Enjoying as I am detailing my adventures following West Ham around the country this season, it occured to me that none could ever match watching the team play in the great city of Toronto back in 2008, when we were invited to be the latest opponents in the annual MLS All-Star shindig. Obviously, I didn’t travel all the way from London to Toronto by train, because that would just be silly. Nevertheless, rail travel was involved, and, given the kind of chap I am, I figured it would be fun to show you on the road there too.
Date: 24 July 2008
Stadium: BMO Field
Score: MLS All-Stars 3-2 West Ham United
Nearest station: Exhibition or Exhibition Loop
Local Rozzers: Toronto Police Service
Total Travel Cost: Aside from the return flights to Toronto?? n/a (TTC Weekly Pass)
Yonge-University-Spadina line – King to Union (H6 Series)
509 Harborfront - Union to Exhibition Loop (CLRV)
509 Harborfront – Exhibition Loop to Union (CLRV)
Yonge-University-Spadina line – Union to King (H6 Series)
Station to Stadium: BMO Field forms part of the Exhibition Place complex, and is located a very short walk from both Exhibition railway station, which is served by GO Transit trains, and Exhibition Loop where the 509 and 511 streetcar routes terminate. It is a pleasant five minute walk from exiting either of the transport stations to the stadium, providing you don’t mind the smell of horses, as the Toronto Police Service’s mounted headquarters is adjacent to the railway and streetcar lines.
Anything else?: There’s little point trying to get to Exhibition by train as, much as is the case with many North American cities, Toronto’s commuter rail service pretty much shuts down after rush hour. Your best bet is the streetcar either from Union Station in downtown Toronto, or Bathurst station in midtown.
With grateful thanks, a set on Flickr.
If you have any rail related pictures that you’d like to share with the world, and haven’t gotten around to doing so yourself, then I’d love to display them on Flickr. Hence the reason for “With grateful thanks…”, a set exclusively devoted to pictures of trains, trams and anything else by other people who have allowed me to display them on my Flickr site in their name. If you’re just casually on holiday and snap something interesting, or you spy something at the railway station on your way to work, send it in and I’ll put it up. No matter where it is, from the Tokaido Shinkansen to the model railway in your friend’s attic, I’d love to see it.
I’m not sure whether I’ve posted this on here but I thought I would now, especially after my friend’s trip to Toronto. While I may not have done the trip all the way between Canada’s largest city and its equivilent in the United States, I have done the journey from Toronto to Niagara Falls, which was an interesting experience. As I kept a journal of my trip to Toronto in the summer of 2008, I thought I’d share the entry that I wrote in regards to my train journey:
“More from Canada”
A brief word about the trains. Alas we had no opportunity to experience the GO Transit commuter trains, which are double deck (similar to the ones in the Netherlands). We could have used this to get to BMO Field, as Exhibition railway station is right by the stadium; however, in that instance it was easier to use the streetcar, given we had purchased the weekly pass for all TTC services. Anyway, the VIA Rail train to Niagara Falls (equivilent to an InterCity train) put the trains at home to shame in almost every category – legroom, seat comfort, the size of the toilet (very important). The only thing it fell down on was ride quality. The damn thing was jerking all over the place, making writing extremely difficult. That’s the good thing about the TOCs and ROSCOs in the UK – they have spent hundreds of millions of pounds on new rolling stock that doesn’t make you feel like a bouncing ball.
Of course, there wasn’t just the going there. There was also the coming back. It turned out that the train we were booked on was the Amtrak/VIA Rail Maple Leaf service from New York to Toronto. Which meant it had come across the border. And, unlike Eurostar, where immigration and customs checks are done at the destination, here they are done at Niagara Falls. Which meant a queue of people in baking hot sunshine waiting to board the train while Canadian customs officers did their job. Sigh. The train pulled out half an hour late. I, as you can imagine, was less than impressed. And I ended up pontificating on what they should do to alleviate the problem. Either:
- Have the trains from New York stop at Niagara Falls, NY but not at Niagara Falls, ON, and vice versa for the trains from Toronto. That way, you could ensure that only people wanting to travel from one country or the other will be on the train when it reaches the border.
- Make them pick up/set down, so the train from New York can only pick up passengers in Niagara Falls, ON and can only set down passengers in Niagara Falls, NY, and vice versa for the train from Toronto. This means that immigration and customs for those still on the train could be accomplished at the destination; a simple ticket check at the station will establish whether a passenger’s journey began in Canada or the US, and thus whether they need their passport and an immigration declaration.
I should really be advising the Canadian and US governments on this sort of policy shouldn’t I
Following on from the start of the A-Train in Denton comes word that OCTranspo, the public transport operator in Ottawa, plan to spend $60m upgrading their local commuter rail service, the O-Train. Although there is a long term proposal to build a second line to turn it into a network, this plan is intended to allow greater capacity and improved timekeeping on the existing route. At present, the route is single track for virtually its entire length, with a single passing loop at Carleton. Even though the route is just 5 miles long, having just a single passing point still limits he service, and would cause serious disruption in the event of a train failure. So the news that two more passing points will be added, in addition to upgrading the signalling, is welcome. This will also allow more trains to run on the route at the same time, so OCTranspo are looking at purchasing 6 new trains to improve the frequency of the service.
Of course, simply improving the existing route does little to help people in areas it doesn’t reach, which is why the city has plans for a new LRT line running east-west (the present O-Train is a north-south route) that will go through the new Downtown Ottawa Transit Tunnel, and which is intended to replace existing BRT routes along the central Transitway with a new electrified LRT service that will create new transit hubs along the route – there will be an interchange with the existing O-Train planned at Bayview, another with the city’s railway station at Train, while the remainder will serve as nodes connecting with bus routes to other areas. That’s not the end of it however; in addition to the East-West line, there are tentative plans (with a $200,000 study in progress to determine whether it is viable) to extend the existing O-Train to serve the communities of Riverside South and Leitrim, which would use a route that was initially planned for a major expansion of O-Train that was eventually cancelled in 2006. Given that Ottawa’s Transitway BRT already uses largely segregated rights of way for its BRT routes (which are already in situ), the cost of building is that much reduced, as there is no mass closure of roads to install the infrastructure (beyond building the downtown tunnel, a source of some debate in the city). Nevertheless, Ottawa has ambitions to move out of the shadow of Toronto, and sees building a commuter rail network as part of the wider plan to do so.
One final point – North America now has two separate vowel titled rail systems. Looking beyond the New York Subway (which has an A-Train and an E-Train), who will be next to inaugurate an letter based network?
Ever since he announced he was campaigning for the post, Rob Ford, who was elected Mayor of Toronto in 2010, has been squarely against the Transit City plan to expand the transport network in the city. Rather than building the LRT lines proposed in the plan, he has been vocal in his support for the construction of new subways. Having cancelled the original Transit City plan at the beginning of 2011, the Mayor has now announced his “Mark II” Transit City proposals:
- Construction of a wholly underground Eglinton Crosstown LRT line, intended to run from Jane Street to Kennedy station along Eglinton Avenue, where it will connect with the Scarborough RT line, which will be converted to LRT to form one single route as far as the centre of Scarborough.
- Construction of two extensions of the existing Sheppard Line subway; one westwards from Sheppard-Yonge station to Downsview station, and one eastwards from Don Mills station to Scarborough Centre station.
The total cost of this new plan is estimated at around C$12.4bn; C$8.2bn of this is being provided by Metrolinx for the Eglinton project, for which they will have oversight. However, the estimated C$4.2bn needed for the subway extensions still needs to be found somewhere. The Mayor has said he expects there to be a large amount of private funding for this, but has given no guarantees that it won’t be the city that gets lumbered with the bill. Additionally, the rest of the planned work that formed part of “Transit City Mark I” has now been junked, leaving a number of areas of Toronto without the public transport improvements they were expecting. Additionally, subways and tunnels are a lot more expensive than building surface routes, and have the potential to cause a lot more disruption too (as anyone familiar with Crossrail will no doubt be aware). Perhaps it is true that the previous mayor and the TTC didn’t tell the people enough about the original plan. I don’t know. I do know however that the coming decade will see the great city of Toronto suffering in terms of disruption. Whether the people will end up suffering in terms of cost, we’ll have to wait and see (and I’m sure there will be many people in Amsterdam who can understand that).
The Bombardier BiLevel is achieving a level of ubiquitousness on the railways of North America as the passenger vehicle of choice for the increasing number of commuter operators that are starting up in and around major cities of the United States and Canada – ten operators in the US use a total of 489 vehicles, while a similar number is used by GO Transit in Ontario. So successful is the BiLevel that competitors have built similar products for other operators, while Bombardier have come up with a successor. You can understand why operators would like this, as it allows you to essentially carry the same number of passengers in half the number of vehicles, what with it being double decker and all. Additionally, the presence of a control car means no fiddly running the locomotive around once the train reaches its destination. However, it’s this aspect that often leaves me questioning. Taking Great Britain as an example, there are very few passenger services that are still operated by traditional locomotives (as opposed to power cars) - of course there are East Coast’s main services using the Class 91, while NXEA’s express trains to Norwich are often pulled by Class 90s, and Wrexham & Shropshire’s run with Class 67s. The two remaining sleepers are locomotive hauled, while the need to put on extra services, coupled with a lack of avaialble multiple units, has seen some commuter services around the country return to hauled trains. But compared with the total number of passenger trains operated on the British railway network, this is still a handful. Similarly, in Ireland, Iarnród Éireann has pursued a policy over the last ten years of replacing almost its entire fleet of locomotive hauled stock and replacing it with multiple units, to the extent that the only regular locomotive hauled trains in Ireland now are InterCity’s Dublin-Cork service, and Enterprise’s service from Dublin to Belfast. Which begs the question (at least to me) “why have Bombardier persisted with this product as a passenger coach?”. Would it not be cheaper for the operators to not have to purchase the big and expensive locomotives that they use to pull these trains in addition to the passenger vehicles? Of course, not being an engineer, I could be talking out of my posterior and it may be impossible for such a design to be converted into a genuine multiple unit. But, given that many countries in Europe operate double-deck multiple units, shouldn’t there be some encouragement to investigate the possibility?
The Metro Convention Center is a major meeting space in downtown Toronto, located on Front Street. Its location is right next to the railway heading west out of Union Station, the city’s major railway station that serves both intercity trains operated by VIA Rail, Amtrak and Ontario Northland, as well as commuter services run by GO Transit. Now of course, if 20 of the world’s most powerful leaders turn up in your city then there’s bound to be a little disruption. But I do think that not running any trains at all is probably a bit excessive. And yet that was what VIA Rail did during the G-20 summit just finished – they said that for the three days of the summit, their trains would be terminating instead at Oshawa, Brampton and Oakville, from where shuttle buses would take passengers to the Scarborough and Yorkdale bus stations, which would THEN see passengers transferring onto a TTC service. Doesn’t that seem a little excessive to you? Especially given that GO at the same time announced it would be running its services as normal, into Union Station. It isn’t as if huge numbers of people travel to Toronto by train anyway. In addition, if those in charge of security were terribly worried about the presence of a major transport terminal just down the street from the summit venue, did they actually forget the PATH? This is an extensive pedestrian tunnel network in Toronto that connects up most of the downtown area. How difficult would it have been to have devised a route that took people AWAY from the Convention Centre and funnelled them to exit points outside the security perimeter (defined as King Street to the north, Lake Shore Boulevard to the south, Yonge Street to the east and Spadina Avenue to the west). But no, VIA Rail took the easy option and didn’t run. This is despite (and I have testimony from actual Torontonians) most residents deciding to get out of the city for the duration, and not many choosing that particular weekend to come in. Alright, the 2009 summit in London was held at the ExCel Centre, which isn’t slap bang in the middle of the West End, but I still don’t remember the complete absence of rail travel to the area. I do think that VIA Rail went a little for overkill in terms of foreseeing the level of disruption.
I’m a big one for connections that allow interchanges to be made as easily and seamlessly as possible. That’s where the Circle Line is a good idea, given that mainline railways were never allowed to run directly through the centre of London. But, it is better if these are direct connections, with one transport mode (such as a light rail system) sharing a station complex with another (a heavy rail operator), thus meaning that, essentially, all passenger X needs to do is walk up or down the stairs to reach the next part of his or her journey. Now, Vancouver has two major railway stations serving the city, Waterfront Station, which was the old Canadian Pacific terminal, and Pacific Central Station. Today, Pacific Central is the city’s main intercity station, with VIA Rail’s Canadian service to Toronto and Amtrak’s Cascades service to Seattle and Eugene both terminating there, while Waterfront is the primary commuter station, with all three of the city’s SkyTrain lines and the West Coast Express commuter line terminating there. SkyTrain is the city’s major rapid transit system, serving the same role as the London Underground, Paris Metro et al. Waterfront Station is the focus, but, in spite of it being just 25 years old, and undergoing significant expansion over that time, there is no direct connection to SkyTrain at Pacific Central, with instead Main Street-Science World Station serving as the interchange. This would be most useful, as Pacific Central, in addition to being the city’s main intercity railway station, also serves as a major bus terminal, with Greyhound Canada and Pacific Coach Lines services operating there. This is the kind of joined up thinking that other cities have done in terms of its integration of rail, so it surprises me that the Canadians, who always strike me as more practical in such things than their neighbours, haven’t thought of this.
The United States started a trend when it inaugurated Washington, D.C. is its national capital city of having the capital away from the country’s largest city. So it is with Canada, when Ottawa was named as the capital of the Province of Canada in 1857 (which then federated to become the modern country in 1867). But, as we all know, Toronto is the country’s largest city, with Ottawa only fourth on the list by population. Nevertheless, Ottawa, as with all cities, seeks to improve itself not just as a centre of government (which it is, as the capital), but as an economic centre to rival other cities in the region, which include the two largest cities in the country (Toronto and Montréal). So, the municipal government in Ottawa have been investing in the city’s infrastructure, with a significant proposal being the construction of a new light rail network. Ottawa currently has a single light rail line, which it calls the O-Train, that runs north-south through the city, and which was built as an experiment in the operation of such a system, as against the BRT network upon which the city has relied. The existing route runs almost exclusively on existing tracks belonging to Canadian Pacific, and so the cost to set it up in 2001 came to only $21m, which was for the construction of the five stations and passing points. However, since the opening of the initial section, plans have been afoot to extend the network. In 2006 the council voted initially in favour of an extension, intended to double track and electrify the route. However, following a council election in which opponents of the plan criticised the cost of $780m, the project was then cancelled. Now there are new plans, which will see the construction of a tunnel through the city centre, that have been costed at in the region of $2bn. In Canada, most public works projects are subject to a “3-3-3″ funding principle, where the federal, provincial and municipal governments contribute around 1/3 of the cost each. So it is that Ontario has committed $600m, while the federal government has just put in another $600m to the project. However, this potentially will leave the city to find the rest, which could total as much as $1bn. Indeed, the Mayor of Ottawa has said that the cost is “merely an estimate” and could end up being significantly higher, which has led to significant criticism over the scope of the project. So, the question then comes “is it worth it?”. Will the light rail network intended prove to be successful enough to warrant the money that the city itself may end up having to put in? This is a tough question to answer, as the existing line is small with not a huge ridership. The obvious means of determining an answer is to gather data, both from the people that it would be aimed at, but also at similar cities around the world with similar systems. Of course, such a system will inevitably take traffic off the roads, while investment in the public infrastructure is always desirable. At the same time, Canada is in a better position than other major industrial nations in terms of its public finances. But, that level of cost is an awful lot for the city to bear, especially when it is not a traditionally big economic centre (as Toronto is). It will be interesting to see the direction that Ottawa’s light rail network takes.
It is an understatement to call Canada and the United States “big”, given that they are the second and fourth largest individual nations in terms of area in the world. And yet for their inter-city needs they are served each by single railway companies, Via Rail and Amtrak, which continue to operate trans-continental services, usually daily or even less. This is a discouragement to people to use the train for a number of reasons:
- The length of time spent on the train is excessive – Via Rail’s The Canadian runs from Toronto to Vancouver, a distance of approx 4,500km, and takes 87 hours.
- The Canadian only runs three times per week in each direction.
Obviously, no one in their right mind that HAS to go from Toronto to Vancouver is going to spend three and a half days on the train; that would be like the person that HAS to go from London to New York spending 5 days on the Queen Mary 2; you’re just not going to do it when it takes seven hours to fly there. You’re going to take the train because you WANT to, as a leisure activity to get there, looking at all of the scenery along the way. But, taking President Obama’s high speed proposal as a basis, why not have pairs of towns linked by more regular inter-city services? Even if trains ran every three or four hours, this would still provide better connections between cities than there is currently. To these kinds of service the trans-continental services could act as a supplement. Perhaps even more is the fact that Canada’s most populated region, the so-called Corridor running between Ontario and Quebec, only has 36 daily trains run by Via Rail, over a number of different routes, with the total recognised distance being less than 1000km. Of course, Via Rail has to share the track with both the freight operators and the local passenger operators, but it should be feasible, with investment in the infrastructure, to run more trains. The same goes for Amtrak’s operations in the United States – the speed and frequency of trains is a source of continual frustration, even over distances that, in inter-city terms, are fairly standard, bordering on short. For example, the Cardinal, which runs between New York and Chicago, takes seven hours for the stretch between New York and Charlottesville, which is approx 340 miles. The Flying Scotsman between London and Edinburgh, which is nearly 400 miles, takes just over four hours. This is why Obama’s high speed plan is such a good idea, because it doesn’t attempt to create routes that run over thousands of kilometers; rather it will create the arteries between pairs of population centres, which is how inter-city rail in such huge countries, where the population is affluent enough to afford to fly, should be structured. Of course it is necessary to maintain the trans-continental type services, as otherwise it is discriminatory, but these big national inter-city operators should be running more of the arterial services between city pairs, with good frequency of trains (not hourly, but not one a day either). By doing this, it will pave the way for when genuine high speed services do start running.