SmartTrack: The Brand That Will Not Die

On Tuesday, March 21, 2023, Toronto’s Executive Committee will consider an update on the so-called Smart-Track Stations project.


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.

St. Clair-Old Weston Station

St. Clair-Old Weston Station is located just north of St. Clair between Weston Road on the west and Old Weston Road on the east on the GO Weston/Kitchener corridor. It includes two platforms serving the three tracks in the corridor. (Note that the easternmost of the four tracks is a CP freight line.) An island platform between the easternmost GO track and the CP track has been removed from the design since the previous Council update in February 2021.

Two tunnels under the station link access points on the east and west side. These will include stairs and elevators.

There is a bus loop east of the station, but the likely transit services that would stop here are not frequent nor do they provide a quick route to a subway station. Passengers transferring from services on Weston Road would walk in via Gunn’s Road or St. Clair.

This area will see major changes in the next few years as the St. Clair underpass is widened to provide dedicated transit lanes with a similar design of the street on either side where it is six lanes wide. This is part of the St. Clair West Area Transportation Plan.

Redevelopment of this area is already underway, although just how “transit oriented” it will be remains to be seen.

Current status:

  • Contract awarded: April 22, 2022
  • 60% design and 50% pricing: February 8, 2023
  • 90% design: By July 2023
  • Construction start: January 2024
  • Substantial completion: December 2028
  • In service: March 2029 (slipped from December 2026)

Early works planned for Fall 2023:

  • CP signal power lines
  • Metrolinx signal bridge
  • Billboard removal

Bloor-Lansdowne Station

The Bloor-Lansdowne Station is on the GO Barrie corridor, and it is located south of Bloor Street. This site is dictated by the rise in track elevation from Bloor Street north to the new grade separated crossing with the CPR at Dupont Street that will go into service on March 20, 2023.

The Barrie line only has two tracks, and there will be a platform on the outside of the corridor to serve each track.

One shortcoming of this site is that a direct link to Lansdowne subway station is impossible. Although there is a pathway leading north across Bloor, the west end of the subway station is only just west of Lansdowne Avenue where the line switches into a bored tunnel under the Barrie and Weston railway corridors. (This is the same tunnel that begins at the east end of Dundas West Station.)

The station will have entrances at Bloor Street and near its south end to Dora Avenue and Sterling Road. Elevators are not provided at the southern entrances, and the only place where riders can cross under the tracks is at the north end of the platforms. This is an extremely roundabout access for anyone approaching from the south.

The station is poorly conceived for easy access to new development now in progress nearby.

Current status:

  • Contract award: Pending subject to funding
  • 30% design / reference concept: Provided by Metrolinx
  • 100% design: By July 2024
  • Construction start: February 2024
  • Substantial completion: May 2027
  • In service: November 2027(estimated) (slipped from August 2026)

Early works planned for Fall 2023:

  • CP signal power lines
  • Metrolinx signal bridge
  • Billboard removal

King-Liberty Station

King-Liberty Station was born from, among other ideas, the sense that a faster way from Liberty Village to the core must be available via GO Transit. This might have been credible when the planned service was better, but the station is now reduced to a single platform serving the Weston/Kitchener corridor. Barrie line trains using the northern tracks here will not stop.

Access to the platform is provided by various stairs and elevators at both ends of the platform, but in both cases riders must make at least two vertical moves to reach the platform.

The station will serve the northern part of Liberty Village, but much of the area is further south and riders would do better using GO Exhibition Station on the Lake Shore corridor or the Ontario Line when it opens. The combination of access time and service frequency will detract in part from use of alternate service like the King Streetcar especially if the City restores the transit mall as a true priority area.

The west end of the station is fairly close to Queen & Gladstone where the competing service is the less-than-reliable 501 Queen streetcar.

Current status:

  • Contract awarded: April 22, 2022
  • 60% design pricing: February 6, 2023
  • 90% design: By June 2023
  • Construction start: January 2024
  • Substantial completion: December 2027
  • In service: March 2028 (slipped from September 2026)

Early works planned for April 2023:

  • Tree removals

East Harbour Station

East Harbour is a joint Ontario Line/GO station and it will have three platforms. Each platform will serve a pair of tracks (two for the OL, four for GO) and so all trains will be able to stop here.

The primary access will be on either side of the extended Broadview Avenue which will connect south into the Port Lands. Access will also be provided to the GO platforms at Eastern Avenue. No details of vertical circulation are shown on the drawing below.

The bridge over Eastern Avenue will be rebuilt at a new standard clearance of 5m to the road below.

Changes since 2021 include:

  • Replacement of the two across-the-platform Ontario Line to GO (local service) platforms by three platforms each serving a pair of tracks with cross platform access via the concourse below.
  • Entrances have been revised with a focus on the planned Broadview extension and access from both sides of the rail corridor.
  • An entrance at Eastern Avenue has been added.
  • The proposed pedestrian bridge crossing beside the north side of the OL/GO structure has been removed. Only the south side pedestrian crossing remains.

The project structure has been through some changes:

East Harbour Station started off as a Transit Oriented Communities (TOC) project, with its design and construction to be led by a developer. Due to complex geographical interfaces and live rail operating environments surrounding the Station, it was established that careful management of corridor access and detailed planning in construction staging were key requirements for the successful delivery of the Station. Given the joint corridor interface complexities in the area, the suitability of the developer-led approach was reconsidered in favour of the Alliance contracting model.

Technical Update at p. 4

This station is likely to be quite expensive, and it will be a major regional node. Why the City of Toronto is paying for its construction as part of “SmartTrack” is a mystery.

Current status:

  • Contract awarded: November 2022
  • 30% design: August 2022
  • 60% design: In progress
  • 90% design: By August 2023
  • Project Alliance Agreement: December 2023
  • Construction start: March 2023
  • Substantial completion: May 2028
  • In service: August 2028 (slipped from December 2027)

Early works planned for March to December 2023: [This text has been corrected from the original post which was cut-and-pasted from elsewhere but not revised for this location.]

  • Protection and relocation of utilities
  • Completion of mobilization and establishing work zone in corridor;
  • Grading and track construction for the initial south track shift
  • Demolition of the southern half of Eastern Avenue bridge; and
  • Construction works including excavations, foundations and substructure works for temporary and permanent retaining walls and abutments related to the new Eastern Ave bridge.

Finch-Kennedy Station

The station on Finch east of Kennedy is designed with vertical links to bus stops under the rail overpass. is not clear from the drawing what “vertical circulation” will entail. The rail corridor is double tracked and there will be a platform for each track.

Current status:

  • Contract awarded: April 22, 2022
  • 60% design and pricing: January 23, 2023
  • 90% design: By June 2023
  • Construction start: October 2023
  • Substantial completion: July 2027
  • In service: August 2027 (slipped from October 2026)

Early works (utility relocations):

  • Bell: Started on December 3, 2022 and expected to last through March 2023
  • Toronto Hydro: Design complete. Permit approvals in progress.
  • Enbridge: Design in progress

10 thoughts on “SmartTrack: The Brand That Will Not Die

  1. A quick comment to add a vectored buttress to Steve’s overall take on costs vs benefits vs user-pay by analogy:

    RE: The City uploading the Gardiner and DVP to the Province:

    TorStar’s Ben Spurr writes:

    In order to pay to undo those cuts, Bailão plans to press the Ontario government to take over Toronto’s two municipally-owned highways, the Gardiner Expressway and Don Valley Parkway.

    She argued that uploading the highways is the right thing to do because many the of people who use the roadways are from outside the city, yet it’s Toronto taxpayers who foot the bill. About 40 per cent of drivers on city expressways live elsewhere.

    “I firmly believe that we need a fair deal for Toronto, and it starts with the uploading of those highways,” Bailão said.

    She projected an upload would save the city more than $200 million a year in capital and operating costs.

    Steve: This whole idea is one of misdirection. Bailão plans to spend money the province won’t give us to free up money for “inside Toronto” things like transit. She has no power at all to actually get that money, and so it’s a false promise. I regard this as a disappointing start to her campaign, but then she’s not alone in making bad openings.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. On uploading Gardiner and DVP, in the 2018 mayoral election, candidate Jennifer Keesmaat promised to withdrawal funding for the Scarborough subway and have the province pay for it. Despite not winning that happened anyway.

    Steve: The difference is that Ford really wanted the Scarborough Subway, while he is I’m sure happy to leave the expressways in Toronto’s hands with no tolls. If he takes them over, he inherits the cost and the revenue gap, and the real pain hits the province on day 1, not sometime in the 2030s as with the subway projects.


  3. I’m old enough to remember [Eric] Miller’s much awaited report on the benefits of SmartTrack.

    On page 41, there is a chart showing ridership based on frequency of service and cost of fare. So many “citizens” have no memory of the mantra of “integrated fare” under Wynne/Tory.

    The chart shows for 15 minute service and separate TTC/GO fares, daily ridership is 34,000 rides, less than an average bus route. I don’t consider spending $1.7 billion, a good value.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I think the reason it won’t die is that it was never really alive to begin with. I still recall a photo in the media with a smirking John Tory standing on a single track line on which he seemed to think it would be possible to run two-way service at subway-like frequencies. It just kept going downhill from there.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. It’s a bit of a piss off to know that the city is willing to… well, piss away several hundred million on useless vanity projects to stroke a disgraced mayor’s ego, when the waterfront east project is still unfunded. A project which will undoubtedly serve more people, and is of more importance then funding stations which would probably have been built by the province anyway. But is anyone surprised? Nah…. would we be surprised if the entire waterfront development of the lower Don is completed with no improvements to transit at all jeopardising millions in investment and development opportunities? nah…..

    Liked by 2 people

  6. I’d vote for any mayoral candidate that puts this drawn on the back of a napkin transit plan in the green bin and uses the funds for platform edge doors. You don’t need the doors to go all the way up as we aren’t running any air conditioning in the subway stations. Almost 1.7 billion for 4 stations when you could fund the entire construction of a sensible, safety oriented project that all modern subways have. Let GO on the Barrie and Stouffville lines build stations in Toronto if they want more passengers.


  7. PKP Szybka Kolej Miejska w Trójmieście Sp. z o.o. usually abbreviated SKM, is a public rapid transit system in Poland’s Tricity area (Gdańsk, Sopot and Gdynia).

    The entire line is electrified (overhead catenary), and service is operated by electric multiple unit trains at intervals of 6 to 30 minutes between trains (depending on the time of day) on the central section between Gdańsk and Gdynia, and less frequently on outlying sections. It is similar to a subway service or light rail in other European cities.

    When I first heard of “SmartTrack” I thought of SKM in Poland.


  8. It would be great to have a station at Lansdowne but in my heart I know that a lot of other people are more in need of transit than an area that already has a subway the UP and numerous streetcar lines. Lansdowne was really more of the result of a strong Liberal councillor and the need to save a Liberal MPP’s seat than a good business case. I really support the idea of using existing rail to create more transit but this has been so bungled from day one I fear the idea will never see the light of day in Toronto again.


  9. a lot of other people are more in need of transit than an area that already has a subway the UP and numerous streetcar lines.

    These aren’t really alternatives. Streetcars aren’t an alternative from Bloor and Lansdowne, and this station as designed now won’t really be an alternative from Dundas and College.

    The main sensible reason for a Bloor-Lansdowne station would be for subway-to-GO transfers, so that travellers to or from the north headed for destinations near Line 2 don’t have to detour via crowded Union and Line 1. Or _maybe_ as a “Downtown Relief West” for travellers heading from Line 2 west of Lansdowne to near Union, if the service and fares were competitive.

    But this station offers a bad transfer for a lot of money, so hopefully it can be spiked for now.

    Steve: Not to mention that a direct link will be built into Dundas West from Bloor Station, and the Weston corridor service could be the DRL West with a much better subway connection.


  10. Regarding Bloor-Lansdowne, I think there will be elevators and a pedestrian tunnel at the south side of the station. I worked at a engineering firm (contracted by Metrolinx) this summer as a graduate co-op student on pedestrian modeling for this. Hopefully, that idea hasn’t been cut by Metrolinx in the past six months.

    The concern with only having a connection between platforms at the north end main entrance is that it will encourage trespassing on the rail corridor to get between the inbound and outbound platforms. A fence between the tracks will only work so much as people may climb it or walk along tracks until end of fence. Trespassing and safety are too big of a concern for Metrolinx to only do one connection at the north end of the platform. Now an at-grade pedestrian crossing with barriers and signals might work.

    Steve: Thanks for the info.


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