Transit Options in York Region
is an updated idea outlining options for rapid
transit in York Region using funding estimates for
proposed rapid transit expansion, namely an extension
of the Yonge subway line to Richmond Hill Centre. The
previous version of this took into account the
funding for the Spadina subway extension, but as that
project is now underway, this has been updated to
exclude those funds. The original page
remains available for comparison.
Mode: BRT, LRT or
This page will look into comparing LRT
and Subway rapid transit options for York Region,
with focus on a proposed Yonge Subway extension to
Richmond Hill. To get an understanding of what the
terms LRT and Subway mean (along with BRT, Commuter
Rail, and DMU), take a look at this page. Commuter
rail and DMU have their places, and GO Transit
provides three corridors of service in York Region.
In considering rapid transit expansion, the other
three are the viable options available.
This page will look at the various
alternative options to a Yonge Subway extension that
are possible with the same capital cost or less. This
should be obvious, but these are not
official plans, just ideas. To quote transit activist
Steve Munro, "the moment someone draws a
map, the concrete starts to harden and people treat
proposals as done deals", so please keep
that in mind!
After taking a look, post your
comments on the LRT Blog here.
The plans to move VIVA to phase 2, that
would provide a true BRT implementation, should move
ahead as soon as possible across parts of the VIVA
system that are not yet ready for greater capacity.
Construction is already underway along Enterprise
Drive in Markham between Warden and Birchmount as
well as along Davis Drive in Newmarket, with the
Enterprise Drive portion scheduled to open in the
Eventually, these may need to be
upgraded to LRT operations, but if a central portion
were to be built with LRT today, instead of Subway,
future expansion using LRT technology is made simpler.
One great benefit of LRT is it is more
cost effective for incremental expansion. This not
only means extending existing lines or adding new
lines, but it also means expanding platform lengths
to allow 3-car operation instead of 2-car operation (a
50% increase in capacity for a small capital cost and
a negligible increase in operating cost).
Unfortunately, construction is underway
to extend the Spadina subway line up to Highway 7
near Jane in Vaughan, despite the lack of the need
for this level of capacity. The reach of an LRT
system that could be built for the same money that
will be used to build the 8.6 km of subway extension
is significant. For an idea of this, see the original
version of this page.
The VivaNext plans include the
construction of a Yonge subway extension to Highway 7
at Richmond Hill Centre. This page will look at what
could be done with the same funding if the portion of
this north of Steeles were to be built using LRT.
The lower cost of LRT implementation
can mean that a greater degree of LRT can be built
with the same funding. Alternatively, given current
economic conditions, if funding may have to be
limited, perhaps we should consider LRT as a way to
provide the currently needed capacity for a lower
cost that is also a cost effective way to expand for
For the same cost as subway
construction, LRT can provide the level needed to a
greater number of riders and potential riders. This
greater penetration of a rail-based rapid transit
implementation at this time would also result in a
savings in both funds and inconvenience of
constructing BRT lanes at this time over these areas.
The Yonge Street corridor north of
Highway 7, definitely to Major Mackenzie Drive and
possibly to Elgin Mills Road, and at least 5 km each
way at Yonge along Highway 7 are corridors that can
be identified as areas that will need to move to
Phase 3 at some point in the future. LRT technology
could provide more than ample capacity for the
Before we go into the specifics of
comparing the cost of LRT versus Subway, take a look at
what typical costs of construction of these two modes
actually are on this page. In summary,
these are typical costs (not including
The Yonge extension as proposed is
expected to cost another $2.4 billion for a total of
just over 6 kilometres. It should be noted that only
about $1.4 billion of that is for the extension north
of Steeles, as this site will propose building the
extension to Steeles and will look at what that $1.4
billion can do if used for LRT construction.
Typical LRT costs are as follows (including
For an understanding on the capacities
available with LRT and Subway, take a look on this page.
what to expect when the TTC Subway is extended, so why
not just go with more of that? After all, who is going to
say "no" if the province or the feds are
offering money for more of that? It is your tax dollars
that are being offered, and should we not look into what
mode can benefit the greatest number of people for the
same amount of money?
Would you pay for something and use half
Subway expansion is very costly, so it
is imperative that the expense be justified. Is the
capacity that a full Subway necessary now? In the
near future? In the longterm future? Ever? If not,
then perhaps some trains will turn back at Finch or
perhaps Steeles. That means that some people destined
for stops north may have to get off a train and wait
for the next one to complete their trip. Will it ever
be necessary, or even possible to run every train all
the way to Highway 7.
To understand the reason why, one must
consider just how frequently a train can be run.
There is a good explanation of this on Steve Munro's
website at this location and at this location.
Over the next few years, the signaling
system on the Yonge line will be replaced because the
age of the system is making its maintenance more
costly as time goes on. This new system will allow a
shorter headway compared to the current 150 second
headway (2 minutes, 30 seconds). A 90-second headway
has been suggested, but a headway of about 110
seconds is more realistic. This will increase the
capacity of the line by about 20%. This is part of
the conditions needed for the extension on Yonge to
The problem is that even with the new
signaling system, it is physically impossible to
reduce the headway below 120 seconds at terminals.
Realistically, the practical lower limit is more like
140 seconds as this leaves a small amount of headroom
to compensate for variations from operator's reaction
time to passengers attempting to squeeze into doors
at the very last moment. There are two ways to get
around this: a loop terminal or multiple turn-back
The first is to not have a stub-end
terminal where trains arrive, operator changes
ends, and leaves in the opposite direction.
Instead, a turning loop is used. A train arrives
and unloads passenger on one track, then leaves
empty to enter a loop.
The empty train traverses the loop
and returns to the loading platform. This changes
the terminal operation to be the same as any
other station on the line. An alternative would
be to have the terminal station on the loop
itself, with one stop opening doors on one side
for unloading followed by opening doors on the
other side for loading.
This alternative, however,
restricts the ability to extend the line without
major reconstruction of the terminal station.
Another major problem with a loop is that it can
be very large, depending on how fast one plans to
operate trains over the loop.
According to the Subway Operations Report for the Spadina
Extension, the desired minimum
radius is 750 metres, but the absolute minimum
radius is 300 metres. A train without passengers
could take a sharper turn at a higher speed, but
if carrying passengers, it would be rather
discomforting if the curve were entered at a
Plans for a Yonge extension do not
call for a loop, so the cost of the loop is not
part of its expected costs. However, to get an
idea of the space required for a loop with a 500
metre radius, click on the image to the right.
large is a 500 metre radius loop?
With a terminal station under the current Richmond Hill
Centre VIVA station, this gives a rough idea.
Multiple Turn-back Pocket Tracks
A more cost-effective solution is
to turn trains back using a centre "pocket"
track beyond the terminal station. A train
arrives and unloads passenger on one track, then
leaves empty to enter a the pocket track beyond
the station. The empty train then returns to the
loading platform. Scheduled short-turn trains at
St. Clair West currently use this procedure. This
procedure is slightly quicker than using a near-side
cross-over as is currently done at Finch and
Downsview, so a 120-second minimum turn-around
time is potentially possible. However, if two
pocket tracks were installed, one after the other,
the throughput of the terminal is increased.
A more cost-effective way to use
this concempt is to not build the two pocket
tracks at a single location, but by making use of
existing pocket tracks at other locations. This
is effectively the purpose of the short-turn
trains at St. Clair West. By separating half the
trains needing to be turned back from the
terminal, and having them turn back at another
station, it is possible to have a tighter headway
as far as the short-turn location.
For example, north of Finch station,
there is a centre pocket track. A train turning
back at Finch can offload its passengers and
proceed north into the pocket track. As every
other train continues beyond Finch, their headway
is one train every 220 seconds. The train turning
back at Finch can proceed south into the station
after a train coming from further north has
departed, and it may depart southbound 110
This operation will be initially
used on the Spadina extension, as described by
the TTC itself in this document under the
heading Steeles West Station.
The document states that the Steeles West Station
complex "will be used to short turn
subway service until full service is necessary to
the Vaughan Corporate Centre." Based on
ridership projections for many years, this likely
means never. Current
rush-hour turn-back trains at St. Clair West are
supposed to be moved to Glencairn, and when the
extension opens to Vaughan, it will move to
In the plans for the Yonge North
extension (see this
report [13.2 MB] and this
presentation [5.1 MB]), it is expected
that initially this operation will only be needed
during morning rush hours in order to provide
southbound trains that are empty from Finch.
Though the plans call for afternoon rush hour
trains to all terminate at Richmond Hill Centre,
don't be surprised if this changes and some
trains will eventually be short-turned at Finch.
Paradise to Put Up a Parking Lot!
With apologies to Joni Mitchell,
extending Subway lines mean build mega-parking lots
at suburban stations. The plans for both the Spadina
and the Yonge subway extensions do not have parking
space at every station. For these extensions, only
the following parking spaces will be provided:
possible spaces at
Steeles West station (Spadina extension)
600 spaces at 407/Transitway
station (Spadina extension)
1900 spaces at
Langstaff/Longbridge station (Yonge extension)
There are two main sources of growth in
transit usage: converting automobile commuters, and
capturing new residents before they become automobile
commuters. The latter group is relatively easier to
capture - all you need is fast, frequent, and
reliable transit in service before they move in. It
is the current automobile commuters that are
difficult to capture.
Some will be naturally captured by a
rapid alternative, but think about how they will get
to a station. A small number will be within walking
distance. A few more will be willing to take a short
bus ride to the station if it is convenient. Most,
however, will drive their cars to the station. The
catchment area of one Subway line is quite large, so
the percentage of people close enough to walk or take
a short feeder bus ride is small.
Don't believe this? Look at GO
Some people can walk to the station.
Some will take a YRT GO Shuttle bus for only 50 cents
each way. Notice how far from the GO station the
shuttle runs? Most travel within a 3 km distance from
the station. Compare this with the catchment area.
The Unionville station on the Stouffville line is
near Kennedy Road and Highway 7, while the Langstaff
station on the Richmond Hill Line is east of Yonge at
Highway 7. That is nearly 10 km, so a commuter up to
5 km away from either station is part of its
catchment area. It is a safe bet that this commuter
is not taking YRT routes (note the plural!)
to the GO station. The same will happen with both
Yonge and Spadina Subway extensions.
Surface LRT construction, at its high
end, costs a quarter the price of underground Subway.
Given that, it is safe to say that one could easily
build three LRT lines for the price of one Subway
line. Imagine building three parallel lines that are
4 km apart - so many more people will be within
walking distance or within a short bus ride that is
under 2 km!
Build a line on Dufferin (which could
connect with the Spadina Subway at Downsview), a line
on Yonge (connecting with the Yonge Subway line) and
a third line on Leslie that could not only connect,
but interline with the Transit City Don Mills LRT
line, should that line be built! Stations would not
have to have mega-parking lots since all the
commuters that these will carry will not have to be
funneled to a single line on Yonge. As a bonus, when
(not if, but when)
a line has an emergency shutdown, easy to get to
Some might be quick to argue that the
same parking is needed, just spread out. Simple logic
would say that three lines would need to each have
one-third the number of parking spaces. However, by
having more stations spread over a wider area where
each has a smaller catchment area, the total parking
requirements are reduced. This is because the
percentage of people who can either walk or will be
willing to take a short bus ride to the station will
increase because of the greater number of stations
closer to potential commuters.
Street Rapid Transit
Subway Has Its
There is a place for Subway expansion,
but only where absolutely needed. It is far too
expensive technology to use simply because it would
be a nice convenience. Proponents of extending Subway
lines will cite the inconvenience of transferring. If
we were build an LRT line from the terminal of an
existing Subway line, instead of extending the line
itself, people will have to transfer from one vehicle
to another: "I want a one-seat
The problem with this argument is that
existing users already transfer from a bus. The
argument is invalid for new users, since most every
new user will need to transfer somewhere in their
commute as very few people are served by a single
route between their source and destination.
The transfer issue can be a valid
argument for some existing users who take a bus and
transfer to the Subway, but now they will take a
shorter bus ride to the LRT station, transfer to the
LRT, take it to the Subway, and transfer again. If
properly designed, the time required for the transfer
between LRT and Subway can be substantially lower
than the current bus-to-subway transfer time. If an
across-the-platform design is used, this transfer
would be very quick compared to a bus-to-subway
transfer that involves changing levels (especially
when escalators are out of service). Furthermore, as
LRT offers the most economic solution for future
incremental expansion, there exists a greater
possibility for more people to see the elimination of
the bus-to-LRT transfer when the LRT network is
For instance, traveling from the area
of Woodbine and Highway 7 to downtown currently
requires taking one or two VIVA buses to get to Finch
Station. Assuming the user catches a VIVA Pink bus,
that will take them to Finch Station without the need
to change buses. They transfer to the Subway and
travel downtown. If the Subway were extended to Yonge
and Highway 7, they still must take a bus to get
there. All they have done is move the transfer point.
A LRT implementation up Yonge has the advantage that
due to its lower cost, it does not have to end at
Highway 7 and Yonge. A Highway 7 LRT route could be
built that would allow this same user to travel all
the way to the Subway by LRT without any other
Extend Yonge Line to Steeles
While this site primarily promotes
LRT, the stretch of Yonge Street from Finch to
Steeles is a prime candidate for a Subway
extension for a number of reasons:
capacity increase by decreasing the
headway on the Yonge line south of Finch
by having only half the trains go to
Steeles. The use of an extension for only
half its potential capacity should be
kept to a minimum. Thus, it is more
efficient to use a 2 km extension for
half the rush-hour service, compared to
using a 6 km extension this way.
Yonge street from
Finch to Steeles is too crowded for
surface transit options. The large number
of bus routes that travel the 2 km from
Steeles to Finch is costly to operate
the TTC's Steeles
East and Steeles West routes also have to
do the 2 km jog down to Finch
a new Subway
terminal at Steeles can be designed and
constructed with underground LRT transfer
capabilities, making easier transfers for
This two kilometre extension of the
Yonge Subway is planned to cost approximately $1
billion with a station at Cummer/Drewry in
addition to Steeles.
A further four kilometre extension
to Highway 7 would cost approximately $1.4
billion with another 4 stations planned.
If using an LRT option,
what could that $1 billion build instead? Let us
look at some possibilities...
Yonge Option 1:
Underground LRT to Highway 7
Many businesses in Thornhill along
Yonge Street were convinced that reserved lanes
for VIVA Phase 2 would be too disruptive. They
were painted a picture of no disruption using
tunneling methods, but were never told that cut-and-cover
construction is needed where stations are placed.
From a business point of view, an
underground option steals away potential business
as commuters pass through the area without being
able to see what is there. That said, let us keep
the need for an underground solution in the area
for the moment and look at what could be done
with LRT technology placed underground between
Steeles and Highway 7.
This line could come to the surface
just north of Highway 7 for an at-grade station
where the Richmond Hill Centre VIVA station
currently is located.
Constructing an LRT line
underground can cost between $130 million and $225
million per kilometre. Given that tunneling would
not be the most complicated in this location (clay
soil conditions, plenty of space without a large
amount of underground services to be relocated),
we will use $160 million per kilometre. This
assumes the same stations as the subway plan, but
the Richmond Hill Centre LRT station would be at
grade, which makes for an easier transfer for
riders between buses and LRT.
That underground four kilometres
would cost $800 million, leaving $600 million.
LRT on the surface can cost between
$30 million and $60 million per kilometre. A
right of way at the side of the road can be built
using ballasted tie constructin for the low end
of that range, while a concrete-encased right of
way in the median of a road has an upper end cost.
Except for specific places where the side of the
road has benefits, we will assume the more
expensive construction method for these examples.
That means there is enough funding
remaining for 10 kilometres of surface line.
Building the Yonge line all the way to Major
MacKenzie (an additional 4 km) would cost $240
million, and another a 6 km line could be built
along Highway 7 to Woodbine for the remaining $360
Though a little more costly, it may
be a good idea to have the Major MacKenzie
station underground. Due to tight space from
Major MacKenzie to Crosby Avenue (approximately 1
km), a future extension would be easiest if this
stretch were tunneled. This possibility will be
looked at later.
possible future site on Yonge Street just south of Major
Yonge Option 2:
At Grade Between Steeles and Highway 7
faster, and more convenient transfer can be made with the
Yonge Subway with an underground LRT terminal at Steeles.
That idea is continued here, but the line returns to the
surface and runs in a median to Yonge and Langstaff. At
that point, the line can move off of Yonge Street to pass
under the 407 and Highway 7. The cost of these
underpasses pushes up the cost of the line, but the ROW
east of Yonge Street would be lower cost as it would be
tie-on-ballast construction, so the same per kilometre
cost will be used.
With the first half kilometre underground
from Steeles, that would cost $100 million. 7.5
kilometres to Major Mackenzie would cost another $450
million. This line could continue to Elgin Mills Road,
but the 1 km stretch from Major Mackenzie to Crosby would
have to be tunnelled as there is no room for a surface
right of way. To cover the cost of portals at each end of
this, the full $225 million for this kilometre is used in
the estimate. This leaves another 1 km to Elgin Mills for
a total of $835 million.
The remaining $565 million will build just
over 10 km of surface LRT.
The current VIVA purple route between
Dufferin (at Centre Street) Woodbine Avenue (at Highway 7)
is about 11 km. The stretch of that route between
Bathurst and Yonge coul be built in the strip of land
between Highway 7 and the 407, which can cut its cost in
half, making it possible to use this remaining funding
for this construction.
Another cost savings would be by building
the stretch from Yonge to Bayview the same way. This
could even be extended almost another kilometre east, but
this would involve a new underpass at Bayview, which
would use up a significant part of this savings.
This plan provides 21 kilometres of rail
transit for the same cost of 4 km of subway construction,
using a mode that is more appropriate to the capacity
needed for now and well into the future.
An important point to keep in mind,
is that unlike Subway, LRT offers a very cost
effective way of incremental expansion once the
initial line is built. Extending a line a few
kilometres, or building a branch off a line, is
very cost effective.
Also, if at-grade platforms are
initially built for 2-car trains, it is
relatively easy and cost effective to extend
these for 3-car trains if needed, especially in
York Region where space makes a 3-car train
Another advantage in York Region is
that extensions into developing areas can take
advantage of ROWs other than a roadway median.
Building a line parallel to a main street often
has costs at the lower end of the scale as
ballasted tie construction may be used. Such
construction is not practical if there are many
intersections with side streets and driveways,
but this can be controlled in a newly developing
traffic on Hiawatha Avenue is warned of an approaching
LRT on the parallel ROW with a flashing sign (left photo)
when arriving at an intersection. At the intersection, a
lighted No Right Turn sign and crossing gates prevent
traffic from passing until the LRT passes.
are only "what if" suggestions. Add your
comments to the LRT
This page last updated January 14, 2011