Subway Shutdown Plans for 2017

Updated January 22, 2017: Additional illustrations.

The TTC begins its 2017 round of subway shutdowns on the weekend of January 21-22 with the complete closure of the Spadina line north from St. George Station. This is the first of a series of monthly weekend tests of the new Automatic Train Control (ATC) system leading to a planned conversion from Dupont north to Wilson in the fall. This is a prelude to opening the Spadina extension, which has only ATC, not “conventional” signals, to Vaughan at the end of 2017. Most of the closures are on Line 1 YUS because this testing is on top of shutdowns for routine maintenance work.

Two three-day weekends, Easter and Thanksgiving, will see Line 2 BD shut down for work on the Prince Edward Viaduct.

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There are important changes for 2017 in plans for shuttle bus operations.

For the Spadina shutdowns, the TTC will not attempt to operate a parallel bus service over the entire route as it is plagued by construction at some locations, and generally provides a long trip south to St. George Station. Instead, bus service will be improved on east-west routes to get people over to Yonge where they can make the trip downtown quickly on the subway. A “parallel” bus service will operate only on the north end of the Spadina line between Downsview and Lawrence West Stations.

2017ttcshutdownspadinamap

In past years, the scope of some shutdowns has been wider than the subway track layout and the locations of turnbacks would imply. The reason for this is that the power feeds to many potential turnbacks are not designed to support operations when power is available on only one side of the location. An example of how this was fixed is at Bloor crossover.

At Bloor, the power feeds are segmented into separate pieces:

  • Southward from the south end of the station
  • Bloor Station and crossover, plus the track to roughly halfway to Rosedale Station, one train length north of the crossover
  • Northward from the midpoint between the crossover and Rosedale Station

This allows trains to terminate at Bloor in either direction even if the power is off south to Wellesley or north to Rosedale. When the line was designed, the crossover itself was the gap between two power sections, and so this could not be a turnback point if power was cut on either side. This change, including the resignalling of the crossover, was installed as part of the North Yonge subway project.

Power supplies at crossovers at Rosehill (south of St. Clair), College and King have not yet been modified, but this is in the plans as part of the ATC project on the Yonge line. The new signal system will include the ability to manage these crossovers remotely as is done at Bloor.

A similar problem exists at some of the older turnbacks on the BD line. Whenever work is underway on the Viaduct, subway service has ended at Pape (although it physically operates west to Chester centre track) because power cannot be cut on the Viaduct without also cutting it at Broadview Station. The TTC will be installing a gap in the power feed just west of Broadview Station so that trains can use this as their terminal. Shuttle buses on Danforth will not be required (only from Broadview westward), and subway riders will have access to the downtown streetcar lines as an alternate route to the core on Dundas and King.

A planned shutdown at Union would normally have required shuttles south on Yonge below Bloor, but subway service will be operated using the crossover at King. This will be done on a manual basis because the new signals and controls for the crossover are not yet in place. This tactic will also be used in 2018 when work at Davisville would have required a shutdown north of Bloor. Instead, the crossover at Rose Hill will be manually operated so that shuttle buses can make their connection at St. Clair Station where there is an off-street loop.

2016 Reviewed

Shuttle bus operations have gradually improved, notably by actively changing the traffic environment in which the buses must operate rather than simply hoping for the best as the streets were. Parking restrictions, signal changes and the use of Paid Duty Officers were much needed changes, although one must wonder why it took the chaos of previous years’ events to show that replacing the subway with buses required a lot of accommodation by users of the streets.

Many types of work were undertaken during the shutdowns beyond the most obvious track and signal upgrades. These are described in the presentation to the TTC’s Board on January 18. Of particular interest was one project that is not illustrated in the report, the replacement of 900m of subway track on the western part of Line 2 with a new form of rail support.

All subway lines built before the Spadina line opened have the track mounted directly on the concrete tunnel floor with only a rubber pad that doubles for both vibration and electrical  insulation. Spadina saw a shift to the “floating slab” technique where the rail is mounted to large concrete sections that in turn sit on large rubber pads. This structure requires a deeper tunnel, but it provides better vibration isolation. Older lines cannot be retrofitted because adding a new layer of support would make trains too high for the tunnels.

The TTC has installed an experimental section of track where the rail is supported from the side rather than from below with rubber pads gripping the track below the head of the rail. The result is a roughly 20db reduction in vibration. This is a trial, and there are currently no plans or funding to retrofit other problem sections of the subway.

The new track suspension system is described on the vendor (Pandrol) website, and illustrated below in photos provided by the TTC.

Updated January 21, 2017

The following illustrations are from a presentation provided by the TTC. The first gives the rationale for use of the Panguard track mounting system and includes a good cross-section of the track suspension technique.

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The following diagrams show before (yellow) and after (blue) vibration measurements.

ttc_nandv_panguard_results1

ttc_nandv_panguard_results2

Creative Writing From the Mayor’s Office

Back in June, an Op Ed from Mayor Tory appeared in the Toronto Star extolling the virtues of the Scarborough Subway. Torontoist, intrigued by how this piece came to be, made an FOI request for correspondence in the Mayor’s office. The result is an article and associated copy of the FOI response.

Tory’s article triggered a response from Michael Warren, a former Chief General Manager of the TTC. I have no brief for Warren himself, but what was intriguing was how the Mayor’s staff reacted with a need to debunk Warren. The following memo from the Mayor’s Chief of Staff is among the FOI materials.

chriseby20160630remichaelwarren

This memo is full of misinformation, but it gives a sense of the mindset in the Mayor’s Office and why so many statements from Tory simply do not align with reality.

… greater use of existing GO rail tracks … six new stations …

The original SmartTrack plan was for a “surface subway” that would carry 200,000 passengers per day using capacity in the GO Transit corridors. However, this plan depends on key factors including good integration with TTC service and much more frequent trains. SmartTrack is now reduced to nothing more than GO’s already planned service stopping at six extra stations. That is not “greater use” of tracks beyond what would have happened with GO’s RER plan. Even the ability to make these stops with little or no penalty in travel time results from GO’s planned electrification, not as part of SmartTrack.

GO Transit has no interest in the work of upgrading signals on their corridors to accommodate the level of passengers implied by that all day count, and hence the network “relief” claimed for SmartTrack cannot possibly materialize without significant new investment.

Tory’s campaign literature talks about a “London-style surface rail subway”. In Toronto, the word “subway” means service that is at worst every 5 minutes, not every 15, and it’s that convenience the campaign expected people to key in on. Some of the timetables for London Overground do feature very frequent service at a level GO’s signal system (let alone Union Station’s platform arrangements and passenger handling) cannot hope to accommodate.

A recent City backgrounder on proposed new stations shows that they will attract some, but not a vast number of new riders. That’s why they were never in GO’s short list of potential stations to begin with.

At these six new stations, trains will come every six to ten minutes in rush hour. That’s better than what candidate Tory promised … every 15 minutes or better. And to be clear, the provincial RER model sees trains coming every 15 minutes.

Actually, the provincial RER model already sees trains coming more often than every 15 minutes during peak periods and the improvements are not confined to the SmartTrack corridors (Stouffville and Kitchener) or to the City of Toronto. Queen’s Park has made no move to bill Toronto for extra service above levels planned for RER, and therefore we must conclude that none is planned.

SmartTrack was always envisioned as a beefed up version of RER; more stations in Toronto, more access for riders, faster frequencies and a TTC fare.

In fact, there is no “beef” in SmartTrack, and its only contribution will be for those who live or work near the six new stations. The service levels are part of GO RER, nothing more. As for a TTC fare, this is far from decided, and the likely cost to Toronto to support such an offer is fraught with problems. There is the obvious question of where the operating dollars will come from, but moreover riders on other GO corridors within the city might reasonably ask why they don’t get the same deal.

Conversely, some of the Metrolinx machinations about “Fare Integration” have suggested that subways might be treated more like GO Transit with a fare by distance model. If that’s what a “TTC fare” for SmartTrack really means, that’s not what Tory was selling in his campaign.

… Warren suggests tax increment financing … has been abandoned. That’s flat out wrong. City staff are preparing to report back … and have already stated it “may be the appropriate revenue tool for funding …”

Warren may have been incorrect that TIF has been abandoned, although it is hard to tell because his original piece “was edited to make clear that John Tory still supports his TIF transit financing scheme” according to a correction notice following the online version of Warren’s article. Whether Tory still supports TIF is of little matter because City staff recently reported that it cannot support the full cost of SmartTrack and additional revenues from other sources will be required.

Warren … talks of the abandoned LRT option, which he says will cost $1.8 billion … The TTC said this week that building the LRT would now cost as much as $3 billion.

The infamous “Briefing Memo” from the TTC about LRT vs Subway costs provides that higher estimate, but this is based on the assumption that the LRT line would be build much later than originally planned. Most of the cost increase is a function of inflation. Also, of course, the LRT option would serve much more of Scarborough than the subway, including the Town Centre planning precinct, a fact Tory’s Chief of Staff conveniently ignores.

As for additional costs, the provincial commitments to various transit plans, including its own, have always included inflation to completion, although undue delay caused by Toronto Council’s inability to make a decision might reasonably considered beyond the level of Queen’s Park’s generosity. All the same, the $3 billion estimate assumed a leisurely LRT project schedule compared to what would have been possible with dedication and leadership.

Under the Mayor’s leadership, Toronto is moving ahead with the most ambitious, and badly needed, transit expansion in its history.

A great deal of the expansion now underway was in the works before John Tory was elected. Indeed, his campaign claimed that SmartTrack was the single project that would solve every problem, and no other transit schemes, notably the Relief Line, need even be considered. Tory has changed his tune on that, but the RL is still treated as something we will need, someday, maybe. There is no leadership on his part in demonstrating how this line would serve suburban riders with additional commuting capacity.

debate … should be guided by fact, not distortions and rhetoric

That comment speaks for itself.

SmartTrack’s Next Steps

After a day-long debate, Toronto Council has approved continuing along the path set by Mayor John Tory to study and possibly to build the transit lines branded as “SmartTrack”. Although this proposal is now much different from the scheme that was Tory’s campaign centrepiece, the idea of SmartTrack continues to receive broad support among Councillors.

The debate covered a lot of ground with two related threads: how would Toronto actually pay for SmartTrack, and how much of the larger transit network many hope to see will actually be built.

Council has yet to consider a long-term financing strategy and possible “revenue tools” (new taxes in plain English) to deal with the combined capital and operating budget demands of the would-be network. Although there was much talk of the lost decades of underinvestment in transit, Council has yet to show that it really is ready to spend Toronto dollars (as opposed to  money from any other source) at the level that will be needed. City staff will present a report on financing options in a few weeks, and the reaction to this will be telling.

What Did Council Approve?

Below is a consolidation of the staff recommendations and amendments adopted by Council arranged to keep related issues together. For full information, please refer to the detailed record of the item.

Note that in all cases where approvals relate to “SmartTrack” this includes both the six new GO stations and the Eglinton West LRT extension unless otherwise noted.

Process:

  • (1) Adopt the “Summary Term Sheet and Stage Gate Process” which includes details of the many parts of the proposed agreements and (2) authorize the City Manager to negotiate and execute agreements with the province to implement this.
  • (3) Request staff to report at Stage Gate 5 for final approval of full funding for SmartTrack. A report on more definitive costing and the financing funding strategy has been requested for an earlier step in this process. See (18) below.
  • (4) Approve the confidential staff recommendation regarding settlement of the Georgetown corridor funding issue. See also recommendation 15.

Technical and Planning:

  • (5) Proceed with planning and design for the six SmartTrack GO stations, report back to Council, and launch the Transit Project Assessment Process (TPAP). This was amended by two further requests that the work include improvement of:
    • the placement and access points of the Liberty Village Smart Track Station to maximize connectivity, and
    • pedestrian connections to the existing Exhibition Place Station for both Liberty Village and Exhibition Place.
  • (6) Confirmation of city support for transit supportive land use plans for areas around the SmartTrack and GO RER stations. Amendments related to this included:
    • Amending the development strategy for public lands at stations, including air rights, to create ongoing operating revenue streams from development resulting from that strategy.
    • Directing the Chief Planner to report in January 2017 with options to develop a comprehensive plan for managing development and growth related to transit expansion.
    • Confirming that the Official Plan as well as other plans, bylaws and policies, are not changed by this decision on this item. The intent of this is to forestall any claim for additional density by would-be developers in advance of the passing of updated plans for area affected by transit projects.
  • (7) Proceed with planning and analysis of the Eglinton West LRT extension up to Stage Gate 3 including finalization of stops and grade separations, provide a scope for this project up to the Renforth Gateway, and provide a class 4/5 estimate of the project’s cost, and conduct the TPAP. Note that this is a more restrictive approval seeking more detail than in the case of the ST/GO stations in (5) above.
  • (8) Request a financial contribution from Mississauga and Pearson Airport to the outside-416 portion of the Eglinton West extension.
  • (9) Ensure that the proposed new station design at St. Clair and Keele includes improved road operations and is co-ordinated with the St. Clair West Transportation Master Plan. A significant part of this would be the widening of the underpass east of Keele Street to remove the existing choke point.
  • (10) Request Metrolinx to consider grade separations at Progress and at Danforth on the Stouffville corridor, with the proviso that any option closing existing roads would not be considered. This was amended at Council to add requests for grade separations at Passmore, McNicoll, Huntingwood and Havendale.

At Council, there was an attempt to have items (7) and (8) deferred until after the Waterfront Transit Reset report is considered by Council in 2Q17, effectively putting both of the proposed Etobicoke LRT proposals on the same approval timeframe. The deferral motions did not pass.

Finance:

  • (13) Approve $71m for preliminary planning and design on SmartTrack (the 6 new stations plus the Eglinton West LRT)
  • (14) Include $2b in net capital requirements for SmartTrack (stations plus LRT) in the city’s 10 year capital projections.
  • (15) Approve $95m for settlement of the Georgetown South issue with the province.
  • (16) Approve $62m for Toronto’s share of 5 grade separation projects.
  • (17) Approve $60m for GO capital expansion (2 stations at Bloor/Lansdowne and at Spadina on the Barrie corridor). This was amended to ask that staff work with Metrolinx on including the study and design of the Railpath along the Barrie line between Bloor and Dundas West.
  • (18) Request staff to develop the financing and funding strategy, and report back when a class 3 cost estimate is available for a definitive Council commitment to the SmartTrack project.

Two additional amendments ask for:

  • strong TTC in developing procurement options, and
  • negotiations with the province for resumption of operating subsidies.

Commitment to the full cost of the new stations and the Eglinton West LRT will not occur until much more detailed cost estimates come back to Council over the next year (or possibly more). In the event that Council opts not to proceed with any component for which Metrolinx has spent money on development prior to the point of final approval, Council will be responsible to reimburse Metrolinx for its costs.

With respect to the additional grade separation studies requested for the Stouffville line, it is unclear how work on this would be funded, although one might expect Metrolinx to respond with a request for some up-front payment and guaranteed participation in funding if any of these goes ahead.

The Status of Other Major Transit Proposals and Projects

Planning and building any part of SmartTrack should be seen in the wider context of other transit needs and schemes, let alone wider demands on the city’s operating and capital budgets.

  • The Spadina Subway extension to Vaughan (TYSSE) is scheduled to open at the end of 2017, although startup costs will affect the TTC’s operating budget before any passengers are carried. For 2018, the current estimate of the annual operating cost to Toronto is $30 million including whatever marginal fare revenue the extension will bring in. This line’s capital was covered roughly one third by each level of government, with about 60% of the municipal share falling to Toronto based on the proportion of the route within its boundaries.
  • The Scarborough Subway from Kennedy Station to Scarborough Town Centre remains the subject of much debate. Although its capital cost is already covered by money from all three levels of government, the proportions are unequal, and any increase to the overall Scarborough transit scheme will be on the city’s tab. The extension will be part of the TTC’s operation along with the net new operating cost, an unknown amount at this time. A critical issue will be whether the cost estimate overall will hold or increase before final project approval, and how this will affect what actually gets built.
  • The Eglinton Crosstown LRT is now under construction by Metrolinx between Kennedy Station and Mount Dennis (at Weston Road) with a planned 2021 opening, subject to issues about vehicle delivery. This project’s capital cost is funded totally by Ontario, but operating costs will be billed back to Toronto at an anticipated annual net amount of about $40 million in then-current dollars.
  • The Eglinton East LRT extension from Kennedy Station to University of Toronto Scarborough College is part of the Scarborough package approved with much fanfare earlier in 2016. The capital cost is part of the same “pot” as the Scarborough Subway extension, but how much will actually be available after that extension’s scope and price are firmed up remains to be seen. This will be an early test for Council. Does it really believe in a “network”, are councillors willing to accept the extra cost as part of building our city, or is the argument still dominated by an outlook claiming that tax restraint must take precedence. An updated Scarborough report is expected in coming months.
  • The Eglinton West LRT extension from Mount Dennis to the Renforth Gateway (at the western city boundary) and then north to Pearson Airport is part of the SmartTrack package. Funding for the line is still uncertain because city plans depend on contributions from Ottawa (likely as part of the Liberal’s infrastructure program), from Mississauga and the airport authority (GTAA) for the portion outside of Toronto. This extension is now the more expensive portion of “SmartTrack”, and ironically appears to survive mainly because of that branding despite opposition from some Etobicoke councillors.
  • Like the central part of the Crosstown, the two extensions would be operated at the city’s expense even though the lines would be owned by Metrolinx.
  • The Metrolinx GO RER program is provincially funded, although the matter of the municipal contribution to GO’s capital remains a sore point between Queen’s Park and the GTHA. Toronto will pay for six new stations as part of SmartTrack and will also contribute to two stations on the Barrie corridor (Bloor/Lansdowne and Spadina). GO RER’s net operating costs will all be a provincial responsibility, and the amount of service that will actually operate depends on future subsidy levels for Metrolinx. Similarly, the full build-out of RER fleets, electrification and service levels will depend on future provincial budget decisions.
  • The Relief Line remains under study thanks to a provincial infusion of $150 million, and both city and TTC staff emphasize that it is a necessary part of Toronto’s future network. While some relief to Yonge line crowding will come from GO RER and the new SmartTrack stations, this will only blunt but not stop the growth in subway demand. A big problem, as readers have discussed here at length, is the project’s scope and the perception that it is intended for a comparatively small part of the system’s ridership, downtowners. The further north the eastern RL branch goes beyond Danforth (to Eglinton or even to Sheppard), the more it performs a service for the city as a whole, but this benefit is routinely underplayed relative to the cost of a new north-south subway. Major capital spending for the Relief Line would not begin until the mid 2020s, but this will still compete with other city priorities.
  • Waterfront LRT to the west is popular with councillors from southern Etobicoke and has begun to overshadow the shorter eastern LRT line in debates. Both parts of a future waterfront network are under review with the “Reset” study now in progress that has only progressed to the point of developing a moderately long list of options. The strategy appears to be to keep this list as open as possible as long as possible so that political fights over the details are held off at least until there is a better understanding of what will work and what the options might cost. Like the RL, waterfront transit has suffered from being perceived as a “downtown” project despite the scale of development it will have to serve.
  • The Finch West LRT is still on the books, and Metrolinx hopes to begin work in this in 2017. There remains some opposition to the line, and it will be a test of the Wynne government’s resolve to see whether actual work is pushed back beyond the 2018 election.
  • The Sheppard East LRT is also still on the books, although it is no secret that many politicians at City Hall and Queen’s Park would love to see this sacrificed for a Sheppard Subway extension. The LRT would be a provincial project with some federal money. There has not yet been any cost sharing commitment to a subway replacement from any government in part because the cost is unknown. It will almost certainly be greater than the LRT line, and like the extension north from Kennedy, will serve a considerably smaller part of Scarborough than the LRT would have. Any decision on this point is likely to fall to the next provincial government, although it will likely be part of the electioneering to reinforce the “subway champion” brand by all parties if this scheme gains traction at Council.
  • The Richmond Hill extension of the Yonge Subway is a project long-sought by York Region, but the idea is tangled up with network relief from GO RER, the Relief Line and other capacity improvements still pending for the existing subway. Some of these, such as added operating cost for more trains on Line 1 YUS, and capital cost for station capacity impeovements, will fall to Toronto. Whether any of the funding pools now thought to be available for transit projects generally will still be available by the time a decision on Richmond Hill faces council, indeed whether this decision will even be in Toronto Council’s hands, are questions for a future beyond any of the existing governments.
  • Not to be forgotten for its demand on city funding is the surface transit system including the bus and streetcar network. While billions in new projects preoccupy debates, a long-standing problem faces Toronto with population growth, much of it “downtown”, that has not been matched by additional transit. Indeed, transit service today is little changed from twenty years ago largely because the TTC streetcar fleet sits roughly at late 1990s levels, and traffic congestion has been responsible for service cuts to stretch the available fleet. Current operating budget plans at the TTC foresee a major shortfall in 2017 that appears unlikely to be addressed by a supposedly pro-transit council and mayor, and this will almost certainly continue into the 2018 election year. On the capital side, the TTC requires an additional batch of streetcars beyond the 204 now on order from Bombardier. Both the financing and supply of this fleet expansion are on shaky ground. As for the bus fleet, TTC management seems more preoccupied with simply replacing its existing fleet of hybrid buses with diesels rather than actually expanding the level of bus service to Toronto.

In this context, the SmartTrack decision is only a small part, and Council has yet to be presented with a comprehensive view of the effect building a real transit network, rather than a few lines, will have on its budget and future financing requirements.

 

Another Scarborough Subway Boondoggle?

The Star’s Ben Spurr reports that the Glen Andrews Community Association in Scarborough has proposed yet another variant on the Scarborough Subway, and that this is supported by Councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker and provincial Minister (and former Councillor) Brad Duguid. City Planning staff are already engaged in reviewing this proposal without any direction to do so from Council, according to Spurr’s article.

glenandrewcommassn_bigbendmap

The scheme, nicknamed the “Big Bend” would enter Scarborough Town Centre on an east-west axis rather than the north-south route proposed by the TTC. It would veer east at Ellesmere and then make a wide turn bringing the route under the existing RT through the STC station area and continue to vacant space on the east side of Brimley. This open area would be used as the staging area for the tunnel construction akin to the sites on the Crosstown project at Black Creek and at Brentcliffe.

This would avoid creation of a staging area for the subway tunnel near Ellesmere and McCowan and limit the need to expropriate lands for the subway and a new station, but it would also leave the subway aligned in a way that would allow eventual westward extension to link with the Sheppard line.

Although this has been reported simply as a revised alignment, much more is involved in this proposal. Instead of twin tunnels, the TTC’s typical construction method, a single 12m to 13m bore would be used, one that could accommodate station structures within the tunnel and eliminate (or at least reduce) the need for surface excavation such as we have seen on the TYSSE station projects. The technical side of this scheme was put forward by Michael Schatz, Managing Director of engineering company Hatch (a portion of the former Hatch Mott Macdonald) which shows up from time to time as a consultant to the TTC and GO Transit. Whether this is an official company proposal, or a personal scheme, or some sort of “business development”, is hard to say. There is no reference to this proposal on the company’s website.

As for the politicians, De Baeremaeker in Council and Duguid behind the scenes at Queen’s Park have been meddling in the LRT/subway debate for some time. De Baeremaeker’s initial motivation appeared to be avoiding an election attack by a Ford stand-in challenging his dedication to Scarborough’s manifest subway destiny. Duguid’s role raises questions about who sets transportation policy in Kathleen Wynne’s government and just how much real commitment there is to any of the LRT schemes in Toronto beyond the Crosstown project now under construction.

At yesterday’s TTC Board meeting, De Baeremaeker was noticeably silent on this proposal, but instead focused on the need to get construction underway and end the delays which push up the project’s cost. (For a $3.6 billion project, inflation at 4%, the rate used by the TTC, adds $144m/year, or $12m per month plus the sunk cost of having the project team sit around working on alternative designs until Council makes a decision.)

This is not simply a case of looking at an alternative design for the STC area, but of reviewing the entire line. The larger tunnel would be dug at a different elevation, and the manner in which it would link to the existing structure at Kennedy, not to mention how it will co-exist with the planned eastern extension of the Crosstown LRT, must be worked out. Terminal operations for a pair of stacked platforms at STC also need to be designed if the TTC intends to run all service through to that point.

This represents a considerable delay. It was intriguing that GDB did not mention this proposal at today’s TTC meeting and in fact held to the idea of getting politics out of the way and letting the project proceed.

The Community Association appears to have conflicting goals for their proposal:

And at the end of all this we have a ‘dead end’ subway.

  • A subway that can never be extended to the east if/when demand justified an extension to Centennial College or Malvern or U of T.
  • A subway that City Planners say ‘should not’ be extended north to the Sheppard.
  • A subway that cannot be turned north west toward the huge concentrations of potential TTC riders in the Kennedy-Sheppard area. [p. 2]

And if we are really into city building, true long term thinking, here’s a huge advantage: building The Big Curve means that the subway is not ‘dead ended’ at Scarborough Centre. It turns northwest. The ‘tail track’ points toward the huge concentration of potential TTC riders already in place and with more on the way in the Kennedy-Sheppard area. It points toward the Agincourt GO-Smart Track Station. It is in the approved alignment of the Sheppard Subway to our Centre. It has a future! [pp. 6-7]

It is self evident that if the subway is going to Agincourt and Don Mills, it is most certainly not going to Centennial College, Malvern or UofT. There may be Scarborough Subway Champions now at Queen’s Park (the Liberal’s Mitzie Hunter and the Tory’s Raymond Cho), but the proposed Big Bend line will never come near their ridings in eastern Scarborough.

The Sheppard connection proposal has been around for years, and is a leftover from Rob Ford’s mayoral campaign. De Baeremaeker’s recent comments disparaging the Relief Line take on a new meaning in the context of a politician looking to plunder the capital budget to suit his own ends. It is quite clear that with this outlook, the Sheppard LRT will never be built even though it still appears on official provincial maps. So much for Queen’s Park’s “commitment” to eastern Scarborough.

The single bore tunnel will be quite deep both for structural reasons related to its size and to stay out of the way of utilities. At STC station, the idea is that a deep station would be built within the tunnel under the existing bus loop thereby avoiding the need for a completely new terminal. However, the vertical difference would pose a transfer time penalty, an amusing situation when one considers the scorn heaped on the design of Kennedy Station’s SRT to subway link.

The tunnel option is presented as one that could proceed without the surface disruptions of conventional subway construction as practiced by the TTC. This is not entirely true.

At STC, it will be necessary to build large vertical shafts, at least two, linking from the surface down to the station itself. These must be long and wide enough to house emergency ventillation, stairs, escalators and elevators, and their surface footprint will be considerable. Whether such links can be built while the bus terminal remains in operation is hard to say, and more detailed design of this interface is needed

Similarly, if Lawrence East Station reappears, as the Community Association proposes, it will require access shafts from the surface down to the station. This is a difficult location because Highland Creek crosses McCowan here, but stations below the water table are not unheard of even in Toronto (see York Mills and Queens Quay for examples, although the latter is comparatively shallow). The press release argues that a Lawrence East Station would be cheaper with the single tunnel scheme than with a standard TTC cut-and-cover structure, but the real question is how much this station would add to the cost of a project which does not now include it.

Emergency exit shafts are required roughly between stations. Construction activity for one of these can be seen along Eglinton such as at Petman (east of Mt. Pleasant) where the access is dug down from the surface to tunnels that have already been built below the street. Just because there are no stations from Kennedy to STC does not mean that the space between them will be free of construction effects.

At STC, assuming that the existing bus terminal can remain in operation, there would be a saving on building its replacement. However, this is only one part of a more complex comparison that must be performed between the current TTC proposal’s design and whatever might develop from the Big Bend option. One cannot assume a “saving” until the relative cost and components of the two schemes are worked out.

The Community Association proposes that the tunnel launch site use existing green space on the west side of STC beside Brimley Road. By comparison with the sites on Eglinton at Black Creek and at Brentcliffe, this may not be large enough (especially considering its “long” dimension runs north-south), but that could be dealt with by temporarily closing an adjacent road and expanding into the existing parking lot.

The proposal includes a long list of items that could be avoided by the Big Bend option compared to what the TTC is likely to do, including ”

  • No need for a temporary bus terminal.
  • No need to buy a fleet of buses to carry SRT passengers.

Whether a temporary terminal can be avoided while construction of the links to a new station below it is underway remains to be seen. As for a fleet of buses for SRT passengers, that has nothing to do with the subway plan at all, unless the subway is built in the SRT corridor, an alignment the TTC has already rejected for other reasons.

It is ironic that this scheme only became possible once the City decided it could not afford to take the subway to Sheppard and cut the line back to STC. If there really were a desire to serve the area north of Highway 401 and east of STC, the subway would have gone there. Instead we are back to the Sheppard hookup proposal.

If Council really wants to reopen the entire debate, they need to be honest about what this will cost in time and dollars. Unless there is a change in funding from Ottawa and Queen’s Park, their contributions are fixed and any new costs are entirely on the City’s account. How many more years of the 1.6% Scarborough Subway Tax will be needed to pay for this? How will the return of the Sheppard Subway Extensions to the political field affect priorities for spending elsewhere in the City? How many more Councillors will cry that their wards “deserve” a subway?

Muddled into all of this is the status of SmartTrack which even though the brand name remains in use is really nothing more than a few local stops added to GO’s RER plans. Toronto will have to decide before the end of November (a Metrolinx imposed deadline) just how much it will shell out for additional “SmartTrack” infrastructure.

Councillors are quick to complain that transit project costs rise uncontrollably, but faced with the need to settle on a design so that it can be costed to a reliable level for budgets and construction, continue to pursue alternatives. No doubt the Big Bend proponents will want a cost estimate for their scheme in months so that a formal decision can be made.

If De Baeremaeker, Duguid and Tory have already decided that the Big Bend is the only scheme that will be acceptable, then the whole process of past years has been a sham. It is entirely possible that the Eglinton East LRT, the sweetener added to the Scarborough transit plan to make the subway more palatable, will simply fall off of the map and the money will all go to the subway project. This would be a brutal “bait and switch” for eastern Scarborough, but it would show the true colours of their “subway champions”.

Toronto Transit Plan Punted From Executive Committee

On October 26, 2016, Toronto’s Executive Committee was supposed to receive a report dealing with a wide range of transit issues.

… the City Manager will be providing a report to Executive Committee with recommendations on the Transit Network Plan, including information on cost-sharing discussions with the Province of Ontario on a range of transit projects, as directed by City Council in July 2016 (EX16.1). This report will also include an update on the planning and technical analysis for SmartTrack, Relief Line, and Scarborough Transit. Additional time is required to ensure proper consultation and coordination with relevant stakeholders including the Toronto Transit Commission, Province of Ontario and Metrolinx. [Placeholder item in the agenda]

This report is not yet available as discussions with Queen’s Park are ongoing. A deadline facing Council is that Metrolinx wants a commitment to specifics of SmartTrack work that will be bundled with the RER construction contracts that will go to tender early in 2017.

Given the time constraints, it is possible that the report will go directly to Council at its November 8 meeting. In theory, materials for the Council Meeting should be posted in advance, and for November 8, the usual deadline is only days away. Whether the materials are actually available in advance remains to be seen. This would put a major debate before Council with almost no advance briefing or public debate.

SmartTrack is not the only time constrained project as an updated transit plan and cost estimate for the Scarborough projects, not to mention a financing scheme for the entire package, needs to be dealt with so that work can begin. Any spending commitments will also affect the City’s budget which will be formally unveiled at the start of December.

As material becomes available, I will provide updates and commentary.

 

TTC Capital Program Review

Back in the early days of John Tory’s mayoralty, the 2015 budget discussions were overshadowed both by the legacy of the Ford administration and by major issues with project control at the TTC. From the Ford years, Tory inherited a mean-spirited attitude to transit spending and service cuts that the new mayor would come to reverse, for a time at least. A bigger issue, however, was the matter of runaway spending by the TTC on two major projects: the Spadina subway extension (aka TYSSE) and the resignalling contracts for the Yonge-University-Spadina subway (aka Line 1).

Even while the TTC’s CEO was coming to grips with these projects, Council passed a motion asking for a review of how the TTC was managing its business.

145. City Council direct the City Manager to issue a Request For Proposal to expedite a review of Toronto Transit Commission Capital program service delivery including:

a. a review of project management of Toronto Transit Commission Major Capital Projects in the past five years to determine actual project costs and completion dates relative to original schedules and estimated costs;

b. a review of staff reporting mechanisms to the Toronto Transit Commission and City Council related to capital project budget and completion date status; and

c. future organizational options for Transit project management and delivery of Major Capital projects related to Transit expansion and major State of Good Repair projects.

146. City Council direct the City Manager to co-ordinate the review in Part 145 above with the Chief Executive Officer, Toronto Transit Commission and to report to the Toronto Transit Commission no later than the November 23, 2015 Board meeting. [Item EX 3.4 Council meeting of March 10, 2015]

In the fullness of time, considerably later than the November 2015 date in the motion, a report from KPMG landed on the TTC Board’s agenda, the TTC Capital Program Review. This was supplemented at the meeting by a presentation from KPMG and a response from CEO Andy Byford.

The terms of reference for KPMG’s work were somewhat different from the Council motion.

KPMG’s scope was as follows:

  • review project management practices at the TTC with respect to the delivery of the Capital Program, and provide recommendations to staff that will assist the organization to improve capabilities for managing capital projects and programs. The TTC Capital Program Review seeks to achieve the following goals:
  • Improve the organization’s project and program management performance by learning from past experience;
  • Support continuous improvement efforts underway at the TTC, including the continued implementation of the TTC Portfolio Management Office (“PfMO”) established in 2014;
  • Assess project governance structure and protocols for reporting of project status, to ensure the appropriate level of transparency and accountability to project sponsors and stakeholders; and
  • Provide guidance on project delivery options and project management requirements for projects of varying size, scope, and complexity. [Presentation, p. 4]

Item “a” of the Council motion asked for a comparison of actual costs and completion dates with original plans. KPMG does not provide this information, and even worse, included a table of selected projects that does not clearly explain their history (see below). There is no “deep dive” into any of the projects and, therefore, no specifics that could be tied to “lessons learned”, to practices that created the problem in the first place.

The table below is the closest the report comes to commenting on Council’s request, but read in isolation it can be misleading. It is ironic that in their presentation to the TTC Board, KPMG did not include this table and made no comment  on it. CEO Andy Byford was not so kind, and emphasized that most of the scope changes were perfectly legitimate.

kpmg_ttc_project_list

Other projects included in KPMG’s review but not in the table above were:

  • Fuel Storage Tank Replacements
  • Subway Station Easier Access Phase III
  • Surface Track
  • On Grade Paving

Of these, only the Easier Access program was flagged as “Challenged” with the others as “Successful”, but the reason for the EAP’s status likely has more to do with the complexity of later stages of the work and a lack of funding than with project management and controls. [See Table 1 at pp. 20-21 of KPMG’s report]

Two of these (track and paving) are the only “Ongoing” programs reviewed by KPMG. These are fundamentally different from “Finite” projects such as the construction of a line or the retrofit of elevators to stations. I will return to this distinction later.

This is a dangerous table in that it shows an apparent growth from $5 billion to almost $8 billion in project costs, a 60% increase.  That was the easy headline in media coverage of this report, and the sort of simplistic comparison that some members of Council would seize on as symptomatic of “waste” at the TTC. Scope change appears as a “primary cause” in five of these projects, but not all such changes arise from the same circumstances.

  • TYSSE’s cost grew due to inflation between the original estimate and the eventual approval of the project, and of course because the line was extended from York University to Vaughan Centre.
  • There was a considerable delay between the approval and actual start of work thanks to foot-dragging by senior governments in finalizing their contribution agreements. No adjustment to the completion date nor allowance for inflation was added to the estimate.
  • Politicians along the line wanted showcase stations, not the standard TTC boxes, and much of the contingency in the project’s budget was consumed by unexpectedly high bids for these structures.
  • The TYSSE project suffered from poor organization with many contractors on competing deadlines. This arose in part because the prevailing wisdom at the time was that work should be parceled out in small enough pieces that multiple mid-size contractors could bid. This arrangement was more a political decision than a technical one.
  • The original project did not foresee a conversion to Automatic Train Control (ATC) because that was not part of the TTC’s plans at the time. This item was added after the fact under a separate project budget, but this work added yet another layer of complexity to overlaps between many subsystem installation contracts.
  • The original fleet plan for TYSSE included the continued use of a portion of the older T1 fleet on the YUS with most, but not all, of the trains coming from the new TR order. After the decision to implement ATC, the T1s were no longer suitable because of the high cost of retrofitting ATC to them, and the TR contract grew accordingly. The TTC has a surplus of T1s, but no place to use them, including the proposed Scarborough subway which will also have ATC. The planned opening date for the SSE occurs well before the planned completion of the replacement of the T1s, a project that will have to be accelerated shifting spending into earlier years than planned.
  • The TTC now has a much larger subway car fleet than foreseen a decade ago thanks to the T1 surplus and cars for improved service under ATC that will not actually be used until 2019 and beyond when the ATC project completes. Additional space will be needed for the T1 replacements that will require concurrent storage space and a significantly different carhouse design from Greenwood Shops. These projects are not yet funded, and are not fully included in the cost estimates for the SSE.
  • The TR purchase, like all TTC vehicle contracts, includes a base order plus an option for additional vehicles. This is a standard arrangement for procurement because the TTC never receives full funding for its plans in one go, and circumstances change causing quantities to go up, or occasionally down. The complete order now includes enough trains for the complete replacement of non-ATC capable trains on YUS, conversion of the Sheppard subway from T1 to TR operation, the Spadina extension to Vaughan and additional trains to run more frequent service once ATC is in use on YUS.
  • The ATC contract evolved out of a dog’s breakfast of plans for new signalling on the YUS. Originally, the plan was simply to replace the aging block signal system on the original part of the line. However, funding for this could only be obtained by misrepresenting necessary maintenance work as something that would enable additional capacity. Eventually, the project grew to have at least two overlapping technologies being installed at the same time so that non-ATC operations could co-exist on an ATC line. This proved unworkable, and the contracts were consolidated into a single ATC project. The extra costs are a direct result of, first, underscoping the project for political reasons, and later from a failure to appreciate the technical complexity of what was being attempted.

The above are only the high points of a much more complex history (available in the linked articles), but what should be evident is that major projects interact with each other even though they are almost always discussed as if they are completely separate entities. This is a major problem in TTC budgeting and in the political context where such projects are debated. KPMG hints at this problem in its review, but does not drag any details out into the open.

The following discussion can only touch on the full report of 273 pages, and is intended to place the report more in the political context of the TTC Board and Council (and through them to the ongoing debates about TTC funding) than KPMG which tended to focus on internal issues of process.

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TTC Service Changes Effective Sunday, September 4, 2016 (Updated)

Updated August 15, 2016: The detailed table of service changes has been added to this article.

September 2016 will see a return to the “winter” schedules on most TTC routes. Despite talk of service cuts in the budget process, the new schedules include some improvements to correct for operational problems on a few routes, and to better handle existing demand. The scheduled mileage for September is actually above the budget level due to greater than anticipated requirements for diversions and extra vehicles to deal with construction projects.

2016.09.04 Service Changes

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Council Approves Tory Transit Plan, Attempts Pet Project Revivals

Toronto Council has approved the transit plan for Toronto featuring Mayor John Tory’s SmartTrack line and the Scarborough Subway after a long debate on July 14, 2016. Notwithstanding severe problems with financial pressures and the blind faith needed to expect that the entire package can actually be funded, Council added a few pet projects that never quite fade from view thanks to the efforts of individual members.

LRT proposals for Eglinton East and West survived the vote largely because they are part of larger packages – SmartTrack in the west, and the Scarborough Subway Extension in the east. The subway debate has so polarized camps that “LRT” is synonymous with third class transit simply because it was the heart of the “non subway” option. Without the bitterness of the SSE that required subway advocates to paint LRT in the worst possible light, its potential role in Toronto’s future network might not have been so poisoned while other cities embrace this mode.

Staff recommendations in the report were amended in some respects, and a few new clauses were added, notably one asking for City staff to pursue a co-fare arrangement with GO Transit.

The Waterfront Transit Reset report is a separate agenda item and, at the time of writing, Council has not yet dealt with it.

The Finch West and Eglinton Crosstown LRT projects are under Metrolinx, and they are already underway to varying degrees.

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Brimley: The Station That Never Was

In all the discussion about options for service to the Scarborough Town Centre, an important factor is the superiority of an east-west alignment through the area (which is itself an east-west rectangle). One subway station serves a node in the middle of the STC precinct, but an east-west line, especially with a technology where multiple stations are comparatively inexpensive, can do a better job of serving a future, developed town centre.

City Planning’s own reports say as much, but because discussion of the LRT option has been expunged from debates, we don’t hear how this might perform.

As a matter of historical interest, the original LRT proposal that predated the Scarborough RT by a decade included not only the three stations we have today – Midland, STC and McCowan – but also made provision for a future station at Brimley. The site would have been just east of the Bick’s pickle vats, for those who knew the area back when, on the west side of Brimley.

Some years later with the RT well established, local Councillors pressed for a Brimley Station. Council funded this and the TTC in due course produced a design. That’s as far as things ever got, and despite development near the station site, nothing more has ever come of the idea.

Brimley SRT Station Feasibility Study, January 2004:

Given its very light usage and difficulty of access, one might even argue that Ellesmere Station could be replaced by one at Brimley in any new design.

We will never know, because “LRT” in at least this corridor is a naughty word.

The Dwindling Capacity of the Yonge Subway

Yesterday’s launch by York Region of their Yonge Subway Now website brought to the fore the question of just how much room remains on the Yonge Subway for additional riders. Over many years, claims about capabilities of new subway technologies together with changing projections for future demand have left Toronto in a position where its subway is badly overloaded with little relief in sight.

This article traces the evolution of those claims and the reality of what can actually be provided to show that building a Relief Line is not a project for a future decade but one that must begin now.

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