This is a follow-on to my article about the number of spares on the bus fleet.
The question of the day is why do we have so many surplus streetcars and subway trains. This article will provide some history of how the fleets and service levels evolved in recent years.
At the start of 2020, all of the older streetcars (CLRVs and their longer cousins ALRVs) had been retired and all streetcar service, to the extent possible, was operated with the new Flexity cars.
At the time, service on 503 Kingston Road and 505 Dundas was operated with buses because there were not enough streetcars available to field full service. Bus trippers were also present on 501 Queen and 506 Carlton due to a shortage of cars. The service levels and car allocations for January 2020 are shown on the left side of the table below.
At that point there were 160 cars scheduled at peak in the AM, and this meant there were 28% spares compared to a target of 22%. However, there were also 58 buses operating on streetcar routes. Converting these at a ratio of 1 streetcar per 2.5 buses, that would add 24 peak cars for a total of 184. With spares at 20% this would translate to a fleet of 221 cars, or at 30% to 239 cars, both well above the 204 the TTC actually owned.
Given the likelihood of ridership growth as well as future congestion, and the possibility of making an “add on” order for Flexitys at an attractive price, the TTC opted to buy 60 more cars. This would bring the fleet to 264 cars giving ample room for future growth. TTC projections did not officially include new lines on the waterfront, but it is clear that they could be accommodated within a 264 car fleet.
There would be headroom for modest growth with 1% per year translating to 2 cars/year. That may seem small, but over a decade it would require 20 more cars plus 4 spares.
However, both the pandemic’s effect on core area demand and the ongoing delay in starting the Waterfront East LRT have reduced fleet requirements. The right side of the table shows the service as of March 26, 2023 which is considerably lower than the January 2020 level. Even if all bus substitutions reverted to streetcars, the entire system could operate at current service levels within the existing fleet at least in the short term.
The 60 new cars will begin to arrive later in 2023, but until the TTC begins to restore services to former levels, the fleet will be underused. The problem is not that we are wasting cars, but that the environment has changed. A related political issue is the degree to which service cuts are motivated by budget restraint more than demand, or if better (and more reliable) service would attract more riders.
Some streetcar routes now operate with one third less service than in 2020, and that is not a trivial change. The question is when or if former service levels will return.
The TTC owns three distinct fleets of subway cars:
- Toronto Rocket “TR” 6-car trainsets used on Line 1 Yonge-University-Spadina
- TR 4-car trainsets used on Line 4 Sheppard
- T-1 trains used on Line 2 Bloor-Danforth
Even before the pandemic there was a surplus of subway trains. The reason for this lies in planning for the Vaughan extension of Line 1 and the new signal system (ATC or Automatic Train Control) now active on this route.
Lines 1 and 4
When the Vaughan extension was planned, the TTC had not decided to implement ATC in Line 1. Indeed, the extension was designed with a conventional signalling system. However, the signals on the original Line 1 from Eglinton to Union dated from the early 50s, and other parts of the line were long in the tooth. Moreover, capacity issues demanded that more frequent service be operated, but this was impossible with the old signals.
At the time, the assumption was that the T-1 fleet would serve both Lines 1 and 2, with TRs making up the difference as older trains retired. This scheme worked before the decision to implement ATC because although the TRs could handle this change, the T-1s could not.
T-1s were also used in four-car sets on Line 4 Sheppard. (Note that T-1 trains operate with cars in pairs rather than as six-car sets and so can operate as 2, 4 or 6-car trains.)
The original order for 80 TR sets (480 cars) was changed so that 24 cars (4 six-car trains) were reconfigured as six four-car sets for use on Line 4. The remaining 76 six-car trains were used for a scheduled service of 65 trains in January 2020, a low spare ratio of 15%. (Four of the peak trains were “gap” trains used to supplement service, and in a pinch they could be dropped if enough trains were not available.)
When the decision to move to ATC, the entire T-1 fleet was repurposed to Line 2. However, there were considerably more T-1 trains than Line 2 required for peak service. As of January 2020, Line 2 required 46 trains in the AM peak, but there are 370 T-1 cars, or 61 trains with a few cars left over. At a spare ratio of 22%, this would require only 56 trains in total for Line 2.
It is not physically possible to run more frequent service on Line 2 given the constraints of its signal system. An ATC upgrade for this line is in the early planning stage.
At one point there was a scheme to use the remaining T-1 trains to operate the Scarborough extension to STC with half of the service turning back from Kennedy Station in peak periods. This would avoid buying more cars for the extension.
With the delay in opening the SSE, the future of the T-1 fleet is a moot point as these cars are now in their third decade of service. There was a proposal to undertake a 10-year life-extension on these cars, but if the TTC has learned anything about rail vehicles, it is that they should not push their luck on critical equipment. A short term budget saving might leave Toronto without enough cars to operate Line 2. There is now a capital project to replace the T-1 fleet, but the project is not fully funded in the 10-year capital plan.
As of March 2023, the peak scheduled service on Line 1 is 60 trains out of the 76 available, although this will be cut in May 2023 to 52 trains. Although Line 1 can now operate more frequent service than in 2020, there is only enough spare fleet to restore service to 2020 levels.
On Line 2, the AM peak service is 40 trains out of the 61 available.
On Line 4, the service all day is 3 trains out of the 6 available.
The TTC has not published a consolidated fleet plan showing the requirements for T-1 replacement, extensions to Scarborough and Richmond Hill, and service improvements to exploit ATC. Related to all this is the question of what subway demand will look like a decade from now.
Steve, it makes me wonder if we should have let DoFo upload the subway after all…
Would there not be an increase in funding available for the TTC as it would not need to pay to run its subway anymore? We could have avoided these service cuts on the bus/streetcar routes and actually increase service, maybe even build some LRTs?
Steve: The catch would probably be that Queen’s Park would bill Toronto for it’s “share” of subway costs just as they will for the new LRT lines, and did for years for GO Transit. And you would probably be paying a separate distance-based fare for the subway portion of your journeys, just like Metrolinx has been advocating for years. And you would think back fondly to the days when the subway ran as often as every 8 minutes evenings and weekends.
The concept of “uploading” is very selective with the province, and it doesn’t seem to matter who is in power.
What was the spare ratio for the PCCs just before the Bloor Danforth Subway opened? I seem to remember they were near 10%.
I remember 10-15 years ago reading about the TTC exploring creating new streetcar routes like 522 Coxwell, 529 Dufferin (South?), or even 565 Parliament. Could that be a theoretical use of the extra cars?
Steve: No. Each of those possible routes has very serious physical barriers to its creation, particularly Coxwell and Parliament. Dufferin was considered as part of a possible trolleybus network expansion, but at the time stringing overhead along Wilson south of Downsview Airbase was a no-no. An issue today is the instability of the southern terminus location especially as we don’t know if the streetcar link east from Dufferin to Exhibition Loop will acually be built courtesy of conflict with the Ontario Line.
This board is not doing their job properly and fulfilling service levels that we need to properly run transit in the city. In addition, the service cuts will continue to increase gridlock issues, and cause more issues. With Earth Day occurring tomorrow it’s embarrassing.