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SmartTrack: Toronto planners re-affirm
light rail for Eglinton Avenue West



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Image: John Tory campaign

Yesterday, Tuesday, January 19, the City of Toronto’s Chief Planner Jennifer Keesmaat released a report that recommended to Toronto City Council that it support light rail transit along Eglinton Avenue West beyond Weston Road.

The report effectively short-turns SmartTrack, Mayor John Tory’s campaign rapid transit plan, at Mount Dennis, in the Weston Road and Eglinton area. The planner also re-affirmed a proposal that was around long before anyone ever thought about SmartTrack — extending the Eglinton Crosstown light rail line further west to Mississauga’s Airport Corporate Centre business area and, possibly, Toronto Pearson International Airport.

With SmartTrack, Tory proposed building a “subway-like” above-ground rail line to link Markham and the Airport Corporate Centre with downtown Toronto, probably at Union Station. Trains operating along the line would “use” GO Transit’s Stouffville and Kitchener corridors between Unionville GO Station and a future station at Mount Dennis. (We write ‘use the corridors’ because it’s not yet clear whether SmartTrack vehicles would share tracks with GO trains or if they would roll along their own tracks in the corridors.)

Under the original plan, the heavy-rail line would have continued westward from Mount Dennis along or near Eglinton West to the Airport Corporate Centre business area. Toronto City Council asked the chief planner to review various options for building this western leg of the proposed line. Her team hired HDR Inc. to analyze several variations for routes that would have resulted in a line on Eglinton Avenue. The group also looked at options that would have continued the line further north along the GO corridor, and then toward the airport before reaching the Mississauga airport business area.

The outcome? All heavy-rail proposals would negatively impact the local community. And, all would cost significantly more — but attract significantly fewer ridersthan light rail.

Under various scenarios, building a new line on Eglinton would require extensive engineering to carry trains to and from the GO corridor. According to the consultants, all Eglinton routes would result in “significant community impacts” and require “significant grades and curves that would push the limits of acceptable design and service reliability.”

Depending on which route the City and Metrolinx decided on, the line would likely need either a tunnel or an elevated structure over parkland and across the Humber River valley — or both. One of the routes that the groups considered would also require demolishing an entire block of homes.

The firm concluded that “layering a separate SmartTrack service on top of… [GO’s proposed regional express rail] service would likely require additional tracks on the GO Kitchener corridor.” For all Eglinton routes, Metrolinx would have to widen the rail corridor north of Bloor GO Station to accommodate switches and other railway infrastructure to allow the trains to move from the north-south rail corridor to the east-west line along Eglinton.

The northern proposals also presented challenges, including tight curves and long, steep grades. Flight-path restrictions near the airport required a “below-grade” line - in a tunnel or a trench. All northern routes also provided riders with a longer trip between the Airport Corporate Centre and downtown.

The team determined that all heavy-rail alignments would cost 2.5 to 5 times as much as light rail. But, revising original plans for light rail along Eglinton could reduce the impact on the community, while still maintaining a cost advantage over heavy rail alignment alternatives.

Despite a longer travel time, light-rail line would attract two to four times as much ridership in 2031 than the Eglinton and northern alternatives. Metrolinx and the City could reduce the longer travel time by revising the route or building fewer stations.

City and Metrolinx staff continue to study the rest of the line to determine its feasibility. Tory’s intended for SmartTrack trains to drop off or pick up passengers at stations at least every 15 minutes. And, Metrolinx continues to prepare for frequent regional express rail service along both corridors.

Is this the end or the just the beginning for SmartTrack? Only time — and Toronto City Council — will tell.

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You can learn more about SmartTrack here.

You can view the technical planning document on the teams analysis of the western SmartTrack corridor here. (.pdf)

You can view the chief planner’s presentation to the media here. (.pdf)


In the news:

  • CBC News Toronto report, “Mayor John Tory proposes LRT section for SmartTrack”, here.
  • Global News Toronto report, “Consultant report derails major portion of Tory’s SmartTrack plan”, here.
  • Globe and Mail article, “Tory admits parts of his SmartTrack plan will not work”, here.
  • InsideToronto.com article, “Scaled back SmartTrack plan would include LRT along Eglinton Avenue West”, here.
  • Newstalk 1010 report, “SmartTrack won’t move forward as promised during election campaign”, here.
  • Toronto Star article, “SmartTrack still on track despite changing plan, Mayor Tory says”, here.
  • Toronto Star column, “Next steps on SmartTrack are crucial - obviously”, here.
  • Toronto Star column, “Next steps on SmartTrack are crucial - obviously”, here.
  • Toronto Sun article, “Tory revising western end of SmartTrack after review”, here.
  • Toronto Sun article, “Preem optimistic about improving Toronto’s transit”, here.
  • Toronto Sun commentary, “Which SmartTrack is SmartTrack?”, here.