SmartTrack Starts in Scarborough
It is doable within Tory's seven-year plan
By Bruce Budd
Mayor Tory has committed to building his SmartTrack in seven years—this is doable. Premier Wynne has a larger plan—Regional Express Rail—to run electrified trains on all six GO lines the province bought from CN over the years. This includes the Stouffville GO line which forms the backbone of SmartTrack. The provincial plan will take 10 years to complete—a very ambitious timeline. All this is good news for Scarborough transit riders since two of the first lines to be upgraded are in Scarborough.
What needs to be done to actually make this all happen? Fortunately Metrolinx, the provincial agency responsible for coordinating the GO line work, has already completed an environmental assessment on upgrading the Stouffville line. As such, in the spring of 2015, work can start on double tracking this line (to handle all-day, two-way service) and eliminating grade crossings (there are six between Sheppard Avenue and Unionville). Once this initial work is completed, hourly service to downtown can start—yes, in less than four years. This will be truly a surface subway and it'll be in the heart of Scarborough, adding to the current half-hourly service on the Lakeshore East line.
But that's not all. While the double tracking on the Stouffville line is underway, the province has to start the design, planning, and environmental assessment work on electrifying this line AND the Lakeshore line to downtown. Then by the end of 2021, fully electrified service can be operating on both these lines, giving riders a direct no-transfer trip to downtown using double-decker subway cars called electric multiple units (EMUs).
At the same time, work will be needed to build a fly-under at Scarborough Junction to allow the higher number of trains (with at least 15-minute frequency) to merge onto the Lakeshore line and head downtown. Additionally, a new maintenance facility, probably at the new Whitby yard, will be needed to store the new EMUs. In the west end, similar work will proceed on the Lakeshore West and Kitchener lines allowing similar 15-minute service to Burlington and Brampton. There might even be a through train connecting Scarborough directly to Pearson Airport. To the north, the rail lines to Richmond Hill and the south end of the line to Barrie will be electrified. Now you understand why I said the provincial plan, Regional Express Rail, a six-line network in 10 years is ambitious.
Two final elements to all this working remain to be resolved. Intersystem fares have to be integrated. Meaning? Transfers between GO and the TTC have to be seamless and implemented in stages as the new GO surface subway is built. Secondly, all of us have to be prepared to pay for this new network. That will likely mean one or more small tax increases. That may not sound pleasant, but if we want our governments to solve traffic congestion we have to give them the money to do it.