Travels Abroad

Robert Wightman sent in the following comment, and I felt it deserved its own thread.

Hi Steve:

I just returned today from a 7 week trip to London, Egypt, United Arab Emirates, India, Thailand and Hong Kong so I thought I would just give you a few impressions of what I saw:

Docklands Light Rail:

It is about as light as a concrete version of the Chicago L.  It runs with automated 2 car trains of 2 section articulated cars with high platforms and full grade separation.  They use a conductor to operate the doors which he does from one of the doors like a GO Train conductor.  The platforms in the Docklands area are built for 3 car trains but the other stations only accommodated 2 car trains at the moment but could be expanded.

Platform safety walls with doors that open beside the subway’s doors:

These are on the Jubilee Line in London and on about 95% of the stations in Hong Kong. They seem to add about 10 to 15 seconds to the station dwell times because the trains slow almost to a stop about 1 car length from the end of the station then creep slowly along until the doors are properly aligned then there seems to be a 3 second delay as if something is checking to make sure the doors are properly aligned. Then there is a 3 to 5 second delay while the doors close before the train starts.

Wide open vestibules between cars:

They have these in Delhi India, Bagkok Thailand and Hong Kong and they are great.  You can easily move from one car to another to spread the load and people can also stand in them to increase capacity.  The vestibules are about 6 feet wide in Hong Kong and 4 to 5 feet wide in Delhi and Bangkok.  You would think that they would run in fixed sets but in Hong Kong it is a mix and match at will structure.  It appears that they were at one time in 8 car units numbered say 8000A to 8000H with A and H being the cab cars while B, D and F had the Pantographs but now they are all mixed up.

Croydon Tram Link London:

This is run with 2 section articulated cars with no couplers. The cars are low floor between the outer two trucks and high floor over the outer two trucks to the ends of the cars.  There are four doors in the low platform sections and none in the high floor ends.  I only had time to ride from the Wimbleton station on the green line to Croydon and back but in this section there was a little bit of mixed trafffic operation.  (About 1 to 2 blocks to allow access to a parking lot and a few blocks of operation with buses but no private autos).  A couple of sections with single track operation with passing siding like the Liberty Line in Pittsburgh.

Hong Kong Trams:

Hong Kong still has one tram line operated with single truck double decker cars that run on narrow guage track.  They are spotless with no graffiti or trash in them and are in like new condition.  My wife’s comments on getting on one was, “These cars are so clean and brand new.”  If you get to Hong Kong you must ride them for a flat fare of $2.00 Hong Kong, about $0.33 Canadian.

Robert Wightman is a former North Toronto resident now living in Brampton.  He has more comments and photos that he will send soon.

12 thoughts on “Travels Abroad

  1. London Transport Underground Operation:

    I spent 5 days in London and managed to spend some time in the underground as well as seeing sights with my wife. London is having serious problems with infrastructure failure as many lines are 100 years old and deferred maintenance is catching up with them. They close off whole sections of lines for weekend repairs. They do post notices about which lines will be closed during the week before and tell you how to get around the problem. They also remove last week’s notices promptly.

    I was heading back to my hotel during the evening rush hour when they made an announcement that the train that I was on would not be going to Wimbledon as there was a power failure on that line but would divert to another station on another branch (not the terminus). At first I could not figure why this station but upon further examination I discovered that the running time to it was the same as to Wimbledon. By sending the trains there they could keep the service running and not create delays at Earl’s Court where there was a major junction. In bound trains from Wimbledon did not seem to be delayed and the problem was cleared up in about 10 minutes when regular service was resumed. It appeared that they have predesigned responses for all problems and that they are instituted immediately even if for only one or two trains rather than let a major delay occur. Wouldn’t it be nice if the TTC had something like this.

    Fare Collection:

    London, Delhi and Hong Kong all had the same fare collection system, the turnstiles that read a card that is fed in one side and pops back out for the other side. You do this entering and exiting. They use the same system in Washington and in Chicago. Chicago even has it on there busses. They also will read a card like those found at gas stations that is placed near it. They all had multi zone of fare by distance systems so they had provisions to add money to your pass if you did not have enough to get off at your station. London Transport and the commuter rail shared some stations and the gates worked for both systems. They even had cross platform connections.

    Hong Kong had the best interchange system between lines of any that I have seen. At all junctions except one the lines shared two stations with centre platforms between trains from different lines. It worked like this. If the Spadina line’s Spadina station was parallel and adjacent to the Bloor line than at St. George the NB University and EB Bloor would share one platform while the WB Bloor and SB University would share another. At Spadina the NB Spadina and WB Bloor would share one platform while SB and EB share another. They also had timed meets at most of these so that the two trains would be on the platform at the same time and passengers would stream at high speed from one train to the other. I know that we don’t have the space to do this at our current interchanges but at least the two stations are within walking distance. Many interchange stations in London and one Hong Kong involved walks of mammoth proportions, like walking from Museum to Yonge in a fare controlled area and calling it an interchange.

    More comments and some pictures later after I load them onto my computer.


  2. Platform screen doors only cause delays in manually operated systems where the driver has to slow down to a crawl in order to align the train and platform doors. The Jubilee Line in London and the Hong Kong MTR are manually operated (although automated train operation is being installed in the former). This is not a problem in automated systems, where braking is more precise, such as Line 14 of the Paris Metro.


  3. Thanks for the insight Rob,

    I recently spent 4 days in New York City, and traveled exclusively by MTA subway and bus. The subway pretty much reaches everything, and with express tracks on most lines, they are almost always quick. If there is a delay on the MTA, the operator immediately informs people of what it causing the delay (even if its just dispatch telling them to stop) and tell us when the train will start moving again, defiantly something that the TTC could learn from.

    MTA buses load from the front door only, and have a similar card system where you insert your metrocard into a machine and it pops in and out. This causes a major hold up, and just like in Toronto, MTA buses are prone to bunching up.

    One thing that the TTC still excels in is station and train cleanliness. It was refreshing when I came home, to step into a station which wasn’t dripping wet, as well as to ride a train which was relatively clean and graffiti free.


  4. I’m guessing that’d be the “Library” Line in Pittsburgh; However since reopening that line is now double tracked all the way. At this point only the access to 52 Allentown from the Panhandle Bridge is single track shared operation and it’s one car per direction per hour except when the over the hill route is being used as a tunnel bypass.

    Steve: Several of the original North American streetcar lines have a mixture of street running and tunnels notably Philadelphia and San Francisco. Boston has surface running, but all on private right-of-way (despite a long-standing fight to reactivate E-Arborway). This is the beauty of the mode — it can run as a plain old streetcar or it can be a rapid transit line or something in between.


  5. Another interesting thing about the DLR is that its stations — unlike tube stations — have no turnstiles. The conductor, when not operating the doors, acts as a fare inspector. As a result, fare inspections are relatively frequent without requiring extra staff.


  6. The cross-platform interchange scheme works especially well for an extension line like the SRT. In this case, only one interchange station is needed since all transfers are made between trains travelling in the same direction. If the TTC can schedule trains from the two lines to arrive simultaneously, then the transfer effectively disappears. It is almost on par with subway extension when it comes to convenience and scalability.

    I urge the TTC to seriously consider the cross-platform interchange scheme for the upcoming SRT replacement/refurbishment project as well as the Sheppard East LRT line. In addition to its convenience, this scheme also helps to lessen the negative image of Kennedy and Don Mills as unnecessary transfers.


  7. I am in Minneapolis ( this week on business and had the chance to ride the LRT its entire length last night from downtown out to the Mall of America. There are a few interesting points that might help others to understand just what should be implemented in Toronto as far as private ROW and traffic signal priority…

    In the downtown section, the LRT runs down 5th street which is a fairly narrow street (4 lanes mostly). Along some stretches of this street, other traffic only has a single lane in one direction (sometimes to the left of the LRT tracks) and not always with a curb to isolate it from the tracks. The LRT has their own signals at intersections (with the white vertical/horizontal bars) to provide operations that are not impeded by turning vehicles. The LRT occasionally had to wait at a light for a short period, but station stops took up more stop time (i.e.: the lights usually were permissive by the time the LRT was pulling out of a station).

    After the Downtown East/Metrodome station, the LRT headed out on its own ROW, sometimes elevated to take it across expressways. As it headed along Hiawatha Avenue (the line is named after this street) towards the airport, it paralleled this street on the west side in its own ROW. There is no traffic light priority issue here as the LRT is treated as a railway: every street it crosses has a level railway crossing with lights and barriers. As these crossings are right at an intersection, the stop line for the traffice on each street is on the west side of the LRT and right turns on red are not permitted at these locations. The traffic on Hiawatha Avenue heading south had a crossing signal activated light up no right turn sign as well. Also, when driving on Hiawatha, there is a small white light mounted with the traffic lights that flashes when the crossing is activated.

    The LRT shifts off of Hiawatha onto a small side street for a couple of blocks before going back on its own ROW to the airport. It heads into a tunnel to the Lindberg terminal of the airport and comes out of the tunnel just before the Humphrey terminal (the station here is closed this year as this terminal is undergoing major construction work.

    South of the airport, it runs down the median of 34th Avenue. Here it has priority signals at intersections just like downtown. During both trips I took, the LRT sped along this stretch (about 4 minute duration)without the need to stop at all. After this, it curves off 34th Ave (a railway crossing stops traffic for this) onto its own ROW to head over to the Mall of America. At the mall, it takes a few slow and tight turns into the east covered parking structure where there is a transit terminal.

    The key thing here is that there is not simply priority at intersections with the signals, but a significant amount of railway-like treatment with full crossing gates. The LRT system in St. Louis is this way as well and parts of the Calgary system are even where it runs down the median of a road.

    This is REAL priority, but I am wondering how people in Toronto will take to crossing gates that activate more often than once every couple of hours.


  8. Some other things that I saw in my travels that I think the TTC should use:

    1 LED run numbers. These are easy to spot and read both day and night.

    2 LED destination and next stop signs inside of the subway cars: They could also be used on LRT and maybe buses. They tell the train’s destination as you get on then when the train is moving they tell you the next stop is and what connections could be made at it. This could get interesting at terminals. They should also be accompanied by voice announcements.

    Steve: The destination signs on newer buses and the in vehicle stop displays already use LEDs. Now all we need is consistent programming with a large route number for all exposures. Voice announcements are automated on some buses and work is progressing on the subway. This will be standard for new vehicles.

    3 Moving light maps over the doors: Hong Kong has a system route map over each door with LEDs at the stations. A green arrow shows where the train is and all the stations that have not been reached yet are lit. When you get on the current station is flashing and a green arrow behind it shows the direction of travel. As you leave the station that LED goes out and the green arrows moves up before the next station. When you come to an interchange station all the stations on the interchange line that can be reached start flashing showing you what stations you can change for. On the Bloor trains at Yonge only the Station from Union to Finch would flash and at St. George only the stations on University Spadina would flash.

    Steve: This is part of the design for the new subway cars.

    4 LED destination signs on the sides of cars: These are helpful in London where there are many possible destination from any station. They would not be necessary in Toronto unless we start running lines that branch at the ends; however they might be useful on GO transit with its express, semi-express and short turn services.

    5 Large LED destination signs on street cars/light rail vehicles: These are becoming the norm and hopefully the TTC will specify them on there new car order. It would be nice to know where a car is going and how it is going to get there. They could even program in common short turns and emergency detours.

    6 Car cleaning at terminals and heavy fines for littering: The Honk Kong cars at the end of the afternoon rush hour where spotless. When ever a train reached a terminal a couple of people ran on and picked up what ever litter had accumulated (and it was not much). This is easier when you have the open connections between cars. It would probably be too expensive for the TTC to consider.

    Steve: This is supposed to be the new standard as part of the settlement of the labour complaint about changes to work hours of cleaners. I have seen a terminal cleaning crew once at Kennedy, but I am not usually at subway terminals at weekday middays to check this out. Also, I suspect that the number of crews is determined by the number of affected staff, not by a policy decision to have enough cleaners to cover all terminals all of the time.

    7 A new fare collection system that could be integrated with GO and other regional carriers: I believe that this new card system is supposed to handle that and not a minute too soon.

    Things that I don’t think the TTC needs:

    1 Airport type security checks as you enter the station: Delhi in India had this at the station where I boarded. As I was not expecting it I set off the alarms because of my sunglasses in my pocket and my steel knee. I then had to be wanded and frisked. Fortunately this was on Saturday at a station that served government offices. I hate to think what it would be like at rush hour.

    2 HRT on elevated structure up to 5 and 6 stories high: Bangkok had this on there Sky Train and it did create a visual and noise intrusion but as it went over and under elevated expressways I guess that it doesn’t matter much there. In fairness the city is only a few feet above sea level making the construction of subways difficult. They had one subway line I believe but it came nowhere near the downtown. They only ran three car trains on a three minute or so headway so the line did not seem to be a major carrier but they were extending all the lines out from all the terminals and building a third line if I understood my guide correctly. The platforms will hold at least five car trains and maybe six so there is room to improve the service.


  9. I have often wondered how much the people who plan and make decisions at the TTC have visited other cities and used those transit systems. I think it should be compulsory that they ride our system and ride other exemplary systems so that they can have more open minds about how to make the system work better.

    Steve: The beginnings of serious interest in LRT came when some members of the Commission actually travelled and rode on other systems seeing with their own eyes what Toronto was not doing.


  10. someone…thanks for raising that point

    When I lived in Vienna, there was a great transfer station at Laengenfeldgasse – where there were two lines (of different gauges even!) that met up usually at the same time for the same direction (toward the city centre, or towards suburbia). And if not, one line would usually hold for 30 seconds to wait for the other.

    In Montreal – we can see also a great transfer station at Lionel-Groulx between the Orange and the Green lines.

    I always found it a bit confounding when I moved to Toronto why St. George wasn’t set up the same way – Westbound BD to Northbound YUS sharing platforms and Eastbound BD to Southbound YUS…it’s like the TTC demeans our intelligence thinking we’ll get on the wrong direction.

    Can one go from upper St. George to upper Bay and or BD Spadina, or from lower St. George to Museum and or YUS Spadina?

    Steve: Putting the University and Bloor Danforth trains on the same level would have made integrated service challenging because grade crossings would have been inevitable.

    To answer your questions about connectivity, the answer is no in all cases.


  11. The add value swipe card system in Hong Kong’s MTR is called Octopus – and it lives up to its name. You can use it everywhere – Starbucks, photocopiers, vending machines. The best component is the Octopus parking meter. It makes me think that developing an INTERAC based system for the TTC would kill many birds with a single stone. After all, these cards are universal in Canada and so anyone would be set hop on the TTC after registering at a website or bank.


  12. Geoff … St. George and Bay are not interchange stations per se. They have two levels only because they are situated “inside” the grade separated wye. Our system is actually better — the tracks and ramps do all the work, not the platforms.

    The only real interchange is Bloor-Yonge, and it was intended to be a minor transfer point. One of the biggest arguments over the Museum / St. George / Bay triangle was that a separated system would have been built differently, with one very large station at Avenue Rd. and Bloor instead of three smaller stations at Museum, St. George and Bay (whose platforms were not designed to handle large transfer crowds).

    Also, the lower level of Bloor-Yonge would have been built differently (and much larger).


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