Don’t ask about the bill for SmartTrack

John Tory’s SmartTrack proposal—and its Mount Dennis section in particular—continues to draw heat.

Torontoist has some details that were missing from the report released late last year: the bill.

But what was not included in the HDR report—at least not the version released to the public—was how much the various “western spur” routes would cost. The City has in fact received cost estimates for all potential routes; they were included in the HDR report. Chief planner Jennifer Keesmaat confirmed that. But we, the public, have not seen them, and City officials refuse to explain why that is the case.

The answer to the question of why is fairly obvious: the numbers are bad. They are very bad.

According to The Star, nobody will say how much the section through Mount Dennis will cost, but it’s likely to be expensive. The author, Jennifer Pagliaro, strongly insinuates that City Hall is trying to keep the costs secret.

The ‘Western Spur’ will require, according to WestonWeb’s ‘analysis‘ demolishing at least 51 homes and difficult construction. Parts would have to be cut-and-covered (not tunnelled, no matter what anybody tells you); the section through Eglinton Flats will have to be put on stilts.Victorias_stövel_med_sporre_-_Livrustkammaren_-_6630.tif

The Globe heard estimates of the cost of the western portion: $5 billion—which raises “new questions about the viability of doing the entire project for the $8-billion Mr. Tory promised”.

 

Sullivan: Metrolinx and Transit Implications

Now that the dust has settled after October’s Federal Election, I was curious as to how former York South-Weston Member of Parliament, Mike Sullivan was adjusting to the new reality of being a regular citizen once more. He agreed to an in-depth interview and we sat down last Friday over coffees in a busy Perfect Blend Bakery. We touched on four main topics that we will roll out over the next four days;

Already published:

1. Fallout from the election

2. The Weston Cultural Hub

The third issue that we discussed was Metrolinx and transit implications for Weston.

3. Metrolinx

Prior to winning a seat in the House of Commons in 2011, Sullivan was co-chair of the Clean Train Coalition, a grass roots community group dedicated to electrification of the rail lines that run through what used to be known as the Georgetown Corridor. He was a vocal critic of the Airport Rail Link before it became known as the UP Express. For a flashback to the past, this interview with Sullivan is a good refresher on the issues back in 2010.

Sullivan is still keenly interested in transit as it pertains to Weston. We started with the new GO Station parking lot and and its role as host to the Weston Farmers Market for the foreseeable future.

Metrolinx is giving the farmers market (the GO Station Parking lot) for free for the next couple of years because there are no GO Trains on Saturdays and because you’re not allowed to park overnight on that (GO Train) lot. No one will use that lot to take the Airport connection. When Metrolinx was first talking about the quantities of parking that they were going to need, I got the impression that because they were going to market the link as an alternative to parking at the airport so you would pay $16 each way for the ride and park for free. And so that’s why they’re building that massive lot at the south end for the GO patrons and the North end will be potentially long term although Metrolinx told me that they have no intention of doing that they’re so desperate for ridership and ours is the only station where there is any possibility of parking.

Between Mayor John Tory’s SmartTrack and the new LRT line, many have been wondering what will happen to Weston’s GO and UP Express stations once the LRT is complete. A new Mount Dennis station will be located uncomfortably close to Weston.

Watch this dream-like video. Notice the connections to GO and UP Express marked on the station entrance. Read more about the station here.

Sullivan spoke briefly about the way the New Eglinton LRT line will disrupt everything.

When the Eglinton LRT is opened, the UP Express and GO train will stop at Eglinton. That’s not good if you live in Weston.

The implication being that having two stations so close together will be mean that one will have to go. In other words, the least useful will become redundant and that could be Weston because it’s not a major transfer point as a triple rail intersection would be. The Mount Dennis Station will allow a transfer between GO, the UP Express, the Eglinton LRT not to mention the hastily planned election promise that was SmartTrack.

Weston may have another fight on its hands if it is to keep its two stations.

Sullivan moved on to the expensive and barely used UP Express and is sceptical about the latest Metrolinx UP Express ridership numbers.

UP Express claimed October ridership was higher in October but they didn’t take into account the fact that October has an extra day.

 

When asked to comment on the ticket prices charged by UP Express, Sullivan claims that the cost of running UPX is about $5 per fare. If this is the case, Metrolinx has lots of room to manoeuvre. Rumblings have already started about a really competitive fare that would boost ridership numbers. No doubt the New Year will bring a sober second look at prices.

Tomorrow: The Church Street, former Humber River Regional Hospital Site.

What SmartTrack looks like

A Westonian with some mad cartographic skills has sent in a revealing map of the potential effects of Tory’s SmartTrack proposal.

He made a detailed map of the “1D” alignment, which was “brought forward following public consultations”—and pardon my plain speech, but if this is the best we can do, we’re totally fucked. Corridor 1D

Our guest cartographer added high-resolution imagery, property lines, and a conservative guess at the width of the tunnel (in red). By my count, the 1D corridor would demolish at least 51 homes, and it would certainly affect far more. The ‘tunnel’ would be made through ‘cut and cover’, which residents of Weston are quite familiar with.

Mount Denizens, take it from us: it’s not a tunnel. It’s a trench. It’s dug, not bored. You will lose your homes and your neighbourhood.

There are other possible alignments for this LRT. Some go north, through Weston, on existing corridors. Others make different (even impossible) turns onto Eglinton. There are few details available.

Our cartographer, however, who would like to remain anonymous, also threw into doubt the viability of plan 1A. It involves an awful lot of steep up-downs in a short distance to stay on the route—or, your correspondent supposes, the demolition and expropriation of property to avoid roads and bridges. Corridor 1A Google Earth

Plan 1B had “little merit” according to the planners, leaving only plan 1C to discuss. It would—brace yourself: Require widening the train corridor from Nickle to Jane (which would have an “impact” on properties, would have to be tunneled under the “industrial, residential and hospital” properties, and would cross the park on stilts. Emmett would be closed permanently. The details are not available, but I made a guess at it to give you an idea.

Bonkers

For all possible designs, there’s this to consider: “two additional parallel tracks ‘are highly likely’ to be required in the Kitchener corridor…. to allow SmartTrack to run alongside GO RER, UP Express and VIA Rail services”.

Mount Denizens and Westonians, you might usefully consider whether we need GO service, UP Express service, bus service, and SmartTrack service at the cost of homes, businesses, and neighbourhoods, or whether, perhaps, there might be another solution.

 

SmartTrack grinding the wheels

That didn’t take long.

The Toronto Sun reports that John Tory’s SmartTrack proposal—which will be built through Mount Dennis—may be impossible to build in the time Tory allotted. Of particular concern: one expert says it might be best to start diesel, then convert the train, later, to electric.

“The electrification, to me, is the most problematic,” Mars said, adding the lines are currently busy with freight traffic.

“Even if you have the (rail) lines freed up, you have operating agreements, and it’s going to be electrified, I almost stop and say ‘Whoa, baby.’”

“I don’t see electrification in seven years,” he said. “That’s a completely different animal.”

As a backup, Tory’s team may want to plan for the initial pieces of SmartTrack to be powered by diesel, with an eye to transitioning to electrification, he said.

 

John Tory’s SmartTrack flaw gains attention.

As reported here in WestonWeb several days ago, John Tory’s campaign team may be suffering from a bit of an embarrassment with regard to his promise of 10 km of rail line along Eglinton for an above ground subway. The problem is that the corridor Mr. Tory thinks is reserved for transportation no longer exists.

Read about it here.

Transit Plans – 1. John Tory

The top four Mayoralty candidates have released their transit plans. This is the first of a four-part series assessing these plans.

In a nutshell, current front-runner John Tory believes that above-ground subway lines are the best way to go. He proposes a line following GO train tracks where possible that will run across the city from east to west, passing through Union Station.

London has many of these – in fact 52% of London’s subway network is above ground. London has been building subways since the early 1860s – nearly a century before Toronto opened its first line.

Unlike London where new above-ground subways have been able to take over existing but unused railway lines, Toronto has no such advantage. New tracks must be added to current ones and, where none exist (along Eglinton for example), carved out of the existing landscape. Think of the disruption we are enduring here in the comparatively simple task of adding GO tracks to the existing line and right-of-way through Weston – imagine what carving out a rail corridor from scratch will involve. Unfortunately, the corridor along the north side of Eglinton (that Mr. Tory appears to think still exists) was sold off as surplus by the city in 2010 and is now a construction site for hundreds of new homes. Where Mr. Tory’s SmartTrack will fit along this route is anyone’s guess. And all of this will allegedly come to pass in 2021.

John Tory's Transit Plan
John Tory’s Transit Plan – click for larger image.

At its western end, Mr Tory’s SmartTrack line begins at the Matheson / Airport Corporate Centre (not the airport) – which connects to Mississauga Transit. It travels along Eglinton – until a few years ago, the planned route of the Richview Expressway. Once it hits Mount Dennis, the SmartTrack joins and heads down the GO / U.P. Express tracks towards Union. No mention is made of the U.P. Express or what his plans are to retain or modify the service.

Mr. Tory claims that the billions needed for SmartTrack will come from tax increment financing. This is the financial wizardry in which extra money is provided in the future by additional tax revenue generated by higher property values and therefore higher tax assessments along the new lines. Tax increment financing is how Rob Ford proposes to pay for his subways subways and more subways. ‘Nuff said.

John Tory's anticipated flow of passengers.
John Tory’s anticipated flow of passengers.

The Tory plan theorizes that passengers will be diverted from the east west and north-south subways and buses and use the SmartTrack trains from the west and east ends of the city to get to Union. This will provide, “congestion relief on the Yonge line for someone who lives in Lawrence Park or Leaside”.

Unfortunately, most commuters don’t want to go to Union Station. Only 260,000 do so daily and that’s using GO Train, GO Bus and subway combined. Bloor-Yonge is already straining with 420,000 daily passenger movements. Mr. Tory’s plan will simply add more pressure on this station from passengers hopping off SmartTrack and onto the Bloor Line in the West or East. Yes, the people of Lawrence Park and Leaside may be more comfortable but SmartTrack will add even more congestion to an already congested area. A downtown relief line is seen by experts as the only answer to this rapidly growing demand and Mr. Tory does not adequately explain how his SmartTrack will be an effective substitute.

It’s one thing to think outside the box and come up with a concept such as an above-ground subway. It’s another to believe that you and a group of your political advisors can ignore expert opinion and sit down with a map of the city and magically determine the fate of transit in this city for decades to come. The experts say that a downtown relief line is needed. SmartTrack is not an effective substitute.

With regard to finances, tax increment financing is fraught with peril. Extra revenue generated by such accounting sleight of hand is not guaranteed. This windfall would normally be taken into account to maintain and upgrade the city’s infrastructure so it’s not just free money.

Mr. Tory should defer to the experts (who spend whole careers immersed in the topic) before launching Toronto in yet another whimsical transportation direction with magical financing. The incumbent Mayor’s floundering has cost us dearly and set transportation in this city back by several years. Let’s not add even more delays and band-aids to an increasingly desperate situation. SmartTrack is the wrong track.