Go & heavy rail, the right answer to which problems?

The current GO network does little to directly connect the people in the outer areas of the 416 area. The ½ hour service in southern Etobicoke, and Scarborough do not really add that much to the short list of options.

There is considerable service currently on Lakeshore East and West beyond the 416 boundary. To some degree this structure actually does make sense given the current limits of the equipment and rules surrounding rail in Canada. There are distinct limits to how often they can actually run with the current signals and rules. There are also a host of limits in the Union Station Corridor, and at Union Station itself.

One of the most important things to remember in terms of heavy rail is that there are in fact a limited number of real corridors left in the city and surrounding area. Some were given up as linear park and bike trails etc.

The other important thing to keep in mind is that they were not originally built in order to support transit, but were built to support the movement of freight. This important use has not gone away. There are a couple of extremely heavy rail users, Ford Oakville and Chrysler’s Brampton Assembly. They continue to need to use rail as a critical part of the parts and vehicle distribution network. Also we need to reserve space for additional freight uses, transfers and intensifications, as we must see an increased use of multi-modal transportation if our roadways across the continent are to be able to support ongoing economic growth, especially if we are not going to greatly enlarge our environmental footprint.

The ones that are currently being used extensively, and controlled primarily by GO

Lakeshore West, Kitchener, Barrie, Richmond Hill, Lakeshore East, and Stouffville.

There is also the Milton Line, however that is not controlled by GO, and their service is tolerated on the line by the railway.

In terms of being able to operate additional commuter rail those are the corridors, and right now they all flow to Union Station, and the Union Station rail corridor (USRC). This area is in the end one of the major bottlenecks that must be dealt with in order to really grow the capacity of commuter rail in Toronto.

Metrolinx has a number of proposals in this area, and the questions become, which services should really be on offer, and what speed and frequency on heavy rail. I strongly believe that RER, along with changing the signals has a chance to alter the transit world in the GTA, the question I have however, is which line, and how fast. There is also the all-important one, and that is do we have this act as a longer distance service, or do we need to mix in a high degree of inside 416 service.

I would be deeply concerned with regards to increasing the service within the 416 to too great a degree, where we actually have good viable alternatives, especially where existing TTC routes can reasonably take the load and/or the service would not really transform the access of the area in question.

RER on Lakeshore West.

This is already a very heavily served route, and the only area on this corridor that does not get good service is inside Toronto, where there is a Streetcar line that is competing. Since there is a limited number of trains that can be run, and even with electric conversion and new signaling we will be struggling to add much more than 2 trains per hour, perhaps as many as 4. While this is a 66% increase in capacity, it is important to remember that we are severely limited in the amount of additional road capacity that can be added, so this really only represents a 30% increase in total trips.

The outer 416 option of a light LRT should be explored prior to making a commitment to consuming a large number of available running slots through Union for service here. At the very least the streetcar service needs to be made much more reliable. This may mean getting around Queen and King streets for the streetcar service.

RER on Lakeshore East

Again this is already a very heavily served route, and the only area that does not get good service is within the 416. This corridor in some ways faces even greater limits than those on Lakeshore west, as it must share more of this space with the Stouffville / Markham Corridor.

Metrolinx needs to address here is exactly how many sets of rails can be put into this corridor west of the Scarborough Junction. I believe there is now a minimum of 3. That would mean that in one direction this is sharing a rail pair with Stouffville. If they could add an additional set of rails in the corridor that would mean that you could likely increase this line to 8 trains per hour, without preventing notable expansion in Stouffville.

The issue here is that there are limited opportunities to create parallel connection from Scarborough, and the TTC options actually take a long time. If GO is running electric, and Metrolinx can actually get the extra set of rails in, I would suggest that they add two extra trains in this corridor, and have them stop at all Scarborough stops and run service at or near TTC fare. This would help to address capacity issues in the short term.
However, much of this capacity needs to remain dedicated to the areas beyond the 416, and this corridor will be a significant issue in the future, unless it is able to run many more trains.


Mayor Tory, ran an election campaign on RER and more stops (SmartTrack), starting in Unionville, and running to the core. There is also a provincial plan for RER here. I think the provincial plan makes more sense, and that the Tory proposal starts with too many stations. I think the current GO stops, with service that was much more frequent would represent a significant opportunity to greatly improve service to the core. Currently this service runs 2 trains per hour now at peak, 4 proposed all day. That is a more than doubling of the current service level. So I would say in essence I think the provinces RER plan for this corridor sounds quite appropriate. I do not believe that this line will have a huge impact on the Yonge Subway north of Bloor. It is a long bus ride away, and the line has low frequency for those already well off the line. It offers a direct way to the core, and does not load the subway. This is a good use of scarce resources. This is a plan that can be reasonably implemented, especially if there are additional tracks in Lakeshore east. The 4 trains per hour service should also attract a considerable increase in ridership. This would help to permit further development and intensification, without adding much to road congestion.

Richmond Hill

This is a really interesting corridor. The issue here is that there is a competing proposal to extend the Yonge subway line. The concern here, is that without very attractive here, the pressure to extend subway will be overwhelming, or that potential riders find other ways to get to the Yonge Subway line. The capacity offered by extending to Steeles could be completely taken and then a great deal, from growth ridership coming from Richmond Hill or central York Region.

Go slow approach to Richmond Hill GO service

The current service is very thin and ridership very low. If we are looking only to match demand, there is not been a real reason to expand this service. Couple of years ago peak hour demand was only 2900 riders. Metrolinx could take the standard approach, build service gradually, and take this service to 3 or 4 trains per hour, or not even bother. However, I think they need to have a hard look at fares, and make service frequent enough that it represents a viable alternative to subway. To make this approach work, this corridor needs to enjoy all day service. Riders will hesitate to commit if they are stranded if they need to return home early or late. However, simply extending service as on the other corridors to 4 trains per hour all day, if the fare is reasonable will likely divert a lot of the riders headed to the core from TTC. The fare however must be competitive. This type of service however, is unlikely to attract much 416 ridership, as it is too close to the Yonge subway.  The moderate expansion seems to be the route the Metrolinx is taking for now.

Big Bang

Having said that this seems the obvious corridor to divert riders from the 905 and outer 416 before they ever reach the Yonge subway line. If we are to divert outer 416 riders, the connections will have to be very good and service very frequent to actually make it attractive.

The problem achieving high frequency on this route are substantial; GO does not control the portion of the rail corridor beyond Toronto (North of the main east west CN line) and therefore must compete with freight for space in the corridor. There is also the issue at the south end at Union Station and in the USRC. There would need to be 2 dedicated tracks the entire length of the route. Without dedicated tracks it will be quite hard to ensure that you can actually run a train every 6-10 minutes, let alone more. If we are taking a serious look at load diversion to this service it has to be frequent enough to be attractive, capacious enough to carry the load, and have a fare that competes well. Service offered on the 10+ minutes will have a hard time attracting bus riders that are already inside the 416 and within striking distance of the Yonge subway, especially if they must pay and additional fare.

I think eventually this should be one of a couple of services actually taken out of Union Station and the USRC, and have a tunnel from the valley to the core. The line would then run to the core underground. At the north end, this line would also need its own pair of rails north of the CN main. This would permit the route to become close to rapid transit capable, and attractive within the 416.

Building a service that can have its own dedicated set of rails at both ends might require this to be converted to LRT as the right of way that CN is in is quite narrow, and to get as far as Richmond Hill and beyond may require using a route more suited to LRT. If that must be the case, these trains need in the faster range for LRT, and there are some of these that will operate in the 100 km/h and faster range.

Between the 2 – keeping the big bang in the pocket.

I would suggest that we plan to, preserve the space required. Make sure that a right of way is preserved at the north end, and look at tunnel alignment. Do not actually build these yet. Complete the flood proofing, and twin tracking. Build, the service levels, using equipment that is being made available from the transfer from other lines and build service around 4 trains per hour, with TTC fares. We should then look to see what ridership is attracted and from where. I would expect that this service would remain 2/3-3/4 full, at 4 trains per hour. Even this would also mean a jump in the number of peak hour riders from 2900 to 6000 fairly quickly, some of which will be riders diverted from the Yonge line. If the fare here was similar to the cost of a TTC fare and the service was 15 minutes all day, this would be the preferred route at least to the core for many riders, some even from within the 416.


There are really 2 lines now in this corridor, there is the initial Georgetown/Kitchener line, and the tracks added for the UPX. I believe that these 2 need to be treated as completely separate entities.

The original Kitchener line, should expand as a regular service. Move to gradually expand its role, however, much beyond a train every 15 minutes or so is not really to be expected, nor required. This service however should be focused on the outer area of the line, providing much better service and capacity to the outer areas of Brampton, Guelph and Kitchener.

The UPX, is where I think we should focus our efforts for the outer 416 and inner 905. I believe it is possible to get a dedicated set of tracks out as far as Bramalea station; it is certainly possible as far as Malton. The use of a dedicated set of tracks to serve just the airport should have been seen as a non-starter. There is now an area within Union, and a prime set of tracks dedicated to a service that is not designed to take a ridership that can exceed about 800 riders per hour (a little less than half a single full length GO train). While the UPX service is built, it requires a revisit. The tracks and signals can and should be able to support a train every 6 minutes. If this is electric multi unit trains, that would be enough to allow massive service in this corridor, and support inside and beyond 416 with a very high service level, at least to the level that Tory envisioned with Smarttrack. However it should also be noted, at a 6 minute headway this service should attract considerable ridership all the way in to the core. This type of service could come very close to the level of rapid transit, and could also provide a very high level of capacity. Can we really take this type of service to Union? This in my mind is another candidate to be taken out of Union Station.

Union Station

The center of the universe as far as the current GO train structure is concerned is Union Station. There are serious limits, as it was not originally designed as a rapid transit super station. If we look at the levels of service that have been mentioned above we need to take stock

8 trains each in Lakeshore west and Lakeshore East, 4 at least for now in Stouffville and Richmond Hill, 4 in Kitchener plus possibly 10 more in eventually in UPX and we need to allow for 4 in Barrie and 4 in Milton. That would be something on the order of 46 trains per hour. I believe the limit to trains into Union is very close to that, and needs to include Via and occasional freight. It would likely mean that Lakeshore East and West were each occupying their own pair of platforms, and a full platform would be dedicated to every other service except UPX, which would need special treatment.

This of course also ignores further service expansion that will likely be required for Stouffville, Richmond Hill, and of course that Via still needs access.

It also needs to be remembered that if these are actually 12 car long double decker trains. At 46 trains per hour that still means something on the order of 1500 passengers per minute working their way through Union Station, and away from it. This most importantly does not include the TTC services that also disgorge their riders at or close to Union. Spreading this pedestrian traffic needs to be considered, spreading the load beyond current PATH and street access. This level of load does not seem a practical place to push Union Station to.  It would be better to take some of this load out, before it is clear that the station is overloaded, not after.


Metrolinx has a discussed the notion of building a satellite station at Bathurst yard (basically Spadina). This proposal has many merits, but has one major issue in my mind; that is the last mile for access to the current core. This link would require a subway for more users, and in my mind that begs the question. Does it make more sense, how would such service interact with a subway. If we only move UPX there, does a pulse equivalent of 2 subway trains arriving every 2nd or 3rd subway train really make sense in terms of service design? Could we run the services we want to remove from Union in a tunnel directly to a rapid transit type station.

As long as we are using mainline railway corridors, we are stuck with Transport Canada mainline rules, which have an awful lot to say about train frequency spacing, in station speeds, distance between tracks and critically train design. You cannot run a light train in a heavy rail corridor without creating space or protection.

1st a complete review of the UPX corridor should be undertaken. What would be required to allow this to be a rapid transit corridor? The same should be done for the Stouffville and Richmond Hill corridors. What service(s) could reasonably be through routed with the UPX? Can we convert both the UPX and Richmond Hill or Stouffville lines to rapid transit? What equipment will be required to do so?  If we can mate 2 of these lines, and make a rapid transit through service, going through a tunnel north of Union, we would solve many of the access issues.  However, this really requires heavy use to justify.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s