At its meeting on June 22, 2015, the TTC Board will consider two reports affecting the future subway and streetcar fleets in Toronto.
In the case of the subway fleet, plans have been updated to provide for implementation of four-car Toronto Rocket (TR) train operation on the 4 Sheppard subway line.
For the streetcar fleet, there is an update, albeit with some doubts on the TTC’s part, regarding delivery of the new Flexity fleet by Bombardier.
With the changeover to Automatic Train Control (ATC) on the 1 Yonge University line, the continued presence of non-ATC trains such as the T1 sets used on 4 Sheppard becomes an operational challenge. Earlier in the ATC project, the scheme was to have two parallel signal systems that would allow co-existence of ATC and non-ATC trains (including work cars) on the line, but this added a level of complexity and cost to the project. Now that the design has been consolidated to an “all ATC” basis, keeping non-ATC trains active on the YUS does not fit with the plan.
Originally, the TTC had intended to operate a mix of T1 and TR trainsets on the YUS, but that was before (a) a decision to move to ATC operations was certain, (b) the difficulty of retrofitting ATC to the T1 Fleet was fully appreciated, and (c) the shift to the TR unit train design had been made. The TTC has more T1 cars than it needs to operate the Bloor-Danforth line because originally some of this fleet was intended to stay on the YUS.
In the 2015 version of the subway fleet plan (beginning on p. 12 of the TTC report), the evolution of the fleets, in summary, was:
- A fleet of 80 trainsets would be acquired to provide for replacement of the now-retired H-series trains (60 trainsets), the Toronto York Spadina Subway Extension (TYSSE, 10 trainsets), and future growth possible with ATC (10 trainsets).
- Delivery of the last of the 80 trainsets was expected to be in 2017.
- In 2014, the total scheduled trains for the YUS was expanded from 49 to 51 to allow for extra running time. For planning purposes, these were “borrowed” from the future TYSSE allocation.
- In 2015, the long-awaited extension of the St. Clair West short turn to Glencairn is provided for, but the TTC has yet to announce when or if this will be implemented. It has not been mentioned as part of the 2015 budget’s service initiatives.
- By 2016, the TYSSE was to be open requiring six additional trains for a total service of 58 trainsets. This requirement has now been pushed off to late 2017 because of delays on the TYSSE project.
- With the implementation of ATC, seven more trainsets would be added to service for a total of 65, nominally in 2019 assuming that ATC is ready to be switched on by then.
- Service would grow with occasional additions to the line bringing total service up to 73 peak trains by 2031.
There are a few fundamental problems with this plan, notably that it requires a spare factor well below the TTC’s usual level. The target typically is 15% and this provides for a variety of needs:
- Routine preventative maintenance.
- Warranty repairs early in the life of the fleet.
- Major overhauls at critical intervals through the lifespan.
- Declining reliability as the cars reach end-of-life.
The TTC proposed to reduce its spare factor for the TR sets so that by the 2026, there would be 70 trainsets in peak service plus 9 spares, or 12.7%. By that time, however, the next cycle of car acquisitions will be in progress (see below).
In the revised plan, the last four trainsets of the order would be reconfigured as six four-car units. This will require the creation of 12 “A” cars (the cab units) in place of the planned 8. The remaining 12 cars would be configured as variants on the “B” cars in the six-car trains, but this would require some changes to consolidate equipment now shared over the entire six cars onto four. It is not simply a case of removing two cars from the consist (see the report for further information).
The six four-car trainsets would form a separate subfleet for the Sheppard line, while providing for an increase of peak service from four to five trains. However. this would reduce the fleet available for the YUS from 80 to 76 trainsets, a very tight spare ratio for a 70-train service. Whether this can actually be achieved is a mystery considering that the TTC has repeatedly claimed higher reliability for its new fleets, but never actually achieved the lower spare factor and capital savings it would represent. Moreover, their maintenance practices have been accustomed to having a surplus of equipment rather than running close to the line
The original plan for the T1 fleet, in summary, was:
- The TTC has a fleet equivalent to 62 trainsets. These cars are in “married pairs” so that they do not necessarily stay together as six-car sets like the TRs, but will shift around depending on maintenance requirements.
- The BD subway now requires 45 trains for peak service, and Sheppard takes the equivalent of 3 trains (16 cars in 4×4-car sets) for a total of 48. Spares at 15% bring the total requirement to 55 trains leaving 6 without a home. These originally would have stayed on the YUS, but the move to ATC and the TR trainsets made that impossible.
- The Scarborough Subway Extension will require 6 trains for service (with no provision for a spare), assuming that only half of the trains run beyond Kennedy to the SSE terminus, and that the SSE route remains short enough that 6 trains can handle the line.
- This fleet is scheduled for replacement starting in 2026. This also corresponds to the point at which the BD signal system conversion to ATC capability should be well underway if not complete, and future service improvements with shorter headways would require more trains.
In the revised plan, the cars now assigned to the Sheppard line become available reducing the T1 fleet requirement by 16 cars. This gives a bit more elbow room for growth including the SSE.
The Future of the Subway Fleets
Although not discussed in this report, one option that has been mentioned in TTC fleet planning is the use of longer trains on the YUS taking full advantage of the platform length and of ATC’s precision stopping capability. It is possible that the next generation of subway train would be longer, and that the TR fleet now operating on YUS would shift over to the BD line under ATC operation. This would produce a larger fleet for BD (extended) than it actually needs, but it is hard to say what other subway routes might require equipment in the timeframe leading up to the TRs retirement in the early 2030s.
One thing is quite clear in the future plans, there is a complete absence of premature ordering of equipment. It is hard on one hand to make claims about improved reliability of the T1 and TR fleets, but then plan for their early retirement. This practice was justified by volume discounts and concerns about reliability of the “H” fleet, but it had a sense of “propping up Thunder Bay” to keep the wheels turning. With more of the cost of rolling stock falling to the City of Toronto rather than senior governments, this tactic is harder to support, especially given Bombardier’s performance on the streetcar order.
It is no secret that Bombardier has severe manufacturing problems with the Flexity cars. Although the TTC claims high reliability for the vehicles once they pass acceptance, deliveries are a year behind schedule. The rollout should, by now, have worked through 510 Spadina, 509 Harbourfront, 511 Bathurst and be well through 505 Dundas, but instead only a handful of cars is in service. The status according to the TTC is:
- Two cars (4401 and 4402) are prototypes used for testing and training, but not for revenue service.
- One car is undergoing repairs (not from an equipment failure).
- One car (4408) is in Toronto for final testing and acceptance, and should enter service late in June.
- Five cars are either in revenue service or being used for training.
The most recent proposed delivery schedule (See report p. 6) would bring the in-service fleet to 27 cars by the end of 2015 (10 fewer than the originally contracted 37 by the end of 2014). A gradual recovery of the delivery target to 2019 would be achieved through production at a higher rate, usually 48 cars/year rather than the originally planned 36.
The critical text in the TTC report reveals some doubt about Bombardier’s ability to deliver on commitments:
Based on supporting documentation received to-date, and staff’s assessment of production readiness of Bombardier’s Thunder Bay and Sahagun, Mexico plants, TTC staff believe that there is a high risk that Bombardier may not be able to meet its revised schedule submitted on June 1, 2015 for year end 2015; and a medium risk that Bombardier may not meet the revised schedule for contract completion of 204 new streetcars by 2019.
An update Board Report will be submitted for the September Board meeting on the status of the actual delivery, agreement on a moving-forward schedule and agreement on commercial terms. [p. 9]
A related question is the status of cars ordered by Metrolinx either for its Toronto lines or on behalf of the Kitchener-Waterloo, Mississauga and Hamilton LRT projects. It has been convenient for Bombardier that they can blame delays on the “TTC Specification”, but if they are unable to churn out Metrolinx cars like clockwork, this excuse will wear thin.
Meanwhile, the TTC knows that it faces a need for more than the original 204-car order, but Toronto Council is understandably nervous about committing more money when the deliveries have been so unreliable. Bombardier’s future as a car-builder for Toronto may rest on its ability to reliably produce quality equipment.