Reader Comments on LRT and Subways (Updated)

Herewith, a backlog of comments: 

David Imrie writes:

Like you, I rode the Bloor-Danforth Subway on its first day of operation, February 26, 1966.  As we lived on Seymour Avenue, on the western edge of the Greenwood yards, many of our neighbours and I had grown up knowing little more than the yard’s and subway route’s construction.  In fact, I rode the first day of its two extensions to Warden/Islington in 1968 and Kennedy/Kipling in 1980.  Although I currently live in Winnipeg, that subway remained a major part of my life.  Do you remember riding over the Bloor Viaduct for the first time?

Steve replies:  It’s long enough ago, I can admit it now.  The first time across the viaduct on the subway level was on foot.  Security at subway construction sites was non-existent, and several friends and I entered at Castle Frank and walked across to Broadview. 

I had two pre-service rides across the Viaduct as well.  One was on an employees’ family tour of Greenwood Shops that set off from St. George lower level before the line opened.  Another was in the middle of the night on a trial run when the TTC ran a full morning rush hour service to test operations at the “Wye”.

Without doubt, those rush hour crush loads on the old streetcar line were legendary.  Generally made worse by an accident up the line.  Bad weather made things worse.  Remember that operators were required to take fares, sell tickets, make change and cut transfers at that time.  Must have been worse on routes such as Harbord or Bathurst where only single cars operated.

Your article made some excellent points about density and rider demand. What must be remembered, however, is the majority of Toronto’s growth took place in the years following World War II.  Before Eglinton Avenue’s connection through the Don Valley ravines in 1956, Danforth and Kingston Rd. were the lone connections between downtown and Scarborough.  When Scarborough’s development reached Eglinton by the mid-50s, that put the crush loads onto what were already very busy streetcar routes.  That was also a major reason why the old Metro government and the TTC settled on the Bloor-Danforth corridor for the east-west subway rather than Queen Street.

Steve:  Just to be clear, I don’t advocate trying to use LRT where the demand clearly can only be served by a subway, and there is no way that we could run a “Bloor LRT”.  The subway was way beyond that level of demand on opening day.  However, the further you get from downtown, the more that any demand model for a new line is influenced by the presence or absence of good commuter rail services to the core.  Without them, the commuting traffic has nowhere to go but planned subway lines.  A combination of good commuter rail for the long-hauls to downtown plus good LRT for the other traffic gives better coverage and service at much lower cost.

Jay writes:

Speaking of an LRT, what do you think of the proposed new LRT route along Cherry St.? It was announced with the beginning of Waterfront development and hopes to contribute to the growth of a new neighbourhood.

Steve:  For the benefit of other readers, the first stage of the east harbourfront proposals involves diverting the King car south from its present route so that it would run via Parliament, Front and Cherry back to King.  This, or some variation on it, would place the 504 more centrally to the growing population in this neighbourhood than it is today (there is only a short block north of King before you bump into the Adelaide Street ramp to the DVP).

I like the idea in theory, and my main concern is that the extension east across the river to Broadview should happen sooner rather than later.  Yes it costs more, but it opens up the east side of the river.  We need to look at this in the context of the evolving plans for the east waterfront and the EA now in progress for the LRT line.

Bob Brent writes:

I feel better now after checking out the LRTA website … I’m not only one who didn’t know difference between streetcards and LRT!!!

An F.A.Q.: What’s the difference between tramways and light rail?

Mike Taplin, the LRTA’s Chairman answers:  First, when we say tramway we mean streetcar … These lines are light rail because they are mostly segregated from other traffic, passengers get on and off at stations rather than in the street, and the cars run faster.  However there is no definite border line between streetcar and light rail – they merge gradually from one to another, and as a streetcar system gets upgraded it becomes light rail.  A lot of this is to do with planning jargon; streetcars are seen to be old fashioned whereas light rail is trendy!

Several comments about subway operations and capacity:

David Youngs writes:

I may be junping the gun and you may address this in future posts.  Does it affect turnaround time if the trains are taken past the terminal station and reversed there?  I’ve been on a few systems where this happens, but I never timed a rush hour.

Is there an equipment limitation on reversing a train?  I remember the G trains sounded as if they were blowing off the brakes when the control was moved from one cab to the other.

Would it speed things up if some trains reversed on a tail, third track at an intermediate station?

50 years ago, London Transport was claiming 90-second headways, but I suspect a lot of this came from having multiple routes to several termini.

Leo Gonzalez writes:

I wonder if it would be faster for the cross-over section to be placed after the terminal station, as opposed to before it.  I believe this is how some terminal stations on the Montreal Métro are configured (Line 5, I believe).  So trains pull right into the station, unload passengers, then continue past the station into a short tail track where they cross over.  The trains then come back into the station on the opposite side, where they load passengers and then head straight out, without having to wait for an incoming train to pass through.

Obviously, for existing stations such as Kennedy, it would be prohibitively expensive to reconstruct them, even if this configuration would prove to be faster and more efficient.  However, if the Spadina line is extended to Steeles W (ignoring whether or not we agree with this extension), wouldn’t it make sense for the TTC to build that new terminal station in this manner, with a future possibility of reconfiguring Finch?  Anything the TTC can do to increase capacity on the Yonge line is a good thing, especially with the population growth that is forecast for Toronto.

Darwin O’Connor writes:

One this that would help if they built grade separated cross-overs at terminals, then two trains could be in the cross over at the same time.

Harold R. McMann writes:

I think the TTC missed out on “terminal stations” when they started building subways and on each subway and extension thereafter.  I’m sure cost was a factor, but like the “wye”–once it’s there, it’s there for the use of.

I believe that the crossovers and stub tracks should have been built past the terminal stations.  Incoming trains would go directly to the incoming platform, unload passengers, then proceed to the first or second stub track.  Passengers would always load from the outgoing platform. 

I think this would have given the TTC the opportunity to get the trains in and out of the terminals faster, and it would certainly make passengers happier instead of waiting in the tunnel for a train to clear the crossover and terminal.  (It has been a long time since I rode the Montreal system, but if my memory is correct they had their crossovers past the terminal stations).

Steve:  There’s a common thread running through these replies regarding far-side turnarounds at terminals versus near-side as is done in Toronto.  This arrangement definitely has the advantage of separating boarding and alighting passenger flows and of providing some degree of buffer so that passengers don’t languish on the approach tracks to a station.  However …

With respect to Montreal, if memory serves, the crossover tracks are quite short.  If a “terminal” station is set up with side platforms (one inbound, one outbound), then the crossover can be physically smaller because the tracks are close together.  Also, since the crossover move is always made (a) with an empty train and (b) a train starting from a stationary position, the curves on the crossover can be tigher than those on a “mainline” operation where you want reasonable speed without throwing the passengers around.  All of this contributes to much shorter cycle times for the crossover itself.

Next, we need to have very well run crew management at terminals.  When a train is ready to go, it goes.  This requires regular step-back crewing of at least one if not two headways to ensure that a crew taking over a train will have time for calls of nature, etc, without holding up service.

If the crew is positioned at the ends of the trains, they don’t have to walk from the “guard’s” position to the “operator’s position” as part of the reversing operation in the tail track. 

Also, if equipment is designed so that it does not “blow down” the air pressure requiring a build-up again to change ends, another little chunk of time is saved.  Operators of the G-trains who knew their stuff could time their switchover so that almost no air was lost, but it took an experienced crew to manage this.

Pat Semple writes:

I vaguely recall some discussion of the use of HIGH RATE on the BD as a test several years ago.  I’m guessing this has been dispatched to a dusty back burner somewhere or is a forbidden topic at 1900 Yonge.

Steve:  Ah yes, high rate.  Several times I proposed this at TTC and the staff said that they would report back.  Staff raise various problems that keep this on a very cold back burner:

  • If you run in high rate, you lose the ability to selectively cut out equipment on a low-rate train and still have tolerable performance.  This is claimed as an operational requirement, but had more to do with cars that were pushed into service without working propulsion just to have enough working trains.
  • If you run in high rate, you have to maintain the track better.  Remember the bad old days of riding to Finch Station and wondering if the trains would derail, and then at only low rate?
  • If you run in high rate, you have to change the signal system.  Funny claim that considering that B-D was designed for high rate operation from day one.
  • If you run in high rate, you need fewer trains, and this will damage economic prospects in Thunder Bay.  No kidding.  The last time this was discussed, a move to high rate would have substantially cut car requirements in a contract that was already set to go.

High rate operation would easily save four or more trains on Yonge-University, and at least three on Bloor-Danforth.  Sheppard may be too short to benefit, but the trip time would be reduced slightly allowing more frequent service with the same equipment.  Don’t hold your breath.

Richard Leitch asks:

Could you define the terms “high-rate” and “low-rate” operation?  Are you refering to the quality of the equipment?

Steve:  All TTC subway cars have two modes of operation.  Low rate was designed to be reasonably compatible with the old G-cars (the red ones) when the system ran a mixture of both types of equipment on the same line.  Once the Bloor-Danforth line was split off from Yonge-University in the fall of 1966, the TTC could operate the line entirely with newer cars and did so at the high rate setting.  This gives better acceleration and performance on grades.

Operators are not supposed to have rate switch keys, but as usual fact and fiction don’t always line up.  I have ridden trains in high rate on the Yonge line, and the difference in running time between Eglinton and Finch is to drop from about 12 to about 10 minutes or better.  The performance on the hill out of Hogg’s Hollow is especially impressive.

Why did they stop running in high rate?  The original H-series cars, the H-1s with the two tone blue seats, had a problem that the motors had a sympathetic vibration at about 45 mph, a typical speed for trains running in high rate.  The vibration caused electrical faults and the motors had to be rebuilt.  We waited and waited for the last of the H-1’s to be retired, but when they were, oh dear, we forgot that we could go back to high rate and besides we just ordered a batch of new subway cars.  Thunder Bay will close down if we cancel part of the order.

I’m not kidding — that’s what happened — buying cars we didn’t need was more important than saving money on operations.  The look of panic on TTC management and commisioners’ faces when I raised this issue was amazing — their done deal was in danger of coming unravelled.  Plus ca change.