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CAD12bn to fund GTA rail projects

A map of the planned light rail line in Hamilton.

Following negotiations with provincial and municipal leaders, on 11 May Canada’s Federal Government committed 40% of the USD26.8bn (EUR18.23bn) required to progress four ‘shovel-ready’ rail projects in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) in what is claimed to be the ‘largest investment in public transit in the GTA’s history’.

The schemes are seen as key components of Canada’s push towards ‘net zero’ by 2050 and under the agreement CAD10.4bn (EUR7.07bn) will be allocated to the Scarborough Subway Extension (total cost CAD5.5bn/EUR3.74bn), Eglinton Crosstown West (CAD4.7bn/EUR3.2bn), Ontario line (CAD10.9bn/EUR7.4bn) and Yonge North Subway Extension (CAD5.6bn/EUR3.8bn). These four projects were identified by Premier Doug Ford as the top transit priorities under a CAD28.5bn (EUR19.4bn) plan for the GTA – Canada’s ‘economic engine’, covering 20% of the country’s 38m population – announced in April 2019.

At the same time, the Federal Government confirmed CAD1.7bn (EUR1.16bn) towards a revival of the Hamilton LRT project, matching the Province’s figure and ensuring the full 14km (8.7-mile) line can be built.

On 16 December 2019, Hamilton’s light rail project was cancelled with Transportation Minister Caroline Mulroney citing cost overruns and inaccurate project estimates by the previous administration. An independent review indicated that the line would cost CAD5.5bn (EUR3.8bn) in capital and operating costs over a 30-year period rather than the CAD1bn (EUR680m) forecast. However, by this time three consortia had already been shortlisted by Infrastructure Ontario and Metrolinx to design, build, finance, operate and maintain the 17-stop route between Hamilton’s Eastgate Square through the city’s downtown core to McMaster University.

At the time, Hamilton Mayor Fred Eisenberger called the decision a “betrayal by the Province”, adding: “This will not only hurt Hamilton’s economy, but Ontario’s economy.”

A further review concluded that a truncated line funded solely by the province would not be long enough to be viable, while a longer line would be viable but only with federal funding.

Regional transit agency Metrolinx has spent over CAD165m (EUR112m) on the project to date and while city council approval is still required, if the go-ahead is given in June construction could begin in 2022.

May’s announcement also includes a CAD180m (EUR112.4m) contribution towards 60 more Flexity low-floor
trams for Toronto. Due for delivery from 2023, finance for the CAD568m (EUR386.3m) order will be shared with the Province of Ontario (CAD180m) and the city (CAD208m/EUR141.5m). Expansion of the TTC’s Hillcrest streetcar facility is also included.

The additional cars will be built by Alstom at the Thunder Bay plant it inherited as part of its takeover of Bombardier Transportation. The 300 workers left at the plant will be rejoined by some of those laid off in recent years; Thunder Bay employed 1100 workers just three years ago.

Toronto has 204 Flexity trams, ordered in 2009 but due to delays in production the final car was only delivered in January 2020.

GTA priorities

Scarborough Subway Extension

A 7.8km (4.8-mile) three-station extension of line 2 from Kennedy to Lawrence Avenue, Scarborough Centre and Sheppard Avenue East, replacing the life-expired Scarborough Rapid Transit system.

Eglinton Crosstown West

Taking the under-construction Crosstown LRT route (line 5) a further 9.2km (5.7 miles) to the west, mainly underground from Mount Dennis to Renforth Gateway in Mississauga. Plans are also being explored to extend the line by a further 4.7km (2.9 miles) to Pearson International Airport.

The first phase of the low-floor line is not now expected to open until 2022 due to delays associated with the coronavirus pandemic. A dispute is in progress between Metrolinx and constructor Crosslinx Transit Solutions over whether the pandemic constitutes an emergency as defined by the contract.

Ontario line

Designed to relieve pressure on the Yonge – University subway (line 1), this 15.6km (9.7-mile) line will run from Exhibition Place in the west through the city centre to the Ontario Science Centre in the north-east. Interchange will be provided to line 1, Bloor – Danforth (line 2), Eglinton Crosstown LRT and GO Transit rail services.

Yonge North Subway Extension

Subject to project reviews and Treasury Board approval, this 8km (five-mile) extension will head north from Finch to Vaughan, Markham and Richmond Hill with four additional stations.