As part of this week's transit planning updates, the eventual scope of SmartTrack / GO RER (regional express rail) service is coming under closer inspection through a series of station studies. With two remaining options for potential station configurations still on the table, the City of Toronto's Planning Division has completed an analysis of the urban conditions at the seven station locations most likely to be recommended by City staff. 

With Mayor John Tory's ambitions for a 22-stop "surface subway" now long abandoned, City Planning's current analysis follows a February Metrolinx report outlining four options for new stations and service integration for the 'SmartTrack' portions of GO RER. Developed through partnerships with the City of Toronto and the TTC, the report's options (referred to as A,B,C, and D) modelled for four to eight stations and varying service frequencies. By March, options A and B—which respectively called for 4-6 minute peak service and 20 minute express service at existing stations—were dismissed due to incremental infrastructure costs and community impacts.

Options C and D, image courtesy of the City of TorontoOptions C and D, image courtesy of the City of Toronto

Since then, City staff have studied the costs and benefits of the two remaining options (C and D), both of which include 5-10 minute peak service and 15 minute off-peak service. From this baseline, the two options differ in the number of stations provided. Option D calls for 4 to 5 new stations between GO's existing Mount Dennis and Danforth stops, improving transit access along the Kitchener and Lakeshore East corridors. Alternatively, Option C includes a total of 7 to 8 new stations, with an additional two to three stops added along the Stouffville Line in Scarborough.

According to a recent report in the Toronto Star, an iteration of Option C is now set to be recommended by City staff, and 7 new stations are expected. With seven station profiles also recently provided by the City, it seems likely that these same stops will be recommended. As presented at this week's consultations, stations at St. Clair West, Liberty Village, the Unilever site, Gerrard-Carlaw, Lawrence East, Ellesmere, and Finch East, could be recommended.

A closer look at Option C, image courtesy of the City of TorontoA closer look at Option C, image courtesy of the City of Toronto

This month's joint presentation by Metrolinx, the City of Toronto and the TTC, provided more specific information about the two remaining options. Overall, Option D would add some 29,000 daily riders compared to GO RER, while the more likely Option C is projected to increase ridership by 27,600 people. Despite the higher ridership totals for Option D, Option C would serve a greater number of "disadvantaged residents," while providing slightly greater relief to the Yonge Line south of Bloor. However, these projections assume fare integration between SmartTrack and the TTC, which remains an unresolved—and decisive—issue.

Indeed, much of SmartTrack's effectiveness as a supplement to GO RER is predicated on fare integration. While the issue was discussed at length during April 27th's joint board meeting between Metrolinx and the TTC, the complexity of intergovernmental—and inter-agency—politics leaves the implementation of regional fare integration on uncertain footing. Nonetheless, City Planning's station study provides informative profiles—detailing land use and socio-economic fabric—of the proposed station sites. 

Moving east from Mount Dennis, the proposed St. Clair West and Liberty Village stations would be SmartTrack's westernmost new stops. These potential stations are shared by Options C and D. Located near Keele, the St. Clair station would serve a low-density area dominated by employment lands, with the surrounding big-box retail and parking lots facilitating potential redevelopment and intensification.

St. Clair West, image courtesy of the City of Toronto (click for a closer view)St. Clair West, image courtesy of the City of Toronto (click for a closer view)

Meanwhile, the much more densely populated Liberty Village neighbourhood to the southeast is already a well-established development hub. Assuming fare integration, a station could provide relief to the overcrowded 504 King streetcar, while the historically marginalized neighbourhood of South Parkdale could also benefit from new transit. This gives the station a relatively high "social equity" score.

Liberty Village, image courtesy of the City of Toronto (click for a closer view)Liberty Village, image courtesy of the City of Toronto (click for a closer view)

East of Union Station, the Unilever and Gerrard-Carlaw stations are also included in both Options C and D. Although currently home to a very small population, the Unilever site could become a 12 million ft² GTA employment hub if First Gulf's ambitious redevelopment plans are carried through. With a Relief Line station now also considered for the site—along with possible streetcar and LRT connections—the SmartTrack / GO RER stop will contribute to a multi-modal hub second only to Union Station.

Unilever station, image courtesy of the City of Toronto (click for a closer viewUnilever station, image courtesy of the City of Toronto (click for a closer view)

Similarly, the east end's Gerrard-Carlaw stop could provide a direct connection to the subway. With a potential interchange station on the Relief Line now planned at Pape and Gerrard, this area would also become much better integrated into the transit network. While redevelopment potential—and a reasonably high current population—make the area a good target for new transit, the Relief Line would likely provide a more efficient and cost-effective commute option for area residents.

Gerrard-Carlaw, image courtesy of the City of Toronto (click for a closer view)Gerrard-Carlaw, image courtesy of the City of Toronto (click for a closer view)

Continuing northeast, Scarborough's Lawrence East station is the northernmost stop shared by both Options C and D. Located on the Stouffville line. City Planning identifies "the greatest development potential of all proposed new stations in Scarborough" for this stop. While the current population is relatively low, many of the surrounding sties are deemed fit for redevelopment, and existing land use policies support growth in the immediate area. 

Lawrence East, image courtesy of the City of Toronto (click for a closer view)Lawrence East, image courtesy of the City of Toronto (click for a closer view)

Moving north, Ellesmere Station—exclusive to Option C—does not share the development potential of Lawrence East. Nonetheless, the predominantly industrial area features a relatively strong concentration of jobs (compared to population), while the upcoming Ellesmere BRT route would make the station a local transit hub.

Ellesmere, image courtesy of the City of Toronto (click for a closer view)Ellesmere, image courtesy of the City of Toronto (click for a closer view)

Finally, Option C's northernmost station at Finch East "would address the lack of higher-order transit in northeast Scarborough. It could provide [an] alternative route to Downtown Toronto, potentially reducing demand on the Yonge Subway." Although the area is not particularly highly populated—with relatively limited development potential identified—the current dearth of transit options could make the station a valuable addition to the community.

Finch East, image courtesy of the City of Toronto (click for a closer view)Finch East, image courtesy of the City of Toronto (click for a closer view)

Despite the projected ridership increase of 27,600—in addition to the improved GO RER service—the true impact of SmartTrack / GO RER remains hard to predict. Although U of T's Dr. Eric Miller—who was hired by the City to develop ridership forecasts—has championed the project, uncertainties regarding fare integration and achievable service frequencies remain.  

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We will keep you updated as SmartTrack planning continues to progress and a formal recommendation is made by City staff. In the meantime, more information about SmartTrack / GO RER is available via the City's website. In the meantime, make your voice heard by contributing a comment to this page, or by joining in the conversation on our associated Forum thread.