Downtown Relief Line

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Downtown 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
Broadview or Pape BSicon SUBWAY.svg TTC - Line 2 - Bloor-Danforth line.svg
Stops to be determined
Queen or King BSicon SUBWAY.svg TTC - Line 1 - Yonge-University-Spadina line.svg
Osgoode or St Andrew BSicon SUBWAY.svg TTC - Line 1 - Yonge-University-Spadina line.svg
Potential extension west

The Downtown Relief Line (DRL), or simply the Relief Line in official literature, 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 into downtown.[2] 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.[2]


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

The main rationale for the DRL is to reduce congestion on the Yonge line, particularly at Bloor-Yonge Station, the main interchange with Line 2 Bloor–Danforth. 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.[3]

With the growth of downtown and the GTA as a whole, the DRL is expected to serve additional roles. The line will serve high-density "shoulder areas" of downtown such as Liberty Village, CityPlace, the Entertainment District, Distillery District, and West Don Lands.[4] These neighbourhoods lack good higher order transit options and are experiencing an influx of high-rise transit-oriented development. Two of TTC's busiest surface transit routes, the 504 King and 501 Queen streetcars, serve these areas. 504 King is the TTC's busiest route averaging 57,300 weekday riders[5] and roughly follows the proposed alignment of the DRL.

Metrolinx has supported a version of the DRL to alleviate the projected overcrowding of Union Station from current and future improvements to GO Transit services.[6] The cost is estimated at C$6.2 billion[7] to 8.3 billion[8] depending on alignment and phasing.


Early 20th century[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.[9]

On August 25, 1910, the first serious proposal for the DRL 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.[10] An underground streetcar formed a rough U-shape from where Broadview station currently exists, 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]


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.[11]

The TTC released the Network 2011 plan in 1985, and a Downtown Relief Line was one of the three routes proposed.[12] As part of the 2011 Network plan, the DRL 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.[13]

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.[13]

The Downtown 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]

21st century[edit]

In 2008, Metrolinx published The Big Move, the regional transportation plan for the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area. The plan called for a DRL 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[14] but deemed it of "regional significance".[15] In 2009, Toronto council expressed support for this plan.[15] By late 2011, there was renewed interest in the proposal among mainstream media and the general populace.[16] 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," he said. Metrolinx officials stated that capacity issues may allow the DRL to be given higher priority in the regional transportation plan, The Big Move.[17]

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.[18] In 2013, the TTC and Metrolinx concluded that even after the signalling system is upgraded and the new trains are put into service, the line will still be overcrowded. They recommend that the Toronto Official Plan to be updated to protect the DRL.[19]

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.[20]

Also in 2012, Metrolinx 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.[21] Two main options were carried forward, one of which involved a DRL 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.[22]

The TTC's latest DRL study has 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.[2] Metrolinx has also completed a more detailed benefits case analysis, and found that a DRL would provide the most effective relief on the Yonge line.[23]


Although the name Downtown Relief Line has been used in planning discussions since at least 1985, there is debate about use of the name. While it will be geographicly 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 is perceived to be negative.[24] In early 2013, TTC Chair Karen Stintz said, "There is a general view that that line needs to get renamed".[25]

Current planning being undertaken by the City of Toronto refers to the proposed DRL simply as the "Relief Line".[26]

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 c "Potential Corridors". City of Toronto. Retrieved 2015-07-20. 
  3. ^ "Yonge Relief Network Study - Report for June 25th Metrolinx Board Meeting" (PDF). 2015-07-25. Retrieved 2015-07-23. 
  4. ^
  5. ^
  6. ^ "Union Station 2031 and Related Planning Studies" (PDF). Retrieved 2012-11-13. 
  7. ^ Tess Kalinowski (2012-10-18). "TTC makes the case for downtown relief line". Toronto Star. Retrieved 2012-10-20. 
  8. ^ Natalie Alcoba (2012-10-18). "Downtown Toronto needs a relief line to ease transit traffic: Study". National Post. Retrieved 2013-10-21. 
  9. ^ Levy, Ch. 2.0
  10. ^ Levy, Ch. 1.3
  11. ^ Levy, Ch. 12.1
  12. ^ "Network 2011 -- To think of what could have been". Transit Toronto. 2006-11-10. Retrieved 2008-09-16. 
  13. ^ a b Jonathan English (2006-11-10). "The Downtown Relief Line Proposal". Transit Toronto. Retrieved 2008-09-16. 
  14. ^ Barry Hertz (2008-09-04). "New subway line still a way's off, Metrolinx head says". National Post. Retrieved 2008-09-16. 
  15. ^ a b Donovan Vincent (2009-01-29). "City favours relief line over subway". Toronto Star. Retrieved 2009-01-29. 
  16. ^ Tess Kalinowski (2011-11-24). "Metrolinx confirms downtown relief line is still on the map". Toronto Star. Retrieved 2012-04-09. 
  17. ^ 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. 
  18. ^ 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. 
  19. ^ Tess Kalinowski (2013-09-06). "Metrolinx studies relief line to ease TTC crowding". Toronto Star. Retrieved 2013-09-10. 
  20. ^ "Downtown Rapid Transit Expansion Study" (PDF). Toronto Transit Commission. September 2012. Retrieved 2012-11-13. 
  21. ^ "Relief Line Preliminary Benefits Case Analysis" (PDF). Metrolinx. November 2012. Retrieved 2013-10-27. 
  22. ^ "Union Station 2031 Demand and Opportunities Study". Metrolinx. Retrieved 2013-10-27. 
  23. ^ "Yonge Relief Network Study (YRNS) - Report for June 25th Metrolinx Board Meeting" (PDF). Metrolinx. Retrieved 2015-07-28. 
  24. ^ Should it be called the “downtown relief” subway line?
  25. ^ 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. 
  26. ^ Relief Line Official Site

External links[edit]