How Many SmartTrack Stations Will Survive? (III) (Updated)

This is the third and final installment in my review of the Metrolinx Initial Business Cases for new GO Transit (and SmartTrack) stations.

Part I reviewed stations on the Stouffville and Kitchener corridors.

Part II reviewed stations on the Lake Shore and Barrie corridors.

Updated March 24, 2017 at 11:00 am: Additional information including replies to some of the questions I posed to Metrolinx and a report of GO Transit’s current ridership added at the end of this article.

Regular readers here will not be surprised at my skepticism regarding the methodology found in Metrolinx reports to perform comparative evaluations of projects. Much of the information is presented at a summary level, important details are omitted, and the underlying assumptions for some calculations are dubious. That said, these reports are the documents Metrolinx relies on to justify its decisions. Understanding how their methodology works is an important part of any critique of the outcome.

What these calculations do not consider is the political context where the “value” of a station is more strongly linked to its perceived delivery on a campaign promise, or to give the impression that transit service will substantially improve where the station is located. This is quite different from how the new facilities will actually affect the transit network or improve the lot of transit riders.

Most of the proposed stations actually do not fare well in the evaluations, although that could well be due to pessimistic projections of the effect of added stops on other “upstream” users of affected GO Transit routes. The evaluation process is very sensitive to the ridership estimates, and if the underlying assumptions change, then so do all of the outcomes.

The new stations to be funded by the City of Toronto have approved as a package, and the detailed IBC reports were not available to Council at the time. A smaller set of stations might make more sense from a financial or planning perspective, but they were sold as a package that is unlikely to be broken up unless some projects prove to be unexpectedly difficult or costly.

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How Many SmartTrack Stations Will Survive? (II) (Updated)

In the first part of this series, I reviewed the Metrolinx “Initial Business Case” reports for proposed stations within the City of Toronto on the GO Stouffville and Kitchener corridors. This article continues with the Barrie and Lake Shore East corridors. (No new station is planned for the Milton or Richmond Hill corridor.)

In a third article to follow, I will review the overall methodology of these studies and the implications for the viability of the station proposals.

Updated March 21, 2017 at 6:51 pm: The Metrolinx study of stations at the Don River on the Lake Shore corridor does not include the effect of proposed employment at the Great Gulf “East Harbour” site. Therefore the ridership projections and comparative evaluations of stations are based on a situation where this major proposed node does not exist. I have added a relevant quotation from the study to illustrate this.

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Scarborough’s New/Old Transit Map

In all the talk about the Scarborough Subway and SmartTrack, there has been much less discussion of how the surface route network will be adjusted around the new lines. In preparation for Council’s upcoming debate on the SSE, the TTC has produced a map of the proposed bus network following the subway opening. Here are the current and proposed maps for comparison (click to expand).

Many of the routes on this map are unchanged from the current network which is already built around the Town Centre and Kennedy stations.

What is quite striking, however, is the complete absence of services dedicated to existing GO and potential future SmartTrack stations that are supposed to be an integral part of a future Scarborough Network. Inclusion of connecting service to those stations would presume, of course, that ST will actually operate as advertised with frequent service and free transfer to and from TTC routes. There is also no Eglinton East LRT to the UTSC campus.

Looking at the map, and the degree to which “all roads lead to STC”, shows the effect of having a major “mobility hub” in the middle of Scarborough. If that’s where you want to go, there is a bus route to take you there. Other travel patterns can be more challenging, especially if the peak service hours are designed for downtown-bound commuters.

Rearranging the network to feed into SmartTrack would require some work, and it is unclear if multiple hubs could actually co-exist. However, SmartTrack is planned to open five years before the SSE, and will trigger its own interim changes. Without really intending to, the TTC has given us a view of Scarborough transit that is uncomfortably closer to what might actually be built than many, certainly Mayor Tory and his circle, would care to admit.

Meanwhile, the SSE does not bring the same degree of change to the surface transit network as might occur in other areas because STC is already a major transit node. Indeed, the TTC could introduce new and revised routes long before the subway opens in 2026.

[The information in this article is taken from a compendium report in the TTC’s upcoming Board Meeting agenda at pp. 129-130. Routes and names shown are, at this point, only proposals and are subject to refinement.]

Proposed Changes
9 Bellamy Warden Stn to STC Unchanged
16 McCowan Warden Stn to STC Unchanged
21 Brimley Kennedy Stn to STC Unchanged
38 Highland Creek Rouge Hill GO to STC Unchanged
39A Finch East Finch Stn to Morningside Hts Branch rerouted and extended
199 Finch Rocket Finch W Stn to STC Unchanged
42 Cummer Finch Stn to Morningside Hts Extended
43B Kennedy via Progress Kennedy Stn to STC Unchanged
53 Steeles East Finch Stn to Morningside Hts East end loop revised
53E Steeles East Express Replaced by 253 Steeles Rocket
253 Steeles Rocket Pioneer Village Stn to STC New route
54 Lawrence East Science Ctr Stn to Starspray Base route unchanged
154 Lawrence East Kennedy Stn to UTSC Orton Pk service replaced and extended
254 Lawrence East Express Science Ctr Stn to Starspray via Kennedy Stn Replaces 54E express. Link to Kennedy Stn added.
57 Midland Kennedy Stn to Steeles Loop at Steeles revised
85 Sheppard East Don Mills Stn to Rouge Hill GO Supplemented by 285 Sheppard E Rocket
285 Sheppard East Rocket Don Mills Stn to UTSC via STC New route
86 Scarborough Kennedy Stn to Zoo Unchanged
93A Ellesmere East STC to Kingston Rd Replaces 95A York Mills east of STC. Route number already in use by 93 Parkview Hills.
93B Ellesmere East STC to Conlins Rd Replaces 95A York Mills east of STC and 116A Morningside Conlins Loop
95 York Mills York Mills Stn to STC Partly replaced by 93 Ellesmere East and 295 York Mills Express
295 York Mills Express York Mills Stn to UTSC via STC New route
102 Markham Rd Warden Stn to Steeles North end loop structure simplified
202 Markham Rocket Warden Stn to Centennial College New route
116 Morningside Kennedy Stn to Steeles Extended to Steeles & Markham Rd. Service via Guildwood replaced by 153.
153 Kennedy Stn to Beechgrove New route replacing 116 Guildwood service
129 McCowan North STC to Steeles Express service provided by 253, 199 and 285 Rockets
130A Middlefield STC to Steeles Route and loop from McNicoll to Steeles revised
130B Middlefield STC to Tapscott Route consolidates existing peak period loops of 42, 53, 102, 134
131 Nugget STC to Old Finch Service to Kennedy Stn replaced by subway
132 Milner STC to Hupfield/McClevin Unchanged
133 Neilson STC to Morningside Hts Unchanged
134A Progress STC to Finchdene Unchanged
134B Progress STC to McNicoll Discontinued, partly replaced by 130B
134C Progress STC to Centennial College Unchanged
169 Huntingwood Don Mills Stn to STC Unchanged

How Many SmartTrack Stations Will Survive? (I)

On March 16, 2017, Metrolinx released a series of studies dating from July 2016 containing the “Initial Business Case” reviews of proposed new GO Transit stations. The list came from an earlier process in which Metrolinx began with every conceivable location for new stations on the planned Regional Express Rail (RER) network  and winnowed this down to those that were, broadly speaking, workable. The New Stations Analysis from June 2016 explains this process and the outcome, the choice of whether a station is “in” or “out” of the network, is summarized in the following map:

I asked Metrolinx why the detailed reports on each station were only released now rather than concurrently with the Board report.

Q: … the station analysis reports were only released [March 16, 2017] although they are dated July 2016. Moreover, the Board considered a report on this subject in June 2016 but the detailed reports have not been summarized nor presented to the Board publicly at this or any following meetings. Why has it taken so long for these reports to be published?

A: Upon approval from the Board last June, we engaged with our municipal partners and other stakeholders to finalize the documents. Metrolinx requested formal confirmation of funding from municipalities by November 30, 2016. Once that was received, we worked to get the business cases posted as soon as we could.

If one reads only the summary report presented to the Metrolinx Board, one might have the impression that many of these stations show a positive benefit for the network. However, the detailed reports tell a different story and beg the question of how Metrolinx planning staff got from the business cases to the conclusions in the Board report.

The posted reports are dated over six months ago, and their date does not reflect more recent work, if any, with “municipal partners and other stakeholders”. Whether this is only an editorial oversight, the basic issue is that the case made in the station analyses is not as rosy as the one presented in the summary report to the Board.

A key issue here is that many of the stations form part of Mayor Tory’s SmartTrack plan, and a Metrolinx report throwing cold water on their effectiveness would run contrary to the claims made for SmartTrack’s potential. One might ask whether the Board was misled about the potential harm the SmartTrack stations could bring to GO/RER’s goals.

As reported in both the Globe & Mail and the Star, many of the new stations are projected to have a negative effect on the network. The analyses can be summarized in a few points:

  • Any new station adds travel time to a GO Transit corridor.
  • Demand models are sensitive to travel time, and they predict a loss of ridership if trips are slower.
  • New stations could bring new riders, but these are not necessarily sufficient to offset the loss of longer trips which are the raison d’être of the GO network.
  • New riders from stations close to Union make shorter trips at lower fares leading to a net revenue loss even without considering the SmartTrack proposal to charge “TTC fares” for travel within Toronto.
  • The loss of longer trips drives up the modelled use of autos for commuting compared to what would have happened without these stations. This has a compound effect through the business case analysis because many factors depend on reduced auto mileage.

There are three fundamental issues here. First is the problem of repurposing the regional GO/RER network to provide local service within Toronto. Although SmartTrack as proposed in John Tory’s election campaign included very frequent service, what is actually to be implemented is considerably less ambitious thanks to constraints (both physical and financial) on GO’s investment in additional capacity. Planned peak period services are:

  • Stouffville (Scarborough) corridor: 7 trains/hour with an average headway of 8.6 minutes
  • Kitchener (Weston) corridor: 6 trains/hour with an average headway of 10 minutes
  • Lake Shore East corridor: 11 trains/hour with an average headway of 5.5 minutes

The only corridor to receive service at the level foreseen for SmartTrack is the Lake Shore, and this is applicable only to stations from Danforth (at Main) to Don (at or near the Great Gulf East Harbour development). This higher service level results from the combination of trains on both the Lake Shore East and Stouffville corridors serving these stations. Any new ridership due to SmartTrack has to fit within capacity planned for GO/RER.

Second is a problem of assumptions in the modelling. In all cases, a new station is seen as slowing down GO service, but a major benefit cited for GO/RER electrification is the ability to serve more stations with no increase in trip times over diesel operations. The business case models assume a 1.8 minute delay for each additional stop, and this translates to ridership loses for the long-haul travellers whose trips are affected. However, this analysis does not take into account the possibility that new, electrified service would be implemented concurrently with the new stations thereby eliminating the delays.

Depending on the corridor and the degree of electrification, some trains could remain with diesel power, typically those running to the outer ends of routes beyond electric territory. These long trips would suffer more delay than the shorter electric-propelled ones. However, if the diesel trains run “express” past some or all of the new stations, the resulting service levels will be less attractive to riders, and the wait for a train to Union from an inside-Toronto station would be a substantial portion of the total trip.

I asked whether electrification had been taken into account:

Q: In the studies, there is a reference to the extra time needed to serve a new station on the line, and in the case of Lawrence East this adds 5% to the upstream travel time. Has this number been adjusted to reflect operating characteristics of electric trains? One important point in the electrification study was that these trains could sustain more stations with the same running times as existing diesel trains having fewer stops.

A: Electrified vehicles were assumed in the calculation of delay time.

This does not address the issue that if stations are added concurrently with electrification, there may be no change in travel time and still possibly a net improvement.

Also:

Q: For corridors with multiple proposed new stops, there is the question of the cumulative upstream effects which, I suspect, are not additive.

A: The business cases analysed stations individually and independently. Effects of adding multiple stations to a line would be cumulative, creating trade-offs between end-to-end trip time and the journey time of individuals taking advantage of new stations. This limited the total number of stations that could reasonably be added to a corridor.

That last comment is telling in that it effectively says there is a point where making a route more “local” is counterproductive. This is no surprise, except possibly to SmartTrack advocates.

A related issue acknowledged in the studies, but apparently not in the modelling, is that other factors will influence the choice between driving and taking a GO train – increased road congestion, the difficulty of obtaining parking at one’s destination, and a reduction in car ownership levels over coming decades. A large component of the negative analysis for some stations arises from a ridership loss than may not materialize.

The third problem is the proposed “TTC fare” on SmartTrack services, and the parallel efforts by Metrolinx to change the TTC fare structure for “rapid transit” services to more closely match its own fare-by-distance model. Demand studies for the Scarborough transit network have shown that a TTC fare (defined as the current flat fare with free transfers between routes) combined with very frequent service (12 trains/hour) contribute substantially to potential ridership for SmartTrack. Without these, less demand migrates from the TTC network to GO/RER.

To put these issues another way, there is little point in adding stations to the GO network if the combination of location, service level and fare attracts little ridership inside Toronto, while extra travel time for trips originating outside of Toronto drives riders back to their cars. That said, I believe that the unattractiveness of GO as an alternative to TTC would be a more serious effect than the anticipated ridership loses because other factors would affect a decision by long-trip commuters to move away from GO.

Indeed, if capacity on GO services were compromised with large volumes of short-distance riders, this could be as much of a deterrent to GO ridership as the extra time spent at inside-Toronto stations. The Business Case reports do not address network capacity issues because they review each station proposal in isolation except where station catchment areas overlap.

Almost all recent controversy between Toronto and Queen’s Park centres on capital subsidies for a number of projects, and operating costs are left for another day. However, the position of GO and SmartTrack in the network is intimately linked to operating costs as this will affect the sharing of incremental expenses for new station operation, pressures for additional capacity and service, and fare subsidies by Toronto to bring GO fares down to “TTC” levels.

The current studies do not address the relationship of SmartTrack to existing GO stations and the question of whether “TTC fares” will be available at Milliken, Agincourt, Kennedy, Danforth, Bloor, Weston and Etobicoke North stations, let alone stations on other GO corridors within Toronto. Why should a rider from a SmartTrack station travel downtown for a “TTC fare” while those at Rouge Hill, Cummer, York University, Kipling or Long Branch be forced to pay on the GO Transit tariff?

How much is Toronto, a city that refuses to properly fund its own transit system, prepared to subsidize travel on the GO network within its boundaries?

Station Reviews

The following sections review each of the proposed stations on the GO network as presented by the corresponding Interim Business Case report, grouped by corridor.

Toronto Council has agreed to fund eight stations, six of which lie on the “SmartTrack” corridor from Scarborough (Stouffville line) through Union Station to Weston. Two stations are part of the Barrie corridor.

Several scenarios were used to evaluate the stations, although not all options were considered in each case because local circumstances ruled them out.

Beyond the question of demand models and potential for ridership gains or loses discussed above, other factors appear commonly through these station reviews. Notable among them is the difficulty of attracting new riders to stations on the rail corridors within Toronto. These lines tend to lie in industrial districts well away from major residential or job markets. They are dependent on walk-in trade, to the extent that any exists, as well as connections from TTC routes. Unlike the typical 905-area GO station, the new sites within Toronto will not be surrounded by acres of parking and cannot depend on park-and-ride as their primary source of traffic. This makes the combination of service frequency, speed and fares even more important if GO/RER is to provide a credible alternative to or supplement of the TTC network.

A recurring problem with the reports is that selective data such as daily gains or loses of riders are sprinkled in the text, but the consolidated numbers are given only for a 60-year evaluation period. Where changes are reported, they are not given in context relative to the base numbers of projected riders, nor, as mentioned earlier, with any reference to the available capacity on each corridor. All of the financial effects (hard and soft) flow from these ridership numbers, but it is unclear how they were derived or how alternate assumptions might affect them. To avoid repetition, I will not mention this for each study, but statements regarding ridership, revenues and costs should be treated with caution.

I have asked Metrolinx for additional data on existing and projected demands so that these can be compared with the effects reported from the station modelling exercises. I will add this information when it is available.

Finally, there is an odd viewpoint about what constitutes a “nearby” station in several of the studies where the distance from a potential station to residential density is seen through the eyes of a suburban driver, not as by a city resident who measures trips in blocks, not kilometres. This is especially troubling when access to a station would require going out of one’s way or a difficult walk where where local geography interferes with a “crow fly” access path.

This article deals with stations in the Stouffville and Weston corridors. In a second installment I will turn to the Barrie and Lake Shore corridors.

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Scarborough Subway Cost Rises Again (III)

This article continues a series on the cost estimates for the Scarborough Subway Extension (SSE) and includes commentaries on:

Previous articles in this series:

  • Part I: A review of reports before Toronto’s Executive Committee and Council in March 2017
  • Part II: A review of previous and current cost estimates

The origin of the Value Engineering Study and a related Peer Review of costs lies in a distrust at City Council that the TTC’s cost estimates for the SSE are credible given the experience of the Vaughan exension (TYSSE). It is ironic that the TYSSE went over budget, and yet the desire for an SSE review was at least in part motivated by the idea that it could be brought in below the TTC’s projected cost.

In brief, the Peer Review concludes that the TTC estimates are reasonable at the current level of design.

The Value Engineering (VE) Study entailed a week-long series of meetings at which many ideas for potential cost savings were developed by a large group, then winnowed down to those with the most promise.

Although a few proposals foresee cost savings of over $100 million, these options have either already been rolled into the base project design or were replaced by a more expensive alternative. SSE advocates, notably Mayor Tory, have trumpeted these potential savings as future reductions in the project estimates, but in fact they are not available for that purpose.

Many of the proposals have no calculated saving, and it is unclear whether they will survive further review, and if so, would contribute substantially to reducing the overall project cost.

The VE study raises many questions in cases where its proposals appear to be superseded by a more recent design for the SSE than the one the VE team considered, and in cases where some VE proposals are contradictory. I have written to the City asking for clarification on these points and have included their reply in this article.

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Selective History Colours Transit Commentary

In a recent column in the Toronto Sun, Gordon Chong advances the argument that transit developments are too much about politics without enough professional planning.

The politics of transportation, published Saturday March 4, 2017

Up to that point, he and I agree, but our analysis of the situation quickly differs. Chong writes of decisions that were influenced by political considerations. He uses the Wynne flip-flop on support for tolls, and the ongoing question of how much the Scarborough Subway will cost, as jumping-off points, but then lists:

  • Cancellation of the Spadina Expressway by Bill Davis in 1971
  • The TTC/City decision to reverse plans to eliminate streetcars in 1972
  • The current emphasis of reimagining King Street rather then concentrating  on a Queen Street subway

Chong is acerbic, to put it mildly, in his remarks about Davis and the Spadina calling it

One of the most egregious examples of political self-interest and, some would say, spinelessness in transportation planning …

He goes on to say that stopping Spadina was important:

Holding the downtown riding, where the Spadina Expressway was deeply unpopular, with a tough, capable and popular Jewish cabinet minister was important to the Conservatives.

It is amusing to think how readers would react if some other group were the target of Chong’s ire, especially considering the role of the Shiner family in fighting for the expressway. Regardless of how one feels about the issue, it is the planning merits that should be debated.

Citing former Transportation Commissioner Sam Cass, certainly the “black hat” of the expressway battles, Chong argues for “balanced” road and transit networks. Nobody has ever been able to define just what should measure this so-called balance, and cynics among us translate the term as “an expressway for me, transit for everyone else”. Toronto is about to spend $1 billion to maintain that sort of “balance” with the Gardiner East rebuild project.

Chong goes on to talk about how the Spadina would have provided relief from the northwest into downtown instead of the current status, a “virtual parking lot”. He ignores the effect the expressway would have had on the city. Unlike the DVP which was built through an unpopulated area, the Spadina would have torn through established neighbourhoods setting the stage for a Crosstown expressway parallel to the CPR tracks at Dupont, and an eventual extension south to the Gardiner. The renaissance of downtown’s west side could not have happened with an expressway in place.

Relief and the Queen Street subway? Yes, there was another transportation plan on the books in the 1960s, and it was a Queen Subway that would have turned north to Don Mills and Eglinton, what we now call the “Downtown Relief Line”. That didn’t get built either thanks to a shift in attention from the downtown to suburban rapid transit lines.

As for the streetcars:

Another misguided political decision occurred when the Toronto Transit Commission’s Streetcar Elimination Program was stopped in its tracks by an alliance of local citizens and aldermen (now councillors) delaying the sensible transition to subways and buses capable of maneuvering more easily in traffic.

Unfortunately, the streetcar lovers prevailed and motorists are now stuck behind slow moving and frequently disabled streetcars and LRTs in the downtown core.

Chong has been beating this drum for years, and he forgets that the subway to which streetcars might have “transitioned” has never been built. I was part of the group who fought to retain streetcars, and our argument then as now was that the routes streetcars serve require higher capacity that would be difficult to provide with buses. In the early 1970s, the TTC ran almost twice as much service on most streetcar routes as it does today, and the problem with a shortage of vehicles is not a recent one. Ever since the 1990s recession when ridership fell and the TTC was able to cut back on the size of the fleet, there have been almost no improvements in streetcar service. A fleet well beyond its design life limps along attempting to provide service.

Buying more cars is long, long overdue, especially now that the near-downtown areas served by these routes are starting to redevelop. King Street is the most pronounced example, but more residents and potential transit riders are coming to the other routes even though the TTC has no way of providing better service. Bombardier’s glacial delivery rate for new streetcars is only the latest of problems, but the TTC’s inaction on buying more streetcars predates that order.

Keeping the streetcars was not just a matter for the existing network, but for suburban expansion, something that would have been ruinously expensive with subways back in the 70s and 80s, let alone today. But Queen’s Park preferred its high tech trains (now known as the SRT), and the promise of inexpensive suburban expansion evaporated with them.

Suburban transit in Toronto has been badly served by a succession of administrations going back to pre-amalgamation days. In 1990, then Premier David Peterson announced a “network” of rapid transit lines amounting to “a chicken in every pot” planning. This included a Malvern extension of the SRT, a Sheppard Subway from Yonge to STC, a Yonge/Spadina loop subway via Steeles, an Eglinton West subway from the Spadina line out to the Airport, a Bloor subway extension to Sherway, and a Waterfront LRT to southern Etobicoke. The first the TTC heard of this plan was when the Premier announced it.

Peterson lost the election, but the Rae government, looking for make-work projects in the face of a recession, kept the Sheppard and Eglinton projects alive, although the latter didn’t get far, and was killed off by Mike Harris five years later. The only part of the Waterfront line built was the new connection via Spadina and Queen’s Quay into Union Station. (The Spadina streetcar and the Harbourfront connection to Bathurst came later.) The Sheppard line survived the Harris regime only because he needed Mel Lastman’s political support for amalgamation, and that subway was part of the deal.

By 2007, David Miller proposed the Transit City LRT network with the intention of bringing better transit to routes that were not all aimed at downtown Toronto. The lines served the city’s “priority neighbourhoods”, not necessarily locations where civic egos dictated prestige transit lines. That network was sabotaged first by Premier Dalton McGuinty’s cutbacks in transit support, and later by Rob Ford’s visceral hatred of any plan that had Miller’s name on it, not to mention his loathing for streetcars.

LRT (as streetcars on some degree of reserved right-of-way are known) is used in hundreds of cities around the world, and two substantial networks in Calgary and Edmonton are the core of their respective transit system. But none of that matters to the subway boosters in Toronto.

Chong argues for both a Queen subway and a Relief Line, but presents this as an alternative rather than as a complement to the streetcar service on King.

Now, city council is considering a King Street traffic mitigation plan giving priority to streetcars and pedestrians over cars, when it should be looking at Queen Street and how to complete the planned subway along it, linking it with the long-awaited downtown relief line.

They are two completely separate projects, especially considering we are unlikely to see a DRL until the early 2030s at best. Meanwhile, King needs substantially improved transit service with larger streetcars and priority for transit movements over cars.

The Relief Line suffers, as we have repeatedly seen, by its characterization as “Downtown” by those who would exploit suburban feelings of transit inequity. Politicians prefer to play to their voters with inaccuracies and slurs, always implying that “someone else” is getting what their voters deserve.

Finally, Chong puts in a plug for the Sheppard West subway connection.

There are many other examples of short-term thinking and aborted transit plans requiring a 50- to 100-year vision, such as completing the Sheppard subway.

The Sheppard connection from Yonge to Downsview was one of two options before Council, and it was in direct competition with the line to York University. That route, and the possible further extension to Vaughan, had better political connections, and a higher likely demand. The subway ends today at Downsview (soon to be renamed Sheppard West) because that was common to the two possible routes. It was the only extension Council could agree on. But now, integration of a Sheppard service with the Spadina line is impossible due to mixed train lengths and incompatible headways on the routes. At best there would be a transfer between the lines.

Political intervention in transit planning? Certainly, but this goes well beyond the few battles Chong trots out. Transit battles have led to the bizarre combination of paralysis, the inability to actually build, and intense pressure to build specific projects with high political profile, one that has been artificially inflated by populist rhetoric, not by good planning.

Why write an article about an opinion piece in the Sun by a has-been politician? Simple. Gordon Chong is a Tory, and he was both Vice-Chair of the TTC, and Chair of the predecessor agency to Metrolinx. He can be expected to lobby for some position of influence over Toronto’s transit plans if Patrick Brown’s PCs take control at Queen’s Park. His selective view of history is something we can do without.

Toronto and the GTHA have major transit and transportation issues for any government after the 2018 election. Fighting old battles on long-expired pretenses is no way to plan the city.

Scarborough Subway Cost Rises Again (II)

After publication of a series reports going to Toronto’s Executive Committee on March 7, there have been many competing claims about just how much the Scarborough Subway is going to cost. Subway advocates prefer the lower number of $3.35 billion cited as the base cost of the subway itself plus an improved bus terminal, while others point out that many elements have been omitted from this number.

I reviewed many of the reports in a previous article, but this post looks beyond the subway itself to other projects that are required for the subway to open. Some of these are unfunded, or are now planned for a date beyond the Scarborough line’s opening, or are simply missing from TTC and City plans.

Previous Cost Estimates for the “Express Subway”

The Scarborough Subway project, as described in all previous reports included the following three items:

  • Construction of the subway from Kennedy Station to STC at a cost of $2.3 billion in 2010 dollars, or $3.315 billion in year-of-expenditure (YOE) allowing for future inflation.
  • Life extension work to keep the SRT operational until the subway opens at a cost of $132 million (YOE).
  • Demolition and removal of the existing SRT structure following the subway opening at a cost of $123 million (YOE).

These values, totalling $3.56 billion, appeared in:

The October 3, 2013 report to Council:

201310_costextimate

A presentation to a Value Engineering workshop by the TTC in September 2016:

201609_ttcprojectcostestimates_vesession

The TTC’s 2017-26 Capital Budget recently approved by Council (click to enlarge):

2017_capbudget

The $3.305 billion cost for the subway itself is intriguing because it has not changed between the 2016-25 and 2017-26 versions of the budget. The detailed views are below. (These are taken from the detailed TTC budget books that are not available online.)

2016 (click to enlarge):

sse_006_2016

2017 (click to enlarge):

sse_006_2017

The major change between the two versions to line item totals is that an allowance for property has been offset by an increase in “fixed facilities”. However, expenditures timings change, and there is no adjustment for inflation. I have asked the TTC for comment on this and related matters.

Item                          2016-2025        2017-2026
                                ($000)           ($000)
Fixed Facilities              $2,458,000       $2,623,000
TTC Installation                                      250
Property                         165,000
Consultants                      398,123          397,297
TTC Engineering                  101,877          102,453
Vehicles                         182,000          182,000
Total                         $3,305,000       $3,305,000

In the 2017 Capital Budget the section for the SRT life extension shows values only to 2023 and the demolition of the SRT structure is in 2025. These timings do not  make sense except in the context of a 2023 opening as described below. It is clear that these two items have not been updated to reflect the later opening date and the added cost this brings for ongoing support of the old system, and inflation in the cost of demolishing and removing it.

From the description of the Life Extension project:

lifeextensionprojectdescription

Additional Costs Not Included in the Current Projected Total

The $3.35 billion cost now claimed for the SSE project does not include several items cited in the City’s reports:

  • Procurement costs through Infrastructure Ontario: $15 million
  • Financing costs of a 3P project, net to TTC: $40 million
  • Public realm improvements (optional): $11 million
  • Platform edge doors (optional): $14 million
  • Increase in “management reserve” for scope changes to the level recommended by consultants: $100 million
  • SRT Life Extension: $132 million
  • SRT Decommissioning and Demolition: $123 million

As noted above, some costs have been estimated based on a 2023 opening for the subway, but without allowances for inflation to a later date.

Planning for Fleet, Signals and Carhouse Space

There are inconsistencies in the timing of various projects related to the Bloor-Danforth Subway that existed in the 2016-25 budget, and still pose major problems for 2017-26. These are all linked to the opening of the SSE which, like the TYSSE extension to Vaughan, will be built with Automatic Train Control (ATC).

  • Resignalling of Line 2 BD with ATC
  • Replacement of the existing T1 subway fleet with new trains capable of ATC operation
  • Construction of a new yard to house the replacement fleet

The TTC plans to resignal Line 2 following completion of Line 1 YUS in 2019. Here is the budget summary for these projects (click to enlarge):

2017_atcsignals

The T1 subway fleet is due for replacement in the mid 2020s, but current plans show this happening substantially after the SSE opens with delivery of prototypes in 2024 and the remainder of the fleet from 2026-2030. This means that a large part of the BD fleet would not be able to operate on ATC, and therefore could not run beyond Kennedy Station.

2017_t1replacement

There is also a provision in the SSE budget (above) for additional trains with funding in 2022-23 of $182 million. This corresponds to the original scheme to open the line in 2023, but not to the current fleet plan. In the table below, six trains are shown as a service addition for the SSE in 2023, but these come from available spares within the T1 pool (even though they cannot run in ATC territory). This would provide an AM peak service with alternate trains turning back from Kennedy Station, and overall BD service at the same level as today (2’20” west of Kennedy, 4’40” to STC). The replacement fleet begins to arrive in 2026 through 2030 including the seven trains funded from the SSE project budget. Full service to STC comes in 2027, but this and an allowance for ridership growth are clearly based on a 2023 SSE opening date.

The fleet plan is out of sync with the opening date for the SSE and its signal system.

2017_line2_subwayfleetplan

The T1 replacement project is on the “City Requested Budget Reductions” list, and does not have any funding within the current ten-year Capital Program. This represents a pressure within the City’s overall capital budget and its “below the line” iceberg of capital projects it cannot afford.

Finally, a new fleet cannot be provisioned without a new yard. This is required both to provide overlapping capacity for new and old trains (unlike Line 1 where Wilson Yard had room for expansion to handle the H to TR fleet changeover). There are also design problems with Greenwood in that the shops were not planned for 6-car unit trains, and major renovation would be required to do this, all within an active shop for the BD line.

The TTC recently authorized the purchase of land near Kipling Station for a new subway yard. However, the actual construction of a yard does not appear in the Capital Budget and there is no provision for this in the TTC’s financial plans. Quite obviously this facility is required before the new trains begin to arrive. If the T1 replacement project moves forward so that the new trains can all be here before the SSE opens in 2026, then the new carhouse must exist by the early 2020s. Considering how long it takes the TTC to get approval for a major new facility, let alone build it, this is a critical project that has not even been discussed in the context of SSE planning.

None of this is news, and the TTC is well aware of the problem. I wrote about this as part of my 2016 budget coverage, and the TTC replied with details of what is really needed. Management plans to bring an overall plan for the renovation of Line 2 to the Board at its March meeting, but this will inevitably produce ripples in the City’s budget. That can be fixed, in part, if some of Toronto’s PTIF money (the federal infrastructure program) goes to accelerating these projects, but this has to be fitted in among the many hopes Toronto has for that funding.

These are not, strictly speaking, “Scarborough Subway costs”, but they are projects triggered by the decision to extend Line 2 BD. Although federal money could be available, the City will have to pony up its share, and this will fall right at a period when it is tight for capital.

Toronto Council deserves to see the whole picture of funding and financing requirements for the SSE and related projects. Too much is hidden either by its unfunded status, or by simple omission from the overall plans. This inevitably creates a crisis when – Surprise! – a project is forced “above the line” because it cannot be avoided. This brings new spending that crowds other works, many having nothing to do with transit, off of the table. This is no way to handle City budgeting.

Scarborough Subway Cost Rises Again

Mayor John Tory held a press conference this morning (February 28, 2017) at Kennedy Station in anticipation of a newly released set of reports on the Scarborough Subway:

Note: Commentaries on the Value Engineering and Cost Estimate reports will be added to this article later.

There are few surprises here. The subway will almost certainly cost more than earlier estimates. There may be ways to save some money on the project, but these are small dollars compared to the overall scope. One proposed increase is a change in the bus terminal at Scarborough Town Centre Station to one that better supports future development even though its construction is more complex.

Despite implications by some Councillors that TTC cost estimates were unreliable, an external review agreed with the values the TTC presents. At this stage, with design work only at 5%, there is a very wide latitude in accuracy because so much of the detail is unknown. A range of -30% to +50% translates to over a billion dollars either way, and claims that the project cost is a hard, fixed number are simply irresponsible.

A long-suspected result is that the subway project, originally sold as part of a package of transit improvements including an extension of the Eglinton Crosstown LRT to the University of Toronto Scarborough Campus, now requires most of the previous “committed” money. The LRT extension used to sweeten the plan and encourage wavering Councillors to support the subway extension is in danger and requires its own funding.

Mayor Tory made an aggressive speech, supported by TTC Chair Josh Colle and Scarborough Subway Champion Glenn De Baeremaeker.

One expects a fair amount of civic boosterism given the history of this project, but I could not help feeling that the Mayor oversells his position and undermines his credibility.

He started off with a heart rending description of riders who for decades have faced the “Scarborough shuffle” of changing between the SRT and the subway at Kennedy Station. This is a tedious process given that four levels separate the two routes, and the TTC’s ability to keep escalators and elevators working over the full path is not sterling. Tory portrayed this connection as an accessibility issue because, of course, when any component of that connection isn’t working, riders face a long climb up or down stairs.

What he failed to mention, as has so often been the case in the subway-vs-LRT debate, is that the proposed LRT station would have been only one level above the subway, and the transfer would have been very much like the interchange at Spadina Station.

Taking a page from Donald Trump’s playbook, Tory argued that those who oppose the subway are working against the democratic will of voters and their representatives. Even newly minted Scarborough Councillor Neethan Shan, who stood at Tory’s side, ran on a pro-subway platform. Council voted many times on the subway and related issues, and approved the Scarborough transit plan by 27 to 16. Tory neglects to mention that the plan both the voters and councillors approved was quite different including a longer subway with more stops, and also the LRT extension to UTSC. This is the bait-and-switch game many suspected it would be all along, while others trying to “keep peace in the family” took the Mayor’s claims at face value.

Tory came dangerously close to portraying “tireless critics” of this project as outside of the political mainstream and subverting the will of the people. “Tell people they voted the wrong way, that they will be better off without a subway” and more in that vein.

Pressed on rising costs, the Mayor refused to say whether there was any cost beyond which he could not support the subway. Meanwhile he looks to Queen’s Park and Ottawa for support on the Eglinton LRT and other transportation projects. Tory describes the Eglinton extension as a “fundamental part of our plan”, but whether other governments will actually chip in remains to be seen.

A frequent claim for the subway is that it will spark development of Scarborough Town Centre, but Tory emphasized how it would provide a faster link for Scarborough residents to jobs downtown. A big problem with many transit plans (not just this subway) is that they do not serve the very high demand for travel to jobs (and other destinations such as schools) that are not downtown.

Tory suggested that the Value Engineering report implies there’s a few hundred million dollars for the taking in adjustments to the project. The report does not actually say this, but merely lists a range of options, some more practical than others, that might be embraced. At the current level of design, a few hundred million could go up in smoke with a cost revision.

One recent change is a proposal for a different, improved bus terminal at STC. Tory attempted to deflect criticism of this cost by saying that no matter what was built, we would need a terminal and, therefore, it really isn’t part of the subway’s cost. This dodges the issue that an LRT network would have spread out the collection of riders to other sites, and the number of routes converging on STC would have been lower. Pick a one stop subway as your design, and that dictates a large terminal.

The real advantage of the change lies in how it better integrates with planned development at STC.

Of particular note was Tory’s pledge to “get things done in this term of office”. He does not want “to be a leader who accomplishes nothing” on the transit file. He wants to take the long term view, although he is not at all clear on whether Toronto is prepared to spend enough to support it.

TTC Chair Josh Colle spoke of the need to move forward with transit plans, especially the one for Scarborough, as the city is “on the verge of a transit revival”. The condition of the SRT, on which the Mayoral party arrived for the event, shows that decisions cannot be put off.

Colle argued that we should learn from past failures and ensure that there is “accountability”, that a project does not get approved long in advance giving a blank cheque for rising costs. This is a direct reference to the Vaughan subway extension and a proposed tightening of the process for approving project changes (about which more later in this article). Colle neglects to mention that the imperative for TTC managers under the Ford/Stintz regime was to keep the project “on time, on budget” so that a smiling TTC chair could tout how well her TTC was doing. Colle was on that TTC Board and should have known the project was in trouble.

What actually happened was that the station contracts came in well over budget, but this was paid for with money earmarked for contingencies, for unexpected conditions during construction. Between chaotic management of overlapping contracts and raiding the piggy bank to avoid asking for more money, the TYSSE was in deep trouble. This all came to a head when both that project and the related resignalling contracts for the Yonge line had to be reorganized.

The Scarborough subway project will receive better scrutiny, or so the reports claim, but the political problem that saying “no” when the costs rise simply is not an option for the current administration.

Councillor De Baeremaeker emphasized that all but one Scarborough Councillor and all of its MPPs support the subway  project. Scarborough has 33% of Toronto’s area and 25% of its population, not unlike North York which has far more subway infrastructure. It might be churlish of me to point out that there has been a heavy transit demand north-south on Yonge Street since the days when cows grazed alongside the road, something Scarborough cannot claim for its rapid transit corridor.

Continuing his theme, De Baeremaeker talked about future daily demand at STC station of 70,000 which would exceed almost all of the downtown stations. Yes, it would, but this also reflects the concentration of all demand for Scarborough at one point roughly like having only a station at Finch on the Yonge line. It will be a busy station, but the bus network will be gerrymandered to feed it.

The real question has always been how well the subway will serve travel demands overall, but that debate is closed.

After the formal statements, Mayor Tory was challenged on locations the subway would not serve. He claimed, falsely, that Scarborough will have more transit stations with the new scheme, including SmartTrack, than before, and that ST work, the double-tracking of the Stouffville GO corridor, was already underway.

SmartTrack adds two stations to the GO corridor at Lawrence and at Finch, but the double-tracking is part of the GO/RER plan and has been in the works for some time. The lightly-used SRT stations at Ellesmere and Midland will disappear, and the new subway effectively consolidates the STC and McCowan RT stations into one location.

What is frustrating in all of this is the sense of people trying too hard to put their case. If the expectation is for overwhelming support at Council, why work so hard at the argument?

The balance of this article reviews the reports linked above.

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Metrolinx Board Meeting Wrapup February 17, 2017 (Updated)

The Metrolinx Board met on February 17 with the following items, among others, on their public agenda.

  • Presto Update
  • Regional Express Rail Update: Level Crossings
  • Fare Integration
  • Bombardier LRV Delivery

Updated: Replies from Metrolinx to questions clarifying their process for grade separation prioritization have been added to this article.

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Subway Shutdown Plans for 2017

Updated January 22, 2017: Additional illustrations.

The TTC begins its 2017 round of subway shutdowns on the weekend of January 21-22 with the complete closure of the Spadina line north from St. George Station. This is the first of a series of monthly weekend tests of the new Automatic Train Control (ATC) system leading to a planned conversion from Dupont north to Wilson in the fall. This is a prelude to opening the Spadina extension, which has only ATC, not “conventional” signals, to Vaughan at the end of 2017. Most of the closures are on Line 1 YUS because this testing is on top of shutdowns for routine maintenance work.

Two three-day weekends, Easter and Thanksgiving, will see Line 2 BD shut down for work on the Prince Edward Viaduct.

2017ttcshutdowncalendar1

2017ttcshutdowncalendar2

There are important changes for 2017 in plans for shuttle bus operations.

For the Spadina shutdowns, the TTC will not attempt to operate a parallel bus service over the entire route as it is plagued by construction at some locations, and generally provides a long trip south to St. George Station. Instead, bus service will be improved on east-west routes to get people over to Yonge where they can make the trip downtown quickly on the subway. A “parallel” bus service will operate only on the north end of the Spadina line between Downsview and Lawrence West Stations.

2017ttcshutdownspadinamap

In past years, the scope of some shutdowns has been wider than the subway track layout and the locations of turnbacks would imply. The reason for this is that the power feeds to many potential turnbacks are not designed to support operations when power is available on only one side of the location. An example of how this was fixed is at Bloor crossover.

At Bloor, the power feeds are segmented into separate pieces:

  • Southward from the south end of the station
  • Bloor Station and crossover, plus the track to roughly halfway to Rosedale Station, one train length north of the crossover
  • Northward from the midpoint between the crossover and Rosedale Station

This allows trains to terminate at Bloor in either direction even if the power is off south to Wellesley or north to Rosedale. When the line was designed, the crossover itself was the gap between two power sections, and so this could not be a turnback point if power was cut on either side. This change, including the resignalling of the crossover, was installed as part of the North Yonge subway project.

Power supplies at crossovers at Rosehill (south of St. Clair), College and King have not yet been modified, but this is in the plans as part of the ATC project on the Yonge line. The new signal system will include the ability to manage these crossovers remotely as is done at Bloor.

A similar problem exists at some of the older turnbacks on the BD line. Whenever work is underway on the Viaduct, subway service has ended at Pape (although it physically operates west to Chester centre track) because power cannot be cut on the Viaduct without also cutting it at Broadview Station. The TTC will be installing a gap in the power feed just west of Broadview Station so that trains can use this as their terminal. Shuttle buses on Danforth will not be required (only from Broadview westward), and subway riders will have access to the downtown streetcar lines as an alternate route to the core on Dundas and King.

A planned shutdown at Union would normally have required shuttles south on Yonge below Bloor, but subway service will be operated using the crossover at King. This will be done on a manual basis because the new signals and controls for the crossover are not yet in place. This tactic will also be used in 2018 when work at Davisville would have required a shutdown north of Bloor. Instead, the crossover at Rose Hill will be manually operated so that shuttle buses can make their connection at St. Clair Station where there is an off-street loop.

2016 Reviewed

Shuttle bus operations have gradually improved, notably by actively changing the traffic environment in which the buses must operate rather than simply hoping for the best as the streets were. Parking restrictions, signal changes and the use of Paid Duty Officers were much needed changes, although one must wonder why it took the chaos of previous years’ events to show that replacing the subway with buses required a lot of accommodation by users of the streets.

Many types of work were undertaken during the shutdowns beyond the most obvious track and signal upgrades. These are described in the presentation to the TTC’s Board on January 18. Of particular interest was one project that is not illustrated in the report, the replacement of 900m of subway track on the western part of Line 2 with a new form of rail support.

All subway lines built before the Spadina line opened have the track mounted directly on the concrete tunnel floor with only a rubber pad that doubles for both vibration and electrical  insulation. Spadina saw a shift to the “floating slab” technique where the rail is mounted to large concrete sections that in turn sit on large rubber pads. This structure requires a deeper tunnel, but it provides better vibration isolation. Older lines cannot be retrofitted because adding a new layer of support would make trains too high for the tunnels.

The TTC has installed an experimental section of track where the rail is supported from the side rather than from below with rubber pads gripping the track below the head of the rail. The result is a roughly 20db reduction in vibration. This is a trial, and there are currently no plans or funding to retrofit other problem sections of the subway.

The new track suspension system is described on the vendor (Pandrol) website, and illustrated below in photos provided by the TTC.

Updated January 21, 2017

The following illustrations are from a presentation provided by the TTC. The first gives the rationale for use of the Panguard track mounting system and includes a good cross-section of the track suspension technique.

ttc_nandv_whypanguard

The following diagrams show before (yellow) and after (blue) vibration measurements.

ttc_nandv_panguard_results1

ttc_nandv_panguard_results2