John Tory promises “surface subways” for Toronto

John Tory promises “surface subways” for Toronto

(Image: onetorontotransit.ca) (Image: onetorontotransit.ca)
 

In a bit of rhetorical wizardry that will puzzle city hall scholars for months, John Tory just told reporters that, if elected mayor, he’ll build (or maybe the better word would be “create”) a subway line that doesn’t go underground.

Tory’s plan, which he has dubbed “SmartTrack,” would consist of adding a bunch of new stations to GO Transit’s existing Lakeshore, Georgetown and Stouffville rail lines. Tory would then run frequent commuter trains along the lines to create a subway-like regional-rail service that would link Markham and Mississauga with downtown Toronto and points in between. According to Tory, SmartTrack could be built in seven years for $8 billion, including $2.5 billion from the city, which he says could be raised by borrowing against future property-tax revenue along the proposed rail line. It’s unclear how well the proposal would dovetail with the Liberal provincial government’s plan to electrify the GO network and implement frequent all-day service.

This is the latest in a long series of new rapid-transit lines that have been proposed by different politicians over the course of the past decade, most of which have either gone nowhere or been revised out of existence by Toronto’s increasingly rudderless city council. Tory is banking on voters not yet having reached the point of transit-proposal fatigue. He also seems to be hoping that dramatic subway promises still have the same cachet they did in 2010, when Rob Ford used them to such good effect. How else to explain the fact that the word “subway” is being used to describe a proposal that runs entirely aboveground, and mostly on existing rail?

Another unanswered question in all of this: what would SmartTrack mean for the downtown relief line? Tory had promised to prioritize the DRL (which has been envisioned by the TTC as an actual, underground subway line that would run along a route similar to SmartTrack’s), and now it seems that he’s offering surface rail instead, either as a stopgap or as a total subway replacement. If he was hoping to reshape the transit debate, mission accomplished. But whether voters will be willing to embrace yet another new subway fantasy map remains to be seen.

Tory’s full transit proposal is here.