Category Archives for "Latest News"

Jun 01

Transport Action Ontario urges Toronto Council to re-examine Scarborough Express Rail in lieu of Subway Extension

By Transport Action Ontario | Latest News , Press Releases and Open Letters , Urban Transit



The following press release was sent to media in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area on June 1. 2016

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Media Release


Transport Action Ontario urges Toronto Council to re-examine Scarborough Express Rail in lieu of Subway Extension

At a public meeting in Scarborough on May 31, Toronto City staff revealed for the first time that the forecast ridership for the proposed one-stop 6 km subway extension from Kennedy Station to Scarborough Centre would be just 7,300 passengers per hour at the busiest time in the busiest direction.  This is much lower than the projected ridership of 9,800 to 11,600 for a three-stop extension presented to City Council in March, which was used by Council to justify further work on the project.


Transport Action Ontario has long argued that this $2.6B subway extension makes no sense.  Other transit experts agree, including Dr. Eric Miller, Director of University of Toronto’s Transportation Research Institute, who has developed the City’s ridership forecasting model. 


Instead, we urge Toronto Council to re-examine the Scarborough Express Rail (SER) concept, which provides subway-like service to Scarborough Centre using electrified GO service in a short new corridor, consistent with Smart Track/Regional Express Rail.  This option has substantially lower capital cost ($1.15B) and provides more relief to Toronto’s highly congested subway network at Bloor-Yonge.  The same funds used for the subway extension could potentially take SER to Centennial College’s Progress Campus, a neglected major education node in the current Scarborough plan, allowing more major areas to be served by transit for the same investment. 


Further information on Scarborough Express Rail, including Frequently Asked Questions, is available on our website:


For further information contact:



Peter Miasek, President

(416) 526-9132




May 29

Proposed New Ontario Land Use Policies in Greater Golden Horseshoe are Significant

By Transport Action Ontario | Highways and Bridges , Intercity Rail and Bus , Latest News , Urban Transit


 In 2015, the Province of Ontario initiated a coordinated review of four key land use plans, including the Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe (GGH) and the Greenbelt Plan.   In December, the Crombie Advisory Panel released its recommendations on how to amend and improve these Plans.  The November/December issue of Ontario Report discussed the Crombie Report in more detail.


In early May, the Province released its proposed changes to these four plans.  While changes are proposed in many areas, the ones of greatest interest to sustainable transportation advocates are:

  • Increasing the intensification target in the Growth Plan to a minimum of 60% of all new residential development to occur in the existing defined built up area, versus 40% today.
  • Increasing designated greenfield area density targets (ie new developments outside the built up area) to a minimum of 80 residents + jobs per hectare, versus 50 today.
  • Requiring municipalities to plan for density targets of 150 – 200 residents + jobs per hectare within 500 m around existing and planned major transit stations.  This is a new requirement not found in the previous Growth Plan.  The definition of “major transit station” is that it covers all subway, LRT, BRT and GO RER stations.
  • Requiring identification of transit priority corridors in Official Plans where municipalities would focus transit-related development
  • Supporting the development of community hubs by encouraging public services to be located near strategic growth areas, accessible by active transportation and public transit.
  • Improving transit to employment areas.
  • Protecting infrastructure corridors for goods movement.
  • Requiring mapping of major and potential rapid transit lines and good movement corridors.



There are major implications to these proposals.  For example, York Region, a rapidly growing edge municipality, has been working on an update to its Official Plan to 2041.  Different Region-wide intensification scenarios have been analyzed by staff planners.  Staff is  clearly pro-intensification and acknowledge the lower capital and operating costs from higher intensification.  However, they have misgivings about intensification targets beyond 50%, as it would force virtually all new home construction to be apartments or condos.  They believe a significant fraction of new-home buyers still want single family detached homes, and hence believe that > 50% is unrealistic from a market perspective.


What will be the effect if the province implements these higher intensification targets, the higher designated greenfield targets and the new transit station targets?  Will the suburban regions rebel, especially as money from the province to construct rapid transit is inadequate?  Will developers step up lobbying and/or appeal to the OMB?  Will the prices for detached homes continue to skyrocket?  Will the home construction market crater?  Will the anticipated growth not materialize?


The combined review also contains various climate change policies, including requiring municipalities to incorporate climate change policies in their Official Plans and to develop greenhouse gas  (GHG) inventories, reduction strategies and performance measures.  The largest contributor to GHG emissions in the province is transportation.  Will these policies by enough to slow down the growth in Vehicle Kilometers Travelled?   Will the policies be a factor in the upcoming decision whether to restart the Environmental Assessment for the GTA-West expressway (Highway 413)?  Should more be done in the outer ring of the GGH by encouraging interurban passenger rail and bus?  Should the province become more active in supporting intermodal goods movement?


In conclusion, just as the original 2006 plans changed the face of land use planning in the GGH, the proposed 2016 changes also appear to be very significant, although many questions remain.  Public consultation is planned by the Province until September 30, 2016. 



May 28

Auditor General’s Special Examination Report on VIA Rail

By Transport Action Ontario | Intercity Rail and Bus , Latest News


The article below was originally prepared for the March/April version of “Ontario Report”.  To make it more readily available to website readers, it is reproduced here.

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        Going before the judge must be a troubling experience for federal government departments and Crown Corporations.  And so it likely was for VIA Rail Canada when the Auditor General (AG) published its Special Examination Report (SER) covering the period November 2013 to September 2015.  An understanding of VIA’s troubled legislative and political history is needed to put the SER in full perspective.  Successive federal governments who have repeatedly knelt before the personal automobile, the short-haul flight and have persistently ignored the very negative and social and economic impacts of a fragmented public transportation system and sub-par tourist industry are really a watermark on each page of this document.

         But VIA management, it points out, also have culpability and both VIA users and their advocates are well aware of their corporate missteps and spin machine that continue to both annoy and insult.  Although on-board services are quite acceptable by international standards and train staff are generally accommodating, one gets the feeling of a growing creakiness in the organization and the SER shines a light on the many reasons why.

         The full Auditor General’s report can be read on-line on the website of the Office of the Auditor General.  Some of the key points are as follows:

   Corporate governance.  It’s quite clear that the political nature of the VIA board precludes the necessary talent to plan, manage and operate a customer-focused passenger rail network.  Since 2008 VIA has been unable to obtain federal approval of its five-year corporate plan and has resorted to short-term measures to mitigate operational crises.  Whether this is a direct result of VIA management capability or stone-walling by entrenched federal government ideology is not clear from the report.  Either way, there is no future for VIA without a fully-funded, long-term corporate plan and a forward-thinking federal mandate.

   Frequency and track access.  The report discusses how this inhibits VIA operations and, superficially, one might be inclined to sympathize with VIA.  Both CN and CP are primarily focused on shareholder value, but CN recently rejected VIA’s accusations that it consistently gives priority to its freight over passenger traffic.  So where is the truth?  Why is Transport Canada not working with CN and CP on a better plan of mutual accommodation based the on facts?  Meanwhile VIA continues to display conflicting behaviour by announcing a dedicated Montreal – Toronto track plan, separate from the CN-owned infrastructure, while, at the same time telling Kingston passengers that their station will be modernized and trains “repurposed.”  In fact, VIA spent close to $500 million to add passing track on the current route through Kingston to reduce conflict with freights which should mean that a passenger-only dedicated tract Torontoo-Peterborough-Smith Falls is not required.

   Contract management.  The SER highlights the fact that many VIA capital projects have gone wildly over-budget (Exhibit 5 below).  It shows eye-watering variances that would result in a major management cull in a private company.  But an audit on infrastructure improvement, performed by KPMG, has deflected several access to information requests by concerned citizens.  The conclusion one must draw from this secrecy is that it comprises a litany of very poor planning and ineffective project management by VIA and other contractual players.

You are encouraged to read the entire Special Examination Report as it tells an interesting, if troubling story.  But the bottom line is that the fundamental problems rest squarely on the shoulders of Marc Garneau, Federal Minister of Transport, to sort the mess out.  Instead, he has chosen to kick the can down the road for another three years of study while funding VIA to “imagineer” its future rolling stock requirements.  Both actions are unacceptable.

         “Rise, ye, from the alter of the personal automobile, the short-haul flight, the rolling railway museum and misguided political dogma and soon give Canada a passenger railway that works – please.”

– Ken Westcar, Transport Action Ontario








Key financial indicators (in millions of dollars)






Total operating costs






Government funding – operations






Government funding – capital






Key operating statistics
Passengers (in thousands)






Average passenger load factor (%)






Overall on-time performance (%)






Number of employees






OAG Special Examination – VIA Rail Canada – Exhibit 1: Summary of VIA’s performance over the past five fiscal years.  Source: adapted from 2014 Annual Report, VIA Rail Canada.



Exhibit 5: Improvements to CN Kingston Subdivision rail structure

Initial project 2007 Revised project in light of 2009 Canada Economic Action Plan Project completion and results as of 31 Dec. 2014

$21 million

$251 million

$318.5 million

Improve track and some stations

160km of triple track

at $1.6M/km

70km triple track

at $4.5M/km

Expected benefits

Revised expected benefits

Actual results obtained

12 additional trains

14 additional trains

8 additional trains

Reduced travel times

Reduced travel times

Increased travel times

Improved on-time per-formance (stood at 82%)

Improved on-time performance

Worse on-time perfor- mance (average 65%)

$32 million in additional revenue

$32 million in additional revenue

No additional revenue

23% increase in ridership

23% increase in ridership

17% decrease

 in ridership since 2009

OAG Special Examination – VIA Rail Canada – Exhibit 5 (not all information included here)



The Auditor General’s report on VIA may be found on-line by searching for “VIA Rail Canada Inc.Special Examination Report2016.”

May 17

Dragging Equipment Detectors and Automatic Equipment Identifiers for Rail Safety

By Transport Action Ontario | Intercity Rail and Bus , Latest News



Federal Transport Minister Marc Garneau was the key-note speaker at a well-attended public forum on rail safety held in Toronto on April 27.   Several members of Transport Action Ontario spoke, particularly about the need for Positive Train Control, Dragging Equipment Detectors and Automatic Equipment Identifiers.


As followup, a letter providing more detail on the latter two ideas was sent to the Minister’s Policy Advisor.  The letter can be viewed here:  TAO-Chadha 2016-05-17


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