As transformative as the RER can be, its potential is not treated accordingly by the media or the government organizations. Subway projects like the Relief Line or the potential extension of Line 1 to Richmond Hill, and even the Eglinton Crosstown project, which is an LRT, both received more attention than the RER.
This is not too surprising. The conversion of the GO network to the RER mostly re-uses existing infrastructure and as a result, when considering its size of 262 km, its cost is relatively low. The estimated cost of the upgrades is $13.5 billion, about $50 million per km. Compare this to the estimated cost of phase 1 of the Relief Line of $7.22 billion for 7.5 km, almost $1 billion per km, or to the Eglinton Crosstown LRT which is 19 km long with 10 km in a tunnel, and estimated at $5.3 billion, about $280 million per km.
That the system can be implemented for a bargain price shouldn’t be taken for granted. In most other large cities, when similar systems were built, the existing commuter lines usually ended in different and unconnected terminals around the city centre. This meant that in order to connect the rail lines and bring service to the very centre of the city, it was necessary to tunnel and build large and expensive underground stations.
Toronto had the unusual luck to already have all the rail lines connected through the city centre. Imagine the complexity of the RER project if the east and west parts of the GO rail lines terminated at the Don River Valley and at Exhibition Place and had to be connected under King Street! Compared to the cost of tunnelling and building large underground stations in a dense urban environment, the other expenses of the system such as electrification and station improvements are very affordable.
The problem is that because of the relatively low cost, it is easy to overlook the tremendous opportunity that the RER brings to help solve the two big issues of the GTA – transportation and affordability. To not miss this one-time opportunity, it is critical to start planning with the RER in mind.