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Light Rail Transit (LRT) FAQs

Also see our Transit Resources & Further Information page

Light Rail Transit (LRT) vs. Other transit modes

Funding Transit Expansion

Details on the Current Approved and Funded Projects

Facts on LRT from Pembina report: "Making Tracks to Torontonians"

Facts on Toronto's new LRVs from TTC website 

Light Rail Transit (LRT) vs. Other transit modes 


What is Light Rail Transit (LRT)?

• Light Rail Transit (LRT) is made up of modern, electricity-powered Light Rail Vehicles (LRV) that carry passengers in dedicated lanes, separated from motor vehicle traffic.

• LRT is growing in popularity for major cities around the world as it provides significant transit capacity without the expense of and density needed for subway systems.

• Like a subway, LRVs can be boarded at all doors, sometimes travel underground, carry large numbers of passengers and operate at high speeds.

• Like streetcars, LRVs can operate at street level, have more frequent stops and cost much less to build and maintain than subways.

• LRVs have no local emissions, since they are powered by electricity, and can be run on renewable energy like wind and solar.

• Modern LRT vehicles are fully accessible for wheel-chairs, strollers, and shopping carts, as well as faster boarding through multiple doors.

• Modern LRT vehicles carry more than twice as many passengers as buses and can be paired together into “trains” to increase capacity.


What is the difference between streetcar, LRT and subway?

• LRT vehicles are smaller and slower than subways, but travel faster and carry more passengers than streetcars or buses.

• Subways are larger and longer – a subway train can hold up to 1500 passengers (in ‘crush’ conditions). An LRV can hold 255 people in each vehicle, and it can be linked into a train of two or more cars. Streetcars carry between 75 and 100 people per vehicle.

• Like a subway, LRT vehicles can be boarded through all doors at ground level, making them wheelchair accessible and reducing loading time.

• Subways get their power from an electrified rail below the train – this requires larger stations, more infrastructure and safety separation. An LRV gets its power from a cable over head, like a streetcar.

• LRT can run aboveground at street level, like streetcars, however they operate in separate lanes, meaning they are not affected by car and truck traffic.

• LRT can also run underground, like subways, as is planned for much of the Eglinton Crosstown LRT.

• LRT stops are planned to be about 500 metres apart, slightly farther than streetcar stops (about 250 metres apart), but closer than subway stops.

• Older streetcars, like the ones we see in Toronto today, are smaller than LRVs, and require “loops” to turn around. LRVs are larger, and are “double ended” like subways, so they can change direction quickly without loops. 


Where does an LRT go in the road?

• Most of the time, LRT runs down the centre lanes of streets, since this is often the easiest way for all traffic to move.


Are LRVs slower than subways?

• LRVs run at an average of 27km/h, slightly slower than subways which average 32 km/h, and faster than buses and streetcars that travel in mixed traffic (17 km/h). LRVs run at speeds similar to subways when they are underground (as with much of the Eglinton LRT line)

• The main reason for the speed difference between subways and LRT is that LRVs have more stops. Subway stations are also more expensive to build, so fewer stops are built with longer distances between them.


Why not just build subways?

• It costs more to build. A lot more. Subways cost an average of $300 million per km. LRT is $100 million per km for surface routes and $250 million for underground routes.

• It costs more to maintain. Not only are underground stations more expensive to build, but, they also cost more to light, keep safe and secure, and clean.

• By spending less money per kilometre to build, our money literally takes us further. By some estimates, the Transit City plan would provide 10 times as many people with access to transit than the subway extension Mayor Ford is proposing.

• Speed is a trade off with access. Subways go faster by providing stations further apart. LRT stops can be closer together, meaning shorter walks and easier access.

• LRT can be built faster. Some lines could open in as little as two years. The existing Sheppard subway extension took a decade.

• Subway isn’t needed everywhere. While an area like Finch West or Sheppard East badly needs more service than a bus can provide, it does not have nearly the amount of ridership required to justify a subway (usually about 20,000 passengers per hour in rush hour is the “floor” for subways. The Yonge line sees about 30,000 passengers in the morning rush hour. The Finch West LRT has fewer than 3,000.

• Being above ground is good for business. When the ride is fast and smooth, passengers like being above ground, where they look can out the window, and see passing businesses as they go by. Some studies have shown that subways, especially when stations are spaced far apart (as on the Sheppard subway line) can actually hurt local business by discouraging passengers from getting off to shop and dine.

• Subway construction takes longer and requires digging large sections of road, and thus is much more disruptive for local businesses, residents, car and bus traffic and pedestrians.


Why is LRT superior to buses?

• It’s cheaper to operate. The most expensive thing about running a bus is the driver. Since an LRV can carry 5 times more passengers (255) than a bus (55), the number of operators required to carry the same number of passengers is significantly lower.

• It’s more comfortable. Just like a subway or streetcar, an LRT ride is smooth and comfortable, and much quieter (both inside and out) than a bus.

• The average life span of a bus is much shorter than a streetcar or an LRV. The average bus lasts about 15 years, while streetcars and LRVs can keep running for over 30 years.

• Because LRVs carry many more passengers, your chances of being left waiting at the stop while full vehicles pass you by during busy rush hour are much lower.

• LRT is faster - while the average speed for buses in mixed traffic is 17 km/hr, LRVs travel on their own dedicated lanes and travel at an average speed of 27 km/hr.


Funding Transit Expansion


How much has already been spent on the project?

• The city has spent about $140 million on public consultation, design, and construction, and has signed contracts worth approximately $1.3 billion more. This includes a $54 million contract to build the tunnel-boring machines to build the 20km tunneled portion of the Eglinton line. Cancelling these contracts could cost “taxpayers” hundreds of millions in cancellation fees. 

• The province has committed to $8.1 Billion in funding, through Metrolinx (Metrolinx is the agency created by the Province to coordinate transit across the GTA). In 2010, the Province announced that the first half of the full funding will be available for the first phase of Transit City, the four main LRT lines.


Will this project bring new jobs to the City of Toronto?

• The complete Transit project is expected to create approximately 200,000 new jobs in Ontario from $8.1 billion invested. This includes construction and manufacturing jobs, as well as economic spin-off effects.

• Additionally, it has been shown that LRT expansion will provide greater benefit to local businesses than subway expansion once it is built -- above-ground travel improves visibility of and access to local businesses on major streets.


Can’t we just reallocate the provincial money into building subways?

• The Premier has stated that there is no additional money available for transit funding.

• If Mayor Ford’s plan to reallocate all funding for the four LRT lines to the construction of a subway extension in Scarborough were to be approved, this would cancel all additional transit projects.

• Not only are subways more expensive, but they'd require years of more studies, which would delay the construction of new transit in Toronto for at least 5-10 years.


Won’t construction of these new lines have a negative impact on businesses & residents?

• All infrastructure work can be disruptive.

• Because LRT construction is faster, and requires fewer complex stations and less tunnelling, it is less disruptive than subway construction.

• The TTC and the City have learned lessons from past projects, including the St. Clair R.O.W., to improve communication and construction coordination and minimize delays.

• While the process may be disruptive during construction, residents and businesses end up with reduced congestion and improved infrastructure, a great benefit over the medium and long term.


Details on the Current Approved and Funded Projects


What is the Proposed Plan on Eglinton?

• The planned Eglinton LRT would run from Kennedy Station in the east and eventually terminate at Pearson International Airport.

• The LRT would connect with GO service, the Scarborough RT, and Bloor-Danforth subway in the east, the Yonge subway at Eglinton Station, and the University-Spadina subway at Eglinton West station. It would also interchange with future proposed routes such as the Don Mills and Jane LRTs.

• The Eglinton LRT would be underground throughout the busiest, centre stretch of the city from approximately Laird Drive to Keele Street, (about 20km) with the rest of the line running in separated right-of-way.

• The LRT would include 26 stops along the route.

• The Phase 1 of the project (Jane to Kennedy) was slated to start in 2011 with the tunnel launch at Black Creek, followed by tunnel boring in 2012 and construction of all stations in 2013. This will be completed by 2020. However, substantial portions of the line would begin opening as soon as 2016.

• Phase 2 (Jane to Pearson Airport) would commence following the completion of phase 1, pending confirmation of funding from the provincial government.


What is the proposed plan for the Sheppard East LRT

• Sheppard East LRT has already begun heavy construction, and is scheduled to open in 2014.

• The Sheppard LRT is planned to run 14km with 30 stops, beginning at the terminus of the Sheppard subway (at Don Mills, and continuing to Meadowvale)

• The Sheppard East LRT would run at surface, in dedicated lanes throughout its length

• Projected ridership on this line is 3,100 passengers per hour at peak (compared with 30,000 on the Yonge Subway, and the “floor” of 15-20,000 considered necessary to make a subway viable.


What is the proposed plan for the Finch West LRT?

• The Finch West LRT is proposed to be 11km in length, with 20 stops and is planned to run from Humber College in the west to the future Finch West station the University-Spadina subway line.

• An additional 6km extension would eventually take the line to Yonge Street.

• The line would connect with the proposed future Jane LRT, the University-Spadina subway line at the future Finch West station, and eventually with Finch Station on the Yonge subway line.


What is planned for the Scarborough RT?

• With the Scarborough RT nearing the end of its life, the Transit City plan proposed to convert the line to LRT, and extend it north to Sheppard Avenue, to interface with the Sheppard East LRT.

• The total length of the new line would be 11.4 km, with 9 stations (compared with 6 stations on the existing Scarborough RT.)

• While originally planned to be completed prior to the PanAm games in 2016, current plans call for construction to start after the games and for the line to open in 2020.



Facts on LRT from Pembina report: "Making Tracks to Torontonians" (p15)


Is not the same as a streetcar. Light rail transit often gets compared to Toronto’s existing streetcar network. Apart from the fact that the some of the proposed LRT lines will run along existing streets, the comparison should largely end there — in reality LRT is much more similar to subway trains than streetcars.

Does not block traffic. As with subways, LRT operates in a dedicated right of way isolated from traffic. This means LRT has minimal impact on traffic and vice versa. Additionally, LRT stops/stations are traditionally spaced further apart than streetcar stops (but closer than subways),approximately every 500 metres vs. every 250 metres. These factors combined with signal priority make LRT more predictable, akin to subways instead of streetcars.

Is faster than streetcars. As a result of the above factors, LRTs travel much faster than streetcars, approaching the speed of subways. In optimal condtions, LRT trains travel at 25 to 30 km/hr, subways at 30 to 40 km/hr while streetcars travel at 10 to 20 km/hr. These speeds are unlikely to be reached in typical operating conditions but provide a relative comparison between options available.

Can carry more people than streetcars. Unlike streetcars, LRT cars/ trains can be linked together to provide higher levels of service as needed. LRT has a capacity of up to 25,000 passengers per hour perdirection versus 10,000 for streetcar and 40,000 for subways. Actual operating capacities are dependent on speeds, frequency and train length/capacity.

Is the mode of choice in other cities. Given the economics and efficiency of LRT, Toronto would not be alone in adopting this system. LRT is already used in major cities around the world, including San Francisco, Amsterdam, Paris and Madrid.

Is designed for commuting. The new LRT lines will be different than existing dedicated streetcar right of ways in Toronto, such as the one along St. Clair Avenue. The new LRT lines will feature further distances between stops, and be better suited for commuting purposes.

Is good for neighbourhoods. Despite being better for commuting than streetcars, LRTs are still able to better serve communities and local businesses than subways since they mostly are above-ground and have less distance between stops than subways (but more than streetcars).

Are reliable and can provide frequent service. Additionally, since each LRT train has a lower capacity than a subway train, LRTs can run more frequently than subways while serving the same peak load.