The “Near Miss” At Osgoode Station

On June 12, 2020, there was a “near miss” incident where two trains could have, but did not, have a sideswipe collision just south of Osgoode Station. The was first reported in the Toronto Star by Ben Spurr on June 4, 2021 (the linked article is behind the Star’s paywall).

Immediately this spurred several questions including “how could this happen” and “why did the TTC Board only learn of this through the newspapers almost a year after the fact”.

TTC management launched an external review of the incident, and the report from it is dated February 3, 2021. Management planned to bring a report to the Board in September 2021. A partly redacted version of the external review has been published by the TTC. Portions are omitted for reasons of confidentiality as permitted by the City of Toronto Act.

This report is about labour relations or employee negotiations.

This report is about litigation or potential litigation, including matters before administrative tribunals.

Osgoode Interlocking Incident Report, p. 1

What Happened?

A northbound train (run 114) at St. Andrew Station was held due to an on-board emergency. In order to maintain service on the University-Spadina leg of Line 1, the TTC directed a southbound train (run 123) at Osgoode to short turn via the pocket track south of the station.

Although this track is not often used, this type of move is common at several locations on the subway network during emergency turnbacks or when a line is split for construction projects.

An important distinction with Osgoode pocket track is that it ends in a blank wall north of St. Andrew Station. Unlike other locations with centre tracks such as the one between St. Andrew and Union, or those on Line 2 between Broadview and Chester, or beween Ossington and Christie, this track dead ends and can only be entered from one direction.

For reasons that are not yet clear, the Automatic Train Control system (ATC) (which had already been operational in this part of Line 1 for a few months) did not work, or was not used by trains entering the pocket track, and they did so under manual control.

The correct operating procedure was for a train leaving the pocket to switch back to ATC mode so that its move onto the mainline would be managed and protected by the signal system. This was not done, and when run 123 left northbound under manual control there was a conflicting move by train 114 which had by then left St. Andrew Station under ATC. There was no mechanism for the ATC system to detect the potential conflict between the trains.

The guard at the rear end of run 123 saw run 114 passing by on the mainline, and alerted the operator at the head of the train. He stopped run 123 5.8 metres away from run 114.

This incident arose through a combination of events and design:

  • ATC either did not work, or was not routinely activate for movements into the pocket track.
  • Manual operation of trains in ATC territory is very rare and should be done with maximum supervision to ensure there are no conflicting movements. When there is an emergency, supervisory attention could be divided among multiple activities.
  • The train stopped in the pocket track clear of the switches, but the signal indicating if a route out of the pocket was clear was beside the train and not visible to the operator.
  • There was confusion by the operator of the train about whether he had clearance to proceed out of the pocket track. Line 1 is in transition between operating modes with different indications by signals and console displays depending on the location and whether a train is in manual or automatic mode.
  • The track layout makes it possible for a train to drive manually out of the pocket toward the northbound platform even though the route was not actually clear.

The diagram below (excerpted from the external report) shows the track layout for a train moving into the pocket. Switches 5B and 5A are aligned for movement between the southbound platform and the pocket. There is a sign at the south end of the pocket track indicating where trains should stop, but it is possible to be clear of the 5A switches without reaching this point. However, if the train stops north of that sign, signal X8 could be beside the north end of the train rather than in front of it.

Once run 123 pulled into the pocket, the 5A/5B switches realigned to their normal position for through service southbound. However, this creates a problem on the northbound side as illustrated below. The 5A switch is set for a move out of the pocket to the northbound track, but the 7A switch is aligned for through northbound moves from St. Andrew Station.

This is an inevitable result of a three-into-two track arrangement because under normal operations, both 5B and 7A will be set to the straight for regular operations. Switch 5A will direct an outbound train from the pocket onto one of the mainline tracks unless that move is blocked by some other means through the signal system.

In the pre-ATC system, the train would have been stopped by a “trip arm” at signal X8 that would have tripped emergency brakes. (In the Russell Hill crash in 1995, a trip arm failure contributed to the disaster.) In the ATC system, protection depends on the train being in ATC mode, or if in manual, the movement being carefully managed to avoid conflicts.

One method to protect this track configuration is used at a few exits from pocket tracks, but not all. The south end of the pocket between Lawrence West and Glencairn Stations illustrates this. There are two separate crossovers and switches leading from the pocket track, one each to the northbound and southbound main lines. Each set of switches operates as a pair. During normal mainline operations, both of these would be set leading into a dead-end track in case a train were to move south without being stopped at a signal.

Source: Google Earth

At the north end of this pocket track, there is no comparable setup, and the track arrangement is the same as at Osgoode.

Source: Google Earth

Implementing a dead end track such as at the south end of Lawrence pocket track is difficult to retrofit because there is usually something in the way. This sort of thing must be designed into lines when they are built.

Much of the discussion of this report was in camera and that took roughly an hour and 40 minutes. When the Board returned to public session, it passed two motions. The first was to have a public presentation of the investigation’s findings and the corrective actions taken over the past year at the July 7, 2021 Board meeting. The second was a clear direction that management should inform the Board about serious events at the time they occur.

Chair Jaye Robinson moved “that the TTC Board direct the Chief Executive Officer to alert the Board when an incident meeting the identified thresholds for escalation occurs and subsequently report to the Board once a comprehensive review or investigation has been completed”.

During the Covid era, there has been a gradual slippage of responsibilities from the Board to management as those at the political level have been pre-occupied with city-wide issues. The Board is there to provide oversight and direction, not simply to receive “good news” reports.

Postscript

Ben Spurr’s article on the Board’s actions is here (paywalled).

Ontario Proposes Developments at Station Sites

The Government of Ontario has proposed that lands they plan to acquire for station entrance buildings on the Ontario Line at Exhibition, King/Bathurst and Queen/Spadina stations will be redeveloped to increase transit demand at these locastions.

For a description of the stations sites, please see my previous article Ontario Line West Segment Update. The site plans are included here to put the proposed developments in context.

In the station building renderings, the eagle-eyed readers will note the variation (including the complete absence in some cases) of the “standard” Metrolinx “T” symbol. On the Crosstown line, it has been rendered at a size where it almost disappears, whereas here, in some drawings, it is on a similar scale to the “T” found at the MBTA stations in Boston.

All of the designs shown here indicate the general form (albeit not the height) of what Ontario would like to see, and everything is subject to change.

All renderings from Ontario Proposes New Transit-Oriented Communities Along Ontario Line.

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Ontario Line West Segment Update

Updated June 17, 2021 at 5:20 pm:

In the table of station usage counts, I cited the values as “all day” numbers in the original version of this article because Metrolinx own summary article showed the total value as “daily” not as “peak hourly” . I asked Metrolinx about this discrepancy, and they have not yet responded. However, they have changed the article in which “daily” was used to now say “busiest hour”. I have updated this section accordingly. Other questions to Metrolinx have not yet been answered. (Screen captures are included later in the article.)

Meetings for other segments are scheduled on:

  • June 17: Central downtown
  • June 24: Corktown, East Harbour, Riverside, Gerrard
  • June 30: North to Eglinton from Danforth

The introductory article for the meeting is on the Metrolinx blog and the engagement page includes links to the four meetings and resources for them.

All drawings in this article are taken from the Presentation Deck for June 10. Street view photos are from Google Maps.

Project Schedule

A common question during the session was “when will this affect me”. The entire project is complex and will affect areas in different ways as it moves through its stages. The published schedule concentrates on pre-construction activities. In the chart below, related activities share the same colour so that, for example, the Lower Don Bridges are all yellow.

Early works that can occur before major construction include:

  • Exhibition Station reconfiguration and expansion (construction to begin imminently)
  • Lower Don Bridges (construction begins in early 2022)
  • Corktown Station (no start date shown in the plan)

There are four big contracts that will affect neighbourhoods along the route.

  • The Lakeshore East joint GO and Ontario Line corridor between the Don River and Gerrard is an “Early Work” scheduled to begin construction in the second half of 2022. This segment is controversial because of potential effects on affected neighbourhoods, and Metrolinx’ aggressive efforts to counter “myths” and “misinformation” about their project. See Metrolinx v Riverside: Where Does the Truth Lie?
  • In mid-2022 contracts for the south segment structures and for “RSSOM” (Rolling Stock, Systems, Operations and Maintenance) will be awarded with construction to begin in 2023.
  • The north segment structures contract will go to its RFQ stage in early 2022, with RFPs to selected proponents late that year. Contract award will occur in 2024 and construction would begin some time afterward.

For the south segment, the tunnels will be deep underground, typically about 30m down. They will be bored through rock starting from the west end of the line. Spoil removal and materials delivery will occur at the Exhibition with the tunnel portal west of Strachan Avenue and truck access to the Gardiner Expressway at Dufferin Street.

Stations will be built using a “keyhole” method by digging down from future entrance building locations and then mining outward to create station caverns for the concourses and platforms. This is similar to the approach used for a few stations on the Crosstown project to avoid excavating within streets. That is particularly important for locations where there are streetcar lines and many underground utilities.

The first stage of construction will be to tunnel, with station construction to follow once the tunnel is in place. Metrolinx has not published a detailed schedule, but station work would begin in 2024 in the south segment as tunnel work progresses from Exhibition east to the Don River. Metrolinx expects station sites to be under construction for about three years.

The major RSSOM construction in the early years of the project will be the Maintenance and Storage Facility north of Thorncliffe Park. After the tunnels and aboveground structures are complete, the RSSOM contractor will outfit tracks and systems, but this activity would largely be within the completed tunnels and guideways.

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The Long Arm of Metrolinx

Doug Ford wants his pet transit projects built now and will sweep away any opposition. His agency, Metrolinx, is more than happy to oblige if only to make itself useful.

There was a time when the Tories hated Metrolinx as a den of Liberal iniquity, but Phil Verster and the gang made themselves useful to their new masters with new plans. Ford returned the favour with legislation giving Metrolinx sweeping powers in the Building Transit Faster Act. In particular, Metrolinx has review powers over any proposed activity near a “transit corridor” (anything from building a new condo to extending a patio deck) lest this work interfere with their plans. They also have right of entry, among other things, to perform their works.

Metrolinx describes the various aspects of review in Building near a Metrolinx transit corridor

Operative language in the Act is extremely broad about “transit corridors”:

Designating transit corridor land

62 (1) The Lieutenant Governor in Council may, by order in council, designate land as transit corridor land if, in the opinion of the Lieutenant Governor in Council, it is or may be required for a priority transit project. 2020, c. 12, s. 62 (1).
Different designations for different purposes

(2) The Lieutenant Governor in Council may designate the land for some of the purposes of this Act and not others, and may later further designate the land for other purposes of this Act. 2020, c. 12, s. 62 (2)
Notice and registration

(3) Upon land being designated as transit corridor land, the Minister shall,

(a) make reasonable efforts to notify the owners and occupants of land that is at least partly either on transit corridor land or within 30 meters of transit corridor land of,

(i) the designation, and

(ii) this Act; and

(b) either,

(i) register a notice of designation under the Land Titles Act or Registry Act in respect of land described in clause (a), or

(ii) carry out the prescribed public notice process. 2020, c. 12, s. 62 (3); 2020, c. 35, Sched. 1, s. 4.

Building Transit Faster Act, S. 62,

Note that there is no requirement that land actually be anywhere near a transit project, merely that it “may be required for a priority transit project”.

“Resistance is futile” should be the Act’s subtitle.

Metrolinx has a diagram in Doing construction work near a Priority Transit Corridor which shows the bounds of their interest.

In various community meetings, the assumption has been that the “corridor” corresponds to the bounds of Metrolinx’ property, but that is not the case. A much wider swath has been defined in several corridors reaching well beyond the wildest imaginations of what might be affected lands. Needless to say this has not endeared Metrolinx to affected parties for “transparency”.

This applies to the “priority” corridors: Scarborough Subway Extension, Richmond Hill Extension, Eglinton West Extension and, of course, the Ontario Line.

In addition, there are constraints around GO Transit corridors, as well as separate Developer’s Guides for LRT projects in Toronto and on Hurontario. Note that these predate the election of the Ford government, and rather quaintly refer to the Eglinton West and Sheppard East LRT corridors. Although it is mentioned in the text, the Eglinton West Airport Extension is not shown on the map.

There is an interactive map page on which one can explore the bounds of areas where Metrolinx asserts various rights of review, control and entry. It is tedious, and one must wait for all of the map layers to load to get a complete picture. But fear not, gentle reader, I have done the work of wandering through the GTHA on this map and taking screenshots to show each line. I have attempted to maintain a consistent scale for the snapshots of the maps. All of them are clickable and will open a larger version in a new browser tab.

Readers should note that the areas of influence/control for Metrolinx corridors discussed here are separate from the effects of MTSAs (Major Transit Station Areas) on development around rapid transit and GO stations, a totally separate topic.

I will start with the Ontario Line because it is the most contentious, but Metrolinx territorial ambitions do not stop there.

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Analysis of Bloor-Danforth and Yonge Night Buses: May 2021

From time to time, there are reports and photos in social media of crowding conditions on the two principal night bus services, 300 Bloor-Danforth and 320 Yonge. The TTC responds in its usual way saying that they monitor crowding and assign extra buses as needed, but they do not address a fundamental problem: buses on these routes run in packs with gaps that cause overloading. The situation is at least as bad, if not worse, than on daytime routes.

In past years, I have not been able to review night route performance because the old CIS tracking system fairly routinely went offline for a few hours most nights at about 3 am leaving a big gap in the data. The Vision system has far fewer outages, and gives a full view of how the service behaves.

The TTC now provides crowding data to some of its online service apps such as Rocketman, but this information is not yet available on an historical basis for review alongside the vehicle tracking info. Correlation of gaps and crowding must be done in real time, something that is not practical for month-long retrospectives. There is no announced date for crowding data to be available for research outside of the TTC.

As I have shown in other articles, headways might be within “standards” at the terminal, but they deteriorate as vehicles move along their routes. Moreover, the TTC averages data from all routes and time periods. The modest contribution of the night buses to overall “on time” performance is quite small. Nothing in the TTC’s methodology identifies problem routes, locations and time periods.

As with the daytime service, the cheapest form of additional capacity is well-managed service with vehicles arriving on regular headways spreading the load evenly.

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Waterfront LRT Public Consultation: June 21, 2021

The City of Toronto, TTC and Waterfront Toronto will be holding an online consultation to bring interested parties up to date on plans for the Waterfront East LRT. Links to register for and join the meeting online are available at the City’s Waterfront Transit page.

This round will cover the following topics according to the City’s announcement:

  • Initial design work for the extension of Queens Quay from Parliament Street to the Distillery Loop, including options for getting under the rail corridor
  • Design updates for the surface section on the LRT and Queens Quay East streetscape, including an update on the Yonge Street Slip
  • Progress update on the design of the underground section of the LRT from Union Loop to the proposed portal locations on Queens Quay East, and a new design concept plan for Bay Street following completion of underground works
  • An update on project phasing and implementation
  • An overview of the upcoming Transit Project Assessment Process (TPAP) for the project
  • An update and a summary of feedback from the February consultations

Materials from past consultations are available on the City’s page linked above.

TTC Service Changes Effective June 20, 2021

Many routes will see service changes with the June-July schedules coming into effect on June 20, 2021.

The changes lie mostly two areas:

  • Improvements to or cutbacks in service in response to pandemic-era demand.
  • Reliability improvements with increased or decreased travel times.

The majority of the updates are on weekend schedules.

A few notable changes are described here, but readers should refer to the full spreadsheet of changes linked below to see what is happening on individual routes.

2021.06.20 Service Changes

New Route Numbers

In preparation for the opening of the 5 Eglinton Crosstown and 6 Finch West LRT lines, routes now bearing these numbers have been changed.

  • 5 Avenue Road is now 13 Avenue Road
  • 6 Bay is now 19 Bay

Queen Street West Water Main and Track Construction Projects

The replacement of track and some water mains on Queen from Bay to Fennings (between Ossington and Dovercourt) is an ongoing project that will run until December 2021. The City’s construction plan is to occupy single blocks of Queen Street at a time during which all planned work will be completed. Temporary CafeTO patios will be removed as each block is rebuilt.

Work will begin westward from Bay to Spadina from June to August, and will then shift to work east from Fennings to Spadina from August to December. For the staging plan, please see the City’s project web page. 501 Buses will divert around construction areas as needed.

The 501P Park Lawn service has been shortened to loop at Humber Loop using an old TTC loop at The Queensway and High Street to turn around and access the bus loop at Humber from the west. This change is already in place, and will formally be part of the schedule on June 20.

King West 504Q Bus Shuttle

The 504Q shuttle from King/Queen/Triller has been extended from Sudbury Street to the loop at Princes Gates. This change is already operating and will be formally in the June 20 schedule.

A Note About “Reliability” Improvements

Since pre-pandemic times, the TTC has been adjusting schedules by adding running time, often at the expense of wider headways, to ensure that very little service has to be short turned. This has the unwanted effect of causing vehicles to bunch at terminals where there may not be room for them, and for operators to regard departure times as somewhat elastic because they know they will soon be ahead of schedule thanks to the padding.

Several of the changes in the June schedules reduce scheduled running time to claw back provisions that are not required under current traffic conditions. At the same time, the scheduled headways might go up or down depending on current demand on the route. Each route and time period is different in this respect, and readers should look at the spreadsheet for the details.

Recovery Time

In the spreadsheet, running times are shown in the format “A+B” where “A” is travel time from one terminus to another, and “B” is the “recovery time” if any at the terminal.

There is no formula or policy rationale behind the length of recovery times, and in some cases none is provided in the schedule. In other cases, very long recovery times are side effects of scheduling branching services.

For the schedule to “work”, the round trip time (RTT), including recovery, must be a multiple of the headway. When a service has branches, each branch’s RTT must be a multiple of the headway. In cases where buses switch between branches, the RTTs for both branches will be a multiple of the common headway plus half a headway, and there will be “half buses” assigned to each branch. This works because the RTTs for the two branches add up to a multiple of the common headway.

For example, the midday service on 79 Scarlett Road operates every 24 minutes on each branch with a 60 minute RTT. Buses alternate between two branches, and so one complete cycle takes 120 minutes which is a multiple of 24. The vehicle assignment for each branch is 2.5 buses.

In order to make this sort of scheme work, particularly for infrequent services, “recovery” times are adjusted up and down in schedules as needed. They have little to do with actual operating conditions or the need for flexibility in handling traffic effects.

In particular, there is no contractual requirement for the TTC to provide any recovery time, and operators on routes with tight schedules make do as best they can. This creates problems for “on time” metrics.

600 Run as Directed Buses

The spreadsheet includes a list by division of the “600” buses commonly known as RADs. The number of RAD crews varies by day of the week, but for June-July there will be 127 of them on weekdays.

It is common for the TTC to talk about these buses being deployed around the system as if they are all in service at the same time. In fact, the crews are broken into time periods, and roughly speaking one third of the RADs exist at any one time. This means that the number of buses available to handle surge loads or the occasional subway service replacement is not as large as TTC claims might imply.

Service Planned vs Budgeted

The regular service planned for June-July is about 3.8 per cent below the budgeted level due in part to ridership not returning system-wide at the expected rate.

Construction service is up by about 19 per cent over budget, although this is a charge on the capital projects rather than operations.

The peak bus fleet in service, including RADs and construction buses is 1463 in the AM peak, 1499 in the PM peak. This is 211 and 175 buses, respectively, lower than the available fleet of 1674, which in turn is well below the total fleet of over 2000 allowing for maintenance spares at about 20 per cent.

A footnote in the table below shows that the peak fleet utilization is actually 1536 buses, slightly higher than the “total in service” of 1499. The reason for this is that there is an overlap between buses running out of service at the end of the peak and those that come newly out of garages at the same time.

There is ample room in the existing fleet to operate more bus service, but this would require additional subsidy.

The streetcar fleet is underutilized because of major construction projects, pandemic service cutbacks and a major overhaul project.

Metrolinx v Riverside: Where Does the Truth Lie?

In an unusual move for a public agency, Metrolinx published a blog post seeking to set the record straight on various issues about the combined Ontario/GO line corridor through the Riverside/Leslieville area.

Get the facts about Ontario Line plans in Riverside and Leslieville

The article begins from the premise that there is misinformation about the project:

There’s a lot of anticipation about how the Ontario Line will make it faster and easier to move around the city, but there’s also a lot of speculation and inaccurate information floating around – particularly when it comes to the vibrant communities of Riverside and Leslieville. All of this conflicting information can be confusing, so let’s take some time to sort the myths from the facts.

Sorting myths from facts can be challenging with Metrolinx because they are notoriously reluctant to share information. When they do hold public sessions, it is common to find staff do not fully understand their own project, or worse refuse to talk about contentious parts of it. They seek cheerleading, not consultation.

Metrolinx quite openly implies that community groups are putting out false information:

If you hear something about the Ontario Line that doesn’t sound right, you can find a source of truth about the project at Metrolinx.com/OntarioLine.

“I want people to know they can come to us at any time to get the facts about the project and what it means for them,” says Malcolm MacKay, Program Sponsor for the Ontario Line.

“There is definitely some speculation and inaccurate information going around, and we want people to base their opinions and feedback on the most up-to-date plans.”

What does Metrolinx claim in their article, and how does this stack up with the real world?

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Where Is The Grass?

With the recent interest in testing activities on the Eglinton Crosstown, and the inevitable flurry of photos that will appear in coming weeks, a question popped up on social media recently: where is the grass?

Illustrations of the line’s eventual state vary, but there are two examples below that clearly show a grassed right-of-way, at least in some locations. [Source: Early Works Open House Presentation]

I asked Metrolinx about the extent of the line that will be grassed, and when we might see more about this. Here is their reply [email from Metrolinx Media Relations, June 1, 2021]:

  • There will be grass across the full width of the Guideway, with the exception of bridges and underpasses, Stop platforms, intersections, and where roadway vehicular, pedestrian and/or emergency services access is required.
  • Plant material of the Green Tracks shall be selected from suitable species of sedum or grass that are low maintenance and resilient to track conditions such as drought, salt, frost and cold, urban pollution, heat, and pulling wind forces of the vehicle.
  • Vegetation surface of the Green Tracks shall be harmonized with the whole track system.
  • We’ll have more details to share closer to the project’s completion.

If I learn more about Metrolinx’ plans, I will update this article.