Last April, Premier Doug Ford announced that the Province of Ontario would build a new rapid-transit project through central and east-end Toronto that it's dubbing "the Ontario Line". The proposal was the keystone of a $28.5 billion plan to expand "Ontario's" transit network for which the province is committing $11.2 billion. This line would replace the City of Toronto's plans for a Relief Line subway.

An enthusiastic provincial government news release at the time explained that, "Transit users and commuters across Ontario can look forward to transportation improvements as part of the Government of Ontario's historic new transportation vision… This is the most money ever invested to get shovels in the ground and get new subways built."

Since then, though, the nuts and bolts of the plan have mostly remained under wraps and the public has learned little more about the proposal. Yesterday, however, the Toronto Star reported that it had obtained a document that unveiled more details of the plan.

This map compares the original City plan for the relief line and the revised Ontario line, image, Metrolinx via the Toronto Star

Star transportation reporter Ben Spurr writes in a news article, "Confidential plans for Premier Doug Ford’s Ontario Line show it would deviate significantly from the route of Toronto’s proposed relief line subway, raising questions about whether the province can complete the major transit project as quickly as promised."

He continues, " unpublished summary of the initial business case Metrolinx completed for the project that the Star has obtained suggests it would follow less than three kilometres of the proposed path of the 7.4-kilometre relief line. The summary hasn’t been made public but was shared with the TTC and city earlier this month."

Generally, most observers had assumed that the new line would use the alignment that the City had already approved for the Relief Line--in a tunnel from Pape Station mostly under Pape, Carlaw and Eastern Avenues to the East Harbour development near Eastern and Broadview Avenues, then under Corktown and the Distillery District to a station near Sumach and King Streets, and then under Queen Street to Osgoode Station on the Toronto Transit Commission's Line 1 (Yonge – University) subway.

The government proposed elevating the line at the Don River roughly between Broadview and Bayview Avenues, instead of tunnelling under the river, as the City intended. Ontario also decided to extend the line westward by an unspecified route to Ontario Place; and northward, probably under Pape Avenue and along Don Mills Road to the Crosstown LRT line at Science Centre Station.

The government also determined that it could use a cheaper, alternate rail technology to deliver the line more quickly, but released no details of what that technology would be. Ontario claimed this technology would allow it to launch the line by 2027, instead of the City's opening date of 2029.

The document that the Star has released shows that the new line would, in fact, operate over an elevated structure between the future Gerrard Station and the west side of the Don River. The structure would either be on or beside Metrolinx's GO Transit rail corridor. While travelling on this structure, trains would stop at new 'Leslieville' station, roughly near Queen Street East and DeGrassi Street, replacing the City's 'Carlaw' station below the surface further east at Carlaw and Queen.

Again underground, the line would serve passengers at a new 'Corktown' station near Parliament and King Streets, instead of the original 'Sumach' station further east. The line, at least as far as the confidential document outlines, would then revert to the original City alignment under Queen.

The City's approved plan for the Relief Line subway, image, City of Toronto

In the west, it would continue through a tunnel to stops at Queen and Spadina, and King and Bathurst, and continue southward, roughly under Bathurst Street. It would again rise above ground, probably on the surface, to end at Exhibition GO Station, instead of Ontario Place.

In the north, the line would extend under Pape Avenue then emerge again to operate over a bridge or elevated structure to cross the Don Valley. It would then continue above-ground through Thorncliffe Park and Flemingdon Park to Eglinton.

City Council developed 61 questions about the Ontario Line and other components of Ontario transit plan that it wanted answered before it approved any aspect of the program. Now that the government claims to have forwarded the business case for the line to the City and the Federal government, answers to questions could be coming soon. We at Urban Toronto have our own set of questions about the Ontario Line.

1. Railway corridor capacity:

• How many tracks can Metrolinx's rail corridor support?

GO Transit already operates trains in both directions there every 30 minutes or better all day, every day along its Lakeshore East line. It also operates 18 trains —nine in each direction — through the same corridor Mondays to Fridays during rush hours along the Stouffville line. Thirteen eastbound and 15 westbound VIA Rail Canada also pass along those tracks daily.

Under the Metrolinx plan to expand GO train service, Lakeshore East and Stouffville line trains would operate at least every 15 minutes through the rail corridor, meaning at least eight trains in each direction per hour. With the City's SmartTrack proposal in the mix — possibly offering service every 7 to 8 minutes along the Stouffville line — add another four trains in each direction.

Does the new Ontario Line plan effectively kill the City's plan to operate frequent subway-like service along GO's Stouffville and Kitchener rail corridors? Both proposals would see trains operating along the same rail corridor, dropping off and picking up passengers at stations at Gerrard / Carlaw and Eastern / Broadview, possibly eliminating the need for one of those two schemes.

SmartTrack may already be in danger. Metrolinx recently announced that it was reviewing a program that reduced fares for passengers transferring between GO Transit and the TTC in Toronto. If that program had continued, it would have finally fulfilled Mayor Tory's SmartTrack dream of frequent local service along GO tracks in the city without passengers having to pay a higher fare. (SmartTrack was a signature plank of Tory's 2014 mayoral campaign platform.)

• Can all of the GO Trains fit on two tracks? Will SmartTrack trains be able to share GO Train tracks?

VIA runs over twenty trains a day through the corridor, and fuzzy future plans for high speed service to Ottawa and Montreal would add a significant number of new trains on those tracks too.

• VIA likely needs two tracks but might have to share tracks with some GO/Smart Track trains.

The Ontario Line will supposedly operate narrower trains than regular subway trains, running them more frequently.

• The Ontario Line will need two tracks.

• The corridor looks to need six tracks if the Ontario Line is to share it. Can the corridor support six tracks as is, or will expropriations be required on one or both sides?

The City and Metrolinx proposed building new stations to support SmartTrack and GO expansion plans, image City of Toronto

2. Noise and Visual intrusiveness:

People already living or working beside GO rail corridors are used to a lot of noise. But will the addition of multiple Ontario Line trains push their noise tolerance beyond an acceptable threshold?

Perhaps even more significantly, how will people in Thorncliffe Park and Flemingdon Park feel about the noise from frequent trains intruding on their neighbourhoods? Will the presence of two new rapid-transit stations nearby nullify any protests against the noise?

Metrolinx already has experience with a community stiffly opposing its plans to build an elevated transportation structure through residential areas. People living near GO's Barrie Line vociferously opposed the transit agency's scheme to elevate the north-south passenger rail line so it could safely cross an east-west rail line at the Davenport Diamond. Although Metrolinx modified the design to make it more visually appealing, but many in the area are still fearful of the project.

Similar to possible negative reaction to noise from the trains, how will the government counter the likely effects of elevated structures intruding into communities where no such structure currently stands. Since the government is trying to build this project cheaply, will it spend funds to reduce the effect on nearby inhabitants by encouraging strong visual design and well-lit, attractive community spaces, and encourage feelings of safety when walking or cycling near or under the bridges?

Plans of community space under the elevated structure near the Davenport Diamond, image, Metrolinx

3. Environmental assessment:

The City of Toronto, TTC and Metrolinx spent three years in developing an environmental assessment study of its Relief Line subway. That process required expert review of the line's possible effects on the nearby natural environment, water-flow and drainage, heritage structures, community resources among many other factors and, when necessary, supplied solutions or alternatives to negative impacts of the line. The process also required extensive consultation with the public.

In August 2018, the City and its partners completed "an Environmental Project Report (EPR) for the Relief Line South in accordance with the Transit Project Assessment Process (TPAP) under Ontario Regulation 231/08." That document finalized the location of the line and its stations. Finally, in October 2018, Rod Phillips, Ontario's Minister of the Environment, Conservation and Parks, signed of on the EPR, meaning he was giving the go-ahead for the City to proceed to completing as much as 30 per cent of the final design.

Will the Ontario Government follow its own regulations which require a similar process for the "new" parts of the Ontario Line plan? Or will it modify those regulations to allow a speedier review? If it takes another three years for environmental assessment to proceed, that leaves just five years for the government to complete the project to meet its self-imposed 2027 deadline.

4. City of Toronto:

So far, the City and TTC have had little opportunity for input into the proposal. Will that situation continue as the Province fleshes out its plans? The City, in particular, needs to have a say on where transit stations are built so it can revise its official plan or rezone to encourage transit-oriented development. But, based on its record so far — this provincial government has shown little or no interest in what the City or any municipal government thinks — will they "railroad" the plans through any approval process, regardless of municipal concerns?

The Star article notes that "A majority of councillors opposed the provincial takeover of the network, and Councillor Brad Bradford (Ward 19, Beaches-East York) said changes to the Ontario Line route were indicative of why.

'The province is trying to move forward significant changes to the plans that are in place, and they’re carrying on that work without us, and I think that’s very damaging, and at the end of the day we’re going to see significant delays,' he said."

The article also describes the reaction of another city councillor: "Councillor Paula Fletcher (Ward 14, Toronto-Danforth) said the province’s decision to change the route so significantly from the city’s proposal would result in 'a major setback.'

"'The relief line was practically shovel ready ... This is a brand new kettle of fish,' said Fletcher, who represents a ward that would be served by both the City’s and Province’s version of the plan.

"'This is a dog’s breakfast, changing in midstream. It sets us back many years.'"

Mayor John Tory announcing a now unnecessary plan to speed up construction of the Relief Line subway, image, @johntory

The project continues to raise even more questions than anyone outside of the narrow confines of the provincial government and Metrolinx seems to have answers for and that should concern everyone.

Perhaps you have your own questions about the plan. Start a conversation by completing the form below this page, or join the discussion in our Forum.

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