Relief Line (Toronto)

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Relief Line
Type Rapid transit
System Toronto rapid transit
Status Planned
Locale Toronto, Ontario
Termini TBD
Operator(s) Toronto Transit Commission
Route map
Potential extension north
Pape BSicon SUBWAY.svg TTC - Line 2 - Bloor-Danforth line.svg
Gerrard GO Transit logo.svg Lakeshore East line GO logo.png Stouffville line GO logo.png
Lakeshore East line
Don Valley Parkway
Don River
Richmond Hill line
City Hall BSicon SUBWAY.svg TTC - Line 1 - Yonge-University-Spadina line.svg
Potential extension west

The Relief Line (formerly the Downtown Relief Line) is a proposed subway line in Toronto, Canada, intended to provide capacity relief to the Yonge Line and Bloor–Yonge station and extend subway service coverage. Several routes are being considered. Several plans for an east–west downtown subway date back to the early 20th century, most of which ran along Queen Street.[1] Recent studies propose a line that would run south from Line 2 Bloor–Danforth, before bending westward along Queen Street into Downtown Toronto.[2][3] Potential extensions could be made northward from its Line 2 connection in the east, as well as westward and northward from downtown to form a U-shape.[3]

The cost of the Relief Line is estimated at C$6.2 billion[4] to 8.3 billion[5] depending on alignment and phasing. The DRL is included in the regional transportation plan The Big Move, and is one of Metrolinx's top 15 transit priorities.[6][7]


Bloor–Yonge Station during a service disruption on the Yonge line.

The purpose of the Relief Line is to help reduce current and projected congestion in downtown Toronto.[8] In 2012, it was becoming apparent to the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) and Metrolinx that even with proposed improvements, the Yonge line was facing significant capacity constraints.[9] As of 2015, the Yonge line operates 11% over its capacity south of Line 2 during the morning rush hour. The new Toronto Rocket trains operating on the line, and the future implementation of Automatic Train Control will help increase the capacity of the Yonge line. Other factors are expected to reduce demand such as the extension of the University-Spadina portion of Line 1 into Vaughan, and other local transit improvements. But after factoring in population and employment growth and extending the Yonge line into Richmond Hill, the Yonge line is projected to be at 96% of its capacity by 2031.[10]

Population and employment in Toronto's downtown core is projected to increase by 83% and 28%, respectively, by 2031. Significant growth is also planned adjacent to the downtown core and throughout the Greater Toronto Area. This is expected to increase future transit demand into the downtown core is expected to increase by 55%.[8] On top of the projected congestion on the Yonge line and at Bloor-Yonge Station (the main interchange with Line 2 Bloor–Danforth), this is expected to put pressure on the 504 King and 501 Queen streetcars (two of the TTC's busiest surface transit routes).[8][11] Metrolinx also projects overcrowding of Union Station from current and future improvements to GO Transit services.[12]

Route and stations[edit]

While the Relief Line is still under study, Toronto city staff are proposing that it runs south from Pape station on Line 2 Bloor–Danforth, before bending westward along Queen Street to Toronto City Hall. Intermediate stations would be located on Queen Street around Sherbourne Street, Sumach Street and Broadview Avenue, as well as near Gerrard Street at Pape Avenue. This provide subway access to the Regent Park and Moss Park neighbourhoods, and a connection to GO Transit's Stouffville line.[2]


1910–1944: The underground streetcar[edit]

Early precursors to the Downtown Relief Line in 1910 and 1944.[1]

As opposed to underground trains used in many modern metro systems, early 20th century rapid transit proposals such as the DRL were for underground streetcars.[13]

On August 25, 1910, the first serious proposal for the Relief Line was made by Jacobs & Davies, a New York City‐based firm of consulting engineers, with The Report on Transit to the Mayor and Council of the City of Toronto.[14] An underground streetcar formed a rough U-shape from today's Broadview station, along the waterfront to Spadina Avenue, and then following Spadina, College Street, Dovercourt, Bloor Street and Dundas Street to the West Toronto Diamond.[1]

Plans from 1911 and 1944 also called for the Queen streetcar to be underground. When the Yonge line was built in 1954, Queen station was built with a spot for the proposed underground streetcar platform.[1]

1980s: A new subway line[edit]

In the 1980s, the TTC, Metropolitan Toronto and the Government of Ontario did multiple analyses of forecasted urban growth and alternative transportation scenarios for the downtown to Bloor area. In 1982, the Accelerated Rapid Transit Study considered multiple options for a “radial line”, connecting Dundas West and Donlands stations with a “U”-shape through downtown. This planning continued into 1985, with downtown alignments interchangingly following King Street, Queen Street, Front Street and the railways to and from Union Station.[15]

The TTC released the Network 2011 plan in 1985, and a Relief Line was one of the three routes proposed.[16] As part of the 2011 Network plan, the Relief Line was proposed to run between Pape station on the Bloor–Danforth line, south to Eastern Avenue, and then west to Union Station, the Rogers Centre (then known as the SkyDome) and Spadina Avenue.[17]

Three possible alignments were considered for the westward extension. The least expensive would follow the railway right-of-way past the Exhibition and up to the Galt-Weston railway corridor, taking it to Dundas West station. Another alternative would go west of Strachan along the Oakville Subdivision rail lines to Roncesvalles, where it would turn north to connect to the Bloor line at Dundas West. The third alignment considered ran along an elevated guideway on Parkside Drive at the edge of High Park to Keele Station.[17]

The Relief Line disappeared from transit plans soon after the province delayed approving Metropolitan Toronto's Network 2011 plan. The provincial government was alarmed over the construction cost and withdrew political support for the new line.[citation needed]

2008—present: Planning revival[edit]

The Big Move[edit]

In 2008, Metrolinx published The Big Move, the regional transportation plan for the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area. The plan called for a Relief Line extending in a U-shape from Pape, through Queen and Osgoode stations to Dundas West within 25 years. Metrolinx Chair Rob MacIsaac stated in 2008 that the line is unlikely to be brought forward from its projected 2020 start date but deemed it of "regional significance".[18][19] In 2009, Toronto council expressed support for this plan.[19] By late 2011, there was renewed interest in the proposal among mainstream media and the general populace.[20]

In March 2012, TTC CEO Andy Byford stated there is great need for additional subway capacity with the increasing population of Toronto, and capacity issues along the Yonge-University-Spadina subway line: "The downtown relief line has got to be looked at and has got to be talked about right now." Metrolinx officials stated that capacity issues may allow the DRL to be given higher priority in the regional transportation plan, The Big Move.[21] Metrolinx CEO Bruce McCuaig stressed that the Downtown Relief Line should be prioritized and completed in 15 years, as part of Metrolinx's "next wave" of projects in The Big Move transit expansion plan.[22] In February 2013, The Metrolinx Board approved changes to The Big Move that re-prioritized the eastern segment of the Relief Line to the 15-year plan, and made it one of the 15 top priority projects in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area.[23]


The Downtown Rapid Transit Expansion Study (DTRES) was completed by the TTC in 2012 to address existing capacity constraints on the existing Yonge subway and GO Transit lines. The study projected that significant capacity issues would remain by 2031, even with planned improvements on both networks. The report identified four alternative Downtown Relief Line configurations that involved a line between Pape and St. Andrew, with varying extensions north to Don Mills at Eglinton, and west to Dundas West station.[24] The TTC's 2015 DRL study identified four potential corridors, which involve combinations of originating on Line 2 at Broadview or Pape, and going through downtown via King or Queen Streets.[3]

Metrolinx has also been studying the Relief Line in parallel with the TTC. In 2012, it completed the Relief Line Preliminary Benefits Case Analysis, a study of alternatives to relieve congestion on the Yonge line and on the Lakeshore and Barrie GO lines.[25] Two main options were carried forward, one of which involved a line that would operate to GO Transit's Bathurst North yard. The other option considered a tunnel for Lakeshore East and West trains to a second Union Station.[26]

Metrolinx, the City of Toronto, York Region and the TTC also partnered on the Yonge Relief Network Study (YRNS) in 2015. This was a more detailed benefits case analysis that examined three different options for providing relief on the Yonge line:[27]

  • Option 1: RER Plus Network, providing enhanced service on GO Transit's Richmond Hill and Stouffville lines.
  • Option 2: Relief Line, a fully grade separated subway line
    • Option 2A: Relief Line Short, between Danforth and Downtown
    • Option 2B: Relief Line Long, between Sheppard and Downtown
    • Option 2C: Relief Line U, between Danforth and Bloor, via Downtown
  • Option 3: Surface LRT, between Sheppard and Downtown

The YRNS found that Option 2B (Relief Line Long) would provide the most effective relief on the Yonge line. This is despite the proposed rapid transit improvements in The Big Move, which had called for the DRL to terminate at Danforth Avenue, and for the connecting Don Mills LRT to continue north to Sheppard and Highway 7.[27][6]


Although the name Downtown Relief Line was used in planning discussions since at least 1985, there was debate about use of the name. While it will be geographically located to serve downtown, local transit observers have pointed out the line will have benefits for transit riders located in the outer suburbs of Toronto. Given political sensitivity over transit planning in Scarborough during the tenure of former mayor Rob Ford, using the word “downtown” in a future subway line’s name was perceived to be negative.[28] In early 2013, TTC Chair Karen Stintz said, "There is a general view that that line needs to get renamed".[29]

Planning being undertaken by the City of Toronto referred to the proposed line simply as the "Relief Line".[30]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d Royson James (2015-02-27). "Toronto Downtown Relief Line: 105 years of wishing and waiting". Toronto Star. Archived from the original on 2015-02-28. The concept of a rapid transit line looping down from Bloor through downtown has been around a lot longer than the politicians debating it. 
  2. ^ a b Queen Street route proposed for new Toronto subway
  3. ^ a b c "Potential Corridors". City of Toronto. Retrieved 2015-07-20. 
  4. ^ Tess Kalinowski (2012-10-18). "TTC makes the case for downtown relief line". Toronto Star. Retrieved 2012-10-20. 
  5. ^ Natalie Alcoba (2012-10-18). "Downtown Toronto needs a relief line to ease transit traffic: Study". National Post. Retrieved 2013-10-21. 
  6. ^ a b "The Big Move" (PDF). Metrolinx. 2008. Retrieved 22 April 2015. 
  7. ^ "Approved Changes to The Big Move" (PDF). Metrolinx. 14 February 2013. Retrieved 8 December 2015. 
  8. ^ a b c "TTC Report: Downtown Rapid Transit Expansion Study – Phase 1 Strategic Plan" (PDF). 2012-10-24. Retrieved 2015-12-08. 
  9. ^ Tess Kalinowski (2013-09-06). "Metrolinx studies relief line to ease TTC crowding". Toronto Star. Retrieved 2013-09-10. 
  10. ^ "Yonge Relief Network Study - Report for June 25th Metrolinx Board Meeting" (PDF). 2015-07-25. Retrieved 2015-07-23. 
  11. ^
  12. ^ "Union Station 2031 and Related Planning Studies" (PDF). Retrieved 2012-11-13. 
  13. ^ Levy, Ch. 2.0
  14. ^ Levy, Ch. 1.3
  15. ^ Levy, Ch. 12.1
  16. ^ "Network 2011 -- To think of what could have been". Transit Toronto. 2006-11-10. Retrieved 2008-09-16. 
  17. ^ a b Jonathan English (2006-11-10). "The Downtown Relief Line Proposal". Transit Toronto. Retrieved 2008-09-16. 
  18. ^ Barry Hertz (2008-09-04). "New subway line still a way's off, Metrolinx head says". National Post. Retrieved 2008-09-16. 
  19. ^ a b Donovan Vincent (2009-01-29). "City favours relief line over subway". Toronto Star. Retrieved 2009-01-29. 
  20. ^ Tess Kalinowski (2011-11-24). "Metrolinx confirms downtown relief line is still on the map". Toronto Star. Retrieved 2012-04-09. 
  21. ^ Natalie Alcoba (2012-03-23). "TTC chief: Subway expansion for downtown relief line has to be discussed ‘right now’". National Post. Retrieved 2012-03-26. 
  22. ^ Megan O'Toole and Natalie Alcoba (2012-11-30). "Downtown and North York Relief lines need to be bumped up, completed in 15 years: Metrolinx". National Post. Retrieved 2013-10-21. 
  23. ^ "Approved Changes to The Big Move" (PDF). Metrolinx. 14 February 2013. Retrieved 8 December 2015. 
  24. ^ "Downtown Rapid Transit Expansion Study" (PDF). Toronto Transit Commission. September 2012. Retrieved 2012-11-13. 
  25. ^ "Relief Line Preliminary Benefits Case Analysis" (PDF). Metrolinx. November 2012. Retrieved 2013-10-27. 
  26. ^ "Union Station 2031 Demand and Opportunities Study". Metrolinx. Retrieved 2013-10-27. 
  27. ^ a b "Yonge Relief Network Study (YRNS) - Report for June 25th Metrolinx Board Meeting" (PDF). Metrolinx. Retrieved 2015-07-28. 
  28. ^ Should it be called the “downtown relief” subway line?
  29. ^ Ben Spurr (2013-03-05). "Let’s rename the Downtown Relief Line". Now Magazine. Retrieved 2013-03-25. In an interview Friday, Stintz said she expects that by the time an environmental assessment of the project is concluded in 12 to 14 months, commission staff will come forward with a new name. By that time there could be a tentative alignment for the route, so we’ll know what streets it will run under, which is typically the main consideration in naming TTC lines. 
  30. ^ Relief Line Official Site

External links[edit]