Relief Line (2016)
Cancelled in 2019
Evolved into ontario line
The Relief Line was not a new concept. Rapid transit through the downtown core had seen multiple iterations throughout history, stemming back to the first serious efforts to build rapid transit in Toronto. The proposed line would run from Osgoode Station, along Queen Street, before bending southwards to serve the proposed Unilever/East Harbour development in the east side of the city’s downtown. Then, it would curve north on Carlaw Avenue before shifting onto Pape Street, finally connecting with the Bloor-Danforth subway at Pape Station.
The Relief Line project was a proposed 7.5-kilometre subway line running from Osgoode Station in the south-west to Pape Station in the north-east, connecting the busy Yonge-University line with the Bloor-Danforth line.1 The necessity for another subway line leading into the central downtown area had been a crucial part of Toronto transit plans for over half a century, with the first concrete plans for east-west downtown rapid transit proposed by the TTC in 1946 as part of a subway plan referendum held during the 1946 Toronto municipal elections.2 The approved proposal envisioned an underground streetcar line along Queen Street with tracks connecting to surface streetcar routes at Trinity Park in the west and Pape Street in the east.3 Planned to be completed after the Yonge subway approved in the same referendum, planners shifted their focus on an east-west route on Bloor Street instead.4
Then, in 1985, the Downtown Rapid Transit Study as part of Network 2011 studied a subway from Pape Station in the north-east to approximately the intersection of Front Street and Spadina Avenue utilising the rail-corridors and Front Street as the alignment.5 The planned project, poised to provide relief to the already overburdened Yonge subway line, was eventually cancelled as other projects took priority.6 The approved 2016 Relief Line proposal shared many similarities with the one presented in Network 2011, but ran along Queen Street through the downtown, with eight station stops, three of those interchange stations.7
Approved Alignment
The approved Relief Line alignment would be 7.5 kilometres long and run from Pape Station in the north-east to Osgoode Station in the south-west, with eight stations in total.
The revival of planning for a downtown subway began with the 2008 publication of Metrolinx’s regional transportation plan, the Big Move, which foresaw the need for a “U” shaped subway running from an undetermined station along the Danforth section of the Bloor-Danforth line, south-west through downtown with connections with the Yonge and University subways, and north-west towards an undetermined station along the western section of the Bloor-Danforth line.8
Planned to be implemented within 25 years, plans for the line were accelerated as support from municipal and transit officials grew, and as capacity issues along the existing Yonge subway which the proposed line would help relieve worsened.9 Updates to the regional transportation plan were undertaken in 2013 which reprioritized the core section of the project running from a station along the University subway to a station along the Bloor-Danforth line to be completed within 15 years.10
The proposed subway, dubbed the Downtown Relief Line because of its projected effect on providing relief to capacity strains on existing subway infrastructure, underwent studies for potential alignments starting in 2012 with the TTC’s Downtown Rapid Transit Expansion Study, with further refinement in 2014 with the start of the Relief Line Project Assessment undertaken by the City of Toronto and the TTC.11
A breakthrough in the planning of the Relief Line came in March 2016, with the identification and approval of a preferred corridor by Toronto city council.12 The corridor, running from Pape Station to downtown Toronto using Pape Avenue and Queen or Richmond Streets was chosen because of its positive effects on several aspects considered: serving a wide range of destinations, connectivity with other transit initiatives, promotion of social equity, and lowest potential cost.13
An alignment within the corridor was eventually selected and approved by council in May 2017, with a line running from Pape Station to Osgoode Station via Pape Avenue, Carlaw Avenue, Eastern Avenue, and Queen Street and stations at Osgoode Station, Queen Station, Sherbourne Street, Sumach Street, Broadview Avenue, Carlaw Avenue, Gerrard Street, and Pape Station.14 Besides interchanges with the Yonge-University and Bloor-Danforth lines at the existing Osgoode, Queen, and Pape Stations, stations with connections to future SmartTrack and GO Regional Express Rail services were planned at stations at Broadview Avenue and Gerrard Street.15
Moss park and regent Park
A Relief Line corridor on Queen Street was recommended over one on King Street, one which would intersect with the heart of the Financial District and was forecasted to have higher ridership. Among the reasons – valuable city-building opportunities at improving social equity for historically disadvantaged neighbourhoods including Moss Park and Regent Park.16
“Moss Park and Regent Park” by Sean Marshall is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0
In addition to the downtown portion of the Relief Line project, a northern extension from Pape Station began planning in 2017 with a partnership between Metrolinx and the TTC towards developing an initial business case for the project, dubbed the Relief Line North.17 Corridors studied in the initial phases of planning included options on Bayview Avenue, Leslie Street, Don Mills Road, and Victoria Park Avenue, with proposed connections to the upcoming Eglinton LRT, the Sheppard subway, the proposed Sheppard East LRT, and the Yonge subway depending on the corridor chosen.18
Concerns over the Relief Line were primarily related to its high costs, and where the project would fit within a crowded pool of other Toronto transit projects contending for funding.19 City residents in the borough of Scarborough were especially critical to the Relief Line, with a plurality of residents supporting the one-stop extension of the Bloor-Danforth line to Scarborough City Centre as the top transit priority for the city in 2016.20 The high cost of the project, estimated at $6.8 billion in May of 2017, was not fully funded by the time the project was cancelled in April of 2019, while the controversial $3.2 billion one-stop Scarborough subway extension was, or was nearing it.21
Although both provincial and federal administrations had thrown their support towards the Relief Line project as far as providing piecemeal bits of funding towards its planning and design work, the project was left unfunded until it was replaced with the Ontario Line project in April of 2019.22 The relative helplessness for the City of Toronto to fund transit priorities without significant provincial and federal funding was exacerbated by the revenue tools available to the city – excluding unpopular suggestions to increase property taxes.23 An attempt by the City of Toronto to toll its municipal expressways including the Gardiner Expressway and Don Valley Parkway – with revenues going towards maintaining tolled routes and funding transit, was quashed by the provincial government, which recognized the political unpopularity of such tolls in seat-rich suburban communities outside Toronto.24
Ultimately, the Relief Line was necessary to any further transit expansion in Toronto and the surrounding region, with the project’s effect on relieving the capacity strains on existing downtown subway infrastructure a prerequisite for projects such as extending the Yonge subway northwards to Richmond Hill.25 After the election of a new Progressive Conservative provincial government, existing transit proposals in Toronto were studied, resulting in key changes proposed to the Relief Line.26
Yonge Line Crowding
The Relief Line was planned to divert ridership away from the over-capacity Yonge subway, which on an average weekday rush-hour carries 28,000 to 30,000 people per hour in the peak direction, higher than the current scheduled capacity of 28,000 people per hour. The proposal that replaced it, the Ontario Line, is expected to divert even more ridership from the Yonge subway because of its northern extension from Pape Station to the future Science Centre Station on Eglinton Avenue.27
"Bloor Subway Station 2" by Raysonho. Public Domain
The new line, designated the Ontario Line, would roughly follow the same corridor as the Relief Line but with extensions to the north-east towards the Eglinton LRT’s Science Centre Station and south-west towards Exhibition GO Station.28 A different alignment would be utilised, with the Ontario Line running from Exhibition GO Station and following the rail corridor eastwards before turning northwards on Bathurst Street, then westwards onto Queen Street.29 From there, the line would run through the downtown core with interchanges to the existing Yonge-University line before veering south from Queen Street at approximately Parliament Street towards the West Don Lands neighbourhood before curving east to follow the rail corridor to Pape Avenue.30 Then, the subway would follow Pape Avenue to Millwood Road, where it would cross the Don Valley and follow Don Mills Road through the dense neighbourhoods of Thorncliffe Park and Flemingdon Park to the currently under construction Science Centre Station, with a total of 15 stations along the entire line and only follow approximately three kilometres of the Relief Line’s route.31 Additionally, smaller, lighter, and automated trains that could run in smaller headways would be used instead of TTC subway rolling stock, making the proposed line independent of the existing TTC subway system.32
Cost- and time-savings were touted by building above-ground in several areas including a crossing over the Don River, as well as following the Lakeshore East and Stouffville lines rail corridor instead of tunnelling underground.33 The line would cost an estimated $10.9 billion and utilise a private-public partnership procurement model.34
Expected to open in 2027, the Ontario Line was the centrepiece of the new government’s transit plan, and a precondition for the government’s other transit projects including the extension of the Yonge subway to Richmond Hill, a three stop extension of the Bloor-Danforth line through Scarborough, and an extension of the under construction Eglinton LRT to Pearson Airport, all of which would add additional riders to a strained Yonge subway without the Ontario Line.35
Although the Relief Line was effectively cancelled with the April 2018 announcement, the Ontario Line is expected to fulfill many of the same objectives: providing relief to the over-capacity Yonge subway, promoting social equity by bringing rapid transit to underserviced neighbourhoods, and bringing connectivity with a variety of other transit initiatives.
  1. Canada. Ontario. City of Toronto. Transit Expansion Program – Status Update. Toronto: City of Toronto, 2019,
  2. “Ten-to-One Vote Given TTC Project.” The Globe and Mail. January 2, 1946, sec. 1.
  3. “Ten-to-One Vote Given TTC Project.” sec. 1.
  4. “City Can't Have Subway Plans Till Next Year.” The Globe and Mail. May 27, 1955, sec. 5.
  5. Canada. Ontario. Metropolitan Toronto. Metropolitan Toronto Technical Transportation Planning Committee. Network 2011. Toronto: Toronto Transit Commission, 1985.
  6. Jim Byers. “Huge Transit Expansion Announced for Metro.” Toronto Star, April 5, 1990, sec. A1.
  7. Canada. Ontario. City of Toronto. Transit Expansion Program – Status Update; Canada. Ontario. Metropolitan Toronto. Metropolitan Toronto Technical Transportation Planning Committee. Network 2011. Toronto: Toronto Transit Commission, 1985.
  8. Canada. Ontario. Metrolinx. The Big Move. Toronto: Ontario Government, 2008.
  9. Canada. Ontario. Metrolinx. The Big Move.
  10. Canada. Ontario. Metrolinx. The Big Move Baseline Monitoring Report. Toronto: Ontario Government, 2013.
  11. Canada. Ontario. City of Toronto. City Planning Division. Developing Toronto’s Transit Network Plan: Phase 1 – Relief Line Project Assessment. Toronto: City of Toronto, 2016; Canada. Ontario. City of Toronto. Toronto Transit Commission. Downtown Rapid Transit Expansion Study. Toronto: Toronto Transit Commission, 2012.
  12. Canada. Ontario. City of Toronto. Transit Expansion Program – Status Update.
  13. Ibid.
  14. Ibid.
  15. Ibid.
  16. Sean Marshall. Moss Park and Regent Park, 2018, colour digital, Flickr, Toronto, accessed January 19, 2020, Creative Commons License (CC BY-NC 2.0),
  17. Canada. Ontario. City of Toronto. Transit Expansion Program – Status Update.
  18. Canada. Ontario. City of Toronto. Transit Expansion Program – Status Update.
  19. Ben, Spurr. “Relief Line Subway Riders' Priority, Poll Shows: Scarborough the Exception, as 44% of Residents There Want Extension to Their Area.” Toronto Star, February 10, 2018, sec. A18.
  20. Spurr. “Relief Line Subway Riders' Priority.” Toronto Star, sec. A18.
  21. Ben, Spurr. “Toronto Will Get Billions for Transit: $9B Funding Boost over 10 Years after Province Agrees to Match Ottawa's Infrastructure Plan.” Toronto Star, March 15, 2018, sec. A1.
  22. Jeff, Gray. “Ontario Government Commits $150-Million for Planning of Downtown Relief Line.” The Globe and Mail. June 2, 2016, sec. A5.
  23. Jennifer, Pagliaro. “Council Backs Mayor's Road Tolls: Plan Could Begin as Soon as 2019 and Be Fully in Place by 2024.” Toronto Star, December 14, 2016, sec. GT1.
  24. David, Rider, and Pagliaro Jennifer. “Livid Mayor Rips Province's U-Turn on Tolls: 'Shortsighted' Decision Is the Latest Example of Dismissive Treatment by Queen's Park.” Toronto Star, January 28, 2017, sec. A16.
  25. Ben, Spurr. “Minister Understands the Need for Relief: Transportation Head Says Opening Subway Line before Yonge Extension 'Makes Sense'.” Toronto Star, December 2, 2018, sec. A4.
  26. Ben, Spurr. “Province Seeks to Upend Subway Plans: Letters to City Signal Radical Changes to Relief Line, Eglinton LRT as Part of Upload Scheme.” Toronto Star, March 27, 2019, sec. A1.
  27. Ben, Spurr. “No Relief in Sight: Despite Overcrowding on the TTC, a Long-Planned Downtown Relief Line to Ease Pressure on the Yonge Subway Is Still Years Away from Being Built.” Toronto Star, February 4, 2018, sec. A1; Canada. Ontario. Infrastructure Ontario and Metrolinx. Ontario Line Initial Business Case; Rayson Ho. Bloor Subway Station 2, 2010, colour digital, Wikimedia Commons, Toronto, accessed January 19, 2020, Public Domain.
  28. Canada. Ontario. Infrastructure Ontario and Metrolinx. Ontario Line Initial Business Case. Toronto: Ontario Government, 2019,
  29. Canada. Ontario. Infrastructure Ontario and Metrolinx. Ontario Line Initial Business Case.
  30. Ibid.
  31. Ibid.
  32. Ibid.
  33. Ben, Spurr. “Over the Don and under Fort York: Building the 15-Kilometre Ontario Line Could Get Tricky, Engineering Experts Say.” Toronto Star, April 16, 2019, sec. GT1.
  34. Ben, Spurr. “Ontario Line Plan Shows New Downtown Route: Path Diverges Further from Relief Line Plans, Casting Doubt on Province's Completion Date.” Toronto Star, July 23, 2019, sec. A1.
  35. Ben, Spurr. “Ford Vows to Guarantee Funding for Ambitious Subway, LRT Expansion: Redrawing the Map.” Toronto Star, April 11, 2019, sec. A1.