View of the guideway from the second floor of Toronto Housing building on Antler Avenue, image, Metrolinx

Metrolinx and Infrastructure Ontario (IO) have selected Graham Commuter Rail Solutions (GCRS) as their preferred proponent to design, build and finance the Davenport Diamond rail grade separation project, part of Metrolinx's GO Transit rail expansion program.

Rendering of the guideway, as seen from Campbell Avenue Park, image, Metrolinx

Members of the GCRS team include:

The Davenport Diamond in 2015, image, Metrolinx

In a news release, IO says "The selection of GCRS is the result of an open, fair and competitive procurement process overseen by a third party fairness monitor. IO and Metrolinx expect to reach financial close in summer 2019, with construction to begin shortly thereafter."

The project's scope of work includes:

  • building a rail "grade separation structure" (overpass) between GO Transit's north-south Barrie rail corridor and the Canadian Pacific Railway's North Toronto subdivision--the east-west railway tracks (currently only for freight trains);
  • building retaining walls to form the approaches of the overpass and noise-reduction walls to decrease the impact on the nearby community;
  • building a temporary diversion track to enable crews to build the new two-track elevated "guideway";
  • modifying the rail crossing at Wallace Avenue to an "under-rail grade separation" (underpass); and
  • replacing a bridge, carrying the Barrie line tracks over Bloor Street West.

View of the guideway from the second floor of Toronto Housing building on Antler Avenue, image, Metrolinx

GCRS is also assuming responsibility for building in an active rail corridor with limited access points and staging and co-ordinating its work with other teams completing the Barrie rail corridor expansion project.

The project is part of the overall plan to expand, improve and electrify GO services along five rail lines.

Metrolinx intends to significantly upgrade GO train service along five lines by 2025, image, Metrolinx

Metrolinx intends to double-track the entire Barrie rail corridor between Allandale Waterfront GO Station in Barrie and Lansdowne Avenue in Toronto (where the line joins the Kitchener corridor) and to upgrade or replace multiple bridges and culverts along the line. The goal is to increase frequency to two-way, all-day, every-day every 15 minutes between Aurora GO Station and Union Station and peak, midday, evening, and weekend train service between Allandale and Aurora. The transit agency expects to complete construction on the corridor by 2025.

Metrolinx completed the first double-tracking phase from just south of Rutherford GO Station to south of York University GO in late 2016, which allowed GO to start offering year-round weekend service on the Barrie line. That phase of the project also required the regional transit agency to build several new bridges and overpasses, including over the Canadian National Railway's York Subdivision tracks, just north of and parallel to Steeles Avenue. The next phase of double-tracking requires expanding three more bridges--at Sheppard Avenue West, Major Mackenzie Drive and Yonge Street.

Metrolinx claims it can build the guideway more quickly and less expensively, than a tunnel, image, Metrolinx

The Davenport Diamond grade separation is one of the most controversial aspects of expanding the Barrie rail corridor. Metrolinx started developing the project to eliminate the level crossing as early as 2009. The diamond is one of the busiest train track intersections in North America, where CP freight trains and GO trains intersect at a ground-level rail crossing. (A diamond is a place where two railroad [or streetcar] tracks meet. The rails at the junctions sometimes seem to form diamond shapes.)

Overpass construction would impact 3,900 people, while tunnel construction would impact 6,600 people, image, Metrolinx

This part of the project consists of a 1.4-kilometre elevated overpass, extending from just south of Davenport Road to north of Bloor Street West. Since the freight trains often delay GO trains, the crossing severely limits the frequency at which GO can operate. For Metrolinx to provide the very frequent train service it's proposing, it requires a grade-separated crossing. It has examined the possibilities of building a tunnel, a trench or an elevated structure, and concluded that the elevated structure could be built in less time, at a lower cost, and impact fewer neighbouring residents.

Many in the community opposed the proposal, although Metrolinx has engaged in extensive public consultation to improve the plan. Some residents of the nearby neighbourhood, speaking to CBC News Toronto, described the proposal, which, in some places would raise the tracks above homes, as a "Gardiner Expressway for GO trains". (The current tracks are mostly on the surface.)

For example, the community group, Options for Davenport, said that "in early 2015, Metrolinx took our neighbourhood and the City of Toronto by surprise when it announced plans to build a 1.6-kilometre long rail overpass through the middle of our west Toronto community. The structure Metrolinx has proposed will be three stories high, up to three GO Train tracks wide, and run directly alongside hundreds of homes as well as three well-loved parks."

Options for Davenport's graphic illustration of the "Gardiner for trains", image, Options for Davenport

The group explains that, "While our community supports the building of better public transit and we embrace our railway roots, the proposed overpass is large enough in scale to be considered an elevated expressway for trains running through the heart of what is now a largely residential community. Other feasible options exist for eliminating potential rail traffic at the Davenport Diamond, including tunneling beneath the CP tracks)--which would reduce the visual and noise impact on the community versus an overpass, while unlocking significant and valuable green space for public use."

According to the Toronto Star, the City of Toronto was also not in favour of the overpass:

"Toronto city council is blasting Ontario's transportation agency and its plan for a big elevated rail bridge through Davenport neighbourhood, demanding Premier Kathleen Wynne intervene.

"'We're talking about a huge (ongoing) transformation, revitalization in this area, that could get severely impacted if you put this Gardiner Expressway-in-the-sky flying over this community, with trains going back and forth all day long,' thundered planning and growth chair Councillor David Shiner.

"Davenport Councillor Ana Bailao said her residents support provincial electric rail expansion but 'we don't want to be the community known as the train-watching community,' with, eventually, up to 180 a day overhead...

"Council voted 38-1 to tell Metrolinx it opposes the overpass and supports a tunnel. Council also wants Wynne to intervene and meet with Mayor John Tory 'as soon as possible to express council's concerns.'

"City planner Jennifer Keesmaat told council she wanted full study and evaluation of the overpass, tunnel and a 'trench' option, but Metrolinx timelines don't allow for that. With the information at hand, city staff determined a tunnel would disrupt the area's revitalization the least, she said."

A walkway under the overpass would connect Lappin and Antler Avenues, image, Metrolinx

For its part, Metrolinx says the new overpass will help "unlock the land" beneath it, "reconnect communities" on both sides of the tracks and create "potential public space and pedestrian / cycling trails".

It formed a residents' reference panel of 36 community members to help recommend what it can do with the area under the overpass to benefit its neighbours and leave a lasting legacy for the community.

After Options for Davenport and other residents voiced their concerns about the project and its impact on the area, Metrolinx revised its designs for the project. It "lightened" the design, transforming the bridge into what it's now calling "a guideway", with a "greenway" below. Staff also reviewed the impact of noise, vibration and shadow on the communities to provide more details about the scale and impacts of the different structures. As the agency proceeded, it also proposed using higher-quality materials on some sections of the guideway and improving the pedestrian environment around and under the guideway. 

Rendering of proposed public square under the overpass at Wallace Avenue, image, Metrolinx

While the project still faces some pockets of opposition in the community, Metrolinx completed the transit project assessment process May 26, 2016, with Ontario's then-minister of the environment Glen Murray approving the project in late 2016.

Metrolinx and IO issued a request for qualifications for the Davenport Diamond project to proponents August 17, 2017. They developed a short list of qualified proponents December 22, 2017. It invited the short-listed consortia to develop proposals for the project, February 28, 2018 and the various teams had an entire year to respond.

Let us know what you think of the project, by adding your comments in the form below this page. Or, join the discussion in our dedicated Forum thread.

* * *

UrbanToronto has a new way you can track projects through the planning process on a daily basis. Sign up for a free trial of our New Development Insider here.