I have been working on a page to compare the pros and cons of LRT over “subway”. This should be ready in the next few weeks. Rather than use the word “subway”, since technically any type of vehicle in a tunnel is a “subway”, what we think of when we think of the TTC’s subway lines will be referred to as Heavy Rail Transit, or HRT.
I am in the process of gathering facts on construction costs, operating capacity, and so on in order to make the comparison. In some cases, HRT expansion may be necessary (for instance, I am in support of extending the Yonge line to Steeles), but in many other cases it simply is not.
The capacity of LRT is lower than HRT, but not by much. The new generation LRVs are slightly narrower than TTC subway cars, but they are longer. This gives them a comparable capacity. Since HRTs use a more advanced signalling system, they can use automatic train control (ATC) that allows closer spacing of trains for more capacity than LRTs can provide. The big difference in capacity comes from train lengths. LRTs could operate with six-car trains, but I am not aware of any that do at this time, likely due to the length of station needed. Edmonton’s system is built with all the underground stations, and most of the rest being long enough for five-car trains. Calgary originally built its stations for three-car trains and a few years back began building all new stations for four-car trains and have begun extending existing stations to this length. Future capacity needs may see them expand to five-car trains.
One of my main arguments is that with the lower construction costs of LRT, it is possible to build two or even three parallel lines that are built for the same money as a single HRT line. It is easily possible to provide the same capacity with only two LRT lines using only three- or four-car trains as we would get with a single HRT line with six-car trains. Add into the mix that the capacity of both the Yonge and the Spadina lines north of Steeles Avenue will only be HALF (or less!) because the need to turn back every other train before the end of the line will be required in order to provide closer spaced trains when ATC is introduced.
Parallel lines has a number of advantages. The biggest is that it provides alternate routes when (not IF, but when) a line has a problem that shuts it down. Another advantage is that multiple lines means that more commuters will be closer to a station. This means that the need for huge parking lots at stations is reduced. Having twice the stations, due to two parallel lines, naturally means each parking lot only needs to be half the size. I would argue that those parking lots could be a little smaller than half the size because closer proximity to a station means a small number of commuters who would drive to a huge parking lot at an HRT station might now take a shorter local bus, or even walk, to the LRT station that is closer to their home.
I have heard criticisms that LRT is only less costly because it is not underground like HRT (subways) are. Those who only want to keep rapid transit out of sight and out of the way of cars (probably their cars in particular) like to jump on this one. The fact of the matter is that if you brought an HRT line up to the surface, it would still cost nearly TWICE the price to build it as it would if you built an LRT line through a tunnel under the ground!
No kidding! The expected cost of the Spadina extension to Vaughan comes in at $291 million per kilometre - and the last 2-3 km of that line will be at grade! The estimated cost of the Eglinton Cross Town LRT line under Transit City comes in at $73 million per kilometre - and 10 km, about one third of the line, will be tunnelled! By the way, that $291M for Spadina does NOT include the cost of purchasing new cars for the trains that will be on that part of the line while the rest of the fleet is operating on the existing line. The estimated cost for the Eglinton LRT line DOES include the purchase of new vehicles.
Simply put, underground lines:
- HRT costs $200M to $300M per km
- LRT costs about $65M to $75M per km
- HRT costs about $125M to $200M per km
- LRT is in the range of $25M to $35M per km.
So, we can build an HRT subway extension from Steeles to Highway 7 (about 4 km) for perhaps as little as $200 million per kilometre and only run every second train during rush hour over that line. OR, we can build an underground LRT for that same distance for the price of about $75 million per kilometre, come above ground and keep going north to Major Mackenzie Drive (another 4 km) at a cost of $35 million per kilometre. Oh yea, LRT trains on this line will operate just as frequently as the subways south of Steeles!
Extending the TTC subway from Steeles to Highway 7: $800 million (plus the cost of vehicles)
Building an LRT from Steeles to Major Mackenzie, half underground: $440 million
A faster ride down Yonge Street for more people: priceless!
Money left over to build a parallel surface line (perhaps up Dufferin) or a Highway 7 surface LRT between Keele and Woodbine: absolutely priceless!