The plan to increase trains 10 times through eastern Toronto will harm residents’ health, the report says

After living for 19 years within a few feet of the Lakeshore East train tracks, Amanda Bankier is used to hearing the rumble and clatter of passenger and freight cars passing by about every seven minutes.

The noise is loud enough to stop conversations in the middle of the sentence with friends in the garden of her cheap residential building on Queen Street East, but only a moment before she continues. But does a train pass by every 45 seconds? The thought makes her shudder.

“It would definitely stop me from living,” said Bankier, 70, who was sitting outside her Riverside home and her walker was sitting nearby.

That’s what the Greater Toronto – Hamilton Area Provincial Transit Office, Metrolinx, is planning. It adds more frequent GO train connections and aims to run the Ontario Line subway along 1.5 kilometers of the above-ground tracks in Bankier’s eastern quarter.

A large portion of the Ontario Line, a 15.6-kilometer, 15-stop subway line from Exhibition Place to the Ontario Science Center, will be built underground. But Metrolinx has already decided that burying this part of the route is not an option.

Trains will increase more than 10 times in 2030, from around 150 a day to 1,821 through the primary residential area, according to Metrolinx’s own estimates.

For those who live nearby as Bankers, the frequency of trains seems unmanageable. She manages diabetes and related peripheral neuropathy and expects that noise and vibration will increase her stress, decrease her sleep and worsen her health in general.

“I do not see going through months or years of construction here and then permanently fast transit during rush hour continuously and the rest of the time quite often,” Bankier said. “It seems unlikely I could get through it.”

Noise shield planned

Mark Clancy, senior manager of community engagement for Ontario Line, acknowledged that the trains are “pretty loud,” but that will be mitigated when Metrolinx builds noise barriers along each side of the above-ground section.

“The sound will be similar to what you hear today, or it will be even quieter,” Clancy said. “It will be more consistent, but again, you have the noise barriers to buffer that sound from society.”

The noise will be further reduced when Metrolinx converts to electric trains on these lines, but it will not have a timeline available until the end of next year, a spokesman said.

A recent study looked at the expected effects of the Ontario line on the health of nearby residents running above ground versus below. Two organizations commissioned the report, South Riverdale Community Health Center and Save Jimmie Simpson – a civic group fighting to build the line above ground in the Riverside neighborhood

The study determined that part of the transit route above ground would cause far more disruption during construction and operation of surrounding homes, schools and businesses. It will also cause significantly more noise and felled trees.

Underground section excluded

Noise and vibration can cause sleep disorders and nuisances that are harmful to both health and well-being, wrote the report’s author Ronald Macfarlane, who has worked in the environmental field for more than 40 years and made similar assessments at Toronto Public Health.

“Overall, it clearly seemed to point to the fact that the underground option would likely cause fewer negative health consequences than the underground option,” Macfarlane told CBC News.

“I think Metrolinx should look at the underground possibility more seriously than it is.”

Clancy told CBC News that Metrolinx was considering burying that part of the line, but decided it would be too difficult and expensive due to existing underground supply infrastructure, plus it would take longer to dig the tunnel.

“The construction impacts would be much more significant,” he said. “And because we’re already expanding the GO section of the line here, it makes sense for us to take advantage of the space for the Ontario Line.”

Eon Song lives close to the train tracks and advocates for more public input before Metrolinx breaks in. (Greg Bruce / CBC)

The line will be widened from three to six tracks plus a noise barrier, meaning most of the existing tree canopy along the corridor will be removed, Clancy said. Metrolinx is committed to replanting three trees for each tree felled and adding green space when the Ontario LINE is completed.

But Eon Song, who lives with Save Jimmie Simpson, said the transit agency ignores the immediate and long-term consequences for society without adequate public consultation.

He noted that Metrolinx has not completed its environmental assessment before deciding to go with the above-ground line and start work early.

“That’s what’s amazing to us – that they can continue with this kind of major infrastructure projects without due diligence,” Song said. “The route that Metrolinx follows compromises the health and safety of society.”

Metrolinx has accepted public comments on its initial reports and will do the same when its environmental assessment is released next year, a spokesman said.

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