Integrating SmartTrack
into GO's regional express rail



This is another in a series of “look ahead” posts, describing some of the multitude of transit proposals that are currently on the political agenda. These posts will form a starting point for future posts to detail the various stages of each proposal — from public consultation, through construction to operation.


SmartTrack is a City of Toronto scheme to introduce rapid local transit along GO Transit’s Stouffville, Lakeshore East and Kitchener rail corridors. (Mayor John Tory’s promise to build and have trains running along the SmartTrack line in seven years was a fundamental plank of his election campaign platform.) Regional express rail or RER is a Metrolinx plan to introduce express services along five of its seven GO train lines.

At the meeting of the City of Toronto’s Executive Committee, today, Wednesday, March 9, the committee is considering a City staff report reviewing four options for integrating the two plans. Staff are recommending that the committee approve more work on two of those options.

But, first, Metrolinx and City staff reviewed Tory’s original proposal, which was for a service that was separate from and parallel to GO service. Metrolinx staff concluded that the limitations of the present rail corridors to accommodate more new tracks — more than what Metrolinx was already planning for RER — would have required the City to acquire a large amount of property beside the tracks. This would substantially disrupt neighbouring communities and some residential towers beside the rail corridors.

With a separate and parallel SmartTrack line, the City and Metrolinx would also have to significantly modify infrastructure that GO only recently built along the Georgetown South Corridor between Weston and Liberty Village, including the Strachan Avenue overpass and the West Toronto Diamond grade separation. Building these infrastructure projects was complex and significantly impacted nearby neighbourhoods for many years.

Metrolinx was also concerned about whether Union Station had enough capacity to handle SmartTrack service, since that would have necessitated two new platforms in the station.

City and Metrolinx staff concluded that planning, designing and building this additional infrastructure would require many years, extending beyond the seven-year timeline that the mayor originally proposed for delivering SmartTrack. The likely costs of this extra rail infrastructure would also be prohibitive.

The City also decided not to further study a branch of the SmartTrack scheme that would have resulted in a heavy-rail line along Eglinton Avenue West between the Airport Corporate Centre in Mississauga and Mount Dennis. Instead, the City now favours extending the Eglinton Crosstown light rail line west to the corporate centre and then north to Toronto Pearson International Airport.

Separate and Parallel SmartTrack.png

The original SmartTrack plan proposed separate and parallel service along GO corridors and a western spur line along Eglinton Avenue West.

Here, then, are the four options for integrating SmartTrack and RER. All four options presume frequent service between Bramalea and Unionville GO stations. In all four scenarios, staff tested various locations for possible station sites. However, Metrolinx and City staff will finalize final locations after researching and analyzing the sites further.

Option A:

Integration Option A.png

  • More frequent service, (more frequent than the GO RER program) in peak and off-peak hours.
  • 4- to 6-minute frequency in the peak; and
  • 7½-minute frequency in the off-peak
  • five new stations:
  • Test stations include Gerrard / Carlaw, Unilever (Eastern / Broadview), Bathurst-Spadina, Liberty Village, St. Clair West (at Keele).
  • GO trains would continue to provide through service along the Kitchener and Stouffville corridors, stopping at all current GO stations.

Since this option, like the separate and parallel service, requires new tracks, more property, significant impact on neighbourhoods, rebuilding of fairly new infrastructure and new platforms at Union Station - the cost is prohibitive. The City and Metrolinx are not recommending this as an option to pursue.

Option B:

Integration Option B.png

  • 20-minute frequency for each of express service and local service (10-minute combined service — at current GO stations).
  • Express trains stopping at current stations only; and
  • Local trains stopping at current and new stations
  • eight new stations
  • Test stations include Finch, Ellesmere, Lawrence, Gerrard / Carlaw, Unilever, Bathurst-Spadina, Liberty Village and St. Clair.
  • GO trains would continue to provide through service along the Kitchener and Stouffville corridors, stopping at all current GO stations.

This is less frequent service than the 15-minute service that both GO RER and SmartTrack proposed. Since ridership is sensitive to service frequency, option B would not significantly increase ridership on the all-stop service. Furthermore, it would require many of the extra tracks, that the City and Metrolinx would require for Option A. Staff are recommending that they no longer consider this option.

Option C:

Integration Option C.png

  • GO RER frequencies in peak and off-peak hours:
  • 5- to 10-minute peak service; and
  • 15-minute off-peak service
  • seven to eight new stations:
  • Test stations include Finch, Ellesmere, Lawrence, Gerrard / Carlaw, Unilever, Liberty Village and St. Clair.
  • GO trains would continue to provide through service along the Kitchener and Stouffville corridors, stopping at all current GO stations.

Option D:

Integration Option D.png

  • GO RER frequencies in peak and off-peak hours:
  • 5- to 10-minute peak service; and
  • 15-minute off-peak service
  • four to five new stations:
  • Test stations include Gerrard / Carlaw, Unilever, Liberty Village and St. Clair.
  • GO trains would continue to provide through service along the Kitchener and Stouffville corridors, stopping at all current GO stations.

Options C and D let the City and Metrolinx leverage Metrolinx plans to invest in in GO RER and avoid substantially widening the GO corridors as options A and B would require. By integrating the two plans more closely, these options could deliver new riders and more benefits more quickly than options A and B. These options would also provide levels of service at a frequency consistent with the original SmartTrack proposal.

Option C increases access in Toronto, but slows travel for some long-distance trips and speeds travel for other trips.

Option D increases some access in Toronto, but has less impact on travel times than Option C.

So, not surprisingly, City staff are recommending these two options — C and D — as “go-aheads”. The committee likely will approve the staff continuing to work with Metrolinx on analyzing and evaluating these options, and, hopefully, transforming one of them from just plans to an actual operating transit line.

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