TTC Capital Budget 2014-2023 Part II: Streetcar Infrastructure

The TTC 2014-2023 Capital Budget contains a great deal of streetcar infrastructure work over coming years.  Broadly, this can be subdivided into three types of project:

  • Catching up with inferior maintenance of past decades to bring the system to a “steady state” condition where each year’s work is commensurate to the scale of the network and industry norms for the lifespan of assets .
  • Changes to support the new low floor LRVs including Leslie Barns, conversion to pantograph power collection, and updating other infrastructure such as power supply and track switching.
  • System expansion.

Although some of this looks ambitious on paper, the plans are threatened by capital availability at a level well below what is needed.  The TTC has other demands on a shrinking capital pool, notably on the subway system.  Combined with the City of Toronto’s self-imposed limits on debt levels and taxes and the expiry of various provincial and federal funding programs, there is insufficient capital to maintain the system.  The streetcar network takes a hit from this, but the details are not yet known.

I will explore the shortfall in capital funding in the next article of this series.  Meanwhile, the plans discussed here should be read in the context that the City Budget, as now written, seeks a reduction in various line items of the TTC’s Capital Budget.  How this will fare at Council remains to be seen.  The two biggest problems are the lack of details of where cuts will fall and their effect, and the abdication of responsibility for advocacy by TTC Board members and senior management.  “We will muddle through somehow” is not an inspiring call to battle.

Track Construction

The five-year plan for track construction has been updated slightly from last year mainly by shuffling a few items to suit related plans for City construction projects.  What is quite notable is that there are few large-scale tangent (straight) track replacements because most of the system has now been rebuilt to modern standards.  Special work (intersections, loops, yards) remains a busy part of the plan.  The move to full rebuilds down to the slab and the use of pre-welded track panels started over a decade after the new standard for tangent track, and the TTC will take many years to catch up with the backlog.

When track built to the new standard comes up for renewal, only the surface layer of concrete – the topmost of three – needs to be removed so that new rails can be installed on the pre-existing steel ties and foundation.

Overall, the condition of surface track is now rated 81% good, 17% fair and only 2% poor.

2014.2018 Track Plan

2014 sees a number of projects carried over from 2013 mainly due to timing issues with related construction.

  • Queens Quay trackwork will be completed in the spring with a target date for streetcar service of June 21.
  • The north end of the Cherry Street spur off of King will be built in 2014, but service will not begin until mid 2016.  The loop at Mill Street is only partly complete because this area will be used for Pan Am Games bus storage.  With uncertainty about the Waterfront East LRT, there are no firm plans yet for connecting the Cherry spur south to a new line on Queens Quay and into the Port Lands.
  • The intersection of Queen & Broadview has needed reconstruction for a few years, and it is now on the 2014 list.
  • Richmond Street tangent trackage will be rebuilt following the watermain replacement contract that was just awarded by the City.

Work related to new and upgraded carhouse track includes:

  • Access to Leslie Barns from Queen Street.
  • Reconstruction and reconfiguration of the south ladder at Russell Carhouse on Eastern Avenue.  The ladder track will be separated from the roadway, and a new sidewalk south of the tracks will be added.  The tracks will be raised from the present level to reduce the curving grade on the carhouse entrance tracks.
  • Work at both Russell and Roncesvalles Carhouses will be the major part of the 2015 program while there is a moratorium on street construction for the Games.

A perennial question by readers here is the status of Adelaide Street.  This is now the subject of two studies: the Downtown Traffic Operations Study and Richmond-Adelaide Cycle Track Study.  Adelaide is also the site of several construction sites for office and condo towers, and reconstruction of the roadway is unlikely while these occupy so many locations.

As previously reported here, the TTC allowed for future curves at York and Adelaide, but nothing will happen until the final status of the street overall is known.  The 2016 plan includes reconstruction of the special work at both ends of Charlotte Street, the eastern side of the loop used by 510 Spadina cars at King.

(The overhead reconstruction plans include Adelaide from Charlotte to Church in 2015, but this is likely to change in light of whatever is decided about the future of track on this street.)

Another project in the 2016 list is the reconstruction of The Queensway including extension of the right-of-way east to Roncesvalles and the reconfiguration of various intersections.  This project requires an Environmental Assessment that has not even been funded, much less started.

Overhead & Traction Power Distribution

The streetcar power system, like the track, has suffered from less than ideal maintenance over many decades with components that are quite old, notably some intersections dating from the 1920s and 1930s, and some spans for tangent wire that are 40 years old.  The new streetcar contract triggered long-overdue reconstruction and this will be substantially complete in 2018 in line with the new fleet’s rollout.  Once the older fleet is retired, the new overhead will be optimised for pantograph operation by removing frogs at intersections and slewing tangent wire for more even wear on the contact surfaces.

There are 125 intersections, loops and other types of special work such as curves, 180 km of tangent wire and 3 yards (plus Hillcrest) in the system.  The goal is a steady state renewal of 3% of intersections and 10% of tangent wire every year.

The distribution system includes substations with transformers and breakers as well as transmission cables and poles.  Most of this has a 40 year lifespan, but some control electronics last only 12 years.  The transformer replacement program is planned at 4/year.

A long-running project to replace all traction poles at a rate of 300/year will complete in 2016.  Replacement of the feeder system will be substantially complete in 2018.

Overall, the TTC would prefer a continuous renewal program of 3% of these assets every year.

Track Switch Controllers

When the TTC acquired a fleet with a mix of car lengths (50-foot CLRVs plus 75-foot ALRVs), they replaced the control system for the electric track switches.  The original version used contactors on the overhead.  This depended on cars having a more-or-less standard distance between the front of the car and the end of the trolley pole which included a special contact to operate the switching system.

The “new” version (now 30 years old) depended on detector loops in the pavement and transmission antennae on the cars.  This system has been troublesome ever since its installation thanks to erratic behaviour of the detector loops and unreliable electronics in the wayside control systems.  If this were the subway system, the problem would have been considered a safety hazard and would have been remedied decades ago.  Instead the TTC simply tinkered trying to make the system work, and imposed strict operating rules at all intersections to minimize the probability of derailments and collisions.

Streetcar/LRT systems operate the world over with reliable automated switching, but somehow this miracle has not arrived in Toronto.

The budget line for a new system has existed for several years, but the low floor streetcar project makes this even more urgent.  The spending in the capital budget for this project now runs from 2014 through 2018, but there are no details of the work to be performed.

Notable requirements should be:

  • Getting all active electric switches in good operating order.
  • Reactivating all previously electric switches that have been taken out of service (usually because of failed subsystems or as a source of parts).
  • Expanding the electrification of switches to include all commonly used diversions and short-turns to minimize the need for operators to manually throw and reset switches.

A related project should be the integration of more switches with traffic signals to provide transit priority for turning movements both for scheduled and common unscheduled turns.

26 thoughts on “TTC Capital Budget 2014-2023 Part II: Streetcar Infrastructure

  1. Concerning the reconstruction of The Queensway including extension of the right-of-way east to Roncesvalles and the reconfiguration of various intersections, I’m assuming that one reason for the long delay has to do with the possible Waterfront West Light Rail Transit (LRT) project for Transit City. I have seen no diagrams or suggestions on how the right-of-way would be located. Personally, I would prefer to see the right-of-way on the south side of the Queensway, so that emergency vehicles and vehicles turning left into St. Joseph Health Care Centre or Sunnyside Avenue wouldn’t interfere with streetcars or light rail vehicles.

    Steve: The tracks will remain where they are. Swinging them to the south would require crossing the eastbound traffic lanes twice – once to swerve south from the existing right-of-way, and again to get back north. This arrangement would severely complicate the trackage at the south side of the carhouse.

    The plans include a new signal at Sunnyside, and transit priority for the signals at Glendale, Sunnyside and Roncesvalles. Traffic would be able to cross the right-of-way only at these locations. At the King-Queensway intersection, the eastbound stop would be moved farside – yes – that’s going to be a real challenge – the existing eastbound island will be replaced by a left turn lane, and the eastbound to King channel will be merged into the intersection.

    Now if only “transit priority” on The Queensway meant that signals cleared for the streetcar before it arrived at each intersection, rather than holding up service. How hard will the TTC fight for improvement here? Do they even care to make this a public issue?


  2. I am surprised to see that the track replacement on Victoria from Dundas to Queen is now moved to 2018. This track looks to be in pretty bad shape and it will be interesting to see if it can actually last until then. (Wellington east of Yonge is also in poor shape and I wonder if it can survive to 2017.)

    I note that they hope to complete the replacement of traction poles by 2018. As one might expect with the TTC, they seem to select poles for replacement almost at random and then (when they come to string new overhead) have to return to the same block and replace the remaining old poles. One would have thought it would be easier and cheaper (for both TTC and Hydro, who have to move streetlights etc) to replace all poles in an area at one time.

    Steve: Victoria is probably off limits for several years because of the condo development about to start next to Massey Hall. As for Wellington, it probably has to wait until the mess on Front Street for Union is finished.


  3. At risk of ridicule, can you explain the purpose of track on Richmond, Adelaide and Wellington? Use of Richmond is a rarity and Adelaide is not used at all (except loop at Spadina and Victoria to Church). Surely 503 could stay on King and loop at York onto Queen, then back to King at Church. This one simple change would save all that work and cost.

    Steve: Wellington and Richmond are routinely used for diversions when King and Queen are blocked. The lack of Adelaide for many years has required King cars to divert north to Queen rather than only one block away from King. The TTC has been far too generous in permitting track cuts and lane occupancies for building construction that blocked the streets downtown far too long/often.

    I don’t agree with looping the 503 Kingston Road cars via York and Queen. The biggest problem with the 502/503 is that their service is comparatively infrequent and outbound riders are better taking a Queen or King car to a common point on the route and then transferring to any eastbound Kingston Road service. If there were to be a new route, then all service should run either as 502 or 503 so that there would be something vaguely resembling “frequent service” on the consolidated route.


  4. Steve, do you know if the TTC still has the order to stop, and then proceed at each track intersection? If so, are will the proposed switch upgrades solve this problem?

    Steve: Yes, that practice is still in effect, and I doubt it will change after the new track switch controls are in place. It’s been there so long, it’s part of the TTC culture.


  5. W.K. Lis wrote:

    “I’m assuming that one reason for the long delay has to do with the possible Waterfront West Light Rail Transit (LRT) project for Transit City.”

    The Waterfront West Light Rail Transit project was shelved about a year ago according to the Etobicoke Guardian. Just scrow down to the second last paragraph.

    Commuter wrote:

    “Toronto streetcars are out of service again. They were out of service during and after the ice storm. Better get the Eglinton Crosstown completely buried. LRT is okay for warmer places like Rome and Los Angeles.”

    Are you sure you are not Rob Ford?

    Steve, I am surprised in the plans that the ‘Long Branch Turnback’ at Humber Loop is being rebuilt. As the TTC rarely uses it, especially as it does not want to restore the 507 Long Branch car (with or without the run up Roncesvalles to Dundas West), I am surprised they would spend any money on the turnback.

    Steve: These two issues are related in that Park Lawn Loop, originally proposed as a western terminus for the Waterfront West line, would replace Humber Loop.


  6. Did the St. Clair streetcar get its switching equipment modernized when it was rebuilt?

    Steve: No. The loop detectors were built anew, of course, because the trackbed was completely replaced, but at that time, no new electronics had been selected. I am not even sure that the project to replace the old equipment even existed at that point.


  7. “Steve:

    The tracks will remain where they are. Swinging them to the south would require crossing the eastbound traffic lanes twice – once to swerve south from the existing right-of-way, and again to get back north.”

    Actually the tracks wouldn’t have go back north because Humber Loop is on the south side of the road. A bridge could even be eliminated by doing this.

    However, such major changes are unlikely since most of The Queensway was totally rebuilt a few years ago.

    Steve: The area of major construction is only from east of Parkside to Roncesvalles, not all the way to Humber Loop. My comments were with respect to that section. And as you say, complete revamping of The Queensway is simply not going to occur. One “simple” problem is likely to be found at the bridges, notably the one at the Humber, where there is likely only structural support for streetcars in the middle of the road, not along the south side. Which bridge did you have in mind for elimination?


  8. I was a bit surprised to see the Transfer Table at Hillcrest on the list in the track program since LFLRVs are too long to use it (even ALRVs can’t use it), so after all LFLRV deliveries are complete, the track on the Transfer Table would become obsolete. There would be no point in keeping it for CLRVs since CLRVs won’t be allowed to operate in 2025 anyway due to accessibility legislation.

    Steve: Don’t forget that the Transfer Table runs on tracks too, and they probably see more wear that the track on the table itself.


  9. “I was a bit surprised to see the Transfer Table at Hillcrest on the list in the track program since LFLRVs are too long to use it (even ALRVs can’t use it), so after all LFLRV deliveries are complete, the track on the Transfer Table would become obsolete.”

    A couple of years ago I took a tour of Hillcrest with my son and one of the TTC people (I want to say manager of Hillcrest, but I’m not absolutely sure) said they were planning eventually to eliminate the transfer table as not being very useful — it takes up a lot of space and they can just re-arrange things to drive in via the right door for the bay they need.

    Once the LFLRV rollout is complete and all the CLRVs gone, will Hillcrest even see any streetcars or will it become just a bus repair facility?

    Hillcrest is in the category of things that are very cool which I will be sorry to see disappear (at least in present form with lots of interesting old streetcar infrastructure), but where I have to admit I likely would have to do the same thing if I was in charge. There is only a certain amount of inconvenience and cost it is reasonable to expend to keep using an old full-of-character facility.

    Steve: All of the streetcar maintenance will shift to Leslie Barns as I understand things. One might even ask whether Harvey Shops as it currently exists should remain, or be replaced by a major new structure.


  10. On last night’s news (CBC) about the problems with the old streetcars there was a picture of new Bombardier cars in a car house. Has there been a delivery of more cars?

    Steve: Not that I know of. I suspect that these are the trial cars out visiting. The TTC certainly has not announced the arrival of more cars, although a few were expected in December.


  11. I sincerely hope Victoria does not become a victim of private construction in the same sense as Adelaide has. I am anxious to hear what they plan to do with it. If the TTC expresses a willingness to give Victoria up for an extended period of time, it doesn’t express much in favour of its importance.

    Steve: They are not giving up Victoria, just not tearing up the street while it is also hosting a new condo backing onto Victoria from Yonge, reconstruction at Massey Hall, and probably expansion at St. Michael’s Hospital (NE corner at Queen). With St. Mike’s Emergency Ward at Shuter, this will be a tricky place for construction projects.


  12. “since CLRVs won’t be allowed to operate in 2025 anyway due to accessibility legislation.”

    Where in the legislation does it say that every 2nd car on a route that runs every 3 minutes can’t be inaccessible? I think the legislation requires that routes be accessible. Not that every vehicle be accessible. The same way that only some, and not all TTC subway entrances are being made accessible – only need one per station.

    Steve: Yes, the legislation allows mixed fleets, but provincial policy has blocked the acquisition of any new non-accessible equipment. More to the point, there have been political commitments by various Toronto Councillors that the fleet will be 100% accessible. It would not look very good for only the streetcar system to have some high-floor cars – yet another reason for people to regard them as second class. Mixed in with the new LFLRVs, a CLRV would have a hard time pulling its weight in service.


  13. The transfer table is fully usable by buses and other maintenance equipment so it very well may stay in operation for the foreseeable future.


  14. Looking at the spreadsheet, I’m hoping the TTC wises up on some of those intersections and add the missing curves. Parliament at Dundas S-E and Gerrard at Broadview N-W.

    It’d be money well spent unlike the replacement of curves like the College/Spadina W-N that they’re going to replace next year. To be fair I’ve been told 510 cars from Russell apparently enter via College now so maybe it’s not that useless.

    Steve: I believe that the N-to-W curve at Gerrard and Broadview is a planned addition. Don’t know about Dundas and Parliament.


  15. Just as a note, both North York Centre and York Mills were out of commission for parts of the Sunday of the ice storm. Going through them made me think of those rare times of late when trains ghosted through Lower Bay.

    On a more related note,

    A related project should be the integration of more switches with traffic signals to provide transit priority for turning movements both for scheduled and common unscheduled turns.

    I believe this would be a lot like the streetlight priority system put into place last year that is touted much by councillors, including the Fords.

    Now if only those who decry streetcars would understand that we could spend a little bit of money to do a bit of what they want – make them go faster. But I think we’d have to change the phrase from “transit priority” to something like “transit substitution” in order to make it palatable. Sad world we live in.


  16. Re MarkE’s comments on Adelaide St trackage: From time to time, I see 504/Church cars that short-turn via Church, Richmond, Victoria and Adelaide. I suspect this might be a scheduled short-turn much like the 504/Dufferin service. Strangely, 508/Church (pm rush) takes the route Church, Richmond, Victoria, Queen, Church perhaps because of an officially marked 508 stop on Church southbound at Richmond.

    Steve: The 504 cars are not scheduled, but this has become a very common short turn. Going south to Adelaide lets them wait for their time without blocking other cars that use the northern loop via Queen.


  17. Steve:

    “The 504 cars are not scheduled, but this has become a very common short turn. Going south to Adelaide lets them wait for their time without blocking other cars that use the northern loop via Queen.”

    You know that there are too many short turns when people are actually waiting for the short turn vehicle. I have seen this happen a number of time with 504 Parliament cars where people will let the Broadview car go in hope of getting a car up Parliament to Dundas. I actually recently saw a woman get on a 504 Church car at Yonge and ride it to Church and Richmond. There was a Broadview Station Car in front and behind it.

    Steve: Yes, the regulars know all about the interesting alternate routings available for their travels.


  18. Steve said:

    The 504 cars are not scheduled, but this has become a very common short turn. Going south to Adelaide lets them wait for their time without blocking other cars that use the northern loop via Queen.

    This is a very heavily used short-turn and has caused major problems on King east of Church as the service there has really deteriorated over the past few years (just as the number of residents and businesses has increased). It is presumably done to offer some relief to those on King West who certainly have problems too but it is counter-productive to create scheduled (or unscheduled) short-turns to deal with line management (or possibly vehicle shortage) problems. If there was a loop at Parliament or Broadview (one disposed of and one not built) it would make a FAR better short-turn but the TTC would then need to ensure enough cars get to the ends of lines properly spaced. The other day I saw three consecutive 504 cars signed to Church.

    Steve: There is supposed to be a new loop, some day, at Broadview north of Queen (where the parking lot on the east side is), but it’s not in the capital plans.


  19. Are the new “exit” markers in the curb lanes on King for the new fleet roll out? This is the first I have seen of them but admittedly I haven’t made my way out to the territories with the first conversion routes.

    Steve: I have not seen them yet, although I have been under the weather, and then out of town for a while. Where are they?


  20. It occurred to me the other day if the production deliveries of the new fleet gets pushed back any further, the substation upgrades on Queen could be done before they hit the streets. The TTC could then roll them out on Queen first and avoid the thorny issue of CLRV replacements vs ALRV retirements.

    Okay that’s not likely but it’s ridiculous how long this has been dragged out.


  21. I came across a photo that totally messed with my understanding of streetcar history in Toronto.

    So there were always mixed-traffic tracks along Spadina between College and King before the Spadina LRT project? They never disappeared when the Harbord car stopped?

    Steve: That is correct. This was used for short turns and diversions, just like the track on Church, Parliament, McCaul, etc.


  22. So there were streetcar islands along Spadina Avenue, even though Spadina didn’t have regular streetcar service? Would the Spadina Bus still load at the kerbs?

    Steve: Yes.


  23. The green marker in the curb seems to have disappeared. I’m wondering if it was a decal that fell off a vehicle of some sort.


  24. I can now place the sign that I spotted and it looked similar to the green signs you would see in parking garages indicating the exit.

    Plus an update for readers that might have missed it, Brad Ross mentioned to the Post that production deliveries for the new fleet will begin in March. I’ll believe it when I see it.

    Steve: I am awaiting a reply from Brad to a series of questions related to new cars and the Spadina line, among other things. He said he would get back to me Friday, Feb 7th, and I will update readers when I have the info from him.


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