Scarborough Subway to replace the SRT

The justifications for building a Scarborough Subway, by extending the Bloor-Danforth line to Sheppard via Scarborough Town Centre, are numerous.  First, some background.

The Scarborough RT is a rapid transit line operated by the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC).  The line, which is fully grade separated, operates in a railway corridor, and on elevated structures with a small portion of the line underground.  The line has six stations.  The Scarborough RT uses a different technology than the city’s three subway lines:  The RT line is powered by linear induction motors and runs smaller medium-capacity rail vehicles.  The Vancouver SkyTrain and the Detroit People Mover also use the same technology, although the Scarborough RT is the only system to operate with a driver on board.

HISTORY

When the Scarborough Town Centre opened in 1973, the Borough of Scarborough hoped that the Centre would become the core of its new downtown.  However, with Metro Council voting to end the Bloor-Danforth subway line at Kennedy station, there was still a gap between mass transit and the core of Scarborough.  Planners cautioned that the area was not dense enough to service a subway, and as a result the TTC decided that a streetcar line was the best option:  it would provide rapid transit to the area while keeping costs low.

While the TTC began constructing a streetcar line, the Province of Ontario was working on something more high-tech.  Back in 1972, the provincial government announced the development of its own Intermediate Capacity Transit System (ICTS) concept.  The contract was awarded to a West German company to design and build a system of magnetically levitated trains around the Canadian National Exhibition.  However, the West German government withdrew its support and the project did not come to fruition.  By that time, the Province had already developed some ICTS vehicles.  Stuck with new vehicles with no use for them, the Province persuaded the Borough of Scarborough and the TTC to change the design of the Scarborough line to use ICTS vehicles instead of streetcars.

REPLACING THE SCARBOROUGH RT

The Scarborough RT (SRT) opened in 1985.  Although the line initially experienced many problems due to design changes halfway through construction, eventually the line settled down to relatively smooth operation.  However, after serving the residents of Scarborough for 27 years, 44,000 riders a day, the vehicles have reached the end of their useful life.

In 2006, the City of Toronto proposed that the Scarborough RT be replaced by an LRT operation.  The province under Metrolinx accepted the TTC’s proposal, and has committed to paying for the replacement.

While the City is grateful that the Province is replacing the Scarborough RT with an LRT, there are strong arguments for replacing the SRT with a subway instead:

1)    Cost

  • Replacing the RT with an LRT costs $1.8 billion
  • Replacing the RT with a subway costs $2.3 billion
  • Therefore, for under $500 million “top up” Scarborough can finally get a subway

2)    Ridership

  • The projected ridership of the Scarborough Subway is 125,000 riders per day /38.9 million per year

3)    Service continuity during construction

  • Constructing an LRT means shutting down the SRT for the duration of the construction (4+ years) and riders would have to use shuttle buses during this time
  • Constructing a subway means no service interruptions, as the SRT will continue running until the new subway opens

4)    Convenience

  • A subway would eliminate the transfer between the Danforth Subway and the Scarborough RT at Kennedy Station, which by 2031 would save tens of thousands of riders per day 5 minutes per trip (a 3 minute walk through the station and a 2 minute wait for the train)
  • Eliminating the need to transfer would also increase ridership and increase TTC revenues