Editor’s note: the following article originally appeared in the author’s own blog, West Side Action, on December 28. Comments and updates are viewable at that location.
The usual suspects are carping about the transit tunnel, again. Did the province provide funding? Apparently no good news is good enough — they didn’t provide 15-25% more than was asked for … so it’s disaster time. Ring-a-ling. Ding-a-ling. It’s disaster time in the city …
So what might happen if the tunnel portion was cancelled? Critics are quick to attach huge price tags to the tunnel portion. But these won’t disappear if the tunnel is cancelled. After all the tunnel includes tracks (won’t these be needed for the surface rail?); it includes stations and platforms (which will be needed at the surface too, and may have to be located on what is now private property that may have to be acquired by the city); signalling (which will be way more complex and expensive on the surface as it will have to accomodate private cars, trucks, and bus movements too), etc.
Surface rail brings its own unique costs too – streets will have to be dug up for years beforehand to relocate all access hatches (wo/manholes) outside of the track right of way, etc. Anyone visiting Toronto knows how slow the streetcars are and what chaos results in repairs to utilities crossing streetcar tracks or repairing the tracks themselves.
The last numbers I saw showed that cancelling the tunnel in favour of surface rail would result in a construction saving of about $300 million.
However, the system would suffer severe traffic flow impairment when it snows, or the streets are congested, or some bozo from upper lower Pointe Gatineau decides to block the track in order to squeeze through the intersection on his yellow light ….
And this doesn’t even count the delays caused every day by north-south streets having a regular green light (which means the surface rail track is closed to train movements 60% of the time so the north-south route enjoys its green-yellow cycle). Let’s throw in some Tamils or other protestors … or striking civil servants who every few years close down the transitway by picketing at Place de Ville and a few other key spots that “accidentally” block the transitway.
What surface rail gets us in the downtown is a vulnerable transit system. Reliable it won’t be. It will be a very expensive rapid transit emulation system, aka a streetcar pretending to be a rapid transit system,
Transit committee received estimates that going for a surface rail option will, on a daily basis, result in sufficient impairment of service that a number of additional trainsets and operators will be required. How many? Well I saw estimates/calculations of about $100 million dollars per year of capital and operating cost for the additional equipment. Yup, you read that right. The “savings” in not building a tunnel would be eaten up in just 3 years by increased costs of surface rail in the core.
We can spend the money to build a tunnel that gives us a fast, reliable service in all weathers. Or we can spend the money operating a congested, grid-locked surface streetcar system. I know which one I choose.
-image from Dave McLelland’s The Ottawa Project website