TTC Updates Flexity/CLRV Replacement Schedule

Over past months there has been some inconsistency in TTC statements about the fate of the “legacy” CLRV and ALRV fleets with conflicting information that

  • some legacy cars would survive into early 2020,
  • all of these cars would be retired by the end of 2019,
  • all of the buses now operating on streetcar routes would be available for bus service improvements in 2020.

It is self-evident that these statements cannot all be true.

The situation is now clarified in two reports on the TTC Board’s Agenda for May 8, 2019.

The CEO’s Report includes the following:

On streetcar services, we’ll address crowding through the continued rollout of new high-capacity, low-floor streetcars. Low-floor vehicles are expected to be on all streetcar routes by early 2020.

Supplementary bus service may be used on some routes during the busiest times.

With the continued delivery of new low-floor streetcars, we are advancing their deployment on more routes.

Currently, the 504 King, 509 Harbourfront, 510 Spadina and 512 St Clair are fully served with low-floor streetcars. We began deploying these streetcars on the 501 Queen in January 2019. We expect that all service on Queen, between Humber Loop and Neville Park Loop will be operated by low-floor streetcars by early summer.

Subsequent routes for streetcar deployment will be: 511 Bathurst (summer 2019), 501 Queen (Long Branch Loop to Humber Loop, fall 2019), 506 Carlton (late 2019), and 505 Dundas (spring 2020). Low-floor streetcar service on Kingston Road will be introduced in 2020 following a review of streetcar services as part of our Five-Year Service Plan. [pp 11-12]

The CEO’s Report now shows the decommissioning plan for all legacy cars in 2019 as “Projected” [p 39].

The 2019-2023 Accessibility Plan includes:

By the end of 2019, the remainder of the order of low-floor streetcars is expected to be received and the TTC plans to retire all high floor streetcars from regular service. [p 27]

The Five-Year Service Plan mentioned above will not be out until December 2019, but with the Capital Investment Plan now showing spending on a further order of streetcars in the mid-2020s, there will be an extended period where expansion of streetcar capacity will be limited to whatever can be provided with supplementary bus service. From King Street, we know that there is a latent demand for better service on the streetcar network, but actually addressing that will be challenging in the current climate.

Crowding is a problem on all parts of the system, but the political focus is on new subway lines that will not address most of these problems, and certainly not in the short-to-medium term. The CEO’s Report now includes a table showing crowding levels, although on a system-wide basis, not for individual routes.

These numbers should be understood in the context of “periods” as defined in TTC schedules. There are five periods through the day:

  • Weekdays: AM Peak / Midday / PM Peak / Early Evening / Late Evening
  • Weekend: Early Morning / Late Morning / Afternoon / Early Evening / Late Evening

The transition points between these periods vary from route to route depending on local demand patterns.

In the chart below, the combination of routes and periods shows that in the first quarter of 2019, 41 bus routes were overcrowded during 82 periods, but this means the combination of one route and one period. With 82 representing only 4.5% of the total, this means that there are over 1,800 possibilities for the bus fleet.

The methodology of counting weekend days individually yields 15 periods overall for most routes. (Some routes do not operate in the Early AM period on the Sunday schedules.) The reason for this is that there is a common schedule for all weekdays, but separate schedules for each of the weekend days. However, this methodology consolidates the majority of the service (weekdays) into only one third of the period count undervaluing the number of riders affected by weekday problems. Moreover, crowding that varies by day-of-week could be masked by averaging over a five-day period.

There also appears to be a mathematical problem for the subway where 7 periods are claimed to be 13.5% of the total. This implies that there are over 50 subway “periods”, but with only 3 lines and 14 periods per line (no early Sunday service), this is impossible (it is unclear where the SRT fits in here). This chart needs work to improve its content.

Reliability of the new Flexity fleet bounced back from a big dip in January 2019, but the mean distance between failures of 13,223 km is still below last year’s performance and less than half of the contracted target. This does not bode well for any move to extend the existing contract with Bombardier.

CLRV reliability continues to track at under 4,000 km MDBF, and the TTC no longer publishes stats for the ALRVs as they have been out of service over the winter. The May schedule plans show a return of five ALRVs to 501 Queen, but this is tentative and the affected runs might simply show up with CLRVs or Flexitys. The CEO’s report notes:

As this legacy fleet is scheduled to be decommissioned by end of this year, maintenance staff will continue to ensure the vehicles are safe to operate in service. However, technical efforts moving forward are being shifted to the new LFLRV fleet and to providing Bombardier with additional assistance. [p 40]

18 thoughts on “TTC Updates Flexity/CLRV Replacement Schedule

  1. If Dundas and Kingston will not use LFLRVs until mid-2020, does that mean they are 100% buses until then? I also note that there is no content regarding Bombardier’s delivery performance in the report – have you seen any updates on that? Is the magical “everything in 2019” plan still the official story?

    Steve: It is no surprise that the TTC can’t get its story straight on this. I will pursue the question at the meeting next week.

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  2. The way that “Low-floor streetcar service on Kingston Road will be introduced in 2020 following a review of streetcar services as part of our Five-Year Service Plan.” is phrased is ominous.

    Looking back to your March 22 “TTC 2019 Fleet and Capacity Plans” article, the current fleet requirement for all the routes is 216 cars (with 20% spares).

    If you remove the 11 Kingston Road cars, then the current fleet requirement would be 203 cars with 20% spares … or 198 cars with 17% spares.

    So if they permanently remove streetcar service on Kingston Road, they can run an all-Flexity service with 198 cars, 17% spares, and have 6 cars at any time off undergoing warranty work.

    Reading between the lines, I fear that they’ve already decided to permanently remove streetcar service on Kingston Road.

    It’s tragic that they didn’t pick up even 20 extra streetcars at the option price.

    Steve: The ridiculous part is that most of the 502/503 service is really a supplement to 501 Queen in the east end. Typically we see pairs of buses even in the off peak. There is no supervision and the “service” is not what I would call attractive. But hey, no riders means we don’t need as much service and it “saves” money. And the TTC wonders where the demand has gone.

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  3. Is it safe to say that the transit users actually “like” the new streetcars? So much that they are riding them more and more. So much more that more of the new streetcars are needed to meet the demand?

    Steve: I am not sure that you can separate the perceived improvement of the new cars as vehicles from the benefit of actually being able to get on one when it appears.

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  4. Appears, the Flexitys are having problems.

    Steve: That article is based on a Toronto Star article by Ben Spurr which only looked at data to January 2019. The February and March data are better, although still not up to snuff. They are not mentioned in the Railway Age article which suggests it was written before they were published. For that matter, this improvement was reported verbally at the April TTC meeting.

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  5. Interesting crowding report. While the subway is getting worse and there is a slight improvement in the streetcar numbers (due to LFLRV deployment) the worst crowding is on the streetcars. More new cars could easily fix this, and would free up buses, lowering that crowding figure too.

    Unfortunately, with subway uploading and the Ford focus on subways, this little factoid will be overlooked for a while. Eventually, what remains of the TTC will have to focus on bus and streetcar expansion, as that will be all that is left to them. Where the money will come from remains to be seen, as it looks like most of the subsidy dollars Toronto gets for transit will be uploaded with the subway.

    Reliability of the new cars is critical – is there a time frame for meeting the MDBF target? What is the penalty for failure? Hopefully the fleet warranty clock does not start running until Bombardier meets the MDBF target.

    Is an uploaded subway an “UP WAY”? If so, is this a slower version of the UP Express?

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  6. In the new CEO report, it says the TTC met the 100% vehicle availability target for streetcars, meaning that the target number of streetcars scheduled were actually put into service during the AM peak (page 42).

    It seems like a somewhat misleading statistic since overcrowding is still a large problem and the CLRV/ALRV reliability is apparently poor, yet 100% of scheduled vehicles can make it out. The report says the increase in availability is due to new flexities and legacy car decommissioning yet looking at the 2018 data, availability was near, at or above 100% for all months of the year.

    January 2019 had a lower availability of streetcars compared to all months of 2018. So by this chart, the streetcar fleet was in better shape in January 2018 than January 2019, despite there being more flexities in 2019.

    And how was there 100+% availability in September to December of 2018 yet a lot of the ALRV fleet scheduled to run did not run and was replaced by CLRVs. I don’t think it’s fair to say availability is 100% when the vehicles used are of less capacity of those scheduled, it’s a very misleading statement. By this logic, hypothetically couldn’t a Flexity be replaced by a CLRV at a 1:1 ratio and still be considered to be at 100% availability yet a more than 50% decrease in capacity?

    Steve: Yes, the TTC’s reporting of vehicle availability is suspect in that they only have to hit the count of scheduled cars, and routinely keep that number below the likely available line. January 2019 was very bad for weather, and that caught up to them mainly with the old fleet.

    Obviously if there are capacity issues on the system, the fact that they hit “100%” availability is meaningless to riders who still could not get on a vehicle.

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  7. Is it out of the question to consider taking the best of the legacy streetcar fleet and upgrading them for continued service? I’d think some would be in decent enough condition for a retrofit, no? It just seems to me like a fair solution to having more vehicles and service while they sort out the next streetcar procurement.

    Steve: The TTC tried this with some cars, but the problem is that although bodies can be rebuilt, the electronics are positively antique and would have to be completely replaced. The cost per car is not worth the limited extra lifespan.

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  8. The CBC published a story today that says 146 vehicles are in service. It quotes TTC spokesman Stuart Green expressing trust that Bombardier will deliver all vehicles by the final deadline.

    I am a fan of the new vehicles. If it looks like the vehicles are measuring up to the reliability criteria, I would prefer the sixty new vehicles we need were purchased from Bombardier. Surely they wouldn’t screw around a second time?

    Surely the new price wouldn’t try to recoup their penalty losses?

    Am I correct that the penalties Bombardier have had to pay, or will have to pay, are a token amount?

    I don’t think taking the option to buy more vehicles, at the sixty vehicle point, would have been a good idea, as Bombardier management wasn’t taking the deadlines seriously, at that point.

    Steve: The last car delivered to Toronto was 4544. Adding in the three Kingston cars 4572-4574 brings us to a total of 148. Of these, up to ten cars are either in the acceptance process or are cycling through the welding fix program at Bombardier. Generously, this means that we should have about 138 cars available, not 146. The May schedules call for about 103 Flexitys in peak service, and this leaves a substantial spare pool.

    Current plans call for 501 Queen to be completely converted to low floor cars at the end of June. If this is done on a 1:1 basis, that will soak up 20 more cars.

    The Bombardier contract provided for up to $50 million in “liquidated damages”, the term for extra costs incurred by the TTC due to non-performance by Bombardier. Media coverage of the settlement implies that the full amount might not have been recovered as Bombardier counter-claimed that some delays were due to TTC specification changes. I doubt we will know all of the details for some time, if ever.

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  9. Some people are wanting for the old streetcars to be kept for as long as possible but this is not acceptable as the old streetcars are not accessible. All old streetcars should be retired effective immediately and replaced with accessible new ones or with accessible buses until more new accessible streetcars become available.

    Steve: By legislation, accessibility is not required until 2026. In any event, the TTC plans to retire the last of the old cars at the end of 2019, or early 2020 at the latest, once all of the new cars are here. Keeping an old CLRV or ALRV running is very difficult given their age and obsolete electronics, and this would be challenging for museum operation, let alone revenue service. Meanwhile the TTC has no spare buses, and if anything wants to get back those now on streetcar routes for service elsewhere.

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  10. How practical would it be to convert CLRVs into trailers? Tow them behind an LFLRV. Basically, re-work their heating/cooling and door systems to be powered from the LFLRV. Remove the overhead pickup, motor, and controls (including the hard-to-maintain electronics). Accessibility shouldn’t be an issue as anybody needing those features can use the LFLRV; the CLRV can just be overflow space.

    I can see a few issues, and obviously this isn’t happening (would have to be already in the plan), so I ask for general interest.

    Steve: This would be at best a stopgap pending an order for more cars. Such trailers would be a long way back from the stop and the train would not fit at some loops. They would still need some trainlined functionality, and I would be very surprised if the TTC allowed a car with no control system including brakes to operate in revenue service. It’s not just a case of hooking another car at the back.

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  11. @Andre;

    A lot of European systems have a minimum headway requirement for accessible cars, say every 10 or 15 minutes with high floors in between. Its not perfect but it is predictable because they stick to the headway as much as possible. It also allows you to keep cars in service until the end of the useful lifespan.

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  12. Do you know if the new LFLRV’s will have electronics that can be easy to maintain indefinitely and never go obsolete, or be designed to allow systems or components to be replaced without throwing out the whole vehicle? Like how the PCC’s can be maintained indefinitely if the structure remains safe.

    Steve: I believe that the Flexity cars are designed so that components can be swapped out even for routine maintenance. As for longevity, the question will be whether/when a new control package is needed within an existing car. The CLRVs in particular suffered from having close to first generation equipment, and a specification that made replacement parts hard to source.

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  13. If I may rephrase my question about the longevity of the LFLRV’s, will the LFLRV’s face the same problem of obsolete systems and components at the end of their life that the CLRVs/ALRV’s are facing now? And is it true that the PCC’s don’t have this problem?

    Steve: The difference with the PCCs is that their control systems are all mechanical, and it is relatively easy to fabricate replacement parts. They do not require a complex set of diagnostic tools, and generally you can see all of the parts. When Pittsburgh rebuilt their PCC fleet a few decades back, I remember seeing brand new PCC controllers sitting in the shop that had been manufactured to the original spec. With electronics that is much harder, if not impossible or desirable because newer tech could be better. The challenge is to do part-level replacement rather than installing a fully new package with compatible technology.

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  14. @ Jacob Louy:

    The CLRVs and ALRVs used a first generation solid state control system that ran DC traction motors. The systems were klunky because the solid state devices could not shut off easily on DC current once they started and required complex circuits.

    Almost all transit traction motors are now AC and will probably continue that way because they are cheaper to maintain and offer better traction. The controllers for them have advanced a lot over the early “choppers” and are probably a drop in device that can easily be removed for service at a test bench and replaced by another. This would mean that you could easily substitute a new device for the older one as long as it gave the same output. No one is building DC choppers or their equivalent.

    SEPTA rebuilt some PCCs and put AC traction motors with solid state AC controllers in them but they still need a lift for handicapped riders.

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  15. Steve wrote “/PCCs … control systems are all mechanical, and it is relatively easy to fabricate replacement parts… With [1980s era] electronics that is much harder, if not impossible or desirable because newer tech could be better. The challenge is to do part-level replacement rather than installing a fully new package with compatible technology./”

    On one of their tours I took some pictures of the blacksmith forge where PCC replacement parts were forged.

    I suspect that, thirty years from now, transit authorities will have similar problems finding replacement parts for the 2010 era electronic components in a Flexity, but — with enough effort — PCCs can still be rebuilt and kept on the road.

    The SRT vehicles used real time computers from an outfit called “General Automation”. I worked there, on a contract, about a year after they had supplied their computers for the SRT vehicles. I found it hilarious how the full-time programmers kept bragging at how ultra-reliable their hardware was, when, it seemed to me, we experienced an unusual number of crashed drives.

    The General Automation computers did not use a single chip CPU, like all modern computers, and like most minicomputers then. They used “bit-slice” technology. The CPU was a special circuit board, that plugged in to the main circuit board. It had flashing lights, just like a 1960s computer, right on the CPU package. There were even switches, on the CPU package, for rebooting, maybe setting the clock speed.

    So, it is unsurprising how hard it is to find parts.

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  16. @Robert Wightman

    As usual, I always enjoy reading your explanations. Thanks!

    I’m curious to know how Siemens refurbished Sacramento’s UTDC ALRV’s only four years ago, and what challenges they faced. I would imagine that if the TTC is faced with lack of parts or suppliers, that would apply anywhere else, no? Is there anything the TTC could have learned and applied here when we first embarked on the ALRV rebuilding programme, or could it just be the lack of winters there?

    Not that I’m arguing that CLRV/ALRV refurbishment is feasible now.

    Steve: An important difference was that the cars refurbished for Sacramento have not spent the last 30 years in Toronto’s climate and operating conditions. They are ex-Santa Clara cars that operated there from 1987 to 2003. The project had a budget of about $20 million US in 2012. It did not include replacement of the propulsion electronics, a major component of the cars and a source of many problems in the Toronto fleet. I have not been able to find out which package was included in these cars originally and whether it is the same as Toronto’s. Other readers may know these details.

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  17. The cars only ran for 6 years on 15 to 30 minute headways except in the CBD. Average ridership is around 28,800 so the cars were not overworked and as Steve says they did not run in a salty environment which has a bad effect on electronics. Since the cars only ran for 6 years before being stored the refurbishing was probably to get the parts into running condition after sitting idle for a couple of years and not a major overhaul. These cars are bigger that Toronto as they are 88 ft. long and 8’8″ wide which are much more than the TTC’s.

    I’m sure that the TTC’s ALRVs were in much better shape when they were 6 years old than they are now.

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