John Tory might be gone as Mayor, but SmartTrack clings on like grim death even in his absence. A report before an upcoming meeting of Toronto’s Executive Committee shows that the total cost of the five remaining stations is estimated by Metrolinx at $1.697 billion, yes that’s with a “b”, or $234 million higher than the City’s $1.463 billion budget for this work.
Federal funding of $585 million has already been committed, but the remaining $1.112 billion is on the City’s dime. The City’s share will come from “development charges, tax increment financing and the City Building Fund” [CBF] according to the report. The CBF is an extra levy on the City Property Tax (recently extended to compensate for increased borrowing costs) that will help to pay for one of John Tory’s legacies.
Metrolinx seeks full reimbursement for this amount, but the City in March directed “the City Manager to negotiate with the Province of Ontario for the Province to commit to paying all amounts above the original Program Budget”. Negotiations are ongoing and a supplementary report will follow at an unspecified date.
The station locations are shown below, and they include a key station a East Harbour that will be the interchange between GO Transit, the Ontario Line and a possible future Broadview Avenue streetcar extension into the Port Lands. Why the City is paying for a major regional interchange is something of a mystery, but even worse is the fact that we now face a per-station cost of about $340 million for surface rail stations. The exact numbers are shrouded in the usual Metrolinx secrecy.
This is a sad story where too much political capital has been expended for anyone to ask just why we are building these stations, and especially why the SmartTrack moniker survives. With all of the hand-wringing over City budgets, the survival of at least some of these stations as City-funded projects should be reconsidered.
Updated March 17, 2023 at 7:15 pm: The Early Works list for East Harbour Station has been corrected. In the original version of the article that section was copied as a template from another station’s entry, but not changed to reflect the East Harbour site.
This project is the remnant of a scheme first proposed by mayoral candidate John Tory in May 2014 to overlay a frequent surface rapid transit service from Unionville to Pearson Airport using primarily GO Transit corridors.
The proposed route included a bizarre idea of running a mainline railway corridor along Eglinton Avenue West in lands originally reserved for the Richview Expressway, and later intended for the Eglinton Crosstown LRT line. SmartTrack itself descended from an idea to run a similar route whose western leg would use the GO Milton corridor rather than Eglinton Avenue. Both of these foresaw frequent service with the dual benefit of providing more capacity into the core and making office/industrial areas that were choked by gridlock on roads more accessible by transit.
Both ideas were deeply flawed, and the issues with SmartTrack are covered in detail in many other reviews. In fairly short order, pieces started to fall off of the proposal, but it remained a scheme to add stops to GO within the City of Toronto and use GO at least in part for urban rapid transit.
One fairly early casualty was the notion of a separate SmartTrack service. This was replaced by the idea that at least some GO trains would serve new stops, although the number of such trains was always hard to nail down as Metrolinx service plans changed. Getting a strait answer out of them proved almost impossible, and the best we can get today is a 15 minute service on all corridors with more if demand justifies this.
This is considerably poorer service than was envisioned in the SmartTrack hype and in the way it was presented to Council. Indeed, ST was seen to be so competitive in the Scarborough corridor that the Scarborough Subway Extension was shifted east to avoid the competition.
That is a far cry from SmartTrack’s original promise, but the brand lived on because it was Mayor Tory’s plan. Dropping the name would be suicidal for City and TTC planners, even though Tory suffered from an acute case of “the emperor’s new clothes”. Metrolinx simply humoured the Mayor by using his name for their new stops.
We have reached the point where only four of the original 22 stops on the ST line remain: Finch-Kennedy, East Harbour, King-Liberty and St. Clair-Old Weston. A station on the Barrie line, not the original ST corridor although the format of the map below disguises this, was added.
All five of the station projects are running later than the originally proposed opening dates. Details are given in each station’s section.
A sixth station was proposed at Front-Spadina, but there is no sign of it yet even though the City’s contribution to the station dates back to a $60 million payment toward GO expansion costs in 2017-2019. (See Revised Ontario-Toronto Agreement in Principle at page 9.)
Toronto’s SmartTrack Station costs are, under that agreement, deemed to be the City’s contribution to GO Transit Growth Capital for 2017-18 to 2024-25.
The anticipated cost of the five stations was $1.463 billion, a Metrolinx estimate, but costs have now risen by $234 million to a total of $1.697 billion. Of this, $585 million would come from the Government of Canada. Although the station-by-station breakdown is in a confidential attachment to the report, this means the average cost per station would be $339 million, a value that was once considered rich for an underground subway station.
Toronto is prepared to spend a lot of money for a handful of stations that might only see 4 trains/hour each way.
The report recommends that Council ask Metrolinx to pause the contract award for Bloor-Lansdowne station pending a guarantee from Queen’s Park that Ontario will pick up cost overrun. This is only one of many transit projects that faces problems with rising costs, not to mention projects under other portfolios.
City staff are seeking City Council direction to request the Province to pay all cost increases over the existing Program Budget of $1.463 billion to deliver the Program, which as of the date of this report is anticipated to be $234 million, as further detailed in Table 1 of Confidential Attachment 1.
A decision on the future of the Program is required urgently as the Design-Build (DB) procurement for the Bloor-Lansdowne Station contract is set to be awarded in early April. With a DB procurement, the City, through Metrolinx, would be committing to proceed to detailed design and construction. As such, there may be no opportunity for the City to reconsider or “off-ramp” its commitment to the station’s delivery once the contract is awarded. Metrolinx has secured an extension to the bid validity date with the proponent until April 5, 2023. Prior to making this commitment, City staff are seeking City Council’s direction to confirm to Metrolinx that the City will not proceed with the delivery of the Bloor-Lansdowne Station until the Province has committed the additional funding required to deliver the Program as set out above.
SmartTrack Stations Update pp 7-8.
What Should Stay? What Should Go?
City has sunk costs in design (listed in the confidential appendix), and contracts have been awarded for all but the Bloor-Lansdowne Station. It is very unlikely that Council would consider dropping any stations except for Bloor-Lansdowne, but should ask itself the question of whether proceeding with all of the stations actually makes sense. Metrolinx is unlikely to let them off the hook.
Meanwhile, conversion of the SRT corridor as a bus roadway is not yet funded because the City wants Metrolinx to pay for it. At $59 million this is small change and yet it will have a considerable benefit for both riders and for the TTC. If the work begins as soon after the SRT shutdown as possible, the bus roadway could be operational by Winter 2025, according to the TTC.
In the event the city is unable to secure the outstanding $59M for the SRT busway, will the project run along Kennedy, Ellesmere and Midland until the SSE is completed?
If the City is unable to secure funding from the province, it would ultimately have to find an alternate source if it wished to build the busway. The transit priority measures that will be implemented on Kennedy, Ellesmere, and Midland are planned to be designed as long-term solutions regardless of the busway construction; they could have legacy use for customers even beyond SSE is completed.
This is an example of how funding for projects is discussed in isolation without looking at tradeoffs that might be possible or necessary. What we do not know is how much dropping Bloor-Lansdowne from the overall plan will save in total, only that there is a $234 million overrun for the five stations.
We are in an interregnum between Mayors, and there is no sense of whether any of the would-be candidates see SmartTrack spending as an issue to revisit.
The Province of Ontario is not exactly transparent when it comes to reconciliation of announced project costs and actual spending, let along the changes that might occur along the way. A project, or group of projects, might be announced with a value in then-current dollars, and without necessarily including all future contract costs. There are various reasons behind this approach including:
The government does not want to tip its hand on the amount of money “on the table” to prospective bidders who might tailor their bid to the perceived level of funding.
Some contracts include future operating and maintenance costs as well as capital costs. In some case the announced cost does not include the O&M component, only the estimated capital portion.
Provincial projects are typically quoted in then-current dollars with future inflation to be added as it occurs, at least to the point where there is a contract in place which includes that provision.
This approach hides the likely as-spent costs and makes provincially run projects appear cheaper, at least in the short run.
This is fundamentally different from the way the City of Toronto tracks projects and how TTC requirements are reported. Specifically:
City project cost estimates include inflation to completion because this is factored into future funding requirements.
City projects do not bundle future operating costs with capital, but report them separately.
Note that cost estimates shown in the Infrastructure Ontario market reports do not necessarily match values shown by Metrolinx because IO shows these values on a different basis. Future operating and financing costs are no longer included in IO estimates so that a project’s value reflects only design and construction costs, a value that gives potential construction bidders a general size of the project’s scope.
Infrastructure Ontario notes on the November 2022 Market Update that we have modified the methodology used to calculate the estimated costs as presented on the chart. In May 2022, and for Market Updates prior to that, we used the Estimated Total Capital Costs. For the latest update, and going forward, the costs listed only include Design and Construction costs.
These changes were adopted after feedback from our construction industry partners found that including only design and construction costs provided them with a better sense of the scope of the project and would assist in determining if they wished to participate in the bidding process.
Email from Ian McConachie, Infrastructure Ontario, Manager, Media Relations & Communications, November 24, 2022.
This can be confusing with “bundled” projects such as the Ontario Line RSSOM contract which includes both provision/construction of vehicles and infrastructure, as well as future O&M costs. This is probably the reason, or a good chunk of it, for the very large increase in the RSSOM contract value between the initial estimate cited by IO and the contract award. However, the way these contracts are handled generally makes it impossible to know how much of the change is simply due to inflation in materials and labour costs, and how much is due to underestimates or scope changes.
Doug Ford wants his pet transit projects built now and will sweep away any opposition. His agency, Metrolinx, is more than happy to oblige if only to make itself useful.
There was a time when the Tories hated Metrolinx as a den of Liberal iniquity, but Phil Verster and the gang made themselves useful to their new masters with new plans. Ford returned the favour with legislation giving Metrolinx sweeping powers in the Building Transit Faster Act. In particular, Metrolinx has review powers over any proposed activity near a “transit corridor” (anything from building a new condo to extending a patio deck) lest this work interfere with their plans. They also have right of entry, among other things, to perform their works.
Operative language in the Act is extremely broad about “transit corridors”:
Designating transit corridor land
62 (1) The Lieutenant Governor in Council may, by order in council, designate land as transit corridor land if, in the opinion of the Lieutenant Governor in Council, it is or may be required for a priority transit project. 2020, c. 12, s. 62 (1). Different designations for different purposes
(2) The Lieutenant Governor in Council may designate the land for some of the purposes of this Act and not others, and may later further designate the land for other purposes of this Act. 2020, c. 12, s. 62 (2) Notice and registration
(3) Upon land being designated as transit corridor land, the Minister shall,
(a) make reasonable efforts to notify the owners and occupants of land that is at least partly either on transit corridor land or within 30 meters of transit corridor land of,
(i) the designation, and
(ii) this Act; and
(i) register a notice of designation under the Land Titles Act or Registry Act in respect of land described in clause (a), or
(ii) carry out the prescribed public notice process. 2020, c. 12, s. 62 (3); 2020, c. 35, Sched. 1, s. 4.
Building Transit Faster Act, S. 62,
Note that there is no requirement that land actually be anywhere near a transit project, merely that it “may be required for a priority transit project”.
“Resistance is futile” should be the Act’s subtitle.
In various community meetings, the assumption has been that the “corridor” corresponds to the bounds of Metrolinx’ property, but that is not the case. A much wider swath has been defined in several corridors reaching well beyond the wildest imaginations of what might be affected lands. Needless to say this has not endeared Metrolinx to affected parties for “transparency”.
This applies to the “priority” corridors: Scarborough Subway Extension, Richmond Hill Extension, Eglinton West Extension and, of course, the Ontario Line.
In addition, there are constraints around GO Transit corridors, as well as separate Developer’s Guides for LRT projects in Toronto and on Hurontario. Note that these predate the election of the Ford government, and rather quaintly refer to the Eglinton West and Sheppard East LRT corridors. Although it is mentioned in the text, the Eglinton West Airport Extension is not shown on the map.
There is an interactive map page on which one can explore the bounds of areas where Metrolinx asserts various rights of review, control and entry. It is tedious, and one must wait for all of the map layers to load to get a complete picture. But fear not, gentle reader, I have done the work of wandering through the GTHA on this map and taking screenshots to show each line. I have attempted to maintain a consistent scale for the snapshots of the maps. All of them are clickable and will open a larger version in a new browser tab.
Readers should note that the areas of influence/control for Metrolinx corridors discussed here are separate from the effects of MTSAs (Major Transit Station Areas) on development around rapid transit and GO stations, a totally separate topic.
I will start with the Ontario Line because it is the most contentious, but Metrolinx territorial ambitions do not stop there.
As originally proposed, SmartTrack looked like this. The line ran from Unionville to the Airport Corporate Centre with 22 stations, mostly new.
It was supposed to open this year (2021). That has been pushed back to 2026, and even that could be a soft date if GO’s expansion plans are delayed.
It would have worked hand-in-glove with GO Transit’s Regional Express Rail concept as former Metrolinx Chair Rob Prichard enthused in the project’s promotional literature:
The project contemplates making the GO train corridors virtual “surface subways” with service so frequent and fast that the trains became an irresistible substitute for driving, thus significantly mitigating traffic congestion. Imagine going to the GO station confident that the next train will be along soon, just like when we go to a subway station.
Robert Prichard: Transforming the Way We Move. Address to the Empire Club April 23, 2014. Cited in Surface Subways for Toronto from John Tory’s election website [since removed].
Many parts fell off of this plan including:
The proposed Eglinton West branch to the Airport would have required a mainline rail corridor from Mount Dennis to the Airport. This was not technically practical, and plans for this area reverted to the western extension of the Crosstown LRT.
Instead of being a dedicated service with its own fare structure, SmartTrack stations will now be served as part of the GO network using whatever fare arrangements are in place by the time service begins.
The City’s plan now includes only four stations on the Weston-Scarborough corridor, plus one on the Barrie corridor that had previously been part of GO’s plans.
The most recently deleted stations were at Lawrence East and at Gerrard as these locations will be served by the Scarborough Subway Extension and the Ontario Line respectively. Bloor-Lansdowne has become a “City” station while Spadina-Front remains a “GO” station.
Park Lawn and Woodbine, also shown in the map below, are “GO” stations that are not part of the SmartTrack plan.
Of the stations that remain in the project, their viability deserves reconsideration:
Three of the stations (Finch-Kennedy, St. Clair-Old Weston and Bloor-Lansdowne) are projected to have little walk-in trade.
Transfer traffic at two stations (Finch-Kennedy and Bloor-Lansdowne) may be limited by competing nearby services including the Scarborough Subway terminal at Sheppard-McCowan and the subway-GO connection at Dundas West.
The original SmartTrack plan projected very high all-day demand:
The SmartTrack line will have a conservatively estimated ridership of 200,000 per day. This is the equivalent of about half the daily ridership of the existing Bloor-Danforth line.
Source: The SmartTrack Line from John Tory’s election website [since removed].
To put this in context, this is about two-thirds of the entire GO Transit network, pre-pandemic. That is simply not possible with trains running every 15 minutes that must also carry riders from other GO stops.
The demand projection depended on a level of service and fare structure that will not be part of whatever “SmartTrack” is by the time service finally operates to the new stations. When SmartTrack was “sold” to Council, a different service level, station count and fare structure were cited than now appears to be likely.
Indeed, Metrolinx had already change its future service plans and announced their miraculous discovery (a mix of local and express trains) at a Toronto Region Board of Trade event. Frequent service at SmartTrack stations would not be possible if the express trains did not stop there.
The report makes clear a change in service planned for the SmartTrack stations that Metrolinx watchers had suspected for years, namely that the frequent “subway like” service touted for SmartTrack had been replaced with much less frequent GO service.
From the main report:
Program service levels will be 6-10 minutes during peak periods and 15 minutes during off-peak periods.
Program service levels will be the same as the planned GO Expansion-level service for the corridors in which the Stations reside, with a minimum service level of two-way, 15-minute frequency commencing upon full implementation of GO Expansion service, with more frequent service to be determined on a market-led basis and subject to ridership demand.
Updated January 22, 2021:
I posed questions about service levels to the City of Toronto. Here are the responses from the Transit Expansion Office.
Q: What service frequency was assumed for peak and off peak service?
A: Program service levels will be the same as the planned GO Expansion-level service for the corridors in which the Stations reside, with a minimum service level of two-way, 15-minute frequency commencing upon full implementation of GO Expansion service, with more frequent service to be determined on a market led basis and subject to ridership demand. [This is the same text as in the report Executive Committee.]
Q: What stops (other than the new ST stations) would trains on this route also serve? In other words, do the ST trains make all local stops including the new stations?
A: All GO stations (e.g. Agincourt, Kennedy/Eglinton, Scarborough Jct., Danforth)? Stouffville trains will call at all stations, one note we haven’t made this mandatory at Danforth, which is currently on the LSE service group.
Q: Is it assumed that the “SmartTrack” service will be through-routed at Union Station as in the original proposal so that a rider originating on the western leg can ride through Union to East Harbour without changing trains?
A: We have mandated trains to run through Union station to East Harbour from KL St Clair etc – we have left a degree of flexibility whether the trains terminate on Stouffville or LSE.
Q: Was the model capacity constrained (e.g. by size and number of trains)?
A: The model wasn’t capacity constrained. Below is the forecasted service frequency.
Contra Pk Hr
Off Pk Hr
Contra Pk Hr
Off Pk Hr
St. Clair W
1.4 tph (2.5 tph avg)
In brief, the opening day service at all stations except East Harbour will be half-hourly growing to at least quarter-hourly at an unspecified future date. This is a far cry from “subway like” service claimed in SmartTrack promotional literature. These service levels will deter transfers between frequent TTC service and less-frequent GO/SmartTrack service.
As for fares, the whole idea that somehow riders on trains in GO corridors could pay via two different tariffs with free transfers to/from TTC service was always hard to believe. It is now clear that a “TTC” fare will be achieved by forcing everything, including local TTC service, into a regionally integrated system that, judging by Metrolinx’ long-held preferences, will be based on distance travelled.
Updated January 22, 2021:
I asked the City about fare levels:
Q: What fares were assumed, especially any provisions for transfers to/from connecting TTC routes?
A: Fare setting for the Program will be considered in the broader context of regional fare integration.
Council and Torontonians were misled as they have been on more than one transit project.
A related problem, considering the size of the investment, is that the lion’s share of ST riders will not be net-new to transit, but rather will be diverted onto ST trains by the lure of a faster, and possibly less-crowded journey.
In total, the five stations are projected to attract a combined 24,000 boardings and alightings during the average weekday peak hour. Taken together, the five new stations are projected to attract 3,400 new daily riders to Toronto’s transit system by 2041 every weekday. Ridership would likely be higher with full fare integration between the TTC and GO Transit.
Source: Technical Update, p. 3
Note that by counting both boardings and alightings, these figures double the number of trips because anyone who “boards” must eventually “alight” somewhere. This will count everyone who makes a trip on GO twice for the network as a whole.
Time savings were illustrated by a “SmartTracker” website (still active as of January 20, 2021 at 3:00 pm) to demonstrate how one might make a faster journey with ST in place. The calculated ST travel times did not include any wait time for the train because service was assumed to be very frequent.
Projected values are in the Technical Update for each station, but they do not show the network as a whole. “Person Minutes Saved” are calculated by multiplying the riders for a station by the extra time they would have required to make the same trip if the ST station did not exist. For a station that is off of the beaten path like East Harbour, this translates into a large total saving.
It is not clear which lines were in the “base network” without the ST stations, and in the particular case of East Harbour, whether the Ontario Line was there or not. In other words, what is the extra riding and time saving due to SmartTrack as opposed to the Ontario Line? We don’t know because this information is not in the report. Another key missing piece of information is the service level assumed in the model.
Peak Hour Boardings & Alightings
Person Minutes Saved
Demand primarily from bus transfers
> 1 million
Major development node and transfer point with Ontario Line
Major residential neighbourhood
St. Clair-Old Weston
Limited demand, but some development possible. Project will include road reconfiguration between Keele and Old Weston Road.
Connection to subway poor
Source: Technical Update / (*) The Finch-Kennedy value is not in the report, but is derived from 24K total cited above less published values for other stations.
How Much Will “SmartTrack” Cost?
The City’s original budget for SmartTrack was $1.463 billion of which $585 million would be from the pool of Federal infrastructure funding. The project is now smaller because there is, net, one fewer station and some elements originally included have been deferred to a “phase 2” (and a separate budget line). However, the total is unchanged probably due to inclusion of other options in the design such as the City-initiated Keele-St. Clair project.
Cost estimates for specific stations have not been released yet, only the totals: $1.195b is for base station infra and $268 is for city initiated station requirements. That’s a cost/station of over $200 million, rather substantial for a line that is not underground.
Metrolinx will carry the operating and maintenance cost of the stations which they will own, and they will get to dictate the service level. Fare revenue will flow to Metrolinx who will set the tariff.
How this would interact with City policies on reduced fares for low-income riders is difficult to say, but the higher GO fares could work against any benefit for low-income areas the new stations might otherwise provide.
There is an interactive map of locations where changes are proposed, although it can be tedious to navigate because the default map does not have street names. (You can change this by selecting a different base map from the options in the upper right of the display.)
This map shows roughly the location of the Ontario Line corridor, but gives no detail about extra space, although the map is not to be taken as definitive. Nothing is shown of potential stations for the OL, and there is no information at all in the map for the several proposed SmartTrack stations.
This means that the scope of the project review and the combined effect GO Expansion will have with other projects is not known. Moreover, it would be foolish to approve a project based on a spec that did not include two major additions that are somewhere in the Metrolinx pipeline.
Stations, be they for the Ontario Line or for GO/SmartTrack require platforms and circulation elements (stairs, elevators, roads) but there is no hint of the space these will take.
An ongoing problem for anyone attempting to work with Metrolinx on their projects is the lack of transparency, the fog through which details emerge, if at all, on what they actually propose to do.
Distrust of Metrolinx to deal fairly and honestly with communities and their political representatives led to widely-supported motions when Council considered two reports regarding Metrolinx projects on October 1, 2020:
Updated June 23, 2020 at 1:50 pm: The table of projects has been updated to include anticipated events, notably “financial close” dates, that were included in various project announcements by Infrastructure Ontario. Also Union Station Platform Expansion was described in the original version of this article as closing sooner than originally projected. This has been corrected to show a delay of roughly nine months.
Infrastructure Ontario recently released its Spring 2020 Update for P3 projects under its control including several Metrolinx projects. To date there have been three of these updates:
These updates include information on the project status, the type of procurement model, and the expected progress of each project through the procurement process. This provides “one stop shopping” compared to Metrolinx’ own site. As a convenience to readers, I have consolidated the three updates as they relate to transit projects to allow easy comparison between versions.
Some projects have evolved since the first version, and in particular the delivery dates for a few projects have moved further into the future. The “financial close” dates for some projects, in effect the point at which a contract is signed and real work can begin, has moved beyond the date of the next Provincial election. Whatever government is in power after summer 2022 will have a final say on whether these projects go ahead.
The Ontario Line was previously reported as a single project with a price tag of over $10 billion. In the Fall 2019 update, the intent was to have the financial close in Winter/Spring 2022 ahead of the election. In the Winter 2020 update, this changed to Spring 2022.
In the Spring 2020 update, the project has been split into separate parts to reflect industry feedback about the original scope.
GO Corridor from Don River to Gerrard
South Tunnels, Civil Works and Stations CNE to Don River
Rolling Stock, System Operations & Maintenance
North Tunnels, Civil Works and Stations
The GO corridor work will be done as a conventional procurement by Metrolinx and will be bundled with upgrades to GO Transit trackage.
The financial close for items 2 and 3 above is now Fall 2022, and for item 4 it is Fall 2023.
This means that an actual sign-on-the-dotted-line commitment to the project will not be within the current government’s mandate. Even the so-called “early works” comprising the southern portion of the route from Exhibition to the Don River is not scheduled to close until Fall 2022. The northern portion, from Gerrard to Eglinton will close in Fall 2023. This contract is being held back pending results for the south contract to determine the industry’s appetite for the work.
The southern portion, with a long tunnel through downtown and stations in congested street locations would start first. However, the line cannot actually open without the northern portion because this provides the link to the maintenance facility which is included as part of item 3 above although the actual access connection would be built as part of item 4.
An issue linking all of these projects is the choice of technology which, in turn drives decisions such as tunnel and station sizes, power supply, signalling and maintenance facility design. When the Ontario Line was a single project, Metrolinx could say that this choice was up to the bidders, but now there must be some co-ordination to ensure that what is built can actually be used to operate the selected technology. It is hardly a secret that Metrolinx is promoting a SkyTrain like technology, although which propulsion scheme (LIM vs rotary motors) is not clear. There are well-known problems with LIMs and the power pickup technology used on the SRT, and this would also be a consideration for the outdoor portions of the Ontario Line.
Scarborough Subway Extension
Like the Ontario Line, the Scarborough Extension has been split into two pieces. The first will be the tunnel contract from Kennedy Station to McCowan. This is now in the procurement phase, and financial close is projected for Spring 2021.
The remainder of the project previously had a projected closing date of “Winter/Spring 2023”, but this is now just “2023”. With the tunnel hived off into a separate contract, it is reasonable that the remainder would have a later start date because the tunnel is a key component that must be in place first.
Metrolinx recently published a Preliminary Business Case for this extension. It includes the following text:
Kennedy Station Pocket Track/Transition Section
The Kennedy transition section extends roughly 550 metres from the east side of the GO Transit Stouffville rail corridor to Commonwealth Avenue and will include special track work and a pocket track to enable every second subway train to short turn to suit ridership demand and minimize fleet requirements, as well as lower operating costs. [p 24]
This turnback has been an on-again, off-again part of the project but it is now clearly included as a cost saving measure. With only every second train running to Sheppard/McCowan, the fleet required (as well as storage) would be within the system’s current capacity. This ties in with the timing of the T1 fleet replacement on Line 2 as there are enough T1s to run alternate, but not full service to Sheppard. This would be similar to the arrangement now used on the TYSSE where only half of the AM peak service runs north of Glencairn Station to Vaughan.
Richmond Hill Subway Extension
The Ontario government recently signed an agreement with York Region for the extension of the Yonge line from Finch to Richmond Hill. The status of this project is unchanged with an RFQ to be issued in Fall 2021, an RFP in Spring 2022 and financial close in Fall 2023.
Between the Scarborough Subway Extension, now rebranded as the Line 2 East Extension, and SmartTrack, Toronto has a lot of money sitting in the bank that could be used to fund other, much more deserving projects.
Ontario has taken over responsibility for the SSE/L2EE, and at least three of the proposed six SmartTrack stations compete directly with the SSE or the Ontario Line. A fourth (at Finch East) would certainly be affected by the SSE running north to Sheppard.
On October 16, the governments at Queen’s Park and Toronto City Hall announced a deal to sort out competing transit plans for the city. The current provincial priority projects are the Ontario Line (Don Mills/Eglinton to Exhibition), Scarborough Subway extension from Kennedy Station to Sheppard, Yonge Subway extension from Finch to Richmond Hill, and the Eglinton West LRT extension from Mount Dennis to Renforth.
The main City of Toronto report will be discussed at Executive Committee on October 23, and then at Council on October 29-30.
This article reviews that report with reference to a few parts of its many attachments. I will turn to the technical attachments in a second article. To focus material on each subject for readers, I have grouped related items together or re-sequenced things for emphasis. There are extensive quotations of key material so that readers hear not just my “voice” but that of the report’s authors.
Despite the importance politicians at both levels place on the proposals, the fundamental problem remains that many of the details are cloudy, to be kind. Specifically:
The City of Toronto retains ownership of the existing transit system avoiding a complex realignment of responsibilities and governance, but with this comes total responsibility for funding the ongoing state of good repair.
A large gap remains between the amount of funding needed to maintain and expand Toronto’s transit system relative to the amounts actually available and committed in budgets at various levels of government.
Ontario will build four key projects substantially with its own money, but continued support for transit beyond this is uncertain.
Toronto will redirect funding originally earmarked for its share of the key projects to other priorities, notably the TTC’s repair backlog. However, much of that “funding” does not exist as allocations in existing budgets and new money is required from Toronto to pay its share.
Cost estimates for the key projects are based on preliminary estimates that could change substantially as the design process unfolds. These estimates are in 2019 dollars and make no provision for inflation. The reports are silent on how the proportion of total spending by each contributor might change over the decade or more of construction.
A substantial total of project costs will be born by private sector partners through a “P3” financing mechanism. These arrangement will require future payments for what will be, in effect, a capital lease, but the mechanism for funding this from three levels of government is unclear. The reports are silent on the split between short term borrowing to pay for construction as opposed to long term payments to the P3 financier.
Project details as they are known today will change in response to design work and the need to keep costs within the projected level. This will affect alignments and stations, and what we think we are buying could be quite different from what we actually get.
The challenge in all of this is, as always, the question of money. We can watch the hands of politicians and managers at all levels as they shuffle cards on the table. We hope to “find the Queen”, to win in the subway sweeps rather than being taken for suckers who will cheer any plan, but lose every game. It is far from clear whether the proposal is a “good deal” for Toronto, and there are huge future transit costs that are barely addressed.
The whole exercise is a political deal to bring peace, comparatively speaking, to the transit file which was needlessly fouled by Doug Ford’s insistence that he knows more about transit in Toronto than anyone else. Does Toronto take this as its last best chance to preserve some semblance of control over its transit future, or do we keep fighting for a better deal?
There are a lot of holes in this plan and severe implications both for the City’s finances and the future of Toronto’s transit system. Many questions need to be asked and answered, even if the result will be a whole new plan after provincial and municipal elections in 2022.