Those of us who can remember back to days before the pandemic, when Andy Byford was the TTC’s CEO, will know that there were frequent questions at the TTC Board about upgrades to the Bloor-Danforth subway, Line 2. All of the focus seemed to be on the Yonge-University-Spadina Line 1 with new signalling, trains and the Vaughan extension.
Byford confirmed that work on a Line 2 plan was underway, but never presented one in public. However, it does not take a lot to work out what might have been in this plan.
- Automatic Train Control (ATC) signalling to replace the 1960s-era technology still in use.
- New trains to replace the existing fleet of T-1 trains that would reach their design life of 30 years in the late-2020s.
- Additional trains for service increases possible with ATC as well as for the Scarborough extension.
- Additional/new maintenance facilities for a larger Line 2 fleet, plus provision for the then-planned stabling of Relief Line trains at Greenwood Yard.
- Storage and maintenance facilities for the growing fleet of subway work cars.
- Potential integration of a western yard project with an extension of Line 2 beyond Kipling Station.
This plan requires a lot of funding that the TTC still does not have, action to launch procurement of long lead time rolling stock and infrastructure, and a level of project co-ordination for which the TTC is not particularly noted.
That co-ordination issue arises in part from the funding challenge, and the tendency politically to ask for only what is strictly needed for “today’s” work hoping that Santa Claus will arrive in time to fund the rest. This was a direct cause of technical problems with the Line 1 ATC project that was cobbled together over time. It started with a superficially simple desire to replace the then-existing 1950s signals on the original line from Eglinton to Union. The feeling was quite clear: the TTC Board and Council would never commit to a full ATC conversion project because it would be too expensive.
Unfortunately what resulted was a mixed bag of signalling technologies that were incompatible with each other. To rescue the project, Byford recommended ripping out some already-installed equipment so that the line could be standardized. A related decision was that the Vaughan extension would open with ATC in place rather than, as originally planned, a traditional block signal system that would have to be replaced as a separate project.
New Trains or Rebuilds for Line 2?
Byford left the TTC for New York City, and Rick Leary took over as CEO. One change in TTC plans was evident early afterward – the scheme to buy new Line 2 trains was replaced with a rebuilding program to extend the T-1 fleet’s life by ten years. This would have various knock-on effects:
- Line 2 could continue to operate with block signals, including on the Scarborough extension.
- The fleet would not grow and could be accommodated within existing storage and maintenance facilities (*).
- The whole financial challenge was pushed off by over a decade averting pressure on the City’s capital budget.
(*) As I have discussed in another article, the TTC has more T-1 trains than it needs to operate Line 2 at pre-pandemic service. This was due to an original plan to use some of the T-1s for the Vaughan extension when it was planned with conventional signalling. The Scarborough extension would be possible with the T-1 fleet provided that half of the service turned back from Kennedy in peak periods.
The change in direction was never presented to the TTC Board with a public evaluation of options. Indeed as the Byford plan itself only existed as a proposal, there was no existing formal policy to override. However, it was possible to follow the changing direction by looking at the capital budget and the projects that had priority, or not, in the long-term plans.
At the time, the TTC was wrestling with the effects of aging infrastructure on several fronts:
- The Line 1 signal system conversion was not yet complete, and the old technology often contributed to service delays and congestion at choke points.
- The streetcar fleet dating from 1977-1981 (CLRVs) and 1987-1989 (ALRVs) was beyond its design lifespan and quite unreliable.
- The bus fleet, previously using designs built for 18 years’ life including two mid-life overhauls, was transitioning to a 12-year lifespan due in part to the unreliability of buses over 12 years old.
- Some of the original open cut subway trackage requires major overhauls to improve drainage and rebuild the foundation.
A complete overhaul of the T-1 fleet would be a challenge as the TTC had not undertaken anything on this scale. Moreover, there was the unhappy experience of the ALRV streetcar overhaul which at great expense addressed cosmetic and structural issues without replacing unreliable systems and obsolete electronics. If the T-1s were to last until the late 2030s, a much better project would be needed. Moreover, a failure to have a working fleet would undermine the ability to operate Line 2, whereas the ALRV overhaul failure was papered over with bus substitutions and new streetcar deliveries.
If the TTC should have learned anything during the early 2000s, it was that there is a limit to their ability to make do with old technology and infrastructure.
The TTC’s capital plans have reverted to purchase of a new fleet. Other short-term changes include:
- Reactivation of Keele (aka Vincent) Yard to store 6 trains.
- Addition of a storage track at Kipling Station.
- Conversion of the Relief Line using Greenwood for storage and maintenance to the Ontario Line with a dedicated yard and carhouse at Thorncliffe Park.
These changes provide relief for fleet capacity but do not completely address it especially if the new Line 2 fleet is 6-car sets as on Line 1. There are big advantages in saved costs with these trains because less equipment has to be duplicated among the six cars than among three sets of two.
Converting Line 2 to Automatic Train Control
The existing signals on Line 2 date from the 1960s and are due for replacement. Like their equivalents on Line 1, older signals can be cantankerous and cause delays that in a modern system simply should not occur.
A new fleet is a pre-requisite for new signals because the cost of retrofitting the T-1s for a limited remaining service life is prohibitive.
Thanks to the flip-flopping on train replacement policy, the Scarborough Extension, yes, the new improved one all the way to Sheppard, is still being designed on the assumption that it will initially use conventional block signals.
I asked the Scarborough Subway project team about this:
One of the issues for the SSE in past years was the timing of ATC implementation on Line 2 and the availability of an ATC-capable fleet for the extension. One option considered was to install a temporary, throw-away block signal system on the extension to cover for the transition period.
Can you confirm that the SSE is planned to be built only with ATC signalling, or is the transitional plan with block signals still on the table?
The new extension will be designed and implemented for compatibility with TTC operations of the existing Bloor-Danforth (Line 2).
Provisions such as conduits, rooms, etc. will be made as part of the design to allow for implementation of Automatic Train Control.
The exact timing of implementation of this technology will depend on the TTC’s plans for Line 2.Email of Oct. 3, 2022 from Nigel Sandy, Community Relations & Issues Specialist – Scarborough Subway Extension, Metrolinx
We risk a similar situation to the TYSSE (Vaughan) project as planned with a need to change signal technologies partway through the SSE (Scarborough) project.
This is directly tied to the timing of funding for both a new fleet and new signals. Note that it would be possible to build the SSE with ATC provided that the fleet had been upgraded, with the remainder of Line 2 to follow. This would be comparable to the Line 1 conversion that started on the new extension and worked its way around the line to Finch. However, the full benefit of ATC will not be available until the whole line is converted.
A Western Yard and Extension
Large blocks of industrial property, let alone property convenient to the subway system, are not easy to find. The City has acquired the former Obico Yard lands which are southwest of Kipling Station and west of the GO (formerly CP) Canpa Subdivision linking the GO Lakeshore West line to the CP/GO Milton line at Kipling.
In the original Line 2 plan, this would be the site of a new maintenance facility and yard, and it would take over as the primary site for the fleet. Greenwood would be repurposed for the Relief Line, some Line 2 storage (to balance east and west service build-ups) and as a home for the work car fleet. The new shops would be built for six-car trains which Greenwood cannot serve as it was built for the married-pair configuration of the original fleet.
Even with the transformation of the Relief Line to the Ontario Line including the MSF at Thorncliffe Park, Greenwood would be stretched to handle a new fleet and in particular a larger fleet if service were to be improved on Line 2 with ATC. The new western yard will happen, but the question is when. If it exists before the new fleet arrives, acceptance and testing would be simplified because existing operations would not have to work around that process. The problem now is timing.
One aspect of the Western Yard is that the subway must pass under the existing CP corridor (GO Milton line) to reach the property. The cost of this work might be more palatable as part of a westward extension of the subway to Sherway or beyond, but that project is only a glimmer in some politicians’ eyes.
Added storage will be provided on the Yonge North Subway Extension to Richmond Hill, but that will be required for an expanded Line 1 fleet to serve both the extension and service improvements possible with ATC.
Where Is The Money?
The 2022 Capital Budget presentation deck includes several slides that illustrate the scope of the problem not just for Line 2 but for the system as a whole.
The TTC has acquired some capital funding, albeit nowhere near enough, from Toronto’s “City Building Fund”. This is an additional property tax increase that will build in over time to support borrowing on the TTC’s behalf (part of the fund will also be used to address the Toronto Housing maintenance backlog). Among the fully funded projects (left below) is ATC for Line 2. Some of the money will fund other projects (right below), but not completely.
Many projects have no funding at all.
The range of subway-related spending is shown below. Note that a great deal of this is work simply to maintain and renew the existing system. Owning a subway system is expensive whether it carries riders or not. The demand reduction from work-from-home does not result in proportionate savings because many costs of service and infrastructure are fixed. The up side is that restoration of full service does not affect the fixed portion of costs, but they remain a drag on total funding needs whether there are riders or not.
We hear a lot about the $28-billion expansion program of four projects funded by Ontario, but the provincial contribution to run-of-the-mill capital is quite small. Both federal and provincial gas tax received by Toronto support, mostly, the capital program with some provincial money ($91.6-million in 2021) going to the operating budget. Between the two governments, Toronto receives less than $400 million annually from gas taxes.
The new fleet has a price tag of $1.7-billion, but of this only one third has been earmarked by the City from its own sources. The assumption is that Ontario and Canada will pony up one third each to this project, but there is no commitment yet from either of them. Without funding, the TTC cannot commit to an order and delivery by the planned 2026-2030 window is threatened. (There are similar funding challenges for the bus fleet and the electrification program.)
Toronto faces a large shortfall in operating revenue for 2023 through a combination of the reduction in covid-related supports, lower-than-normal revenue from TTC fares, and the effect of reduced activity in the real estate market, among other factors. There is always a fallback of reducing the capital-from-current spending where some capital programs are funded from current revenues rather than from debt, but this will push up the City’s borrowing costs.
An updated report on Line 2 Renewal is expected to come to the TTC Board early in 2023, but this will be a difficult time to launch new projects in the transit portfolio, let alone across the City as a whole.
With so many projects competing for funding, we risk a repeat of years past where the money comes in small chunks, project elements are not co-ordinated ideally, and some work just falls off of the table, only to reappear as an urgent problem in future years.