The TTC’s ongoing inability to correctly provide for its fleet requirements gets embarrassing at times. A big one comes during consideration of capital budgets when there always seem to be brand new projects that appear out of thin air even though they should have been foreseen.
The questions of subway capacity and fleet size are not small change, something to be fixed up with the underspending in a few minor accounts. If you get it wrong in one direction, nobody can fit on the trains, and the lead time to fix this condemns riders to horrendous service. If you get it wrong in the other direction, you have a bloated fleet, an investment in trains and yard space that might have gone to more deserving projects, and a padding factor that works against efficiency in maintenance because there’s always another spare train in the yard.
The TTC’s surrent subway fleet plans do not include cars for the subway extensions beyond Steeles Avenue, nor for the allegedly closer headways we require to accommodate all of the riding growth the Richmond Hill line will bring. Cynics might be tempted to say that the whole question of subway capacity has been manipulated to the TTC’s budgetary advantage, but I have always taken the view that much that appears to be Machiavellian can be explained by bad planning.
This post and the much longer paper attached to it will examine TTC fleet planning and the degree to which we are not seeing the full story of options for future subway services.
Current Fleet Plans
The TTC plans to consolidate into two fleets by the middle of the next decade. This will give us a fleet of T-1 cars for use on Bloor-Danforth and Sheppard, and a fleet of “Toronto Rockets” or “TR” cars for the Yonge line. However, current orders for TR cars will only replace the existing “H” series fleets with a modest provision for expansion. TTC’s current plans for additional service include:
- Seven additional trains in 2010 for the current shortfall in service.
- Three additional trains in 2010 to extend short-turn operations on the Spadina line to Glencairn.
- Sixteen additional trains (7 for BD and 9 for YUS) over the period up to 2025 to accommodate growth at 1.35% per year.
The 2010 plans may be delayed until the fleet is actually big enough to support the additional services.
The ability of the BD line to actually handle so many additional trains is dubious because of limitations on turanaround times at Kennedy and Islington (roughly 2’10” minimum as discussed elsewhere in this blog).
The Yonge line will not be able to handle more frequent service until two projects are completed.
- Automatic train control allowing for closer train spacing especially at stations like Bloor with long dwell times.
- Provision of turnback points (now planned for Finch and Downsview) where half of the service can pull into pocket tracks and return south. The VCC and Langstaff terminals would become much more complex if all service ran to the ends of the line, and demand is nowhere requiring this level of operation.
The Yonge line’s projected requirements could be offset by new and improved services such as GO service to Richmond Hill and the Downtown Relief Line. Unfortunately, it is dubious whether a DRL would be in place (even if it were moved up in the Metrolinx priority list) in time for the Langstaff opening. The TTC will be forced to provide very frequent service over much of the Yonge line even though the real congestion is only downtown. This will keep the carbuilders happy, but it will concentrate both demand and the impact of any service problems on one line.
The current fleet plan and capital budget do not contain any provision for extra trains for improved headways on Yonge. The budget for the two extensions does include a provision for additional cars, although this is buried inside a larger item and we don’t know whether this is adequate for our needs.
A bigger fleet needs a larger carhouse and more ongoing maintenance work. This is only partly provided for in the budget.
The Spare Ratio
A big issue with the current subway fleet (not to mention the entire surface fleet) is the spare ratio, the number of vehicles in addition to scheduled service that are needed for ongoing maintenance and repairs. Within my lifetime, spare ratios over ten percent were considered excessive in the transit industry, but modern vehicles are more complex and less reliable, and the common values have drifted up well into the 15% range or more. (The streetcar fleet now stands at about 33%.)
The TTC expects its new fleet to reduce spare requirements through improved reliability. Three cheers and all that, but I can’t help wondering how the situation was allowed to become so bad in the first place. One way or another, the elimination of the last of the “H” trains will allow for a lower spare ratio once the entire fleet is made up of T-1 and TR cars. This offsets but does not eliminate the pressure from riding growth and route extensions.
Capacity Options for the Yonge Line
There are various ways to increase capacity on the Yonge-University Subway.
- The TR trainsets have about 10% more capacity because of the gangways between cars and the ability of passengers to distribute themselves through the trains.
- Headways could be reduced from the current level of about 2’20” to roughly 1’50” (roughly a 27% improvement) through automatic train control. Although 1’30” headways have been discussed, they are impractical given the actual route layout and station spacing. The 1988 headway study (presented elsewhere on this blog in great detail) observed that below a 1’50” headway, scheduled speed actually goes down because the trains are too close together to move at track speed.
- A seventh 50-foot-long car could be added to the TR sets. This would add roughly 10% to the capacity of each train.
Several of the Yonge line stations have constrained capacity for passenger movements from the platform to the mezzanine with current service levels, never mind an improvment by 40% (the combined effect of the first two bullets above). Congestion is particularly bad at stations with on stair and one escalator when the escalator is under maintenance.
Although the TTC is working to add second exits at various stations, a concerted program would be required to bring critical Yonge line stations such as Wellesley, College and Dundas up to scratch. There may also be fire code issues with University line stations where there is only one pathway to the surface through a common mezzanine level.
Bloor-Yonge and St. George Stations
These stations handle transfer traffic between the two subway lines and they are constrained for expansion of capacity by nearby underground structures and watercourses. The situation at Bloor-Yonge was discussed in the 1988 study.
A big problem exists with the BD line during the PM peak because of limitations on the extra service that can be provided there. If passengers arriving northbound at Bloor (or St. George) are 40% more numerous than today, the service on BD will not be able to take them away fast enough to clear the platform between trains.
Schemes to increase station capacity have been proposed, but I cannot help thinking that this is one more example of how subway planners compound the problem of overcommiting the capacity of one corridor rather than looking at alternatives.
A Few Concluding Thoughts
Subway planning and the need for additional capacity into the core are complex issues, and Toronto has been poorly served by years of jurisdictional isolation (GO, TTC) and underfunding (build pet subways like Sheppard while ignoring long term problems in areas of high demand).
Recently, Metrolinx has at least thrown some of the options for downtown-oriented capacity back into the hopper, but many of these are years away in the back end of the 15-year plan if not the 25-year map. The problems, however, will face us within the next decade.
A much more extensive review of these issues is contained in Subway Fleet and Route Planning, a discussion paper I completed a few weeks ago. Originally I had intended that it find its way to the staff of various agencies, but have decided to publish it here for maximum exposure.