The TTC Capital Budget contains many projects related to subway fleet, capacity and future operations. Collectively, these projects amount to billions of dollars and many of them are not yet funded.
There are two major problems faced by subway planners:
- Everything has a very long lead time, and plans made today need to balance between overspending on capacity we might not need and underspending that could produce future constraints on service.
- Everything costs a lot of money, and unexpected additions to the budget can crowd out other necessary projects.
Large organizations and projects share issues familiar to many:
- Left hand, right hand. One department plans on the assumption that another project will actually happen in the announced manner and on a definite timescale. Plans change, but co-ordination is less than perfect, and plans go out of sync.
- In for a penny, in for a pound. A project is “sold” politically on the basis of improvements it can bring. However, actually achieving these improvements triggers the need for many follow-on works that are not budgeted. Proponents of the first project in this chain innocently claim that they were simply creating the ability for some future enhancement. Privately the attitude may be that the politicians would never approve something if they knew how much it would actually cost. In a robust economy, the extra funding is always found somewhere, but when times are tight, budget surprises are unwelcome.
Both of these effects can be seen in the TTC’s subway fleet and service plans.
In the detailed budget papers, we find the following statement:
Provision for additional cars to facilitate line expansion or reduced headway operation associated with ATC resignalling can be accommodated in the existing car order as a result of 10% capacity gains with the new TR subway cars. (page 973)
Unfortunately, the truth is not quite what the TTC claims. Here are the actual fleet plans as shown in the detailed papers.
In the YUS plan, note how the additional capacity of the Toronto Rocket (TR) cars is used to reduce the total train requirement by up to 9 trains in the out years. The TTC can’t have it both ways — either they will provide more capacity with roomier trains, or they will provide the same capacity with fewer trains.
Additional trains are forecast in:
- 2010 (3 trains) to extend the St. Clair West short turn to Glencairn
- 2013 (5 trains) to provide additional capacity taking advantage of automatic operation (ATO)
- 2015 (9 trains) to extend the Spadina subway including shifting the short turn operation to Wilson
- 2019 and 2020 (1 train each) for ridership growth
The 2010 adjustment won’t affect headways, but will simply add capacity between St. Clair West and Glencairn.
The 2013 adjustment presumes the availability of ATO to handle closer headways, but this isn’t actually needed! The six trains deducted from requirements due to TR capacity more than compensate for the five trains added for better service. The result will be a headway almost identical to what operates today, and ATO is not required to support it. The fleet plan clearly shows the number of trains in service on YUS declining between 2010 and 2012 from 49 to 45 trains as the TR fleet gradually displaces the existing T1 and H fleets, with a jump back to 50 trains in 2013.
Out in 2021, 60 TR trains, allowing for the Spadina extension, will provide almost the same frequency of service as the TTC operates today with 48 T1/H trains.
Current service provides a capacity of about 25.5k/hr based on 1,000 passengers per train (design level for service, not crush load) and 25.5 trains/hr. The TTC believes that there is a 10% latent demand for capacity that is not met by current service, and that there will be a 1.35% annual growth over the next decade. The combined effect of these factors gives a growth of about 30% by 2021.
However, most of the improvement the TTC plans is the added space within the TR fleet, roughly 10%. Therefore the planned fleet and level of service will not be able to handle demand projected by the TTC’s own assumptions.
Using TR equipment with a design capacity of 1,100 passengers per train, the YUS could handle 33k/hr with 30 trains/hr or a 120 second headway. If these were T1 or H trains, this would require a 109-second headway.
Such headways, even with ATO, would be difficult to sustain on the current system given the geometry of Finch Station. This has not been addressed in TTC plans because they assume the line will be extended further north, and a short-turn operation will eliminate this problem. However, the Richmond Hill line would not open until at least 2019 even it were funded, and that’s a $3.8-billion (current estimate) hole in everyone’s budget.
I do not argue that we are wasting money on ATO (the YUS does need updated signal equipment). However, the City and TTC are being hoodwinked if they think that substantial additional capacity will be provided within the existing budget and fleet plan. Moreover, that plan, based on the premise that headways will become too short to be managed without ATO, includes the premature replacement of the H6 fleet. The option for additional trains must be exercised by mid-2010.
The TTC claims that replacing the H6 fleet now is cost-effective on a Net Present Value basis, partly due to the discount available from Bombardier to keep the TR production line going. This effectively replaces future operating costs (maintenance) with a capital expenditure, and we must believe that the future savings will actually be achieved to justify spending scarce capital now.
Why doesn’t the TTC keep the H6 trains on BD and run T1 trains on YUS? It turns out that the T1s, the pride of the fleet only a few years ago, will cost a lot of money to upgrade with ATO equipment. The TTC also claims that keeping the H6 fleet alive is not cost effective and it should be replaced now because additional TR sets can be obtained at a discount. Is this plan still valid in the larger budget context? We don’t know.
Nine additional trainsets are required for the Spadina Subway extension, but these currently sit as an isolated order in the fleet plan at a time where there could be a surplus of T1 and H6 cars if the latter remain in service. Should the Spadina requirement come from a smaller extension of the current TR order?
By the time new cars are required for the Richmond Hill subway extension, the H6 fleet will be at its normal retirement age. What premium would Toronto pay for a small TR order only for Richmond Hill rather than a larger order including the H6 replacements? Would this be an appropriate time to begin the shift to 7-car trains with 33 new trains and 48 retrofits?
On top of everything, the TTC has another unfunded project proposal for platform doors on the YUS. The intention is to improve station operations by allowing trains to move in and out without fear of hitting people on the platform. Many other benefits are claimed for these doors (fewer delays due to suicides, less trash that can start fires, possible ventillation improvements, even more room for advertising), but the bottom line is this:
- The budget for this project is almost $1-billion in the detail sheets. Some at TTC claim that they wouldn’t install the doors at every location, and the summary presented at the TTC meeting says $494-million. Either way, that’s a lot of money for doors that might be spent elsewhere.
- Platform doors only work if the trains can be stopped precisely in line with the doors. This requires that all trains have ATO equipment and run in ATO mode.
The combination of added TR cars, ATO and platform doors is a marvellous example of scope creep, and we haven’t even talked about the cost of additional trains to carry the extra demand for which the platform doors are proposed in the first place.
Back in April 2008, TTC staff presented the Subway Service Improvement Plan in which they claimed that the TR cars would have 3-10 times the reliability of the T1 and H fleets, and that a 50% reduction in spares would be possible (from a 19% spare allowance to 10%). However, the fleet plan in the 2010 budget uses a spare factor of 13% for the TR fleet.
For some time, the TTC has used a low projection of spares as part of the economic justification for retiring existing subway cars before their time is up. This was done for the T1 fleet purchase, and yet we are told that a substantial reduction in spares will be possible now with the TR fleet. This is, no doubt, part of the rationale for retiring the H6 fleet.
Is the T1 fleet actually much less reliable than originally hoped? The TTC plans to move its entire T1 fleet to the BD line where they have the same 13% spare factor as on Yonge, even though the supposedly more reliable TR trains will not run on BD. The claims about spare factors are badly out of whack here.
Between now and 2016, TTC plans to add six trains the BD operation. Today, the AM peak headway is 144 seconds with 42 trains. Adding six trains brings this down to 126 seconds. However, as I have already discussed on this site, this is below the level at which the Kipling and Kennedy terminals can reasonably operate with anything other than split-second, regimented arrivals, departures and crew changes. Even with this additional service, the TTC will still have more T1 trainsets than it needs, including spares. This is a direct result of pushing the entire T1 fleet off of the Yonge line.
In 2016 the original part of the BD subway will be 50 years old. By analogy to the YUS, it should be due for a replacement of its signal system. Will this trigger a requirement to prematurely retire the T1 equipment which will be barely 20 years old? The entire question of the T1 fleet and ATO capability requires a thorough review. Indeed it is unclear whether the real requirement is for anything more than cab signalling to replace the existing wayside equipment.
The status of related projects in this discussion is:
- Spadina Subway Extension. Budgeted and funded including 9 trainsets and yard facilities.
- Richmond Hill Subway. Current estimated cost $3.8-billion including 12 trainsets and yard facilities. Unfunded. Earliest possible opening 2019.
- Downtown Relief Line. There is a $5m study proposed in the budget, but its description implies that it will be confined simply to reviewing the well-known Pape to Dundas West proposal, and that it will not examine related issues such as a northerly extension to Eglinton nor alternate routings. There is a risk that the study will not provide a full range of options for future decisions.
- GO Richmond Hill Express Rail. Part of the Metrolinx RTP, but not funded. Implementation date uncertain.
- H6 fleet replacement — 21 trainsets for $311-million. The assumptions behind this plan, including competing requirements for capital financing at the City, may no longer be valid.
- Additional subway trains to permit shorter headways. Unbudgeted and unfunded.
- 7-car TR sets to provide more capacity per train. Unbudgeted and unfunded. This is an alternative way to avoid reducing headways beyond a level that the YUS can sustain at choke points.
- Bloor-Yonge Station capacity expansion. A report is expected late in 2009. This project is unbudgeted and unfunded.
- Platform doors. Somewhere from $500m to $1b depending on which part of the budget you believe. Unfunded. It is unclear whether doors configured for 6-car trains would be compatible with the layout of 7-car TR trains, or if retrofits would be required.
- BD subway signalling replacement. Unbudgeted and unfunded.
Although TTC subway plans are headed, generally, in the right direction, they lack the co-ordination and integrated view needed to balance competing financial requirements. This is not entirely the TTC’s fault given the unreliable funding situation and shifting priorities for regional transit projects.
Budgeting at the City and Queen’s Park is moving to longer timeframes in an attempt to control unexpected and unaffordable growth in capital demands. Past TTC practices included large year-to-year changes in projections, and shifting claims about the costs and benefits of various projects. For all its importance, the transit budget cannot simply expand without review and co-ordination, if only because money misdirected to project “A” is not available for projects “B” and “C”.
Both the TTC and Metrolinx, as the regional agent for Queen’s Park, need an integrated rapid transit plan recognizing the interaction between many parts of the network and the alternatives available to serve transit demand in the GTA.