Coupled or Uncoupled? Spring Is In The Air

Yesterday’s TTC meeting definitely strayed into the realm of spring, when a young man’s fancy turns to thoughts of …

Although few of the Transit Commissioners could be called “young men”, we know that spring and the silly-season following the traumas of budget debates are upon us.

The plans for CLRV rebuilding and purchase of new streetcars were on the table with a status update on both projects.  (I will post a detailed piece on that issue tomorrow after I have finished work on the details.)  Among the topics of discussion was the question of couplers for the CLRVs.  This achieved much hilarity, albeit with some loss of decorum and a sense that the old-boy’s club is still too prevelant at TTC, and masked the fact that they really didn’t address the question.  Here are the important bits:

  • The CLRV rebuilding program has $10.3-million for couplers for phase I (the first 100 cars) and $4.8-million for phase II (the remaining 96).  Only half of the cars will get couplers in phase II.  The cost is about $100K per car, and the math is rather straightforward here.
  • If the city proceeds with a new streetcar purchase for delivery between 2010 and 2016, Phase II does not happen.  This is the position the TTC will take forward to Council next month (more about that in my post about streetcar fleet planning overall).
  • It can be argued that if new cars will be here in significant numbers by 2012, that there may not be much use in putting couplers on the CLRVs which would be displaced on heavy routes by the new vehicles only a few years later.
  • There was some hemming and hawing by staff about a possible adjustment in the number of cars that would actually get couplers fitted to them.

The discussion wandered through variations on the theme of coupling without really engaging the question of why we should spend $100,000 per car on equipment that we will never require.  My hope is that this idea will be offered up as a “cost saving” on the CLRV rebuild.  That money could be much better spent on detailed studies of new LRT lines. 

In my deputation on this issue, I pointed out the basic fact that only the Spadina route runs at a headway that would make it a candidate for MU operation with CLRVs.  However, both Union and Spadina loops are too small to hold two trains at the same time on the platform.  This would prevent the current practice of offload and boarding passengers on separate areas, would add to platform congestion, and would slow service possibly undoing any advantage MU might give on the rest of the line.  It’s appalling that such a basic constraint was not even considered by TTC staff.

This problem will not exist for ALRVs or the proposed new streetcars because they are shorter than a two-car CLRV train.

I also pointed out that if the TTC wanted to speed service on Spadina, they should read the riot act to the transporation engineers who refuse to activate the transit priority signals on much of that route.  There is at least as much saving to be gained there as with MU operation, and it’s available today.  TTC staff agreed, but I doubt anything will happen until someone in a senior position like the Mayor starts taking this seriously.  City staff need to hear the message that being a “Transit City” is more than a glossy book and a press kit.

[Acronyms for the unwary:

  • CLRV:  A standard Toronto streetcar about 50 feet long
  • ALRV:  An articulated Toronto streetcar about 75 feet long in two sections joined via a walkthrough gangway.
  • MU:  Multiple unit operation.  Two (or more) streetcars running in a coupled train.  Not possible with existing CLRVs whose couplers were removed a long time ago.]

3 thoughts on “Coupled or Uncoupled? Spring Is In The Air

  1. While coupled CLRV trains don’t fit well at Union Station, it seems that less than 50% of the service goes south of King during the day and some of the service south of King goes only to Queen’s Quay.  So would it be practical to use single CLRVs to Union and CLRV trains to either King or Queen’s Quay?

    Steve:  The whole idea of MU operation is, allegedly, to get more units of service (ie a train) through on a single green phase of a traffic light than with singles.  If we run mixed trains and singles, we don’t get the full benefit, such as it may be.  Also, there would be confusion among passengers as to whether to wait in the “second car” position for service if singles were mixed in.  Anyone going no further than Richmond southbound does not care which branch of service they get.

    I do like the idea of activating left-turn priority on Spadina.

    Steve:  More accurately, it’s transit priority ahead of left turns.  The priority signal already works southbound at Adelaide, but at other locations, streetcars come second to left-turning automobilies.  At Lake Shore, streetcars can wait interminably for a green phase.  At Queen’s Quay, there is a dedicated phase for streetcars.


  2. Oops.  I missed your saying that the Spadina loop is also too short when I made my previous comment.  The Spadina loop platform seemed so much longer.

    Steve:  If you watch normal operations when things are busy, there are typically three cars on the platform.  The first is loading, the second is waiting to load or loading, and the third is offloading.  A fourth car, if any, is sitting partly in the tunnel.  While the Bathurst cars were diverting to this loop, there were two loading stations, one for each route.  A car can unload in a fourth position via the front doors only.  This is not viable for regular operations.

    The problem here is that part of the west end of the platform is fenced off because this gets into the curve leaving the station.  If this were opened up, then four CLRVs would fit on the platform at once, allowing for some slight swingout effect at the loading area.  Passengers would need to get used to this, but of course it’s nothing like the swingout at Union Loop. 

    At Union, by the way, the original estimates ignored the platform space lost to swingout, assumed that the entire capacity of the corridor was available for passenger flow in both directions at the same time and missed the need for queueing space.  I remember arguing with the dolts from TTC engineering who were responsible for this design, and still have the drawings where they tried to prove that the loop could handle 7,000 passengers per hour!


  3. What’s the status of the programme to install couplers on some CLRV’s now?

    You also mentioned that stopping the practice of having separate loading and offloading areas would increase congestion. I fail to see how that would work at Spadina Station loop.

    I certainly can see how congestion would be chaotic at Union Station Loop if this ever happens. But what if we make passengers waiting to board stand further back to give alighting passengers space to walk toward the walkway?

    Steve: The program to retrofit the CLRVs and rehab them for a longer service life was cancelled when the TTC decided to replace the entire fleet.

    I’m not sure that I talked about not having separate areas for boarding and alighting in part because this is done in relatively few locations. However, where it is done, such as at Spadina Station, it is essential to getting decent flow of pedestrians. The contrary situation exists on subway platforms where alighting passengers must push through crowds waiting to board, and there may not be enough room for both sets of people at the same time. For surface stops, the more serious problem is of getting even loading through the length of the vehicles, and this depends on using all doors in the same manner as at stops in paid areas. Slow loading vehicles (buses with pay enter fare collection and a congestion point just inside the front door) will sit at stops longer, and given typical conditions on narrow streets, may well sit blocking both lanes while doing so.


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