Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Transport: Georgetown Line Upgrades

TORONTO, ONTARIO - Coming on the heels of the news last week that GO Transit will purchase the Canadian National's Weston Subdivision, which is the first 17 miles of GO's Bramalea/Georgetown commuter rail line out of Toronto's Union Station, Metrolinx today released the Draft Environmental Project Report (EPR) on what it plans to do to upgrade the line. The document is accessible through the Metrolinx Consultation Portal. With GO and Metrolinx planning to merge, the GO purchase of the line pretty much guarantees that what Metrolinx plans to do will actually be built, assuming funds are available.

So far, the usual suspects (Steve Munro, Transit Toronto, and Metronauts) have not weighed in on the document. Perhaps this is because there really isn't anything new in the plan that hasn't been seen before, but I found some of the technical details and their long-term implications interesting.

The EPR covers the portion of railroad between Bathurst Street (just west of Union Station, and the end of the current GO-owned Union Station Rail Corridor) and Highway 427, just short of the junction with the CN freight line at Halwest west of the Woodbine race track. Throughout most of this distance, the current double or single-track Weston Subdivision will be expanded to four tracks to accommodate both more frequent GO and VIA service on the line, but also the every-fifteen minute service to be run by a private company between Union Station and Pearson Airport (once called "Blue 22", now the Union-Pearson Air Link).

The interesting design details are all found under Appendix E, so those interested in such things may wish to go directly to the plans presented there. On the four track main, the line will have to be taken below the current grade to achieve grade separation at three locations--Strachan Avenue, the current Canadian Pacific crossing at West Toronto, and the area of Weston station. The grades for these depressions are shown as no more than 2.0%, so these will not present a significant hindrance to any passenger operations, but may present a deterrent to running freight on the corridor in the event future traffic patterns changed for some reason.

I was most interested in the design chosen for the branch between the corridor and Pearson Airport. The option chosen for this single-track line is one with tight curve radii and 3.0% grades, making it unlikely that full GO commuter trains will ever run into the airport, as I would like to see someday. I suspect the private company wants to make sure that this is not an option so that there will be no competition with their expensive express trains to Union Station that will stop only at Weston and Bloor. Since I expect this service will not actually make money and that SNC-Lavalin will eventually want out of those operations, it would appear that the best we can hope for would be shuttle trains between the airport terminal and the Woodbine commuter rail station--and for that eventuality, the extension of the existing airport tram system would be considerably more convenient and likely cheaper. At least a rail shuttle to GO Woodbine would be functional.

Part II of the EDR is supposed to come out in May, then the comment period runs until 30 July. After that, the project proceeds in whatever form is approved.

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