TTC 2019 Fleet and Capacity Plans Part III: The TTC Responds

In the first two installments of this series, I reviewed plans for the subway system and the surface bus and streetcar networks. These reviews triggered many questions which I sent off to the TTC.

We have all been a little pre-occupied with other matters recently, and it took a while for the TTC to reply. Thanks to Stuart Green and the staff at TTC who pulled this together.

Each question is formatted with two or three sections:

  • My original question
  • The TTC’s reply
  • My observations on the reply, if any

The text has been lightly edited for formatting purposes.

Apologies to readers seeing this post with no background. It is based on information in two previous articles as well as a general review of the TTC’s Capital Budget detailed briefing books, known as the “Blue Books”. This article covers a variety of issues some of more interest to general readers than others. If you need clarification, please leave a comment.

Questions Submitted on March 13, 2019

Subways

Line 1

Steve:

The fleet plan for Line 1 shows procurement of additional trains with deliveries starting in 2029. However, there are two problems identified in the service design.

The fleet will be in deficit for trains in 2026-2028.

The new Northern (Richmond Hill) storage facility will not come online until 2031 (assuming the RH extension goes ahead as planned), and there will not be enough storage for the Line 1 fleet, especially if procurement is advanced to deal with the deficit in 2026-2028.

Q: How do you reconcile the train requirements for Line 1 including planned service increases with procurement plans, the mid-20s deficit in trains, and the timing of the Richmond Hill extension?

TTC:

A: The fleet plan is preliminary and will evolve based on new information in concert with the Line 1 Capacity Enhancement Program. Currently the TTC is investigating the acceleration of the procurement of vehicles to address the capacity shortfalls in the mid-2020s. There are constraints imposed by storage, whereby there is a maximum of approximately 85 trains that can be stored at existing facilities such as yards, carhouses and tail tracks.

Solutions to address the constraint imposed by yard storage are being investigated. Potential options may include the construction of new tracks or less capital-intensive means such as the adjustment of service levels and profiles, or spares ratio. Further analysis and options will continue to be explored as part of the Line 1 Capacity Enhancement Program.

Comment: The Line 1 Capacity Enhancement Program was published as part of the TTC Board’s Agenda on April 11. I wrote about this and related items in an earlier article. Links to that program and related reports are in the article.

Line 2

Steve:

The big change in this year’s plan is that the project to replace the T1 fleet has been changed to a Life Extension Option (LEO) at a cost of $715 million according to the 15 year Capital Plan. This raises several questions.

There is the sad experience of the CLRV and ALRV programs which did not produce anywhere near the expected results, and the streetcar system is now short cars as a result.

Q: What work has been done to ensure that the 10 year LEO can actually achieve its aims? Is there a plan to validate the LEO including contingency planning in case this does not work out?

TTC:

A: TTC is taking a proactive approach to study the scope of the T1 LEO and assess the structural integrity of the cars in order to ensure the car body and trucks are able to operate for an extended period. This task is planned in years 2019 and 2020. Once the conditions of the structure are confirmed, prototyping will be implemented before commencing LEO implementation across the fleet to achieve the desired reliability and performance.

Steve:

There is no mention in the Life Extension project of retrofitting ATC [Automatic Train Control] to the T1 fleet. Indeed, I thought that among the reasons for shifting these cars off of Yonge (where part of the TYSSE [Vaughan extension] service was originally conceived as using T1s) was the difficulty and cost of adding ATC gear to these units. The report authorizing the extra 10 TR trains for Line 1 makes no mention of retrofitting the T1 fleet with ATC as an option.

Line 2’s ATC project shows in the budget from 2024-2029. Allowing for startup, this probably means ATC cutover would begin around 2026. On a related note, I assume that the SSE [Scarborough Subway Extension] will be provisioned with ATC. Therefore, the entire Line 2 fleet would have to be ATC capable by then.

But there is no provision for having an ATC fleet.

Q: What are your plans for providing ATC-equipped trains on Line 2 and how does this relate to ATC conversion of the signal system on that line?

TTC:

A: Currently ATC resignalling on Line 2 is only partially funded for the early planning stages required to do this work. The exact timing of its implementation requires further investigation with respect to ridership growth, the fleet available to operate and other projects that affect Line 2 including the Line 2 East Extension and Yonge-Bloor capacity enhancements.

Comment: At a media briefing on April 3, TTC management confirmed that the SSE would be built with conventional block signals without ATC, although structural provision would be included for an ATC retrofit.

Steve:

In the 2018 Fleet Plan, the number of trains that would operate the extended Line 2 to STC was shown as 56. It is now 53. The current scheduled service is 45 trains plus 1 gap train planned to be added later in 2019. This means that the delta between current and post-SSE service will be 7 trains. At a scheduled headway of 2’21”, that is about 16 minutes’ worth of running time added to the schedule. Is it going to be possible to make the trip from Kennedy to STC in 8 minutes one way?

Q: The original SSE plan was to operate every second train east and north from Kennedy but this was changed to send all service through to STC. Does the fleet plan provide enough trains to do this, and if not, how will the line actually be operated? Would AM peak service be different from PM peak (by analogy to Line 1’s short turn operation)?

TTC:

A: Yes, TTC has reviewed and can confirm sufficient fleet will be available to run all service to STC.

Comment: With the provincial plan to add a station at Lawrence East and extend the line to Sheppard, this may no longer be possible. This will affect procurement plans for the early 2020s. See the following question.

Steve:

7 extra trains are planned to arrive in 2026, but nothing thereafter. As this is a small order, it could presumably be piggy-backed on the parallel order for Line 1 trains, but that order is timed for 2029 (see above) not 2026. Originally, the extra trains would have been ordered as part of the T1 replacement project, but that is no longer on the table.

Q: How will the TTC procure a small order for trains for Line 2 without a larger parallel order on which it could “piggy back”?

TTC:

A: Subway fleet and procurement plans are currently being developed for both Line 1 and Line 2.  Procurements for trains will be consolidated where possible to help ensure the order size is sufficiently large to attract multiple bidders and ensure value-for-money.

Steve:

In the CIP [Capital Investment Plan], there is a description of Kipling Yard saying “Establish a new Western train yard near Kipling Station for storage and maintenance of the larger fleet of Line 2 cars.” However, the provision of Kipling Yard is beyond the scope of the Capital Budget. The CIP claims it would become available in 2031 (chart of Line 2 plan). This does not align with the date when more trains would be provisioned for Line 2, especially if those 7 trains (shown in the fleet plan) are TR-type trains that cannot be serviced at Greenwood.

Kipling Yard shows as a $2.27B project in the CIP and shifting this to an earlier date has obvious implications for Toronto’s financial planning.

Q: Please reconcile the date when new TR type trains are planned to arrive for Line 2 with the completion date for Kipling Yard and Carhouse.

TTC:

A: The ongoing development of the subway fleet and procurement plans incorporates constraints such as procurement lead times and current facility capacity.  Trains will be procured for growth and expansion within the current constraints until additional maintenance and storage facilities are constructed.

Steve:

Current planning for the DRL South assumes that it will use Greenwood to house its trains, and some claims have been made that both the RL and Yonge Extensions will be online at about 2031. It is self-evident that this is not an overnight process, and trains for the RL would arrive before the line actually opens.

Q: If Greenwood is acting as the Line 2 carhouse right up to 2031, where do you put the RL trains until Kipling opens?

TTC:

A: In the former version of the line, Relief Line South trains will be stored on the mainline, mainly at terminals, until adequate storage capacity is in place. During this interim period, trains will be sent to a yard where adequate maintenance can take place. This is the same practice that we have successfully used for many years on Line 4 Sheppard. However, with the province’s announcement of a different technology, the need will change. How, exactly, we don’t know yet.

Steve:

The description of the T1 Replacement Project on page 619 still talks of the T1s needing replacement by 2026 at the end of a 30-year life. However, the budget on page 620 shows all of the spending as beyond 2028. The financial crunch is “fixed” but the project description still refers to the original plan.

Q: Is this an editing error?

TTC:

A: Yes, this is an editing error, all T1 Replacement spending is deferred by 10 years in line with T1 LEO program and is beyond 2028.

Buses

Steve:

On a few occasions during Board meetings, Rick Leary has talked about all of the new streetcars being in service by the end of 2019 and how this would release buses now on streetcar routes for service elsewhere. However, the number of streetcars actually on order is insufficient to operate the entire network given the extra demand which is emerging on line like King. The originally planned replacement ratio for Flexitys vs C/ALRVs is not panning out.

Moreover, the CIP clearly shows that there would be buses supplementing streetcar service until the mid-2020s.

Q: Can you reconcile statements about buses going back to bus routes with the CIP fleet plan that clearly shows them staying on streetcar routes?

TTC:

A: As reported to the Board in June 2018, additional low floor streetcars are required, over and above the 204, to accommodate higher than expected ridership growth on existing streetcar routes. The TTC is undertaking a 5-year service plan and 10-year outlook which will address how long buses will be deployed on streetcar routes.

Steve:

Although there are several events (other than more streetcars) that will release buses to the fleet for future service, these are not mentioned in the CIP and are only evident in the Fleet Plan to someone familiar with what is likely to happen. However, they have been cited as one of the future sources of buses for service expansion.

These are: 2021 Eglinton Crosstown opens. 2024 Finch LRT opens. 2026 Scarborough Subway opens.

Suggestion: The effects of these changes should be explicitly listed in fleet and service plans so that the year-over-year changes separately reflect two effects: (a) buses replaced by rail modes, and (b) growth buses.

TTC:

TTC is undertaking a 5-year service plan and 10-year outlook. This report will lay the foundation for future annual service plans. In these plans, fleet requirements will be shown as suggested.

Steve:

There is a five year service plan coming in the fall. Many times in the past, Board members have asked “what if” questions about the rate of ridership growth.

Q: Will the five year plan include scenarios for different growth rates and the effect this will have fleet and garaging requirements? (Obviously that also affects streetcar planning.)

TTC:

A: The 5-year service plan and 10-year outlook is intended to recommend an actionable five-year service plan. To do this, staff must assume a population and employment growth scenario. With that said, a sensitivity analysis could be undertaken to determine fleet requirements if other growth scenarios are used with the goal of understanding when additional bus storage is required.

Streetcars

Steve:

The plan to purchase 60 more Flexitys has been pushed off into the mid 2020s with the result that there will not be enough cars to serve the entire streetcar network for many more years. (See question above about bus fleet planning.)

A related issue is that the legacy fleet, originally expected to last a few more years, will disappear by the end of 2019 if the chart in the CEO’s report is to be believed. This chart does not align with numbers in the Streetcar Fleet Plan which still reflects retention of some legacy cars for a few years overlapping the start of a proposed add-on streetcar order.

The fleet plan shows the total planned service at 167 Flexitys (plus spares) until 2025.

Q: What is the plan for streetcar operation on all of the routes including the provision of additional capacity for latent demand and future growth? How many buses will be needed and for how long to provide service on streetcar routes, and are these included in the Bus Fleet Plan?

A: As reported to our Board in June 2018, higher than expected ridership growth has resulted in the need for additional low floor streetcars being required, over and above the 204, to operate an all streetcar fleet on streetcar routes. The TTC is undertaking a 5-year plan and 10-year outlook which will address how buses will be temporarily deployed on streetcar routes whether it is a full bus substitution on a given route or deployed as trippers in the peak period and where operationally feasible. At this time, it is estimated that approximately 60 to 65 buses will be required to accommodate growth and congestion.

Steve:

The fleet plan shows the loss of capacity at Russell for 2021-22 during rebuilding for the new cars. If the 60 car order had actually happened, where would you have put them?

TTC:

The additional track storage space at Hillcrest and the use of Exhibition Loop would have been utilized to increase storage capacity.  In addition the work at Russell would have been staged to allow for partial use of the facility while the construction works was ongoing.

Steve:

Q: Does the planned reconstruction of Russell Carhouse actually prevent the system from returning to full streetcar operation for want of storage space for an expanded fleet? To what extent could Russell remain available for outdoor storage (by analogy to current operations at Roncesvalles) while the building is renovated? Would the plan for Hillcrest as site for 512 St. Clair operations have to be advanced in order for the system to handle extra cars while Russell is rebuilt?

TTC:

A: Russell will be utilized for storage and dispatching of a smaller number of low floor cars as the construction work will be phased to allow for partial use of the yard for operations. During the Russell construction current storage plans will accommodate all streetcars in the fleet.

Steve:

The project description for additional streetcars on p 671 states that additional cars will be needed “between 2020 and 2023”, and that assumed some legacy cars would remain in service. However, the budget for this project on p672 shows the actual spending in 2024 to 2027.

Q: Is this (like the T1 replacement project) a case of someone failing to edit the project description to match the revised budget?

TTC:

A: As reported to the Board in June 2018, the need for additional streetcars begins in 2020 and increases through 2023 and beyond. The budget, however, reflects the fact that funding is not yet approved and that a new procurement would have vehicles delivered starting in 2024. As mentioned previously in response to a related question, the TTC is undertaking a 5-year service plan and 10-year outlook which will address the use of buses on streetcar routes to accommodate this gap.

Questions Submitted on March 26, 2019

Infrastructure

Davisville Area Renewal:

The Davisville Area Renewal has been on the TTC’s books for a few years. It recognizes the problems with the trackbed between Muir Portal (south of Davisville Station) and Berwick Portal (south of Eglinton Station). Major reconstruction is needed on this infrastructure which dates to the early 1950s and the original Yonge subway. The challenge has always been how to undertake work of this magnitude while maintaining subway operations, at least on weekdays.

Steve:

“Major construction is tentatively scheduled to start in 2019.” (p. 3)

TTC:

After consideration of factors including the project scope, the timing of the re-signalling of Line 1 for ATC and that drainage and substructure work was required across the system, DARP has been redefined into a system-wide Drainage and Substructure Rehabilitation Project (DSRP), and the funds assigned to DARP have been reassigned to DSRP. DARP should not have been inserted in page 3 of Track Rehabilitation Program Scope, as it was a remnant from previous version and we will be reviewing and updating all PSRs [Project Status Reports] as part of the 2019 budget cycle. Instead new project DSRP should have been included.

However priority work in the Davisville area has been completed to ensure continuing track safety and functionality.

Steve:

“This work is presently funded as part of the 2017-2026 Capital Program …” (p. 4)

There does not appear to be a separate project for this, and the individual projects for subway tangent track and special work make no mention of it.

TTC:

There is work at C88 High Rail replacement on May 27-30.  Structural repairs to the drainage components will also be made in the 2019-2022 timeframe; this work has not been scheduled; but will likely occur in conjunction with multiple ECLRT [Eglinton Crosstown Light Rapid Transit] or SOGR [State of Good Repair] closures.

Steve:

Q: Are there any details on how this work will be undertaken and what sort of shutdowns will be needed to accommodate it?

TTC:

A: There will be weekend closures from Davisville to St Clair for this work – partially scheduled.  There is also number of drainage cleaning and repair activities which will be done in conjunction with ECLRT closures as well as overnight. The entire drainage and rehabilitation scope is under review throughout the entire Line 1 and eventually Line 2 as well.

Steve:

Q: Is the 2019 date still valid seeing that the text appears to be a few years old?

TTC:

Not entirely as the drainage and rehabilitation scope across system is under review and we will attempt to schedule the work as the program approach outlined at the April 11, 2019 Board Meeting. The Project Summary Sheet will be updated to reflect the planned work for DSRP and remove the DARP.

YUS – Installation of Crossovers (p. 15)

Steve:

Some time ago I asked about the installation of power section gaps one train length north and south of each crossover so that the turnback area could be isolated. This was done at Bloor when it was electrified years ago.

As things now stand, a power cut at Queen or Dundas would put both the King and College crossovers out of action because there would be no traction power on the side of the crossover in the affected zone.

There is only a small amount of money remaining in this project and according to the project schedule the remaining work is for “communication installation work”.

I don’t see any provision for this work in the budget. The usefulness of these crossovers is limited without changes to the power feeds.

Q: Has the addition of power gaps and feeds been dropped, or forgotten?

TTC:

The gaps in the power rail are complete at the Electrically Operated Isolated Switch (EOIS) north of Queen Station, however, the SCADA (Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition) remote controlled switches that allow the power turned on at these locations will not be programmed until ATC is commissioned.  The SCADA communications work for this unit is scheduled to be completed in 2019.

The work at the other EOIS, (north of College Station, is not complete; however the rail gap, EOIS and comms work at this location is scheduled to be completed in 2019.

Comment: The overall Line 1 program presented recently shows the work at Rosehill (St. Clair) Crossover in 2020.

Surface Track

Steve:

The plan on pp 25-28 has not been updated since the 2017 budget. Obviously things are thrown out of whack by the deferral of the King-Queen-Ronces project, but that’s a separate matter.

Q: Is there a more recent version of the plan than 2017?

TTC:

A: There is a more recent version of the plan.  However, with the noted deferral of King-Queen-Roncesvalles, it is being revised, in collaboration with the City, to determine which project schedules can be adjusted to best coordinate TTC projects with City projects.

Comment: The King Street Pilot report notes that King Street will undergo major reconstruction in 2023. At this time, an east-to-north curve will be added at York Street to provide another diversion point. The status of track on Adelaide as a bypass for King east from Spadina is still unresolved.

Steve:

There is another project on pp 41-42 for track work design at various locations including Dundas West, Bathurst and Broadview Stations, but there is no description of what is proposed for these busy locations.

Q: Are there any details available of what is planned for these three stations?

TTC:

A: The scope includes scheduled track replacement, civil upgrades and platform modification as needed.

Streetcar Track Switches

Steve:

According to the project on pp 263-264, installation of new track switch controls for the streetcar system is to get underway this year and progress through the system. This project has been waiting a very long time to get started while many “electric” switches are manually operated, and there is a long standing stop-and-proceed order for all facing point switches because of possible failures.

Q: Is there a technical description available for the new system, specifically how it addresses the reliability problems of the one it replaces?

TTC:

A: The specific replacement system has not yet been identified as specification documents for bid are still being prepared.

Steve:

Q: Will the initial work concentrate on locations where switches that should be electric are now out of service?

TTC:

A: The roll out plan has not been completed, but the criteria for determining the replacement schedule will be based on not only current condition but service utilization and coordination with other construction work.

Comment: The poor performance of the streetcar track switch system has been a problem for over ten years. It represents both an operational nuisance, delays during diversions and short turns, and a safety issue. Every year, the project is delayed somehow, and streetcar operations continue to muddle through.

Hillcrest

Steve:

Last summer I received a copy of a study on the future of the Hillcrest site, although this was more a gathering of requirements by many departments than an explicit plan. Now there are specific proposals in both in the Blue Books and by remarks in the 15 Year CIP.

The project on p 43 of the Blue Books describes the creation of storage for 24 LFLRVs and associated changes to circulation patterns at Hillcrest. This is in aid of shifting the St. Clair line to a location much closer to the route. Based on the plan and spending, this would be built in the near future. However, there is an unfunded budget reduction which is not linked to specific track projects.

Q: Is the 24-car Hillcrest yard project going ahead, and if so, when?

TTC:

A: The project in part, is currently in the early preliminary track design and scope identification stage.

Steve:

Looking further out, the 15 year CIP contemplates two major projects. One is a second large streetcar yard so that the system would be able to handle a substantially larger fleet, and one is a new bus collision and major maintenance facility.

The streetcar yard is spoken of in the CIP as being at Hillcrest and is shown in the 2031 time frame. There is no detail on the bus facility which, presumably, would replace some of the functions now performed at Hillcrest.

Meanwhile, the Blue Books include a project for a new streetcar maintenence and storage facility with a placeholder pricetag of $900m. This is described as being a facility similar in size and function to Leslie Barns.

Q: Where does this new streetcar yard fit with plans for Hillcrest, or is this the same project by another name?

TTC:

A: Current plan for Hillcrest is the 24 car project.  The project plan for an overall new streetcar yard is currently being investigated and developed as a separate undertaking.

Steve:

Q: Is there a more recent version of the Hillcrest plan than the one from last year?

TTC:

A: No, not at this time.

Steve:

Obviously any new major bus facility would be designed around a fleet that will evolve to all-electric although it would not be there by 2031.

Q: Are there any details on the scope of plans for a new bus major repair facility?

TTC:

A: No, not at this time.

10 thoughts on “TTC 2019 Fleet and Capacity Plans Part III: The TTC Responds

  1. Though I understand why you do not wish to be on the TTC Board, it would be good if all Board members had to read this post (and the related ones) and maybe they would then realise that you ask MANY questions that THEY should have been asking. Now they can see what ought to be done maybe some of them will step up! (OK, it’s unlikely but one can hope.) Thanks!

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Hi Steve, do you have any information on when and which routes are next to receive the new low-level streetcars We already know that 504 King, 509 Harbourfront, 510 Spadina and 512 St. Clair routes have them already in place and are now being deployed onto the 501 Queen route, so which routes are next to follow Steve?

    Steve: No. Current plans are to continue increasing the proportion of 501 Queen service operating with the new cars.

    Like

  3. The plan to purchase 60 more Flexitys has been pushed off into the mid 2020s with the result that there will not be enough cars to serve the entire streetcar network for many more years. (See question above about bus fleet planning.)

    A related issue is that the legacy fleet, originally expected to last a few more years, will disappear by the end of 2019 if the chart in the CEO’s report is to be believed. This chart does not align with numbers in the Streetcar Fleet Plan which still reflects retention of some legacy cars for a few years overlapping the start of a proposed add-on streetcar order.

    The fleet plan shows the total planned service at 167 Flexitys (plus spares) until 2025.

    On a few occasions during Board meetings, Rick Leary has talked about all of the new streetcars being in service by the end of 2019 and how this would release buses now on streetcar routes for service elsewhere. However, the number of streetcars actually on order is insufficient to operate the entire network given the extra demand which is emerging on line like King. The originally planned replacement ratio for Flexitys vs C/ALRVs is not panning out.

    The ALRVs (the old legacy two-section bendy articulated cars, as we all know by now as it was announced back in the June 2018 TTC board meeting Steve) are definitely in their final legs of service and will be gone entirely by the end of this year for sure. Originally these cars were expected to be first ones to be phased out with the arrival of the first new Bombardier low-floor streetcars coming to Toronto, however due to delivery delays, they later decided to rebuild 30 of these old articulated cars which would be good for the next 10 years, but eventually in the end, they only rebuilt 20 of these vehicles and now there are only about 10 of these in the fleet or maybe even fewer than that if I’m not mistaken, and they are still the most unreliable cars in the system and were breaking down constantly and so that’s why they now plan to get rid of all ALRV cars by the end of this year. The ALRVs so far have been a rarity to see on Toronto streets these days.

    Steve: “Rarity” is an understatement. They have not been out for months. The May schedule show 5 of them on Queen, but with a caveat that they might be replaced by Flexitys or CLRVs at the division’s discretion.

    Like

  4. Recently and lasting for several weeks there was a problem with the east to north switch at Queen and Broadview which called for a transit phase on every cycle (whether there was a waiting streetcar present or not) with predictable results on street congestion for westbound traffic including streetcars. The west to north switch at King and Church was also out of action during a weekend patch up at Queen and Parliament which demanded having an employee playing point all weekend.

    That system has been broken for a long time and it’s embarrassing that the switch replacement program still isn’t off the ground despite having funding in place.

    Steve: For years, the story was that they were working on a new spec that passed safety tests. Then it was going out to tender (and still is). Meanwhile systems the world over have automated switches linked to traffic signals with no problem.

    Like

  5. Are the rebuilt ALRV’s breaking down through electronic problems, shoddy maintenance, or good old fashioned lousy initial design?

    Steve: Old electronics and bad design, and these combine to make maintenance difficult.

    Like

  6. [The streetcar switch] system has been broken for a long time and it’s embarrassing that the switch replacement program still isn’t off the ground despite having funding in place.

    It is also shocking the ATU has permitted this situation to continue despite the safety implications of operators manually setting switches.

    And surprising that the TTC, an organization that plays the safety card whenever is suits, has ignored this issue for so long.

    Like

  7. I’m surprised they wouldn’t size up the Hillcrest storage to make room for the 511 to go with the 512. I guess making storage for 60 vehicles as a base for the 510, 511, 512 is out of the question.

    Steve: There is a broader study of restructuring Hillcrest, but in the short term storage tracks are a lot cheaper to build than revising a century old building.

    Like

  8. “This project has been waiting a very long time to get started while many “electric” switches are manually operated, and there is a long standing stop-and-proceed order for all facing point switches because of possible failures.”

    On top of stopping before every switch, I’ve noticed Toronto’s streetcars slow to a crawl and then slam across intersections and switches. This is not something I’ve noticed in other cities with extensive, overlapping streetcar networks, like Zurich, where riders would have no idea they are passing over a switch or intersection just by feeling the vehicle’s movement. Is this related to the broken switches, track construction methods, maintenance practices, or other factors entirely? Is there technology out there that allows drivers to confirm a switch is properly oriented without slowing or coming to a stop?

    Steve: There are several factors at play here. First, the Toronto electric switching system is home grown and dates back many years. There have been three generations of design:

    • Until 1945, TTC used a setup found on other North American street railways where a short section of the overhead was connected to the power supply through a relay. If the operator coasted through this section, the power draw of the car was not enough to energize the relay. However, if the controller was “on”, the relay signaled that the switch should be thrown. The combination of detecting that a car was “there” and that it was drawing power gave this scheme the name of a power-on/power-off switch. The problem is that in busy traffic, an operator might accidentally apply power and open a switch in front of the car when they didn’t want to, or conversely need to power just when traffic didn’t allow it.
    • In 1945, the TTC started to install “NA” or “Necessity Action” switches. These used a button on the dash connected to a contact on the side of the trolley shoe. On the overhead there was a contact hanging beside the trolley wire that brushed against the contact on the pole. In this design, the switching mechanism still detected the presence of a car, but determined which way to throw the switch by whether or not the NA button on the dashboard was pressed and thereby energized the contact on the pole. (In PCCs this was a dashboard button. In Witts and other old style cars, it was a foot treadle because both hands were needed to operate the car.) This scheme was carried over to the CLRVs when they were delivered.
    • When the ALRVs arrived, there was a problem because the distance from the front of the car when it was at a switchpoint to the position of the trolley pole was longer than other cars, and the pole would not reach the NA contact until after the car was well beyond the switch. The whole system was replaced with one that used loop antennae embedded in the pavement and transmitters at the front of each car. The loop detects the car as well as a signal indicating which way the switch should throw. At the same time, the electronics lock the switch so that no other “throw” operations are performed until the switch is unlocked by a separate transmitter at the back of each car. This system has been troublesome since day one (which is decades ago) because of failures in the pavement antennae and other components. This can causes switches to fail to throw either because they do not detect a request to do so from a car, or because the previous car’s “unlock” transmission was not received and the switch is still locked, or various other problems. All of this lead to a situation where operators could not trust the switches to behave.

    (In this discussion I have omitted descriptions of how switches worked for trains such as those that once ran on Bloor-Danforth and on Queen, and of how the system deals with coupled units such as a dead car being pushed back to the carhouse.)

    This produced a situation where rather than fixing the problem, the TTC instituted a slow order on all facing point switches, even the manual ones, to ensure that operators paid attention and checked their alignment. This was compounded more recently by a slow order through all special work (switches, frogs, diamonds) for fear of derailing on some of the less then pristine track on the system as it then was. This was before the TTC adopted the system of installing “panels” of pre-welded special work, and intersections tended to fall apart from vibration and concrete spalling much more quickly than they should have. Current construction methods will catch up with this in the next decade, but there is a legacy of poorly welded intersections still in place. There is even a rarely observed operating “rule” that tells operators of streetcars not to pass at intersections lest cars derail and strike each other. This tends to be observed only by junior operators who are still doing everything “by the book”, but it makes for slow operations on a route like King with a lot of junctions.

    Systems like Zurich use a completely different system that is much more integrated with traffic signals. An arriving streetcar is detected by the signal controller which “knows” the car’s desired route before it reaches the junction and, in a best case transit priority scheme, both aligns the switches and provides a green signal so that the streetcar does not have to slow down except to the degree that would be needed to navigate a curve.

    Toronto has some locations with transit priority tied to the switch controllers, but few locations are activated notably on Spadina where there are “white bar” transit signals, but many switches operate manually and hence there is no streetcar priority for these turns. If an “electric” switch is disabled for some reason, the transit priority is also lost even though the turn could still be required.

    Intersections with Spadina produce a special problem for left turns from the east-west streets because the facing point switch, unlike the one for a right turn, is out in the intersection and the antenna to control it is not reached until after the streetcar enters the intersection. Even if these are electrified, they could not trigger transit priority because an arriving streetcar cannot signal that it will make the turn until after the traffic signal allows it to reach the switch.

    And so, we have a combination of unreliable technology and a history of track maintenance problems that translate into operating procedures that delay service rather than a move to make the system work properly like most other cities in the world. The TTC has been on the verge of installing new switching technology for a few years, and has been studying systems to ensure that they are safe by TTC standards. I do not know whether this is a home brew system, or one that has been bought off the shelf, and have not been able to get any details. Installation of new switches may start later this year, but I am not holding my breath. Meanwhile, restrictive operating rules will probably last forever in part because “that’s how we do it” has become a standard practice and memory of “why” is lost.

    Try to imagine the TTC putting up with this sort of situation on the subway. It would be a major scandal, but somehow nobody cares about the streetcars.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. The TTC should consider sending say 10 CLRV’s to this company in the States.

    Have them rebuild them with a lift for wheelchairs and New modern electronics etc.

    If it proves to be worthwhile after doing the initial 10, do another 10 plus try out purchasing 10 PCC’s and 10 Witt’s too, modernized. This would eliminate the need to order 60 more cars for ten to 15 years at least, plus it would attract tourists.

    Like

  10. William Zenetos said:

    The TTC should consider sending say 10 CLRV’s to this company in the States.

    Have them rebuild them with a lift for wheelchairs and New modern electronics etc.

    If it proves to be worthwhile after doing the initial 10, do another 10 plus try out purchasing 10 PCC’s and 10 Witt’s too, modernized. This would eliminate the need to order 60 more cars for ten to 15 years at least, plus it would attract tourists.

    Have you ridden any of these cars and seen how long it takes to load or unload someone with the lifts. I have and it is not quick. One car in New Orleans took 5 minutes to load one passenger. Do you want to do that in the middle of King or Queen?

    Like

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