Sometimes Repairs Take Longer Than Expected

This morning, I was happily working away when what should I hear, but the familiar blast of the horn on the work train that maintains the Prince Edward Viaduct.  One small problem.  It’s 9:50 am and the subway should be running by now.

Was there a service interruption notice?  No.

Memo to Brad Ross at the TTC:  We keep hearing about the new staff and all the wonderful things that will happen with notices regarding service.  When?

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17 thoughts on “Sometimes Repairs Take Longer Than Expected

  1. The TTC might also want to look at the timetables pages on their website. When a section of track is being repaired and there are long-term diversions these should surely be noted on the appropriate timetable page. An example is the 501 which is not running along Queen Street from Victoria to Parliament and this diversion will last at least six weeks.

    The schedule page actually says “There are no major disruptions for this route at this time” and shows when the streetcar will next reach, for example, Queen and Jarvis. Though most stops do have a notice saying “Service on King” it would be far better, and quite easy, to add a note to the webpage telling people that in the first place.

    I discovered that the TTC website is the responsibility of their Marketing Department – perhaps at least parts of it should be under “Customer Service” – if such a department exists!

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  2. What is wrong with the viaduct anyway?

    Steve: This is routine maintenance. The TTC changes out the slabs that form the trackbed because over time the concrete deteriorates. I regularly see the beam car out on the bridge, but not this late in the morning. As you can see from the shot, I have a front row seat for this sort of thing.

    As an historical note, the beam car was purchased some years ago when the need to replace slabs on the bridge deck became fairly common as they wore out. The amount of work needed to manually extract a beam was lengthy and expensive, and the new work car (which can straddle sections of the bridge where the structure and rail are temporarily missing) paid for itself in very short order.

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  3. Interesting. According to the the TTC management directory published on Dec 31, 2007 in the Annual Report from that same year, there doesn’t seem to be any senior person responsible for customer service among 34 Officers, Senior Officials and Department Heads. The closest title I could find is Manager, Service Planning, which is mostly likely not the same thing as customer service.

    My daily interactions with the TTC have always suggested a customer service deficit, and now I know why — apparently nobody at a senior level has this as their sole focus. Compare this against Via Rail and Air Canada, which have a Chief Customer Officer and SVP Customer Service, respectively (not that either company is particularly stellar at customer service, but both are much better than the TTC in my experience).

    Interestingly, doing about 10min of web-searching among various other public transit agencies in North America, it’s not easy to get a sense of their organizational structures (and thus whether they have senior customer service positions). For private sector organizations in the transit sector, it was very easy to find this information about senior leaders and their positions. I wonder why our public sector organizations are more opaque? (I would have expected exactly the opposite.)

    One final note about Customer Service from my very short web-research. Of the various transit authorities I looked at (NYC, Boston, Washington, Chicago, Calgary, Vancouver, Montreal) the TTC is the only one that doesn’t have a link for “Customer Service” on the homepage. Not sure how meaningful, but maybe a bit telling.

    Steve: One big problem in large organizations like the TTC is that passengers are not “customers” to be wooed, won and kept on the system. There are many compartments, fiefdoms, who don’t like to be dictated to by “those guys in customer service” and just want to do their job as they see fit. Because of this sort of turf war, a strong, central CS function is hard to set up and may not have any “angels” at senior levels to protect it.

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  4. Those TTC Service updates via e-mail, they never tell you when the disruption is over.

    A few weeks ago (maybe two), the YUS line was shut down between Bloor-Yonge and I think Eglinton, then something happened to Finch and Sheppard-Yonge/York Mills and so forth.

    No one ever told sent the e-mail of ALL CLEAR.

    If you have to order shuttle buses then it is big enough to send those alerts, then it is also big enough to send an all clear (all service has resumed). There should be a twitter account just for disrupted services (I know there is TTC updates, but it is offline for the moment).

    My favourite announcement: A section of the Scarborough RT is shutdown from McCowan to Kennedy.

    Well, isn’t that section … well call me crazy for thinking this … but it is the WHOLE SRT, not just a section, unless that loop at Kennedy and east of McCowan tailtrack to the maintenance yard is still operational.

    Those announcements (e-mail, twitter, monitors on platforms) need to be consistent.

    I do agree with DavidC that the website itself should have the disruption announcements.

    p.s. the website does not have the price of the ttc weekly pass (#32.25).

    Steve: I suspect that they have generic message generation software that takes a route name plus start and end points and churns out a standard text. Obviously the SRT is either up or down, and canned text does not work for it.

    There is a place on the website for disruption announcements, but they have to update it. Catch 22.

    As has already been pointed out by others, there is no automatic link from the schedule pages for routes like 501 to detailed information about construction or diversions currently in place.

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  5. I knew it!

    I overlook the Greenwood Yard and the tunnel runs right under my building. I am usually awakened by the trains around 9 on a Sunday. Today though I awoke and my alarm clock said 9:44. Now I’m going to have to set the alarm myself?

    Oh TTC you were so reliable.

    Steve: I am sure that the TTC will figure out a way to charge you for this wakeup service, possibly as a surcharge on the Metropass, but it will come with a host of legal outs avoiding any liability should they screw up.

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  6. One of the excuses I remember the TTC using for not operating G Trains in regular service on the B-D Line, apart from their low rate of speed (which I never fully bought because there were no major hills to slow them down) was that they would cause excessive damage to both the Castle Frank and Prince Edward Viaduct bridges. That didn’t stop them from still storing them at Greenwood before Wilson Yard opened, and running them at speed for pull-ins and pull-outs, nor for the (very) occasional need to pull a G Train off Y-U-S onto B-D during rush hour to fill a gap.

    Steve: They ran across the bridges in service for six months of integrated service. Also, as to grades, once the extensions opened, they would have to deal with the grades at the Humber River and the long grade between Vic Park and Warden. Stopping westbound at Victoria Park on black rail after hurtling down the hill from Warden would have been interesting.

    The main advantage the later trains have is in acceleration, and this is true on level ground as well as grades. Riding G trains up the hill at Summerhill, or out of Hogg’s Hollow, was painful.

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  7. I would like to point out that the TTC is ineffective when pointing out delays. Awhile back there was issues at Sheppard station with shuttles in service. I believe it was due to a plan B. There were shuttles in service and everything and the TTC did not issue an advisory. The TTC has a protocol whereas delays lasting more than 30 minutes will prompt an e-alert to be issued.

    I feel the TTC is lacking in their efforts. If the subway is turning back at all even if its for 10 minutes I expect an alert to be posted because even if its only 10 minutes its still going to be a problem heading through the area. Most times the people who experience these things first hand are better at informing people then the TTC who are trying to make things easier for their customers. If it’s easy for average people to inform us of delays when they happen why can’t the TTC?

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  8. This not only applies to the Subway, it applies to the bus network as well, it took them over a day to post a notice about the Finch Sinkhole diversion, which is still posted, so apparently they are still diverting, which they were on Friday. It’s going to be interesting when they return to regular service, in that it’s going to be difficult to know when it’s fixed. People along the diversion route may be waiting for a bus that will never come.

    What they really should have is someone at control, who’s job it is to keep the website diversions and delays pages up to date. Would be simple enough to have a software program so that they simply key in the route, issue and where the issue is, and the software updates the web site. By the same token once a delay or diversion is removed, the operator makes an entry of return to normal service. The page for the route itself should show this information beside the schedule. People would quickly get used to checking the website instead of guessing or calling TTC information.

    Ideally they should have on the schedule page, beside the schedule time a number, like +2 (bus is 2 minutes ahead of schedule) or -5 (meaning the bus is running 5 minutes late). This would be determined from the locator that is part of big brother on the bus itself, and would mirror the drivers display. A 0 would mean that the bus is on time.

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  9. An e-alert and service advisory should have been issued, you are right. Corporate Communications took over this function on Aug. 24. This responsibility includes all-clear alerts. I’m not going to make excuses, but obviously there was a hiccup in the posting process. We will do better as things proceed.

    Brad

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  10. Off topic, but the graffiti at the base of the viaduct is disgusting. I can’t think of any other city that allows its historic bridges to be vandalized in this manner. The city should send a crew down there daily to paint over that garbage on the viaduct and the other bridges along the Don Valley.

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  11. Hi Steve:-

    Your quote in response to Richard White, “The amount of work needed to manually extract a beam was lengthy and expensive” is very true except for the manual part. The process prior to the beam car was extremely long in its prep time and then its aftermath as it was not indeed manual, but used a very similar method which the beam car employs.

    The first process was to install overhead crane rails over the slab in question attached to the underside of the roadway. On the night of the re and re, two electrically propelled cranes were installed and then tested up there. After the track crew removed the rails, the slab crew went to work. The simple explanation is that the old slab was lifted out and placed on the deck of a flatcar. (Memory says RT-11, pushed out onto the viaduct by locomotive RT-18) The new slab was then hoisted into place. When all was ready, the track crew reinstalled the rails. The rail was handled by crane car RT-13 positioned on the other end of the slab. The process was greatly simplified with the acquisition of the beam car as the prep time for hoisting is now nil since the cranes are now mounted on the underside of the beam car’s upper structure. The lifting of the rails and slabs is now done by the one car after being positioned.

    A few nights of work, post beam replacement, after the approximately 1:50 a.m. service shutdown were required to remove the crane rails to be re-installed at another spot to repeat the process for another deteriorated slab.

    Since the temporary crane was slung from the underside of the roadway deck, traffic was prohibited from traveling in the lanes above for fear of overloading the road structure while the heavy slabs were being lifted. We therefore had to put out pylons and lanes closed warning signs to have the vehicular traffic swing to the centre lane of the bridge, well away from the activities below. This operation is no longer required, thanks to the beam car. I recall one particularly miserable windy and sleety winter night when we placed the pylons and they slid all over the icy road surface in the gusts. I had to get a truck loaded with salt ASAP to bring us a supply of that gritty material to stop the pylons from traveling to Castle Frank. The track crews often joked that scheduling of their work would put them at St.George upper level in the high heat of summer (the temperature there is hardly different when it’s -30 outside in the middle of winter) and on the viaduct when it isn’t summer!

    I don’t recall how many of these “old way” replacements took place as I wasn’t there for all of them, but an educated guess says a half dozen plus.

    And to David Cavlovic, yes indeed the G cars were slow compared to the zippy M and H cars. Once the Gs were no longer a factor in the B-D mix, the newer cars could run in ‘high-rate’ and get over the line much more quickly. The track and structure wear were only residual benefits that could be realized with the personable cars removal from east west service. The ‘high-rate’ created its own problems mind you (shades of P&W Bullet cars in suburban Philly here), but that’s a whole ‘nother story.

    I know these comments aren’t about notices, but you brought back those memories again Steve!

    Dennis Rankin

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  12. Oh, I remember high-rate quite well. Those poor motors! A treat, though, was to have an M/H train operate on high-rate, especially nortbound on Yonge, usually because a motor or two died on a set. Mm, mm, mmm! How fast they could go up Rosedale, and Summerhill hill.

    I’ve always wondered if there was any way to get down to the lower level of the Castle Frank viaduct, the one that was sacrificed so that B-D trains could do the bend faster, over the wonderful bridge that has, alas, had it’s “peep-holes” blocked.

    Steve: Oddly enough, high rate was abandoned on BD because the H1 motors had problems with bouncing commutators at about 45 mph. The TTC kept talking about going back to high rate (it would have saved trains and speeded service), but they never did. Some of the foot dragging sounded like a car going around the Union Station curves with brand new wheels and no grease.

    At one point, I suggested that they could save a bundle on a car order by switching to high rate, and the reaction was almost apoplectic — the real purpose of the order was to send work to Thunder Bay, after all. The TTC promised to look into high rate for the next round, but nothing came of it. I doubt the new trains even have this capability.

    As for the bridge over Rosedale Valley Road, there is no deck, only the open support structure, but it is possible to get to this by climbing up the side of the hill. The grafitti proves that someone has been there.

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  13. David Cavlovic says:
    August 31, 2009 at 5:34 pm

    “Oh, I remember high-rate quite well. Those poor motors! A treat, though, was to have an M/H train operate on high-rate, …”

    You should have been on a full M train, especially westbound out of Warden. They were faster than the H-1’s. I was on a train of M’s once when a supervisor or superintendent, I can’t remember what the ones above inspectors were called [Supervisor], decided it was time to get a little familiarization with train operation again. He took the train westbound out of Warden and ignored the operator when he told him to turn the controller off about a train length before the O marker. The train hit the trip arm on the timing circuit and went into emergency. The superintendent had to climb down, reset it and then call control to inform them that he and not the operator had run the signal. Yes they were fast.

    Are the new trains capable of high range?

    Steve: Don’t know, but will ask. I suspect not given how soundly the TTC has fought against going back to high rate. In any event, they would only do it on YUS because that’s the line where the new cars will run, and also the line which is getting a new signal system that could be easily adapted to a new speed profile.

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  14. I miss the M-1’s. Poor drivers had a closet to stand in at first, though.
    At least a unit is preserved at HCRR.
    There’s also a great video of the last M-1 charter.

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  15. Nothing is sweeter than the work train horn and those older trains on the YUS line that have that sound when they accelerate and brake.

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  16. Steve,

    Any idea why the BD trains are proceeding at a snail’s pace in both directions on the Prince Edward Viaduct? To start with it was just Westbound (I believe it started in January 2011) and then quickly Eastbound trains were subject to the same restrictions. Been this way for about 8 weeks now I would estimate.

    I assume maintenance is pending… but the fact that the slow down is required (adding I’m guessing 1-2 mins to the journey time) means either something unexpected happened or money for preventative maintenance isn’t forthcoming. Not good.

    Thoughts?
    Antony

    Steve: This has been in place since roughly December. When the TTC replaces beams on the viaduct (the concrete slabs under the rails than span from one bridge support to the next, they cut the rails free and lift out the failing beam. Then they put in a new beam and reinstall the pieces of rail that were cut out. The level of activity has been particularly high in the past year or so (I have a front row seat from by apartment which looks out on the bridge), and many of the reinstalled rails have not been welded to their neighbours.

    Over time, this has left a lot of less than ideal joints on the bridge giving both a rough ride and increasing vibration on the bridge structure.

    The TTC has just started to replace strings of rail between the main piers of the bridge on the westbound track starting at the east end. This leaves a short section of “old” track, including the expansion joints, at each pier. These old tracks are not welded to the new strings, probably because with the two different ages and wear on the older track, it would be hard to make a smooth join.

    Here is a picture of the special work car that is used for bridge maintenance. This is actually a three car train — the locomotive to the right, the beam replacement car (one end is obscured by the bridge pier), and a flatcar with sundry equipment to the left. The view looks southwest. The central part of the beam car is a travelling crane with nothing underneath, and it is parked spanning a beam that is to be replaced.

    And, yes, when I said I have a front row seat, I was not kidding, although that is taken with a telephoto lens and cropped for the widescreen effect.

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