Union Station & Rail Corridor Capacity

At the recent Metrolinx Board meeting, staff presented an overview of planning now underway for the future of Union Station.  One background report addressed the future levels of GO, VIA and other services at Union and the surrounding rail corridors.  This report makes interesting, if unsurprising, reading because it confirms what anyone with even a modest understanding of railway operations already knows:  there are severe capacity constraints at Union as it is now configured and operated.  Too much discussion focuses on a bright future of frequent service without considering how we will fit all the trains and passengers through the hub of the network.

The full report is not online at Metrolinx, but I have obtained a copy.  Due to its size, I will not link the entire document here.  If you just want the highlights, read the Executive Summary.  For more details including a description of the evolving simulations of various levels of service, read the main report.

USRC Track Study Executive Summary

USRC Track Study Main Report

The study considered various scenarios corresponding to stages in the growth of GO and other services over coming decades:

  • Base Case:  The existing service at Union, including a reservation of two tracks out of service for the reconstruction project.  This was used to calibrate the model.
  • 2015:  Construction at the train shed is completed giving two more tracks for service.  The only new peak hour service beyond the base case would be a few VIA trains and the Air Rail Link.
  • Electrification study base case:  This configuration was used as a starting point for the recent electrification study, and it assumes two-way service on all corridors.  Three variants of this were tested to refine operations and remove constraints triggered by service at a much higher level than today.
  • Maximum capacity:  This configuration attempted to maximise service on all corridors.

The study concludes that significant changes will be required both in the physical plant (track, signals) and in train operations which will have to be managed considerably more tightly than today.

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Metrolinx Board Meeting November 23, 2011 (Part I)

The agenda for November 23rd’s meeting of the Metrolinx Board is now online and it includes several reports of interest.  Here I will deal with GO transit performance and capacity issues.  In a future article, I will turn to Presto (and the proposed TTC implementation which is also on the TTC’s agenda for November 23), the Air Rail Link, and planning issues at “Mobility Hubs”.

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November 2011: A Month of Meetings (Updated)

Front Street Redesign

November 3, 2011 (Thursday) from 3:00 to 7:00 pm
Room 309, Metro Hall

This is the second public information centre as part of the Environmental Assessment process for the proposed redesign of Front Street between York and Bay Streets in front of Union Station.  The intent is to make the street much more pedestrian to support the very large volume of foot traffic to and from the station.

One through lane of auto traffic would be maintained in each direction (effectively what is now the case given parked cars, buses and taxis), but the lanes would be wider and would also provide space for cyclists.

This is a drop-in event, not a formal meeting.

For background information, visit the project page.

Updated November 4:  The display panels are now available online.

Ashbridges Bay Carhouse

November 9, 2011 (Wednesday) 6:30 to 8:30 pm
Toronto EMS, 895 Eastern Avenue (at Knox)

This meeting will present the landscape design for the new Maintenance and Storage Facility at Leslie and Lake Shore.  Site preparation work for the new building is already underway, but the contract for construction has not been let by the TTC.  There have been rumours that this will come before the November Commission meeting, but until we see the agenda as well as details of the 2012 Capital Budget this is still uncertain given funding constraints.

Note:  The public display of a mockup of the new TTC low-floor Light Rail Vehicles will likely occur over the weekend of November 11-14.  Further details will be posted here when they are available.

For background information, visit the project page.

Toronto Talks Mobility

The Cities Centre at the University of Toronto will host a two day forum on mobility in the GTA.  There will be two free events, but both of these require pre-registration.

November 9, 2011 (Wednesday) 7:00 to 9:00 pm
City Hall Council Chambers

November 10, 2011 (Thursday) 8:00 am to 5:00 pm
Wychwood Barns

According to the event description:

… this event is not about re-hashing the “Transit City” vs. subway discussion debate. Rather, “Toronto Talks Mobility” will examine what we do next as a region to build on progress made to date (including the Big Move) and how we can ensure long-term success. Ultimately, the event aims to kick-start a campaign to bring a broader civic voice to our transportation future.

I can understand the organizers’ reluctance to get bogged down in debating Transit City or various alternative.  However, any discussion of mobility must address the basic questions of whether we plan for networks we can afford to build, how we will pay for them (and by extension, just what “afford” means) and the tradeoffs between transit modes, speed, road space and network capacity.  This will inevitably touch on Transit City, if only as a starting point.

A “broader civic voice” is definitely required, but this requires ears willing to hear the message.  If Queen’s Park and the City of Toronto reject funding strategies that inevitably require new sources of revenue, this will be an exercise in debating the obvious to no effect.

Calling on Ottawa for new funding is a predictable, but pointless, exercise if we are not prepared to begin the work of funding transit ourselves.  We will be talking about massive network expansion at a time when day-to-day service and quality are under attack not just in Toronto but in many parts of the GTA.

Metrolinx Board Meeting

The regular meeting of the Metrolinx board will be held on Wednesday, November 23 at 8:30 am.  I will post a summary of major issues when the agenda is released.

TTC Commission Meeting

The regular meeting of the TTC will be held on Wednesday, November 23 at 1:00 pm.  I will post a summary of major issues when the agenda is released.

TTC Customer Information Town Hall

November 24, 2011 (Thursday)
City Hall Council Chambers (final details TBA)

This is planned as the first of an ongoing series of Town Hall meetings around the city for the TTC to get public input on a range of issues.  Whether we will actually get to complain about budgets and their effect on service quality remains to be seen.

Waterfront Toronto Queen’s Quay Project

Waterfront Toronto recently hired a Project Manager to oversee this project, and they plan to hold a public meeting covering the construction plans for work on the redesigned Queen’s Quay.  Details will be posted here when they are available, but the meeting is likely to be in late November.

There is also a Community Update meeting planned for the East Bayfront (Yonge Street east to about Parliament).  This is a general update regarding land developments and related projects, but there is not likely to be much info on transit as the whole question of the “Harbourfront East” LRT is hung up in funding problems at the City and TTC.

November 22, 2011 (Tuesday) 6:00 to 8:00 pm
Corus Quay (Atrium), 25 Dockside Drive

How Many Trains Will Fit Through Union Station?

During the Metrolinx Electrification Study, those of us who attended various workshops became aware that there was a parallel study of capacity issues at Union Station.  The electrification plans are, among other things, in support of operating better service on GO generally, but if that service won’t physically fit through Union Station and its approach corridors, there’s a big problem.

That problem is independent of electrification per se because The Big Move from Metrolinx depends on substantially improved commuter rail service.  No capacity, no additional service.

At the recent Metrolinx Board meeting, GO’s President, Gary McNeil, presented an update on GO operations and construction activity.

GO President’s Report & Presentation Deck

The report includes a reference to Union Station capacity:

… Retaining wall construction is well underway to allow for an additional track in this corridor. The Union Station capacity study has been completed, with the result that in the near term, there is capacity at this station to meet needs. With the start of design of double berthing and new south platform, this will provide access required for service expansions. This work is anticipated to be completed in the next five years.  [Page 8]

After the meeting, I requested a copy of the study to learn what conclusions it might have reached. Various working papers from the study had been leaked, but they were neither definitive nor entirely coherent on how to deal with the problem.

Metrolinx has now replied that:

At this time, a detailed public component of the Union Station study is premature as we are undertaking on-going research. Specific information will most likely be available for the public when future potential projects develop from this study.

The purpose of the study is to assess the Union Station Rail Corridor (USRC) train capacity at four time points:

  • existing;
  • completion of planned infrastructure in 2015 and implementation for service improvements, including the ARL;
  • Electrification Reference Case (ERC);
  • and 2031 (Big Move planning document).

In doing so, we hope to identify opportunities to increase capacity by making more effective use of existing and planned infrastructure.  We also hope to identify the infrastructure needed to address any capacity shortfalls.  This study provided only a technical analysis, and Metrolinx will consider its opportunities after further assessment.

However, there is a good deal of material to get started on.

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Service Changes Effective February 13, 2011

The following service changes take effect on February 13:

6 Bay: With the beginning of construction at Bay and Front for the Union Station Second Platform Project, various lane closures will increase traffic congestion.  The Bay route will be adjusted by adding running time to the route, and by cutting back the short turn service now operating to Queen’s Quay and Yonge (6A) to the Dundas short turn (6B) during the PM peak.  The AM peak short turn already operates only to Dundas.

One bus will be added to the route during the AM peak, midday and early evening service weekdays, and on weekend daytime periods.

Headways are unchanged except during the PM peak when the combined service north of Dundas drops from 5’15” to 4’30”, but from Dundas to Queen’s Quay it widens from 5’15” to 9’00”.

This change is expected to last for three years.

145 Downtown/Humber Bay Express: The running times for this route will be lengthened in the AM peak to reflect actual traffic conditions.  The route will continue to operate five trips using three buses.

191 Highway 27 Rocket: One bus will be added to the PM peak service to reduce the headway from 6’30” to 6’15” and reduce the average load/bus from 49 to 47.

41 Keele and 107 Keele North: Road construction at York University requires a considerable addition to the running time, and a route diversion is already in place.  From one to three buses will be added at various times on 41 Keele to maintain the pre-construction headways.  On 107 Keele North, one or two buses will be added.

These changes are expected to last until early May.

52 Lawrence West: The running time on the first inbound trip from Martin Grove at 4:54am will be extended by 5 minutes to reflect actual requirements.

School Trip Adjustments:

44 Kipling South: Two school trips in the PM peak will be adjusted to operate at times better suited to actual dismissal times at the sites they serve.

112E West Mall Express to Eringate: A school trip now scheduled to leave Kipling Station at 7:52am will be moved back to 7:48am so that it falls midway between two local trips.

Toronto Zoo Seasonal Changes:

86 Scarborough and 85 Sheppard East: Effective March 11, the last trips from the Zoo will leave about an hour later than on the winter schedule, shortly after 7pm.  Weekday service is provided by 86 Scarborough, and weekend service by 85 Sheppard East.

York Region Transit Service Reductions: The following changes will be made at York Region’s request.

102D Markham Road to Mount Joy GO Station: The trips leaving Anderson Avenue and Markham Road at 6:12am, 6:47am, and 11:50pm will no longer operate.  They will be replaced with trips on branches within the City of Toronto.

129A McCowan Road North to Major Mackenzie: The 5:48am southbound trip will be replaced with a trip operating only to Steeles Avenue.

24D Victoria Park to Major Mackenzie: The northbound trip leaving Victoria Park Station at 9:56pm with a return trip southbound at 11:01pm will now operate only to Steeles Avenue.

TTC Meeting Wrapup for December 15, 2010

[My apologies for the lateness of this post.  The last few days have seen a number of distractions and conflicts with blogging in my life, and I am just getting back to it “full time” now.]

The Commission meeting began with two unusual events.  One was a “motion without notice” by newly-minted Commissioner Palacio proposing that the Commission ask Queen’s Park to give the TTC “essential service” status.  (This was a procedural device requiring a 2/3 majority to permit for an “urgent” situation, although with the current Commission makeup, that sort of majority is easy to attain.)  After a brief debate and with only Commissioner Augimeri (the token non-Ford supporter on the Commission) opposed, the motion passed.  The “urgency” was caused by this item’s being up for debate on Council’s agenda for the following day based on a similar motion at Executive Committee earlier in the week.  I have commented on this issue separately.

The other event was an inaugural address by the new Chair, Karen Stintz.  (See Chair Stintz’ blog and scroll down to “My Priorities as TTC Chair”.)  There are four main aims, none of which is worked out in much detail.

  • Sharpen the client focus.  A troubling note here is that “clients” is read to include “funders”, and getting value for money is considered a matter of customer satisfaction.  I agree, although probably not as Chair Stintz would like, from the point of view that money well managed and spent can give us more and better service.  This runs headlong into the next point …
  • Realign transit expansion plans.  Chair Stintz takes the Ford party line that voters want underground transit, although she also wants to stay in line with the regional view of Metrolinx and the funding of state of good repair projects.  Voters may want underground transit, but whether we can afford it or need it in the larger context is quite another matter.
  • Invest every dollar wisely.  If I comment on this, I will start to repeat myself.
  • Embrace new ways of doing business.  This point is rather vague and the only concrete proposal is a change in the Commission’s composition.  The real problem, as we have discussed at length on this site before, is the question of who would be “qualified” and “appropriate” to sit on the TTC board, what their agendas might be, and which masters they really served.

I wish Chair Stintz well in a very difficult role in difficult times.  The TTC and the transit system is a large, complex organization, and its effect on the City of Toronto is greater and more long-lasting than most other agencies Councillors direct.  Collisions between being “pro transit” and being part of “Team Ford” are likely to come as soon as the 2011 budget process, and certainly as Council begins to look at planning for 2012 and beyond.

Union Station Second Platform & Concourse Improvements

This report, authorizing a contract for the construction work on this project, was approved, but not until after considerable questioning by Commissioner Minnan-Wong who is greatly perturbed by the increasing cost of the project.  How did it get from $90-million to $137m (not including work funded from various TTC facility improvement lines in the Capital Budget), and who was paying for the added cost?

The project is funded primarily by Waterfront Toronto which, in turn, has a nest egg contributed by the City, Queen’s Park and Ottawa in equal measure.  WFT agreed to fund the increased cost, and the money was redirected from the cancelled Front Street Extension project.  The cost increase comes mainly from changes in the design to accommodate the City’s own Union Station project as well as the complexity of rebuilding a major subway station while it remains in operation.

The project gets underway in January 2011.

Ashbridge’s Bay Maintenance Facility

This topic was the subject of several deputations by members of the Community and by area Councillors, as well as some debate among the Commissioners.  The primary issues raised were:

  • Why was the cost of site preparation not included in the original project budget?
  • Are there other properties owned by the TTC or by City agencies that could be used either in place of the proposed Ashbridge’s Bay site, or that could allow the TTC to shuffle existing uses among sites to free up space for the new streetcar yard elsewhere?
  • Is the land that would be used for the new facility needed for future expansion of the sewage treatment plant next door?

A few points are worth noting.

  • Any change in site would require a new Transit Project Assessment that would take the better part of a year to complete.
  • A site in New Toronto owned by the City’s agency Build Toronto was previously rejected by the TTC as being too small, although at 24 acres it exceeds the property requirements for a new facility.  The real issue here may be that Build Toronto hopes to reap $50-million from the site, considerably more than they would be paid, if anything, by the TTC.
  • The Lever site south of Eastern Avenue near Broadview was previously rejected for being partly unavailable, but that condition no longer applies.
  • The need for expanding the sewage treatment plant had been ruled out during the study for the Ashbridge’s Bay site, but in any event would require taking of the existing open space and berm which some local residents are defending against the TTC project.
  • The scope of work planned for existing carhouses keeps changing.  For example, a proposed expansion of Russell Carhouse to be used as a temporary facility for work on the prototype streetcars, and later as a major collision repair shops, has been dropped.  This work will now be done at Hillcrest in the bays used for maintaining the articulated streetcars (ALRVs).

TTC management will report back on these issues early in 2011.

Again, the question of project budgeting came up.  There is a still unsettled battle between TTC and City finance staff about whether the TTC can spend money on a project whose scope and cost have changed without first obtaining Council approval.  Because the TTC board delayed action on awarding this contract, the issue has not yet come to a head, but may do as part of the 2011 budget process.  A revised project scope for this facility will be included in the overall Capital Budget and this may, or may not, attract attention.  As I understand current Council policy, only if the revised scope is approved by Council through an updated budget would the TTC actually have the authority to proceed.

New Overhead Facility Lease

As I mentioned in the preview of this meeting’s agenda, management recommended that the Commission relocate its overhead maintenance crew to new quarters to be leased for five years.  This will allow for expansion of the crew to undertake major reconstruction of the streetcar overhead infrastructure.

This report was approved without comment.

Post Secondary Student Metropasses

A large crowd of students demonstrated on Nathan Phillips Square before the TTC meeting, and they moved into the Committee Room to support speakers on this issue.

The Commission decided that students in Private Career Colleges who have full time programs (defined as 20 or more hours/week) would be eligible for student metropass pricing.  This will come into effect probably for February 2011.  Other groups, notably students at Community Colleges, will be the subject of a separate report early in the new year.

Most interesting about this issue was the fact that the Commission made no attempt to dismiss the request on the grounds of budget constraints or equity with other riders.  This particular room full of students got an uncharacteristically warm reception from an agency whose usual response to requests for subsidies is “go elsewhere”.  The Commission (partly in their other role as Councillors) is spending the “surplus” in the TTC budget even though this may not last into 2011.  The presence of a well-known former politician as the legal counsel government relations consultant for the Ontario Association of Career Colleges may have had something to do with the success of this student appeal.

Transit Service Variety Village

After an impassioned deputation by Councillor Crawford, one of the new faces at City Council, and a staff presentation outlining the problems involved and the options available to serve Variety Village, the Commission decided to go forward with a staff proposal to increase the hours of service on the Variety Village Community Link bus so that instead of ending at 7:00 pm, the service will run until 10:00 pm.  Moreover, the frequency will be improved from hourly to half-hourly.  Both changes take effect in January 2011.

Unknown to most would-be riders, this service is available to any transit rider, not just to Wheel Trans users.  The combination of longer hours and better service are expected to improve riding on this route.  A report on the success of the improved service and on alternative ways to serve Variety Village will come forward no later than June 2011 with the intention that any changes would be implemented in September.

TTC Meeting Preview — December 2010 (Updated)

Updated Dec. 11, 2010 at 2:20 pm: The section on the site remediation report for the proposed Ashbridges Bay carhouse has been updated to reflect a June 2010 report on a possible alternative site near Broadview and Eastern.

Original article from Dec. 10, 2010:

The new Toronto Transit Commission dominated by political supporters of Mayor Ford will hold its first substantive meeting on December 15, 2010.  Among items of interest on the agenda are:

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GO Electrification & Air Rail Link Updates (Update 2)

Updated Tuesday, November 16, 2010 at 5:10 pm: Metrolinx today announced that it will be ordering DMUs from Sumitomo, piggy backing on the Sonoma-Marin order.  The statement, which is available in full on the Metrolinx site, includes:

Metrolinx will be entering into formal negotiations with Sumitomo Corporation of America to exercise an option from the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit (California) procurement contract to purchase up to eighteen (18) highly efficient Diesel Multiple Units (DMU’s). These vehicles will meet stringent Tier 4 emissions standards and will be convertible to electric for the Air Rail Link.

Updated Sunday, November 14, 2010 at 3:30 pm: Information on the proposed Sonoma-Marin “SMART” Diesel Multiple Unit (DMU) acquisition has been linked from this article and the price per unit cited by me in the original text has been corrected.  See the section on the ARL for updates.

The original article (as amended) from November 12 follows below.

On Tuesday, November 16, the Metrolinx Board will receive updates on the GO Transit Electrification Study and on the status of the Air Rail Link to Pearson from Union Station.

The Electrification Study has been underway through 2010 and it has produced a number of background reports.  I will leave the truly keen readers to plough through all of this, but a few high points deserve mention.

  • Electric locomotives are the most cost-effective option for GO services
  • The most value-for-money comes from electrifying entire corridors

That electric operations are better for GO is no surprise to anyone who has watched the growth of electric railways worldwide.  Sadly, GO has decades of saying “no” to electrics on the grounds that investment in better service trumped investment in technology at the service levels then in effect.  With the proposals found in The Big Move, this position is no longer valid.

The study workshops have seen vigourous debate on the issue of locomotives vs a fleet of electric multiple units (EMUs).  It is cheaper to haul longer trains of coaches with one electric locomotive than to power each car in a train.  However, this places a limitation on acceleration and speed between stations because the locomotive must do all of the work.  (Only the locomotive’s wheels provide the power for acceleration, and there are limits to the forces that can be transmitted in this manner.)

The finding that full corridor electrification is most cost-effective comes from the high cost of dual-mode locomotives and the operational constraints that would probably exist if only some units had this capability.  Only trains with “off-wire” capability could be dispatched to outer, peak-only parts of corridors.  The study does not review a configuration with a mix of pure diesel-hauled trains with electric trains, although these would have effectively the same operational constraints.

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