Union Station 2nd Platform Update

I have received queries from some people here, and know there is a discussion on another transit site, about the status of the TTC’s 2nd platform contract.  Recently I asked Adam Giambrone what was going on, and the following info is based on his reply.

The bid that would otherwise have been successful came in at a price well above the project budget.  As this work will be funded by Waterfront Toronto, and they are not prepared to up their contribution, the bid was rejected.

The TTC has reviewed the project staging and will re-tender the work using a different construction scheme that will require the full or partial closing of Front Street.  The new tender will go out within a week.

Front Street Redesign Open House (Updated)

The display panels from the Front Street Redesign Project Open House are now available online at the project website.  Here is an overview together with my comments.

The introduction at page 4 shows the overall process and also reveals a major flaw.  We have reached the point of selecting a “preferred alternative” on which all future detailed design and discussion will be based, but I am not convinced that only a single option should be carried forward.  I am quite certain that feedback from many regular users of this area — pedestrians, businesses, transportation service operators, cyclists, even a few motorists — will suggest that more than one option has its advantages.  At this point, we don’t have enough information to pick one, and doing so risks compromising the project’s credibility when it comes before the new, 2011 Council for further approvals.

The objectives listed on page 6 include:

  • Accommodate increased development and passenger growth associated with Union Station, and …
  • Prioritize the role of pedestrian activity.

However, as we will see later, much analysis reflects the need to accommodate auto traffic even though pedestrian volumes will more than double in coming decades.  The premise should be turned on its head — what design is needed to handle the pedestrians, and what, if anything, is left over for other uses.  Some quite attractive pedestrian areas from other cities are shown on page 7, but these are notably devoid of traffic on anywhere near the level now on Front Street.

Continue reading

Metrolinx Board Wrapup for May 2010

The Metrolinx Board met on Wednesday, May 19 for an unusually long public session.  Rather than post separate articles, herewith a compendium report.  The major topics are:

  • The Board Speaks!
  • The Managing Director Reports
  • We Have A Vision, We Just Don’t Know What It Is Yet
  • Achieving 5 in 10, or Transit City Rescheduled
  • GO Rail Service Expansion Benefits Cases
  • A Question of Advocacy

The Board Speaks!

Probably the most astounding thing about this meeting, the first anniversary of the “new” Metrolinx, is that the Board members finally found their voices.  I was beginning to wonder if they were ever going to show some indication of earning their keep and actually asking hard questions of staff in public.  We’re not quite there yet, but at least the discussion gave an indication that the Board is thinking about its role.

As regular readers will know, I believe that organizations such as Metrolinx should be publicly accountable through an electoral process and through direct access to one’s representatives.  Boards that answer to nobody but the government which appointed them, and entertain no criticism from the public, can leave much to be desired.

To be fair to Metrolinx, even when it had a political board, much of the “public participation” was managed to achieve concensus with, more or less, what Metrolinx planned to do anyhow.  That other well-known transit board, the TTC, is elected, but has succumbed to the disease of being cheerleaders for the organization right-or-wrong.

Metrolinx has not had to actually do much (as opposed to GO Transit which was simply merged into its new “parent”), and we have yet to see how the Board and the Government will react if Metrolinx badly fouls up any of its projects.

Continue reading

Transit City Revisited (Part III, Updated)

(Updated at 3:00 pm, February 1.  I omitted a section on the proposed Sheppard subway extensions to Downsview and to Scarborough Town Centre.  This has been added.)

In this, the final installment of my review of Transit City, I will look at the unfunded (or underfunded) TTC transit projects.  Some of these spur passionate debates and the occasional pitched battle between advocates of various alternatives.  There are two vital points to remember through all of this:

  • Having alternatives on the table for discussion is better than having nothing at all.  It’s very easy to spend nothing and pass the day on comparatively cheap debates.  The current environment sees many competing visions, but most of them are transit visions.  The greatest barrier lies in funding.  Governments love endless debate because they don’t have to spend anything on actual construction or operations.  Meanwhile, auto users point to the lack of transit progress and demand more and wider roads.
  • Transit networks contain a range of options.  They are not all subways or all buses or all LRT.  Some are regional express routes while others address local trips.  Most riders will have to transfer somewhere, even if it is from their car in a parking lot to a GO train.  The challenge is not to eliminate transfers, but to make them as simple and speedy as possible.

I will start with the unfunded Transit City lines, and then turn to a range of other schemes and related capital projects. Continue reading

Why Do We Need Another Bus Terminal?

From time to time, discussions here about Union Station turn to the question of a bus terminal.  A bigger terminal.  A better terminal.  A terminal with seamless connections to the trains.


GO/Metrolinx has major service expansion plans for its rail network including all-day service to cities now with, at best, peak hour, peak direction trains.  As service frequencies increase and good, all-day service is the norm on GO rail corridors, what do we need the bus routes (and their terminal) for?

A review of the list of all GO scheduled services shows us the future, such as it is, of GO bus operations downtown.

Timetables 01, 09, and 12 are all Lakeshore rail services whose bus components connect with rail terminals at all hours.

Timetable 16 is the Hamiton QEW bus service.  When GO reaches the point of having all day, 30 minute rail service to Hamilton, why run a parallel bus service?

Timetables 21 and 31 are the Milton and Georgetown services, both of which will receive frequent rail service that, like the Lakeshore routes, should be fed by buses at the outer, all-day terminals.

Timetable 32 is the Brampton to Union via Thornhill bus service.  Although this route connects today with the Yonge Subway at Finch and Sheppard Stations, it will eventually connect with the Richmond Hill subway extension.  The  buses do not need to come into downtown.  Updated August 29, 2008.

Timetable 61 is the Richmond Hill service.  Like the other rail corridors, this is scheduled to receive frequent all-day service, as well as a subway extension.

Timetables 65 and 71 are the Barrie and Stouffville services.  All-day train service over part of these lines is included in the 15-year Regional Plan.  Off-peak buses services beyond would feed the trains as on other all-day corridors.  In the same timeframe, the subway will be extended to Vaughan.  Even without all-day train service to Bradford, Vaughan Centre (or York U) is a much more appropriate connection for the bus service than bringing trips all the way into downtown.

Timetables 19, 20, 22, 27, 29, 32, 34, 37, 38, 40, 46, 50, 52, 60, 62, 64, 66, 69, 81, 88, 93, 94, 95 and 96 are all bus services that do not come into downtown.  They either connect with the subway at suburban stations, or they are between points in the GO network outside of Toronto.

Planned expansion of rail service in the Niagara peninsula and northwest from Georgetown will compete with and may replace private bus operations to these areas.

Land near Union Station for bus operations is difficult to find, and the last thing we need is an oversized bus terminal that will have no buses operating from it in less than 20 years.

Metrolinx is studying possibilities for such a terminal, but they need to step back and ask whether such a terminal is even required.  The rail networks of both GO and TTC are expanding at very substantial cost well into the GTAH.  Why spend all this money only to perpetuate limited capacity bus operations running all the way to Union?

Overall, operation of intercity bus routes into downtown Toronto will decline substantially over the next decade and beyond. If we are to have a new bus terminal, it should be planned for the services that will exist, that will survive into the future, not for today’s routes that are soon to be replaced with rail.

Is Electrification Inevitable For GO Lakeshore Express?

Last Friday, Metrolinx released its Interim Report of the Benefits Case Analysis for the GO Lakeshore Express Rail proposal.  This study is an outgrowth of the “Big Move”, the regional plan which includes very frequent GO service on a number of corridors (Lakeshore East and West, Brampton, Milton and Richmond Hill).

The BCA raises many questions about Metrolinx’ ongoing work, especially its two-year electrification study, as well as their demand projections and the future effect on capacity needs in various corridors and at Union Station.

The introductory letter for the BCA speaks of it as one input to the Electrification Study, but as far as the Lakeshore is concerned, the conclusion is already there.  Diesel operation cannot handle the forecast demand for this corridor, and electrification is the only viable option with electric multiple units (EMUs) being a long-term consideration for the fleet.

What is striking is how much the BCA echoes comments made on this site and others about planning for expansion of GO’s capacity, and how much it undercuts statements made in defence of diesel operation for the Weston corridor.  Indeed, it is clear from the BCA that GO/Metrolinx had already conducted extensive studies of the Lakeshore corridor (recently released as background info for the electrification study) even as they were downplaying the role of electrification for the Weston corridor.

In this post, I will not attempt to cover the entire BCA page by page, but will highlight items of interest and of concern, and leave the full text for review by readers who have the time and inclination.

Executive Summary

The study reviews service and infrastructure options for the Oshawa-Hamilton corridor.  Two options are proposed:

  1. Diesel operation with upgrades as needed until 2015.
  2. Electrified operation in two stages — first to 2015 and then to 2031.

The study drops the diesel option with a simple observation:

It should be noted that meeting the forecast 2031 RTP ridership demands through expanded diesel operations was deemed not to be a feasible option for comparison purposes, and thus only the electrification scenario has been carried forward in Phase 2 of this analysis.  [Page 1]

A summary of the options appears on Page 2.  Note that 10-car trains are assumed, although GO is now operating 12-car trains.  It is unclear whether GO’s plan is to move to more frequent, shorter trains, or if the study is out of step with what GO is already doing. Travel times for electric operation are considerably shorter than for diesel due to better acceleration characteristics of electric trains.

The costs cited for the two phases of the electrification option look rather odd at first glance.  The initial stage would cost $1.89-billion while a further $4.09-billion is needed for the second phase.  Considering that the first phase “eats” the basic cost of electrification and associated changes in infrastructure, the much higher cost of the second phase looks rather odd until one takes into account the complete replacement of the existing fleet that is built into phase 2.

This is not strictly a cost of electrification because either (a) the existing fleet would be worn out and GO would need new cars anyhow or (b) the existing fleet would be redeployed to serve growth elsewhere in the diesel-operated network.  Metrolinx has not published the detailed economic model for the claimed costs.  In a previous note, I commented on flaws in GO’s analysis that did not allow for the large residual capital value of installed plant and trains, and this must be taken into account for proper life-cycle analysis.

Metrolinx and Queen’s Park cite huge cost estimates to downplay the electric option in the Weston corridor, but they have never shown us exactly how their calculations worked.  If the “high costs” include a cycle of equipment replacement that would, to some extent, occur anyhow, then this is not a true cost of electrification.

A press flak for Metrolinx actually replied to the “Stroller Protest” (mothers concerned about pollution from diesel trains) with a comment about the high cost of electrifying Union Station.  Obviously, the Lakeshore BCA, including a strong recommendation to electrify sooner rather than later, was not on this staffer’s required reading list.  If GO electrifies the Lakeshore including at least part of Union Station, then the marginal cost for Weston corridor services would be relatively small.

According to the BCA, the benefit:cost ratio is positive for all options, but this result is highly sensitive to the manner in which benefits are calculated.  This is a fundamental problem with all of the Metrolinx BCAs.  (Details of this issue come later in this article.)  I do not mean to downplay the value of the investments, but it’s annoying to find so suspect and easily critiqued methodology used.  Opponents of public spending would have little challenge in mounting counter-arguments.

One of the most important observations in the analysis is that frequent service will change the Lakeshore corridor into a bidirectional route providing good service between many communities.

Overall, the investment required to electrify the GO Lakeshore corridor will return significant benefits, improving the viability of the GO Transit system as an alternative to the automobile and providing the support and stimulus necessary to improve the connectivity and accessibility between UGCs [Urban Growth Centres] to help manage growth and shape land development patterns.  [Page 6]

Someone should tell the folks at Metrolinx to read their own reports before spending another two years to determine what they already know. Continue reading

Union Station Project Approved by Toronto Council

The Union Station Revitalization Project was approved yesterday (August 5) by Toronto Council with only one vote in opposition, the predictable gadfly Councillor Ford.  Media reports claim that a few others might have voted against as well, but they were caught napping in their offices watching the debate via closed circuit TV, and didn’t make it back in time to vote.

Media reports, thanks to the emphasis in the Mayor’s press conference, focus on the new retail space to be created at Union Station, and this was a target for critics who say we shouldn’t be turning the station into a mall.  They haven’t been paying attention.  (For more details about what we are getting, please see my previous article on this subject.)

Of the total project cost, $640-million, the City is on the hook for about $300-million, some of which has already been spent on necessary building repairs.  The City share will be partly covered through payments by the Head Lessee for the commercial space via three payment streams:  an up front one-time charge, an annual base rent, and percentage of sales from the retail space.  We won’t know the exact details until all of the agreements are in place later this year, and at that time we will also learn the identity of the successful bidder for the Head Lease.

Some opponents of City participation in this scheme argue that this should be a GO Transit project and the City has no business being in the railway station business, let alone creating a new shopping mall.  I disagree, strongly, with this position.

First, GO Transit (and its new parent, Metrolinx) has shown repeatedly that it cares only about its own operations as a commuter railway, not about local development.  GO would probably give us a tolerably decent railway station, but little more, and would plead poverty to any requests that it enhance the building.  We know exactly what GO’s idea of “good design” is every time we walk through their existing station, a bargain basement of fast food and the uninspiring underbelly of a former Post Office.

From the City’s point of view, this is both a major interchange with the TTC (still owned by the City) as well as a gateway to new developments south of the rail corridor.  Union Station is the link between the old and new “downtowns”, and is far more than just a train station.

Although I have discussed details of this project before, there are a few diagrams in the Council presentation that warrant comments. Continue reading

Union Station Funding Approved

Today, Queen’s Park and Ottawa announced their funding contributions to the Union Station Revitalization project.  Ottawa will spend up to $133-million while Queen’s Park will spend $172-million toward the $640-million total.

At a special Council meeting early in August, Toronto will likely announce the private sector partner who will take the head lease for all of the commercial space in the expanded station, and this lease is expected to contribute a substantial amount to the City’s share of the project.  That partner will be responsible for managing all commercial tenancies.

On other sites that I will not bother to cross-link, there has been an overflowing of bilge on several fronts including the civic workers and VIA strikes, Mayor Miller, spending on “a building that works”, among other arguments.  The level of misinformation, deliberate or otherwise, is staggering.

To refresh everyone’s memory, here is what we are getting for all that money:

  • Restoration of a physical building which has been disintegrating for several years.  Some of this work has already been done or is underway by the City notably the windows in the west wing and the bridge over the Front Street moat.
  • Creation of a completely new two-level concourse area under much of the station.  This will be achieved by digging down so that the lower level is at roughly the same elevation as the existing subway station mezzanine.  The new upper level will handle GO passengers, and will be roughly three times the size of the existing GO area.  The lower level will provide general circulation and shopping.
  • GO improvements and other changes in the station will accomodate a doubling of demand expected at this site over the next decades.  This could not occur without the reconstruction and the provision of greatly expanded pedestrian areas.
  • The lower level of the west wing, now occupied by car rentals and underutilized back-of-house space, will be converted to GO and commercial space.  This work will be completed before work moves to the existing GO space and empty former Post Office areas in the east wing. 
  • Why shopping?  Aside from all the commuters, there will be a large population right outside the soon-to-open south door of Union Station occupying both office towers and condos.  The character of commercial uses in the station should be improved so that it does not appear like an overgrown dollar store.
  • Energy efficiency of the building will be substantially improved, and air conditioning will be provided with deep water cooling from the lake.  Energy is a major operating cost for the station today.
  • The connection to the subway station will be revised to eliminate the stairway between the subway mezzanine and the moat.  The moat will be enclosed so that travellers don’t have to endure the weather, whatever it  may be, to reach the subway and the PATH network beyond.
  • A new northwest PATH connection will be created from Union Station north via York Street to Wellington.  This will divert many commuters from the eastern connection and ease congestion on that side of the station.
  • GO Transit will buy and move into the vacant west wing offices from their leased space at the foot of Bay Street.  These offices will be renovated to modern requirements, but some heritage areas will be retained.
  • Connections between various parts of the building will be improved, and new links will be added to simplify access between sections and to spread out pedestrian traffic.  For example, there will be links to the new GO concourses through the archways in the south wall of the Great Hall now occupied by the Security Office (east) and Harvey’s (west).
  • A new south entrance, built as part of the recent GO Transit platform work, will give passengers direct access to a plaza between the station, the Air Canada Centre and other new developments in the area.  A new taxi stand in this area is intended for use by arriving VIA passengers to separate them from the activity on Front Street.
  • The east entrance via the old Post Office, now Scotiabank, will be reopened and the space on the ground floor will become part of the public area of the railway station.
  • Renovation of the York Street teamways for pedestrian use in a manner similar to what is now in place on Bay Street.
  • This heritage building will be restored, where appropriate, by stripping off more recent additions such as mid-60s ticket counters.
  • GO Transit will rebuild the trainshed substantially in the form it now has but (a) cleaner and brighter, (b) with provision for future electrification and (c) with a glass atrium roof running the length of the shed in the area directly above the VIA concourse (the location is dictated by the location of supporting columns beneath).

Information on this project is available on the Union Station website.

Other projects that will take place in the same timeframe include:

  • TTC’s second platform for Union Subway Station.
  • TTC’s expansion of capacity in the Harbourfront streetcar loop to accommodate the new eastern waterfront streetcar service.
  • The reconfiguration of Front Street from Bay to York to provide additional pedestrian capacity.

It is unfortunate that this announcement comes just as VIA staff go on strike.  However, the project has been in the works for years, and spending on this major work with decades of future benefit is long overdue.  Fortunately, the announcement was not delayed in deference to then-pending strike.  Moreover, the primary beneficiaries of this work will be commuters on GO Transit for whom additional train capacity is constrained by the limits of the station itself.

Some have claimed that there is nothing wrong with Union Station that needs fixing.  They have not looked closely at either the building itself, at the severe congestion problems or at the vast amount of unused space available for expansion, much of this hidden from public view.

This is not a “make work” project, but something Toronto badly needs.  Union Station handles more passengers every year than Pearson Airport on a fraction of the capital budget.  The station doesn’t get to charge an improvement fee to every passenger to fund its ongoing construction and operations.

The reconstruction will be a long project, not without its inconveniences.  We are lucky to have an almost-empty west wing in which to start and create new space for GO so that existing operations can continue during the early phases.  Detailed design will be completed this fall with work in the west wing to begin in early 2010.  The project will complete in 2014.

A Long Day At City Hall

Tuesday, June 2 was a long day for members of Toronto Council’s Executive Committee.  Many transportation issues were on the agenda including Union Station Revitalization, Western Waterfront Master Plan, Queen’s Quay redesign, and the Gardiner Expressway replacement EA.

As if that wasn’t enough, an open house for the Scarborough RT extension took me out for a ride on the Milner bus.

This transit blogging is harder than my pre-retirement work! Continue reading

Union Station Revitalization Update

Disclaimer:  Although I am the Vice-Chair of Toronto’s Union Station Revitalization Public Advisory Group, this article represents my own opinions, not necessarily those of USRPAG who have not had a chance to discuss this matter since the release of the report linked below.

On June 2, Toronto’s Executive Committee will consider a staff report recommending that the Union Station Revitalization project proceed at a total cost of $640-million.  This project is dependent on funding approvals from Queen’s Park and Ottawa which are expected to materialize over the coming months. Continue reading