Harbourfront Tunnel Slow Order

In a spectacular piece of bad timing, the TTC has instituted a slow order in the tunnel between Union and Queen’s Quay Stations for track repairs due to problems with the concrete.

One can’t help wondering why they didn’t find and fix whatever was wrong earlier this year when the line was closed down elsewhere.  Were they hoping to save this for next winter, but lost the gamble?

Meanwhile, operators have been directed as follows:

To all operators on the 509 and 510 routes, the following announcement should be read to your customers when entering the tunnel on the Harbourfront route and when leaving Union Station.  The announcement may help the customers understand the slow speeds required.






The TTC’s website is silent on this situation.  Any added information would be appreciated.

21 thoughts on “Harbourfront Tunnel Slow Order

  1. This will be interesting… I wonder if the TTC is holding out doing repairs on the tunnel until after the CNE, maybe because repair work could stretch into CNE time. That could turn out to be a huge gamble, with the situation becoming so bad they’re forced to take the tunnel offline right in the middle of the CNE crowds.

    Either way, busing the line will be horrible; 509 is the main route to the CNE from the east (511 is busy but nowhere as much as 509).


  2. This reminds me of the 30-km an hour speed limit signs I’ve seen in that tunnel for years… I kinda wondered why this was lower than the limit along the roadway above, considering the tunnel amounts to an exclusive right of way.


  3. “This reminds me of the 30-km an hour speed limit signs I’ve seen in that tunnel for years… I kinda wondered why this was lower than the limit along the roadway above, considering the tunnel amounts to an exclusive right of way.”

    I’m not qualified in any way to comment, but I assumed it was because in the tunnels do not have block signaling like subway tunnels, and the curves could prevent operators from seeing a car up ahead and braking in time.


  4. And this is after it was closed twice within a year a couple of years ago – once to replace the rails, and then again to replace the overhead. This tunnel has a long history of problems. Obviously concrete isn’t doing too well with the moisture and perhaps the way that it has been formed is retaining moisture and affecting the rails. Are there any alternative materials that could withstand the conditions?


  5. I was especially surprised today to see ALRVs used on the 509 Exhibition route, since I was under the impression that for technical reasons, ALRVs couldn’t be used in the Queen’s Quay tunnel.

    Steve: The “technical reason” is that if one breaks down in the tunnel, it’s hard to push it out up the hill with a CLRV.


  6. Steve please do me a favour and confirm my sanity. For Sanity sake, is the ttc a three or four ring circus.

    Steve: They are still holding meetings to decide how many rings they should have, assuming they can come to some agreement about whether they should have rings at all. There is talk of a new circus where the rings would be much larger, but the acts would never perform in the middle, only at the periphery.


  7. I assume that the long-awaited EA report on the new Queens Quay East streetcar line is slowly working its way to completion. The last time I heard anything about this it seemed that the portal might be moved to Bay Street where it would serve both QQ West and QQ East.

    If the portal is to be moved and/or expanded within the next couple of years (QQ East is supposed to open in 2011) it would not make much sense to spend too much money fixing the existing one. However, with the TTC’s ways of planning this doubtless means they are about to do just that!

    Steve: Those of us who sit on the community consultative committee for this project have been waiting for months for word on the project’s status. There are two major issues as I understand it.

    First, the placement of a portal is complicated by the close spacing of the roads north of Queen’s Quay. Wherever the line surfaces, there needs to be enough room for a portal with the track at a reasonable gradient. This placement is also complicated by proposals for reconfiguring the Gardiner ramps and by a scheme to put a new intercity bus terminal on Bay near the Harbour Commission building. That plan seems to have died a well-deserved death, but it managed to hold up a lot of other things in the mean time.

    Also, there is considerable debate about the placement of tracks on Queen’s Quay east of Bay that depends on the redesign of this street in the manner planned forthe western part with the current eastbound lanes converting to park, pedestrian and cyclist uses.

    We hope a meeting will be called soon so that, at least, people can see how all of these options interact.


  8. To clarify, the main problem is not with the concrete “pads”, (a few were replaced during rail rehabilitation) but with metal hardware. Due to high humidity in the tunnel in the summer and leaks through the slurry wall, there is condensation on the metal rail components and corrosion is occurring at an accelerated rate. Some large “hold-down” bolts are slipping through the nut and some are breaking. Dozens have been tagged and will be replaced on an overnight basis hopefully before the CNE starts but no guarantee.

    A request was made to shut down the tunnel and turn back all street-cars at Spadina loop (replaced by a few shuttle buses) in order to facilitate the work but that was denied. Managements solution was the 7 kph slow order.

    Drivers requested that public notices of the slow order be placed at Queen’s Quay station and Union station but that was refused. Again the drivers will have to handle public annoyance and negative comments from the very slow “crawl” through the tunnel. That memo to make announcements was given to all Spadina drivers this week and from my feed-back was quickly tossed in the garbage.

    Also a number of Pandrol metal clips which hold the rail down under high spring tension continue to break from pitting and corrosion in Union and Spadina tunnels and fly out from the rail at high velocity. Pandrol company makes epoxy coated clips but they have yet to be used by the TTC.

    Steve: There was a great deal of controversy about that tunnel when it was built. TTC engineering insisted it be built with the slurry wall method, likely to minimize disruption to traffic. The contractor wound up suing the TTC for misrepresenting the site conditions and having the tunnel built with an unsuitable method.

    Of course if the line had surfaced just south of the rail viaduct as originally intended, rather than going underground so that Bay Street could have turn lanes, this would never have been an issue. We are paying now for the stupidity of two decades ago.

    As for public notices, I am amused that we can have a complete shutdown of the YSNE to aid in tunnel repairs complete with public announcements and signage, but the TTC can’t bring itself to posting notices on the Harbourfront line.


  9. Fascinating post and comments – thanks.

    To my mere citizen standpoint, all these complications, present and past, make me think that using the south of Front St. area for any heavier transit that involves digging is just asking for costly trouble somewhere down the line.

    So having more robust east-west longer-haul transit here is less wise on the lakefill, and better on relative terra firma, and the boundary for that is Front St. What decade can we properly examine a Front St. transitway?


  10. One must remember that the entire line is built in reclaimed land. Wind the clock back 100 heck even 90 years and lake waters would cover the area south of lake shore ave. As I recall when the line was built specal pumps had to be installed for countinuous removal of water that would seep into the tunnel.

    Steve: Yes, that tunnel was very difficult to build as it was below the water table and very close to the lake. Queen’s Quay Station was built differently from the tunnel itself and structurally is, in effect, a bathtub sitting in the lake. The tunnel, by contrast, used slurry walls, a technique that assumes you can excavate between the walls, but the amount of groundwater made that difficult.

    By the way, the reason the walls have such a rough surface is that they were built by pouring concrete into a trench and the irregular surface of the trench formed the face of the walls.

    A similar technique had been used on the south end of the University subway, but with two important differences. First, the line was well away from the lake and north of the old shoreline. Second, forms were used to provide a smooth tunnel wall.


  11. So a hundred-million dollar question is how costly will it be to rebuild all of this tunnel/loop for servicing the Portlands and the WWLRT? Shouldn’t the cost estimates be developed ahead of committing to these particular lines?Or does the presence of plans and a push for providing transit ahead of development mean these plans are sacrosanct?


  12. Steve wrote, “A similar technique had been used on the south end of the University subway.”

    Are you referring to the experiment in the Icos-Veder technique that the TTC did when building the University line? According to “Transit In Toronto” (a 68-page staple-bound book published by the TTC in 1967, revised in 1969, reprinted in 1970 and revised again in 1971):

    “Following an investigation of the Icos-Veder technique developed in Milan, Italy – a variation of cut-and-cover construction – it was decided to try it in Toronto on a section of the University line. The test section chosen was 162 feet long on a curve between Museum and St. George Stations.”

    The passage goes on to explain the method involving digging a trench the width of the wall to a depth of six feet, then coating the trench walls for support along with filling the trench with bentonite while they continue the dig . Once excavated to the necessary depth, the trench is filled with concrete (displacing the bentonite, allowing it to be removed and reused).

    The book only mentions that the rest of the University line was built with either cut-and-cover (with pre-bored piles) or tunneling, with no mention of any alternative methods used elsewhere.

    Steve: Hmmm. I had thought that they did some of the south end of the line that way too, but would have to do some serious archive digging to find a reference. Of course at St. George there would be few problems with groundwater and the earth around the trench would be much more stable. Also, I wonder whether even with the bentonite they used some sort of sheeting to line the trench before the concrete was poured as there is no place near the wye I can think of that does not have the smooth walls one gets with formwork.


  13. “The announcement may help the customers understand the slow speeds required.”

    Um… no. No, I can’t really see that particular announcement helping anyone understand anything. Speaking as a professional writer.

    Doesn’t the TTC have a director of communications now? I seem to vaguely recall him being hired with much fanfare. I know how hard it is to introduce effective communications into an organization, but… is the guy even trying?

    Steve: This is probably something that was cooked up down at the operational level and the Communications folks never had a look at it.


  14. I’ve had discussions with the Streetcar Way people who do track inspections and the problem is the concrete pads holding the rails in place. Some of the pads are 60% gone, sad thing is some that were replaced last year need to be redone this year. At the veeerrry sllloooow speed streetcars are going you can see them from the front and rear windows. The subway holds their rail the same way, but I’ve never heard of them having this problem. It’s been a long time since I rode the subway up Yonge to York Mills, but I recall that tunnel was very wet.

    As for announcement, Steve is right that came from divisional level. They should have a proper announcement done and recorded on the stop announcement system. It could be automatic based on GPS or manual with operator pushing a button.

    Steve: I remember a CBC news clip during the bad, early days of David Gunn’s tenure when deferred maintenance on the YSNE cropped up. There were cases where the bolts “holding” the track down were completely rusted through. I am amazed that we have such flaky track structures given that engineers have had to work with water in tunnels for over a century.


  15. Steve – after reading your post I inquired about the slow order and tunnel repairs. When doing repairs last fall several anchor bolts were broken. Coring out anchor bolts requires the application of water and since winter encroached early, it wasn’t possible to do until spring. When spring arrived, a new problem arose: lead in the anchors. Development of a process to enable anchor removal and contain the resultant lead concentrate is under development. I am told the work will be completed in a month’s time.

    Effective customer communications is extremely important to the TTC. I wouldn’t characterize my hiring as having been done with “much fanfare,” as Electric Landlady has suggested, but, yes, this “guy” is “trying.”

    Steve: Thanks to Brad and others for various aspects of a definitive update on this situation.


  16. After some thought, the 7 km slow order is the best option at this time. Shutting the tunnel at this time won’t mean having replacement buses covering the entire 509 Harbourfront route from Union Stn to the EX because the current board period just started and streetcar drivers scheduled to do the 509 would still have to operate streetcars, even if it means long layovers at the Queens Quay/Spadina loop (there would be a massive lineup of 509/510 streetcars at the loop) or at the EX. Also, at least 15-20 buses are required between Union and the EX during this time of the year. The TTC would have to scramble to ask every bus division (even Malvern, which is in the northeast section of Toronto) for the right number of buses and that would be a challenge. Plus, traffic on Queens Quay in the Harbourfront area is a mess on weekends. Unless the TTC is willing to let buses operate on the right-of-way, shuttle buses would be stuck in traffic, making service even worse.

    If the TTC had no choice but to shut down the tunnel right now, we would see buses running between Union Stn (on street level on the west side of Bay St. just south of Front St.) and either Queens Quay/Spadina or Lakeshore/Bathurst). 509 streetcars would operate between the Queens Quay/Spadina loop and the EX and all 510 Spadina cars bound for Union would end at Queens Quay/Spadina. With the CNE coming up and other events taking place (eg. Toronto FC soccer and Ontario Place concerts), it’s better to keep those passengers on the streetcar for the whole distance instead of forcing them to transfer at Queens Quay and Spadina.


  17. WIth some respect, and I haven’t seen it/surroundings, but lead is such a soft metal it shouldn’t be that tricky to get it out of a hole in masonry. Cut it in half or chisel through it, then pry it out, then vacuum. Unless there’s an occupational reason, but the tunnel likely gives plenty of other cause for that and we’ve managed to leave in place a huge amount of lead contamination from the Gardiner cars…


  18. In addition to the slow order in the tunnel, the only escalator down to the streetcar loop at Union Station is disassembled and scheduled to be out of service until August 29th. An already small space will be all that much more crowded, especially on weekends with island ferry and CNE traffic.

    Steve: And for extra irony, this closure is not listed on the TTC’s website. The most recent start date for escalator maintenance is July 29.


  19. I’ve got a report from a reader that the slow order is gone. Can anyone confirm?

    Steve: Yes, I rode the line last week to the Metrolinx meeting, and there was no slow order.


Comments are closed.