Make the effort, and commuter rail can be as effective as rapid transit

» Thanks to political initiative and the need to serve a growing region, Toronto’s GO Transit is increasingly making its commuter rail services not so commuter-oriented.

In North America, “commuter rail” has come to mean something very specific: Large, heavy trains operating almost entirely at peak, providing services to downtown in the morning and away from it at night along corridors that extend into the suburbs. It’s a definition that makes sense for a world where regions are structured with one central business district whose workers live in the suburbs and work nine-to-five jobs on weekdays.

Of course, that’s not the world we live in. Of the 100 largest U.S. metropolitan areas, only two have a majority of their jobs located within three miles of their downtown, and most suburban workers don’t work in city centers. A sizable share of the population doesn’t work a “normal” workweek.

Yet most commuter rail providers continue to operate as if nothing has changed since the 1950s, and for their clientèle, it hasn’t, because the people who ride commuter trains are mostly the people who work “traditional” jobs at “normal” hours downtown. In the process, commuter agencies have ignored the progress made elsewhere to convert these traditional services into frequent, two-direction, all-day services similar to rapid transit. And they’ve lost out: While ridership on American heavy and light rail systems — which feature the service characteristics of rapid transit — has expanded by more than 90% overall since 1995, ridership on commuter rail systems has increased by only 35%.

In Ontario, GO Transit is piloting a new approach that could serve as a model for commuter rail agencies that need to be brought into modernity. GO has seven commuter lines that feed into Toronto’s Union Station along 280 miles of service, carrying about 200,000 daily train riders, and until recently it’s been primarily focused on the core, peak-hour, peak-direction commute shared with most agencies.

But thanks to the electoral pledge and eventual budget plans of former Premier Dalton McGuinty and current Premier Kathleen Wynne, combined with progressive thinking from agency leadership, the agency has shifted its priorities.

In the 2007 strategic plan, GO chairman Peter Smith emphasized that the agency needed to “grow into an even more comprehensive system that links multiple activity centres and communities,” spreading its mission beyond just serving peak travelers into central Toronto. The plan specified the goal of expanding service to every 15 minutes during the peak hours and every 30 minutes off-peak. In the post recent five-year strategy of GO’s overseeing agency (Metrolinx), the agency lays out its plan to transition to an “all-day regional transit service.” You can be assured that the largest U.S. commuter agencies have no such plans on their radar.

One year ago, GO took the most significant step yet in that direction, bringing all-day, half-hourly, two-directional service to the Lakeshore commuter lines, up from one-hour headways. The change has already increased ridership by 30% on those lines.

The benefits of thinking more broadly about potential riders are very significant. Commuter rail improvements create an opportunity to provide a far faster transit option that traverses the region at commuter rail speeds (which average above 30 mph) at arrival frequencies similar to rapid transit lines (which average 15 to 20 mph). These improvements open suburban markets to transit, giving people who live near stations the kind of service that people who live in denser, urban areas expect as a standard element of city life. They reduce the need for a car for commutes that require traversing large sections of a large region.

Perhaps most importantly, upgrading commuter rail can be done at a reasonable price, since improvements are made on existing corridors.

This year, the governing Liberals (led by Ms. Wynne) promised to bring a service improvement to the Kitchener line by 2016, and more lines will be converted. They also raised the possibility that more frequent service, potentially on electrified lines, could be coming within 10 years thanks to investments in smaller, lighter vehicles. Regional officials committed to transforming GO into “Regional Express Rail“* by providing electric service every 15 minutes (though there is still a need for additional traditional subway service, costs for the GO conversion are not yet clear, and this idea was brought up as far back as the 1980s). The idea was not just supported by the Liberals; Conservatives at the provincial level also indicated their support for the idea. Now the leader in Toronto’s upcoming mayoral election, John Tory, has said he’d like to convert two GO lines to rapid transit standards.

The sudden interest among Torontonians in the improvement of service along the city’s commuter services is partly a reflection of the fact that the region is growing quickly, adding about half a million people every five years, and partly a reflection of the fact that politicians are willing to support big transit projects because people vote for politicians who support using government funds to pay for them. But it is also a reflection of the fact that GO has spent a decade and a half preparing for this transition, notably by increasing its ownership of track miles on which its trains run from 6% in 1998 to almost 70% today. It is no longer at the mercy of freight rail operators in making decisions about how to operate services.

Other American commuter rail operators should closely examine Toronto’s work in improving its commuter rail operations. These transitions will help make the system far more useful for more people, and help adapt commuter rail as a mode to changes in commute and population patterns.

Fortunately, several other cities look like they might be headed in the right direction already. Caltrain, connecting San Francisco and San Jose, is planning a major modernization project that will bring electrified trains and more frequent service along its tracks. Boston’s MBTA and New York’s Long Island Railroad have proposed, though not yet funded, using lighter diesel multiple units on several corridors to increase service.

Many other agencies will continue to resist the change, playing on the argument that their core mission is to serve the peak-hour, peak-direction rider. But if the transportation network as a whole is to make a difference in giving people who live along commuter rail lines faster, more frequent access to transit, thinking about “non-traditional” users is essential.

* The name is clearly a reference to Paris’ RER, which is a network of rapid transit lines running through the city at very fast speeds and onto formerly commuter rail tracks in the suburbs.

Image at top from Flickr user Perry Quan (cc).

34 Comments | Leave a Reply »
  • Yonah- I admit to knowing little about Toronto’s transit system. Does GoTransit *own* the lines, or do private companies? How well is it integrated with streetcars and subways? Are there multiple stations at which a GoTransit commuter can switch to the TTC network? And is that important or not for ridership here?

    I’m basically asking whether the regulatory framework for these types of improvements is better in Canada than the USA, and how much Toronto is or isn’t at a scale significantly larger than all but the older US rail metropolises to be relevant.

  • Sylvan

    Re: ownership, GO is aggressively buying up its rail corridors and, as mentioned in the article, now owns upwards of 70% of the track it runs on.

    Re: GO/TTC integration, there are a few stations within the City of Toronto where transfers to the TTC are possible, but GO has traditionally not focused on serving the 416 (Toronto non-suburban) market, instead operating on the de facto assumption that all their customers come from outside the city and travel to Union Station. GO has co-fare arrangements with many suburban transit operators, but not with the TTC. That may change if they move to the REX model.

    Also, most of the changes described in the article are still in the realm of theory; as of today, GO operates very much on the model described in the first paragraph, with slow-accelerating diesel trains, running (on most lines) during peak hours only, toward the CBD in the morning and back to the suburbs in the evening. There is hope for GO, but change is still a few years away.

    • Tom West

      Something GO does which many other commuter rail agencies don’t: run off-peak and counter-peak bus services along its rail corridors. This is useful for those who can’t use the train both ways, or who want the reassurance they could get home in the middle of the day/late at night if needed.

    • Nathanael

      Wow. GO’s line purchases are quite spectacular. 10 years ago, GO owned almost nothing. Now GO owns almost all its lines.

      The only segments which GO doesn’t own now are
      (1) the segment you just mentioned which they are buying;
      (2) on the Milton Line, everything beyond West Toronto Junction, which is the CP mainline;
      (3) on the Kitchener Line, the Halwest (west of Malton) to Silver section, which is the CN mainline;
      (4) on the Lakeshore West line, points south of Aldershot (Hamilton / Niagara Falls);
      (5) on the Richmond Hill line, points north of Doncaster, which is the CN mainline.

      There appear to be plans to build separate tracks on the Kitchener line parallel to the CN mainline, solving (3). There seem to be speculative plans for such on the Lakeshore West line south of Altershot, which would solve (4) as well. No proposals for (2) or (5), but still — from owning nothing to owning nearly everything in a decade. It gives them a free hand to upgrade.

  • Michael

    The enhanced frequency on GO train lines is a great step in the right direction.
    However Australian cities, Paris, London, German cities, and many European cities already have metro like commuter rail systems which are models we should be following. These systems use mostly electric trains, and not huge commuter style trains like you see in North America.

    GO Transit is a model in something else, and that is cross regional bus service. This is really where GO excels, and shows that there is a market for transit.

    GO operates extensive cross suburban regional express buses, connecting many regional destinations, like college and university campus’, major suburban malls, park and ride lots, etc.

    The highway 407 crosstown regional bus route, the main cross regional route, is close to or does carry around 20,000 riders a day. More than some of the commuter train lines.
    The most interesting thing of this bus service, is seeing people park at park and ride lots, and take this bus to go across the suburbs to a suburban work destination, school, or another destination.

    • Jim

      Regional Rail in Australian cities is quite different from their European or North American counterparts. Most European or American cities with regional rail networks also have a rapid transit network serving the denser core. There’s no such thing in Sydney or Brisbane, Adelaide or Perth. Melbourne has a lot of streetcars but it’s not exactly what I’d call rapid transit. The result is hyper-crowded rush hour trains that stop every 800m-1000m. It’s actually more like light rail service than anything else except that it uses really heavy trains with an engineer and two conductors so it has considerably higher operating costs.

      In any case, SEPTA in Philadelphia and NJTransit are quite a bit ahead of GO Transit as they’ve been running minimum hourly service and half-hour service on their busier lines for quite a while. SEPTA is entirely electric and NJTransit is mostly so. I don’t know LIRR as well but from my experience with it it seems mostly electric (3rd rail) and a few of the lines would appear to have headways of 30 minutes or less for most of the day.

  • EngineerScotty

    The usual issues in the US:

    * Many rails owned by freight operators, who don’t care for passenger services interfering with their freight operations, and may do things like limit operations to peak hours, or charge excessive fees to use the rails.
    * Rails that don’t go where they need to go–one of the whole points of commuter rail is to use existing rails. Otherwise, you’re starting to approach light-rail technology. Many newer communities are built away from tracks, as part of the point of the location is to avoid industry.
    * Current FRA regs concerning crew complement and buff strength requirements makes operation on most freight rails horribly expensive.

    All of these things are often beyond the transit operator’s control. The commuter rail line here in Portland (WES) suffers from these issues, has an atrocious cost-per-rider that comes close to that of paratransit–and is widely regarded by many urban transit activists as a suburban white elephant that ought to be scrapped. There are some commuter corridors that would make sense (Portland-Salem, Portland-Vancouver) but a combination of mainline railroad intransigence and WES poisoning the well for commuter rail, makes these projects highly unlikely for the forseeable future.

    • Nathanael

      Rails owned by freight operators? There’s a solution for that.

      GO Transit has been willing to spend the money to build its own tracks parallel to the freight mainlines, to grade-separate against the freight lines, and to buy the freight branchlines outright.

      The building started with the Oshawa extension in the early 1990s, and then stalled for a while. The buying spree started with the purchase of the Union Station trackage and trainshed in 2000, but really got going after the Metrolinx takeover in 2009, since which GO has being buying ALL its lines very quickly.

      The fundamental problem is that US commuter rail operators have rarely had the government backing to buy out the tracks the way GO/Metrolinx just did.

      The “commuter rail” operators which own their own tracks have often been rather better about off-peak operation. But there’s quite a range of service quality among them still; some of them are really wasting their tracks. In this regard, GO is actually quite poor, running slow-accelerating diesel-hauled services at non-accessible platforms. Boston is just as bad. The LIRR seems openly hostile to contra-peak services. Et c.

      WES suffers more from being the wrong route than anything else.

      • Sascha Claus

        WES could be less successless with a direct connection to Portland, which could easily be done by extending MAX Red Line on the existing freight tracks. But then you have that FRA stuff and it’s well-known compatibility with the tram-train concept …

      • EngineerScotty

        One problem WES faces, reportedly, is that the shortline railroad that it shares tracks with (and actually operates WES trains under contract with TriMet) still does a lot of freight business along the right-of-way. Extending MAX south from Beaverton TC has been discussed, though estimated to cost a lot of money, depending on how far it goes.

  • Railphilly

    It’s good to see Toronto breaking free of the commuter mentality. It’s also good to see that they can get bipartisan support, though their politics are rather different.

    Political support is everything. Every weekday I use Market East station in Philadelphia, designed to turn two commuter rail systems into a unified RER/S-bahn type network. Unfortunately, even before it wasfinished the political environment changed dramatically, funding for later phases never came through, and the network is stuck with an outdated commuter rail mindset, with hourly offpeak headways and crumbling, barebones “stations” that are little more than asphalt pads with a bus shelter on the inbound side.

  • david vartanoff

    The Metra Electric District in Chicago is both a sadly underused and potentially the finest mainline FRA regulated but designed as rapid transit service in the US. Before RTA took over off peak frequencies were better and in the 60s when I lived there I used it all the time (work commute, school, evenings out). There is a proposal to fare integrate w/CTA and restore short headways within city limits giving South Side residents better transit options. What is missing is high powered political support–CTA is still pushing a $2 billion extension of the Red Line to offer stations duplicating MED locations. (ribbon cutting and contract allocation opportunities)
    Unlike many other routes MED is totally owned by the Illinois RTA and thus there is no freight RR interference issue.

    • FG

      There is no actual, seriously under consideration plan for changes to MED other than Metra accepting Vulture cards as payment sometime in the next year. There are plenty of enthusiast plans but nothing official (and many of these propose expensive construction which are totally unneeded – the money proposed for infrastructure changes could simply be used to increase frequency of service without any other changes).

      None of the proposed Red Line (voter approved in Illinois’ advisory referendum votes) stations except perhaps the terminal in one of the options are anywhere near MED, most being well over a mile west of MED and the extension will serve Roseland better since transfers to bus before downtown from the red line are a big part of its use, as is travel beyond the loop. By that token the Purple Line should be immediately eliminated since it is immediately adjacent to a Metra line through Evanston.

      If money is to be spent on Metra it should be buying the ROW from freight operators where possible and electrifying the lines along with more frequent off-peak (MED included, every 15-20 minutes would be idea) and reverse commute services where warranted. But increased frequencies are going to require more transit connections in the suburbs since many parking facilities are already at peak use during the week.

      • david vartanoff

        First, the Gray Line project basically calls for restoring useful headways off peak and CTA fare integration. Cost, a bunch of Ventra readers, more crews and some increased maintenance costs as the fleet will not be sitting idle as many hours per day as now.
        As to the utility of the Red Line extension, of course any new rail route brings new convenience to the residents immediately adjacent to the stations. Conversely, if both the MED and Rock Island offered 20 minute headway trains accepting CTA fares Roseland would then have rail on the west, east, and south all offering service to the Loop. In the Rock Island case, transfer to the L @ Van Buren is direct, for those going further north or west, from MED to the Red two blocks without having to be on the street via the Pedway.
        Much new and extended rail needs to be built–restoring the Paulina Connector to the Blue Line for example and extending the Pink south to the Orange affording ORD to MDW travel skipping downtown.
        About the Purple Line, No, I favor the full 4 track renovation with the hope that once it is complete CTA will be able to run true expresses. (CTA set a record for subway/elevated cars of 76.1 mph back in the 60s on the express tracks) Imagine how much nicer the commute would be w/the Sheridan curves smoothed out and Purple trains cruising @ 60+ from Howard to Belmont.

        • FG

          Actually, the Grey Line proposal DOES (sorry, italics not available) call for construction – lots of it, to separate suburban from city riders. All of it unnecessary – take a look at the website.

          The Rock Island is not close to the areas to be served by the Red Line Extension either – both it and MED require buses to reach stations. The transfer issue isn’t to reach the loop – it’s to transfer before or after the loop, one of the reasons that the LaSalle Street station isn’t as useful as direct access to the Red Line – that would add two changes of train (to Blue to Red) plus whatever other transfers might be required.

          Are you talking about the Mid-City Transitway or something else? And a Ford City Extension?

          My point about the Purple Line is that if one is going to make the argument that it parallels existing lines then the Purple should be eliminated totally since through Evanston it’s less than a block from Metra in many places.

          • david vartanoff

            Yes, when Mike wrote that, noone was thinking about the ventra card being used by both RTA and CTA. When it is fully implemented, MED will return to AFC (as it was decades ago w/first generation stored value cards) At that point, no separation will be needed. And, the ventra readers are coming anyway, so the only issue is programming them to honor CTA fares. MED has stations @ many crosstown CTA routes. My limited use of 95th on the Red Line saw buses completely emptying out and then filling up so I see 95th on MED and RI as alternate boarding/alighting spots since not everyone lives within walking distance of the Dan Ryan. Like the Purple, having multiple trunk rail lines is useful–I am not sure 3 are needed all the way south. I should note that my opposition to extending the Red Lion is mostly because we already have underused tracks through much of the same areas which could be up and running faster and cheaper.
            As to multiple transfers, that all depends on origin/destination pairs.
            Bishop Ford? double track the South Shore to Hegewisch, build a station @130th, run Gray Line. Wayless than building the Red extension, RTA has rights to Hegewisch (think back to RTA diesel/bilevels helpinmg out South Shore several decades ago). Put ventra readers on the platforms, Altgeld Gardens gets real transit.

            • Nathanael

              The Grey Line operational & fare-integration proposals should have been implemented long ago. I think your biggest marketing problem is a dull name.

              Call it the Silver Line, OK? :)

              • Dennis McClendon

                A lot of us saw the intrinsic appeal of the Gray Line: the IC once provided rapid transit-like service, and perhaps it should again. But on closer study, it’s not so compelling. The RTA’s South Lakefront Corridor Study found the cost per new rider would be extremely high ($13; $35 including capital costs), it would turn lots of one-seat rides into three-seat rides, and there’s very little likelihood of spurring any spinoff development given the existing density of South Shore.

              • david vartanoff

                As to branding, Mike Payne chose the name.
                I am a former South Shore resident who laments the MED remnant of what was once truly excellent rapid transit. I have no idea how the cited study can pretend there is $23 per new rider in capital expense to program the ventra gates already mandated for ALL Metra divisions, and the incremental maintenance increase on the cars, but studies designed to derail a project not conceived within the bureaucracy are SOP.
                How increasing service on a fast service to the Loop increases a one seat ride to three is clearly “enron” math. Streetsblog CHI has a link today to a study lamenting transit deserts within Cook County. One example is a Hyde Park resident using bus to train to train to bus. Depending on how far he lives from the IC he might do better MED, walk to Pink, bus the last mile which would cost no more under the Gray Line proposal.
                The transit deserts include the Roseland area which has nearby MED and RI tracks but skeletal service.
                On the issue of development in South Shore, my last trip through there 2 years ago I saw many vacant lots and boarded up buildings along MED. Plenty of potential.
                The other interesting thing was the large parking indicating a market further south and east.
                The transit desert study mentioned the lack of exp[ress bus services in areas where there are no tracks.. Altgeld Gardens is a prime example which could be easily served by adding a station on the South Shore Line @ 130th (essentially where the someday $2 billion Red Line exrension might terminate if ever built) running the trains to Hegewisch.

                Bottom Line, we have many under utilized tracks, and under served citizens. The advantage to using the MED, RI, and South Shore trackage is they are publicly owned–freights are guests.

              • Alan Robinson

                The South Lakefront Corridor Study is an effort in stonewalling any reforms to the MED. It’s numbers are plain wrong.

          • EXACTLY where does the Gray Line call for “lots of construction” FG: http://bit.ly/GrayLineInfo The plan calls for installing CTA/Ventra TVM’s and Turnstyles in the in-city Metra Stations, and increasing train frequencies — where do you see “major construction” stated or implied FG.

            Also the “results”of the “RTA South lakefront Corridor Study” were decided before the Consultants were even hired, and given their marching orders to quash the Gray Line idea.

            Also, providing Public Transit to the New Lucas Museum site, and possible Obama Library locations have been added to the mix: http://bit.ly/1ozhv8J

            Long-time Chicago transportation expert Harvey Kahler has created a v Operating Diagram for Millennium Station at Peak Hours (image at bottom of page): http://www.grayline.20m.com/photo4.html

            I am going to be addressing next weeks (August 20th) RTA’s Board of Directors Meeting (and it’s new Chairman Kirk Dillard) about implementing the Gray Line.

  • spmull06

    The state of Massachusetts’s MBTA Indigo Line proposal would use DMU trains to run rapid-transit-like service on a number of inner portions of its commuter rail system. http://www.bostonmagazine.com/news/blog/2014/01/09/massdot-capital-plan-proposal/

    • spmull06

      I hadn’t gotten to the end when I wrote this comment. I see that this was actually cited (same article too, although there were pieces elsewhere, such as in the Boston Globe). The proposed West Station, which would have been vital and tied to a large amount of transit-oriented development, is not funded.

    • DMUs aren’t the same as modernization, and whenever I see an American transit agency confuse the two, I know it has no clue what it’s doing. The LIRR, Metro-North, and SEPTA already run EMUs, with much better performance specs than the Colorado Railcar crap various US agencies want, but they’re not really modern: they have no fare or schedule integration with local transit, the off-peak frequency is terrible, and there are few stations in the cities proper. The MBTA plan involves 40-minute frequency on the Fairmount Line; that’s putting lipstick on a pig.

      • Nathanael

        SEPTA Regional Rail is actually usable for in-city transit. The same is not true of Metro-North, LIRR, or Boston Commuter Rail (and it should be).

        • Jim

          Not sure what you mean here but plenty of people use LIRR to commute from Queens or the Bronx to Manhattan.

          • Nathanael

            Looking at it more precisely, LIRR is quite usable within Queens from Jamaica east (or Mets-Willets Point east). However, LIRR seems to actively discourage traffic on the stations west of there — the City Zone stations other than Penn, Atlantic, and Jamaica get treated extraordinarily badly. These stations are in the denser parts of the city, of course….

            Look at East New York for a good example of a deliberately unfriendly station, but LIRR seems to want to prevent riders from Woodside or Kew Gardens, too.

            I was being unfair to Metro-North, who on further analysis seems to treat its Bronx riders as well as its suburban riders.

            The contrast with Philadelphia is still quite noticeable; Regional Rail is used for “subway” type trips in Philadelphia (don’t look at a schedule), particularly on the “trunk” segments where multiple lines run together. This is not true in New York. Partly this is pricing; where LIRR or Metro-North runs parallel to the subway and a few blocks away, the “commuter rail” is significantly more expensive. In Philadelphia, the Regional Rail generally isn’t running parallel to the two rapid transit lines.

  • The conversion of the GO Transit rail and bus networks from “commuter service” to “all-day regional rapid transit” is going to be a very long process that will require commitment from all levels of government, in terms of funding and logistical support and cooperation.

    The key issue here is that the transition needs to take place across the entire network, not only just the rail network.

    As Michael pointed out above, GO Transit’s 407 Corridor is a cross-city rapid transit network that moves a lot of people…and there is a plan to build a full transitway/HOV lanes along the corridor so buses will not be affected by traffic congestion…but sadly the cross-city corridor does not get the public attention it deserves.

    Tom West also pointed out that GO has a “train-bus” network so there are daytime and late night bus services for when trains aren’t running. In many cases the buses are actually better than the trains because they make intermediate stops that the trains cannot make.

    GO Transit has to do a better job at informing passengers about GO bus service options. Too many people are unaware of what GO buses offer simply because of a lack of route and schedule information at bus stops and on route maps.

    The other big problem GO needs to address is the role of their bus services in a future with 2-way all-day GO rail service. Obviously there will be more service on the 407 corridor amd possibly on other highways…but will GO Transit buses find a role as an interregional express service running on major roads, not just highways? In the past GO Transit ran buses on the old highways outside of Toronto. The Yonge service north to Newmarket was taken over by York Region Transit years ago, and the Highway 2 service east through Durham Region was taken over by Durham Region Transit last year. GO could run services in places where the municipal and regional governments aren’t offering their own interregional or intra regional express buses…but there needs to be funding from these governments and the province.

    The private intercity coach industry in Ontario is also facing issues and GO Transit is expanding their bus network to places formerly (and/or poorly) served by the private bus companies. There may be a greater role for GO Transit in this industry as well.

    Cheers, Moaz

  • Is there any talk of consolidating train lines (ex. Kitchener and Stouffville or Lakeshore East and Lakeshore West) to run through trains through Union Station? Through running is one of the things that is holding back transit service here in Northern NJ. At least in Toronto, it is the same transit agency rather than three transit agencies serving the metro area.

    • Gil

      The Lakeshore lines are for the most part through routed, with the odd rush hour trip starting or terminating at Union in either direction. The problem lies in the uneven distribution of the lines. Aside from the Lakeshore lines, there are three (with a fourth in long-term plans) heading west and only two heading east, and that’s not counting the Union-Pearson Express line to the airport which piggybacks along the Kitchener line corridor.

      Through running is one way of getting more trains through Union until electrification. The Milton Line is probably the contender for remaining orphaned since it’s the only one along a CP-owned corridor while the rest are CN which explains why it’s got the least amount of GO-owned trackage. It’s also the busiest line amongst the remaining lines serving primarily Mississauga and Milton which is one of the fastest growing communities in the country at the moment.

      • Nathanael

        Worse, the two eastbound lines (other than Lakeshore) are the weakest and third-weakest of the GO Transit routes in ridership.

        The Richmond Hill line is the worst-performing. It runs through an unoccupied (but flood-prone and twisty!) river valley for a long way before reaching its first station, then joins the CN transcontinental freight mainline before ending in fairly sprawly suburbs. It probably will never be viable unless it’s rerouted (which is a possibility, as there is a potential alternative route which is straighter and stops more places).

        The Stouffville line is somewhat better-performing, has more potential, and is entirely owned by GO Transit. But still, the total ridership of all three eastern lines is currently about 36% of the total ridership (as of 2010), so you’ve still got about half the western traffic which has to terminate at Union Station.

  • There is talk about a “Big U” and “Little u” lines which could be created by combining 4 of the lines that run on Metrolinx-owned track.

    The “Big U” would combine the Stouffville line with the portion of the Kitchener line that Metrolinx owns (out to Bramalea, just west-northwest of Toronto). The tracks on which the “Big U” would run are seeing upgrades…the Georgetown South construction project and Environmental Assessment for electrification in the west and the Environmental Assessment for double tracking the Stouffville corridor in the east.

    The “Little u” would combine the Barrie and Richmond Hill Lines. Nothing much has been done to actually make such a project possible except that Metrolinx has bought the old CP Don Railway subdivision to use if ever necessary. Thanks to the July 8, 2013 flooding that left a GO Train stranded in rising water, the priority for Metrolinx is ensuring the safety of the line before anything else.

    The Milton line is the “orphan” and 2 way all-day GO service on the Milton corridor (as well as the proposed Midtown GO Line) has moved down to the 25 year horizon. The corridor is CP’s main line through Ontario and they will not allow more trains unless Metrolinx pays for the line to have a minimum of 4 tracks through the greater Toronto Area.

    Cheers, Moaz

  • Sean

    The track owner is the main issue. If you have to pay for track space for each and every train you add, why would you by midday, weekend, and reverse commute space for something that will have little ridership? If you are apart of a built up area, you probably can’t build new track without very high costs and the freight railroads know this. They will charge 1 dollar less than the cut off for public agencies. You maximize your dollars with peak service. That being said, I think the cost of running a trainset for a single trip will make agencies start to look at flipping back a few trains for reverse and midday service.

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