Once upon a time, facing complaints of stalled transit expansion and crush loaded Yonge subway trains, the TTC proposed a bold new plan. Rapid transit routes on Eglinton and Sheppard would offer uptown residents much-improved travel times. And, to ease the pressure on Yonge, a Downtown Relief Line (DRL) would run in south from Danforth, then west through the core to Spadina. A future extension would run further west and north to Bloor to form a "U." Now the depressing part: the year was 1985 and the plan was dubbed Network 2011, the year the expansion was to be completed.

Network 2011 transit expansion plan, circa 1985.

Now it’s 2012. We’ve got a truncated subway on Sheppard, with the possibility of an extension or light rail stretching further east. In 1995 the Mike Harris government halted work on the Eglinton subway, but construction on the Eglinton Crosstown light rail line is now underway. That leaves the DRL as the only Network 2011 corridor that hasn’t gotten any attention.

But the need for the DRL hasn’t changed: Yonge subway trains are still crammed and the Yonge-University-Spadina line is still the only rapid transit route into downtown, with no alternative during major service disruptions. Booming condo and office development and new east-west lines on Eglinton and Finch will only aggravate the problem.

Fortunately, the long-dormant DRL has been getting a lot of attention recently:

  • November 2008: Metrolinx included the DRL in the 25-year project list of its comprehensive regional transportation plan, The Big Move.
  • July 2010: the TTC launched the Downtown Rapid Transit Expansion Study to consider the need for the DRL.
  • November 2011: a Metrolinx study on expanding peak-hour capacity on GO Transit found two viable options for moving rail traffic away from Union Station. One alternative proposed building a GO station near Spadina Avenue. Barrie and Georgetown trains would serve the new station, instead of Union. Passengers headed further east would transfer to a new “downtown rapid transit” line. 

    Metrolinx proposal for new downtown GO station and downtown rapid transit line, image from Metrolinx.

  • February 2012: at a special meeting where city council restored surface LRT plans for Eglinton and Finch, councillors also directed TTC staff to start talking to Metrolinx about the construction of the DRL.

There’s still a long way to go. The city, the TTC and Metrolinx need to agree on an alignment. Advocates will have to build political support for the project, and, most importantly, figure out how to pay for it. But it's clear that the major players recognize that the DRL’s time has come.

Want to advocate for the DRL yourself? A Facebook group to promote the line now has over 1500 members. You can visit it here. Want to talk DRL? UrbanToronto's Transportation Forum has several threads dedicated to aspects of the DRL, including this thread on the 2010 Expansion Study, this thread that asks where you would route the line, and this thread which deals with advocacy for the line.