A new transit opportunity to dream about
•Take a look at the attached map and imagine how the way we live and work could be radically altered if electric light-rail vehicles ran on existing rail lines - the Stouffville line running through Scarborough, the Richmond Hill line conveniently tucked into the Don Valley, the Bradford line cutting through the heart of the city, the Georgetown line extending to the airport and the Lakeshore lines along the waterfront. Imagine, if you will, neighbourhoods connected by these arteries unencumbered by automobiles, without traffic lights, without gridlock.
Why it's a brilliant idea
• The city wouldn't have to spend millions on track infra structure - it's already there - or tear up established neighbourhoods to make room for the expansion.
• Our linear subway system would all of sudden reach out to those hard-to-get-to places in the inner suburbs, especially to west-enders and Scarberians notorious for bringing their cars downtown.
• The rail lines would connect all major work, transportation and tourism areas in the city - Harbourfront, the International Trade Centre, Pearson Airport, Union Station, etc.
• The plan would take a whack of cars off the Don Valley Parkway and the Gardiner.
A foundation for urban renewal
• Aside from attracting more riders to public transit, proponents say the plan would spur "smart growth" and intensification and create nodes in those under-utilized brownfields and industrial nooks and crannies development left behind. Read a larger tax base. It would also help rein in sprawl.
What detractors say
• Some routes lack the population densities to make the plan economically feasible.
• Tracks would have to be electrified to accommodate light-rail vehicles.
• The rail companies, which currently run freight trains on the lines, and the feds, who have safety concerns about freight and passenger trains running with greater frequency on the same line, would never go for it.
Why the idea isn't that far off track
• The city's Official Plan recommends protecting both the hydro and rail corridors for future possible transit uses. (Some lines have already been declared surplus by CN and CP.)
• Ridership is there. Ninety per cent of the population lives within 2 kilometres of railway rights of way.
• Freight traffic in these corridors is relatively insignificant and could be accommodated on existing lines further north, a bonus for rail companies since they would then be able to bypass speed and hazardous material restrictions imposed after the 1979 Mississauga train derailment.
• The concept was floated before in a 1995 Metro planning document and more recently by a consultant hired by the Toronto Board of Trade.
Will it fly? What the experts say
"While the land is more available, whether you'd get the kind of passenger volumes you need is the big question. Where there are real discussions happening on those lines is where there are linkages between GO Transit and the TTC. The key thing there is to make sure you're smart about where you put the stations. I know there are talks about St. Clair West, Caledonia and Dundas West."
Joe Mihevc Councillor and TTC commissioner
"Great idea. There should be light rail on those lines. No question people would use it. But the problem has always been getting priority on those lines. In Canada, freight has priority over people, and the federal government has been absolutely resistant to making any changes."
Howard Moscoe Councillor and TTC chair
"Way, way back when I knew what I was talking about, we recommended doing that with the Scarborough City Centre and an existing railway corridor with a high-speed streetcar. It would have been a pretty good service. But you're not going to get rid of railway freight, so if you want to buy up some of their corridors, you're going to have to give them back in kind, and that's big bucks."
Richard Soberman, professor emeritus, department of civil engineering, University of Toronto
"It has potential applications as a higher-speed connecting type of service that other TTC routes could intersect with. But one of the things we're always mindful of is that people connect with transit best when it's on the surface, on a street right where people walk, shop and go to restaurants."
Mitch Stambler, manager of service planning, TTC
"The problem we have here is that we have no regional body that can help coordinate and prioritize the issues and needs as they do in most other metropolitan areas like Montreal and Vancouver."
Michael Roschlau, president, Canadian Urban Transit Association