This is the first article in a series examining various aspects of the TTC’s Capital Budget for 2013 and the 10-year plan running through 2022. The report linked here gives an overview, but I have now reviewed the roughly 1,300 pages of supporting information in the “Blue Books” which detail each capital project.
Those books are not available on line, but contain much valuable information. When the Commission considered its Capital Budget, this material had not yet been assembled.
To avoid creating a post as long as the Blue Books, I will break this into separate articles for major topics.
The Subway Fleet Plan
This plan provides for additional trains on the Yonge-University-Spadina and Bloor-Danforth subways, but only on a limited basis. The fleet of Toronto Rocket (TR) trains will be used exclusively on YUS and the T1 trains (now split between both major lines) will operate on BD and, in four-car sets, on Sheppard.
The TR fleet is just large enough to accommodate the extension to Vaughan with a short-turn operation to Wilson Station, but only at the current level of service. The T1 fleet is larger than required for current schedules on the BD and Sheppard lines, and so the surplus is used up at the rate of about 2 trains every 3 years on BD with no additional service on Sheppard.
The projection presumes that the spare factor for TR trains can be held at 13%, and it is unclear today whether this can be achieved and maintained over the life of this fleet.
Those extra T1 trains have been counted as “free” on more than one occasion for subway expansions proposed for the near future, but obviously they can only be used once be it for extra BD service, or on extended Sheppard or Danforth subways, or on the first phase of a Downtown Relief Line (DRL).
Line and Yard Capacity
Adding service triggers problems with the limitations of signal systems, terminal operations and yard capacity.
On the BD line, extra storage space for the T1 fleet will be provided by reopening Keele Yard, adding a storage track at Kipling, converting a dual-gauge delivery track at Greenwood to a storage track, and consolidating the Track & Structures fleet of work cars at Davisville. (Some tracks at Davisville are too short for TR trainsets limiting that site’s usefulness for that equipment.)
Adding T1 trains to the peak service will reduce headways from the current 141 seconds (2’21”) to 119 seconds (1’59”), although terminal layouts could be a problem below 130 seconds as discussed earlier on this site. The Fleet Plan notes that BD will be signal constrained in the period 2014-16, and a study regarding this is in progress. Cutover to ATC on BD is planned for about 2024-5 with design to start in 2014, but this project has no funding.
On the YUS line, extra storage will be provided at Wilson for the Spadina extension’s 10 new trainsets. At one time, the TTC had an additional 10 trains for growing demand in the budget, but these were cut to trim future spending projections within the limitations of available funding. They could well reappear, but this will trigger a need for more storage space.
Two major options for storage have been considered:
- An underground yard north of Finch Station: This would involve the pre-building of the Yonge north extension to Cummer Station with a three-track section (basically an extension of the existing tail track structure at Finch).
- An underground yard in Richmond Hill north of the proposed subway terminal.
The Fleet Plan notes that after 2015, the YUS is capacity constrained pending full implementation of ATC, but “significant delay mitigation will be required”. In other words, the number and length of delays to service must be reduced so that capacity is not lost to interruptions.
More trainsets are needed to handle the combined effect of shorter headways and the line’s extension. For example, the PM peak fleet of 47 trains provides a 151 second (2’31”) headway on YUS between Finch and Downsview with no short turn. (There are 2 gap trains which count toward peak requirements but which do not affect the headway.) Adding 20% capacity through headway reduction to about 126 seconds (2’06”) would require 11 more trainsets (10 for service plus 1 spare) and storage to hold them.
The shorter headway is also challenging because of geometric limitations at terminals if all service operates to the end of the line. A 126 second headway is probably below what Finch or Downsview crossovers can handle, and the geometry at Vaughan is likely to be similar. A short turn point is viable only if demand beyond that point can be handled by less than full service, and if the short turn itself can be operated without seriously delaying trains on close headways.
The AM Peak has the added complexity of already operating on a 141 second headway (2’21”) albeit with a short turn at St. Clair West. A 20% capacity increase would require the headway to fall below two minutes, something that the terminal at Finch cannot handle, and which, I suspect, would be difficult for the short-turn operation at St. Clair West (or any extension of this).
A further problem related to the location of storage is the movement of trains from yards into service. The YUS is already a two-hour round trip, and this will grow with extensions to Vaughan and to Richmond Hill. The line must be “loaded” with trains from the yards for the start of service and this takes quite a while especially if most trains are stored at one location (Wilson). A similar problem affects the BD line with almost all of its storage capacity at Greenwood Yard. This affects the maintenance window for overnight repairs, and the TTC has even considered an earlier closing time for the subway to compensate for the lost maintenance time.
We hear a lot about how Automatic Train Control (ATC) will allow for shorter headways, but nobody at the TTC has explained how this will get around the constraints at turnbacks. The TTC hopes to gain 35% in capacity by getting headways down to 105 seconds (1’45”) or so, but this may not be practical. If so, the headroom for additional capacity on YUS may be less than commonly thought, and the need for new downtown capacity even more pressing. There has been far too much “we don’t need the Downtown Relief Line yet” coming out of the TTC, most recently in the DRL study, and this could dangerously compromise future network growth.
The Cost of Better Service
The Capital Budget does not contain any provision for additional trains, not even in the list of unfunded projects (last page of the budget report), nor does it allow for the storage these trains would require. The second-last page shows a number of projects cut to make the 2012 Capital Budget fit with available funding, and these projects have not reappeared either in the main budget or in the unfunded list. These include:
- 10 TR trainsets, $161m
- Wilson Yard expansion, $182m
- ATC for BD line, $150m
The subway projects related to capacity on the unfunded list are:
- Upgrade Bloor-Yonge Station, $205m
- Further study of the DRL, $5m
- Yonge North extension, $4.2-billion
- Platform Edge Doors (PEDs), $550m for YUS, $614m for BD
These are “gross” costs, and with most of the Yonge extension being north of Steeles, the net cost to Toronto will likely be small.
As for PEDs, this project is contingent on implementation of ATC to allow precise train positioning. Another consideration is the proposed future use of 7-car trains on YUS which could change the geometry of door layouts if there is one “short” car added to train consists.
There are several questions to be answered about the actual need for additional facilities related to subway capacity including detailed study of the dynamics of terminals and turnbacks to determine the minimum headway these can support with ATC in place. This will determine a realistic upper bound on subway capacity and, in turn, the additional fleet required to achieve that capacity.
Projections for riding growth, including the effects of opening the Vaughan extension and potential improvements to GO Transit service that could offload the Yonge line must also be included. Alternate scenarios should be considered including weak or robust growth as a sensitivity measure for the range of effects and the “drop dead” dates for addressing capacity problems.
The Capital Budget and projections for future spending must adopt a realistic view of what is needed and practical to achieve improved subway capacity. Whether funding is available is immaterial. Any debate about funding must be informed by a complete view so that the scope and urgency of requirements are well-understood.