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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A Very Busy GO Corridor (Sept. 2021 Update)

Updated October 20, 2021: A table has been added as a postscript showing the numbers underlying the charts in the article that consolidate GO and Ontario Line traffic.

Back in May 2021, I wrote about the total number of trains that Metrolinx plans to operate in the corridor between East Harbour and Gerrard Stations. See A Very Busy Go Corridor.

Metrolinx has released a Noise & Vibration Study showing, among other things, a revised table of service levels for the routes that will operate in this corridor. See LSE-JC N&V Operations Report issued as Appendix C to the Ontario Line Lakeshore East Joint Corridor Early Works Report. The detailed breakdown of services by motive power type, express and local, and track assignments begins on page 60 of the Operations Report.

The new numbers differ from those published previously:

  • There is an increase primarily in the number of GO express trains.
  • The new report includes Ontario Line maximum service levels for 2060 and beyond.

During a recent online consultation for the East Segment of the Ontario Line, Metrolinx claimed that the count of trains cited by the community is too high (at about 1,500 per day) and that the number is around 900.

Quite bluntly, Metrolinx staff should read their own reports. Too often they give misinformed answers to communities to blunt criticism while being out of touch with their own proposals. Whether this is deliberate misrepresentation or simple incompetence is a debate for another day.

The tables in the Operations Report show very clearly the projected counts of GO, Ontario Line and other trains. (Note that there is no provision for the addition of a proposed High Frequency Rail service on top of this.) The numbers in the spreadsheet below are copied from the Operations Report. The only change is the addition of totals.

The grand total of trains on the expanded GO corridor will be 691 of which 581 will operate between 7am and 11pm, and 110 will operate between 11pm and 7am. (See LSE OnCorr Tracks, East Harbour to Danforth – Combined Table, p62.)

The number of Ontario Line trains begins at 912 per day in 2030 (per the Preliminary Design Business Case), ramps up to 984 by 2040 (again from the PDBC) and to 1130 by 2060 (Operations Report).

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Fighting Climate Change Needs More Transit

Climate change and the need to “green” party platforms trigger proposals to spend money on transit, especially at election time. An oft-cited stat is that the transportation sector represents the largest contribution to greenhouse gases. This is the launching pad for transit spending proposals, but they are often misguided if not counterproductive.

The emissions due to the public transit sector are a very small portion of the total within “transportation”, and the real problem lies with the vast numbers of trips taken in private autos. If these are not diverted to modes with lower emissions, changes made to transit will achieve little.

Shifting demand to public transit will require more and better transit, and the magnitude of that shift must be substantial to make any dent in overall emissions. Political promises offer money for various schemes, but a gaping hole is better funding for day-to-day operations.

Far too often, plans focus on capital projects: electrification of bus and rail networks, not to mention rapid transit construction. Electrification by itself does not produce one more bus or rail trip, only a cleaner, quieter one. Rapid transit construction can improve travel options in the affected corridors, but system wide benefits and increased demand requires more than a new subway here and there.

Commuter Rail

Electrification of commuter rail service (GO Transit in Toronto) can bring improvements in travel time and reduced operating costs. Fewer electric trains with better performance can provide the same level of service as more, less sprightly diesel-hauled trains, or conversely more service can be provided at the same cost. This is always a tug of war for transit systems: take the savings from running fewer, faster or larger trains/vehicles, or invest the savings in more service. If all we do is to replace a 15-minute service of 2,000-passenger trains by changing out the locomotive, no additional service is provided and hence no contribution from reduced auto commuting.

A further wrinkle lies in the evolution of railway technology with battery powered trains used for “off wire” service on minor lines where the cost of conventional overhead is prohibitive for the service level, or where the line is not owned by the commuter operator. CN and CP have been quite firm that they will not allow electrification on their trackage and GO, for example, must make do with electrifying tracks that it owns.

Planning for electrification includes power and charging infrastructure as well as fleet plans that can span a few decades given the longevity of railway equipment. Government attention to transit projects can be measured in nanoseconds, especially when a former proponent goes to their electoral rest.

Metrolinx has yet to produce a consolidated roadmap for electrification, and the situation is complicated by a political desire to push rail service beyond its current limits faster than the wire would catch up, if ever. A candidate route for electrification might sprout an extension beyond the trackage Metrolinx owns, and that changes the planning for how the entire corridor will be served.

A further problem lies in Metrolinx’ decision under a former government to leave technology decisions to a future P3 builder/operator of the GO rail network. This is an abdication of the public sector’s role in setting policy, but it suits a political climate where significant decisions can be hidden within the “commercially confidential” P3 arrangements.

Subways, Subways, Subways!

Everybody wants subways, but they do not necessarily produce a change in travel patterns proportionate to their cost and implementation periods. The Spadina extension to Vaughan benefits its riders, but most of them were already using transit for their travel. We have given them a faster trip, but not diverted many cars off of the road.

A fundamental problem with subways is that they tend to be extensions of existing routes and serve demand oriented to downtown areas. Improved connectivity for existing riders is a good thing, but we should take care not to treat a big hole in the ground as automatically producing a huge environmental benefit.

Rapid transit that serves the region cannot depend on subways as a solution. They are too expensive, too long to build and provide too little coverage. What is needed is the will to take road space for a more finely-grained network than a subway plan could achieve, and to focus not just on downtown but on travel across the region. This will be challenging because we have built a car-oriented region with very diverse travel patterns that cannot easily be replaced by transit.

Electrification of bus service will be a nice show of environmental support, but if those buses run infrequently and do not provide a true network of service, they will carry few riders and auto emissions will continue to dominate the roads.

What About eBuses?

Electric buses are starting to make inroads on transit systems as replacements for diesels and diesel-electric hybrids. The TTC’s head-to-head test of three vendors’ products is still underway, but a large purchase is likely within a year. The hope is that new buses will not expose us to the type of reliability issues seen in early hybrid buses (also hailed as a “green” solution in their day, as were the compressed natural gas buses before them).

Electric buses have higher up-front costs, not to mention the charging infrastructure, although they are expected to have lower lifetime operating costs. Schemes to fund electric buses can run aground (and have in the past) if they attempt to achieve too much, too fast.

The nature of provincial and federal programs is that they tend to be short term policies, funding that evaporates if it is not used within a brief period. This was a major problem with some of the pandemic relief for “infrastructure” stimulus because it could not be spent within the allowed time period. A related issue arises if government “A” offers funding that is conditional on governments “B” and “C” chipping in a share. This can trigger a need for a city like Toronto to spend capital it had not planned simply to get the handout from another government within the allowed window. If that funding is tied to a more expensive technology, the net benefit could be zero if old buses are simply replaced one-for-one.

Bus fleets have a lifetime of about 12 years, and the TTC’s fleet, for example, has vehicles of varying ages. Any electrification program that is short term will trigger either premature replacement of buses (some of which themselves may have been bought with previous rounds of “stimulus”), or will limit the program’s take-up to only part of the fleet.

If governments are not willing to make a long-term commitment to funding, then planning for any conversion will be difficult.

Free Transit is Not The Answer

Another supposedly pro-transit scheme is the reduction or elimination of transit fares. This is a populist appeal to lowering user costs, but it would not contribute anything to actual service.

For medium and large sized system, fares cover much of the operating cost ranging roughly from 40 to 70 per cent. On smaller systems where fares now cover a small proportion of total costs, and service has capacity for higher demand, free transit is a simple option, although it contains the seeds of its own failure if ongoing funding does not keep up with operating costs and demand.

There is a parallel with using ride shares as a transit alternative, and one trial system that ran out of allocated funding because demand exceeded projections. If the response to “we need more service” is “we cannot afford it”, then the political commitment to greening transportation is simply not serious.

The shift to free transit, however provided, could produce more demand, but service will always be constrained by how much we, collectively, are willing to spend.

Without question, the cost of riding transit is one of many things those with little income must juggle. If the desire is to make travel cheaper for them, this should not occur for every rider just because of the political simplicity of the message.

On the TTC, fares contributed just under $1.2 billion in 2019, two-thirds of the system’s total cost. Even a reduction to 50 per cent recovery through fares would have required an added $300 million in annual operating subsidy. If we have that kind of money to redirect as transit subsidy, let alone another $900 million it would take to eliminate fares, might it be better spent on programs directed to those who need them?

Free transit benefits all riders, but only those who choose to shift to transit represent a net “green” saving if they were previously auto users.

It’s All About Service

In all of this, the focus has been to convert existing systems, not to expand the level of service. It is not enough to say “we will help you buy electric buses”. What is needed is a commitment to increasing transit fleets (and building the garages needed to house them), and vitally to the ongoing operation of these vehicles to provide more service, more capacity to draw auto trips onto transit.

We are coming out of the pandemic era with a hope to attract riders from only two years ago back to the system, let alone gaining net new demand. Current TTC bus and streetcar service sits well below the level possible with existing fleets, let alone any expansion. The problem is a lack of operating funds, and by extension with staffing levels. You can’t run a bus or streetcar without someone to drive it, and someone else to maintain it.

At no point has the TTC produced an estimate of the operational and financial implications of full utilization of its bus and streetcar fleets. How much service could be on the road if only we would pay to operate it?

What is completely missing from debates on greener transit and its contribution to emission reduction is the importance of service, of transit as a clear, attractive alternative. A bus with a nice green paint job that shows up every 15 minutes, if it’s on time, is no solution.

Contemplating the Network Effect

In a recent Metrolinx Blog article (Phil Verster explains the network effect and how it will create new transit possibilities for generations of customers), the CEO discusses how the presence of a frequent, well-connected network of transit will change the way people move around the Toronto area.

This is little surprise to those who long advocated for a view of transit that addresses not just core area commuter traffic, but the wider need for travel around the region without using a private vehicle. GO Transit was conceived as an alternative to highway building in the 1960s, but expansion beyond relief for core-bound highway traffic is minimal. One need only look at traffic on Highway 401 (among others) to see the scale of travel markets that have not been addressed by transit in the past half-century.

Looking east to GO Exhibition Station from Dufferin Street, August 1972

Verster’s focus is the GO Expansion program. Important though that is, GO is hobbled by the geography of Toronto’s historical, radial railway network. There is only one cross-city line within Toronto (CPR) and one crossing the southern part of York Region (CNR). Both of these are busy freight routes where insertion of passenger services would be challenging, assuming that the railways even agreed to such a scheme, and their locations do not coincide with major population and job centres.

The railway network was created primarily to serve freight, and the early industrial districts of the region lie along rail corridors. The node at Union served not just passenger traffic, but also as an interchange with the harbour. That was very much the case until trucks took over much of the shipping market and highways became the focus for development. GO Transit inherited railway corridors whose locations fit a century-old industrial pattern. Modal interchange shifted to rail and truck terminals in the suburbs, and railways shifted much more to a line-haul role with trucks handling local distribution.

GO’s first half-century was a comparatively easy one taking the low-hanging fruit of existing rail corridors, building massive parking facilities along these lines, and basking in the arrival of thousands of commuters. That model does not work any more because the web of travel demands is much more complex than the legacy railway network. Parking garages are expensive and they occupy valuable real estate at stations.

Parking lots are a quick and relatively cheap way to address the “last mile problem” of linking stations to their customers, and GO is one of the largest operators of parking facilities in North America. As of April 2019, GO transit had 85,055 parking spaces while the rail network carried 219,000 daily boardings (the equivalent of 109,500 round trips). That is almost four parking spaces for every five commuters. (I have ignored the GO bus network here because it is much less dependent on park-and-ride demand.)

That model simply does not scale up, nor does it provide a “network effect” because it is highly dependent on personal vehicles. The system is capacity-constrained by would-be riders’ ability to get to the trains.

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GO Expansion Don Valley Layover Update

On June 24, Metrolinx held an online consultation session for its proposed Don Valley Layover. I wrote about this on June 27 in Metrolinx’ Ill-Considered Don Valley Layover. This article is an update based on that session.

There have been many Metrolinx consultations recently, and a few common threads appeared sitting through this many hours of their presentations and Q&A sessions. Some of the frustration with Metrolinx comes from the way they present material, and from what appear to be shifting positions on key issues.

What Is The Don Valley Yard?

As a quick review, this “yard” is in fact a single storage track, the former CPR, now Metrolinx, Don Branch that once connected the CPR mainline at Leaside to Union Station. It is called a yard because the original proposal was for a three track yard south of the Prince Edward Viaduct.

Metrolinx proposes to convert the portion of this line for storage of three trains between the point where the line crosses to the east side of the Don River roughly at Rosedale Valley Road and the high level bridge near the Brick Works. The site is not accessible by public transit, although it is passed on one side by the DVP and on the other by the Don Valley Trail with many cyclists and pedestrians.

Here is the aerial view.

Metrolinx June 29, 2021 Presentation, p. 2

This will require the creation of a service road alongside the track for access to and from stored trains as well as supporting buildings and a small parking lot just north of the Prince Edward Viaduct. The site servicing plan, which includes buildings, roads, utilities and elevations (grey numbers on the diagonal giving the height above sea level in metres) is shown below. The buildings (from south to north) include an electrical building, and air compressor, a staff building and a sanitary waste building.

Click for a higher resolution image.

The valley floor rises gradually to about 80m at the western edge of the Metrolinx site, but the roadway linking the buildings is at about 88m. The parking area shown is on the valley floor, but there is a ramp for vehicles up to the level of the rail corridor. There is also a stairway from the parking up to the staff building. The land owned by Metrolinx is outlined in a broken black line “— – –”. Because of the change in elevation, a retaining wall (yellow in the aerial view) at least 8m high will be required except adjacent to the rail line.

The claimed purpose of the facility is to store three trains between the AM and PM peak periods and, possibly, to perform some light servicing on them. This does not align with the original proposal that clearly talked of a 7×24 operation with three shifts of staff. That might have been an error, a cut-and-paste job from one layover site to another, but the traffic study does speak of arrivals and departures corresponding to shift changes well outside of the midday period.

In any event, there is no provision in the plan for fuelling and Metrolinx claims that they intend to operate here only between the peak periods. We shall see.

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Raising the Rails in Riverside: Metrolinx Comments

In a recent article Metrolinx Plans Major Grade Change on Lakeshore East Corridor I noted that a new set of drawings had appeared in the Ontario Line Neighbourhood Update, East web page showing a proposed change in the elevation of tracks in the shared GO/OL corridor between East Harbour and Gerrard Stations.

Here is a Metrolinx illustration showing the change. The layout as originally proposed is on top, and the revised layout is on the bottom. Note that where green space is shown neside the corridor, this does not necessarily exist as some of the Metrolinx property line is at or close to the sidewalk. The retaining wall plus noise barrier would be immediately adjacent.

I posed a series of questions to Metrolinx in an attempt to sort fact from fiction on this matter, and today had a call with their project staff to sort through the issues. The principal speakers for Metrolinx were Malcolm MacKay and Richard Tucker.

When was the decision made to regrade the rail corridor? Why is this being done?

According to Metrolinx, this has been underway for at least 6 months as a collaborative effort with the TTC and City of Toronto to establish bridge clearances and other design elements.

Substandard clearances are a concern on the road network for both the City and the TTC. Those of us who follow TTC service interruption reports often read of “mechanical problems” near Queen and DeGrassi Streets. These are almost always due to damaged or broken overhead thanks either to a dewirement, or to an over-height vehicle striking the TTC wires.

A related concern is that the bridges in this corridor are about a century old, and this is an opportunity to replace them with new structures that will have lower maintenance costs

Later in the conversation, I asked whether Metrolinx was saying, in effect, that “the City made us do it”. To this they responded strongly that they are not blaming the City, but there is a 5m standard for bridge clearances that they are following. They went on to say, possibly imprudently, that there were pro and anti camps on the question of whether this work should be done.

Obviously the pro camp won out, but drawings showing the change are quite recent, and there is no mention of this in all of the studies that have been published.

What is the extent of the work, i.e. between what locations will the track be raised from its current level?

From east of the Don River to Gerrard Street. According to Metrolinx, he TTC still has an interest in the Dundas Street bridge because they are protecting for an extension of streetcar service to Gerrard Station via Dundas and Carlaw.

By how much will the track be raised?

The change varies by location, but it will be between 900mm and 1500mm according to Metrolinx. For those who still think in Imperial measure, that’s just under 3 feet to just under 5 feet.

I asked whether a plan showing the new elevations exists in the style of “roll plans” that have been provided for other corridor projects. This will probably be published along with other details for the next round of public consultations later in 2021.

What are your staging plans for maintaining GO service during this work?

Metrolinx would likely slew the existing GO tracks to create work space on one side of the rail corridor at a time. This would allow all work to be done within the corridor rather than using adjacent spaces. Metrolinx’ property is wide enough for six tracks, and this means that three could be maintained in operation by shifting them to one side while work was done on the other side. There are no switches in this segment, and therefore shifting the tracks is relatively straightforward.

If low ridership on GO continues long enough, it might be possible to reduce the corridor temporarily to two tracks giving more room to work around the live operations.

What are the effects on the bridges in the affected area?

The bridges are old dating back to 1924. Metrolinx intends to replace them with new structures regardless of whether they are owned by the City or Metrolinx.

The elevation change will be entirely at Metrolinx track level. The road elevations will not change.

When I published my article, a few emails arrived suggesting what was behind this change. One claimed that the High Frequency Rail (HFR) project wanted a different track standard to support their planned operating speed. This seemed a bit far-fetched considering how close the tracks in question are to Union Station, and how short (2km) the segment is. The change in travel time from Toronto to Montreal would probably be measured in seconds.

Can you confirm or deny that at least part of the reason for the regrading is to suit HFR? If so, does the intent to use “tilting” trains change the spacing of the tracks needed for clearance?

Metrolinx replied that HFR did not play into decision making for rail heights or tilting trains. The alignment is designed to Metrolinx standards. They are not precluding HFR, but not changing bridges or track layout on HFR’s behalf.

A Question of Transparency

I will take it on faith that the City and TTC really have been working with Metrolinx for half a year on this matter, and that there may have been a debate about whether regrading the corridor and raising the bridges was actually necessary.

That said, Metrolinx published extensive studies and community presentations showing the corridor at its present elevation, and with no provision for the construction effects of rebuilding the segment from the Don River to Gerrard, not even a mention as a possibile subject for further study.

There has been no evaluation of the construction effects, and proposals regarding mitigation of the combined OL and GO effects here are based on current track elevations. This affects sound barrier heights and the amount of room available for corridor “softening” with treatments such as vegetated slopes or additional trees where room is available for them. The drawings purporting to show what the corridor would look like simply do not match what Metrolinx now plans to build.

All this is not to say that raising the corridor and improving clearances are, on their own, bad ideas. It would be refreshing to have fewer service interruptions on the streetcar network here, especially considering that over half of the fleet is based just east of this bridge at Leslie Barns and Russell Carhouse.

If this has been a City and TTC concern for months, why does the local Councillor not appear to know this could be part of the project scope?

Another obvious question must be what effect this will have on the project’s cost and duration. Who is picking up the tab?

One cannot help wondering whether it is only good fortune that this design change came to light during the current round of consultations.

What else don’t we know about Metrolinx’ intent in this and other corridors?

All of the debates about the project until now were based on a false presentation of how the enlarged use of the rail corridor would affect the neighbourhood.

This is not just a question of settling a debate among “the experts” about whether to raise the rail corridor or not. This is not a minor scope change. This is not an “oops”.

Even with the best of intentions, the basic issues are transparency in public consultation and trust in Metrolinx.