Monday, January 6, 2014

Neptis Report Response

This post is in response to Michael Schabas, who very kindly responded to my review of his report on Metrolinx's "Big Move" prepared for the Neptis Foundation.

I greatly appreciate you taking the time to respond to my review. I found your study of Metrolinx’s plans to be very informative and well thought-out. I also felt that your inclusion of real regional rail in the study was an excellent choice.

I definitely agree that loco-hauled trains have a purpose, but I think they’re best used on longer distance, limited stop trips where their acceleration time penalty is less important. That’s generally how they are used in Germany: Dostos operate many RegioBahn and RegioExpress services, while S-Bahns in major cities are all-EMU. I’m definitely a supporter of two distinct levels of service, like in Germany, with CityRail providing rapid transit-style service roughly out to the inner edge of the Greenbelt, and a Regional Express service, perhaps locomotive-hauled, out to places like Barrie, Kitchener, and Niagara Falls. It could make limited stops within the GTA and operate less frequently, perhaps hourly or twice-hourly. Bilevels would be less of an issue on those trains as the bilevel loading and unloading time penalty would be less problematic than on the high-frequency CityRail services. They would be a good place to use the existing GO rolling stock for the rest of its service life.

While I am obviously a big supporter of real regional rail, I think that the DRL is a very important project precisely because the corridor can’t be very well served by regional rail. Connections from surface routes, including the Eglinton Crosstown, to the Richmond Hill line, which is the closest parallel to the DRL, would be extremely awkward given its deep valley location. Its winding route makes it slower than other regional rail routes and the risk of flooding also poses problems in an era of concerns about “resiliency.” I agree that connections at Main Street could be designed to be as painless as possible, but it is still not an ideal setup and would impose a time penalty. The DRL is a case where, unlike the other regional rail corridors, the existing corridor isn’t adequate to meet the area’s needs. A new corridor is needed.

The DRL is also incredibly useful because it would be able to provide a very fine-grained service to some of the fastest-developing parts of the city. It’s hard to argue that stations in Leslieville, Liberty Village, Cityplace, the East Bayfront, or the West Don Lands would not be very well used. While I agree that some of the DRL’s future riders are currently be using the east-west streetcar routes, those lines provide a pretty poor service over long distances, which is why their ridership has been dropping steadily for two decades. Better service could attract back many people who have given up on the 501. As it extends up Don Mills, which wouldn’t be possible for a regional rail route, it would serve the heavily developed area along that street as well as effectively connect to a number of very busy bus routes. This would also dramatically improve service for many existing riders and could attract people to transit who currently find the car more attractive than a long bus ride to the Yonge subway. I am not certain how well the TTC’s ridership modelling for the project accounts for all of these potential new sources of ridership. Even if it would not necessarily add as many new riders as other routes, as your report suggests, I think that the dramatic improvement in service quality for thousands of existing transit riders makes the project very worthwhile.

It makes perfect sense that Bombardier would be much more receptive to a contract cancellation if they got a comparably large contract as a replacement. That would be a very good way to reduce the cost of cancellation, though this decision would need to be made almost immediately.