Monday, April 14, 2008

Metronauts: Continuing the conversation (Part 2)

Metronauts (powered by Transit Camp) was a whirlwind of good ideas, interesting conversations and networking with industry professionals and transit advocates. Here, the second in a series of posts, I will try to continue some of the conversations started on that interesting day. In this post, I'll be taking about regional rail.

Regional rail is not a radical concept by any means. But, it could radically change how suburban riders interact with the transit system. Simply put, regional rail is the result of increasing GO train frequency to headways of every 15 minutes or better. At this level of service, the "I don't know when it runs" argument tends to vanish, as does the "I'll either get there 45 minutes early or 15 minutes late" argument. This is pretty much how VIVA works. It runs so frequently that you'll know you won't be waiting long for the next trip to arrive.

Regional rail, in the Toronto context, requires several changes to the way the GO network works. Firstly, we would require two dedicated tracks on each railway corridor exclusively for GO's use. I believe that the best way to do this is to build a freight by-pass line, but as long as we can have two tracks which will never be blocked by freight trains, regional rail can be implemented. Secondly, we need to think about vehicles. It is technically possible to use traditional GO trains in this application, but it might be capacity overkill and an inefficient use of fuel. Self-propelled diesel multiple unit (DMU) or electric multiple unit (EMU) trains - something similar to the London Overground stock - could be used to solve the efficiency gap. Finally, we need to think about station spacing. DMU and EMU trains can accelerate and brake much quicker than a heavy rail train (as anyone who rides the subway knows), allowing us to add stations without increasing travel times. There wouldn't be a doubling of stations along the line, but on the Georgetown Line, for example, we could see new stations at Eglinton & Queen - where connections with other lines would be located.

The final - and most exciting - part of the concept is the possibility of branch lines. If we'll be using subway-sized trains, we can build subway lines to serve destinations which are located just off the existing corridor. The airport could be served by a branch of the Georgetown line, downtown Oshawa by the Lakeshore East line and the Mississauga City Centre by the Milton line - the latter becoming the elusive subway to Square One and the former being the compromise on the airport connection that Weston residents have fought so hard for.

Regional rail is also known as REX by Metrolinx, S-Bahn in Germany, Overground or National Rail in London and Pendelt├ąg in Sweden. But, regardless of what you call it, it offers a way to reduce traffic on the highways, a way to increase the capacity on the Yonge corridor, and provide the impromptus for the suburban municipalities to offer more connecting bus service - and that means better service for areas across the GTA.

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