How Frequently Can We Run Subway Trains

A comment in my review of David Miller’s platform triggered a technical discussion about this issue.  To segregate this from the thread on Miller himself, I have moved the relevant information here.  If you plan to add to this issue, please do so here.

The issue was previously reviewed in this post.

I made the comment:

Mayor Miller claims that we will improve capacity on the Yonge line by 40% through new trains and signalling.  Running the trains more frequently will require changes at Finch Station (probably a northerly extension) to allow for faster turnarounds, and will definitely require some changes on the Spadina line (currently planned as part of the York U extension).  Don’t plan to see those empty, uncrowded trains until a decade from now, at least.

This provoked various responses:

Mark Dowling Says:

There are YUS signalling changes planned for 2016 (mentioned in connection with 24hr subway) – why is it that far out and would there be realistic advantage to daytime service to bring it forward?

Steve:  Unless there are major changes in the operation at both Downsview and Finch terminals, it is impossible to get a shorter headway than about 115 seconds.  This is a function of the physical layout (a very long crossover).  The TTC intends to deal with the Spadina leg via the York U extension and a high speed pocket track beyond Downsview that will allow trains to operate in and out at speed.  At Finch, there are no plans in the pipeline, although occasionally we hear mutterings about an extension to the north to permit a revised turnaround scheme beyond the station.  If they’re going to do that, they may as well go to Steeles and design a new terminal there and relieve the surface congestion of bus routes.

James Bow Says: 

It might be boring to some readers, but I’d like an explanation of why the current crossover arrangement at Finch limits turnaround times to 115 seconds, and what can be done to fix this?

Would it be better, instead of using the crossover to the south of the station, to pull the trains into the “northbound” platform, unload, then rush them into an improved version of the tail tracks at the north end of the station, change ends there (with a special platform where the replacement train crews are waiting, and then run back onto the southbound platform to load passengers?

Steve:  James — I have already written this up in this post.  In order to do what you propose, you need to be able to get into and out of tail tracks quickly.  To do this ideally requires that the new crew board while the train is sitting on the northbound track so that they are ready immediately to set up and operate the train southbound from the tail track.  The old crew would get off at the southbound platform.

One problem we have in Toronto compared to a city like Boston that uses farside turnarounds is that the trains in Boston are much shorter, and the farside crossovers are very short.  Also, there is quite a lot of terminal time for operator breaks compared with Toronto.

For additional responses, visit the original item.

8 thoughts on “How Frequently Can We Run Subway Trains

  1. I don’t think a change in switching will fix this problem.  IMO what’s needed is an extention north of Finch as I propose on my website, with a new station designed for quicker turnarounds.

    Steve:  One way or another, the existing tracks north of Finch won’t give you a fast turnaround.  The only question is whether to reconfigure that area with a short extension for quick turnbacks, or bite the bullet and go to Steeles with the fast turnback there.


  2. With the extension to Steeles and one to Steeles West, why not just complete the entire loop?  There is no more than 4km at most from Steeles station to Steeles West station.  With a loop line, there is no such thing as turnback and back crewing.  Trains can run in direction all the time. A loop line can have trains running every 90 seconds or less.

    Steve:  I think the folks who want the Spadina Subway to end somewhere in Vaughan might be upset at the idea of the trains circling back along Steeles Avenue.  Also your proposal would cost us about $1-billion.

    The underlying issue here is:  “where are all of the new riders coming from?”  Are they going to originate as local riders within the 416, or are they being loaded onto the subway from the 905 because there is no other way for people to get downtown?  What would be the impact of substantial spending on the GO rail services?

    Finally, I believe that some stations could not handle the passenger traffic implied by a 90-second headway because they have trouble clearing the platform of riders today especially if one stair/escalator is closed for repairs.  This is not just a matter of running trains closer together.


  3. 2 Questions:

    1)  On the B/D line at Chester, the train always seems to depart westbound quite slowly through the crossovers.  I know that there’s a pocket siding (sorry if that’s not the proper terminology).  Is there any way to speed it up there?  Or is [this a negligible effect] on the frequency?

    Steve: The slow departure is due to the speed restriction on the turnout as you enter the three-track section.  Part of this is to avoid derailment, but also to avoid throwing passengers around with a wuick change in direction.  There are several places like this on the subway, but I don’t think it is a choke point for frequency of service.  More commonly, there are a few places where the signal system keeps trains artificially far apart. 

    2)  I remember reading on transit toronto that there is some sort of “high level” switch that Toronto never uses on subways – for higher speeds.  If the TTC were to switch from low to high, what would the possible effects be with train frequency?

    Steve:  There is a rate switch on subway cars that allows for faster acceleration and a higher top speed.  This is normally used when one pair of cars is not working, and one pair on the train needs to operate as trailers.  If the train is in “high rate”, it can run with only four cars powered and stay more or less at the same speed as others on the line.

    The Bloor-Danforth line used to run in high rate, but this has not happened for years.  I made several attempts to get the TTC to revert to this mode as a cost saving measure, especially on sections where faster operation would allow saving trains.  However, this would not affect the minimum headway except, possibly, to widen it slightly as higher speeds might require slightly wider train spacing.


  4. At the risk of being touted as a naive westerner, I will give my two cents.

    Don’t the trains run every 2-3 minutes?

    I don’t see how it’s possible to have more transit than that.  Maybe every 30 seconds, just don’t hope their is a train running 5 seconds late.  I am quite happy with the trains in Calgary running every five minutes, but I will recognize Toronto is a bigger city with greater needs.  But 2-3 minutes is quite reasonable.

    Steve:  Actually, the typical headway on the subway at peak is 140 seconds.  However, the original Yonge line (Eglinton to Union) was able to operate at 120 seconds because it had short crossovers at the terminals.  With moving block signalling, trains can be closer together at points that normally produce backlogs because they can creep up safely to each other.  The physical problem remains at terminals where it is a question of track geometry and platform arrangement.


  5. Let me just think about for a second. An LRT right at my door step (McKnight-Westwinds) every 120 or 130 seconds. Pardon the drool. Well it might not be a dream, I just read Calgary might be doing by 2010; oh I’m sorry, I am drooling over you again.

    Crossovers are not a bad idea, but I am not sure if the design of Toronto’s Rocket would allow it. I guess that was the mistake about building a Subway.


  6. You know what would be nice?  An express track that is added to the BD and Yonge lines.  This would be so much more efficient in moving people at a faster rate.  I wonder is it ever possible for the TTC to go to this idea if they ever have over capacity trains?

    Steve:  There are huge problems adding a third track parallel to the existing lines.  For much of the Yonge line, especially downtown, there is no place to fit another track between the building foundations.  Stations are a particular problem because you need space for the express track to byass at “local” stops and at “express” stops (like Bloor Yonge) you need platforms.

    The real question is where are the people on those trains coming from and going to, and is there a way to divert the long-trip passengers (who would tend to be potential customers of the express trains) onto some other service.  For example, we feed thousands of people into the north end of the Yonge line who should be on GO trains, if only they ran better service and their fare scheme was integrated into the TTC’s.  Upgrading GO is much faster and cheaper than trying to shoehorn another track in parallel to the existing subways. 


  7. Steve

    one option could be a “supermetropass”:

    Metropass – existing TTC service, discounted (not free) parking at TTC lots. The revenue from lot parking to be used to keep Metropass $100 for as long as possible.

    SuperMetropass – Metropass + Express Bus (currently a sticker I believe) + free parking + plus unlimited travel on GO services within the 416. The SMP would have to be validated or would have to be used as fare credit to purchase a GO ticket. At present GO Long Branch – Downtown is $121/mo., LB-Kennedy is $176. A mp+express is $121/mo. using MDP pricing.

    City council could essentially make intra-city GO sectors a contracted express service to TTC the way other cross-region contracts service.


  8. How fast does a ttc train go?

    Steve: That depends. Both the streetcars and subway trains can get up at about 80 km/h (50 m/h), but in practice street traffic rules and subway speed restrictions keep them below this.


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