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GO Transit: Construction Projects (Metrolinx, various)

JohnnyRenton

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I thought this might be something that people here would enjoy seeing. As part of a project I am doing mapping changes in several Canadian cities over the past few decades, I decided to take a look at investment in GO Train infrastructure in the GTA. The reason for this was simple. The GO Train network is 5 or 10 years away from being radically changed from a commuter service, into a regional rail service. But just 15 years ago, much of the network was dilapidated, antiquated, and thoroughly un-modern. Having watched the developments over the years I knew a lot had been done to start modernizing the network, and with curiosity getting the best of me, I decided to catalogue and map it out in detail, along with attaching the actual costs (where available), to all these investments.

Before jumping in, a few notes. First, the time frame I selected, from 2006 - Sept 2019, was chosen because 2006 was the start of the GO TRIPS program, the first major investment to the GO network in the contemporary era. The end date was whenever the map was actually completed. Only projects that have been completed, or started, are on the map. So even though some, like the Davenport Diamond, Lakeshore upgrades, new RER stations, etc, will be starting any day in some cases, I did not include them as there were no shovels in the ground as of when the map was completed. This of course does mean that the map would have a lot more on it if done in a years time.

As best as possible, I tried to find out the actual costs of each of the projects, big or small. As anyone who has tried to navigate through old online government archives will know, pages change or end up down the memory hole, so not every project was able to have a cost attached to it. All costs are what was quoted in the year the projects were done. Nothing has been adjusted to reflect inflation. It is also worth noting that there are probably a hundred or more smaller projects (parking lots, platform extensions, accessibility upgrades, etc), that are not included on this map. This is in part because there wouldn’t have been space on the map, and because getting exact details about them would have involved an incredible amount of time to research properly.

I have made all efforts to make sure the map is as accurate, and comprehensive as possible, but certainly don’t claim that it is perfect (though it is close enough that I am confident throwing it onto the internet). And for those that might be interested, this map was created in QGIS, so yes, you can make great maps in native Mac apps. I opted to do the map this way, instead of a custom, online Google Map, because classic cartography is fun, and though this map isn’t great for mobile, it does look great on a large desktop.

So lets look at the map. The image that appears below is a scaled down version of the map.

Click on this link, for a larger resolution version.



Lets quickly run through some numbers:

Total known cost of mapped investments: $7.4 billion
Total estimated cost of remaining mapped investments: $600 million
Total estimated cost of unmapped projects: $500 - $750million
Total number of bridge upgrades: 35
Total number of new stations on existing lines: 6
Total number of new stations on extensions: 10
Total number of existing roads that were grade separated: 15
Total number of rail to rail grade separations: 3
Total number of new roads built with grade separations: 7
Total number of station rebuilds or major upgrades: 11

There are also some interesting trends that emerged when you look at all the investments mapped out. First, almost all of the money spent was inside the greenbelt. While extensions did push service beyond the greenbelt, the amount actually spent on those sections was minuscule compared to the overall amount spent. This will of course change in the future.

Also interesting is how much of the investment was actually inside the boundaries of the City of Toronto. Without full project breakdowns only an estimate can be given, but there is likely around $4 billion that was spent just within Toronto. Now, that makes sense as lines are going to be busier as they get closer to the centre, and thus need more money to modernize them properly for that higher capacity. But that investment could, and to a certain extent is, being leveraged so that Toronto residents also get better transit service as a result (I know that is a comment that will likely elicit some reactions here, given the ongoing saga of Smart Track/RER. For the purpose of this post, whether or not enough is being done within Toronto is not something I will talk about).

What is perhaps most interesting about this map, in my opinion, and what it shows is that with the exception of the Georgetown South/UP project, which was around $1.75 billion in total between the two of them, there are actually few projects that would be considered mega-projects. Yes, some, like the Union Station upgrade, and the Durham Maintenance facility, were not cheap, but most of what GO has done over the past 13.5 years has been a collection of smaller projects that have focused on the “unsexy” but critical parts of modernizing the network, such as bridge upgrades, grade separations, signalling systems, station upgrades and better integration with local transit networks, etc.

This patchwork, under the radar approach to developing the network, often at times when the political and social climate towards public transit meant funding was thin, has really allowed GO/Metrolinx to form a strong, modern backbone for what will be the most exciting part of their expansion plans. (That backbone isn't fully constructed yet, but it is getting close).

In 5 - 10 years time, when GO/RER becomes the transit darling of North America, many people will probably look at only the most recent investments that put them there. But in fact, it is the time from 2006 to today that cities/regions looking to build a regional rail network should be looking at. That is the time when all the hardest, most under appreciated work went into creating just the right conditions for an epic transformation. For people in Toronto or the GTA the map is likely just going to be a look back into the past. For other cities and regions, it can offer a lot of insight on how a pragmatic, under the radar approach to developing a regional rail network could be the right approach to getting the early days of their projects started. It might be less desirable than a mega-project that does it all at once, but for cities even more car-dependent than Toronto and the GTA, this might be the only strategy that could work for them.

I could say a lot more about this map but I will leave it at that. I know that a lot of people are cynical about public transit investments in Toronto, and all across Canada for that matter. And yes, it can often seem as though things are not going fast enough. I also think it is important to remember that radically changing cities and regions from almost exclusively car-oriented to also being places with great public transit, along with an ability to walk and bike, is not a small task, especially when Canadian cities exploded during the suburban age. Trying to battle against all the money that continues to be behind suburban growth is a massive undertaking, and yet Toronto and the GTA have managed to take what was a hugely under-utilized set of corridors, and begin to transform them. GO/Metrolinx often get a lot of heat from the public, sometimes deserved, but I don't think it gets enough credit for pushing through what has often been a challenging political and social environment to get the GO Train network to where it is today.
 

innsertnamehere

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Great post! also, don't forget the hundreds of millions the provincial government spent to simply purchase a lot of the GO corridors from CN and CP. 15 years ago GO owned almost none of the track it ran on, now it owns the majority of it's track. That alone is a huge investment that has essentially 0 "on the ground" difference.
 

mdrejhon

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I thought this might be something that people here would enjoy seeing.
Thank you, for a very good post!
In 5 - 10 years time, when GO/RER becomes the transit darling of North America, many people will probably look at only the most recent investments that put them there. But in fact, it is the time from 2006 to today that cities/regions looking to build a regional rail network should be looking at. That is the time when all the hardest, most under appreciated work went into creating just the right conditions for an epic transformation.
Yes, credit where credit due.

Also why I strongly believe in Metrolinx’s continued existence (as aggravating specific elements are).
that has essentially 0 "on the ground" difference.
Initially/instantaneously, no...

But over a 15+ year period, very major.

Especially with TTC frequency and free TTC transfers (this is all but an eventual thing now).

TTC+GO fare integration is ongoing
- TTC $1.50 co-fare (about half TTC fare).
- GO $3.70 Presto in 416 is now almost down to TTC $3.25.
- Eventual equalization of price for 416 is all bit inevitable.
- Eventual zero-cost transfers for 416 is all but inevitable.
- Even Ford, threatening to roll these backs, currently has not and may never (and even so, will rapidly flip flop back within a few years).

Metro frequency is starting to become part of GO expansion
- Beginnings of 15 minute service in the interim, and only a temporary stopgap
- GO Expansion (RER) 2018 Business Case shows 11 trains per hour at some stations, could increase even more beyond that, in 20-30 years to Paris RER frequencies.
- Even Ford has only caused a minor postponement/renaming. GO RER 2025 is now GO Expansion 2028.

Once TTC/GO is fully fare integrated in the 416, and the trains are electrified to metro frequencies, we have Metrolinxs’ existence (buying up the corridors and achieving the JohnnyRenton’s post) to thank for the conversion of the GO system into a surface subway that feels part of TTC (at least within the 416).

Annoying tImeline lengthening may occur during ongoing work (2025->2028->2031) but the true 1990s-style Harris-Cuts cancellations aren’t going to happen even with Ford, even with the least-GO-friendly political vote. In the 1990s cuts era, construction was actually stopped mid-construction, tunnels were actually refilled (Eglinton subway), entire GO lines were shut down). There’s just way too much momentum within Metrolinx that only things can be slowed down politically. All these piecemeal improvements keep going on with all the GO corridors to prepare it for metro-frequency service in the coming decades, beginning with “15 minute or better” service which is only an interim stopping point to subway frequencies in the core network. And even the virtue of uploading the subways to TTC, as undesirable as it may be for some parties, at least ends up making fuller fare integration far more likely.

If — by 2050 — we get
(A) Streetcar routes converted to true LRTs (chained trains with level boarding, Crosstown-style or Calgary-CTrain-style)
(B) Metro-frequency GO electrified network
(C) Subway expansions
(D) Transfer integration between all the above
....Then Metrolinxs’ existence could very well have been worth getting a metro network that is potentially #2 biggest in North America even in station count (ahead of all cities except New York City).

Metrolinx and TTC must continue to work closely together for many reasons:
Consider the King Streetcar Pilot. We haven’t seen anything yet. Think of it: The streetcars are nearly identical to the Eglinton Crosstown LRT vehicles. The streetcars are combineable into trains (60 to 90 meter long is theoretically possible). In the next King rebuild, imagine the street rebuilt to look like the downtown Calgary C-Train corridor (but much better and more modern). Imagine turning the downtown portion of King Street into a transit-only corridor with aggressive green-light transit priority for the trains, with new raised subway-style platforms flush level to all doors of a chained train of multiple streetcars. Now you can transport a MASSIVE number of Torontoians on the King streetcar-turned-King metro — probably more than 2x passengers per day, once King is properly rebuilt. The new streetcars are compatible with future metro/surface subway operations (multi-vehicle consists + pantograph + level boarding) and it would not be much of a stretch to consider either King or Queen, once you take about 30 years of generational warming-up to banning cars off some specific streetcar streets (Calgary did it in 1981, Toronto could do it by 2049).

Doing all these kinds of optimization at both the GO and TTC network levels will easily catapult Toronto into #2 (behind New York, and ahead of Chicago) in terms of the biggest ‘metro’ network with a couple hundred stations or so, give or take.
 
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crs1026

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^A really stellar piece of work. Thank you for that.

- re your comment that a large amount of the money has been spent within the 416 - that does not mean the 416 is able to leverage that investment. A good example is the Davenport overpass, which is a huge investment within an area that is actually negatively impacted. There is a reality that capacity has to be added within the 416 to solve mobility needs of the 905. I don’t think we should sugar coat that, nor should we offer judgement - or apologies! As the GTA grows, the central areas will gain value simply by being central. That is offset by some of the impacts of Regional lines. Sure, Davenport has been offered a station as appeasement, but I would not call that “leverage”....it’s just a consolation prize.
- the incremental and piecemeal nature of GO expansion, which you note, should not be celebrated just because much investment has been spent. The network is expanding illogically and dysfunctionally, with numerous chokepoints, because priorities are not declared transparently nor addressed. You have made the case that the investment has been substantial.... but if we compare it to one of our subway or LRT projects, the latter are laid out on a all-or nothing basis . Imagine if we built the Crosstown one station at a time, or built some of it single tracked ? There needs to be a transparent plan laying out the critical path and investment strategy for each GO corridor.
- did you capture investment in yards and layover facilities? I don’t want to quibble with your numbers, because your effort is so impressive...the map is fantastic, but if you documented it as a spreadsheet we might be able to offer some additional elements.

- Paul
 

JohnnyRenton

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- re your comment that a large amount of the money has been spent within the 416 - that does not mean the 416 is able to leverage that investment. A good example is the Davenport overpass, which is a huge investment within an area that is actually negatively impacted. There is a reality that capacity has to be added within the 416 to solve mobility needs of the 905. I don’t think we should sugar coat that, nor should we offer judgement - or apologies! As the GTA grows, the central areas will gain value simply by being central. That is offset by some of the impacts of Regional lines. Sure, Davenport has been offered a station as appeasement, but I would not call that “leverage”....it’s just a consolation prize.
I agree that the 416 isn't going to gain the equivalent of new Crosstown lines as a result of the GO investments. It does gain more stations, and for those living nearby, it will over time become an efficient alternative to getting downtown (assuming a reasonable fare integration, which I am aware is a contentious issue). However the faster that people can move in out of Toronto from the 905, the stronger Toronto's economic advantage gets. So yes, the gains are not clear cut, but they are there for some people in the 416, even if they aren't earthshaking gains.

- the incremental and piecemeal nature of GO expansion, which you note, should not be celebrated just because much investment has been spent. The network is expanding illogically and dysfunctionally, with numerous chokepoints, because priorities are not declared transparently nor addressed. You have made the case that the investment has been substantial.... but if we compare it to one of our subway or LRT projects, the latter are laid out on a all-or nothing basis . Imagine if we built the Crosstown one station at a time, or built some of it single tracked ? There needs to be a transparent plan laying out the critical path and investment strategy for each GO corridor.
I am not saying this approach is ideal. But it is pragramatic in the sense that it still managed to accomplish a lot, despite the often dysfunctional political maneuvering that impacts transit growth, and the sometimes slow cultural shift and support towards transit investments. A parallel to the GO Rail network project would be Highway 1 in BC. Would it be ideal if it could all be modernized and upgraded at once? Yes. But the costs of that project are enormous and doing it all once would cause havoc, if there was even enough talent and labour available to do it. I'd love for $20 billion to be poured into the entire network right now and modernize it from top to bottom, and end to end. But there is also more than enough anti-transit, anti-urban sentiment out there that doing so isn't possible. I am not say this approach has been ideal, but it is also one that is based in reality and is at least making gains, and for cities with even stronger resistance to transit investment than Toronto, this could be a critical strategy for moving them forward.

- did you capture investment in yards and layover facilities? I don’t want to quibble with your numbers, because your effort is so impressive...the map is fantastic, but if you documented it as a spreadsheet we might be able to offer some additional elements.

- Paul
I have included a number of layover facilities, and the Durham Maintenance Facility as well. I know that there is a $17 million investment being made for the Don Yards, and I did originally have that on my map. But since I couldn't verify if it was actually under construction at the time I published the map, I nixed it (finding simple information like can sometimes be utterly brutal). Essentially anything to do with the infrastructure needed to actually operate the system (tracks, signals, bridges, tunnels, layovers, stations, etc) was included. Probably the only thing I didn't include was the cost of new rolling stock. I was up front that there might be some elements missing, such as older projects that are not mentioned on the internet anymore, or projects that I was not aware had officially started. I did hit a wall with what was available on the internet. To be truly comprehensive would probably involve freedom of information requests and visits to libraries, which was beyond the scope of this map (the project ended up being far more in depth and time consuming than I had originally thought it would be as it is). If there is anything that you can verify was built, or has started, within the time frame I worked with, that isn't on the map then let me know as I could easily do a V1.1 update to it.
 

JohnnyRenton

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Great post! also, don't forget the hundreds of millions the provincial government spent to simply purchase a lot of the GO corridors from CN and CP. 15 years ago GO owned almost none of the track it ran on, now it owns the majority of it's track. That alone is a huge investment that has essentially 0 "on the ground" difference.
$1.134 billion since 2006. I did include those costs and acquisitions on the map because I totally agree that purchasing the corridors is just as critical an investment in modernizing the network as upgrading the track, signals, stations, etc. In terms of value for money, those purchases might have the biggest payoff of any investment they have made.
 

MisterF

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I agree that the 416 isn't going to gain the equivalent of new Crosstown lines as a result of the GO investments. It does gain more stations, and for those living nearby, it will over time become an efficient alternative to getting downtown (assuming a reasonable fare integration, which I am aware is a contentious issue). However the faster that people can move in out of Toronto from the 905, the stronger Toronto's economic advantage gets. So yes, the gains are not clear cut, but they are there for some people in the 416, even if they aren't earthshaking gains.
Honestly, I think that GO expansion/RER is going to be just as much of a crosstown line as the Crosstown itself. Most of the travel demand is to and from downtown so most of the Crosstown traffic is going to continue to feed into Line 1, and, later, the relief line and Kitchener, Lakeshore, and Stouffville GO lines. Most people won't be using it for trips across the uptown part of the city. The second reason is that even for cross-uptown trips, GO will be just as fast if not faster. The Crosstown is going to be permanently hobbled by the on-street portions that have trains stopping at red lights. With an average speed of 28 km/h, it would take about 41 minutes to go from Kennedy to Mount Dennis. A similar trip on a hypothetical through-running GO train would take about 45 minutes. With electrification and revamped platforms at Union, I could see that being reduced to less than 40.

So for a trip from one end of Eglinton to the other, your choices are going to be:
-An LRT that runs as a subway for half of the route but as a glorified streetcar for the other half, or
-An through running, electrified train that gets you there via downtown in less time for the same price.

I think RER really is going to be earthshaking for the 416.
 

Neutrino

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^RER with TTC fare and last mile integration would be a major improvement over the current system. But absent those two factors, the impact will be limited.

And I think there's a fundamental limitation with GO stemming from its downtown focused radial design. Unless we build entirely new lines, RER does little for local and major east-west commuter patterns

Given those circumstances, I think we need to manage our expectations for RER.
 

cplchanb

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$1.134 billion since 2006. I did include those costs and acquisitions on the map because I totally agree that purchasing the corridors is just as critical an investment in modernizing the network as upgrading the track, signals, stations, etc. In terms of value for money, those purchases might have the biggest payoff of any investment they have made.
How much would it cost us to buy the remainder of the track from CN/CP? would they even entertain any offers or would they need the missing link done first?
 

Krypto98

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^ Great shots. How's the 409/401 tunnel looking? Any further progress on the clearing or work on the 4th track near Weston? cc @crs1026
Progress seems to be going well on the 401/409 tunnel. The land for the 4th track at Weston is all clear and crews are actually there right now. They removed a signal tower that was in the way this week.
 

Allandale25

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Progress seems to be going well on the 401/409 tunnel. The land for the 4th track at Weston is all clear and crews are actually there right now. They removed a signal tower that was in the way this week.
How far south from Weston does it look like they are working or have cleared? I can't remember but does a piece of the 4th track end just before Weston?
 

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