Since he unveiled it in late May, SmartTrack has been the centrepiece of John Tory’s One Toronto transit plan. Consisting of 22 stops (including five TTC interchanges) over 53 kilometres, the line would cut a loosely U-shaped curve through Toronto, starting near the airport in the west and dipping down through Union Station before heading northeast into Markham. Running largely on electrified GO Transit tracks, the new line would, Tory claims, serve 200,000 riders daily. He says the project will cost about $8-billion and will be operational by 2021, with the city’s one-third share of the funding coming from tax increment financing (also known as TIF)—which is basically a way of borrowing against future property-tax growth. Tory has also promised to start construction on the Scarborough subway immediately and provide express bus service along a few select routes.
IF TORY IS ELECTED, WILL IT HAPPEN?
Because SmartTrack relies so heavily on existing GO Transit infrastructure, Tory will first have to get Metrolinx on his side. That might be harder than it sounds, according to transit advocate and writer Steve Munro. There are legitimate questions to be asked about whether SmartTrack’s extra trains could coexist with Metrolinx’s own plans for regional express rail. There’s also reason to be concerned about whether the extra stations are actually desired or even physically possible (smaller trains wouldn’t hit Tory’s ridership promises, but larger trains would require larger stations). “There’s going to be a reckoning fairly soon,” Munro says. “If Tory is elected, some bright spark at the December 11 Metrolinx board meeting is going to ask how SmartTrack fits with their [regional express rail]. At that point, we can no longer pretend that Tory’s plan is simply a doodle on a piece of paper that we don’t have to worry about.”