What Would Light Rail Be Like?
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What Would Light Rail Be Like?

20101214lightrail.jpg
Cross-section of an intersection along the proposed Sheppard East LRT line. Image taken from the Sheppard East Environmental Project Report Summary [PDF].


Rob Ford is doing everything in his power to scrap the Transit City Light Rail Plan in favour of subway extensions, which he says “people want.” New councillor Doug Ford (Ward 2, Etobicoke North), part of the brain trust behind Ford’s mayoral campaign, explained the pro-subway rationale in more detail to NOW Magazine:

We want to be a world-class city. I’ve traveled 10 years in North America, to every single city…every day I was on the plane, from [the Deco Labels and Tags] Chicago office, New Jersey or Toronto, I went to these great cities in North America, and to be a world-class city you don’t have streetcars you have subways. And 80 per cent, every poll we took during the election, 80 per cent were saying we want subways.”

There are two claims to examine, in that quote. One, that “world-class” cities don’t have “streetcars” (a term Doug Ford is using, here, apparently, as a synonym for “light rail,” though the latter term usually applies to a speedier breed of transit, with a greater degree of separation from auto traffic), and two, that people in Toronto would prefer subways. That second claim is one we couldn’t begin to tackle, but the first one, at least, is definitely a half-truth. No large city has a light rail setup exactly equivalent to the one proposed for Toronto, but light rail does exist in some fairly major population centres.


Below is some information on the proposed Transit City light rail lines. Even further below, for comparison purposes, are descriptions of some light rail systems already in use in other major cities. And Calgary. (No offense, Calgary.)
Estimated Dates of Completion, as of Last July:

  • Sheppard East LRT: 2014
  • Finch West LRT: 2019
  • Eglinton Crosstown LRT: 2020
  • Scarborough RT Conversion: 2020

Estimated Average Speed:
Twenty-two kilometres per hour above ground, and thirty kilometres per hour in tunnels. The Bloor/Danforth subway line, by comparison, has an average speed of about thirty-two kilometres per hour.
(Average speed is calculated on the basis of the total time it takes vehicles to travel a route, including time spent waiting at platforms and traffic signals. Fewer stops make for a higher average speed.)
Proposed Line Length and Number of Stops:

  • Sheppard East LRT: 15 kilometres, 28 stops.
  • Eglinton Crosstown LRT: 33 kilometres, 41 stops.
  • Finch West LRT: 17 kilometres, 30 stops.
  • Scarborough RT Conversion: 12 kilometres, 10 stops.

Major Features:
Light rail vehicles would for the most part run above ground in separated lanes in the middles of streets (similar to the streetcar lanes on Spadina Avenue and St. Clair). There would be an underground stretch of tracks beneath Eglinton Avenue, between Keele Street and Brentcliffe Road.
Above ground, trains would stop at platforms spaced roughly 400 to 650 metres apart. Underground, there would be stations set about 850 metres apart from one another.
Metrolinx has already contracted with Bombardier to provide light rail vehicles. Based on the company’s “Flexity” line of light rail vehicles, they’d be longer and more spacious than streetcars, and would be capable of being coupled together to form trains of two or three cars.
Now here are some light rail systems in other cities.

London, England: The Docklands Light Railway

First Entered Service:
In 1987.
Speed:
About twenty-three kilometres per hour, on average.
Total System Length and Number of Stops:
About 33 kilometres, 40 stops.
What it has in common with the proposed Transit City light rail lines:
It supplements a pre-existing subway network.
How it differs from the proposed Transit City light rail lines:
Much of the DLR’s track is elevated above street level, and DLR trains are controlled by computer, rather than by human drivers.

San Francisco, California: Muni Metro

First Entered Service:
In 1980.
Speed:
About fifteen kilometres per hour, on average.
Total System Length and Number of Stops:
About 60 kilometres, nine underground stations, numerous surface stops.
What it has in common with the proposed Transit City light rail lines:
Muni Metro operates primarily on surface streets, but also has stretches of track that run underground.
How it differs from the proposed Transit City light rail lines:
Surface light rail stops are closer together in San Francisco than they would be in Toronto (about 175 to 270 metres, rather than Transit City’s proposed 400 to 650). Also, Muni Metro light rail vehicles sometimes operate in mixed traffic (i.e. in the street, with cars), which Transit City vehicles wouldn’t.

Los Angeles, California: Metro Blue, Green, and Gold Lines

First Entered Service:
The Blue line in 1990. The Green and Gold lines in 1995 and 2003, respectively.
Speed:
About thirty-five kilometres per hour, on average.
Total System Length and Number of Stops:
About ninety-nine kilometres, 57 stops.
What it has in common with the proposed Transit City light rail lines:
The three light rail lines serve a wide area, and integrate with subways. Metro light rail vehicles run, for the most part, at street level.
How it differs from the proposed Transit City light rail lines:
LA’s light rail lines generally have a greater degree of separation from auto traffic than Transit City light rail lines would. A spokesman for Metro said that “maybe half” of the system’s track runs down the centres of streets and through residential neighbourhoods in exclusive lanes, like most of Transit City’s track would. The rest of Metro’s light rail track is completely apart from streets, except at intersections.

Calgary, Alberta: C-Train

First Entered Service:
In 1981.
Speed:
About thirty kilometres per hour, on average.
Total System Length and Number of Stops:
44.9 kilometres, 26 stations, 11 downtown loading platforms.
What it has in common with the proposed Transit City light rail lines:
Well, it’s located in a Canadian city, for one thing.
How it differs from the proposed Transit City light rail lines:
C-Train tracks have a greater degree of separation from streets than Transit City light rail lines would. Except for a small stretch of road downtown, they don’t run on streets at all, according to a C-Train spokesman. (C-Train tracks do intersect with roads in plenty of places, though, and its vehicles yield to other forms of traffic when necessary.) Windmill generators offset C-Train’s entire electricity draw, making the whole system effectively wind powered.

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