It’s been more than 10 years since government officials first announced the 19-kilometre Eglinton Crosstown LRT project, but there are signs the project is inching closer to the long-awaited finish line with the testing of light-rail vehicles ramping up.
“We know it has required an intense amount of patience from people that live and work in this area, people that operate business, we know that. This has taken a long time. We’re nearing the end; we have about a year and a half before we’re in service,” Anne Marie Aikins, a spokesperson for Metrolinx, told reporters Friday afternoon during a tour along part of Eglinton Avenue East.
“Now they’re going to see us off the street and less obstructive … as soon as we can, we’ll have this line open.”
Officials with Metrolinx, the Ontario government agency overseeing the development of the multi-billion-dollar, 25-station project, and Crosslinx, the private-sector consortium building the light rail line, showcased an operational portion of the Crosstown between Victoria Park Avenue and Birchmount Road on Friday as crews embark on an intensive testing process of the trains as well as the infrastructure the vehicles will need in order to operate.
It wasn’t until June that trains began occasionally moving along the line above ground east of the future Laird station. However, Crosslinx will be increasing vehicle testing during the daylight hours six days a week for approximately two months — an increase that officials want east-end residents to start thinking about as they navigate along Eglinton Avenue East.
“We want them to be fully aware that the vehicle is going to be around, so not to do illegal left-hand turns, not to cross when you’re not supposed to cross and just to be very conscious that these massive vehicles are now in their neighbourhoods and on their streets,” Aikins said.
READ MORE: Coronavirus hasn’t ‘significantly’ impacted Eglinton Crosstown construction, Metrolinx CEO says
“They’re going to take every precaution to ensure you stay safe, but you need to take some precautions as well.”
Gord Campbell, the light-rail vehicle manager for Crosslinx, echoed the potential safety concerns, especially given that each train will be made up of two cars. Combined, the trains will be around 300 feet long and up to 400 people sitting and standing can be accommodated.
“No near misses … we’re sitting, we’re waiting for the green light to go green, it goes green and a guy scoots in front of us illegally because the sign says no-left turn … because they’re used to doing it,” he said.
“The driver is aware, they pause, they make sure nobody is making the turn, and then they’ll either do the gong or the horn and advance through the intersection.”
Another concern revolved around people crossing over the tracks. During Friday’s brief tour on the line, there were two instances of people either on the tracks or trying to board the testing vehicle. Officials urged residents to not cross the trackbeds except at signalized intersections, noting vehicle testing crews encounter trespassers on a daily basis.
When it comes to testing operations, six units were driven by road to the eastern section of the line in June since it’s expected the full line won’t be able to operate continuously until the end of the year. Currently, trains can only operate between Mount Dennis (just west of where the line’s maintenance yard is located) and Cedarvale stations as well as east of Laird station.
In the operational sections, the trackbeds have been completed and work continues on other above-ground infrastructure. In the coming months, Campbell said that work will continue before drivers at the TTC (eventually operations will fall to the transit agency) will be trained on operating the vehicles.
“It’s all baby steps. You test with one vehicle and if the vehicle is interfacing with everything, then you introduce a second vehicle, the third vehicle — you keep expanding the design features of the train control system to make sure everything is working properly,” he said.
The Eglinton Crosstown will also have a feature not seeing on most of Toronto’s above-ground surface rail network: grass beds. Officials estimated around 60 per cent of the above-ground sections will be covered with grass and watered through sprinklers, an initiative they said is aimed at helping cool the rail infrastructure during intense heat.
Meanwhile, Campbell said the earliest passengers could potentially be allowed on the line is in mid-2022, but Aikins said it will likely be closer to the end of the year.
Metrolinx officials said in February 2020 that the Eglinton Crosstown LRT will be delayed until “well into 2022.” It was originally scheduled to open in 2020 and then it was postponed again beyond 2021.