Metrolinx Plans Major Grade Change on Lakeshore East Corridor

Metrolinx quietly slipped a major change in its joint Lakeshore East / Ontario Line corridor plans by way of a web page update with no accompanying announcement or explanation.

Current version of webpage

Archived copy of webpage from May 14, 2021

Metrolinx plans to raise the existing GO Transit tracks by 0.9m to 1.6m in order to increase clearances under bridges on the corridor. The west and east limits of this work along the corridor have not been announced, and there are illustrations only for the area north of Queen Street.

The previously published layouts assumed tracks would stay at the same elevation as today, with the new Ontario Line to the west and north of the GO corridor at the same level. The new layout shifts everything higher. Note that the top drawing here is a cross-section where the Metrolinx right-of-way is at its widest with open space on either side buffering the mass of the corridor.

There are significant challenges in this scale of work on a busy, live rail corridor. One does not simply bring in loads of fill overnight and jack up the tracks. Bridges are a special concern particularly in any location where all tracks occupy a common structure rather than separate spans for each track that could be individually replaced or raised.

I posed a series of questions about this to Metrolinx, but they will not be responding until Monday, June 21 at the earliest.

  1. When was the decision made to regrade the rail corridor?
  2. Why is this being done?
  3. What is the extent of the work, ie between what locations will the track be raised from its current level?
  4. By how much will the track be raised?
  5. What are your staging plans for maintaining GO service during this work?
  6. What are the effects on the bridges in the affected area?
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Ontario Line Downtown Segment Update

This post is the second in a series of four covering the June round of online updates to the Ontario Line project.

Updated June 18, 2021 at 9:05 am: The section on the First Parliament site has been updated with information about the location of the Parliament and other buildings provided by a reader, Michael Bethke, in the comments. With thanks for the information.

Updated June 18, 2021 at 8:00 am: A section discussing the two versions of the Metrolinx presentation deck has been added at the end of this article.

The first version of the presentation deck that Metrolinx posted contained two slides with howling spelling mistakes, but also with station diagrams that differed from those shown in the online presentation. Subsequently the “final” version of the deck was linked from their engagement page. I have updated the link to the revised deck below and have replaced the illustrations in the article. The first version is also available from my own site if Metrolinx deletes it from theirs.

From document properties in the published PDFs, it is clear that there are two different versions of the presentation deck, and the wrong one was published first.

At least Metrolinx caught the error before their online session, but they pushed out a deck with errors two hours ahead and did not flag that it had been changed on their site. Basic editing errors like street names raise issues about the care in other, more serious, parts of their work.

Meetings for other segments are scheduled on:

  • June 24: Corktown, East Harbour, Riverside, Gerrard
  • June 30: North to Eglinton from Danforth

The introductory article for the meeting is on the Metrolinx blog and the engagement page includes links to the four meetings and resources for them.

Information here is taken from the neighbourhood update for the downtown segment, the presentation deck for the June 17 meeting, and information gleaned from that meeting.

This segment runs from Osgoode Station over to the Don River. An important structural point about the Ontario Line is that the downtown segment is in bedrock unlike the Eglinton Crosstown line which is tunneled through glacial till.

On Eglinton this meant that passing under Line 1 at Yonge/Eglinton and at Eglinton West Station required structural support of the existing subway and mining under Line 1 rather than continuing with the TBMs. On Queen, the existing stations are just above the level of bedrock which will support them while tunneling proceeds 10m or more below in rock.

Projections for 2041OsgoodeQueenMoss ParkCorktown
Residents served116,50018,40023,60026,400
Jobs served1110,500150,00023,20015,700
Zero-car households18,7005,1004,1003,300
Station usage (busiest hour)212,10016,6007,3004,100
Transfers to/from Line 1 (busiest hour)2 5,7006,100
Transfers to/from surface (busiest hour)2 1,0006001,5001,900
Source: Metrolinx Neighbourhood Updates, Downtown

Notes:

  1. Because station catchment areas overlap, some people and jobs will be double counted.
  2. Station usage may include passengers arriving, leaving and transferring which is a different number from originating passengers at each station. I have asked Metrolinx for clarification on this, but they have not yet replied.
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Ontario Proposes Developments at Station Sites

The Government of Ontario has proposed that lands they plan to acquire for station entrance buildings on the Ontario Line at Exhibition, King/Bathurst and Queen/Spadina stations will be redeveloped to increase transit demand at these locastions.

For a description of the stations sites, please see my previous article Ontario Line West Segment Update. The site plans are included here to put the proposed developments in context.

In the station building renderings, the eagle-eyed readers will note the variation (including the complete absence in some cases) of the “standard” Metrolinx “T” symbol. On the Crosstown line, it has been rendered at a size where it almost disappears, whereas here, in some drawings, it is on a similar scale to the “T” found at the MBTA stations in Boston.

All of the designs shown here indicate the general form (albeit not the height) of what Ontario would like to see, and everything is subject to change.

All renderings from Ontario Proposes New Transit-Oriented Communities Along Ontario Line.

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Ontario Line West Segment Update

Updated June 17, 2021 at 5:20 pm:

In the table of station usage counts, I cited the values as “all day” numbers in the original version of this article because Metrolinx own summary article showed the total value as “daily” not as “peak hourly” . I asked Metrolinx about this discrepancy, and they have not yet responded. However, they have changed the article in which “daily” was used to now say “busiest hour”. I have updated this section accordingly. Other questions to Metrolinx have not yet been answered. (Screen captures are included later in the article.)

Meetings for other segments are scheduled on:

  • June 17: Central downtown
  • June 24: Corktown, East Harbour, Riverside, Gerrard
  • June 30: North to Eglinton from Danforth

The introductory article for the meeting is on the Metrolinx blog and the engagement page includes links to the four meetings and resources for them.

All drawings in this article are taken from the Presentation Deck for June 10. Street view photos are from Google Maps.

Project Schedule

A common question during the session was “when will this affect me”. The entire project is complex and will affect areas in different ways as it moves through its stages. The published schedule concentrates on pre-construction activities. In the chart below, related activities share the same colour so that, for example, the Lower Don Bridges are all yellow.

Early works that can occur before major construction include:

  • Exhibition Station reconfiguration and expansion (construction to begin imminently)
  • Lower Don Bridges (construction begins in early 2022)
  • Corktown Station (no start date shown in the plan)

There are four big contracts that will affect neighbourhoods along the route.

  • The Lakeshore East joint GO and Ontario Line corridor between the Don River and Gerrard is an “Early Work” scheduled to begin construction in the second half of 2022. This segment is controversial because of potential effects on affected neighbourhoods, and Metrolinx’ aggressive efforts to counter “myths” and “misinformation” about their project. See Metrolinx v Riverside: Where Does the Truth Lie?
  • In mid-2022 contracts for the south segment structures and for “RSSOM” (Rolling Stock, Systems, Operations and Maintenance) will be awarded with construction to begin in 2023.
  • The north segment structures contract will go to its RFQ stage in early 2022, with RFPs to selected proponents late that year. Contract award will occur in 2024 and construction would begin some time afterward.

For the south segment, the tunnels will be deep underground, typically about 30m down. They will be bored through rock starting from the west end of the line. Spoil removal and materials delivery will occur at the Exhibition with the tunnel portal west of Strachan Avenue and truck access to the Gardiner Expressway at Dufferin Street.

Stations will be built using a “keyhole” method by digging down from future entrance building locations and then mining outward to create station caverns for the concourses and platforms. This is similar to the approach used for a few stations on the Crosstown project to avoid excavating within streets. That is particularly important for locations where there are streetcar lines and many underground utilities.

The first stage of construction will be to tunnel, with station construction to follow once the tunnel is in place. Metrolinx has not published a detailed schedule, but station work would begin in 2024 in the south segment as tunnel work progresses from Exhibition east to the Don River. Metrolinx expects station sites to be under construction for about three years.

The major RSSOM construction in the early years of the project will be the Maintenance and Storage Facility north of Thorncliffe Park. After the tunnels and aboveground structures are complete, the RSSOM contractor will outfit tracks and systems, but this activity would largely be within the completed tunnels and guideways.

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The Long Arm of Metrolinx

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.

Metrolinx describes the various aspects of review in Building near a Metrolinx transit corridor

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

(b) either,

(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.

Metrolinx has a diagram in Doing construction work near a Priority Transit Corridor which shows the bounds of their interest.

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.

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Metrolinx v Riverside: Where Does the Truth Lie?

In an unusual move for a public agency, Metrolinx published a blog post seeking to set the record straight on various issues about the combined Ontario/GO line corridor through the Riverside/Leslieville area.

Get the facts about Ontario Line plans in Riverside and Leslieville

The article begins from the premise that there is misinformation about the project:

There’s a lot of anticipation about how the Ontario Line will make it faster and easier to move around the city, but there’s also a lot of speculation and inaccurate information floating around – particularly when it comes to the vibrant communities of Riverside and Leslieville. All of this conflicting information can be confusing, so let’s take some time to sort the myths from the facts.

Sorting myths from facts can be challenging with Metrolinx because they are notoriously reluctant to share information. When they do hold public sessions, it is common to find staff do not fully understand their own project, or worse refuse to talk about contentious parts of it. They seek cheerleading, not consultation.

Metrolinx quite openly implies that community groups are putting out false information:

If you hear something about the Ontario Line that doesn’t sound right, you can find a source of truth about the project at Metrolinx.com/OntarioLine.

“I want people to know they can come to us at any time to get the facts about the project and what it means for them,” says Malcolm MacKay, Program Sponsor for the Ontario Line.

“There is definitely some speculation and inaccurate information going around, and we want people to base their opinions and feedback on the most up-to-date plans.”

What does Metrolinx claim in their article, and how does this stack up with the real world?

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A Very Busy GO Corridor (Updated)

Debates on the effect of Metrolinx service expansions often turn on noise and vibration effects, the degree to which any new or modified service will change the communities through which lines pass. Nowhere is this more striking than in Toronto’s Riverside district where an existing three-track GO corridor will be widened with a fourth GO track plus two Ontario Line tracks.

Reviews of the effects along the GO and OL corridor are hundreds of pages long for those who have the stamina to dig through appendices in so-called environmental reviews, but the material is inconsistently presented. Three separate projects affect this corridor, but no study considers the combination of three services.

This is a major oversight, and it hobbles any public consultation. Metrolinx appears either unable to answer valid questions about the effects of new services, or worse unwilling to reveal information that they should already have. Past experience makes communities distrust what Metrolinx says especially if “consultation” sounds more like cheerleading for decisions made long ago by sage transit wizards.

Updated 4:15 pm: Due to an error in a spreadsheet, the summary counts are off a bit because existing service was included in future totals. This has been fixed.

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Billions Promised for Toronto Transit

May 11, 2021, brought a shower of money, or at least promises of money, onto plans for rapid transit in Toronto. The federal government announced a total of $10.7 billion to fund a 40 per cent share in the Ontario, Scarborough, Yonge North and Eglinton West projects.

May 12 brought another, albeit smaller, promise of $180 million each from the federal and provincial governments to fund expansion of the streetcar fleet on which Toronto already planned to spend $208 million.

On May 13, a funding announcement for the Hamilton LRT line is expected. This is a project the province had tried to kill.

Combined with their recently announced national transit funding program, the federal Liberals are making a real splash in the transit pond, at least for big-ticket capital projects.

Before we all head out for a socially distanced beer or champagne celebration, there are important caveats.

Why 40 Per Cent Isn’t Necessarily 40 Per Cent

When the federal government agrees to fund a project, the dollar value is (or more accurately will be) “as spent” dollars without any provision for inflation. If Queen’s Park says that the Ontario Line is going to cost $10.9 billion, that’s what the 40 per cent is calculated on. Add-ons or inflation will be entirely on Ontario’s dime, unless a future federal government takes pity.

The last time a subway project ran out of money due to a hard cap on the “commitment” was with the Sheppard Subway’s terminus at Don Mills. Ironically, it was a conservative provincial Premier, Mike Harris, who capped spending on that project, and Toronto did not have enough money to continue east to Victoria Park, much less beyond to Scarborough Town Centre.

Cost overruns on the Vaughan subway extension were shared by Toronto and York Region.

The announced costs for the four Ontario key projects in Toronto are:

  • Ontario Line: $10.9 billion
  • Yonge North: $5.6 billion
  • Scarborough: $5.5 billion
  • Eglinton West: $4.7 billion
  • Total: $26.8 billion

“The federal government is contributing 40% of each project, up to a total of $10.4 billion” according to Infrastructure Canada’s announcement. This could give leeway for allocations to move between projects, but sets a total on the group.

This puts all four projects in a box, and will make adding costs to them very difficult because there will be no matching federal dollars. The dubious nature of the spending, notably on the Eglinton West underground alignment, appears to be of little concern to the feds who do not want to be seen as interfering in local decisions.

That stance takes an odd turn when we see that there are conditions on this support, although I suspect that many are window dressing.

The federal government understands that every taxpayer dollar invested in public transit must have multiple benefits including creating good jobs, building more equitable and inclusive communities, and tackling climate change. That is why the federal government’s funding is dependent on satisfying conditions including demonstrating how the investments will drive down emissions and build resilience, substantive environmental reviews, ensuring affordable housing along the line, incorporating accessibility, mitigating local concerns, maximizing benefits for communities including through Community Benefit Agreements, and meeting employment thresholds for underrepresented communities including Black, Indigenous and people of colour, and women.

Just what is meant by “substantive environmental reviews” and “mitigating local concerns” is anyone’s guess especially in light of Canada’s rejection [22 MB PDF] of a requested environmental review of the Ontario Line. In brief, the feds hold that there are provincial and municipal processes in place to address concerns, and moreover that there are few areas of federal jurisdiction touched by the Ontario Line.

Metrolinx projects already provide accessibility and include Community Benefit Agreements. These “requirements” simply reinforce what they are already doing.

The Ontario Line is under fire in at least two locations, Riverside and Thorncliffe Park, because of intrusions on the community. In Riverside, the debate is over underground vs at grade construction, as well as the proposed alignment, and Metrolinx’ possible misrepresentation of the combined GO Transit and Ontario Line corridor from the Don River to Gerrard. In Thorncliffe Park, the proposed maintenance yard requires the expropriation of a group of offices and shops that form a community centre. A Mosque is also affected, although it plans to move to another building nearby.

Changing the design in either of these areas will almost certainly raise costs, and the project cap will be used to counter any such proposals. Oddly enough, this was not an issue on Eglinton West which is going undergound at a cost of nearly $2 billion so that the good people of Etobicoke do not have to see streetcars in their neighbourhood. That decision is now baked into the project cost, and Metrolinx is on the verge of awarding the tunneling contract.

The planned alignment of the Yonge North extension under the Royal Orchard neighbourhood is also under fire, although Metrolinx claims that the line will be so deep it will have no effect on the residential community above. That is an intriguing claim given that the tunnel portal is in the GO rail corridor and the trains will not leap instantly from deep underground to the surface.

The Scarborough decision has long been a fait accompli, but the current announcement commits the feds to a 40 per cent share of the expanded project.

More Streetcars for Toronto

In 2020, the TTC proposed that the streetcar fleet be expanded by 60 cars, and the City signed on to fund 13 of these. The remaining 47 are now funded by contributions from the other governments, a move that will keep Thunder Bay happy with a vehicle order to keep the now-Alstom (formerly Bombardier) plant going. Some work will also go to the Alstom plant in La Pocatière, Québec.

The subway extensions will also need new cars, but unlike the streetcar fleet, there is no open contract to simply be extended. It will be interesting to see how additional cars for Line 1 and a new fleet for Line 2 will be tendered, and what political machinations will bear on the vendor selection.

The expanded streetcar fleet will not all fit in existing facilities at Leslie, Russell and Roncesvalles. The TTC plans to renovate Harvey shops at Hillcrest as a small carhouse serving (at least) the 512 St. Clair route. The existing streetcar maintenance facilities at Hillcrest were designed in the 1920s for standard sized streetcars and could only host a few Flexitys at a time during the early testing and acceptance period.

Now that the full order for more cars has funding, the Hillcrest renovations can proceed.

Left at the Altar

Important projects which might benefit from federal funding are still sitting in limbo including:

  • Eglinton East LRT to UTSC and Malvern
  • Waterfront East LRT to Broadview
  • Line 2 Bloor-Danforth Automatic Train Control and fleet renewal
  • New Line 2 maintenance facility west of Kipling Station (Obico yard property)

There is a separate federal program to fund transit, but that is already partly earmarked for electrification of the bus fleet and garage upgrades. How much will be left for other projects remains to be seen.

With all of this new money for Toronto transit, the TTC needs to update its Capital Plan to reflect the current status of project funding and the remaining budget shortfall. We might have billions worth of promises, and even a few celebratory bottles to drink, but there is a long way to go thanks to decades of deferred investment.

Metrolinx Ducks and Weaves in Riverside

Metrolinx held one of their online consultations on April 22. This time the subject of the Ontario Line between the Don River and Gerrard Street. Normally, I would not review meetings like this in detail. However, I had proposed an alternative alignment and have worked with community groups on this. A reply to statements made by Metrolinx at the meeting is, sadly, essential because of the misdirection and misinformation in their presentation.

The presentation deck for the meeting is available online as is the video of the session on the event page. I will not rehash all of this material and leave these to interested readers.

It was quite clear that Metrolinx thought that they had a presentation to answer the community’s questions, and they launched into it in their usual confident style. However, as the session progressed, and especially during the question-and-answer period (which require a meeting extension to fit everything in), things started to come unglued.

A common tactic would be for Metrolinx to reply to a question with either a partial response, or with a discussion of an issue that had not been asked. I could be generous and assume that they just didn’t hear the question properly, but this happens too often to be pure chance (or mere incompetence). This suggests a deliberate misrepresentation of questions by providing an answer to something that was not asked.

Many questions were submitted in advance on the event page, and these were bundled by the moderator for Metrolinx’ answers. I have consolidated responses from different parts of the session to group related comments together.

Readers of previous articles will be pleased to see that Metrolinx has produced a map with North at the top where it belongs.

The original hoopla about this portion of the Ontario Line included the alleged virtues of the “straddle” design with OL tracks bracketing the GO tracks to allow cross-platform transfers at East Harbour. Metrolinx has now discovered that this brought extra cost and design disadvantages, and they now tout the side-by-side alignment’s benefits. Metrolinx plans are immutable, at least until they embrace a better idea.

Presentation deck, p. 6
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Ontario Line Maintenance Facility Site Selection

This article is a follow-up to Ontario Line Maintenance & Storage Facility and provides detail on the MSF location selection process.

When I first wrote about this project and its effects, Metrolinx advised that they would not be releasing information about the site selection until late 2022, roughly the same point where a contract for construction would be awarded and long after any design changes would be possible.

This position changed quite recently, and the presentation deck for a public meeting on April 15 includes maps of the proposed sites. The original version included the legend “Elected Officials Only” is part of these illustrations and shows how this deck was closely held until quite recently. A revised version posted during the meeting has some differences in the deck.

Although sites downtown and west to the Exhibition were considered, none of them was large enough to accommodate the MSF and yard.

A common thread through this process is that all of the facilities will be at one location as opposed to building storage at various points along the route. That approach would take advantage of train automation to allow remote dispatching of trains to and from service, but it has not been included in the design.

Most of the sites are clustered around the Ontario Line corridor with a few exceptions well away from the line. These are described in the maps below.

The slides describing the removal of various sites from consideration were in the originally posted version of the deck, but they do not appear in the version now online and shown at the meeting.

Four sites in various parts of Flemingdon Park were rejected either because they are too small, they are too far from the main line, or because major development is already planned on the site.

In the original Relief Line Subway plan, trains would have been stored and serviced at Greenwood Yard. This yard is too small for the projected Ontario Line fleet, an intriguing claim considering the relative demand and capacity on Line 2 (now served mainly from Greenwood) and the future Ontario Line.

This leaves three sites on either side of the CP rail corridor through Leaside. Each of these sites has its challenges.

Metrolinx settled on using parts of site 1 (the southern part of the Wicksteed block), and site 2 (the northern part of the Overlea block).

In the previous article comments thread, a reader suggested placing the storage yard in Site 3 (the northeastern portion of the Leaside block). This requires an underpass at the CPR. It is not clear whether Metrolinx considered a hybrid Site 1-3 scheme that would not require the entire Leaside block, only enough room for the storage yard now planned for the northern portion of Site 2.

In the public meeting, Metrolinx stressed that they would be talking to affected businesses about support for relocation. The surprise expressed at this plan by members of the community suggests that consultation is comparatively recent although planning has been underway for some time.

The affected properties are shown in the map below.

The Islamic Society of Toronto plans to the move the Masjid Darussalam mosque from 4 Thorncliffe Park Drive to 20 Overlea Boulevard according to Metrolinx.

Metrolinx said that they are “keenly aware” of impacts to businesses and importance of Iqbal Foods (located in 2 Thorncliffe Park Drive) in the community. They are dedicated to work with all of the business owners to relocate “within the neighbourhood”. How much financial help will be involved remains to be seen. CEO Phil Verster said that it is “100% our intent” that these businesses are not lost to the local community.

Metrolinx received many complaints about timing of their announcement and holding the meeting during Ramadan in an area with a large Muslim population. They plan to hold more consultations after the holy month concludes in mid-May.

The overall project timeline for the North Section of the Ontario Line is summarized in the chart below.