by Peter Drost and James Bow.
The Scarborough Rapid Transit Line is technically an unfinished project. Ideally, the system would have supported the "Malvern Gateway" in the growing north-east section of Scarborough.
Historically, a Malvern transit corridor was proposed as early as 1975, when the Scarborough RT project was first announced. The first stage was to take the LRT to the Scarborough Town Centre, but beyond that, the TTC hoped to serve the developing community of Malvern, and perhaps points further east, such as the Zoo, or even Pickering. Malvern was always part of the RT plan, even after its design was changed to accommodate ICTS technology.
But why Malvern?
The City of Scarborough had by the early 90's approved $1 billion in development in the Malvern area while predictions indicated that growth around the Town Centre would add approximately 15,000 residents plus 21,000 jobs. The place was booming.
When the Scarborough RT opened to just past the Scarborough Town Centre in 1985, the next phase of the project would have taken the line to the abandoned right-of-way of the Canadian Northern, which proceeded northwest from the McCowan/Ellesmere intersection, past the Sheppard/Markham intersection, to the corner of Finch and Morningside. The teething problems experienced by the new ICTS cars cooled the TTC's enthusiasm for the extension. The TTC noted that the proposed right-of-way northeast of Sheppard and Markham shrank rapidly, and the line through here would be near people's backyards. The TTC was unwilling to have a repeat of the vocal complaints they had received from residents abutting the line north of Kennedy Station. Rather than plan for the cost of mitigating the effects of the line north of Sheppard Avenue, the TTC decided to end the RT extension at Sheppard instead, if indeed they decided to go that far.
Although the TTC was less than enthusiastic about the success of the Scarborough RT, other interests put the extension back on the front burner. Under the NDP government's "Let's Move" program a formal design for the route and stations was carried out in 1992. The extension would have cost an estimated $430 million dollars, almost double what the initial line cost to build.
The proposed 3.2 km route would have taken passengers on an elevated guideway east of McCowan station, then slightly south through the existing (but, by the time of the extension's opening, decommissioned) McCowan Yard then north again across Bellamy Road. A station was proposed for this location, but the drawings of the recommended undertaking indicate it was to be deferred. Continuing east and parallel to Highland Creek trains would have passed the new Bellamy Yard.
If the RT system had expanded, it would have outgrown the McCowan Yard, and thus the TTC decided to plan for a new yard instead of expanding the old one. The yard would have been located east of the future Bellamy Station location, with the two running tracks straddling a third centre track, rising up from ground level and connected to the main line by switches in both directions. The third track would pass under the main line at both its east and west ends and turn north to the carhouse and storage yard, which would have been built at ground level, to the north of the line.
Once past this yard connection, the main line would run north-east to a station at the Markham-Progress intersection. From there the line would head north. Many people assumed that the RT extension had suddenly come to life again in the mid-90's when piers appeared over highway 401 north of Centennial College. However, this construction turned out to be to an extension of Progress Avenue. The RT route across the 401 would have been slightly west of this new bridge, between it and Markham Road.
A station would have been built at Milner Avenue and the route would have terminated at the Sheppard-Markham intersection.
Under the 1992 plan, there would have been three new stations added to the system, with a possible fourth to be added later. Descriptions of these stations are as follows:
Bellamy Station - This station would most resemble Midland station. It would straddle Bellamy Road and serve a largely industrial area. Plans called for this station to be deferred until a later date, but a provision was made for a centre-platform station. Planners must have thought that this location was sketchy at best, with a limited amount of people willing to walk to the various plants and offices that offered free employee parking.
Markham Station - Reading the plans, this would have been a challenging location to build a station. Looking at the area today three problems are immediately visible: 1) It's in a valley, 2) It's crowded by development on all sides and 3) Extremely busy with traffic moving on and off the 401 and to and from the college. Plans show that the station would straddle Markham Road at an angle, just north of Progress Avenue. The main part of the station would be located to the west of Markham Road, while the more northerly east side would have a large pedestrian entrance for students at Centennial College. There would also be 250 to 1,000 parking spaces and a small bus terminal at the northwest corner of Markham Road and Progress Avenue.
Milner Station - Would have been located just north of Milner Avenue and slightly west of Milner Business Court. Other than crosswalks for pedestrians, the station would have few amenities, as it would only connect with the Milner bus. There would be 500 to 750 parking spaces.
Sheppard East Station - The only RT station comparable to this would be the Town Centre station. As proposed it would have been located in the midst of a large commercial development at the south-east corner of Sheppard Avenue and Markham Road called Palmerston Place. The station would straddle Sheppard Avenue with a tail track jutting out north-west. (If there was another extension it would likely head north along Markham Road.) The station would serve as a hub for at least 10 local and interregional bus routes. Other features would include an underground bus platform with 12 to 16 bus bays. There would have also been 500 to 750 parking spaces.
The extension would use ICTS vehicles like those used on the existing RT line - no real difference. The total number of train cars needed for the entire line would ultimately be 114 ($53 million of the $430 million extension project was earmarked for the purchase of new trains). Rail and Transit magazine said "because of its short length, the Scarborough RT extension would likely be the first to open, if everything goes according to schedule, just before the turn of the century".
Planning Run Amok
Of course, the extension did not go according to schedule. In the entire history of transit projects in and around Toronto, few (if any) have suffered the politics surrounding the RT line itself. Growing from a relatively simple proposal to run ALRVs on a right-of-way, the plan grew and grew and grew.
In the end, the 3.2-km extension would have cost over $400 million, double the price of the original line and almost five times the original cost of the ALRV proposal. Moreover, the extension's route would have missed some important stops. To the north of McCowan station is a set of offices and an enormous condominium development that would be better served by a station built at Bellamy Road.
Worse, the extension would not have entered the Centennial College campus, but just flanked it leaving hundreds of students with a long walk, crossing busy Progress Avenue every day.
Finally, the travel time downtown would have been long if you were to start at Sheppard East station: Probably 20 minutes to ride the RT, 5 to 10 minutes to interchange at Kennedy, 25 minutes to Yonge Street, 10 to 15 minutes to a downtown station. In total 60 to 70 minutes, assuming that there were no delays. Compare this to, say, the Agincourt GO station with an approximately 25 to 30 minute run to downtown.
In the end, it was the cost of the project, taken alongside the four projects the NDP government was pushing (Sheppard Subway, Eglinton West Subway and the York University extension) that caused the Metro government to hesitate on approving this proposal. Metro councillors weren't willing to raise taxes in order to provide the funds necessary, and so the Province and Metro proceeded with the Eglinton West and Sheppard Subways, leaving the Spadina Subway and Scarborough RT extensions on the back burner. Then, in June 1995, the Conservatives under Mike Harris were elected to office. One of their first acts was to cancel the construction of the Eglinton West subway. Six months later, they pulled out of capital spending for public transit altogether.
The RT Extension Today
Plans for RT extension have pretty much dropped off Toronto's "transit radar". Other major projects look more promising, including a subway extension to York University. A Malvern transit gateway is still mentioned in the media, but only in relationship to GO Transit, which may (if funding permits) run trains on the CP tracks in the area.
Moreover, other factors have now come into play. The Highland Creek bed, in and around Bellamy Road, has been given an expensive "environmental make over". Palmerston Place never took off, although the whole area has undergone extensive development including a very large pocket of townhouses at Markham Road and Sheppard Avenue.
Given these changes over the last few years the proposed extension has too many obstacles to overcome now. It is doubtful that it will ever be built as currently planned.
Looking back it seems that the politicians, buoyed by dreams of revolutionary new modes of travel, could not countenance a very basic engineering principle: Keep it simple and stupid (KISS). The result is that the RT is frozen in place, which is unfortunate because land for a further extension is ready to be used.
If you've ever driven on Markham Road north of Highway 401, you may have noticed a large centre median. This median was set aside years ago for the RT project. It wouldn't take much for a streetcar to travel on this stretch, but the RT vehicles would need an elevated guideway that will cost millions to build. And there's the rub. All the elements that have gone in to the Scarborough RT have conspired to rob it of a meaningful future.
- Haskill, Scott, 'Toronto Subway Expansion', Rail and Transit, March 1993, p3-5, The Upper Canada Railway Society, Toronto (Ontario).