Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Apples & Oranges

There's been a fair bit of debate in the forums lately about the best way to move people from the future growth centre at Richmond Hill Centre / Langstaff Gateway into the downtown core. The Yonge subway will be extended serve this new growth centre, essentially replacing VIVA Blue below Highway 7, but the Richmond Hill GO line will also be improved with 15 minute, high speed service. The issues I've had, however, is that the comparison between these two lines has been between apples and oranges - mainly comparing the future subway to the present day GO service.  Doing this skews the results and is generally a poor way to decide which projects to advocate for. So, let's look at the future conditions of both lines:

In the future, it will be 22.5 kilometres straight down Yonge Street from Richmond Hill Centre to Union Station. Subways have an average speed of about 40 kilometres per hour, so this trip will take between 30 and 35 minutes. Since service on opening day is expected to be a train every 15 minutes (every 3rd train), a person who wants to go from Richmond Hill Centre to Union Station will spend between 30 minutes traveling (best case) and 50 minutes traveling (just missed the train case).

The GO line between Langstaff station and Union station is 29.5 kilometres long, and since upgraded regional express trains are expected to average 80 kilometres per hour, the trip will take between 20 and 25 minutes. Since service is expected to run every 15 minutes, travel times could range between 20 and 40 minutes. If the train is rerouted along the CP Belleville subdivision through Leaside, we cut 2 kilometres from the route length, cut travel times to 20 minutes exactly and reduce the curves on the line that could slow the train down. Of course, this would put the line closer to houses and could be a more contentious proposal.

In order to come to these projections I've had to assume that the numbers forecasted by the RTP can be achieved. There will always be some uncertainty and cynicism here, but this has to be ignored because a) as-built conditions are beyond my technical expertise to forecast, and b) one can use the uncertainty argument to disprove anything. I believe it undermines the discussion almost as much as the "you don't live here so you don't understand" argument. I'm also making the assumption that a fare integration model is used which does not discriminate between taking the GO and taking the subway.

So what does this mean? On the surface, it means that the GO train will be 10 minutes faster than the subway from end to end. While the end-to-end trip only applies to a small percentage of subway riders, it means that it may be advantageous for someone coming from the terminus to take the GO and backtrack. From union station, this could potentially put the entire financial district within reach. Based on this, we can use the Richmond Hill GO line as one more tool to address the anticipated overcrowding on the subway extension, in addition to a DRL, higher capacity trains and automatic train control systems.

I guess what I've been trying to show here is that we have to remember to compare apples to apples when we're looking at alternatives to projects. It makes no sense to compare the future subway with the present-day GO train, especially when the same package that funds the subway improvements also funds the GO improvements. Secondly, we can't count out the Richmond Hill GO train as a tool for improving capacity in the Yonge Street corridor - possibly the most important transit corridor in the GTHA.

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At 2/18/2009 8:38 p.m. , Anonymous luke said...

May I ask where you got your speeds from? A subway, I believe, is more in the range of 30 km/h in Toronto.

At 2/18/2009 8:40 p.m. , Blogger Andrae Griffith said...

The existing subway runs between 36 and 38 km/h, so I rounded up to 40. This is consistent with the Metrolinx RTP, which is where the other speeds came from. The distances came from a combination of google maps and the Canadian Trackside Guide, 2004.

At 2/19/2009 8:16 a.m. , Anonymous John B said...

I like your comparison. Unfortunately the two have different levels of reliability. I ride both the GO and Subway/Viva to this area from Union and can tell you that the TTC is much more consistent in getting me from Union to Finch while the GO seems to never be on a solid schedule (at least for going northbound). If the GO was running evey 15 minutes to Union from Langstaff and there was better integration of GO and TTC fares I think this would be a good alternative to a subway. The only thing the GO will not address as you said are the commuters who need to get off in between union and R. Hill.

At 2/19/2009 12:06 p.m. , Blogger Andrae Griffith said...

As I've said, this comparison could not possibly take into account an inability to remain on schedule.

There is no evidence to suggest that the trains can't be made to run on time, especially when the upgrades that will come to the line are designed to address the reliability problems it has today.


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