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What is SmartTrack?



Update — Wednesday, January 20, 6:08 p.m.: The City of Toronto has released a report recommending light rail transit for the west-end of the line along Eglinton Avenue West. It also released ridership forecasts.


Mayor John Tory introduced his SmartTrack plan as a key plank of his campaign for mayor earlier this year. He proposed to skip the rancourous debates of light-rail transit versus subway that dominated the term of his predecessor, Mayor Rob Ford, by offering a completely different type of rapid-transit service to Toronto — off-road and [mostly] above-ground. The plan proposes using GO Transit rail corridors to link Scarborough, Downtown Toronto and north Etobicoke with a single, high-speed line. It would also serve commuters beyond the city’s limits in southern Markham and the Airport Corporate Centre business area of Mississauga.

The proposal still hasn’t found a home in cyberspace — there’s no official City of Toronto or TTC website outlining the plan, so we have to visit candidate Tory’s site from the election campaign to learn more.

  • Read: “The Smart Track Plan” here. (.pdf)

According to the Mayor Tory and the authors of the plan,

“With the SmartTrack line, Toronto will join world-leading cities like London and Paris by building a Regional Express Rail (RER) surface subway. The SmartTrack line will provide service from the Airport Corporate Centre in the west, southeast to Union Station and northeast to Markham in the east. It will have 22 new station stops and five interchanges with the TTC rapid transit network. The Line will be built in seven years, starting service in 2021.

“The SmartTrack line will offer all-day, two-way, frequent express service across the city… [It] will slash commute times for suburban passengers. Estimates indicate that riders can expect a less than 30-minute commute from Kennedy subway to Union Station. Today, that same commute takes approximately 40 minutes on the current subway network.”

smarttrack_fb.jpg

Image: John Tory campaign

Mayor’s Tory’s campaign document explains that the line “will have a conservatively estimated ridership of 200,000 per day”, equivalent of about half the daily ridership of the TTC’s 2 Bloor - Danforth subway line. It will be 53 kilometres (33 miles) long, with about 90 percent of its length on GO Transit tracks.

It likely would also reduce your travel times. The document claims that,

“The SmartTrack line will slash commute times for suburban passengers. Estimates indicate that riders can expect a less than 30-minute commute from Kennedy subway to Union Station. Today, that same commute takes approximately 40 minutes on the current subway network.”

The plan is for riders to pay the same fares as they do on the TTC and to allow riders to transfer freely between TTC services and SmartTrack trains. The line will be “electrified”, using new electric multiple unit vehicles or EMUs to provide the service. It will not require diesel locomotives. Since it’s a regional line, extending beyond the Toronto City limits, Metrolinx will operate the trains.

One of the goals of the plan, Tory’s campaign document says, is to relieve the crush commuter loads along the TTC’s 1 Yonge - University line, presumably when commuters from northeast and northwest Toronto choose the SmartTrack line ‘s closer express service over the distant, local service offered on the subway. The SmartTrack planners intend to reduce traffic congestion in and around areas that the line serves, especially “in the approaches to the Airport Corporate Centre and the Unionville employment cluster”.


Where does SmartTrack go and where are the stations?
  • uses GO Transit’s Stouffville rail corridor between Unionville and Scarborough GO Stations and the Stouffville and Lakeshore East corridors between Scarborough and Union Stations.
  • the TTC’s 3 Scarborough rapid transit line operates parallel to these tracks between Ellesmere and Kennedy Stations. (This line will go out of service when the TTC extends the 2 **Bloor - Danforth subway line further eastward into Scarborough).
  • stations at:
  • Unionville GO Station (south of Highway 7);
  • 14th Avenue;
  • Milliken GO Station (Steeles Avenue East);
  • Finch Avenue East;
  • Agincourt GO Station (Sheppard Avenue East);
  • Ellesmere Road;
  • Lawrence Avenue East;
  • Kennedy TTC / GO Station (Eglinton Avenue East);
  • Scarborough GO Station (St. Clair Avenue East);
  • Danforth GO Station (Main Street / Danforth Avenue);
  • Gerrard Street East / Carlaw Avenue;
  • Queen Street East;
  • the “Unilever Site” — the site of the former Lever plant at Eastern and Carlaw Avenues, where a number of developers propose new projects with both employment and residential components; and
  • Union Station.
  • uses GO Transit’s Kitchener rail corridor between future Mount Dennis GO Station and Union Station.
  • stations at
  • Mount Dennis GO Station;
  • St. Clair Avenue West;
  • Dundas West TTC Station / Bloor GO Station;
  • Liberty Village;
  • Lower Spadina Avenue; and
  • Union Station.
  • uses Eglinton Avenue West between the Airport Corporate Centre and Mount Dennis.

(This, arguably, may be the weakest part of the scheme. During the campaign, Mayor Tory’s rivals, especially Olivia Chow, criticized this section of the plan because it might require a tunnel to move the train from the rail corridor to Eglinton West and, in turn, possibly require the City or Metrolinx to expropriate homes in the Mount Dennis area.

(It also relies on lands that the former Municipality of Metropolitan Toronto reserved for an expressway on the north side of Eglinton West that it never built (and never will build). During the regime of Mayor Ford, the City started to sell this land and, already, some developers have bought and built upon it.)

  • stations at:
  • Jane Street or Scarlett Road;
  • Kipling Avenue; and
  • Matheson Boulevard / Airport Corporate Centre (in Mississauga).

What’s the difference between SmartTrack
and regional express rail?


General

Regional Express Rail (RER)

  • Service as frequent as every 15 minutes;
  • Mix of all-stop and limited-stop service in both directions;
  • Fare policy to be determined; and
  • Union Station key destination.

SmartTrack

  • Service as frequent as every 15 minutes or better;
  • All-stop service in both directions;
  • TTC fare option; and
  • Union Station key destination
Stouffville / Lakeshore East GO train corridors
(Unionville to Union Station)

Regional Express Rail (RER)

  • Six current GO stations; and
  • New stations may be considered.

SmartTrack

  • Six current GO stations; and
  • Seven new stations (one in Markham);
Kitchener GO train corridor
(Mount Dennis to Union Station)

Regional Express Rail (RER)

  • One current GO station (Bloor) and one future GO station (Mount Dennis); and
  • New station options may be considered.

SmartTrack

  • One current GO station (Bloor) and one future GO station (Mount Dennis); and
  • Three new stations.
Eglinton Avenue West
(Mount Dennis to Airport Corporate Centre)

Regional Express Rail (RER)

  • Not in RER plan; but
  • Extending the Eglinton Crosstown light rail transit line to Toronto Pearson International Airport is an unfunded project in The Big Move, the Metrolinx Regional Transportation Plan.

SmartTrack

  • New heavy rail corridor to Mississauga’s Airport Corporate Centre; and
  • Three new stations (one in Mississauga).

At a media conference during the campaign, Mayor Tory suggested that the line would cost around $8 million dollars. He also suggested that the City use “tax increment financing” to pay for the City of Toronto’s share of the cost. InsideToronto.com’s transit reporter Rahul Gupta explains how tax increment financing works:

“Tax Increment Financing… which is not common in Canada… has been used extensively in the United States to fund transit.

“According to Tory, the plan would raise $2.5 billion for the SmartTrack by leveraging against future projected tax increases.

“While Tory was unclear how the TIFs would be executed, other cities have issued bonds to raise the money. Such arrangements last between 30 to 50 years and are considered extremely complex as they require special tax zones to be established, as well as other administrative considerations.”

Tory also expects that the provincial and federal government will each contribute a third of the cost and that Mississauga and Markham would also pay a third share for their portions of the line.