The TTC 2014-2023 Capital Budget contains a great deal of streetcar infrastructure work over coming years. Broadly, this can be subdivided into three types of project:
- Catching up with inferior maintenance of past decades to bring the system to a “steady state” condition where each year’s work is commensurate to the scale of the network and industry norms for the lifespan of assets .
- Changes to support the new low floor LRVs including Leslie Barns, conversion to pantograph power collection, and updating other infrastructure such as power supply and track switching.
- System expansion.
Although some of this looks ambitious on paper, the plans are threatened by capital availability at a level well below what is needed. The TTC has other demands on a shrinking capital pool, notably on the subway system. Combined with the City of Toronto’s self-imposed limits on debt levels and taxes and the expiry of various provincial and federal funding programs, there is insufficient capital to maintain the system. The streetcar network takes a hit from this, but the details are not yet known.
I will explore the shortfall in capital funding in the next article of this series. Meanwhile, the plans discussed here should be read in the context that the City Budget, as now written, seeks a reduction in various line items of the TTC’s Capital Budget. How this will fare at Council remains to be seen. The two biggest problems are the lack of details of where cuts will fall and their effect, and the abdication of responsibility for advocacy by TTC Board members and senior management. “We will muddle through somehow” is not an inspiring call to battle.
The five-year plan for track construction has been updated slightly from last year mainly by shuffling a few items to suit related plans for City construction projects. What is quite notable is that there are few large-scale tangent (straight) track replacements because most of the system has now been rebuilt to modern standards. Special work (intersections, loops, yards) remains a busy part of the plan. The move to full rebuilds down to the slab and the use of pre-welded track panels started over a decade after the new standard for tangent track, and the TTC will take many years to catch up with the backlog.
When track built to the new standard comes up for renewal, only the surface layer of concrete – the topmost of three – needs to be removed so that new rails can be installed on the pre-existing steel ties and foundation.
Overall, the condition of surface track is now rated 81% good, 17% fair and only 2% poor.
2014 sees a number of projects carried over from 2013 mainly due to timing issues with related construction.
- Queens Quay trackwork will be completed in the spring with a target date for streetcar service of June 21.
- The north end of the Cherry Street spur off of King will be built in 2014, but service will not begin until mid 2016. The loop at Mill Street is only partly complete because this area will be used for Pan Am Games bus storage. With uncertainty about the Waterfront East LRT, there are no firm plans yet for connecting the Cherry spur south to a new line on Queens Quay and into the Port Lands.
- The intersection of Queen & Broadview has needed reconstruction for a few years, and it is now on the 2014 list.
- Richmond Street tangent trackage will be rebuilt following the watermain replacement contract that was just awarded by the City.
Work related to new and upgraded carhouse track includes:
- Access to Leslie Barns from Queen Street.
- Reconstruction and reconfiguration of the south ladder at Russell Carhouse on Eastern Avenue. The ladder track will be separated from the roadway, and a new sidewalk south of the tracks will be added. The tracks will be raised from the present level to reduce the curving grade on the carhouse entrance tracks.
- Work at both Russell and Roncesvalles Carhouses will be the major part of the 2015 program while there is a moratorium on street construction for the Games.
A perennial question by readers here is the status of Adelaide Street. This is now the subject of two studies: the Downtown Traffic Operations Study and Richmond-Adelaide Cycle Track Study. Adelaide is also the site of several construction sites for office and condo towers, and reconstruction of the roadway is unlikely while these occupy so many locations.
As previously reported here, the TTC allowed for future curves at York and Adelaide, but nothing will happen until the final status of the street overall is known. The 2016 plan includes reconstruction of the special work at both ends of Charlotte Street, the eastern side of the loop used by 510 Spadina cars at King.
(The overhead reconstruction plans include Adelaide from Charlotte to Church in 2015, but this is likely to change in light of whatever is decided about the future of track on this street.)
Another project in the 2016 list is the reconstruction of The Queensway including extension of the right-of-way east to Roncesvalles and the reconfiguration of various intersections. This project requires an Environmental Assessment that has not even been funded, much less started.
Overhead & Traction Power Distribution
The streetcar power system, like the track, has suffered from less than ideal maintenance over many decades with components that are quite old, notably some intersections dating from the 1920s and 1930s, and some spans for tangent wire that are 40 years old. The new streetcar contract triggered long-overdue reconstruction and this will be substantially complete in 2018 in line with the new fleet’s rollout. Once the older fleet is retired, the new overhead will be optimised for pantograph operation by removing frogs at intersections and slewing tangent wire for more even wear on the contact surfaces.
There are 125 intersections, loops and other types of special work such as curves, 180 km of tangent wire and 3 yards (plus Hillcrest) in the system. The goal is a steady state renewal of 3% of intersections and 10% of tangent wire every year.
The distribution system includes substations with transformers and breakers as well as transmission cables and poles. Most of this has a 40 year lifespan, but some control electronics last only 12 years. The transformer replacement program is planned at 4/year.
A long-running project to replace all traction poles at a rate of 300/year will complete in 2016. Replacement of the feeder system will be substantially complete in 2018.
Overall, the TTC would prefer a continuous renewal program of 3% of these assets every year.
Track Switch Controllers
When the TTC acquired a fleet with a mix of car lengths (50-foot CLRVs plus 75-foot ALRVs), they replaced the control system for the electric track switches. The original version used contactors on the overhead. This depended on cars having a more-or-less standard distance between the front of the car and the end of the trolley pole which included a special contact to operate the switching system.
The “new” version (now 30 years old) depended on detector loops in the pavement and transmission antennae on the cars. This system has been troublesome ever since its installation thanks to erratic behaviour of the detector loops and unreliable electronics in the wayside control systems. If this were the subway system, the problem would have been considered a safety hazard and would have been remedied decades ago. Instead the TTC simply tinkered trying to make the system work, and imposed strict operating rules at all intersections to minimize the probability of derailments and collisions.
Streetcar/LRT systems operate the world over with reliable automated switching, but somehow this miracle has not arrived in Toronto.
The budget line for a new system has existed for several years, but the low floor streetcar project makes this even more urgent. The spending in the capital budget for this project now runs from 2014 through 2018, but there are no details of the work to be performed.
Notable requirements should be:
- Getting all active electric switches in good operating order.
- Reactivating all previously electric switches that have been taken out of service (usually because of failed subsystems or as a source of parts).
- Expanding the electrification of switches to include all commonly used diversions and short-turns to minimize the need for operators to manually throw and reset switches.
A related project should be the integration of more switches with traffic signals to provide transit priority for turning movements both for scheduled and common unscheduled turns.