I think people forget, for example, that we have to rebuild the LRT in 25 or 30 years, just like we have to with the Scarborough RT. With a subway we won’t have to do that. The Yonge Street subway just celebrated its 60th anniversary and it’s still in good shape.
[John Tory in an interview for Metro News, April 7, 2014, courtesy of Matt Elliott]
The false comparison of long-lasting subway with a comparatively short-lived LRT is the sort of comment I expect to hear from (former TTC Chair and Mayoral candidate) Karen Stintz, or from the subway-loving Brothers Ford. The number “100” is often bandied about as the longevity of a subway investment by analogy to the much older networks found in cities like New York, London and Paris.
I have written before about this and won’t belabour the details here, but now that a major candidate for the office of Mayor has taken up the line, it’s worth revisiting the topic.
“We have to rebuild the LRT in 25 or 30 years …”
There is no way to say this nicely: that statement is not true and John Tory should know better.
The seemingly unending reconstruction of the streetcar network in Toronto has annoyed transit riders and motorists alike, but what we have been through is a combination of the “100 year rebuild” and an unusually high failure rate of the previous generation of infrastructure thanks to shoddy construction by the TTC.
With the completion of the Harbourfront line this summer, all of the “main line” tangent (straight) track on the system will be at the new standard completing a process begun two decades ago. The new standard for intersections is more recent, and almost all of the construction work for 2014 is for the “special work” there and at carhouses.
Track, regardless of the vehicles running on it, has to be replaced every 25 years, more often in areas of high wear. The roadbed lasts much longer be it in the subway, on an open right-of-way such as the middle of an expressway, or on a streetcar line.
Vehicles last about 30 years. “Under the covers” there is not much difference between a subway car and a streetcar. They have similar propulsion systems, although these will be optimised for the environments where the cars run. The Yonge subway is now on its third generation of trains, not the original red “Gloucester” cars, and the Bloor subway is on its second.
“… just like we have to with the Scarborough RT …”
No, we don’t “have to” with the SRT either. It’s worn out, but it does not need to be rebuilt from scratch. What would be needed to keep it running in its present form are new cars, and a new signal system. The original SRT control system is far less reliable than the old signal system on the subway, and that’s why the latter has worked tolerably well for at least five decades while the SRT routinely encounters problems.
The cars are overdue for retirement (the line has its original fleet from 1985), but the TTC plans to keep them running for almost a decade while we await the opening of a new Scarborough subway. The big problem is that we don’t have enough of them, a direct result of their very high cost. When they were new, one RT car cost more than a subway car does today.
The SRT structures would not have to be rebuilt if the line were going to operate with compatible vehicles, but it won’t. If it remained an “RT” line with vehicles such as Vancouver’s Mark II Skytrain cars, the tunnel between Ellesmere and Midland Stations would have to be rebuilt so that they would fit.
This small tunnel is a direct legacy of the forced implementation of the RT technology by Queen’s Park years ago. They wanted to ensure that only their trains would fit, and they forced the TTC to downsize the tunnel.
The station at Kennedy complete with its multi-level transfer would also be rebuilt both to eliminate the tight curve and to simplify the connection. This is a correction of a bad original design, not an inherent requirement of RT or LRT technology.
The power distribution system for the SRT is a non-standard voltage, and it uses side-running rails that have major problems with snow and ice. This system must be replaced by conventional power distribution and made compatible with standard transit vehicles if the line is converted to LRT. That standardization would allow the “SRT” to share its fleet and maintenance facilities with other lines rather than being an orphan line.
In summary, much of the work of upgrading the SRT flows from the poor choice of technology three decades ago when the Queen’s Park cared more about a showcase than about building good transit for Scarborough.
“The Yonge Street subway just celebrated its 60th anniversary and it’s still in good shape.”
If a line runs in a tunnel, it does not matter what type of vehicle is on the tracks because the infrastructure requirements — signals, power distribution, ventillation, drainage, lighting, escalators, elevators — are identical. An escalator does not attain magical long-life by having a subway car rather than an LRV serving the passengers. All of these subsystems require ongoing maintenence and replacement, and the tunnels themself must constantly be repaired to deal with leaks and other structural problems such as the “out of round” condition on the Yonge line north of Eglinton.
The big difference for LRT is that it does not have to be underground all of the time. Proportionately, the things that “only” last three decades make up more of an LRT line’s infrastructure because LRT does not require the much more heroic construction, cost and longevity of an underground structure. Certainly, some parts will need to be rebuilt within three decades. However, the requirement would be the same even if the line were underground, and we would have spent a pot load more money to put it there.
Subways much older than Toronto’s are still in “good shape” although they show their age, but keeping them in that condition has an ongoing cost. When we build a subway, we are not just committing the capital dollars and the debt service that will result, we are committing to unending maintenance of the infrastructure whether we actually needed it or not.
A Businesslike Approach to Transit?
John Tory likes to present himself as a responsible, experienced businessman, someone who will bring his experience at large corporations to City Hall.
Good business includes having the good sense to be well-informed and to make decisions based on reliable data, not on the shifting winds of political favour.
There are three possibilities here. One is that Tory is genuinely misinformed, in which case one wonders how he chose his advisors, and how long he will take to change his position. One is that Tory genuinely believes that bilge about the comparative lifespans of subways and LRT, in which case I wish him well as reality intrudes on his budget-making. The most cynical option is that Tory simply tells people what they want to hear — that the subway decision is beyond reconsideration and that somehow it will not waste a fortune that could be put to better use elsewhere on the transit system, even within Scarborough.
None of this makes for good business, although there are plenty of examples of misguided companies that foundered thanks to the blinkered views of their CEOs. Toronto does not need four more years of that, even without the Ford circus.
If Tory or any other candidate really believes that the extra investment in a subway for Scarborough has a worth based on development prospects, on improving the economic and social environment of Scarborough, then make that argument. Lies and misrepresentation about transit options serve nobody, except possibly the candidates.