LRT For Toronto

Royson James has a pair of columns in the Toronto Star discussing the perennial LRT vs subway transit debates.

City needs a transit lesson (Nov. 17, 2010)

Commuters won’t fill LRTs, much less subways (Nov. 19, 2010)

James sets out the pros and cons without becoming mired in either side’s arguments.  As with any overview, there are points for or against either technology that are not made with the vigour that advocates would prefer.  The important issue, however, is not to choose one technology to the exclusion of the other, but to look at the appropriate one for each implementation.

One critical issue — regardless of which side one might be on — is the matter of land use and how the evolution of Toronto will affect demand on routes and the overall network.  There are two fundamentally different views of of future development — the Official Plan’s “Avenues” with major streets lined by mid-rise buildings and shops giving an active pedestrian environment at ground level, or the more traditional “tower in a park” design that has shaped much of Toronto’s growth since the 1960s.  A third variant has appeared over the past decade — both tall and dense, as exemplified by the railway lands, parts of Liberty Village and most recently the Queen West Triangle (Queen & Dovercourt).

Each of these produces transit demands which vary both due to the built form and to the neighbourhood in which development occurs.  A building located in an existing walkable neighbourhood with shops and transit will have very different transportation demands than the same building located on a suburban arterial where the nearest shop is the mall a short drive or a lonely, windy walk away.

The perennial myth about subways is that their high capacity will be consumed by redevelopment around stations.  This is utter hogwash.  The Yonge line is full well north of Eglinton not with Willowdale condo dwellers, but with traffic fed in on surface routes.  Developments along the line add to the demand, but the subway exists to serve a much wider catchment area.  Similarly, the BD subway depends on feeder services to many stations, and the decades-long absence of nearby development did not prevent the buildup of demand eastbound from Etobicoke or westbound from Scarborough.

LRT lies somewhere in between by serving both busy “local” corridors and, in some cases, acting almost like a subway in speed, if not capacity.  We must remember that the SRT would have been an LRT line (and to Malvern too, decades ago) but for Queen’s Park’s intervention with the ICTS technology.  Regardless of technology, it is a medium capacity line whose principal function is to feed the BD subway at Kennedy and, much more recently, to serve the high-density residential development at Scarborough Town Centre, developments that did not occur until decades after the SRT opened.

In many ways, LRT has always been a misunderstood, orphan technology in Toronto.  Some within the TTC have never accepted the retention of streetcars, much less the creation of an LRT alternative to full-blown subway construction.  At a time when LRT was coming back into favour around the world, Toronto pursued ICTS and lost the chance to show what real LRT could do.  At more than double the cost of the LRT proposal, ICTS “proved” that there was no cheap way to implement transit lines, and system expansion stalled.  The TTC did nothing to advance the LRT alternative.

Spadina, Harbourfront and St. Clair are really not LRT, but rather upgraded streetcar lines.  That statement brings me to a common question:  what’s the difference between streetcars, LRT and “Heavy Rapid Transit” (or HRT)?  Everyone knows what subways, streetcars and buses are, but things get mushy in the space between them.

The boundary between HRT and LRT is fairly straightforward:  if the technology cannot run at grade in medians or crossing streets and walkways, then it’s HRT regardless of what vehicle actually operates on the structure.  There can be “light” railways such as the SRT, or full-blown subways, but in either case the lines are confined to an exclusive right-of-way.  This imposes costs and complexities wherever they are built.

The boundary between LRT and streetcar is not as clear-cut.  How exclusive is the right-of-way?  How much mixed-traffic operation does a route have?  How aggressive is the traffic signal priority?  Do passengers board through all doors?  How far apart are the stations?  How long are the vehicles or trains?  All of these issues and more produce a range of answers, and there is no magic point at which a light blinks on “LRT”.  That’s the strength of the technology — LRT does not have to be the same thing all the time on every metre of a route or a network.  The challenge is to strike a balance between the “light” and “rapid” parts of the name — exclusivity and speed versus the footprint a line can have in a street and neighbourhood.

The term “LRT” has been oversold in Toronto.  We have never seen something in the style of other Canadian LRT implementations in Edmonton or Calgary.  We lost that chance when the Scarborough LRT became the “RT”.  It’s still dubious whether we will see that route incorporated into an LRT network, or swallowed by a subway extension.

Toronto’s “LRT” routes run through downtown areas with frequent cross-streets where traffic signals grudgingly give priority to transit (but just as often serve to delay it).  They have slow on-board fare collection with high-floor cars and low-floor platforms.  They suffer a planning context where transit must fight to be acknowledged.

There is only so much road space and money to go around.  Subways make for flashy announcements and lots of work for the construction industry, but endless waits by riders whose trips are not served by the most recent subway extension. LRT lines (and busways while we’re on the subject) take space that would otherwise be used by motorists.  On some arterials, this space is available, but on many it is not (even VIVA’s BRT network is constrained in places by a narrow right-of-way).

LRT advocates have an uphill battle because Toronto’s version of this technology pleases few.  St. Clair was a disaster for “LRT” (and for transit in general) — there were too many design tradeoffs and construction was appallingly mismanaged.  Operations have improved over “the old days”, but still depend on keen route supervisors who actually manage the service rather than letting cars roam back and forth in packs taking generous layovers at terminals.  We may be rid of traffic congestion, but not the infamous TTC culture.

The political climate may shift back to one where we make announcements to appear to be “doing something”, even if that won’t bear fruit for a decade or more.  Such plans will serve only small parts of the GTA when finished (if ever), we will have yet another “lost generation” of transit investment.  Decisions about how to build, where to build, what to build are difficult and need more than an endless supply of magic markers, maps and press kits.

We have seen how a proposed LRT network suffered from funding cutbacks.  Major new revenue streams (tolls, regional taxes) cannot be implemented in the current political climate without a huge fight and an expenditure of political capital nobody seems willing to make today.

“The Big Move” could turn out to be little more than a modest expansion of GO Transit, busways, and a few rail lines of indeterminate technology within Toronto.  That’s not a network, and certainly not a recipe for convincing people that transit can offer an alternative to driving.  The challenge is to find a plan, a network, a quality of transit service that people are willing to pay for, however the money is raised.

LRT has a role as do full-blown subways and busways with each fitting into the mix under the right circumstances.  Advocates would do well to focus on the strength of each technology rather than trying to justify a full network of one option.  The goal is to improve and expand transit, not to prove that my subway is better than your streetcar.


Within James’ second article, the TTC is quoted as saying that ridership on the King car is 1,800 per hour.  It’s worth noting that the AM peak service is 30 cars/hour of which 7 trips are served by ALRVs.  The TTC’s service design capacity is 74 for CLRVs and 108 for ALRVs, and this gives a total for the route of about 2,450.  Crush capacity is higher.  A common complaint from riders is that they cannot get on, and this suggests that the demand cited by the TTC is rather lower than the actual level.

106 thoughts on “LRT For Toronto

  1. Brendan H said: “But anyway, why should the LRT run on the south side of Eglinton? There’s only one signalized intersection on that entire stretch and it’s at Leslie St., where trains are going to have to stop anyway. What’s the benefit?”

    One potential benefit is the use of ATO in future. If the line is fully grade-separated between Jane and Don Mills, then very frequent service can run between those points providing high capacity, under ATO control. Half of trains can short-turn at those points. The other half can continue east of Don Mills and west of Jane, controlled by operators.

    However, even a short street-median section prevents ATO, since only human drivers can currently be trusted to handle unexpected situations that may arise on-street.

    The new housing development won’t be cut off Eglinton, if the LRT line is located south of both Eglinton and the houses. The line could run through the park, and even go south of Celestica on-ramps if desired. An additional benefit is that it could directly serve Ontario Science Centre before returning to Eglinton proper at Don Mills.


  2. I always find the speed-obsessed to be a little over-the-top when they actually advocate for the very counterproductive longer distances between stations in underground infrastructure. This is a terribly uneconomic way of expanding transit because it creates unsustainable operating costs through a “two-tiered” corridor that is inherently inefficient. You may save some capital dollars, but you’ll be paying more in operating dollars as time goes on.

    The original Yonge line (or at least south of St.Clair) and the Jane-Coxwell stretch of the Bloor-Danforth line generally got it right. This is the kind of station spacing you should have for a subway. If for whatever reason a corridor can’t support this kind of station spacing, then a subway is not necessarily the solution for the corridor in question.

    One of the biggest problems with Eglinton is the fact that it is proposed to have stops more than 1km apart in multiple instances, and this is a travesty that should not be permitted. The community is on record in the LURA reports alerting the powers-that-be to this problem, and it has been bluntly ignored. This is not progressive. People want convenient access more than saving 3 minutes off their subway portion of their trip, and this isn’t being recognized/acknowledged.

    The huge investment in underground infrastructure should require it to serve as many origin-destination pairs in a corridor as possible. This will not be achieved if it skips multiple origins/destinations, and will neither make the system more efficient, nor make it more attractive, if the design requires a bus service on top of the underground service. The higher capital outlay in closer station spacing pays off by not having to run a bus service along the same route as a subway. A subway with stations far apart is exactly the way not to build subways.


  3. Michael Forest says:
    “The new housing development won’t be cut off Eglinton, if the LRT line is located south of both Eglinton and the houses. The line could run through the park, and even go south of Celestica on-ramps if desired. ”

    I’d suggest Michael have a look at the actual geography of the area before he proposes such a solution. To go south of the houses would mean heading a couple hundred meters to the south, only to find oneself on the wrong side of the Don Valley, whose width just keeps increasing the farther one goes from the Eglinton crossing. One can forget about any stop at Leslie while adding untold millions to get the line across the ravine and back to Eglinton (to say nothing of the environmental and aesthetic impact of such a crossing).

    Given the tunnel portal is supposed to be right around where the neighbourhood access road currently lies, it is simply silly to contemplate any realignment that would try and pass to the south of that development.


  4. Steve said: “As for Karen Stintz, she gave some indication of movement on Transit City’s Eglinton line late in the campaign.”

    The Town Crier said: “Over in Ward 16, reelected Councillor Karen Stintz is confident the Eglinton LRT will proceed. ” Click on the link, then click: “Ford: Can he be good for us?” (“us” = mid-towners)


  5. Hi Steve and Mimmo-

    You hit the nail on the head Mimmo when you chose the adjective that ICTS is ‘evil’, for indeed it is the transit version of the spawn of the devil. Sorry to hear though that you’re tired of hearing that truth. And streetcar supporters are not necessarily misguided ‘foamers and droolers’, but are indeed aware of the positive potential that the tram, streetcar, LRV, urban rail car or whatever other handle you might want to hang on the breed, gives to the urban landscape and the rider’s comfort. Many ‘trolley lovers’ have spent countless hours researching and visiting what is now and what once was; thus making many of us as competent a transit pundit as those who get paid for the privilege. And although you don’t seem to believe it, and I don’t know why unless you’re reading Steve’s comments with a blinkered attitude, like Steve, we are capable of seeing where HRT, bus, trolley coach, streetcar and LRT can and should have their place in the mixture of useful technological choices.

    To think what we might have had instead of the fiasco of inappropriate technology that was foisted on us in Scarborough makes me quite upset even to this day. (Mind you it is better than the even worse and first proposed ‘mag-lev’ as being the be-all and end-all of transit gold) The fact that Vancouver is happy with their ICTS is only because they have completely forgotten what their city once had on those rights-of-way and the unaware, non streetcar student has no basis for comparison, so even this over priced, ill-begotten form of railed transit seems to them to be the best thing since sliced bread.

    Steve is very correct in his assumption that the SRT line could have gone all the way to Malvern, thus having improved the lives of many more Torontonians for the last many years if it had been LRT in the non Orwellian ICTS version of said definition. By using the same number of dollars we would have been given more and better transit in this needy corridor. We could have had the first installation of a network of Light Railed Transit. Too, the power rails for the true LRT would not have had to be retrofitted for an Ontario winter, the terminal at Kennedy would not have had to be rebuilt twice to accommodate the less than desirable ICTS vehicle (the first rebuild held up the opening of the line for many months and the second for about two months because of the perceived inability of these poorly designed ICTS cars to negotiate, what in street railway terms is, a generous radius loop) plus add to these ills the numerous times the line was closed for winter conditions and a variety of other instances all related to the technology are grievous autocracies imposed on the traveler that LRT would not have visited on them. All of these examples not only put the line out of use, but cost us all many more dollars for an already vastly overpriced high-tech example of government and bureaucratic bungling.

    And too, the SRT as built made Toronto the laughing stock of the transit industry for having supported and actually installed such a white elephant! So yes Mimmo, ICTS in transit terms is evil and has proven itself so time and time again, please get used to it.

    Dennis Rankin

    Steve: A friend of mine was keeping track of all of the fixes applied to the SRT over the years, and if memory serves correctly, the ongoing cost was about $4-million each and every year to make up for the design fiasco. In Vancouver it rarely snows, but when it does, they have the same problems. But hey, it’s Ontario technology and we should be proud of it! Fortunately for Alberta, they stuck with proven technology.


  6. Brendan H wrote, “Well, you’d have to cut off that new housing development from access to Eglinton. And you’d mess up that on-ramp leading to the Celestica campus.”

    I suspect that the earlier poster was generalizing when they said, “between Don Mills and Brentcliffe,” in that the suggestion was to use the south side of Eglinton east of the portal where it is planned to surface in the centre of the road. The location of the portal places is sufficiently east to not be a problem for the housing development in question. As for the Celestica ramp, the right of way would only have to swerve about 35 metres further south for this to not be an issue.

    Brendan H then posed the question, “What’s the benefit?”

    The benefit is to extend the totally isolated right of way all the way to the proposed connection point with future network components. This means Don Mills in the east and Jane in the west. Ensuring a totally isolated right of way will allow heavier service, which many feel is a given requirement on Eglinton, to be provided between logical connection points and not simple the end of where the line no longer needs to be in a tunnel. As Michael Forest mentioned, ATO is one thing that is of the question once the line returns to median running. Another possibility, albeit smaller, is that of longer trains. Eglinton’s underground stations will be finished for two-car trains initially, but will have three-car platform space. While a three-car train is feasible on the surface, there is a possibility that the need for longer trains may only involve the busier core of Eglinton, leaving shorter through service trains to serve the outer parts of the line. If this is ever implemented, it doesn’t make a lot of sense for this service to stop short of future connection points at Jane and Don Mills.

    Some might suggest the possibility of four-car trains in the core as the stations will have a “service area” as part of the station box that could allow a conversion for this length. Certainly, four car operation will not be able to continue to any median running part of the line. I will admit that this ‘benefit’ may be moot should pocket tracks not be able to hold a four-car train.


  7. Michael Forest, you and I must be talking about different developments. If you go south of the one I’m thinking of you end up on Vanderhoof Avenue.

    Anyway, that land south of Eglinton isn’t just a park, it’s a ravine. If you wanted to run the line through there you would have to build a new bridge over the West Don River. And you’d have to build another rail underpass. Is extending the potential future ATO capacity by two stops really worth all that cost and difficulty? The line is going to have to run on a median eventually, might as well start at Brentcliffe.


  8. Re: alignment of Eglinton LRT near Leslie.

    I’ve just looked it up on the MapIt tool ( and it seems that there is room near the south side of Eglinton to place that line. The underground section would have to be extended about 400 m east of Brentcliffe.

    However, I admit not being very familiar with the area (have been there several times, but did not think about the LRT alignment back then). I’ll try to visit that place again in the next few days.

    Calvin Henry-Cotnam provided a very detailed description of the potential benefits of extending the fully grade separate section to Don Mills.


  9. Re: alignment of Eglinton LRT near Leslie.

    I have been advocating for this (along with preserving a separate right of way at the west end to Jane, and the use of side of the road where the Richview expressway lands are), including the submission of comments at the Eglinton open houses.

    One thing to note is that a side of the road alignment between Leslie and Don Mills will require a separate underpass where the CPR Belleville sub crosses over Eglinton to the east of Leslie. This will add to the cost, but keep in mind that some of this will be offset by approximately $26 million in savings from placing the alignment to the side of the road. Ballasted tie construction can be used instead of concrete encasement and this costs about $20 m/km less for the 1.3 km distance we are talking about.

    One tiny benefit is that it eliminates some BS that comes from the car-driving public that will no doubt come if the LRT line is shoe-horned into the existing road/rail underpass. This is not bending over to accommodate cars (in fact, the south-side alignment pretty much kills any future though of extending Leslie south), it just avoids an unnecessary argument point.


  10. Hi Steve:-

    Your quote, “But hey, it’s Ontario technology and we should be proud of it! Fortunately for Alberta, they stuck with proven technology.”

    Exactly why Toronto became the butt of the transit industry’s guffaws! Cities in North America that wanted to opt for new Light Rail installations in their fair burgs laughed the UTDC out of a major transit conference in San Diego 35 years ago because what they all wanted was something that would work, ‘for sure’, not what might work, maybe, possibly and oh even if it does it still can’t compare to the efficient, reliable, flexible, fast, comfortable, quiet, cost effective Siemens products on offer! San Diego had already shown, with its installation, that light rail (ie., updated plain and vanilla, no nuts, streetcars) was more than suitable and acceptable to the transit starved North American car oriented city.

    If UTDC had listened and not been blighted by its own lofty rhetoric, then we may have been able to have cashed in on that wave of developing LRT installations. Indeed, even with the junk touted by UTDC in the name of transit improvements (ie., the ill begotten ICTS), the Americans were still looking to us Ontarians for the ultimate streetcar that would replace the aging PCC fleets on all of our established light rail properties. The TTC’s reputation as innovator and leader in the transit world with well maintained, technologically simple, utilitarian and clean transit services and vehicles (exemplified by the trolley coach rebuild programmes) was highly regarded in those days. I recall feeling quite proud of our accomplishments here in TO when while attending a conference in Boston, recognized leaders in the transit industry there were anticipating what we would be doing and then sharing with them all. We were all sadly disappointed when the province stepped in and gave us what we got. Too little and too late. The Yanks couldn’t wait any longer and they got saddled with Boeing Vertol. Sheesh!!!!

    If only the UTDC had listened and opened their minds instead of their mouths, we might have been the transit leaders and innovators that the world 30 years ago was expecting us to be! Calgary and Edmonton didn’t follow us, I wonder why?

    Dennis Rankin


  11. Calvin Henry-Cotnam says:
    “One thing to note is that a side of the road alignment between Leslie and Don Mills will require a separate underpass where the CPR Belleville sub crosses over Eglinton to the east of Leslie. This will add to the cost, but keep in mind that some of this will be offset by approximately $26 million in savings from placing the alignment to the side of the road. Ballasted tie construction can be used instead of concrete encasement and this costs about $20 m/km less for the 1.3 km distance we are talking about.”

    Again I’d suggest a little look at the relevant geography. Immediately south of Eglinton at Leslie (literally ‘immediately’ – there is room for a sidewalk and the guardrail) there is a steep drop-off to the parking lot in the ravine.

    If Calvin does not want to take away any existing car lanes going under railway bridge (three lanes each direction), as suggested by his proposal to create a second underpass, he is going to have to build up an awful lot of land on which to run the LRT (maybe that could be a use for all the tunneled fill?).

    Looking from just west of the Leslie intersection we see two eastbound lanes left turning to northbound Leslie and two eastbound lanes continuing through on Eglinton. There is a brief bus bay that gives a little more land to use on the south side of Eglinton, but not enough for two lanes of LRT. West of that there is even less available space before the very steep drop-off.


  12. Re: alignment of Eglinton LRT near Leslie.

    One thought that comes from viewing the Google map posted by Ian: if two lanes of Eglinton will be taken anyway, why not take the two southmost lanes instead of two central lanes? Then, the Leslie car traffic will not interfere with LRT.

    Some issues, and possible solutions:

    1) Celestica ramps: just remove them, and create a regular signalled T-intersection which won’t interfere with LRT.

    2) Pedestrian access from the eastbound LRT stop to Leslie. In the beginning of LRT operation (with human operators), there will be a signalled crosswalk for pedestrians that interferes with LRT. For the transition to ATO, the crosswalk will have to be closed and an underpass built instead.

    3) Location of the portal: it will have to be moved about 400 m east from Brentcliffe, which admittedly requires some extra funding.


  13. Michael Forest says:
    “For the transition to ATO, the crosswalk will have to be closed and an underpass built instead.”

    An underpass under Eglinton? That seems a rather significant extra ‘gravy train’ expense for questionable gain. That and the pedestrian tunnel would be approaching 50m in a rather remote area. Don’t think many would think much of the safety aspect.

    “3) Location of the portal: it will have to be moved about 400 m east from Brentcliffe, which admittedly requires some extra funding.”

    Fortunately the portal already is supposed to be about 400m east from Brentcliffe. See slide 11 in the presentation material..

    If you refer back to the previously posted Streetview, you’ll see that it comes out of the side of the Eglinton hill, meaning that there won’t be much of an incline for the LRT to face (ala any other existing portals – Harbourfront, Spadina, St Clair W).

    Trying to extend the tunneled portion beyond that though would be a non-starter given the Don River at the bottom of the ravine.


  14. The idea of using the existing underpass on Eglinton east of Leslie, but with LRT tracks on the south side is not bad. Placing the tracks in the middle requires additional clearance on both sides while placing them to one side only requires the extra clearance between the tracks and the road lanes (north side).

    As Ian pointed out, the portal is a good 400 metres east of Brentcliffe already. It is immediately to the east of the road that leads to/from the housing development. The current plan also calls for the widening of the bridge over the West Don River (just west of Leslie), and I am wondering if constructing a second bridge to the south for a side-of-the-road LRT alignment might be more cost effective – that was part of the reason that is proposed for the Scarborough-Malvern LRT south of Ellesmere.

    Certainly ATO would require a different pedestrian access to the platform, but most, if not all of that cost is for a later date. We could end up finding out that longer trains may suit the needs better for a better cost than ATO and a side-of-the-road alignment can accommodate that as well.


  15. Hi Steve

    I wanted to add a small point to Dennis Rankin’s pieces about the SRT. More and better transit service could be an understatement. The cost of the SRT was $250 million. Had the line been built as LRT it would have cost $100 million. Add to it all of the extra retrofit costs and the unreliability and the SRT has well and truly earned its place as a “one of” in transit.

    One further question that I have concerning the SRT is operating costs. I have heard that its linear induction motors consume more power than a regular electric motor. Is this true?

    Steve: Yes, that is true. I will leave it to Robert Wightman or any other engineering-based reader on this site to go into the details. One reason the cars are so small was that there were power consumption limitations on the motors. This situation was improved somewhat in the newer Mark II cars, I believe.


  16. Ian Folkard says:
    November 30, 2010 at 12:37 pm

    “One further question that I have concerning the SRT is operating costs. I have heard that its linear induction motors consume more power than a regular electric motor. Is this true?”

    Yes, very much so. The maximum theoretical efficiency of a LIM was 28% back when they were first built. You must remember that the control circuits are much more sophisticated now and the losses in the chopper/inverter circuits could be less on new installations but these are old ones. The design of the motor with open ends means that there are high “fringe” losses.. In order to maximize acceleration rates the motors were only designed for a maximum speed of around 50 – 55 km/h. If they were designed for a higher speed then acceleration rates would suffer. The motors that are on the cars are the largest that would then fit into the space in the trucks; that is why the cars are so small. You might be able to get larger and more efficient motors with modern electronics now but they are still not going to be more than 1/3 as efficient as a rotary induction motor which is a lot lighter. ICTS is much lighter than LRT because the cars, by necessity are so much smaller. There is not that big a saving, if any, on a passenger to weight ratio.

    In braking mode a normal rotary motor can generate electricity which is fed back into the power system. In a system such as the TTC 25 to 30% of the power spent can be recovered in regenerative braking. With LIMS you can recover 28% of the 25 to 30%. More energy wasted.

    A big selling point of the LIM ws that it did not rely on friction or wheel to rail contact for accelerating and braking but worked with the interaction of magnetic forces between the LIM and the reaction rail. This was supposed to reduce rail wear and maintenance costs. The problem is that the motor repels the rail some times and attracts it at others. This causes the wheels to hunt and create excess rail wear. It also means the the rail cannot be used for power return as wheel contact cannot be guaranteed.

    Steve: One other point is that the final stopping effort, as on a car with rotary motors like the subway, is applied with a friction brake. If this grabs, wheels can get flats. Bouncing wheels make for corrugations, and these have to be ground off the rails regularly where the line passes through residential neighbourhoods.

    The motor works by the alternating current in the LIM inducing a current in the reaction rail which sets up a magnetic field that reacts with the one in the LIM. The induced current in the reaction rail causes heat build up which can warp the rail in areas where there is acceleration or braking; i.e. just before, in and after stations. In order to stop the heat build op a solid bar of aluminum could not be used so the rail is a number of thin plates one on top of the other that are painted to stop current flow between them and bolted together. If you have ever heard a fluorescent light hum it is caused by the laminations in the ballast transformer which become loose with time. This is why the reaction rails hum, especially near a station.

    Another big selling point for the ICTS was its quietness because it had no gears or brake squeal. Instead it has the irritating hum. I did a report for the opposition transport critic at the time of ICTS and MagLev that predicted the motor noise would be 10-15 dB higher than predicted. My estimate turned out to be low.

    ICTS was an effort to rescue something from the time and money wasted in studying and trying to build a working Magnetic Levitation system in the early 70’s. This system would have used four levitation magnets, one at each corner of the car, to cause it to levitate and “float above the reaction rail. There would have been no physical contact between the car and the rail and no frictional losses. The levitation magnets would have used 30 kW of energy at a very poor power factor to eliminate 30 kW of frictional losses on a subway car. The only problem was that MagLev cars only carried 20 people while a subway car carried 200. The inefficient LIMs would have used the same amount of power as the subway car motors. So we eliminate friction and use the same amount of energy to move one tenth the number of people, but it would have the transit world beating down the door to get Ontario Technology. It is over 30 years later and ICTS and MagLev have not set the urban transit field afire.

    Steve: The entire Maglev and ICTS project were sterling examples of how the Government of Ontario didn’t give a damn about transit, but only cared to be sucked in to whatever product a huckster came through the door with. (Dare I also mention the snake oil salesmen who brought us CNG buses as a replacement for trolley coaches?) Ontario had a chance to develop conventional rail systems, but there was no big research contracts or bureaucratic empires in that. We have wasted decades while other cities built using technology that works.


  17. Was disappointed to hear the weak support for Transit City flowing from Province & Katherine Wynne today as Karen Stintz was making the rounds flogging subway’s for Scarborough as Rob Ford’s electoral mandate. Seems like it would be a good time to start lobbying local city councillors about sticking up for Transit City as more bang for the buck, money & plans already invested etc….

    Still early yet and I can not believe the fix is already in but it will take pressure and voices of citizens to make a difference.

    Steve: Ford will only listen to the voices he wants to hear, and as far as his team is concerned, the people have spoken through the election.


  18. Michael Forest said: “Celestica ramps: just remove them, and create a regular signalled T-intersection which won’t interfere with LRT.”

    The problem I’ve had with the “just remove them” solution to the ramps is that I’ve never heard an explanation why they exist in the first place. I mean, if they are there only due to a prestige thing with them being a large employer, then it might be possible to remove them. However, if the ramps are there because the parking lot fills and empties rapidly during the morning and evening rush hours respectively, then it might be impossible to replace them with a T-intersection without causing a traffic nightmare.

    Of course, while irrelevant to improving transit in the city and shouldn’t be a major factor in a cost-benefit analysis of the route, some consideration should be made to the view that riders would have if the line were built around the ramps.

    Michael Forest said: “For the transition to ATO, the crosswalk will have to be closed and an underpass built instead.”

    Stupid question, but why? If the stop is laid out so that the westbound platform is on the east side of the crosswalk and the eastbound platform is on the west side of it, it’s possible to still use the crosswalk after switching to ATO since trains will still naturally stop and then proceed across it.


  19. Hi Robert,

    Steve, apologies if this is becoming off topic, but I have been dying to ask an engineer familiar with ICTS technology for a long time now.

    Robert, is it easy to explain what causes the 3 part acceleration ring that first generation ICTS cars make? How are the motors different than the next generations of ICTS, which don’t have the same 3-part tone?

    Steve: The motors are AC, and different frequencies are used at different times in the acceleration to optimise the alignment of the electromagnetic fields on the car and in the reaction rail.


  20. A quick technical primer on the “acceleration tones”.

    Traditional DC motors can be modulated by simply modulating the voltage, either with resistors or with a “current chopper” which more or less pulses the power on and off rapidly in a way that the motor thinks it’s getting lower voltage. A household dimmer is actually a small chopper

    Unfortunately the SRT requires AC drive to induce the fields in the reaction rail. AC motors including the SRT LIM’s operate best when not only the voltage is moderated, but the frequency of the current varies too. They generate torque by trying to “catch up” to the frequency they’re fed, and torque is optimized by the motor running just slightly slower than the frequency it’s fed. The jargon term is “variable frequency drive” – the VFD

    At the time the SRT was built, DC driven motors were still standard (as in their contemporary H6-type cars driven by the simple rapid-fire on-off current pulse – the buzz the “chopper” generates) and variable frequency inverters were very primitive. In essence, the VFD was a chopper connected to a few other components that turned its output into AC.

    Unfortunately, choppers only stably generate a certain limited range of frequencies. The solution to this is just like in an internal combustion engine – add a “gearbox” that allows the equipment to cycle through its optimal range a couple times. That’s what you hear when it goes through the three tones as the motor components vibrate at the same frequency. Most variable speed AC motors were driven by similar technology up until the late 1990s; you hear the same multiple tones on the T1 subway cars as well as some industrial equipment.

    Nowadays, electronics have improved enough that the electronics are capable of generating variable frequency AC directly by basically electronically pulsing current to mimic an AC waveform. The pulses from this manifest as a single, high pitched tone.


  21. And here I thought those horrible moans and growls were emitted by the demon spirits that drive these mythical motors. I figured all the power was required to open a portal to hell. They were making all that angry noise because they were tricked by the government into believing they had access to earth, only to find out they were still in Scarborough. The MKII trains sound nicer because they are propelled by fairy dust.

    Now that Rob Ford has been elected the SRT has to be converted to LRT because hell has frozen over.


  22. Jacob Louy says:
    December 2, 2010 at 12:33 am
    “Hi Robert,
    “Steve, apologies if this is becoming off topic, but I have been dying to ask an engineer familiar with ICTS technology for a long time now.
    “Robert, is it easy to explain what causes the 3 part acceleration ring that first generation ICTS cars make? How are the motors different than the next generations of ICTS, which don’t have the same 3-part tone?”
    The motors are not really very different; there might be better insulating material to coat the windings with but nothing major. The difference is in the controllers. The original AC controllers had a chopper to control the voltage/current into the motors followed by an inverter to creat the variable frequency AC for the LIM. The original choppers just turned on and off at up to 400 times per second (Hz.) The length of the on pulse determined the effective voltage to the motor. Id it was on for 10% of the time then the voltage was 10% of 600 or 60VDC. The electronic devices used in the original choppers (SCR’s) would not turn off until the current through them went to zero so they had a large complicated “ringing circuit” that would send a large reverse pulse of current to the SCR to turn it off. This circuit had to have a large inductor with a large iron core and literally weighted a tonne. If the chopper was not turned off at least once every 1/400 of a second the ringing circuit might lose its charge and the circuit would never turn off. If this happened the main breaker had to be tripped.

    After the chopper there was an inverter that made a modified sine wave out of the DC pulses. It put in a small Positive pulse then a larger + pulse then another small + pulse the a small negative pulse, a large – pulse and finally a smaller – pulse before it started all over again. Since the chopper reduce the current to the inverter to zero it did not need is own ringing circuit. The frequency of the inverter varied to create maximum acceleration for the LIM. I don’t remember if the DC part of the circuit used a ramped frequency up to 400 Hz. or just worked at a constant frequency. During braking the LIM’s frequency was set slower than the ,otor so it worked as a regenerative system.

    The iron in the chopper would vibrate at the frequency of the chopper and would also create noise that was often heard in the on board speakers. The LIM would also vibrate at its frequency and would also cause the reaction rail to vibrate. I do not know it the inverter was truly of variable frequency or only had a few frequencies set into it. In any event these two frequencies would add and subtract to give up to 4 different frequencies.

    The new controllers use what is called a switching circuit which turns on and off at frequencies in the 10 to 20 kHz range or higher. By varying the on time any desired voltage can be created. Since the amount of iron needed in the circuit varies inversely as the frequencies these are a lot lighter. They are used in almost all modern electron equipment so it doesn’t care what voltage and frequency it is plugged into it creates what it needs. The SCR’s have also been replaced by more modern devices that do not require the ringing circuit so there is another weight saver.

    Rotary AC motors weigh only about 1/3 that of a DC motor so there is a great weight saving in the truck and this reduces unsprung mass that pounds the crap out of rails The AC motors also have no commutators or brushes to maintain and they can operate at full power all the time as they are essentially hollow. They are called squirrel cage motors for a reason. AC motors are less likely to have wheel slip as the current in the cage drops to zero if the wheels start spinning and the slip stops. This allows the motors to produce a 33to 40 % higher tractive effort than DC motors so a smaller lighter motor provide better acceleration and wheel slip control. Almost all modern electric transit vehicles us AC motors but when I was in Chicago this summer every car I rode on had Cam controllers that switched resistors in and out of the circuit, just like on the Witts. Maybe the CTA like the simplicity of the cam controllers because they will run forever.

    I haven’t worked in this field in a long time and may have some of the terms wrong but I believe I have the essentials correct. If you want any other information send an email to Steve to forward to me and we can communicate directly. If you ride in any of the Legcy cars you will here the chopper hum as the car accelerates and brakes. The frequency starts out low and goes highr as the car goes faster until it is at 400 Hz. Because these cars have the old style controllers which no one makes any more they are expensive to maintain. I hope the the inherent simplicity of the newer controllers will make them last longer.

    andrewS says:

    “Unfortunately, choppers only stably generate a certain limited range of frequencies. The solution to this is just like in an internal combustion engine – add a “gearbox” that allows the equipment to cycle through its optimal range a couple times. That’s what you hear when it goes through the three tones as the motor components vibrate at the same frequency. Most variable speed AC motors were driven by similar technology up until the late 1990s; you hear the same multiple tones on the T1 subway cars as well as some industrial equipment. ”

    Are you saying that they have an actual gearbox or did they do it by changing the number of poles i the Motor? I have never heaard of any of them having variable gearing.


  23. Robert, thank you very much for taking the time to explain it to me.

    Do modern tramways now use 3-phase AC motors now? Will these motors be used on Transit City or the new Legacy Streetcar fleet?


  24. 4.
    Jacob Louy says:
    December 5, 2010 at 8:06 pm

    ” Robert, thank you very much for taking the time to explain it to me.

    ” Do modern tramways now use 3-phase AC motors now? Will these motors be used on Transit City or the new Legacy Streetcar fleet?”

    Almost all modern transit vehicles that run on rail HRT SRT and street car use AC motors From what I can see of the truck design for the Legacy and Transit City cars these have one motor per wheel because there is no axle running from one side to the other. The legacy cars will have all wheels powered (you can’t say axles because there aren’t any as we are used to thinking) in order to have enough tractive effort to push a dead car up a hill. The TC cars, and most others do not power all of the intermediate wheels. If you go onto Bombardier’s website and click on the LRT section you can down load the specs for every car they have made. While they all share a lot of parts and designs, the number of powered wheels, the minimum turning radius, the number of doors and the number of sections vary a lot.

    I believe that there are still some systems that use conventional DC motors with cam controllers as these are a lot cheaper to buy and maintain, especially for small systems. For large systems the power and motor maintenance savings rule heavily in favour of AC motors. This may sound slightly contradictory on the motors but maintaining brushes and commutators is not high tech while maintaining the electronics. If you do not have a large fleet it is cheaper to absorb the energy costs. This might be a reason why companies like Bombardier are successful and providing maintenance services on the fleets they sell. Look at GO transit, Bombardier maintains all of their rail fleet including vehicle maintenance as well as operating them


  25. From the Globe and Mail:

    “You stand here for a little while and you’ll get a glimpse of what the people deal with everyday,” Don Panos, chair of the St. Clair Gardens BIA, said recently as he stood at the corner of Old Weston, watching trucks trying to make tight right turns as cars backed up towards Caledonia. “You just see how frustrating it is.

    I guess the solution would be to insert another westbound lane between Old Weston Road and Keele. However, existing buildings and sidewalks would have to be destroyed if the streetcar ROW is to remain in its existing location. The Globe and Mail article goes on to explain that the City was supposed to negotiate land on the southside.

    Was the original plan for the St Clair ROW supposed to have the tracks positioned several metres south than from its actual location?

    Steve: The track through the underpass was never going to move because this would have affected the location of the pier holding up the rail corridor and would have triggered a major reconstruction as the article mentions. However, the tracks would have been south of their current location through the Old Weston Road intersection.

    The plans shown to the public in 2005 for Keele and St. Clair are similar to what was in the 2009 plan except for the eastbound pair of lanes east of Keele. Originally, these were shown as extending all the way to the underpass where they narrowed to one lane, but by the 2009 plan, the wider section was much shorter to avoid having to acquire and demolish an existing building. This would have given a bit more stacking space for eastbound traffic, but would not have eliminated the single lane through the underpass. East of the underpass, the eastbound lanes were to have widened to two just east of the underpass and to three in front of the Delta Bingo. Again, the degree of widening had been reduced between 2005 and 2009.

    Westbound, both sets of plans show two lanes west from Old Weston Road narrowing to one at the underpass. What was actually built was one lane.

    According to John Lorinc’s article, it was the City who decided not to acquire the extra land needed on the south side of St. Clair (mostly from Delta Bingo). It would be intriguing to know whether this was a matter of cost, or if some political pressure was at work. After all, the Delta Bingo lands will be valuable someday for redevelopment.

    At its meeting last week, Metrolinx claimed that the crossing at Junction Road and Old Weston would reopen this fall giving some relief with an alternative path for traffic.


Comments are closed.