Two studies are underway for the so-called Relief Line:
The alignment for the southern segment has been settled for some time, but the northern segment is still in the exploratory phase of deciding the best route. Planning for the northern segment is under Metrolinx, and all publicly visible work on this stopped for the provincial election in 2018.
Every time either of these lines comes up, the inevitable reaction is “sticker shock” from the very high cost of building a new subway into downtown.
What is missing from the debate is the high cost of retrofitting the existing subway to handle more riders.
When the TTC first advanced its ATC (Automatic Train Control) project, it was to be the solution to all problems. There have been a lot of bumps along the road including:
- Failure to include ATC signals in the design for the Vaughan subway extension.
- An unworkable plan to run a mixture of ATC (Toronto Rocket) and non-ATC trains (the T1s now on the BD line) on Line 1.
- Piecemeal contracts for new signal systems resulting in overlapping and incompatible work.
This was all sorted out, more or less, a few years ago as one of Andy Byford’s big successes as TTC CEO. For a history of the signalling contracts, please read my article here.
However, there is much more to providing added capacity on the subway system, as the TTC gradually discovered and acknowledged through additions to its Capital Budget. Several projects, many of which are not funded, now sit as proposals in TTC plans.
- Additional trains for Line 1 (for more frequent service and for the Richmond Hill extension)
- Additional storage for more trains
- Platform Edge Doors (PEDs)
- Expansion of Bloor-Yonge Station
- Expansion of busy stations to provide better circulation for increased volumes of riders to and from trains
Additional Trains and Storage
The subway fleet plan, which I reviewed in detail in another article, includes a provision for more trains to increase the level of service and capacity on Line 1 Yonge-University-Spadina.
Current peak service requires 65 trains of which 4 are “gap trains” used to fill in where a delay would otherwise create a gap in service. The 61 regular trains provide AM peak service every 141 seconds (2’21”) with half of the trains short-turning at Glencairn. According to the plan, by 2029 there will be 79 trains of which 2 will be gap trains. The 77 regular trains represent an increase of about 26% and would bring headways down to roughly 112 seconds (1’52”). Allowing for some trimming of running time expected with ATC, this would result in Line 1 operating a 1’50” headway which is considered the minimum possible given physical constraints at terminals and the effects of dwell times at very busy stations.
However, the fleet of 76 TR trains will only get the TTC through part of this improvement, and there will be a deficit of 9 trains by 2028 as shown above. A 68 train service (70 trains total less 2 gap trains) corresponds to a headway of about 126 seconds (2’06”), an improvement of about 11.4%, and this is the limit of what is possible without more trains.
The plan shows trains under the headings of “capacity” and “ridership growth”. However, only part of the proposed procurement (the 18 “capacity” trains) is necessary to get to the 79 train service shown in 2029. The remaining 26 trains, some of which are spares, would not physically fit on the line without extension of all service on the Spadina leg to Vaughan. Whether the north end of the Spadina leg would actually require a 110 second headway is another matter.
With the price of a subway train sitting at about $36.5 million (mid 2020s), the 44 new trains proposed here would be worth about $1.6 billion plus the cost of future operation. This project is not funded.
A project to expand storage at Wilson Yard is part of the budget, but there is a limit to how many trains will fit there. As the chart above shows, the TTC would run out of storage for trains before all of the proposed new trains are delivered. Future storage depends on a new yard that is part of the North Yonge extension to hold them.
There is a catch-22 here in that some might argue for advancing the Richmond Hill project so that its yard would be available sooner. However, this would also advance the point at which more capacity on both the existing Line 1 and the proposed Relief Line would be needed.
Much of the TTC’s focus for capacity has been on the signal system and on trains needed to provide more service. However, more service means more riders, and specifically a larger rate for passengers arriving at and leaving stations, and for transfers between lines 1 and 2. There are already problems at some locations with the crush of passengers. Bloor Station is best known, but St. George also has difficulties, and some stations south of Bloor encounter problems with backlogs of passengers trying to leave the platform before the next train arrives. This is particularly severe at locations with limited platform access which can include escalators that are not always in service.
There are three projects in the Capital Budget to address these problems.
The expansion of Bloor-Yonge Station includes the addition of a second platform to Yonge Station on the Bloor line much like the second platform recently added at Union. This would split demand for eastbound and westbound trains between two platforms. The project also includes additional circulation space on the upper (Bloor Station) level for the connections to the new platform. While this addresses some station capacity issues, it will do nothing to increase service and capacity on Line 2 to carry passengers away from Yonge Station even though increased service on Line 1 will deliver them at a higher rate.
This project has a $1 billion price tag, and is budgeted for the first half of the 2020s with completion in 2025. This project is not funded.
There is currently no proposal to expand the capacity of St. George Station, and this location is hemmed in by buildings.
The project summary for the project is below.
Platform Edge Doors
Platform Edge Doors (PEDs) have been proposed for both Lines 1 and 2 for various reasons:
- suicide prevention,
- allowing trains to operate through stations without slowing to avoid passengers on crowded platforms, and
- elimination of litter at track level which causes fire-related delays.
In various public statements, the TTC has been inconsistent about which of these goals is most important, and of course a decision to equip all stations, or only some, depends on what one is trying to achieve. Each is a noble cause in its own right, especially with respect to suicides, but the TTC needs to project a more consistent message on this.
Litter at track level varies with the station usage, and is worst at the very busy stations. Recently, a potato, or maybe it was a lemon, became notorious as it spent over a week wedged under the eastbound track at Yonge Station. Whatever it was, this was only part of an accumulation of debris that had built up over a month putting the lie to the TTC’s claim that it cleans stations frequently specifically to avoid the buildup of material which could cause “smoke at track level” incidents. Some problems do not require multi-million dollar solutions.
A more recent problem with passengers going to track level to retrieve lost objects, or possibly just as a stunt, is quite another matter.
Automatic Train Control (ATC) is an integral part of a PED roll out to provide precision stopping. For Line 1 YUS, the budgeted cost is $610 million with the project spanning the mid 2020s following the full cut over to ATC. In turn, the TTC argues that it will be difficult to achieve the planned 110 second headways with the expected crowding level at major stations unless trains are not slowed on their approach out of concern for hitting waiting passengers.
The cost of PEDs is budgeted at $651 million for Line 2 BD as a post-2028 project assuming that ATC will be in place by that time.
The PED projects are not funded.
The project description from the Capital Budget for the work on Line 1 is below. The Line 2 version is almost identical.
Proposed project schedule. In this chart “BTL” refers to “Below The Line”, that is to say, not included in the funded part of the budget.
Other Station Improvements
Big as many of the subway projects might be, the TTC now includes in its plans a $5.5 billion – yes, that’s billion – unfunded project for enhancement of its station capacity on Line 1. The timing of the proposed work is:
- 2019: Preliminary strategic implementation plan, solutions and recommendations; business case and Class 5 cost estimate.
- 2020: Program management plan and preliminary design.
The bulk of the spending for this project is shown in years 2023-2027, although some work might begin sooner depending on the timing of design, project approval and tendering.
The project description includes this warning:
Failure to identify and eliminate key element constraints to achieve target capacity at required horizons will result in increased overcrowding and congestion on Line 1 forgoing TTC’s ability to meet demand needs beyond our current capacity. [Capital Budget Blue Books, p. 584]
There is no indication of the scale of the problem of the locations to be tackled, but the price shows the cost of reworking station capacity in a busy and very constrained set of downtown stations.
And, no I am not making up the $5.5 billion estimated cost. Here is the page showing projected funding and cash flow. To put this in context, this one project is almost as big as the entire funded TTC Capital Budget for State of Good Repair. And of course, that $5.5 billion is unfunded.
The cost of providing more capacity on Line 1 Yonge-University-Spadina is far more than Toronto has been told in the past. When this all started, it was simply a matter of a new signal system, but that was only the first of many parts in this story. How much of the projected cost here can be trimmed is difficult to say, and that in turn would be affected by the capacity the TTC seeks to operate on Yonge Street. Moving to a full 37k/hour peak demand may not be practical, or could be quite challenging.
Meanwhile, the Relief Line project has, until comparatively recently in TTC history, been treated as something the city only needs as a last ditch effort, something to address a long-future problem, not a pressing need today.
Toronto has been ill-served by the attitude that the Relief Line is a project for another day, not to mention its characterization by some politicians that it is only a project for coddled downtowners. Tell that to people who cannot get on the Yonge Subway, many of whom live far north of Bloor Street.
The division of the RL planning into a south-of-Danforth segment separate from the northern extension means that the substantial benefit of intercepting riders east of Yonge well north of Bloor-Danforth is many years in the future.
The TTC owes Council a thorough discussion of capacity issues on the subway network including all of the interrelated projects needed to deal with present and future demand. For far too long, many projects have been discussed in isolation from each other, or simply have been ignored.
This is an issue for politicians at both Toronto and Queen’s Park who downplay the cost and complexity of a provincial takeover of responsibility for the subway and its funding. Even if the subway remains in Toronto’s hands, there are huge costs facing the TTC and its “funding partners”.
Nothing less than the credibility of transit as an engine for the city’s growth is at stake.