High-speed Commute

From the Toronto Star:

Written by a team of civil engineers at the University of Toronto, the report estimates the total cost of infrastructure work at up to $27.5 billion. But they say their recommendations address the two most pressing issues today – global warming and global recession.

The report proposes 560 kilometres of high-speed electric track that runs from Toronto north to Orillia, east to Peterborough and west to a corridor that includes Waterloo, Hamilton and Niagara Falls. It would take at least a decade to build and cost anywhere from $4 billion to $20 billion, depending on the route and technology chosen.

The rail system would help create a high-density “mega-region” by improving transportation and attracting what the report calls well-paid “creative” jobs, such as those in aerospace, finance and telecommunications.

“A high-speed rail network knitting Ontario’s cities together could revolutionize the province’s role within the continental and global economic systems,” it says.

Called Infrastructure and the Economy: Future directions for Ontario, the 30-page report was delivered Thursday to economist Roger Martin and urban theorist Richard Florida, appointed by Premier Dalton McGuinty to chart a course to economic prosperity. Its recommendations will likely form part of the final report to the premier, expected in February.

I think the merits of this proposal might be a little hard to grasp because it doesn’t fit our preconceptions about transit in the GTA. When we think of transit as having a discrete hierarchy of layers which operate at different speeds and prices (e.g. buses, then subways, then GO trains, then airplanes), we usually consider high-speed trains to be a replacement for airplanes. But in this case, we’re essentially talking about high-speed GO Transit.

Without discarding the possibility of a high-speed line at least to Montreal in the east (for which there is almost certainly strong, immediate demand), these high-speed commuter lines around the GTA are worth considering.

This spring I visited the Toronto Zoo with some friends. We got on the subway at Islington, got on a bus at Kennedy, and discovered that Scarborough was a lot bigger than we expected. We were on the subway at least 45 minutes and God-knows-how-long on the bus. It might have been possible to take a GO train for part of our trip, but the poor service on weekends and non-Lakeshore lines generally makes this difficult to coordinate.  I’m not suggesting a high-speed GO train from Islington to the zoo, but our little (long) adventure illustrates the difficulty of moving around the city, even with the subway. And we were only crossing the 416! Imagine trying to get from Richmond Hill to Brampton.

Realistically, I don’t expect trains travelling at 400 km/h between Toronto and Waterloo. But even trains running at an average of 200 km/h would perhaps halve the travel time, far outperforming a trip down the 401. I have to wonder, what speeds does Metrolinx have in mind for trains on the future electrified lines (like Lakeshore).

By effectively collapsing space in the GTA we can mimic a denser region without physically moving our downtowns closer together. I’m looking foward to seeing the final report which this high-speed commuter proposal (presumably in modified form) will be a part of.


2 responses to “High-speed Commute

  1. The plan looks good. As far as traveling around the city, is the lack of subways. The Bloor Danforth subway should have been extended further east into Scarborough. At least as far as the Scarborough Town Centre. The west should have been extended into Mississauga.

    Metrolinx and Toronto are about to make another major blunder with the construction of a LRT on Sheppard East.
    The Sheppard subway should have been extended further east.

    I was born in an era when trains were widely used to travel around Ontario. Union Station was a major hub for passenger trains. Maybe we will return one day.

  2. I’m a bit surprised that there haven’t been any serious efforts to get the Bloor line to Square One. Mississauga must not have the same calibre of influential politicians as Vaughn and Richmond Hill.

    The Sheppard probably shouldn’t have been built in the first place, but now that it’s in the ground it seems wise to at least build one more station to the east. Otherwise, I am sympathetic to to the argument that subways are expensive and most routes do not (and will not) have the ridership to justify that investment.

    The DRL on the other hand…

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