Capacity cuts on the Ontario Line


A few days ago Metrolinx released the Preliminary Design Business Case for the Ontario Line. One of the major reveals was that the agency was considering a hefty service reduction: from 100m trains to 80m trains and 40 trains per hour (tph) to 34. In terms of people moved, we’re talking a drop from 30,000 people per hour to 20,400 people per hour – a 30% capacity cut.

The implicit rationale appears to be ‘cost-containment’: by reducing train length and service frequency Metrolinx can buy fewer trains, and both they and the private operator reduce operating costs. Metrolinx claims it’s still targeting the original service levels, but it’s been silent on what’s involved. What’s the process for increasing service? Does Toronto have to ask Metrolinx, which will then negotiate with the private contractor? Is the city on the hook for increased costs? Is the cost for increasing service defined upfront? Is the higher target specified in the contract, and will the contractor have to hit the higher service level over its lifetime? No one knows.

My cynical opinion is that service levels were nerfed to to reduce top-line budget numbers, and to increase the profitability of the operating contract for bidders. It’s particularly galling that these ‘savings’ amount to $300M in both capital and 60-year operating costs, compared to the $1.9 Billion in capital costs alone Metrolinx is burning to tunnel the EWLRT. It’s striking how much Metrolinx is value-engineering a line that needs capacity, while overbuilding suburban lines that don’t.

I’m gonna call it: we’re not going to see 100m trains or 40tph.

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