A Day on the TTC

Robert Wightman sent in the following comment about problems maintaining service on, mainly, the streetcar system on Tuesday, March 25.

I spent yesterday afternoon rush hour working at home and listening to the scanner for TTC surface operations and this is what I heard.

Russell could not send out all scheduled service because they did not have enough equipment available. A car on Carlton and one on Queen went disabled and had to be pushed to Russell. This took 4 cars out of service and screwed up the lines for awhile. The line inspectors must know that a Commissioner lives in the Beach because they turned two WB cars at Russell and sent them back to Neville.

A fight broke out on a WB Queen car in front of the City Hall so the WB service went along Richmond to York thus bypassing the delay and the subway.

A Spadina car went disabled in the Station and had to be pushed out. They decided to push it out to the street before locking out the brakes, bad move as it lost air on the curve and they had to crank the brakes off. They could not use the spare track as there was a car using it to “dry out”. It was waiting for the emergency truck as it had no fans and the windows were too steamed up to see out. This screwed up Spadina for a while.

Another car broke a bar under the front truck and had to be escorted back to Russell by the emergency truck. Again there was no vehicle available to replace it.

The emergency trucks were running all over the system making minor repairs to cars that were still in service but had no heat, one wiper missing, doors that wouldn’t open, lights that didn’t work.

The subway had a train with a pair of cars that went disabled so they drove it onto the tail track at Finch until they could fix it.

The system is broke and it isn’t getting fixed. The Inspectors managed to find enough cars that were to run in to replace the missing cars after the rush hour. How much of the service problems are caused by equipment failures each day? Yesterday was not good weather but this still seemd like a lot of problems for one rush hour.

Both equipment and operator shortages remain a big problem especially for the streetcar system. We need some honest answers from the TTC about just how many cars are really available for service and why so many are sitting in the shop. I don’t think the situation has been presented with as much urgency as it deserves, and we still face the impact of having the St. Clair line fully back in operation sometime this fall or winter. New cars won’t be here for years, assuming we somehow find a way to find them this fall when it’s time to place the order.

23 thoughts on “A Day on the TTC

  1. Why was it exactly that the CLRV heavy-rebuild program was terminated completely? That rebuild was supposed to replace a number of the relatively ancient electronic and mechanical systems with much newer ones so that we wouldn’t be faced with the rampant breakdowns we’re experiencing now. With the new LRVs years away, further years away from testing and acceptance, and even further away in terms of in-service proving, why would we not be rebuilding even a quarter of the existing fleet? Especially when they are no longer reliable enough just for regular service today. And if ‘stingy’ SEPTA could put wheelchair lifts into rebuilt-from-the-frame-up PCCs, what the hell is our problem?!?

    By the time we actually get new cars I highly doubt we’ll meet any accelerated deadline that might have been envisioned. And it has also been mentioned a number of times here that the new fleet will not allow for the same service density that currently exists and will cause serious congestion at many station loops. Will the rebuild issue be raised ever again or are we simply out of money (according to the politicians)?

    And one more thing – If a car breaks down and blocks the line on St. Clair during the isolation period, how do they plan on clearing it off the line simply to keep the rest of the cars running again? The only set-out location would be the passing siding in St. Clair West Station, unless Vaughn Road remained open for at least a couple car lenghts. And would that force a second car out of service for the whole day? (Oh, Wychwood, where have you gone?)

    Steve: The CLRV rebuild was going to cost major $$$ per car for limited remaining life, something accentuated by the political impetus for complete accessibility as soon as possible. Wheelchair lifts don’t constitute “accessibility” for riders who have problems climbing stairs but who don’t need a wheelchair. And, yes, we are simply out of money.

    As for St. Clair, they can push a car over to the right-of-way between Bathurst and Vaughan in a pinch.


  2. We need a streetcar rebuild program now. It’s going to take 10 years to get the new streetcars and the TTC cannot afford to have unreliable cars (which will force the TTC to take the old cars out of service and replace them with buses). As for St. Clair, I think it is foolish to try to run streetcars during the track reconstruction on Bathurst because they will inevitably break down without proper maintenance in the car yard.


  3. Wow, tough day at the office. Hopefully we’ll get more new streetcars than we need, so that we’ll have extras. The ALRVs are younger than the CLRVs, correct? Keep them running with the new cars, so that we have the capacity.


  4. And the TTC thinks it can replace its current fleet of streetcars with a smaller number of new streetcars, think again. Once the new streetcars replace the CLRVs and the ALRVs, we are going to see more porblems with service unless the TTC starts making changes now!


  5. I went to the Kingston Rd Transit study meeting at the rec centre at 3600 Kingston Rd. The line is left over from the “City of Toronto Official Plan” that brought the Docklands and the West Waterfront lines. It is not new; in fact, it is very old. They had two consulting engineers from iConsult plus about 8 staff members. They seemed to out number the public most of the time. They said with a serious face that they are also looking at extending the Kingston Rd Car up to Eglinton if the Loading patterns warrant. I think from their guarded comments that the route to main Station via Danforth will win. The line will join up with The Eglinton and some other Transit City Line at Eglinton and Kingston Rd. They hope to have the final plan ready by November of this year.

    I drove into Toronto at 3:30 to watch and listen to the rush hour service again. It was not as bad as yesterday but Russell ran out of equipment again and could not change off bad order cars but there were over 20 cars sitting in the yard. I drove home after the meeting via Queen and King St. and noticed that there were two ALRV’s in Neville loop and three more East of Woodbine and that I passed one heading East every two minutes after that.. I dropped down to King at the Don River and the East end was quiet but from Church to Shaw it was a disaster area. They need heavier service in the evening than in the base time. I also I swear passed four 503 Kingston Rd trippers east bound on King between York and Spadina with a 504 in between. The 503’s were all signed 503 Greenwood Connaught while the 504 went to Broadview Station. I passed the first at 8:45 pm! I could see one car having the wrong route number but four? I am off to Orlando for 10 days so I will talk again then.


  6. Hi Steve

    Concerning the TTC’s car shortage – are there any second hand cars available? While I realize that this is truly a stop gap solution, the TTC has to restore the public’s confidence in the streetcar services that it runs. From what appears to be happening the CLRV’s may not last until the new cars arrive. I seem to remember hearing that San Jose leased some of its cars to Denver for the winter Olympics. I also believe that the cars it leased were the CLRV cars that they purchased and that they are articulated cars.

    Do you think that this is practical? There is the argument that doing this is throwing good money after bad but I think that if it does give us value for money then it should be explored. Besides, if the worst of the CLRV’s are scrapped because they cannot run then they could provide a parts source for the cars that are left.

    Steve: There are a few issues. First, the most difficult to source “spare part” is the electronic package that runs the cars and which is now quite antique. I don’t know if the San Jose cars use the same equipment. Second, the cars will have to be regauged, although this may not be a big problem depending on what kind of trucks they have under them. It’s an intriguing idea, but the devil’s in the details.


  7. There appeared to be gaps in Spadina and Carlton service yesterday (by which I mean Wed Mar 26), to judge by the crowds waiting at the stops.

    After some shopping on College, I caught a 506 RONCESVALLES that delivered me to Queen and Roncesvalles at 7:00 PM.

    There was a 501 RONCESVALLES offloading.

    It was not until 7:23 that the next westbound 501 car, signed up for Humber, arrived.

    At 7:35 I was in Humber loop, boarding a 501 KIPLING.

    At 7:55 I was at Kipling and Lake Shore, with a 501 LONG BRANCH pulling up.

    Some time after 8 PM I got off at 37th St, so it was over an hour from Roncesvalles to 37th St (which is the second stop, and three or four minutes, from the loop). In chatting with the operator, he said “all the 501 cars go to the east end, so west end service goes to hell. You have to do the same thing as the east end folks–petitions, meeting.” This is the story I have had from many different 501 operators.

    I opined that we also needed a city councillor who would take action. (And I am trying to figure out the best way to start a petition.)

    Steve: A shame that Mark Grimes in a tiff with the Mayor resigned from the TTC, and Peter Milczyn, also from Etobicoke, doesn’t seem to be aware of the problem.


  8. I notice that your correspondent did not report any problems on the bus system. Were those omitted, or is the bus system largely more reliable than the streetcar?


  9. The streetcars turned back at Russell have nothing to do with Commissioner living in the Beach. It’s the fact that a senior management person from the rail department lives in the Beach. That is why Queen in the Beach is getting so much attention.


  10. I am quite honestly surprised that the TTC is actually going to retain streetcar service on St. Clair through the Bathurst track project. I was so sure that they were going to just run buses during that time that I would have bet any interested party a round trip Silver and Blue Class ticket on the Canadian! I’d have to say, though, that the best place by far to store the cars has to be at the St. Clair West loop. Would all 7 cars fit down there?

    Steve: All seven cars would fit, but you wouldn’t be able to run buses through as easily with them all stored there. The service design also calls for an all bus operation after 9 pm to eliminate the need to transfer between the east and west branches.


  11. Has the TTC considered adding extra emergency trucks besides the one Roncy and one Russell truck? If the TTC can put roving line mechanics on the subway line to pick up trains with mechanical difficulties, could they also augment the two emergency trucks with mobile maintenance workers during peak times? They could be stationed at key locations (King/Spadina? Gerrard/Broadview?). Alternatively they could travel by streetcar to pick up disabled vehicles. If these individuals can respond to disabled cars more quickly, I’m sure there are times savings for coupling cars or cranking off brakes in the examples that Robert described.

    Steve: Given the problems the TTC has maintaining streetcar service, I think it’s better to have roving mechanics in their own vehicles rather than standing on street corners waiting for a call. Also, they have a lot of stuff to carry around with them. I do agree, though, that we need to understand whether there are a variety of problems that could be simply fixed on the road, or whether the typical failure needs a return to the carhouse.


  12. It is also a shame that I wrote Mark Grimes, David Millar, and Adam Giambrone about the lousy 501 service along the Lakeshore, and I have only received a response from Mr. Giambrone’s office. I re-sent my e-mail to both Grimes and Millar with still no reponse.


  13. The old San Jose UTDC cars are similar to the ALRVs, but unfortunately cannot handle the Toronto turn radii. Plus they would need poles retrofitted because they use pantographs.

    The technically closest cars would be the Kawasaki LRVs in Philadelphia where there seems to be a surplus. (Yes, I know they’re broad-guage, and I believe the pole pivot point is not in quite the right spot to be reliable on our overhead geometry.) Perhaps they could return the favour for the PCCs we sent them.
    The next closest that is still in service would be the Kinki-Sharyo Type-7 cars in Boston. However, wrong guage, no poles, and they’ll never let go of them as they’re the only reliable LRV they ever had.

    Given the problems we’re facing I don’t see how we can afford NOT to rebuild some of the CLRV fleet. And seeing as these cars are routinely stripped to the bare metal frame during regular rebuilding sessions at Hillcrest Shops, how could the “Life Extension” program be so much more costly? Leave out that brutally ugly air conditioner to save some money. We just spent a fortune installing the GPS and stop announcement equipment in all these cars – Should we throw away that investment so soon? We should install those in the PCCs and press them back into service. And get car 4600 back from the museum while we’re at it.
    If accessability is supposed to be an issue then I don’t see why we should worry about it until all the high-floor buses are retired (lift-equipped or not). We’ll need all those buses just to keep the 5xx routes running if the CLRV fleet is run into the ground.


  14. I think it’s easier said than done to know how many cars of this age and (more-to-the-point) service history will be available on a day-to-day basis.

    I’d venture a guess that the cars lined up on the West side of the yard here in the East End yard have had parts pulled out (i.e. cannibalized) for use in other vehicles. Once you start moving parts between vehicles, it becomes hard to predict if one vehicle is more reliable than any other.

    One of our neighbours said the ‘road call’ rate for the streetcars is about once per 600 miles. I assume that ‘road call’ means that service is stopped and a technician must be dispatched.

    At this high rate (maybe you have more official statistics), it would mean that any given route sees several breakdowns a day. There is no way to keep service in close to reasonable shape if this is indeed true.

    (Still interested in what you have ascertained on the earlier post w.r.t. the impact of the labour ruling on meal breaks.)


  15. SEPTA’s move was politically motivated from the ADA. While stingy, like many U.S. regional mass transit systems, they receive federal funding.


  16. In reply to Andrew, what we seem to be seeing is a classic reversal of fortunes, here.

    Starting in 1988, the TTC went into a protracted decline in ridership that cost it about 20% of its ridership base. Between this and funding cutbacks, the TTC cut service. Of course, the first vehicles that they cut were the oldest ones. Now, given that buses in Toronto have an expected lifespan of 18 years. Given that a number of the buses were of an experimental variety that did not fare as well as advertised (such as the Ikarus articulateds, or those made of stainless steel pipe construction which rusted out prematurely), and given that the TTC’s streetcars typically last thirty years or more, and most were bought between 1978 and 1988, this meant that a lot of buses were retired. Today, we’re expecting the TTC to carry as many people as it carried in 1988, but with 300 fewer buses (and trolley buses) and 42 fewer streetcars. The bulk of those cutbacks came in the early to mid 1990s. We lost the Davenport garage serving most of the downtown bus routes, and are now building a new garage in Mount Dennis to essentially replace it.

    In 1996, the ridership decline stopped and, by 1997, the TTC was carrying more passengers again. But it had emptied itself of over 300 buses, while the bulk of its CLRVs and ALRVs were still intact. So, the TTC found itself scrambling to find buses to serve its route, while a sizeable surplus of streetcars remained just twiddling its thumbs.

    For this reason, in 1997, the TTC commissioned the Conversion to Streetcar report which looked at what bus routes it could economically transform into a streetcar route, to use some of the surplus streetcars and free up buses for use in the rest of the system. Very little came of it, unfortunately, save for the decision to complete the “missing link” on Queen’s Quay between Spadina and Bathurst and establish the 509 Harbourfront streetcar route. In the meantime, David Gunn scrambled whatever resources he could to bring back old buses from the dead and purchase used buses from other properties, including Montreal and Utah.

    Now, flash forward ten years later. TTC ridership is approaching 1988 levels. They’ve managed to buy 100 extra buses to start to catch up to their 1988 fleet levels, but nothing has been done with the streetcars and they’re approaching the end of their lifespans. Let’s not forget that the streetcar fleet shrank too, maybe not as much as the buses, but certainly enough to put pressure on fleet resources now that we’re looking at bringing service levels somewhere close to 1988 levels.

    So, the fact that we’re having so many problems with the streetcars now is another sign of poor planning on the part of the TTC and its funders. We’ve put off for too long the question of replacing and expanding the streetcar fleet, and now we’re reaping the rewards. The buses have received an infusion of new equipment, which has probably helped with the reliability issues, but I don’t want people to think that it’s a problem inherent with streetcars in general. Eleven years ago, the situation was reversed, and the shrunken bus fleet was a problem. The answer is that we need to get moving on getting the new fleet in, now.

    Steve: One added point — the Spadina streetcar was a net addition to the network in 1997 when we had lots of spare cars, or so it seemed.


  17. If we had truly transit-friendly governments then we wouldn’t be having this discussion at all because adequate funding would have been in place long ago.

    SEPTA’s case still surprises me because those guys would have happily done away completely with their city streetcar network if they’d had their way. Do you really think the US feds would see PCC-II cars as a funding priority? My point still stands – If a US city can choose to build PCCs out of LRV parts with air conditioning and wheelchair lifts, we should be thoroughly embarrased at the political level that we can’t even maintain our ‘modern’ frontline fleet. New Orleans designed and built in-house a huge fleet of historic replica cars with the same modern components, but with a wheelchair lift on BOTH sides! Again, what the hell is wrong with Canada?!? (Even brand-new high-floor cars are meeting the ADA requirements while we stumble towards a troublesome 100% low-floor.)


  18. I have read with interest, all of the above, sadly, none of the current malaise is incurable, one person hit the nail on the head with current overhauls, a reliable replacement electronics package needs to be sought now, something akin to SEPTA’s K and the Boston Kinki Shariyo cars, the Japanese will supply a reliable unit. This has long term benifits because, unlike when the ALRV’s came in and the whole PCC fleet retired, the present fleet must be kept for service back up and service expansion.

    With regard to second hand equipment, you need to look further than the US (SEPTA would not part with their most reliable cars), Dusseldorf and Vienna are retiring their classic Deuwag cars (in Vienna’s case they are locally produced versions) and there are other systems doing likewise, whilst poles would need to be fitted (no big deal) and trucks regauged, all of this is well within the capabilities of Hillcrest, they would need a light overhaul perhaps whilst the regaging etc., is in hand and around 20 cars would give the system some relief whilst the current backlog of work is caught up with. The cars would be different than the current fleet so would need to be kept at one location and used on one or two routes. It’s not like the TTC has not used second hand equipment before.

    Also, to improve service on the 501, it would help if and when the Long Branch shuttle is returned, likewise, other service could overlap ie, every third car (or whatever sequence is more practical) short short turn just beyond the city core at the most convenient turn back, I would be surprised if every rider went right through downtown to the other end. it would also help if the Kingston Rd line was made full time as well.

    I think the plan to keep streetcars running on St.Clair (as inconvenient to operations as that may be) whilst re-construction is going on is, the right move, when the cars are gone, people get used to that and are less willing to have them back as they see the reconstruction site as the streetcars’ fault per se and don’t want them back until it’s to late, witness the total lack of support for the re-introduction of the 56 line in Philly, the locals (who don’t use transit anyway) don’t want the cars back.

    Anyway, they were just random observations from someone who has been involved in the transit industry or over 30 years, the problem is not unfixable, just some people need to look outside the box.


  19. The plan as it stands now for St. Clair, is if a car goes dead, it will be sidelined up there and removed by flatbed trailer.


  20. I’m really curious about why the CLRV streetcars keep choking, the blame’s placed on the electronic systems that are deemed all but repairable – yet somehow repairs are made, and the streetcar’s get put back in service… until it happens again.

    So, I spent some quality time in the shops at Woodland some time ago with a friend going over a Septa K car (one of the single ended ones used on the subway surface lines) with a pretty fine tooth comb. At the time, SEPTA was replacing the logic box, which controls the whole streetcar, on all of their K cars with new units to stay ahead of the parts obsolecense issue. The rest of the streetcar, and I emphasize this point – the rest of the streetcar including the propulsion power electronics – remained unchanged and reliable.

    I was also told that when a K car bails with an electrical problem, it’s usually a problem in an electromechanical system with moving parts that’s subject to getting dirty like relays and contactors, pretty much the same stuff that’s caused streetcars to break down since 1890 and very rarely the solid state electronics from 1980. I guess it’s also worth noting that SEPTA isn’t crying the blues about or planning to get rid of their K cars for a very long time.

    This brings us to that pesky antique package that runs the CLRV. Nobody’s been able to tell me what problems have caused them to become failure-prone in recent years. Since it has, the TTC should have tackled it a long time ago, just like SEPTA did, and gotten replacement control package cards made with current components. Personally, if it was my project, I’d take the schematic diagrams for the existing system and recreate it in whole in VHDL (Xilinx makes some nice software to do this, which even includes an editor that lets you draw schematic diagrams and then spits out programming for you, that you can download for free – surely even the TTC budget can afford that) in some CPLD chips and stick them on a circuit card with the necessary connectors to interface with the rest of the streetcar the way the existing system does. Worst case, I’d take the Compaq approach to reverse engineering the original PC BIOS and make a truth table of required inputs and outputs and then program that up to get the same functionality.

    I don’t want to sound like I’m oversimplifying what would be a reasonably large and complicated project, but the overall methodology to designing a replacement package isn’t rocket science even though no straight answers come out of the TTC and the mention of the word ‘electronics’, which railfans seem to equate to being a mysterious voodoo magic that no living person understands, causing them to scatter in a panic, wishing they’d bring back maroon and cream Peter Witt cars. In other words, as an electronics professional, I don’t subscribe to either stand and I believe the electronics issue could have and should have been dealt with (after all, SEPTA managed to do so – I saw the retrofit work being done in person – new rack of cards installed in a cabinet under one of the passenger seats), rather than used as an excuse-making tool to feed to people who don’t know otherwise.

    Steve: The TTC was planning to replace the electronics as part of their CLRV rehab program, but that was iced by the decision to replace the entire fleet sooner. With the foot dragging that has gone on about replacement streetcars (for several years), we’re right back to where we were decades ago with an aging fleet. At least the infrastructure isn’t falling apart. Otherwise we could have a classic case of abandonment by neglect just like our trolley coach system.


  21. I thought that the proof-of-concept car that was rebuilt with the air conditioning unit had already gone through the electronics replacement. The cost to develop this prototype would have been substantial and that money has now been completely thrown away. I would note though that the other cars have received new operator control consoles and undoubtedly a number of other important items like wiring harnesses. This happened recently and again represents a significant investment that should not be scrapped hastily.

    Any new LRVs will be extremely electronically complex and proprietary. AC drives and the hardware necessary to ‘tame’ them can be a nightmare, while also emitting really irritating noises far worse than a relatively simple DC chopper.

    New cars will also feature many more body panels made of something other than metal. Small auto collisions that in the past would have been easy to fix will instead render these expensive custom panels throw-away.

    There’s a lot to be said for sticking with what you know. The TTC now has 30-years’ experience operating, maintaining and rebuilding the CLRVs. The cost of losing this and changing over to brand-new vehicles is absolutely massive. If we can still maintain a PCC to insurable safety standards then we should be able to keep the CLRVs going for quite some time.

    I will continue to insist that as long as US cities are satisfied with maintaining their existing high-floor LRVs and streetcars, and even completely rebuilding them or buying new high-floor vehicles, then we have no reason to scrap ours. Other than wheelchair access (we can add lifts) I do not routinely witness major accessability issues. Why strollers have to be two to three times the size these days of what they used to be is a mystery to me. Oversize strollers should be banned from all transit vehicles. If you can’t carry your child up three stairs then you shouldn’t have kids at all.

    Down the road when everyone’s complaining we don’t have enough streetcars I’ll have to say I told you so.

    Steve: The political reality is that low-floor vehicles are mandatory here and trying to avoid them will simply doom the streetcar system. The biggest problem with strollers is that they have evolved into SUV-proportioned prams, but this doesn’t invalidate the benefit to many others for whom stairs are a difficulty of low-floor entrances.


  22. When I see two ALRVs nose to tail entering pm rush service at the 504 platform at Dundas West station and attempting to share space with two CLRVs already there, I know exactly where all of our problems lie with the TTC. Why must this organization be so crippled by bad decision-making?!?

    @ TTC Passenger – Interesting that Philly article should come up while we’re musing about K-cars. I’d really like to hear more about your venture throught the underbelly of those cars and see some photos if you have any. I’ll toss you an email address if you like.


  23. To TTC passenger, you have put in a nut shell what I was saying, the new cars are years off being able to replace the existing fleet of which a large number should be kept as well. A simple “package” to replace the current one is not hard to come up with.

    To Kristian, I understand what you are saying but, you really don’t want to go down the road of wheel chair lifts, especially in a large “on-street” system like this though, as I said above, a large number of the CLRV’s (assuming they plan to keep the ALRV’s) should be kept against fleet expansion and emergencies.

    On a personal note, I will always maintain that a 70% low floor car is superior to a 100% car in the Toronto environment. Having run and trained operators on both the Citadis and Combino cars (3 and 5 section) and have first hand knowledge of the 70% Bombardier Flexity Classic, I know which type works best for a conventional streetcar system, anyone wsihing to discuss this at length can have my e-mail address.

    As for service reliability problems (like the 501), that’s another e-mail but not insurmountable.


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