On Tuesday, March 21, 2023, Toronto’s Executive Committee will consider an update on the so-called Smart-Track Stations project.
- SmartTrack Stations Program Update: Report From the City Manager
- Appendix 2: Technical Program Update
For comparisons with the previous, February 2021 update on the station designs, please see:
Updated March 17, 2023 at 7:15 pm: The Early Works list for East Harbour Station has been corrected. In the original version of the article that section was copied as a template from another station’s entry, but not changed to reflect the East Harbour site.
This project is the remnant of a scheme first proposed by mayoral candidate John Tory in May 2014 to overlay a frequent surface rapid transit service from Unionville to Pearson Airport using primarily GO Transit corridors.
The proposed route included a bizarre idea of running a mainline railway corridor along Eglinton Avenue West in lands originally reserved for the Richview Expressway, and later intended for the Eglinton Crosstown LRT line. SmartTrack itself descended from an idea to run a similar route whose western leg would use the GO Milton corridor rather than Eglinton Avenue. Both of these foresaw frequent service with the dual benefit of providing more capacity into the core and making office/industrial areas that were choked by gridlock on roads more accessible by transit.
Both ideas were deeply flawed, and the issues with SmartTrack are covered in detail in many other reviews. In fairly short order, pieces started to fall off of the proposal, but it remained a scheme to add stops to GO within the City of Toronto and use GO at least in part for urban rapid transit.
One fairly early casualty was the notion of a separate SmartTrack service. This was replaced by the idea that at least some GO trains would serve new stops, although the number of such trains was always hard to nail down as Metrolinx service plans changed. Getting a strait answer out of them proved almost impossible, and the best we can get today is a 15 minute service on all corridors with more if demand justifies this.
This is considerably poorer service than was envisioned in the SmartTrack hype and in the way it was presented to Council. Indeed, ST was seen to be so competitive in the Scarborough corridor that the Scarborough Subway Extension was shifted east to avoid the competition.
That is a far cry from SmartTrack’s original promise, but the brand lived on because it was Mayor Tory’s plan. Dropping the name would be suicidal for City and TTC planners, even though Tory suffered from an acute case of “the emperor’s new clothes”. Metrolinx simply humoured the Mayor by using his name for their new stops.
We have reached the point where only four of the original 22 stops on the ST line remain: Finch-Kennedy, East Harbour, King-Liberty and St. Clair-Old Weston. A station on the Barrie line, not the original ST corridor although the format of the map below disguises this, was added.
All five of the station projects are running later than the originally proposed opening dates. Details are given in each station’s section.
A sixth station was proposed at Front-Spadina, but there is no sign of it yet even though the City’s contribution to the station dates back to a $60 million payment toward GO expansion costs in 2017-2019. (See Revised Ontario-Toronto Agreement in Principle at page 9.)
Toronto’s SmartTrack Station costs are, under that agreement, deemed to be the City’s contribution to GO Transit Growth Capital for 2017-18 to 2024-25.
The anticipated cost of the five stations was $1.463 billion, a Metrolinx estimate, but costs have now risen by $234 million to a total of $1.697 billion. Of this, $585 million would come from the Government of Canada. Although the station-by-station breakdown is in a confidential attachment to the report, this means the average cost per station would be $339 million, a value that was once considered rich for an underground subway station.
Toronto is prepared to spend a lot of money for a handful of stations that might only see 4 trains/hour each way.
The report recommends that Council ask Metrolinx to pause the contract award for Bloor-Lansdowne station pending a guarantee from Queen’s Park that Ontario will pick up cost overrun. This is only one of many transit projects that faces problems with rising costs, not to mention projects under other portfolios.
City staff are seeking City Council direction to request the Province to pay all cost increases over the existing Program Budget of $1.463 billion to deliver the Program, which as of the date of this report is anticipated to be $234 million, as further detailed in Table 1 of Confidential Attachment 1.
A decision on the future of the Program is required urgently as the Design-Build (DB) procurement for the Bloor-Lansdowne Station contract is set to be awarded in early April. With a DB procurement, the City, through Metrolinx, would be committing to proceed to detailed design and construction. As such, there may be no opportunity for the City to reconsider or “off-ramp” its commitment to the station’s delivery once the contract is awarded. Metrolinx has secured an extension to the bid validity date with the proponent until April 5, 2023. Prior to making this commitment, City staff are seeking City Council’s direction to confirm to Metrolinx that the City will not proceed with the delivery of the Bloor-Lansdowne Station until the Province has committed the additional funding required to deliver the Program as set out above.SmartTrack Stations Update pp 7-8.
What Should Stay? What Should Go?
City has sunk costs in design (listed in the confidential appendix), and contracts have been awarded for all but the Bloor-Lansdowne Station. It is very unlikely that Council would consider dropping any stations except for Bloor-Lansdowne, but should ask itself the question of whether proceeding with all of the stations actually makes sense. Metrolinx is unlikely to let them off the hook.
Meanwhile, conversion of the SRT corridor as a bus roadway is not yet funded because the City wants Metrolinx to pay for it. At $59 million this is small change and yet it will have a considerable benefit for both riders and for the TTC. If the work begins as soon after the SRT shutdown as possible, the bus roadway could be operational by Winter 2025, according to the TTC.
From the TTC Website:
In the event the city is unable to secure the outstanding $59M for the SRT busway, will the project run along Kennedy, Ellesmere and Midland until the SSE is completed?
If the City is unable to secure funding from the province, it would ultimately have to find an alternate source if it wished to build the busway. The transit priority measures that will be implemented on Kennedy, Ellesmere, and Midland are planned to be designed as long-term solutions regardless of the busway construction; they could have legacy use for customers even beyond SSE is completed.
This is an example of how funding for projects is discussed in isolation without looking at tradeoffs that might be possible or necessary. What we do not know is how much dropping Bloor-Lansdowne from the overall plan will save in total, only that there is a $234 million overrun for the five stations.
We are in an interregnum between Mayors, and there is no sense of whether any of the would-be candidates see SmartTrack spending as an issue to revisit.Continue reading