The “Madrid Miracle” is always an issue for discussion. How could a city build so much rapid transit so quickly? Part of the answer lies in the political climate where just getting the work done takes priority over endless political posturing, announcements, jurisdictional wrangling and little action. Part of the answer lies in the money lavished on Madrid by other governments. But part is the much lower cost of building subway tunnels in Madrid compared to other cities thereby making subway expansion much more affordable regardless of who pays for it.
The TTC produced a complementary report examining the differences between Madrid and Toronto to determine just where the cost differences lie. The material that follows is a paraphrase from the TTC’s material with a few of my own observations.
First off, even Metrolinx has problems with the numbers. They miscount the number of stations on the Sheppard Line (there are 5, not 6) and omit ancilliary structures (tail tracks) from the length used in their calculations. Although the one-way trip for a train is 5.47 km, the structure is actually 6.4 km long. Any Toronto cost stated “per km” by Metrolinx is automatically inflated by about 17%.
Metrolinx includes property acquisition in the total project costs, but to compare structure-to-structure, this component must be omitted due to large variations, even within a the same city, in the cost of property for a line, its stations and yards.
The MetroSur line in Madrid is much longer than the Sheppard line (a 40.5 km loop) connecting suburban towns south of the city through areas that are relatively undeveloped. MetroSur cost $87.1-million/km versus $142.5-million/km for Sheppard which opened at roughly the same time.
Major differences between the two lines and their construction include:
- Stations are about 50% longer on Sheppard compared with Madrid and they are designed with provision for expansion for full six-car train operation.
- Construction that did not involve tunneling was performed 7×24 in Madrid while in Toronto it was constrained to 5×12. Continuous work avoids the overhead of daily startup and shutdown of activities.
- Madrid used a single large tunnel compared to the dual tunnels in Toronto. Also, the trains in Madrid are smaller and require a smaller combined tunnel than would be the case in Toronto. Single tunnels eliminate the need for cut-and-cover box structures at crossovers and effectively reduce the scope of excavation at stations where these crossovers are located.
- Because MetroSur ran through open countryside, about 30% of the tunnel structure is cut-and-cover. On Sheppard, only the stations are cut-and cover.
- Madrid reduced the need for temporary construction support by using slurry walls that become a permanent part of the structure. This method was used successfully on the southern end of the University subway, and less happily on the Harbourfront LRT tunnel where groundwater conditions made the technique completely unsuitable. Note that this applies to box structures, not to bored tunnels.</
- No Environmental Assessment was conducted in Madrid.
- The track structure in Toronto is a dual-layer design in which the concrete base holding the rails is mechanically isolated from the underlying structure. This requires additional excavation to provide headroom for the extra support. This technique was first used on the Spadina Subway and on Sheppard, although it was not used for the Harbourfront or Spadina Station tunnels.
- The Madrid standards for fire safety including ventillation and emergency access are less stringent than in North America. For example, all new Toronto stations must be built with dual exits. On Sheppard, this was implemented with full second exits rather than emergency exit shafts.
- Ground conditions in Madrid (mainly compacted sand) favour the continuous large bored tunnel approach compared with the situation in Toronto (glacial till, boulders and underground streams).
- Economies of scale were realized with MetroSur which was part of an ongoing series of projects. Construction activities simply moved from one project to another rather than being reconstituted for each expansion, and more of the design was done during construction.
- The Sheppard line includes two large interchange stations over its 6km length. MetroSur has five major interchanges over its 40km length.
- The cost of labour and materials is much lower in Madrid than in other parts of Europe.
In 2003, engineering consultants Hatch Mott MacDonald compared the Sheppard and Madrid projects, and found that if Madrid conditions applied in Toronto, the cost of the two lines would be almost equal. Although this may appear self-serving, a similar review was done in Dublin in 2003 to determine why their airport LRT project was so much more expensive that Madrid’s costs. A review by the then-president of Madrid Metro found that labour and material costs in Ireland would make construction over twice as expensive as in Madrid.
The TTC plans to incorporate changes in their projects based on the Madrid experience.
- Using design-build contracts placing the onus for detailed design on the builder (also conceivably the private partner) rather than the traditional TTC approach of extensive detailed design before a shovel even goes into the ground.
- Using slurry wall and/or single tunnel construction if and where appropriate.
- Round-the-clock construction subject to the communuity impacts in various areas where lines will be built.
Madrid’s techniques and experience will be reviewed first-hand.
The underlying issue here is that building transit systems is an expensive business although some jurisdictions have much more favourable environments politically, financially and physically than others. There is no magic solution, but the best of each city’s experiences needs to be reviewed and incorporated where possible. Differences in design and construction will not eliminate the huge burden of Toronto’s project-based approvals and the lack of ongoing financial support.
Indeed, systems like Madrid’s are held up as examples of “waste” in Toronto as a way to delay approval for any spending on transit by governments whose preference is to announce often, if at all, and build nothing.
A related issue is the comparison of LRT and subway technologies. In Madrid, underground construction was cheap, subways were relatively easy to build and the money was available for a continuous program of expansion. However, even Madrid is now embracing the concept of “Light Metros” to further reduce cost of expanding their system. In Toronto, the challenges of our geology make the premium for subway construction over LRT higher, and we cannot expect to build full-scale heavy rapid transit easily.
Transit should not be project to a favoured politician’s home turf, it should be a network of lines serving and connecting many areas. Regional rail systems should be an integral part of the system, not a separate network designed and operated just for peak period commuters. These are political decisions, not matters of engineering or cost accounting.
Transit is not a political football, and the future of the GTA cannot turn on who wins which election every few years. If Toronto and the GTA want to emulate the success of Madrid, then all parties and governments must commit to sustained, reliable funding and ongoing expansion of the transit network.