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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Where Is The Grass?

With the recent interest in testing activities on the Eglinton Crosstown, and the inevitable flurry of photos that will appear in coming weeks, a question popped up on social media recently: where is the grass?

Illustrations of the line’s eventual state vary, but there are two examples below that clearly show a grassed right-of-way, at least in some locations. [Source: Early Works Open House Presentation]

I asked Metrolinx about the extent of the line that will be grassed, and when we might see more about this. Here is their reply [email from Metrolinx Media Relations, June 1, 2021]:

  • There will be grass across the full width of the Guideway, with the exception of bridges and underpasses, Stop platforms, intersections, and where roadway vehicular, pedestrian and/or emergency services access is required.
  • Plant material of the Green Tracks shall be selected from suitable species of sedum or grass that are low maintenance and resilient to track conditions such as drought, salt, frost and cold, urban pollution, heat, and pulling wind forces of the vehicle.
  • Vegetation surface of the Green Tracks shall be harmonized with the whole track system.
  • We’ll have more details to share closer to the project’s completion.

If I learn more about Metrolinx’ plans, I will update this article.

Streetcars Come To Scarborough

On May 25, 2021, Metrolinx moved the first of its test LRVs from the Mount Dennis maintenance facility at the west end of the new Eglinton Crosstown route to the more-or-less completed section of the line between Brentcliffe and Birchmount. This move was done by truck and trailer as the central tunnel section is not yet available. There is no definitive date for the tunnel to open for testing all the way east to Brentcliffe Portal, let alone for revenue service.

The cars are delivered to a temporary ramp installed at Rosemount Drive (between Birchmount and Ionview) where they are unloaded. From that point, they run under their own power.

Initial testing will be at low speed to check clearances and track geometry, and Metrolinx will then move up to regular service speeds and train operation. When cars are not out on the line for tests, they will be stored inside of the tunnel west of Brentcliffe portal.

Photos and videos of this event are on the Metrolinx Blog, and a selection sent to me by Harold McMann (to whom much thanks!) appears below.

And, yes, of course they are “Light Rail Vehicles”. A rose by any other name …

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.

Infrastructure Ontario’s April 2021 Update

Infrastructure Ontario issues quarterly updates about the projects it is managing for P3 procurement, and I have been tracking the transportation items on this site. Their April 2021 Market Update came out on April 8, but I have been waiting for clarification of some issues before posting here.

Here is a spreadsheet tracking changes in project status since these updates began.

Items highlighted in yellow have changed since the last update.

Note that this report only covers the procurement portions of Metrolinx projects that are undertaken through Infrastructure Ontario. Contracts that are in construction, or are directly tendered and managed through Metrolinx outside of the P3 model, do not appear here.

Ontario Line, Line 1 North Extension (Richmond Hill Subway), Line 4 Sheppard East Subway

There are no changes to these projects in this update.

Line 2 East Extension (Scarborough Subway)

As previously announced, the tunneling contract gets underway this spring. The contract for the remainder of the project (stations etc.) enters the Request for Qualifications (RFQ) stage this spring/summer, but contract execution is not expected until spring 2023.

Note that vehicles for the extension will be procured as part of a TTC order for fleet expansion and renewal that does not show up in the IO updates.

Line 5 Eglinton West Extension

As previously announced, the tunneling contract gets underway this spring. There is no date yet for the remainder of the project to enter the RFQ stage.

GO Expansion Projects

Metrolinx came up with a new term for procurement, the “alliance” model where more responsibility for the project is shifted back onto Metrolinx as owner rather than expecting bidders to take on a substantial project risk. This showed up in the Union Station platform expansion project early in 2020.

In this round of updates, things appear to have gone a step further. Three projects (Lake Shore East and West Corridors, and the Milton Corridor) are reduced in dollar value. I asked Infrastructure Ontario about this, and they replied:

Since the previous Market Update (Dec 2020), there have been some changes in scope of work for these projects. Items which have been descoped may be carried out by Metrolinx in the future under separate, traditionally-procured contracts. The intent is to better manage risks and costs with respect to the GO Expansion program.

As these projects remain in procurement, we will provide further updates this spring/summer.

Email from Ian McConachie, IO Media Relations, April 9, 2021

Specific changes by corridor:

CorridorChange (per Infrastructure Ontario)Previous CostUpdated Cost
Lakeshore WestDescoping of Exhibition Station in-corridor enhancement works and track improvements, Clarkson Station and Bronte Station in-corridor enhancement works.$500M-$1B$200-500M
Lakeshore East-Central Descoping of Scarboro Golf Club Works and 2.5km of grading (previously part of LSE-E) and deferral of Highland Creek Expansion $200-499M$100-200M
Milton Descoping of Station Operations West Facility and replacing the pedestrian tunnel with a pedestrian bridge. $100-199M< $100M

The project formerly called “Milton Corridor” is now called “Milton Station”.

A separate project line, Lakeshore East-West Corridor, dropped off of the IO Update in mid-2020. The project was transferred to Metrolinx for delivery as a non-P3 contract.

The comment about “better manage risks and costs” is telling here, and it implies that the P3 model has not worked out as favourably as hoped for all of Metrolinx’ work. In some cases it is simpler and cheaper to just go out and buy/build something yourself than to set up elaborate machinery for others to do this for you.

Notably the $10B GO “ON-Corr” project which entails a complete restructuring of GO including future operation, maintenance and electrification has not changed status in a year. With GO’s ridership uncertain in the near term, projecting just what Metrolinx might ask a P3 to undertake, let alone contracting for it, is like peering into a very cloudy crystal ball.

TTC Transit Expansion Update

At its February 10, 2021 meeting, the TTC Board receive a long report entitled Transit Network Expansion.

The raison-d’être for the report is to obtain the authorization to increase staffing by 34 positions that would be funded by Metrolinx, but would be part of the TTC’s stucture. Many aspects of projects underway by Metrolinx depend on TTC input and acceptance because they affect lines the TTC will operate and, at least partly, maintain. A new Transit Expansion Assurance Department within Engineering & Construction. The authorization include provision for temporary expansion beyond 34 should this be required.

This move is intriguing because it implies Metrolinx has accepted that it cannot build new lines completely on their own without TTC input, especially when they will operate as part of the TTC network.

The report also requests authorization for:

[…] the Chief Executive Officer, in consultation with the City Manager, City of Toronto where applicable, to negotiate a Master Agreement and/or other applicable Agreements with the Province and/or any other relevant provincial agency for the purposes of the planning, procurement, construction, operations, and maintenance of the Subway Program, in accordance with Board and City Council direction, and to report back to the Board on the results of such negotiations. [pp. 2-3]

There is a great deal more involved in building and operating transit projects than holding a press conference with little more than a nice map. Now comes the hard part of actually doing the work. Whether Metrolinx will negotiate in good faith remains to be seen, but the TTC and Toronto appear to be less willing to hide Metrolinx’ faults in light of the Presto screwups.

Another recommendation has a hint that all is not well with consultations, as that should be any surprise to those who deal regularly with Metrolinx.

Request Metrolinx to conduct meaningful engagement with the TTC’s Advisory Committee on Accessible Transit (ACAT) as part of the Project Specific Output Specification (PSOS) review and design review for all projects within the provincial programs. [p. 3]

The operative word here is “meaningful”. ACAT has already complained of difficulties with Metrolinx including such basics as poorly designed elevators on the Eglinton Crosstown line that cannot be “fixed” because they have already been ordered.

Right from the outset, the TTC claims to have a significant role, a very different situation from the days when Metrolinx claimed it would be easy for them to take over the subway system.

The TTC continues to play a key role in the planning, technical review, and implementation of all major transit expansion projects in Toronto and the region. These include the Toronto Light Rail Transit Program and the provincial priority subway projects, referred to collectively as the “Subways Program”: the Ontario Line; the Scarborough Subway Extension; the Yonge North Subway Extension; and the Eglinton Crosstown West Extension. [p. 1]

In support of the staffing request, the report goes into great detail on many projects:

Two projects are not listed among the group above, but there is a description buried in the section on Bloor-Yonge expansion.

  • Overall subway system capacity and service expansion
  • Any discussion of the Line 2 renewal project

There is no discussion at all about renewal and expansion of surface service. This is just as important as new lines, but it is not seen as “expansion” with the political interest and funding that brings. Yes, this is a “rapid transit” report, but the core network of subway lines dies without the surface feeder routes, and many trips do not lie conveniently along rapid transit corridors.

The map below shows the location of most of the projects, but there are some odd inclusions and omissions.

  • The RapidTO bus corridors are not included.
  • City-funded GO stations at St. Clair/Old Weston, Lansdowne, King/Liberty, East Harbour and Finch/Kennedy are shown.
  • GO funded stations at Woodbine Racetrack, Mount Dennis, Caledonia and Park Lawn are shown.
  • The planned improvement at between TTC’s Dundas West and GO’s Bloor station is not shown, nor is any potential link between Main and Danforth stations.
  • SmartTrack stations are shown, but there is no discussion of how GO or ST service would fit into the overall network.

The following two maps have attracted a lot of attention, although they do not tell the full story. Much as I am a streetcar/LRT advocate, the presence of the entire streetcar network here is misleading, especially in the absence of the RapidTO proposals. Some of the streetcar lines run in reserved lanes, although thanks to overly generous scheduling some of them are no faster than the mixed-traffic operations they replaced (notably St. Clair). However, most of these routes rank equivalently to the bus network in terms of transit priority. If we are going to show the streetcar lines, why not the 10-minute network of key bus route?

The map is also distorted by having different and uneven scales in both directions. The size of downtown is exaggerated while other areas are compressed.

For example, the distance from Queen to Bloor is, in reality, half that of Bloor to Eglinton and one quarter of Eglinton to Finch. It is also one quarter of the distance from Yonge west to Jane or east to Victoria Park. For comparison, the TTC System Map is to scale, and it shows the city in its actual rectangular form.

This map gives an impression of coverage, but masks the size of the gaps between routes as one moves away from the core. Bus riders know all about those gaps.

By 2031, the network is hoped to look something like this. No BRT proposals are shown, but we do see the waterfront extensions west to Dufferin, and east to Broadview (East Harbour). Also missing are the GO corridors which, by 2031, should have frequent service and (maybe) attractive fares. They are (or should be) as much a part of “Future Rapid Transit” as the TTC routes.

This map is trying to do too much and too little at the same time. It also reveals a quite selective view of “regional” transit.

I am not trying to argue for a map that shows every detail, but it should exist (a) in scale and (b) in formats with overlays showing major parts of the network and how they relate to the overall plan. When people concentrate on the pretty coloured lines, they tend to forget the other equally important parts of the network.

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Eglinton Crosstown Delayed Again (Updated)

This article was updated at 2:00 pm on October 2, 2020 to include remarks from Metrolinx CEO Phil Verster. Scroll down the end of the article to see the update.

In the Toronto Star, Ben Spurr reports that the opening date for the Crosstown line has been delayed five months to 2022, and even then it will open in stages.

New report says the Eglinton Crosstown LRT could open five months late — and without its Eglinton stop

Metrolinx, the provincial transit agency overseeing the project, conceded earlier this year that the $5.3-billion, 19-kilometre LRT across midtown won’t be finished by the previously announced deadline of September 2021. Metrolinx says it now expects the line to open sometime in 2022, but a firm date hasn’t been set.

But according to a new report, Crosslinx Transit Solutions, the private group contracted by the province to build the line, has floated a plan for a phased opening. It would see most of the LRT in service by Feb. 28, 2022, with the exception of Eglinton station, which wouldn’t be fully complete until September 2022.

Source: Toronto Star

Construction watchers might see this as a confirmation of what they see looking at slow progress at key sites, but there are more important issues at work here.

The news came not from Metrolinx itself, but from a notice from Moody’s Canada that it was downgrading its rating outlook for Crosslink Transit Solutions “to negative from stable owing to the likely delay in the completion of the Eglinton LRT Project”. The rating of CTS debt is not changed, only the outlook for potential updates.

At issue is the question of how much of this delay’s cost will fall to the P3 partner CTS and how much to Metrolinx and the Government of Ontario. To the degree that CTS must absorb this, their financial situation would be weakened.

An intriguing point in this announcement is that the value of affected debt is cited as $731.9-million (Canadian), a relatively small part of the total project cost. The entire P3 concept was sold on the basis that financial risk would be transferred from the Province to its partners.

According to the Star, CTS has claimed extra costs for a variety of delays such as unexpected conditions at Eglinton Station and labour constraints due to the pandemic. Metrolinx denies these claims, but if they eventually do pay out, it would not be the first time.

Various dates are cited by the Star for the line’s opening:

  • February 28, 2022: The date for opening most of the line, except Eglinton Station, according to Moody’s report
  • May 2022: Completion of most of Eglinton Station
  • Fall 2022: Direct connection to the existing subway station opens

What is not clear is whether the February date includes provision for testing and acceptance of the nearly-completed line by Metrolinx.

Between May 2022 and opening of the subway link, passengers would have to transfer by walking on Eglinton between the existing subway entrance and a new entrance building to the LRT station.

For some time, the Metrolinx page for the Crosstown project cited an expected completion of 2021, but in March 2020 this was changed to 2022. This problem has been brewing for some time. Spurr reported the delay in February 2020 (see Eglinton Crosstown faces another setback, delayed until 2022).

The original target for substantial completion of the contract was September 2021, but there is an 18-month window to the “long stop date” when the agreement could be terminated. Now, only six months remain in that window. What exactly Metrolinx would face if they pulled the plug is unknown, but this would leave a nearly complete line tangled in legal problems.

The TTC and City of Toronto face ongoing costs for the service implications of the construction project, but this would be offset by a delay in the point where Metrolinx would begin billing the City for the line’s operation and maintenance (the TTC will only be directly responsible for part of this work).

“Metrolinx is focused on ensuring that (Crosslinx) fully meets its obligations to deliver a system as soon as possible — a system that is complete, fully tested and ready to provide high quality, safe and reliable service to our customers,” said Metrolinx CEO Phil Verster in a stern statement.

He said Crosslinx “has not achieved necessary production rates to achieve the original project schedule” and Metrolinx “will continue to hold (the consortium) accountable for these delays.”

Source: Toronto Star

Metrolinx may take a hard line attitude to non-performance by CTS, but more than bluster will be needed to achieve project completion. The expected June 2022 provincial election will bring considerable pressure to provide a ribbon cutting for Premier Ford at whatever cost is necessary.

Updated October 2, 2020 at 2:00 pm

Metrolinx has issued a statement from CEO Phil Verster through the Metrolinx Blog.

This includes the following comments:

Transit projects are delivered on-time when the contractor achieves the production rates they committed to and only through the proper management of their own logistics and operations. In the case of Eglinton Crosstown, our building partner, Crosslinx Transit Solutions (CTS), has not achieved necessary production rates to maintain the original project schedule that they committed to in their bid.

Any suggestion, like the one made in the Moody’s Credit Opinion, that the line could be considered ready to open without the ability for passengers to get on or off at the flagship station at Yonge and Eglinton, where tens of thousands of passengers will transfer on a daily basis between the Eglinton Crosstown and the TTC Line 1 Subway, is completely a distraction and is not in line with the obligations CTS took on when it signed the contract.

It is imperative that CTS now focuses on getting the project completed, including Eglinton Station, to the highest quality standards.

Source: Metrolinx Blog

It is clear from this statement that Metrolinx is taking a hard-line attitude to the current state of the project. Whether this will provoke improved performance by the CTS consortium, or create a logjam in negotiations remains to be seen.

This is among Metrolinx’ largest projects, and if the P3 is unable to deliver as promised, this will undermine the credibility of this method of project delivery. However, what could also happen is that industry’s appetite for such undertakings and especially for assumption of risk may be reduced threatening the bidding process for other projects including rapid transit lines and GO expansion.

Drifting Timelines on Metrolinx Projects (Updated)

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.

Subway Projects

Ontario Line

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.

  1. GO Corridor from Don River to Gerrard
  2. South Tunnels, Civil Works and Stations CNE to Don River
  3. Rolling Stock, System Operations & Maintenance
  4. 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.

Sheppard East Subway Extension

This project remains in the planning phase.

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Eglinton West: An LRT Subway for Etobicoke?

On February 28, 2020, Metrolinx release a Preliminary Business Case for the Scarborough Subway Extension, and an Initial Business Case for the western extension of the Eglinton Crosstown LRT from Mount Dennis to Pearson Airport.

The Eglinton West Extension IBC is not as blatantly skewed as the Scarborough study in that it acknowledges the LRT plans and uses these as a starting point. The SSE study simply pretends that LRT does not exist and touts “benefits” of the subway versus a bus network.

The idea of a line along Eglinton West has been around for a long time.

  • 1972 ‘GO Urban’ and Rapid Transit Plan on Eglinton: Eglinton corridor was part of Province’s and TTC’s ‘Intermediate Capacity Transit System’ (ICTS) Network Plan (in which the present Scarborough RT was a part of)

  • 1985: ‘Network 2011’ and Eglinton West Plan: TTC Report identified Eglinton West as busway corridor as part of Metro Toronto’s rapid transit network plan (in which the present Sheppard subway was a part of)

  • 2007: ‘Transit City’ and Eglinton Crosstown Plan: Eglinton Crosstown LRT (spanning from Pearson in the west to Kennedy in the east) was part of the City of Toronto’s surface rapid transit expansion proposal

  • 2010: Crosstown LRT Project Approval: City of Toronto sought EA approval for surface LRT alignment from Kennedy to Pearson Airport Area boundary, one year after the City approved the full-length Eglinton Crosstown alignment

  • 2012: Eglinton West Segment Deferment: Metrolinx undertook Crosstown LRT construction, with Mount Dennis-Pearson Airport segment deferred due to funding constraint

  • 2016: Eglinton West LRT IBC: City of Toronto and Metrolinx co-published Eglinton West LRT’s first IBC and recommended surface LRT option, and the City approved funding for preliminary planning and design works

  • 2017: Grade Separation Review: City of Toronto approved arterial and midblock stops along Eglinton West and conducted grade separation study to address community concerns

  • 2019: Surface Option’s Affirmation: City of Toronto in its report maintained its preference for surface LRT based on fine-tuned benefit-cost analysis. [p 9]

As an historical note, a mid-1960s TTC plan to serve the airport with LRT linking southeast to the Bloor Subway and northeast to the Finch corridor was stillborn thanks to the 1972 GO Urban scheme.

We have arrived at a preferred subway option by provincial fiat:

In December 2017, the City of Toronto conducted further studies on additional grade-separated options based on inputs from the local community who are concerned with the at-grade LRT’s traffic impact. The number of options for the Toronto Segment were revised to four (featuring at-grade and below-grade alignments with frequent arterial and midblock stops, and a mostly below-grade alignment with either a single stop or multiple arterial stops) and re-evaluated using traffic model updates and additional metrics recommended by community representatives.

Nonetheless, the City of Toronto in early 2019 released a report re-confirming their preference for an at-grade LRT due to its cost-effectiveness in meeting all of the city’s project and policy objectives.

Subsequently, the Province’s 2019 Budget announcement included the extension of the Eglinton Crosstown LRT to Mississauga as one of the four budgeted rapid transit projects with an underground alignment. [p 27]

This is a second “Initial” study, but it is in the context of Premier Ford’s strong preference for subways. The usual caveats apply about the rough level of cost estimates and comparisons between options.

There is a fundamental conflict in the analysis in this study triggered both by the Premier’s distaste for “streetcars” and by Metrolinx methodology.

The surface option carries the greatest number of weekday riders, but one of the subway options carries the most “new” riders. In other words, the surface option does a better job of serving existing demand while not drawing as much new demand, while the subway option leaves some existing demand quite literally “out in the cold”, but (according to the modelling) shifts more people to transit from autos. The machinery of value assignment rewards the new riders more because they allegedly represent less auto use, and they tend to be longer-distance riders who save more travel time.

At no point does the study explain why carrying fewer total riders at much greater expense constitutes a valid planning outcome.

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Eglinton Crosstown LRT Chronology (Updated)

Updated February 21, 2020 at 11:00 am:

This update includes a reply from Metrolinx detailing the nine-month contractor delay he cited in his announcement of the 2022 opening for the Crosstown, as well as additional information on delays to the project.

Metrolinx Metrolinx Media Relations provided additional information on the status of work at this point in an email on February 20, 2020.

Based on CTS’s original schedule, 30% design packages for the majority of stations (the first step in the final design process) were to have been completed and approved by December 2015/January 2016.

With the exception of Keelesdale station, none of that work was completed until March 2016 or later, and in the case of Eglinton station the 30% design was rejected due to design deficiencies.

It’s also important to note, that other key aspects of design, such systems design components, were also delayed significantly.

Despite the known delay at this point, this was not mentioned in public reports in following months.

While the update explains some of the issues CEO Phil Verster referenced in his announcement, it does not explain the reason why the in service date continued to be cited as September 2021 well after Metrolinx knew that this was not likely or possible. The opening date has been cited publicly and is included in TTC’s 2021 budget and bus fleet plan.

Internal Metrolinx status reports from September 2019 show that the problem at Eglinton Station was already a known issue as were problems with ground water at Avenue Station and a conflict with CPR at Mount Dennis, among other construction-related delays. The estimated substantial completion date was already in 2022, and it continued to move later in the year to at least May 2022. It is not clear whether “substantial completion” coincides with opening, or merely with the point where commissioning of the line can begin, a process that is several months long and during which other problems that could delay revenue service might arise.

Moreover, the claim by Minister Mulroney that proposed legislation would have accelerated this project by three years remains completely unsupported by the actual project chronology.

Updated February 21, 2020 at 7:00 pm: Metrolinx has confirmed that “substantial completion” includes commissioning so that revenue service can begin.

Original article:

On February 18, Transportation Minister Caroline Mulroney introduced the Building Transit Faster Act which is intended to speed up progress on the four key Ontario transit projects in the Toronto area: The Ontario Line, the Eglinton West LRT extension, the North Yonge subway extension to Richmond Hill, and the Scarborough Subway extension to Sheppard.

The day before, February 17, the Star’s Ben Spurr reported that the Crosstown line’s opening would be delayed until “well into 2022” according to Metrolinx CEO Phil Verster. This delay had been rumoured for some time, but was denied by Metrolinx until now.

Metrolinx published a statement on their website including photos showing unexpected conditions discovered on the Yonge Subway tunnel structure at Eglinton Station that were responsible for part of the delay.

The statement also includes a claim that the consortium building the project, Crosslinx Transit Solutions started work “nine months later than planned after contract award in July 2015”. This does not align with actual events as shown later in this article. I expect to receive a clarification from Metrolinx on this matter soon.

During her press conference, Minister Mulroney claimed that the Eglinton Crosstown project would have opened three years sooner had the provisions of the Act been in place. This claim is hard to believe considering the nature of the delays we know about, the types of delay addressed by the legislation, and the actual chronology of the project.

Eglinton and other projects have faced numerous hurdles, but these have overwhelmingly been political and financial.

To sort this out, I have assembled a history of the Eglinton Crosstown.

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