Last week Toronto City Council voted (again) to support the detailed planning and design of the Scarborough Subway extension as a replacement for the aging Scarborough RT. The vote was the latest in the over decade-long saga to replace Toronto's only Intermediate Capacity Transit System (ICTS) line.

Scarborough RT Primer

Before we dive into the timeline of its replacement options, it would be beneficial to briefly go over what the Scarborough RT actually is:

  • 6.4 km route that runs from Kennedy Station to McCowan Station
  • daily ridership of just over 40,000
  • 73% of trips begin or end at Scarborough Centre Station

Schematic of the Scarborough RT, image courtesy of the TTC

Originally planned as Toronto's first LRT, the Provincial government at the time decided to use the line as a showcase for ICTS technology, being developed by Urban Transportation Development Corporation (UTDC), an Ontario crown corporation (since purchased by Bombardier). The Scarborough RT was planned to be just the first of several ICTS lines in the Greater Toronto Hamilton Area (GTHA) including the Etobicoke RT and a line in Hamilton. Evidence of the Etobicoke RT can be seen in the flat area on the south side of the upper level of Kipling Station, which was planned to be the RT platform. Ultimately however, the Scarborough RT became an orphan technology in the TTC system.

Shortly after the SRT was opened in March 1985, Vancouver opened their SkyTrain system in December of that year. While the SkyTrain system has been expanded and upgraded significantly since its debut, the SRT has stayed more or less the same. While Vancouver has added Mark II and is adding Mark III vehicles to its fleet, the Scarborough RT is still using exclusively Mark I. The underground curve just north of Ellesmere Station has too sharp of a radius to accommodate the newer, larger vehicles, and would need to be rebuilt if they were to be introduced.

August 2006: ICTS Upgrade

In August 2006, the TTC released a report evaluating options for extending and upgrading, or replacing the Scarborough RT. The line would be extend from its McCowan terminus to Sheppard Ave via Centennial College, as per the 1992 EA shown below. The preferred option would have cost $190 million in line upgrades, and $170 million for new rolling stock (2006 dollars).

Scarborough RT Extension as per the 1992 EA, image courtesy of the TTC

The report concluded that upgrading the SRT to more modern ICTS technology was the most cost-effective solution, stating that "infrastructure modification in combination with the acquisition of an expanded fleet of new, longer, more modern RT vehicles similar to those used in Vancouver, represents the most cost effective solution for meeting transit needs within the existing Scarborough RT corridor, with minimum service disruption and with the greatest flexibility to provide near term capacity increases."

Rendering of an upgraded Scarborough RT at a future Centennial College Station, image courtesy of the TTC

The report also addresses the possibility of replacing the SRT with a subway extension, stating "on the basis of ridership forecasts and preliminary cost estimates, replacement of the existing Scarborough RT by a new subway is not a cost effective solution."

October 2010: Transit City - Part I

When Transit City was initially announced in March 2007, it included the Scarborough RT, but retained the 2006 plan to upgrade it to newer ICTS technology and extend it to Sheppard Ave. However, in October 2010, the TTC and the City of Toronto completed an Environmental Assessment (EA) that recommended the conversion of the SRT to Light Rail Transit (LRT) technology. It also recommended extending the line to Malvern, in northeastern Scarborough, further than what had been proposed initially.

The Scarborough LRT as shown in Transit City, image courtesy of the City of Toronto

December 2010: The Rob Ford-Imposed Limbo

When the late Rob Ford was elected in December 2010, he unilaterally (though technically not legally) killed all of the Transit City plan during his first day in office. For the next year and a bit, various proposals were bandied about, but nothing official came of it. Projects like the Sheppard East LRT, which was actually under construction when Ford was elected, are still "deferred" to this day.

March 2011: The Eglinton-Scarborough Crosstown LRT

The end product of Rob Ford's first year in office was a 'compromise' plan between Ford and Premier Dalton McGuinty, or to be more specific between the City of Toronto and Metrolinx. The plan was to divert the entire pot of Transit City funding, all $8.4 billion of it, into a single line, called the Eglinton-Scarborough Crosstown LRT.

Eglinton-Scarborough Crosstown LRT plan of 2011, image courtesy of Metrolinx

The line was a combination of the previous Crosstown LRT and the Scarborough LRT, creating a single through line where there was previously a transfer at Kennedy. Other than this interlining, the two biggest changes from the previous plan were the tunnelling of the eastern section from Don Mills to Kennedy, which had previously been (and is now again) in-median surface LRT, and the removal of the extension of the Scarborough LRT beyond McCowan.

February 2012: Transit City - Part II

Following nearly a year of debating the future of transit in Toronto, on February 8, 2012 City Council, by a margin of 25 to 18, voted in favour of resurrecting the entire Transit City plan as it was constituted just prior to Rob Ford taking office, minus the Sheppard East LRT (with the subway vs LRT debate for that corridor taking place a few months later). This meant that the plan as per the 2010 EA was back the 'official' plan. After the Council meeting, Doug Ford, in possibly the most factually correct thing he has ever said, stated “I can assure you this fight is not over".

July 2013: Enter the Scarborough Subway

Following a familiar pattern, the time period between the February 2012 Council vote and the July 2013 Council vote were filled with debates over the merits of subways vs LRTs. On July 17, 2013, City Council voted 28-16 to abandon the Scarborough LRT plan it had (re)adopted just one year earlier, in favour of a 7.6 km extension of the Bloor-Danforth subway line from Kennedy Station to Sheppard Ave East, featuring three new stations.

2013 version of the Scarborough Subway extension, image courtesy of the City of Toronto

September 2013: The Provincial Scarborough Subway

In September 2013, Ontario Transportation Minister Glen Murray announced that the Province would proceed with its own alignment for the Scarborough Subway, all but ignoring the wishes of Toronto City Council. Murray's plan called for the Bloor-Danforth Subway to be extended to Scarborough Centre along the existing SRT right-of-way. This plan shortened the subway route to 6.4 km, but fit within the $1.4 billion funding envelope that the Province had for the Scarborough LRT project.

October 2013: Reaffirmation of City Alignment

In their October 3, 2013 meeting, City Council voted 24-20 in favour of the previously Council-approved subway alignment. Council also approved a 1.6% property tax levy to help cover the City's $900 million share of the project cost. The Ontario government continued to pledge $1.48 billion from the Scarborough LRT, and the Federal government announced shortly before that it would be contributing $660 million to the project, for a total of just over $3 billion.

January 2016: And Then There Was One

In January 2016, Mayor John Tory announced a plan to reduce the length of the Scarborough Subway and terminate it at Scarborough Town Centre instead of Sheppard Ave. It also eliminated the Lawrence East station. The reduction in subway length would be compensated for by building a 17-stop LRT along the alignment previously approved for the Scarborough-Malvern LRT in the Transit City plan. The entire plan would fit within the $3.56 billion funding envelope for the project.

The transit plan for Scarborough proposed by Tory in Jan 2016, image courtesy the City of Toronto

March 2017: One Stop "Express" Subway Approved

This (finally) brings us to this past week, where City Council approved the $3.35 billion one-stop subway extension to Scarborough Town Centre by a vote of 26-18. For those who were wondering about the math, the previously stated $3.56 billion funding envelope for both the subway extension and 17-stop LRT, a $3.35 billion subway extension leaves just over $200 million left for the LRT, which a 2016 City report states will cost a minimum of $1.57 billion. How this gap will be closed remains to be seen.

The Road Ahead

The saga of the Scarborough RT replacement is likely not over yet. The Scarborough Subway will need to be voted on by Council at least once more before construction can begin. The next time, when the design has reached 30% complete, is expected around the time of the next municipal election, which could bring in a change in attitude towards the project. As the price tag of the Scarborough Subway has been on a steady upwards climb, the increases could threaten the political viability of the project, or at the very least threaten the viability of the other transit project with which it is bundled, mainly the Eglinton East LRT extension.

You can join the discussion on the replacement of the Scarborough RT by visiting our forum thread, or by leaving a comment in the section below.