On March 22, Metrolinx and Infrastructure Ontario (IO) issued a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) for the addition of a third track on the Lakeshore East corridor between Beechgrove Drive (east of Guildwood GO) and Durham Junction. This work is being done in support of Metrolinx's Regional Express Rail (RER) plan, which will bring minimum 15 minute service to nearly all GO lines by around 2024.

Planned Lakeshore East service under GO RER, image courtesy of Metrolinx

The Lakeshore East line runs from Union Station to Oshawa GO station, a distance of just over 50 km. For the innermost 14 km, it shares trackage with the Stouffville line, which branches off northward at Scarborough Junction. In order to facilitate the increased rail traffic of RER, there are a series of construction projects that will be taking place along the Lakeshore East corridor.

The first—already under construction for quite a while now—is the East Rail Maintenance and Storage Facility, a 500,000 square foot facility located in Whitby that, according to Metrolinx, "will provide mechanical maintenance, body repair, as well as day-to-day cleaning and operational services; all essential in order to provide backend support for regional rail expansion." Currently, all of these tasks are performed at GO's Willowbrook facility in Etobicoke. However, with the planned service increases under RER, Willowbrook will no longer have the capacity to handle those needs for GO's entire fleet. Passengers on the Lakeshore East line can catch a glimpse of its construction when travelling between Whitby and Oshawa stations. It began construction in 2012, and will be completed by the end of 2017.

East Rail Maintenance and Storage Facility under construction, image courtesy of Metrolinx

The next project is the additional track mentioned earlier in this article. East of Guildwood GO, the Lakeshore East corridor reduces from three tracks to two, leading to what Metrolinx calls a "bottleneck [that] currently creates an operational challenge for the entire line." This operational challenge extends from just east of Galloway Rd to Durham Junction, located just west of Pickering GO. East of that point, the Lakeshore East line runs on dedicated tracks parallel to the CN mainline, on which GO is the sole operator. West of that point, GO shares the Lakeshore East corridor with Via Rail service, which is also scheduled to see service increases in the coming years, as well as the occasional CN freight train.

The reduction from 3 tracks to 2 east of Guildwood GO, image courtesy the Toronto Star

The addition of a third track in this section of the corridor would significantly increase the operational flexibility of the line. Not only would it allow GO to boost overall frequency, but it allows for greater scheduling flexibility when it comes to operating peak period express trains, which this section of track currently limits the timing of. The project also features several grade separations and access improvements, which are shown in Metrolinx's September 2016 presentation to the community. The Request for Proposals (RFP) from selected teams will be tendered this summer, with construction starting later this year and wrapping up in 2023. Information for this project, including the Environmental Project Report and Public Presentations, is available on Metrolinx's website.

Track diagram of Lakeshore East, showing the Study Area and 3rd Track, image courtesy of Metrolinx

The third project in the corridor is the addition of a fourth track between the Don River and Scarborough Junction. The fourth track would be built on the south side of the corridor between the Don River Bridge and Gerrard St, and shift to the north side of the corridor between Gerrard St and Pape Ave, then continue on the north side of the corridor to Scarborough GO.

Track diagram of Lakeshore East, showing the 4th Track, image courtesy of Metrolinx

Like with the eastern third track, this fourth track project is required to support the GO service expansion associated with RER. However, unlike the eastern third track, the added capacity from this fourth track will not be used just by the Lakeshore East line, but also by the Stouffville line and SmartTrack. The Stouffville line will go from the peak-only service it is today to all-day two-way service with a minimum frequency of 15 minutes, a substantial increase to be sure. All of these services will make this inner portion of the Lakeshore East corridor the third busiest on the entire GO system by trips, next to the Union Station Rail Corridor (USRC) and the southern portion of the Georgetown South corridor, which carries the Kitchener, Milton, and Barrie lines, as well as the Union-Pearson Express and future SmartTrack.

Study area for the addition of the 4th track to the Lakeshore East corridor, image courtesy of Metrolinx

While electrification is a substantial component of Metrolinx's RER plan, just switching to electrified trains would have a minimal impact on the GO system's capacity. In order to truly see the benefits associated with RER, a series of track and infrastructure improvements need to be undertaken. It will be this combination of electrified trains and more tracks on which to run them more frequently, at least every 15 minutes, that will truly make the introduction of RER transformational for the GTHA.

We will keep you up to date with any Lakeshore East or RER-related news. In the meantime, you can also join the discussion by visiting our associated forum thread, or by leaving a comment in the area below.