TO: Honourable Jonathan Wilkinson, Minister of Environment and Climate Change
RE: Request for Federal Environmental Assessment: Proposed Don Valley Train Layover Facility (Metrolinx GO Expansion Program)
We request the Federal Government (which has the authority, the resources, and the mechanism – Federal Impact Assessment Study) to do a proper environmental assessment of Metrolinx’s proposed Don Valley Train Layover Facility.
The Don Valley Train Layover Facility is one of four new layover facilities proposed under Metrolinx’s New Tracks and Facilities TPAP. The facilities are apparently required in order to reduce the congestion currently experienced at Union Station, and provide a location for storage and light maintenance (including cleaning, garbage disposal, and sanitary sewage removal) for GO trains during off-peak periods. Whether the plan includes diesel fuel servicing/storage needs to be confirmed.
Metrolinx intends to situate the Don Valley Layover site on part of the Don Branch rail corridor (not operational for the past 22 years), that runs parallel to the Don Valley Parkway (See attached plan).
Design elements of the proposed facility include:
- Train traction servicing: wayside power (to limit train idling while trains are in the facility);
- Storage for three GO Trains;
- Crew services, sanitary storage and staff parking;
- Connection to mainline track; and
- A vehicle entrance road of some length from the Don Valley Parkway ramp that connects to Bayview Avenue/Bloor Street.
The estimated area of the layover site is 11 acres or 2.3 hectares (2.4%) of the area of the Lower Don Parklands (97.4 hectares).
The current configuration locates facilities to the north of the Bloor Viaduct and outside of lands designated as ESAs by the City; minimizes impacts to the Lower Don Trail. It could readily damage Helliwell’s Hill wetland to the north, and may indirectly impact Chester Springs Marsh to the south.
Background information from Metrolinx.
City of Toronto has requested information on Impact of the Facility
City Council adopted the following motion regarding Metrolinx’s proposed Don Valley Train Layover Facility at its meeting on Sept 30, Oct 1 and 2, 2020: EX16.4: Metrolinx-City of Toronto Master Agreement for the GO Expansion Program
10. City Council direct the City Manager and the Executive Director, Transit Expansion Office to advise Metrolinx that the City strongly recommends that Metrolinx undertake a study, in consultation with the City, General Manager of Parks, Forestry and Recreation, and the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority which considers the possible impacts of this proposed facility on the Don Valley Park, and the implications for the City’s Ravine Strategy, and a full range of alternative solutions and locations for the Don Valley Layover Facility Metrolinx is proposing as a part of its GO Expansion project.
Alas, Metrolinx has not undertaken such a study and has shown no inclination to do so.
City of Toronto has expressed support for a Federal Environmental Assessment of the Facility
City Council adopted the following Motion on June 8, 9, 2021
MM34.18 Keeping the Promise – Requesting a Federal Environmental Assessment of Metrolinx’s Proposed Don Valley Layover Facility – by Councillor Paula Fletcher, seconded by Councillor Mike Layton:
- City Council express support for a Federal Impact Assessment, under the Federal Impact Assessment Act, of Metrolinx’s proposed GO Layover Facility in the Don Valley and City Council support local residents and community groups’ calls for such an assessment.
- City Council request that a copy of this Motion be provided to the Honourable Caroline Mulroney, Provincial Minister of Transportation and the Honourable Jeff Yurek, Provincial Minister of Environment, Conservation and Parks.
- City Council request that a copy of this Motion be provided to the Honourable Jonathan Wilkinson, Federal Minister of the Environment and Climate Change and the Honourable Catherine McKenna, Federal Minister of Infrastructure and Communities.
The Rationale for the EA Request
As indicated in City Council’s Motion, there are two key aspects driving the need for a Federal EA:
- The unsuitability of the facility and its impact on the Don Valley ravine (Don Valley Park)
- The failure of Metrolinx to reveal the full range of alternative solutions, alternative locations related to the Don Valley Layover Facility.
In addition, if the Project were to proceed, it would prohibit active transportation, and recreational, and tourism projects, which offer significant opportunities for federal collaboration.
A. Toronto Ravines and the Don Valley
Toronto’s Ravines, like the Don Valley, are gems that enhance our City with many ecological wonders and recreation opportunities. They are also a fragile resource. As noted in the staff report when City Council adopted the City’s new Ravine Strategy in January 2020:
- Ravines provide an exciting opportunity to connect people in the city with nature.
- Approximately 30 percent of Toronto’s population lives within 500 metres of ravines.
- The ravine system provides significant opportunities to reflect the integral connection that continues today, between the Indigenous communities that were the original inhabitants of the area and Toronto’s natural spaces and waterways.
- Ravines provide essential access to urban greenspace and opportunities for passive and active recreation, which contributes to the physical health, mental health and well-being of residents.
- Toronto’s ravines provide over $800 million in social services every year, thanks to nature-based recreation, which reduces the health burden of inactivity, and brings down rates of depression.
A 2014 report released by Toronto-Dominion Bank pegged the replacement value of the 10 million trees inToronto’s ravines system at $7-billion. It noted these forests absorb air pollutants, moderate climate, and reduce strain on the city’s water infrastructure – for annual benefits worth $7.95 a tree.
While the Don Valley was an early site of industrialization in Toronto (water power), and was later used by railways and the Don Valley Parkway, in the last 50 years governments have recognized the need to protect the Don Valley, prevent development on the floodplain, and to re-naturalize the Parklands. The placement of the Layover Facility in the Don Valley represents a reversal of this direction. It amounts to a re-industrialization of the Valley. This type of industrialization introduces a risk of contamination of the Don River, as well as the loss of naturalized park land.
Don Valley Park
In 2016, Mayor John Tory and Geoff Cape, CEO of Evergreen announced plans for the Don River Valley Park, a massive 480-acre super park spanning from Evergreen Brick Works south to the mouth of Lake Ontario.
B. Metrolinx Planning Process Deficiencies
Metrolinx has failed to properly justify the need for a layover facility. Apparently they need a place to store a train for a few hours during the day!! What if they used them all day? Can the existing arrangements for maintenance be expanded rather than creating new facilities?
Go Trains continue to be powered by diesel technology without exploration of alternatives like hydrogen.
Note: Metrolinx has done a lot of research on hydrogen technology and the Federal Government sees a real future in it. Alstom Transport Canada that just bought Bombardier’s train division has operational train fleets using hydrogen.
Metrolinx has failed to reveal any other locations examined (other than 3 other locations announced as part of GO system expansion)
C. Foreclosed Visionary Projects and Federal Collaborative Opportunities
The East Toronto Railpath
The use of the Don Branch from the Bloor Viaduct to the Half Mile Bridge, for the Layover Facility forecloses the opportunity to use this part of the historic rail corridor for the proposed East Toronto Railpath, an elevated multi-purpose trail with commanding views of the Don Valley from Millwood in the north (west side of the valley) to the Lower Don (east side of the valley) connected by the Half Mile Bridge over the valley. The value of such recreational assets needs to be seriously considered in light of the exploding demand for recreational opportunities in the City.
We propose that the Federal Government and City of Toronto consider purchasing the unused Don Branch lands and property from Metrolinx to “liberate and activate orphaned Metrolinx property” – transforming it into active infrastructure property that would provide access for all Torontonians, and for visitors to enjoy, for generations to come – an elevated multi-purpose trail with commanding views that can connect with the Governor’s Bridge Lookout at the Brickworks and the Chester Lookout – covering both sides of the Don.
Post-COVID, the Federal Government understands that transit system improvements are critical – but so is keeping naturalized areas “natural” to expand and enhance infrastructure for biking and walking that Canadians of all ages use, and, after the last 15 months, now depend on for their physical and mental health.
The Federal Government is committed to planting 2 billion new trees, recognizing the environmental and quality of life improvement values associated with forests. The Don Valley Park represents an important urban forest, that can be part of this visionary project.
CC: Gregg Lintern, Chief Planner and Executive Director, City Planning Division
Melanie Melnyk, Project Manager, Strategic Initiatives, Policy & Analysis
Philip Parker, Project Manager, Strategic Initiatives, Policy & Analysis
CC: Julie Dabrusin, MP, Toronto-Danforth
Rob Oliphant, MP, Don Valley West
Chrystia Freeland, MP University-Rosedale
Marci Len, MP Toronto Centre