Poor Frozen Streetcars

Over the past week, we have heard a lot about streetcars that were stuck in the yard or failed in service because of frozen air lines.

If the air isn’t dry, moisture condenses and freezes, blocking air movement.  Whatever system that air line runs – such as releasing the brakes – stops working, and the streetcar is stuck just as if it were frozen to the rails.  Think of this as sclerosis for streetcars.

Drying the air has been an issue for the streetcar fleet more or less since it was delivered 30 years ago, and the problem is worse on the long ALRVs than on the shorter, and older, CLRVs.  One can only wonder if this is yet another subsystem where the TTC gambled that things would keep running until new cars arrived.

They lost.

Record cold weather meant anything that was borderline temperature sensitive has failed, and riders have seen the effects.

The new cars are over a year late.  If the wait means they work perfectly “out of the box” I will be ecstatic – the Toronto Rocket subway trains have not exactly inspired confidence in Bombardier.

The partial replacement of streetcars by buses led inevitably to musing by Councillor Doug Ford that maybe we should just make this a permanent arrangement.  The Ford family is well known for looking for any excuse to rid Toronto of what they see as a nuisance.

This begs two very important sets of questions for the TTC and its current chair, Karen Stintz.  Will they rise to the streetcars’ defence not just for the short, post-deep-freeze, but for their long-term future?

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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.

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Eglinton Crosstown Update

On December 20, 2013, there was a briefing for media on the Eglinton Crosstown Project at Metrolinx.  Coming the morning after the Press Gallery’s Christmas party, this was a lightly attended event and it received scant coverage.

Tunnel Construction Progress

The tunneling is making better progress than expected.  Originally, the contractor had planned for 12m/day, but they are actually making 20m/day thanks to improved efficiency in removal of spoil with a conveyor system.

At Eglinton West Station, the project faces the problem of getting under the existing Spadina Subway structure.  Original plans called for an extended shutdown of the Allen Road and much of Eglinton Avenue so that the tunnel boring machines (TBMs) could be disassembled, extracted from the west side of the site, lowered into a new access shaft on the east side, and reassembled to continue their journey east to Yonge.

This scheme was not acceptable to the City of Toronto and a new proposal is under consideration.  The access shafts will be longer, but the TBMs will be extracted, moved and lowered back into place in one piece.  The move across the subway structure would be done similarly to rapid bridge replacement projects with a support structure to carry the TBMs (which weigh 420 metric tons) from the west to the east side.   This approach will eliminate the need to disassemble and reassemble the machines.

The eastern tunnel contract includes the launch shaft (between Brentcliffe and the west branch of the Don River), and work will begin there early in 2014.  The eastern tunnels will bore west to Yonge.

The two tunnel contracts – at $283-million for the west side and $177m for the east – are only part of the much larger cost of building an underground transit line.  The tunnels (of which the western section is now under construction) will be provided as empty tubes – physical structures with no installed systems – for the next stage in the project.  Tunneling will complete in 2016.

At each station site, headwalls are built at each end of what will become the station excavation.  As the TBMs reach the headwalls, they bore through and leave behind a completed tunnel that will be partly disassembled when the station construction digs down to them.  Two techniques are used for these walls depending on local conditions:

  • Secant piles require boreholes into which the piles are installed.  These require utility relocations to avoid the boring activity.
  • Jet grouting uses a slurry to form the headwalls without the need to bore.  This approach is being used at Caledonia Station.

The TTC assisted with specifications for the tunnels to ensure that they meet the standard of other Toronto infrastructure.  These will be constructed as empty round tubes that will be transferred to the bidders for the next stage of construction and who will take over the risk for future maintenance.

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