Ontario Line Environmental Assessment Open Houses: Part III – South Section

This article continues a series reviewing the open house sessions conducted online by Metrolinx for the Ontario Line in February and March 2022.

The material here is condensed from recordings of the two meetings about the section from Gerrard to Exhibition Station. The questions and answers have been grouped to bring related topics together, mainly on a geographic basis. This is not an exhaustive Q&A as the topics depend on the interests of those participating.

Statements are not attributed to any specific person (if you really want to know who said what, listen to the recordings), but if anyone feels I have misrepresented their position, please let me know through the comments.

The sections prefaced with “Comment:” are my remarks.

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Infrastructure Ontario January 2022 Update

Infrastructure Ontario has issued its quarterly update of projects that are in the planning and procurement stages. This affects several parts of the Ontario government, but my focus here is on transit projects.

The spreadsheet linked below tracks the past and current updates to show how the projects have evolved. There are two sections: one for active projects and one for projects with no currently reported info (typically for projects that are now in construction or completed, or that have been withdrawn).

Where a cell is coloured yellow, there is a change from the October 2021 report. Several cells are coloured light yellow. There is new text, but the only real change is to say “Jan-Mar” instead of “Winter”, and similarly for other seasons. This eliminates a point of confusion in past reports.

The substantial changes in this round are:

  • The Ontario Line North Civil, Tunnels and Stations contract dates have slipped by one quarter, and the contract type has changed from DBF (Design, Build, Finance) to TBD (To Be Determined). This covers the OL infrastructure work from East Harbour to Science Centre Station.
  • The Yonge North subway extension has been split into two projects: one for the tunnel and the other for the stations, rail and systems. The projected dates for the tunnel contract are unchanged, but for the stations project they are TBD.
  • A new line has been added for the Eglinton West LRT tunnel between Jane and Mount Dennis.
  • All of the GO expansion projects have slipped into 2022 for contract execution, but with dates early in the year. This implies an imminent flurry of announcements just in time for the coming election. These projects are running a few years behind their originally planned dates.
  • The contract type for the GO OnCorr project which includes future operation and maintenance of the system has changed from DBOM (Design, Build, Operate, Maintain) to “Progressive DBOM” which appears to provide earlier design input from prospective builders as well as a better (from the bidders’ point of view) allocation of risk between Metrolinx and the P3.
  • The Milton GO Station project has not been updated since October 2021. It is possible that this work is paused pending a resolution of issues between Metrolinx and CPR about all-day operation on this line.

Toronto Contemplates Net Zero Plan

Updated January 13, 2022 at 6:45 am: Sundry typos and scrambled phrases have been corrected. The projection of additional bus requirements for a 70 per cent service increase has been corrected to include spares.

At its recent meeting, Toronto Council endorsed a plan to move the City to Net Zero emissions by 2040. A review of the full plan is well beyond the scope of this blog, but some proposals affecting transit service and operations are very aggressive.

If Toronto is going to be serious about this we need a detailed examination of assumptions, scenarios, cost projection, and plans out to 2040. Where will population and job growth be? How will transit serve them?

Before I get into the report itself, a quotation from former TTC CEO Andy Byford is worth mention.

Andy Byford sums up the role of a transit system:

“…service that is frequent, that is clean, that goes where people want to go, when people want to go there, that is customer responsive, that is reliable, in other words that gets the basics right …”

Andy Byford on CBC Sunday, December 21, 2021

Too often we concentrate on big construction projects, or a new technology, or a showcase trial on one or two routes rather than looking at the overall system. In particular, we rarely consider what transit is from a rider’s point of view. It is pointless to talk about attracting people to use transit more if we do not first address the question of why they are not already riding transit today. This is an absolutely essential part of any Net Zero strategy.

The reports contain a lot of material, although there is some duplication between them. They contain proposals for short and medium term actions. At this point, Council has not embraced anything beyond the short term plan.

From a transit point of view, that “plan” is more or less “business as usual” and does little to challenge the current status of transit service in the short term. There is hope that electrification of the diesel/hybrid bus fleet might be accelerated, but little sense of what, on a system-wide basis, would shift auto users to transit beyond works already in progress.

A vital point here is that transit has two major ways to affect Council’s Net Zero goals:

  • Conversion of transit vehicles to all-electric operation will reduce or eliminate emissions associated with these vehicles, depending on the degree to which the electricity sources are themselves “clean”. This is a relatively small part of the City’s total emissions.
  • Shifting trips from autos to transit (or to walking or cycling) both reduces emissions and relieves the effects of road congestion, including, possibly, making more dedicated road space available for transit and cycling. Emissions from cars are much more substantial than those from transit.

In the short term, the overwhelming focus is on conversion of the existing bus fleet to electric operation, not of expanding service to attract more riders. Improvements to specific routes might come through various transit priority schemes, but these will not be seen system-wide. Based on demand projections, large scale capital works, notably new subway lines, will primarily benefit existing riders rather than shifting auto users to transit.

The short term targets related to transit are quite simple:

  • Electrify 20 percent of the bus fleet by 2025-26.
    • This effectively requires that 400 diesel or hybrid buses be converted. The TTC already plans to buy 300 eBuses, and the Board has asked TTC management to look at accelerating this conversion. This target is very low hanging fruit provided that someone will pay for the buses.
  • Further targets are 50 per cent conversion by 2030, and 100 per cent by 2040.
    • Looking at the TTC’s likely replacement schedule (discussed in my Capital Budget Follow-Up), they will easily be achieved as much of the existing fleet is due for replacement by the early 2030s. Hybrid buses to be acquired this year will reach end of life in 2034-35.

This is an endorsement of “more of the same” in our transit planning, but no real commitment to making transit fundamentally better so that it can handle many more trips at lower emission rates than today.

Looking further out there are proposals for substantially more transit service and free fares, but these are not fully reflected in projected costs or infrastructure needs.

Some of the proposals for the NZ2050 plan are, shall we say, poorly thought-out:

  • Convert one lane of traffic to exclusive bus lanes on all arterials.
    • Many arterials are only four lanes wide and taking a permanent bus lane has considerable effects on how the road would operate. This is a particular problem for routes with infrequent service during some periods of operation.
  • Increase service frequency on all transit routes: bus by 70%, streetcar by 50%, subway off-peak service increased to every 3 mins.
    • This represents a very large increase in transit service with effects on fleet size, facilities and, of course, budgets. This would require an increase in the bus and streetcar fleets beyond what is already planned as well as construction of new garages and a carhouse.
  • Tolls of $0.66/km on all arterial roads.
    • This would apply only to fossil-fueled cars, and the forecast amount of revenue is less than half of the additional funding transit would require.
  • No transit fares.
    • The immediate cost of this would be about $1.2 billion in foregone fare revenue, offset by about ten percent in the elimination of fare collection and enforcement costs.
  • Shift 75% of car and transit trips under 5km to bikes or e-bikes by 2040.
    • This is truly bizarre. In effect, transit stops performing a local service for most rides and they are shifted to cycling. The average length of a transit trip is under 10km, and many are shorter. Moreover, trips are often comprised of multiple hops each of which might be quite small. There is a small question of how much uptake there would be in poor weather conditions.
  • Shift 75% of trips under 2km to walking by 2040.
    • Even some transit trips are short, and transit, especially with improved service, is the natural place for these trips. It is not clear whether the plan would be to somehow deter transit users from making very short trips just as, indeed, a car driver would.

[Revenue and cost issues are discussed in more detail later in this article.]

With all of the planned investment, transit’s mode share of travel is projected to fall, while walking and cycling would rise considerably in part because of the policy of diverting short trips. It simply does not make sense to push people off of transit just at the point where we are trying to encourage transit use. This part of the plan is laughably incoherent, and is an example of how good intentions can be undermined by poorly crafted policy.

For example, it is less than 5km from Liberty Village to Yonge Street, and if we were to take the proposal seriously, we would expect most people to cycle to work downtown, not take GO or the streetcar services. I look forward to the public meeting where this scheme is unveiled to the residents. If the demand for GO and for the King car is any indication, they do not want to use “active transportation”. Similarly, the planned development at East Harbour is less than 5km from downtown.

Meanwhile, transit electrification itself only eliminates 3 per cent of existing emissions, assuming a clean source of electricity. The subway and streetcar systems already are electrified, and both have capacity for growing demand if only more service were operated.

Reports:

The Council motion reads, in part:

City Council endorse the targets and actions outlined in Attachment B to the report (December 2, 2021) from the Interim Director, Environment and Energy, titled “TransformTO Net Zero Strategy”.

Councillor Layton moved two amendments:

* Request the Board of the Toronto Transit Commission to identify opportunities to accelerate the Green Bus Program and to request the CEO, Toronto Transit Commission to report to the Board in the second quarter of 2022 on these opportunities.

* City Council request the City Manager, in consultation with the General Manager of the Toronto Transit Commission, to outline in the 2022 Budget proposal options to increase spending on surface vehicles and hiring additional operators aimed at increasing ridership to get us on the path to achieving the TransformTO goals.

The first amendment echoes a request from the TTC Board to its management at the December 20, 2021 meeting. Acceleration of eBus purchases will require additional funding from somewhere, as well as a vendor capable of meeting a larger order. It will also have effects on TTC infrastructure needs for garaging.

The second amendment is more pressing because it speaks to the 2022 Budget process that will launch on January 13. If the TTC is going to ramp up service this year, this must be factored into the budget. A likely problem will be that any growth beyond that now planned will be entirely on the City’s dime rather than supported by other governments. However, we need to understand what could be done, if only to know the cost should a “fairy godmother” show up with some spare change.

Neither the amendment nor the short-term target for 2022-2025 gives any indication of just what is meant by “better” transit service, nor do they distinguish between restoring pre-covid service levels and going beyond that to encourage more ridership.

The points listed above for NZ2050 are excerpted from Attachment C, the technical background report. A casual reader might think that Council has embraced a very expansive view of transit’s role, but they have not.

The tactics from Attachment C are notably absent from Attachment B which refers to them, but actually lists a much more restricted set of transit goals. I have confirmed with City staff that Council has only endorsed Attachment B.

Q: For clarification: There are, broadly speaking, two levels of a shift in the emphasis on transit in the short term plan to 2030 and in the longer term to 2040 and beyond. Reading the Council motion, it appears that Council has endorsed the short term plan (Appendix B), but has not endorsed the more aggressive targets of the longer term set out in Appendix C. Is this a correct interpretation?

A: Yes. City Council endorsed the targets and the actions outlined in Attachment B ‘TransformTO Net Zero Strategy’. Attachment C is a technical backgrounder report that was used to inform the targets and actions that were recommended and adopted.

Email from Steve Munro to Toronto Media Relations, December 29, 2021. Response from Toronto Environment & Energy Division, January 10, 2022.

That is a polite way of saying “we had some really aggressive ideas, but we know enough not to bring them to Council”.

“Transit” vs “Transition”

In the process of reviewing the reports, I searched on the word “transit”, but got hits more frequently on “transition” as there are many other sectors where reduction or elimination of emissions are possible and on a large scale.

According to the most recent greenhouse gas inventory, transportation is the second largest source of GHG emissions, accounting for 36 percent of total emissions with approximately 97 per cent of all transportation emissions originating from passenger cars, trucks, vans, and buses. Gasoline accounts for about 30 per cent of Toronto’s total GHG emissions.

TransformTO: Critical Steps for Net Zero by 2040. p. 30

Here is a pie chart showing the relative contribution of each proposed action in the Attachment C list which is a more aggressive set of changes than Council adopted. Note the small contribution of transit (red) compared with other areas such as personal and commercial vehicles and changes to building energy use.

Based on Section 7: Low-Carbon Actions pp 52-56 in the Net Zero Technical Report

Another way to look at this is shown in a chart of energy sources and emissions generated by each transportation sector as the full NZ plan is implemented.

  • Top left: the emissions of urban buses are shown in green. This falls off to zero as the bus fleet electrifies.
  • Middle left: the decline in diesel (green) is a combination of transit, trucking and a small contribution from diesel-powered autos.
  • Bottom left: Cars and light trucks are the overwhelming contributors of emissions within the transportation sector.
  • On the right, the charts are harder to accept at face value because they include the effect of a very large shift of short trips to active transportation. An interesting comparison would be what might happen if autos electrified, but did not lose mode share.

That last point has a knock-on effect because if short trips are not shifted, but are only electrified, they will contribute a substantial demand to generating and charging capacity, not to mention continued auto traffic and competition for road space.

Net Zero Technical Report, p. 91
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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?

Metrolinx Don Valley Layover “Consultation” Update (Corrected)

Correction: Metrolinx has advised community members that the pop-up at Frankland School is one of a series of such events and is not intended as a formal consultation session given with almost no notice.

In their continued goal of always being right (one might say “Resistance Is Futile”), Metrolinx has published another article about why we just must have the Don Valley Layover track on the former Don Branch from roughly Rosedale Valley Road to the “Half Mile Bridge”.

There is little new in this article which re-iterates much previous material, but at greater length in an attempt to appear oh-so-reasonable.

Of particular interest is the sense that after resisting community input, Metrolinx appears to be softening their position. “Appears” is the operative word here.

While working on that, Metrolinx is making sure to protect the Don Valley, as the area sees this work to come later this month (December).

• Arborists (tree experts) will evaluate trees in the vicinity of the proposed layover
• Biologists will assess the habitat features in the adjacent area 
• Heritage experts will assess any impacts on heritage features in the area including the Prince Edward Viaduct
• Engineers will assess the current infrastructure.

Metrolinx initiated a procurement process for the technical advisor that will advance the design for the layover facility. In addition to architects and engineers, this team will include landscape architects and restoration experts.

Metrolinx expects to have the consultant on board early in 2022 to begin the initial design and work with the community.

What is not clear is whether there will actually be any change to the proposed design, or if this is a typical “consultation” where the community gets to choose the colour of the wallpaper.

There will be a pop-up consultation at Frankland School tonight (Dec 2) starting at 4:30 pm. What, you say you don’t know about this? That’s no surprise as Metrolinx does not mention it on their own engagement site, and few people who live in the area have heard of it. However, in due course it will serve the purpose of reassuring Metrolinx Board members and politicians that there has been “consultation”.

See correction text at the beginning of this article.

Metrolinx claims that the Don Branch is the only suitable location, but they have never addressed key questions:

  • Metrolinx claims that the “Rosedale Siding”, a second track on the GO Richmond Hill corridor west of the Don River, cannot be used for storage as it is required as a passing track. (Indeed with the recent diversion of VIA trains over this route, GO and VIA trains passed each other using this siding.) However, they fail to acknowledge that the right-of-way held three tracks, not two, in the past, and that a third track could be restored. (See photos in this article.)
  • Metrolinx claims that support buildings are required at this location even though a similar storage facility on the Lakeshore East corridor at Midland has no buildings and trains are simply parked there.
  • Metrolinx has not addressed a proposal to place the support buildings and parking, to the extent that they are actually required, at the north end of the layover track beside the Bayview/DVP connection road rather than at the Viaduct.
  • Metrolinx plans to use the Richmond Hill corridor as a turnback area for trains at Union Station. However, they are electrifying double track all the way to Pottery Road, far further than is needed as a turnback facility. This implies that the line will be used for something else, possibly storage of trains, but Metrolinx is silent on this.

Metrolinx talks about reduction in the footprint of the layover facility, but this typically refers to revisions made a few years ago when the proposed location was changed and some of the buildings were redesigned. They have not addressed why the buildings are needed if only between-rush hour storage is planned, as opposed to the ovenight operations that were contemplated in the original scheme.

By conflating changes made in the past with current community criticism, Metrolinx implies that they are altering their scheme today. That is misleading, as parliamentarians would say.

The whole matter of Metrolinx’ relationship with trees is fraught on many of their projects. Of particular concern is that they bring in an arborist to review the situation well after they pass the point of no return in design lockdown.

The site review they now plan is rather odd considering that the Environmental Assessment and Site Selection processes are complete. If they are truly contemplating reopening the question, this would run contrary to their approach on many projects where “consultation” proceeds while Metrolinx assumes that nothing will change and plans accordingly.

In a separate article, Metrolinx claims that the area to be occupied has already been disturbed by construction.

Placing these buildings immediately north of the viaduct will take advantage of construction that has already been done in the area. This is an area where green space was previously disturbed during the rehabilitation of the viaduct and there is already an access road in place to support an adjacent hydro facility.

That statement might have been valid for the originally proposed location south of the Viaduct which was used some years back as a staging area for work on the bridge. However, the area north of the Viaduct is treed as anyone can see looking down from the subway on the viaduct, and as I can simply by looking out my apartment window. Even the staging area south of the bridge has grown back in, and the idea that it is expendable because it was “disturbed” is no longer valid, but it suits Metrolinx to misrepresent actual conditions.

(For the record, I live in the building at the upper right of this image.)

Google Earth June 2021

At the heart of this debate is a fundamental distrust of Metrolinx’ intentions based on their dealings with many communities in many projects. “Trust” is not a word one would use.

I have no illusions that this work will be stopped, but wish that Metrolinx would stop trying to prove “the community” wrong and address real concerns about their proposals. This is a small part of a much larger project, but it shows just how things can go wrong with “public participation”.

Infrastructure Ontario October 2021 Update

Infrastructure Ontario (IO) has issued its project status update for fall 2021 together with an overview letter from their CEO, Michael Lindsay.

Little has changed in the transit projects, but IO and Metrolinx are shifting away from their original, much-ballyhooed model where public contract risk was minimized by a transfer to the private sector. Instead there is more talk about collaboration and mechanisms to make contracts more palatable to would-be bidders. It is no secret that a few years ago a major firm refused to bid on Metrolinx work on the proposed terms.

Building on the experience of the collaborative Alliance model in use for the Union Station Enhancement Project, IO’s partnership with Metrolinx to expand the GTHA’s network of public transit continues to advance and evolve. Last month, Metrolinx and IO launched the RFQ for the Scarborough Subway Extension – Stations, Rail, and Systems project, introducing a Progressive Design-Build approach. Like the Progressive P3 procurement strategy being introduced on hospital projects, the subway extension procurement includes the benefits of working with a partner on design work, addressing and avoiding considerable contract risk prior to signing a final contract to deliver the project. Following considerable discussion and consultation with industry, this complex, multi-billion-dollar project will be contracted as a targeted price versus the fixed price of our P3 models.

Like our contract packaging strategy for both Scarborough Subway Extension and Eglinton Crosstown West Extension, we expect to take a multi-package staged approach of delivering the Yonge North Subway Extension. That work would begin with an advance tunnels package that we expect to be procured using a classic DBF contract. Pending government approval, our hope is to have the RFQ for that procurement in market early next year.

Letter from Michael Lindsay, CEO of IO, October 14, 2021

The update contains projects from multiple ministries and agencies, and I have extracted the transit projects in the table linked below. This table shows the status of each project as it appears in the quarterly IO updates with the current changes highlighted in yellow.

Changes in this interation are:

  • The structure of the Scarborough Subway Extension has been changed from “TBD” to “Progressive Design Build” where first a partner is chosen with a Development Phase Agreement, and then a Project Agreement once design reaches the point of locking in the construction phase. Note that “Design Build” does not include operation and maintenance as the SSE will be part of the TTC’s subway system.
  • The Yonge North Subway Extension to Richmond Hill has slipped slightly for issuance of the Request for Qualifications and of the Request for Proposals, but this is offset by moving the contract award up from Fall to Summer 2023.

Several GO Transit projects are listed for award in 2021, but they have not yet been announced.

Beyond the works already in progress, no transit projects are up for award before Fall 2022. This means that if the Ford government is re-elected, they will have batch of ready-to-go announcements, but if not, there would be a last ditch chance to review some contracts either as to content (project details) or future operating principles (private vs public). Whether a Liberal or NDP government (or a coalition) would do this remains to be seen.

Ontario Line Oct/21 Consultations: Lakeshore East Joint Corridor

This meeting mainly dealt with the Early Works portion of the Ontario Line and GO Expansion projects between the Don River and Gerrard Street including construction effects and post-completion conditions.

A separate EA looking at the Ontario Line overall including future operations and mitigation of noise and vibration issues will be available in early 2022.

Metrolinx assured everyone that no construction work will begin until the Minister approves the Early Works Environmental Assessment, but that statement is true only as far as it applies to things in the EA.

Other work such as vegetation clearing was approved in the GO Expansion and Electrification EAs, and could start any time. Clearing is already in progress elsewhere in corridor and on the GO network. In the Joint Corridor it will begin later this fall, but specific dates have not been announced. A strange statement by Metrolinx claimed that any removals for the Ontario Line will not take place until the EA is approved by the Minister. This is potentially misleading given that approvals already exist by way of the approved GO Expansion.

Metrolinx appears to be less then forthright about their actual timeline. Meanwhile, they claim that consultation will continue as the project goes into detailed design. That will not occur until well into 2022.

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The Don Valley Layover: Metrolinx Replies

Recently, I wrote a piece to tie off the loose ends of the Don Valley Layover project in response to an article in the Globe & Mail. See: The Don Valley Layover: History and Options

Metrolinx sent a response to this article on October 7, 2021, which is presented in its entirety below. I have added headings and my own responses.

I thank Metrolinx and their Media & Issues Specialist, Fannie Sunshine, for their commentary on my proposal.

Electrification of the Richmond Hill Corridor (Bala Sub)

I wrote:

On the west side of the valley, the Bala Subdivision (Richmond Hill Corridor) would be upgraded with electrified double track from the Union Station Rail Corridor (USRC) to Pottery Road (a level crossing north of Bloor Street).

This explanation makes sense operationally, but the amount of electrified track is much greater than needed to act as a reversing area for trains from Union. This begs the question of whether there are other intended or possible uses.

Metrolinx responded:

Broader electrification of the Richmond Hill corridor to Richmond Hill and Bloomington is not in the GO Expansion Program. The future track requirements are a change from what is there now, but that is for currently planned and funded service, not broader expansion of the Richmond Hill Line.

This does not explain why Metrolinx requires electrification so far north of the Union Station Rail Corridor (USRC).

Midday vs Overnight Operation

I wrote:

The Environmental Assessment covering this facility is clear that the intent was for 7×24 operation with three shifts of workers and overnight train servicing. Metrolinx claims that this is not their intent and that the track would only be used to store three trains mid-day between the two peak periods. However, they have also pressed for early completion of this storage yard to replace capacity that will be temporarily lost from the Don Yard at the east end of the USRC due to construction (possibly the Ontario Line and other reconfiguration of tracks just west of the Don River). The Don Yard stores trains overnight.

Metrolinx responded:

This location will only be used for midday storage. We do not regularly store trains in the Don Yard overnight (trains may stage there on emergent purposes, but they are not stored), so the premise that Don Valley will be used to replace overnight storage at Don Yard is not accurate.

I wrote:

The original proposal included overnight servicing of trains (cleaning and fuelling). If trains will only be stored during the mid-day period, the work that would occur, and the supporting facilities, would disappear. Another mid-day storage area, on the Lake Shore East corridor near Midland, has none of the facilities planned for the Don Valley Layover. If the Layover does not require service buildings, then there is more flexibility in its possible location, and much less land is required.

Metrolinx responded:

We are currently reviewing the building requirements for midday storage, and will share the updated design as it is developed in 2022.

The traffic impact study for the Don Valley Layover was quite clear in stating that there would be three shifts of workers and that the site was for 7×24 use. This subsequently changed, but the support buildings needed for the originally-planned operation remained in the design. Metrolinx is now reviewing the need for these buildings.

The need for early provision of the Layover well in advance of service growth that would trigger it, but as a side-effect of the loss of storage in the Don Yard, was raised as a justification for proceeding soon with the project by Metrolinx in a community meeting.

This is independent from whether Metrolinx does or does not use the Don Yard overnight today.

Storing Trains West of the Don River

I wrote:

The Bala Sub and the Don Branch both run north from the USRC on the west side of the Don River. Originally there were two tracks (one used for switching freight) on the Bala Sub and one on the Don Branch. Today, there is only one Bala Sub track as far north as River Street where a second track splits off and provides a siding to south of Pottery Road. The eastern Don Branch track is overgrown but would be reconditioned under Metrolinx’ plans.

The distance from Eastern Avenue to the point north of River Street where the Don Branch crosses the river is about 1.5km. This is slightly longer than the planned layover on the east side of the river. Metrolinx currently does not plan to triple track this section, but there is definitely room as past usage shows.

Metrolinx replied:

The width of the corridor is narrower in some locations than what is shown, as it follows the shoreline of the Don River. The buildings would need to be on the east side of the tracks to access the stored trains. There is not enough room to put the support buildings and wayside power next to the Don River, and allow for safe train operations on the Bala Subdivision.

The Don Branch track, though overgrown, is still there and is the one adjacent to the river. It is retained and improved in the Metrolinx plans.

The buildings might not be required, per Metrolinx’ earlier reply. As I mentioned in an earlier article, a new layover facility on the Lake Shore East corridor at Midland does not have support buildings.

Nothing prevents a third track (present in the photos, but not there today) on the west side of the corridor, adjacent to Bayview Avenue, from being used as a storage area. This would avoid the need to cross the “live” Richmond Hill tracks to reach the stored trains.

If an access point and small parking area were required, they could be located east of Bayview at River between the north end of a possible storage track and the beginning of the existing siding on the Bala sub which occupies a corresponding part of the Metrolinx right-of-way.

Over to you, Metrolinx.

The Don Valley Layover: History and Options

In Opponents voice concerns about new GO train facility in the Don Valley, the Globe & Mail’s Oliver Moore writes about the ongoing controversy of Metrolinx’ proposed train storage facility in the Don Valley at Bloor Street.

In two previous articles, I have examined this scheme in detail.

As this debate unfolded, it became obvious that some design choices Metrolinx defends are leftovers of earlier versions, and that the actual purpose of the facility has evolved. This tangle of history and garbled explanations is a common situation for Metrolinx.

This article consolidates the main points including an additional alternative that I have not covered before.

Metrolinx’ Original Proposal

Metrolinx’ original plans for the lower Don Valley include two separate changes:

  • On the west side of the valley, the Bala Subdivision (Richmond Hill Corridor) would be upgraded with electrified double track from the Union Station Rail Corridor (USRC) to Pottery Road (a level crossing north of Bloor Street).
  • On the east side of the valley, the single-track Don Branch (a former CPR link to its mainline at Leaside) would be expanded with a three track yard south of Bloor Street. Support buildings would be located south of the Viaduct.

According to Metrolinx, the track on the Bala Subdivision would be used as a turnaround facility for eastbound GO Transit trips ending at Union Station. Instead of staying on the platform during the reversal, trains would continue east and north onto the Bala Sub, set up for westbound operation, and lay over until their return journey. Their stops both ways at Union would be like those of through trains with only a brief stay on the platform and hence a lower consumption of station capacity.

This explanation makes sense operationally, but the amount of electrified track is much greater than needed to act as a reversing area for trains from Union. This begs the question of whether there are other intended or possible uses.

The scheme for the Don Branch ran aground, so to speak, because it would occupy part of the flood plain of the Don River. The original proposal was changed to use the existing single track between the point where the line crosses to the east side of the river north to the high bridge near the Brick Works. This would provide storage for three trains nose-to-tail.

The support buildings have migrated as the plans evolved from south of the Viaduct, to underneath it, and now to a location just north of the bridge. That location requires the facility to be built on a platform several metres above the valley floor so that it is level with the existing rail line.

The Environmental Assessment covering this facility is clear that the intent was for 7×24 operation with three shifts of workers and overnight train servicing. Metrolinx claims that this is not their intent and that the track would only be used to store three trains mid-day between the two peak periods. However, they have also pressed for early completion of this storage yard to replace capacity that will be temporarily lost from the Don Yard at the east end of the USRC due to construction (possibly the Ontario Line and other reconfiguration of tracks just west of the Don River). The Don Yard stores trains overnight.

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Ontario Line Sept/21 Consultations: Eastern Segment

This article continues a series begun with Ontario Line Sept/21 Consultations: Western and Northern Segments to summarize Metrolinx open houses for the Ontario Line.

The fourth session on the downtown segment, originally scheduled for September 30, has been deferred to October 7. A new consultation to deal with the just-released Draft Early Works EAs for East Harbour and the Joint GO/Ontario Line Corridor has been scheduled for October 5.

Updated Sept. 28 at 6:30 pm: A small section of text that was still in rough draft form when this article was published has been updated to “fair copy”.

Updated Sept. 28 at 11:30 pm: Minor revisions and sundry typos corrected.

Scope

This meeting was complicated by having two major reports land only a few hours before it started, and that skewed a lot of attention to material that community attendees were not able to read and digest in time, not to mention some confusion by Metrolinx itself about some of the fine details. Metrolinx keeps scoring “own goals” like this by claiming to want debate and discussion, but acting in a way that precludes this happening.

As if that is not bad enough, some of the key issues the community expected to hear about such as tree clearing along the corridor are still under study and there is not yet an inventory of what will be affected. With the billions available to Metrolinx, this late delivery suggests that it was a recent add-on to their workload, not something they could have undertaken months ago.

Needless to say, Metrolinx really does not want to talk about the “hybrid” scheme to route the Ontario Line from East Harbour Station to an underground alignment that would travel north on the already-approved Relief Line Carlaw-Pape route. More about this later.

According to the two Early Works documents, the combined scope of work is:

East Harbour

  • reconfiguration of the existing Lakeshore East GO tracks to accommodate station facilities and future Ontario Line tracks;
  • construction of station facilities such as platforms and entrances;
  • replacement and expansion of the existing Eastern Avenue rail bridge to accommodate four Lakeshore East GO tracks and two future Ontario Line tracks; and
  • site preparation activities such as grading, demolition of existing structures where required, and utility relocation or protection.

Joint Corridor: Eastern to Pape

  • Reconfiguration of existing GO tracks to support future Ontario Line infrastructure;
  • Replacement of the existing rail bridges at Queen Street East, Dundas Street East and Logan Avenue;
  • Construction of new bridges at Dundas Street East and Logan Avenue to support future Ontario Line tracks;
  • Construction of the foundations for GO Overhead Catenary System (OCS) poles and supporting infrastructure to accommodate future fourth GO track;
  • Construction of retaining walls; and
  • Construction of noise barriers, including east of Pape Avenue.

Reconfiguration of existing GO tracks involves more than just side-to-side realignment to fit in four where there are now three. Metrolinx plans to change the elevation of the rail corridor so that there will be a consistent 5m clearance under all of the bridges. This requires not just new bridges, but a change to the level of the railway between the bridges. The change is greatest at Eastern Avenue reduces gradually north to Gerrard.

An important note about the “Early Works” reports: With the exception of an Operational Noise and Vibration Study that looks at post-opening conditions for expanded GO and Ontario Line service, the Early Works reports consider only the effect of those specific works, mainly the construction activity, not of the permanent change to the neighbourhood or the effect of future GO or OL construction. That information will not show up until the final Environmental Assessment by which time it will be almost impossible to alter the plans.

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