Smart Track – Is it like most things that are nearly free?

I was involved in a very long discussion of SmartTrack (ST) along with a few other commentators on Steve Munro’s Blog.  The interesting thing in the discussion is it kept revolving back to studies previously done for Metrolinx with regards to capacity and the Union Station Rail Corridor and Union Station itself.  Metrolinx, after substantial study has indicated that the reasonable limit from Union Station is about 52 departures or arrivals per hour. Say 7 of those are Via, meaning 45 remains.

Peak – means 45 for GO etc, (certainly no more than 48).  Given the fact that there are currently 32 that sounds like a lot, so sure lots of room for more service.  However, we need to look at projected demand, and how this will be consumed.  Metrolinx has already accounted for virtually every slot at Union – before ST is added to the mix.

The reason this matters is that – well ST if it does flow via Union Station really only displaces provincial RER, which forecasts show as being heavily used at peak as is.  Thus, while it may remove Toronto drivers from the streets, it will merely replace them with Markham, Pickering, Brampton and Mississauga drivers.  ST and how it will work needs to be placed in the context of a regional plan.  While it created the idea of a substantial service across the region, it really only adds stops to existing services, and thus very likely interferes with the idea of RER (Regional Express Rail).

ST sells the idea of using excess capacity that very likely does not exist, without being able to get a complete exclusion from Transport Canada rules surrounding mainline railways, which is a stretch without having an alternate emergency route for freight.  However, the 8 billions dollars that the project is suggested to cost, could buy a substantial amount of additional transit, that would not displace regional transit.  The idea of building the east side of a DRL from Eglinton & Don Mills to CNE grounds, would provide for some additional interesting opportunities to build other projects that would go a long ways to resolving the transit issues in the city – without removing needed capacity for regional transit.  This subway could provide a way to build and have be pertinent both the Don Mills, and Waterfront West LRTs.  It would allow for substantial development at Don Mills and Eglinton, and substantially better connections for the area north on Don Mills, and the Lawrence bus, as well as serving Thorncliffe and Flemingdon Parks, and a much better connection to the core for the Crosstown LRT.  It also means that much more load from on the Danforth Line can actually find its way to the core, and a substantial expansion of ridership and capacity can reasonably be approached on the Danforth subway line.  This would support additional LRTs, beyond the ones already proposed to connect to the line, and still have it be viable.

Toronto, and region need to add a lot of transit, but it has to be done with a wide view, and with an understanding of loads and limits of what networks can actually carry.  Adding a single subway with a mere 10 or so KM of track in Toronto, could permit a substantial amount of additional lower cost rapid transit to function extremely well.  However, we cannot get around the basic need to add real fundamental capacity where it is required, not merely removing it from other use.

RER is essential to the region, we need to not make a mess of it with ST.  Toronto needs more capacity to the core, especially for the eastern half of Toronto.  To truly support growth this needs to be a very high capacity link.  Extended west just beyond the CNE, it also opens the possibility of an LRT for southern Etobicoke.

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