up with this idea as part of the work on their proposal evaluation and Metrolinx has embraced it unofficially.

Can you clarify what the situation actually is?

Email from Steve Munro to Metrolinx Media Relations, January 6, 2022

Changes at East Harbour station have ripple effects, and I pursued these questions as well:

There are implications at East Harbour on a few fronts.

First, does the proposed added platform that Phil mentioned alter the alignment of tracks crossing the Don River, and what does this do to the GO and OL bridges and any early works including the Ontario Line alignment?

Second, with the new hook-up of services running through at Union, is there still a need for electrification of the Bala Subdivision (GO Richmond Hill) as a turnback facility, or will you no longer have a service that only runs west from Union and needs that turnback?

Third, one of the rationales used for the Don Valley layover has been the loss of capacity in the existing Don Yard (aka Wilson Yard) due to other projects by which, I assume, you mean the Ontario Line construction. Originally, in the straddle configuration, the OL would have had two portals one on each side of the corridor, but now it has only one on the north side. How does the revised geometry work for the existing yard tracks, the bridges, the OL portal and the connection to the Bala subdivision?

Email, op. cit.

Metrolinx replied:

Hi Steve,

We don’t have any further information to share beyond what the GO Expansion account replied. For further updates, stay tuned to Metrolinx News.

Email from Fannie Sunshine, Advisor, Media & Issues Communications, Metrolinx, January 6, 2022

And there the matter sits. Phil Verster gives a gung-ho interview about innovative design eight months ago, but nothing on the Metrolinx website reflects his comments. A request for detailed feedback nets a “stay tuned” answer.

This whole exchange begs a more delicate question: to what degree can project designs be changed at the behest of the P3 proponent after all of the public reviews are completed based on a proposed design? What other changes might be in the works for any Metrolinx project, and will they just happen without any review or consultation?

To me, the proposed change in track allocation on LSE makes sense, but why is it such a secret?

15 thoughts on “The Scarborough Junction Mystery

  1. The idea of leaving the choice of whether or not to build a grade separation up to the winning bidder is absolutely bonkers. It’s clearly a strategic decision that needs to be made by the agency itself, not whatever random construction company wins a particular contract this year.

    This is right up there with letting the P3 winner choose the rail technology and tunnelling method on the Canada Line. Might as well just hand the whole transit franchise over to a contract winner if the in-house people are going to give up on making strategic decisions.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Isn’t VIA HFR supposed to running through the Stouffville lines as well?

    Steve: In theory, but it could run using the same pair of tracks as the Stouffville service and load on a northern platform at Union.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Does this mean plans to build a diesel train layover in the Don Valley may now change or even better be cancelled altogether? It would be great if this were the case but not great that the cancellation would be the result of last minute “innovative” pivot in planning rather than the result of an imperative to protect the ravine. The fact that Metrolinx’s original plan gave no serious consideration of the ravine’s ecological integrity and was hastily and poorly conceived does not inspire confidence. Are they making it up as they go along?

    Steve: Cancelled? Unsure. Wait until after the election. Making it up as they go along? It certainly looks that way.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Do you think the OL will be something similar to the Montreal REM?

    Steve: Metrolinx frequently uses pictures from the Canada Line in Vancouver as illustrations.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I’m still doped from a medical procedure earlier today (It wasn’t cancelled!) so I was reluctant to comment, as I had to keep re-reading Steve’s comments to try and make sense of all of this. In my semi-stupefied state, I kept getting flashes of Doug Ford’s gear shifting…with a stripped clutch. Verster certainly sits well at Ford HQ.

    ‘Had to give a star to every comment, they were all questions I had reading this, along with an overwhelming dread of “What else is just so many words, and nothing else”?

    QP is rewriting the law of economics: The Law of Diminishing Utility with The Law of Diminishing Reality.

    I’m still trying to grasp all of this, diagrams or an animated video would help…perhaps.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. If this new innovation at East Harbour (which seems to be associated with through-running trains so they don’t cross tracks at Union Station) will reduce the problem associated with the straddle platform configuration at Queen Street (Riverside/Leslieville) and Gerrard (Gerrard Square), any chance they might build (or at least rough-in) GO stations at Gerrard and (dare I hope) Dundas, or an Ontario Line station at Dundas?

    Steve: No to both. Having an OL station at Dundas would make four very closely spaced stations from Gerrard to East Harbour. As for GO, again there is the question of station spacing as well as the problem of fitting in platforms around the tracks.


  7. RE: Jarek: Your point about current property use points out to periodicity problems in transit planning. As Steve points out, any fool can insert lines, and transit blogs seem chock full of maps with projected lines + speculations. The legal protection of property rights often is juxtaposed with medium to long term planning. If PV is exuding innovation concepts in interviews about medium periods, then this blog is where such morphology PR needs to be aired, perhaps even dissected.

    But contributors to this blog often seem de facto transit planners/analysts: and more. Maybe Hamish has a concept that, I speculate, needs periodicity assist. But by whom, when and how? Actually many cemeteries in Ontario have “movement”. Some vanish: poof. My favourite vanish is the ancient French Church and cemetery serving the village by Fort Rouille. Is the Dufferin Loop transit user desecrating this old Catholic cemetery site? Hmm. Who should care? The Premier of France?

    The line 1 + 2 intersection station expansion: is Jarek more right than wrong? Where is the more formal presentation of his concepts and more analysis of the periodicity involved?

    As an official planning process under provincial statute the City of Toronto required Transportation Impact studies for Official Plan Amendments. Is there any formal academic study of how these transit studies changed over the decades, why and the results? Let’s look at the old Welby building site, the south-west corner where a apex predator 4h structure is approved. (4H host hole high height). Big local impact – over what periodicity?

    The whole planning system for legal, formal public input vanished with the abolition of the Provincial Statute that allowed the existence of independent Planning Boards. If Steve, Hamish, Andrew, Jarek, etc., were “elected” to such Planning Boards, today, the whole GTA would be altered: I allege for the better. While empowered with provincial statutory power on the Planning Board, my “planning” objections to the elimination of the Trolley coach concept here inside Toronto by the operator had an effect. The statute vanished, the power vanished, the Trolley Coach concept in Toronto received the operator heave ho.

    Steve, Howard and others experienced that same heave with the elimination of the Toronto street railway concept as approved by the local municipality operator “group”.

    Just so great for the GTA that the “miracle” of reporter Thomas Coleman came to be and the local municipality operator “group” gave up on its Enron aspirations. God Bless that reporter!

    Steve: In the days of Thomas Coleman, there was a much stronger investigative media presence at both City Hall and Queen’s Park. Also, the rise of an entire class of spin doctors, PR flaks, and bright young-but-brainless “public consultation” people as a front for real engagement had not yet developed. Even so, criticism of the original GO Urban scheme at Queen’s Park was very unwelcome by the Davis crew. Toronto lost decades in planning potential for a suburban network thanks to the dalliance with maglev and personal rapid transit, followed by the RT technology that did not deliver on its promise of a low-cost alternative to subways. Through a combination of political and professional careers and egos, the idea of using existing technology (LRT) simply did not get a fair shake.

    Trolley buses fell victim to a combination of systematic lack of infrastructure maintenance, management hostility, and a cabal of technology hucksters and politically connected companies looking to make money off of the “new, clean” technology of natural gas. Battery buses do address some environmental issues, albeit at a higher cost, but again there is a substantial component of hucksterism to advance procurement as fast as possible, make the big bucks right now, while wrapping the accelerated spending in a mantle of going green. Will this add any net new transit service? Not under current plans that simply focus on accelerated replacement of existing vehicles.


  8. The Ottawa LRT project was a P3 project. When the project became a complete failure, (it had to be shut down, and they couldn’t re-use the bus ways) there was no one responsible. The private companies do not have to answer any questions. You got that right, take the money and run. Thanks Metrolinx.


  9. Thanks Steve and commenters, again. This is an example of the complexities which some of us grapple with, even without having a reason for being slowed down.

    But it’s seeming like it’s a set of good projects/needs, though are we sure that the core is to be so busy of a destination as computers seem to be here to stay….

    It is in Scarborough, so that alone should mean it gets easily ble$$ed, and is likely a HUGE benefit to all of us vs. a Suspect Subway Extension, or two.

    Not that we can necessarily trust the Cons and their agency, pejoratively called “Metrolies’ by a community group further in to the core, and indeed, wouldn’t we be better off by $10M each to say 6 large consortia for their ideas and expertise to be making the changes to our transit needed in this greenhouse century/emergency? (I’d prefer $30M to UITP/APTA with an assist by CUTA, or/and Vancouver/Montreal plannners).

    As an eg of what might be far better for the region would be doing something about that Missing Link to free up that midtown freight corridor and convert to more transit usage. And there are a few other linear corridors around (still) that should be honestly examined as it is an emergency, and would expropriating those backyards for the corridor sold off be an idea? Heck, how’s the connection doing at Danforth and Main between the systems? Or are we building those options shut, again, like we tend to do everywhere, including up at the NW of Eglinton and Don Mills in the Celestica site?

    The opposition parties seem missing in action, and the federal level seems also content to be merely shovelling out the billions; lots more where they came from…. soon not, maybe.

    Oh, a new (but old issue) focus for many should be a gender lens on our cities, that this women in urbanism group may well bring, and mobility, what forms it can take, and who gets to pay, and who gets hurt etc. is very much of an equity issue, and the costs of many of these projects take $$$ away from myriads of other broad needs, correct?

    Steve: Elsewhere in Verster’s interview, he talks about how the half-billon cost of the “missing link” has been avoided by being more financially astute, as he puts it. Translated, I think that means coming to a deal with CP that will allow for improved service on the Milton line. Don’t hold your breath for the North Toronto sub becoming surplus to CP’s needs any day soon.

    The SSE corridor is pretty much set. Rerouting the subway up the old Canadian Northern corridor would be a major change, and would almost certainly require reorientation of Kennedy Station. If we’re going to make changes on that scale, then the real question is why we cannot go back to the LRT plan. Given the toxic politics of the SLRT/SSE debate, I hold no hope for this idea getting off of the ground.

    Danforth and Main is a bit more complex because the GO station is moving east closer to Dawes Road. I am not sure whether there is an opportunity to build a link from that new station to Main Street Station easily. In any event, I think that the importance of this connection has been oversold. It looks nice on a map, but riders on GO Transit have other options for a subway transfer. Note that only the Stouffville trains will likely stop at Danforth, and those riders already have a connection to the BD subway at Kennedy.


  10. (1) When it comes to such major design decisions (fly-under or not, number of platforms at a station), Metrolinx should have the required expertise to make those decisions itself. Phil Verster’s comments imply they made that decision (sort of) which implies they have the expertise, but also [leave] it to the contractor anyway.

    (2) When it comes to minor design decisions (how to build the bridge for a fly-under, say), it’s reasonable to leave those to the contractor but Metrolinx *must* have the expertise to verify those decisions are appropriate.

    (3) I’m following a proposed freeway widening in the USA where state DoT keeps saying nothing’s been decided until one day it says a decision has been made (and there’s no new information, so it should be revisited). Metrolinx seems to be heading in that direction…

    Steve: Yes, Metrolinx treats changes as being within the scope of an approved project, and once they have an approved EPR/TPA in hand, they treat it as a carte blanche.


  11. Such a beautiful world where knowing the basic details of a Metrolinx project requires watching hundreds of hours of recordings of “community engagement” sessions, third-party interviews and reading the quarterly reports of insurance companies, just in case the relocation of an Ontario Line station was mentioned in passing just once at a unadvertised meeting about flood prevention measures for parking spaces for the new London GO service!

    Steve: The following is entirely appropriate for how Metrolinx operates.

    “But the plans were on display…”
    “On display? I eventually had to go down to the cellar to find them.”
    “That’s the display department.”
    “With a flashlight.”
    “Ah, well, the lights had probably gone.”
    “So had the stairs.”
    “But look, you found the notice, didn’t you?”
    “Yes,” said Arthur, “yes I did. It was on display in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying ‘Beware of the Leopard.”

    ― Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

    If anything in the Metrolinx universe is numbered “42”, it would be supremely ironic.


  12. As far as I am aware I am the only Jarek commenting here regularly. I have to admit I was a bit lost trying to figure out which of my comments Ross is referring to in comment dated January 7, 2022 at 4:27 am. I finally figured it’s probably referring to the Yonge-Bloor rebuild in which to be fair was Walter’s idea, not mine.

    The only real “planning” being done in Ontario these days is by people and companies who buy up and consolidate land to redevelop. Everything else is either only for show, or in support of people and companies who own large amounts of land, or just plain missing. In absence of evidence to the contrary, I have to assume that powers that be want it that way.

    Steve: I suspect that the powers that be are well compensated, one way or another.


  13. Steve: No to both. Having an OL station at Dundas would make four very closely spaced stations from Gerrard to East Harbour. As for GO, again there is the question of station spacing as well as the problem of fitting in platforms around the tracks.

    Sad, unfortunately. I feel closely-spaced stations need not be a terrible thing, though they might be challenging. Though we already have some experience in Toronto with closely-spaced stations that don’t have much walk-in traffic, there are some that make sense. Streetcar connections might help bring traffic to an integrated Gerrard station, and maybe improve help expansion the streetcar grid to improve the speed and efficiency of streetcars in the east end. There’s also the yet-to-be answered question of how frequent and closely-spaced GO services can and should be once electrification happens. I suspect that GO expansion and OnCorr will be quite similar to what we have now, but I look forward to being surprised.

    Steve: Translated, I think that means coming to a deal with CP that will allow for improved service on the Milton line. Don’t hold your breath for the North Toronto sub becoming surplus to CP’s needs any day soon.

    Speaking of surprises….with 7 provincial seats up for grabs in Mississauga this June, and the federal minister of transport as the MP for Mississauga Centre, and his commitment of millions of dollars for two way all day GO service on the Milton corridor (and his request from the same commitment from his provincial counterpart), plus the high cost of a full (CN+CP) or partial (CN only) “missing link”, plus objections in York Region to CP freight trains on the York subdivision…it does look like some kind of deal is coming down the tracks.


    Steve: I think that the potential for streetcar to OL transfer traffic (or to GO for that matter) is vastly overstated. When one takes into account transfer times and the fact that riders can get to Yonge Street simply by staying on the streetcar they are already riding. Metrolinx really does not understand fine grained local transit and sees “transit hubs” wherever lines cross on a map. It is ironic that they are big on quick transfers such as at East Harbour when it suits their aims, but is happy to create very difficult transfer connections elsewhere.


  14. A couple of comments about these items discussed here:

    1. The Missing Link is still born as Metrostinks has built the Hurontario LRT OMSF on one of the narrowest parts of it at Kennedy Rd between the 407 and the hydro right of way. See map here. It is the odd shaped piece of land between Kennedy Rd, the river, the 407 and the hydro right of way. They are also in the process of widening 401 which means rebuilding the bridges over or under it. It would have been helpful to incorporate the Missing Link requirements at the same time.

    2. Do they plan to run 20 trains per direction, per track, or total? They do not seem to like giving out useful details and consulting their last published data would be useless. This plan seems to make more operational sense than running express and local service in the original plan. The odds are that the Uxbridge service would have been all local anyways and the Lakeshore service would not have stopped at Danforth or Scarborough.

    3. Running Diesel and Electric trains in mixed service will cause problems because of the different acceleration characteristics. The fact that they are not planning EMU service is also dumb as it would save a lot of running time. If they were to run a Zone – Express service with the Diesel trains running express from Harbour East to well into Scarborough of Durham and the electrics running local. If they would run a diesel express train followed 2 minutes later by a local, they could get the benefits of express service without the need for extra tracks. The better performance characteristics of the electrified service would let it stay out of the road of the following express train while perhaps gaining on the one ahead. By the time they got to all local running, the headway would be more even and then the electrics would terminate at Oshawa or Pickering.

    4. Metrostinks should be rethinking its equipment and purchase powered electric multiple unit cab cars that could haul 4 coaches between them instead of electric locomotives. They could then follow what Stadler has done with its FLIRT trains in Britain, Ottawa and Trinity Rail express in Texas where they added a diesel-electric power car that provides the necessary electricity to run the train outside of overhead territory. This would eliminate the need for two types of equipment and run more of the service as electric. It would also mean that in case of a power failure the trains could continue operating.

    Steve: There is no link in the comment to the “map here” in point 1.

    On point 2, yes, 20 trains total, not per track.

    On point 3, yes, likely the diesels would run semi-express with the electrics running local in between them. The original service design for LSE was all electric, but that was before they tacked on the Bowmanville extension in CP territory.

    On point 4, for some time, Metrolinx has been avoiding making decisions on motive power and leaving this up to the P3 bidders. This goes all the way back to Dalton McGuinty’s flirtation with Hydrogen Trains.


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