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A GO Transit train heads west after leaving Union Station in Toronto on April 22, 2013.

Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

Plans for a downtown relief line to curb congested transit in Toronto could include conversion of train tracks along two GO transit lines.

The Toronto Transit Commission at a meeting on Wednesday passed a motion brought forward by chair Karen Stintz to investigate the feasibility of using the Kitchener (formerly called Georgetown) and Lakeshore East lines.

GO transit, Via Rail and Canadian Pacific trains currently use the lines. The Kitchener and Lakeshore East lines connect parts of downtown Toronto to Union station and stretch to Kitchener and Oshawa, respectively.

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To equip them for TTC vehicles such as light rail or streetcars, the tracks would have to be electrified, something Metrolinx is already considering.

"Metrolinx has studied aspects of it, but we're thinking if the TTC were to operate or be a partner in that line, could it change anything?" Ms. Stintz said after the meeting.

"Once it's electrified, you could have a different vehicle that could stop more frequently than the current GO trains do."

The feasibility study will look at the impacts of including more vehicles on the busy lines, but TTC CEO Andy Byford said its worth considering as the corridors are not at capacity yet.

"It does seem to me there is some spare capacity. At the end of the day, we should be looking to sweat the assets and maximize use of all rail corridors in this city," Mr. Byford said, adding a more substantial relief line to the east end would still be needed.

"That takes time to construct, and it's $8-billion that we don't currently have. Certainly as a stop gap, I think we should be talking to GO to say, 'Is there anything that we can do in a much shorter time frame?'"

A downtown relief line would alleviate mounting pressure on the Yonge-University-Spadina line by siphoning off some of the passengers at the Bloor line moving into the downtown core. In a report earlier this month from the city manager on the pros and cons of the recently approved extension of the Bloor line in Scarborough, a downtown relief line was listed in the top five unfunded transit projects in the city.

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The classic concept for the line would involve a separate subway corridor running below the Bloor line, but Wednesday's move indicates the TTC is open to other options to relieving the congestion on the downtown system.

"If we could get the same service without having to dig, I think it's something worth exploring," Ms. Stintz said.

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