GO Expansion – Metrolinx answers your top rail transit questions as public consultation continues

You’ve got questions and Metrolinx has answers. Transit building projects always get people talking, and the GO Expansion program is no different. As one of the biggest transit expansion projects in Canadian history, it’s bound to catch people’s attention. Metrolinx News tackles some of the most popular themes, check it out below.  

The GO Expansion project is Metrolinx’s largest and most ambitious project to date.

And customers and communities are already invested in how it all unfolds.

The project will see changes to more than 400 kilometers of rail across the GO Network with electrification of the core network, over 200km of new rail, new trains, storage and layover facilities to store those trains, plus the maintenance and operation of the entire rail network for years to come. The long-term goal and vision of the GO Expansion Program is to provide 15-minute two-way all-day service on core segments of the rail network.

Going along with this, the transit agency just concluded what could be the most ambitious public consultation program to date.

As part of the Transit Project Assessment Process (TPAP), Metrolinx conducted three rounds of public consultation, in spring, summer and fall of 2020. Approximately 560 members of the public attended the in-person meeting during the first round, while the main GO Expansion program page was viewed almost 20,000 times during the second and third rounds combined.

In the latest round that ran from Nov, 27, to Dec. 11,  there were over 10,000 page views and 129 comments and questions received on the Metrolinx Engage website.

In addition to the online consultation, Metrolinx also consults with municipalities, conservation authorities, Indigenous Nations, and business and property owners that may be affected by the project. All comments and questions are recorded and become part of the final Environmental Project Report (EPR) for the project.

There were several common themes that came from the consultation. Here is what the participants were most interested to know:

The Don Valley Layover

An artist's rendering of what the Don Valley Layover could look like
An artist’s rendering of what the Don Valley Layover could look like. (Metrolinx photo)

The current proposed location for Don Valley Layover was selected after consulting with the public, the City of Toronto, the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority, and other stakeholders, as well as completing a number of studies to assess potential impacts to the environment.

Since the first round of public consultation this spring, the design of this facility has been updated to further minimize environmental impacts, such as those related to an Environmentally Significant Area (ESA) within the Don Valley. These are natural heritage systems that call for special protection to safeguard their environmentally important qualities.

The proposed facility has now been shifted to another location within the valley, north of the Prince Edward Viaduct and outside of the ESA. Several locations in the Don Valley were considered, and the proposed site is the one with the least impacts to the Don Valley.

The location was chosen in part to make use of an area that was disturbed as part of the City of Toronto’s rehabilitation of the Prince Edward Viaduct, and will also make use of existing infrastructure including a decommissioned track owned by Metrolinx and an already existing access road. 

The construction and location of the facility are not anticipated to affect the functioning of the wetlands or ecosystems. Pedestrians and cyclists will continue to use the Lower Don Trail as they do now, and the design aims to integrate the layover facility with the surrounding environment.

Photo of the Don Valley trail looking up at the viaduct
Feedback matters. Since the first round of public consultation the design of Don Valley Layover has been updated to further minimize environmental impacts. (Metrolinx photo)

This layover is just one piece as Metrolinx looks at options across the system to enable more service on the transit network.

The Don Valley Layover will join the Walkers Line Layover in Burlington on the Lakeshore West Corridor, a storage track in Unionville, and the Midland Layover in Scarborough.

These additional storage sites will help get service running faster each day, help in recovering service when there’s an incident, and reduce moving empty trains across the network.

How GO Expansion and the Ontario Line are coordinated, in places they coexist

The GO Expansion project and the Ontario line will run in parallel, both in the joint corridor on the Lakeshore East corridor east of the Don River, and at Exhibition Station.

The Metrolinx teams toiling on the GO Expansion project and the Ontario Line are working very closely to coordinate the required early work for both projects.

Currently, both projects are in the procurement phase, and construction schedules will be submitted by the proponent teams as part of their bids.

Once the teams are on board, Metrolinx will continue to look at the best way to coordinate the work and find the most efficient way to deliver both projects.

Comprehensive environmental studies are currently underway in the areas where the Ontario Line and GO train services will run in parallel.

The Ontario Line Draft Early Works Report, released in November 2020, looked at environmental considerations in the area of Exhibition Station including noise and vibration.

In 2021, two other Early Works Reports will be released – one for the rail bridge over the Don River between Eastern Avenue and Lakeshore Boulevard, and another for the rail corridor that runs from the Don River to Gerrard Street.

The Environmental Impact Assessment Report will also be released in 2021 and will provide a full analysis of impacts and mitigation measures for the entire project.

For more information on the Ontario Line please visit here.

Potential noise and vibration as a result of service increases

Since 2017, Metrolinx has developed a detailed design and service plan for how increased passenger service will be delivered for the GO Expansion program in the future, including a mix of diesel and electric propulsion.

These proposed changes required a reassessment of potential noise and vibration effects in an addendum to the 2017 EPR.

Progress on the GO Expansion project continues to move forward

This updated assessment provides an understanding for residents, businesses and other properties along our corridors, on what noise and vibration impacts may affect them, and the mitigation measures that will be implemented.

The most effective form of mitigation is reducing or eliminating the sound at the source. Not only is source mitigation most effective, but it reduces sound levels for all properties along Metrolinx rail corridors, not just those identified as impacted. 

For example, Metrolinx has committed to installing exhaust noise silencers on existing and future Metrolinx diesel locomotives which will decrease the noise level from these trains by 3 dBa at all properties along the corridors. Where mitigation at the source itself is not possible, receptor-based mitigation such as noise walls are then considered to protect areas most affected.

Since the previous EA was completed in 2017 Metrolinx has already contracted companies to build more than 27 kilometres of noise walls along the Barrie and Stouffville rail corridors where new track is being constructed.

The area around the Lakeshore East corridor is an area where the project will not increase noise significantly, but existing noise levels are already high. Therefore, Metrolinx will go above and beyond the Ontario Provincial protocol and include noise walls in this area. In addition, vibration mitigation for new tracks have also been recommended at this location.

An interactive map and roll plans showing the location of recommended noise and vibration mitigation can be viewed here.

What’s next?

Metrolinx has taken the feedback, comments and technical studies and consultations to develop the Environmental Project Report for these TPAPs.

The next step is the Notice of Completion, which marks the start of a mandated 30 calendar day public review period of the final Environmental Project Reports.

Artist's rendering of electrified GO train service operating on the Lakeshore West GO train corridor, using overhead catenary system
Artist’s rendering of electrified GO train service operating on the Lakeshore West GO train corridor, using overhead catenary system (Metrolinx photo)

Metrolinx will publish the Environmental Project Reports, or final results of all the studies that have been completed as part of the three TPAPs: the Scarborough Junction Grade Separation, New Track & Facilities, and the Stouffville Grade Separations.

This is a chance for the public, regulatory agencies, and Indigenous Nations to have a final review of the project’s impacts.

The Environmental Project Reports will be available on the Metrolinx project websites to review, and the public has a mandated 30 calendar days to submit any final comments on the potential impacts of the project.

The Environmental 30 calendar day review period will begin on the following dates. Look for them on the project website.

  • Scarborough Junction Grade Separation – December 22, 2020
  • New Track & Facilities – December 30, 2020
  • Stouffville Grade Separations – January 6, 2021

During this period, Metrolinx encourages all stakeholders to read the reports and share any questions and provide feedback to your dedicated Community Relations team. Metrolinx will be responding to all questions and comments made within the 30-day period.

Once the 30-day public review is completed the questions, feedback and responses will be provided to the Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks, for final review. The Ministry then has a 35-day review period before issuing a Statement of Completion early next year.

The feedback from the consultation process provided valuable input for the EPR and enhanced the project team’s understanding of community concerns.

That same feedback is already being incorporated into detailed design and engineering.  

To stay up-to-date, subscribe to the Metrolinx regional e-newsletter with the latest news, progress announcements and construction updates for projects in your area, You can unsubscribe at any time.

Editor’s note – This story was changed on March 31, 2021, to correct the number of kilometres of rail impacted.

Story by Patricia Pytel, manager capital communications, GO Rail Expansion