In 2013, workers performed a famous feat of engineering at a big Tokyo train station. Transit authorities were converting a surface rail line to a subway, which meant lowering one set of tracks to connect with another, underground set. To avoid inconveniencing commuters and disrupting Tokyo’s vast and heavily travelled transit network, they decided to execute the final step of the delicate operation in the four hours between the departure of the last train from the station and the arrival of the first train the next morning.
When the last train pulled out at precisely 1 a.m., 1,200 workers poured onto the tracks and got to work. A sped-up video shows them swarming over the work site to perform thousands of carefully choreographed tasks, from removing old track to installing steel girders. By the time the first train pulled in just after 5 a.m., they were finished, with time to spare for a test run.
In Toronto things work … let’s just say a little differently. Transit authorities are closing a main downtown intersection, Yonge and Queen, for four and half years in order to build a station connecting a new subway line to an old one. Roads are being dug up, streetcars diverted and countless downtown workers and residents vastly inconvenienced. It should all be worth it in the end, but, honestly, four and a half years?
Then there is the Eglinton Crosstown project. The 19-kilometre, 25-stop, light-rail line was supposed to be open in 2020 – then 2021, then 2022. Now it seems it won’t start carrying riders until 2024, but we can’t really be sure because the people in charge won’t tell us.
The provincial transit agency, Metrolinx, had promised to give a firm opening date by the end of this summer. Its chief executive, Phil Verster, let that deadline pass. On Wednesday, a few days into fall, he summoned reporters to say that he couldn’t provide a date after all.
With more than 200 defects and quality-control issues still to be sorted out, it wouldn’t be right to say for sure when the trains would be rolling. “When I give you a date,” he said, “it must be something I believe in and we’re not there yet.”
Remember that construction on the Crosstown began in 2011. The cost has soared to almost $13-billion. Parts of midtown Toronto have been torn up for years on end.
When she heard the news about Wednesday’s non-announcement, all that Toronto’s mayor, Olivia Chow, could say was “big sigh.” A scream would be more fitting. The delays are outrageous. Torontonians should be hopping mad.
They deserve to know what has caused holdups. They deserve to know when they might finally get to ride the wonderful new conveyance that their taxes helped to build.
They have been waiting an awfully long time. Midtown Toronto was supposed to get a subway on Eglinton a generation ago, but the provincial government cancelled it for budget reasons. Years of feuding followed over what kinds of new transit to build, and where. The last big project to be finished, a subway to York University and beyond, suffered delays and budget overruns.
Fiascos like the Crosstown delay are not just an annoyance. They undermine faith in Toronto’s future. The city faces all sorts of grown-up problems, from the proliferation of homeless encampments to sky-high downtown office vacancy rates to a dire shortage of housing that ordinary people can afford.
Its transit system has not kept up with the explosive growth of the city and its region, which is taking in hundreds of thousands of newcomers. While other world cities have built out their networks at a staggering pace, Toronto has lagged.
Now, at last, it has a credible, funded transit plan, anchored by the Ontario Line, the project behind those closings at Queen and Yonge. But it’s not much good having a plan if we can’t get it built. The Crosstown experience casts doubt on the whole enterprise.
Is anybody actually in charge here? Is anyone accountable? Is no one willing to take responsibility?
Japan’s trains are famously punctual. When they aren’t, it is a matter of deep shame. A few years ago, one of its sleek bullet trains departed 25 seconds early because the conductor made a mistake. “The great inconvenience we placed upon our customers was truly inexcusable,” Japan Railways said.
If that’s inexcusable, what do we call what has happened with the Crosstown?