Updated February 15, 2021 at 1:00 pm: A section has been added at the end of this article including the decisions taken at the February 10 TTC Board meeting as well as a few additional diagrams from the staff presentation.
In a report to the TTC Board for its meeting of February 10, 2021, management recommend that the Scarborough RT line, long beset by problems through its initial design and advancing age, be closed in 2023. Buses would replace the RT until the subway extension to Sheppard & McCowan opens in 2030.
Staff would consult with the community and Council about plans for replacement services, but the fundamental decision to close the SRT would not be on the table.
The next report with a final recommendation would come to the Board in fall 2021.
This article does not contain any commentary on the political fallout from this recommendation. I will leave that for another time.
Although the TTC planned to keep the SRT alive until 2026 when the Scarborough Subway was originally slated to open, this is not practical given the ongoing deterioration of the vehicles. Indeed, I suspect that 2023 is a “saw off” target that gives enough time to organize replacement service and infrastructure, but that “as soon as possible” would be the unvarnished shutdown date if management had their way.
To keep the SRT running would require a large amount of maintenance and retrofit work during which part of the fleet would not be available and a parallel bus service would be required. One of the key problems is the obsolescence of the signaling and on-board control systems which would have to be replaced at substantial cost for a limited lifespan. This would also incur the problems of signal systems co-existence with all of the testing and validation needed during the transition.
Several options were considered for operating the SRT over the coming decade:
- Hybrid SRT and bus service. This would include major reconstruction and ongoing maintenance including the installation of a new signaling and on-board control system. Buses would supplement SRT service because part of the fleet would be unavailable during the transitional period.
- SRT operation to 2023 with new buses procured for the replacement service from 2023 to 2030.
- SRT operation to 2023 with spare buses in the current fleet to 2026 and new buses thereafter.
- SRT life extension to 2026.
- Purchasing used vehicles from the Vancouver SkyTrain system.
- Replacing the SRT fleet with new Mark III ICTS vehicles.
Options 4-6 were dropped from consideration for various reasons discussed later in this article. Option 1 is not recommended because of its cost and complexity. This leaves options 2 and 3 for more detailed study.
Common to both surviving options is a 2023 shutdown of the SRT. Judging by the budget projections, this would occur mid-year, but no specific date has been recommended.
Beyond that date, the options depend a lot on fleet plans and capital spending. With constrained budgets in coming years, option 2 suffers from the need to advance capital spending into the near term (buses for 2023 would have to be ordered soon) compared to option 3 which has more elbow room. To put this in context, the TTC has fleet renewal requirements in all modes that are not fully funded for the coming decade.
Keeping the SRT Alive to 2030
SRT vehicle reliability has declined in spite of two life extension overhauls (LEOs). The overhauls provided some short-term improvement, but because they did not address all of the vehicle components, the change was not sustained. The vehicles have now been in service for over 35 years, well beyond their design lifespan.
Reliability is projected to continue on a downward slope with an increasing number of major service disruptions. In addition, there are other factors such as signal system failure, weather related problems such as snow and ice accumulation in winter, and equipment overheating in summer.
To keep the RT fleet alive would be a complex business:
• Significant maintenance actions are needed to the truck and key areas of the car bodies to achieve a state of good repair.
• Track quality is a driving force behind truck stresses and fatigue life, pointing to the need for ongoing track remediation.
• Vehicle car body structural concerns have been addressed as part of the current life extension overhaul program but critical areas require frequent and regular monitoring to ensure the safety of vehicles.
• Many components of existing equipment have become unavailable, necessitating active obsolescence management to keep systems operational.
• Keeping the Vehicle On-Board Controller (VOBC) equipment operational through 2030 may be best achieved by replacing the original 1980’s equipment with the new updated equipment.
• There are significant risks, cost and schedule factors associated with either replacement or refurbishment of critical VOBC. Over the 30+ years of revenue operation to date, the currently installed SRT VOBC units have undergone modifications as part of needed on-going maintenance just to keep the system operational, which as a result is likely to introduce integration problems with the installation of the added proposed new equipment.
• Given that the length of time for the recommended implementation of the new third generation VOBC upgrade is four years, out of the projected 10-year service life extension to 2030, only six years of beneficial use will be realized even though the onboard equipment itself has a design life of 25 years, with little or no residual value, thus representing a loss in capital.SRT Life Extension Project Options Analysis pp14-15
On top of this, a new signal system would have to be integrated into the existing infrastructure, and the old system would continue to deteriorate during the transition (as we have seen during the ATC project on Line 1). The overhaul period for vehicles would run from 2021 to 2024 during which full service on Line 3 would not be possible.
The following components would have to be upgraded to keep the cars running:
• Propulsion System-Automatic Train Operation (ATO) system including: Vehicle On-Board Controller (VOBC), Linear Induction Motor (LIM), Propulsion Control Unit (PCU)
• Truck Assembly including: Structural Side Frames, Axle and Wheel Assemblies, Brake System-Hydraulic Brake Actuators, Magnetic Track Brakes, Hydraulic Power Unit, Hydraulic Control Unit
• Door System including: Door Frames, Door Mechanisms & Electrical Controls
• Accessible Features: Upgrade of the Station Stop Announcement System
• Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) System: Design and installation of a CCTV systemSRT Life Extension Project Options Analysis p 16
Infrastructure maintenance would have to be based on operation for another decade, as opposed to letting the line decline gracefully pending an earlier shutdown.
Bus Replacement Options
The two options for replacing the SRT with buses differ only in the timing of new vehicle purchases. The following are common to both options:
- SRT continues operating with 4 to 5 trains until it is shut down in 2023.
- Additional bus capacity would be needed at STC (6 to 8 additional bays) and Kennedy (at least 4 bays plus circulation and layover space) in advance of the shutdown.
- Road improvements along major bus corridors would be implemented including larger stopping areas, queue jump lanes and signal timing changes to favour the frequent bus service.
- If a problem with the SRT fleet reduced the number of available trains below 4, an SRT shuttle would be implemented immediately as is now done for equipment breakdowns and other emergencies.
Option 2 would entail purchase of 60 new hybrid buses by 2023/2024. They would be due for a mid-life overhaul in 2029-2039.
Option 3 would reduce the fleet’s spare ratio temporarily until 2026 with 20 new buses/year to be purchased in 2027 to 2029.
The Scarborough bus network would be reconfigured to focus on Kennedy Station providing a through trip for many routes that now terminate at STC.
Here is the bus network as it would exist while the SRT is still operating. Note that this includes proposed route changes that will be implemented later in 2021, as well as changes planned for the opening of the Crosstown LRT in 2022.
The map below shows the network without the SRT. Route marked with a blue dot in the list operate to Kennedy Station via a path to be determined (the dotted blue line). With the upheavals caused by the subway construction project on Eglinton and McCowan, that route could change over time compromising the lifespan of “temporary” improvements to support the shuttle.
The operation would be express with only one intermediate stop at Lawrence East which is the only SRT stop with significant demand between STC and Kennedy.
The volume of bus service for the combined route would be substantial. The numbers below are in addition to whatever local service might run on the chosen corridor already. The values here are based on standard-sized buses, but the TTC is also considering use of larger articulated buses. That would be especially important if new buses were bought early rather than late in the decade.
Travel times between STC and Kennedy would rise from 10 to 15-18 minutes, but this would be partly offset by elimination of the transfer connection at STC for routes providing through service.
The level of service on whichever corridor is chosen would be a substantial increase over current operations with predictable effects on nearby residents.
SRT Life Extension to 2026
Extending the life of the SRT to 2026 will not eliminate, only delay, the point at which operations would have to change to all bus. In the interim, because the vehicles and infrastructure would not receive the aggressive overhaul contemplated in option 1, they would continue to deteriorate, and some pillaging for spare parts might be needed to keep a minimum fleet running. With a small 28 car fleet, there is not much headroom for this approach.
Used Vehicles from Vancouver
Although the original SkyTrain cars in Vancouver are Mark I vehicles, they are not the same as Toronto’s and face integration issues with the existing fleet. Another option would be to buy they simply as a source of spare parts.
However, these vehicles would not be available until 2024 which would not forestall cannibalization of the Toronto fleet for parts.
Mark III SRT Vehicles
Mark III vehicles will not fit on the existing SRT, notably at Kennedy Station where the curve is too sharp, and some changes at McCowan Yard might also be needed. These trains would have an updated control system that cannot work with the aging signal system on the line forcing a retrofit.
New cars could not arrive in Toronto for a few years, and they would have a limited lifespan. The report is silent on whether Vancouver would be interested in them as used vehicles after the subway opens.
In addition to the fleet and technology issues, there is the question of accessibility at SRT stations. Only two of them, Kennedy and STC, are fully accessible (at least by TTC standards). Because the TTC expected to abandon the line when the subway opened in 2026, they did not include the other stations at Lawrence, Ellesmere, Midland and McCowan in the “Easy Access Program” which retrofits elevators to existing stations.
If the SRT continued to operate beyond 2025 to 2030, the TTC would run a parallel bus service to provide accessibility over the corridor.
Capital and Operating Costs
Each option has its own costs on both the capital and operating side. Capital availability is a key consideration considering the budget squeeze we are likely to see in the next few years.
The TTC hopes that Metrolinx will pay for the extra cost of providing a replacement service, but it remains to be seen if this would actually be funded by the Province as an extra cost on the SSE project.
In the TTC capital budget as it stands, there is $47 million between years 2021 and 2026 for state of good repair on the SRT. This drops off in 2023 as major overhaul work was planned to end in anticipation of the shutdown three years later. If the fleet remains active to 2030, substantial additional work would be required in the later half of the decade beyond what was originally budgeted.
On the operating side, the basic cost of running the SRT of $20-22 million annually would be offset by some service reductions to free up vehicles for overhauls, but the cost of additional bus service would outweigh this. The “operating funding available” in ths table is based on the 2021 budget for the SRT before considering offsets for overhauls and bus replacements.
The total cost is $522 million of which only $248 million is “funded” by placeholders in existing budgets. (This means, in effect, that money earmarked for the current plan would be reallocated to pay for the proposed one.)
Option 2 has much lower costs for the SRT itself because it would be retired in mid-2023. However, the cost of terminal changes and traffic priority improvements would be incurred in 2022-23, and new buses would be purchased in 2023-24. This “front-end-loads” the capital requirements, possibly a problem for overall budgets and timing of other capital projects.
The total cost is $375 million with the same $248 million “funded” through current budget provisions.
Option 3 avoids the up front cost for new buses by pushing them off to the end of the decade. Because they would have a longer useful life after the SSE opened, there is a larger credit for this value (i.e. the unused portion of the bus lifespan) and there is the avoided cost of a major overhaul that would be charged against the buses purchased in option 2. This cost does not disappear, it merely does not get charged against the SRT project per se.
These costs are summarized below.
Update: TTC Board Meeting of February 10, 2021
The TTC Board discussed this report at some length at its recent meeting, and there were several deputations from Scarborough residents. A common theme in their remarks was that the TTC should make the best of a bad situation by ensuring that there is good, frequent replacement bus service after the SRT closes, and that transit priority will be essential. This included use of the existing corridor as a bus roadway.
Some commented on problems with crowding today on the bus network in spite of TTC management’s claims to the contrary. In particular, they did not want service elsewhere to suffer from reallocation of buses to an SRT replacement service.
Of concern to some deputants was the concept of “transferring” the SRT right-of-way to Metrolinx. Nominally this would be done because Metrolinx is responsible for removal of the existing infrastructure as part of the Scarborough Subway project. However, one cannot help thinking that they are eyeing this space as part of the expansion plans for the Stouffville GO corridor. TTC staff stated that the land would remain in TTC/City hands, although given the provincial love for overriding local plans, that could be a hollow promise.
The issue of consultation for transit priority measures was also raised including the problem of representation through meetings which could be dominated by drivers fighting any proposals as opposed to riders whose work hours and technology access could limit their ability to attend.
Three sets of amendments were proposed, and all were adopted by the Board:
Commissioner Osborne moved that staff be directed to:
- include a BRT or busway on the SRT right-of-way as part of the replacement transit service options analysis, including signal priority measures,
- receive input and feedback through the Community Engagement process, including any necessary changes to the City’s Surface Transit Network Plan priorities, and
- report back to the Board as part of the Q3 Board Report.
Commissioner Bradford moved that:
- the CEO seek the assistance of various officials in obtaining funding for additional buses, and that this funding would be included as part of the continuing cost of providing service in anticipation of the subway opening, and
- the staff in consultation with various City officials develop a framework for inclusion of local Councillors, Neighbourhood Improvement Associations and Neighbourhood Planning Tables in the consultation process.
Commissioner Carroll moved that TTC staff be required to include potential future uses of SRT station lands in all consultations on replacement service.
During the staff presentation, the following issues were cited as examples of problems with maintenance and reliability of the SRT equipment:
- 158 of 184 incidents resulted in delays greater than five minutes from 2017-2019.
- 70 days with speed restrictions in 2019 to prevent overheating and shut down of propulsion system in hot weather (+ 25C).
- 6 days of suspended service in 2018 and 2019 due to severe winter weather (snow and ice build up).
- 3 weeks of reduced service in September of 2020, due to concerns with a critical bearing in the truck assembly.
The comparative travel times for the existing and proposed replacement operations were shown in the chart below. Note that this is for a trip originating in Malvern where the journey to the SRT dominates the travel time, although less so with the SRT’s removal depending on the degree (or lack) of transit priority for the “express” bus service.
A simplified version of the service map shows how routes would be extended for through express trips from STC to Kennedy Station. The actual route taken is still to be determined.