Posts Tagged ‘TTC’

Toronto’s Transit Follies – It Must Be Election Time!

September 13, 2010

Vancouver is not the only Canadian City to suffer political silliness before election time, as regional council candidates are all tabling their transportation plans, if elected. The subway lobby is preaching their gospel of underground railways to everywhere, but come up short on how to pay for such extravagance. It seems like TransLink’s grand SkyTrain plans most of the candidates subway plans are mere ‘Pixie Dust’. The most daft of the political promises doing the rounds is that of  front-running Etobicoke councilor, Rob Ford, plans to abandon Toronto’s iconic streetcars and newly approved light rail lines. In an age where LRT streetcar is making a revival in Canada with new lines announced in Winnipeg and Montreal, Mr. Ford’s anti LRT stance is more than troublesome.

If Mr. Ford had read anything about transit at all, he would have found that one Toronto non-articulated streetcar is as efficient as three buses, thus replacing one streetcar (one driver) with three buses (3 bus drivers) would greatly increase the cost of public transit in Toronto! Ridding Toronto of its streetcars would create massive traffic gridlock and chaos with three times as many buses trundling along city streets.

The pro metro/subway plans sounds great, but funding new metro construction at about $250 million/km. will be hugely problematic. To extend Toronto’s subway lines will be expensive and unlike London and other cities with large metro networks, Toronto’s subway is ‘broad gauge’ (4 ft 10 78 in  or 1,495 mm) and track-sharing with regular railways is impossible, with all construction therefore must be ‘greenfields‘. Subways may sound nice to the naive, but the financial burdens placed on taxpayers is very large.

As the electoral ‘silly-season’ commences, voters in the Toronto region had better weigh their electoral options as political wannabees may dramatically increase resident’s tax burdens by their less than well thought out transit plans, including replacing trams with buses.

Marcus Gee – Globe and Mail – Friday, September 10, 2010

Given the seriousness of Toronto’s transportation mess, you might expect some serious proposals from the candidates for mayor. Vain hope.

Consider Rob Ford’s plan. Released this week in a YouTube video by the front-running Etobicoke councillor, it would scrap the Transit City network of light-rapid transit lines scheduled to roll out over the coming years. In its place, he would build new subways, extending the Sheppard subway from Downsview station in the west to Scarborough Town Centre in the east and replacing the aging Scarborough rapid-transit line with a full-fledged subway.

That will appeal to those who think subways, not LRT, are the way to go, but subways are far more expensive. How would this self-proclaimed paragon of fiscal prudence pay for his scheme? Simple, says Mr. Ford. He would get most of the $4-billion cost by taking $3.7-billion already dedicated to Transit City.

The trouble is that, having spent years negotiating, approving and funding Transit City, Queen’s Park is hardly likely just to hand Mr. Ford a cheque. Even if it did, $790-million of the $3.7-billion Mr. Ford has his hungry eyes on is already being used to expand the Viva transit system in York region, not build Transit City.

Mr. Ford says he would raise a further $1-billion for subways and road upgrades by selling developers the right to build around subway stations, but the figure seems wildly optimistic. It often takes years for development around subway lines to arrive. Many stations on the Bloor-Danforth line are still surrounded by old low-rise buildings decades after the line was built.

The really eye-popping part of his scheme is the plan to replace downtown streetcar lines with buses. This, he says, would save drivers from the trauma of getting stuck behind trundling streetcars. But hang on a bit. Streetcars carry more passengers than buses – many more, once the big new cars ordered by the TTC arrive – so to carry the same number of passengers you would need a lot more buses. Imagine all those buses trying to pull in and out of traffic on a crowded artery such as Queen Street, spewing exhaust all the way.

The TTC has spent tens of millions of dollars rebuilding and upgrading downtown streetcar tracks in recent years. If Mr. Ford got his way, that time and money would go to waste. So would the $1.22-billion the TTC has spent to order 204 new cars for 11 city streetcar lines. (Disregard Mr. Ford’s claim that he would simply sell the cars, specially designed for Toronto, to some other city. It isn’t that easy.)

Though Mr. Ford’s plan is typically the worst thought-out of the bunch, many of the other candidates’ plans are faulty, too. George Smitherman’s ambitious plan for new LRT and subway lines looks great until you ask him how he is going to pay for it. Simply put, he would borrow the money – about $5-billion in all. How can someone who promises to make “fiscal credibility job one” at city hall propose saddling an already-indebted city with such a burden?

Rocco Rossi’s $4.5-billion plan to build two kilometres of new subway lines a year for the next decade is affordable only if he goes through with his plan to sell Toronto Hydro, and even then it’s not clear the proceeds would cover such a massive expenditure. Similarly, Sarah Thomson’s plan to pay for 58 kilometres of new subway lines partly by levying tolls on city highways underestimates both the take from tolls and the cost of the lines.

With the exception of Joe Pantalone, who simply proposes to press on with Transit City, all of the candidates seem to have sketched their fantasy transit schemes on the back of a napkin. Anyone can draw lines – this subway here, this LRT there. The question – the only question – is how to pay for it all. As transit advocate Steve Munro points out, none of the candidates has even tackled how to find the extra $70-million it will take to keep the current TTC system operating in 2011.

For a local view of Mr. Ford’s hasty plans –

Are SkyTrain Mk 1 Cars For Sale?

June 8, 2010

An interesting post in the Toronto Information blog.

For Sale Cheap - Cheaper Than Yesterday

SRT: What To Look Forward To

With the funding deferment pushing back the conversion of the SRT until after 2015, the plan includes buying some used ICTS Mark-I cars from Vancouver.

Want a look at what is in store for us, take a look at this article which details a recent derailment in Surrey. Of course, with drivers on the SRT, the result would not be the same, but we are still talking about purchasing used equipment that has things like brake calipers falling off of it.

It seems that Trans Link is flogging off some Mk 1 cars to Toronto’s SRT (ICTS) Line. What is interesting is that complaints of overcrowding on the Expo and Millennium Line persist, but TransLink refused to operate 6 car trains, during peak periods, which would provide much needed extra capacity.

This begs the question: “Did TransLink purposely created an aura of overcrowding on the two SkyTrain metro Lines in order to persuade regional and provincial politicians to purchase new Mk. 2 metro cars from Bombardier Inc, when in fact overcrowding could have been alleviated by operating 6 – car trains of Mk. 1 stock?”

Obviously the sale of Mk. 1 cars to the TTC has been kept hush hush, for fear of embarrassing questions that be asked.

Clean, affordable light rail also delivers economic lift

April 22, 2010
Shades of the Broadway LRT/metro debate. It seems the metro lobby is hard at it to derail Toronto’s LRT plans, just like how the metro/SkyTrain lobby is trying to do the same in Vancouver.
Added to the metro/SkyTrain debate is that our friends South of the boarder are trying reinvent light rail into light-metro, a transit mode made obsolete by light rail decades ago! Today, transit is not built to move people, oh no, transit is build to influence land use, which is an excuse to gold-plate transit projects, which vastly increases the cost of providing ‘rail’ transit while at the same time offering no real proof that the added expenditure actually increases ridership.
What has been forgotten with the mad rush to build with hugely expensive metro’s (yes automatic transit systems are metro), is the wants and wishes of the transit customer. What studies have shown what the transit customer wants is that the ‘transit‘ is on the pavement; affordable to use; comfortable; a seamless or no-transfer trip; and a timely journey. The transit customer doesn’t want underground or elevated transit (for many reasons); expensive fares (which come with more expensive metro); standing; and transferring to complete ones journey. As for a timely journey, the transit customer wants a reasonably fast journey, comparable with one using a car.
Recent comments from the metro/SkyTrain lobby claim that the faster commercial speed of SkyTrain, itself attracts customers to our transit system. In short, the answer is no. What attracts the transit customer to transit, is a combination of many things, including safety, the ambiance of the transit system, ease of ticketing, speed of the complete transit journey (door to door), a seamless or no transfer journey, etc.
Modern light rail has proven to provide all of the above, which is why it is the most popular public transit mode in the world; LRT works. So when others try to morph LRT into another mode, especially a mode inferior to LRT, it should give one pause for concern. Why should we squander billions of dollars trying to reinvent the wheel, or building gold-plated light-metro, when that money would have been better spent on providing much more needed transit; transit that the customer actually wants.
In the 21st century, transit is seen as a product and if the transit ‘customer‘ doesn’t like the product, he/she will not buy.

Brussels' light rail system uses Bombardier equipment on segregated lanes. Greg Gormick argues that light rail transit lines in Europe and the United States have revived cities and reducted pollution and traffic congestion.

From the

Clean, affordable light rail also delivers economic lift

Critics of Toronto’s Transit City plan ignore the evidence in many European cities

Greg Gormick

In the ideal world, an informed public debate over the TTC’s $10 billion Transit City light rail transit (LRT) plan would hone it into a scheme fully responsive to the needs of transit users and residents who live along the line.

Instead, Transit City is being lambasted by a cadre of critics who hope to derail it, but without really knowing anything about LRT.

To be fair, the various parties involved in Transit City have done a deplorable job explaining LRT to the plan’s opponents.

As a result, the average Torontonian has no idea of social, environmental and economic benefits of this cost-effective form of rail transit.

In the Toronto context, the first thing that needs to be understood is that LRT and streetcars are not the same beasts. They are related, but there are massive differences between these two approaches to urban transportation.

LRT is a postwar European development that grew out of the conventional streetcar. As Western Europe got back on its feet after World War II, rising car ownership gradually chewed into transit ridership. Some cities followed the North American example and abandoned their streetcars. But many others embarked on evolutionary programs to build on the streetcar’s strength as an intermediate-capacity technology filling the gap between high-capacity subways and lower-capacity buses.

The result was a series of technological and operational advances that included:

  • Larger and faster rolling stock with higher capacity and labour productivity.
  • Better track to provide a smoother and quieter ride.
  • Wider spacing of stations or car stops, leading to reduced travel times.
  • Innovative fare collection systems for faster passenger loading and unloading.
  • Pre-emptive, transit-priority signalling at intersections.
  • Separated rights-of-way to minimize conflicts with automobiles.

But European LRT also involved much more than just tracks and rolling stock. There, urban planners embraced the concept of transit-oriented land-use development, using fast, frequent and convenient rail transit services as a means of controlling outer suburban development and making the inner cities more accessible, vibrant and appealing.

European cities also used LRT as an opportunity to totally re-engineer and improve their streets for all users under a concept known as lateral segregation. Each user — transit rider, motorist, cyclist and pedestrian — is assigned a portion of a street and each is segregated from the other in order to accommodate their varying requirements. Every element of the street is re-engineered accordingly: traffic lanes, parking, taxi stands, traffic management systems, cycling lanes, sidewalks, street lighting and all aspects of the “street furniture.”

The total effect is one of calming the street while also invigorating it economically and socially. LRT now plays a major role in both large and medium-sized European cities. More than 30 cities that abandoned their streetcars — including Paris, London and Barcelona — have built new LRT lines since the late 1970s and others are hopping aboard.

The success of European LRT was not lost on planners and politicians in some North American cities that abandoned their traditional streetcar systems and paid the price for it in traffic gridlock, unacceptable levels of air pollution and rampant suburban sprawl. In 1978, Edmonton inaugurated North America’s first all-new LRT with service-proven German equipment and designs. The LRT concept has spread to 22 other North American cities and more than 30 additional systems are now under construction or in planning.

When properly implemented — as it has been in cities as diverse as Dallas, San Diego and Portland, Ore., — LRT has delivered exactly what its advocates predicted. It has sparked a transit revival, luring commuters out of their cars and reducing emissions. It has acted as an economic catalyst, encouraging compact, transit-oriented development. And it has revived deteriorated residential and commercial neighbourhoods, generating considerable on-street activity and boosting property values.

To believe that the opposite will be the result with LRT on streets such as Sheppard, Eglinton and Finch flies in the face of worldwide experience. These main thoroughfares are probably better suited to LRT than many of those in U.S. cities, where it has proved its value as a fast, clean and affordable form of transit that boosts livability.

Some Torontonians maintain that we should be building subways instead of LRT. But subways cost about four times as much per kilometre and they are financially sustainable only where there are huge volumes of passengers ready to ride them on opening day. That is not the case in Toronto on the lines proposed for LRT.

Change is always frightening. But to allow an uninformed fear of the city-changing benefits of LRT to kill Transit City would doom Toronto to more car dependency, congestion, pollution and economic stagnation.

Other cities with which we compete for residents, jobs and investment are embracing LRT as one means to improve their social, environmental and economic attractiveness. Can we afford not to? I think not.

Greg Gormick is the Canadian contributing editor of the rail and transit trade magazine Railway Age. He wrote the TTC’s 2004 consulting report, The Streetcar Renaissance: Its Background and Benefits.

Is LRT becoming the new Light-Metro?

May 20, 2009


A metre gauge tram in Germany is still considered LRT.

Since the early 1970’s, the term LRT or light rail transit, has been in common use describing streetcar or interurban type rail transit. The first generation of modern LRT were German ‘Stadtbahn’ (City railway) style of tram, generally articulated and heavier built than trams or streetcars of the age. The first generation of North American LRT lines used the Duewag or Siemens, BN of Belgium, now Bombardier Inc., licensed built versions of ubiquitous ‘U-2’s’. These vehicles acted both as a streetcar and as an interurban, proving very successful in operation in cities including San Diego, Portland, Calgary and Edmonton. The original concept of LRT was build it cheap and build lots and it will be successful and LRT was.


Lille VAL light-metro.

During the same period, several proprietary transit systems were developed including Ontario’s Urban Transportation Development Corporation (UTDC) ICTS and France’s MATRA VAL system. These proprietary transit systems were labeled Intermediate Capacity Transportation Systems (ICTS) or simply ‘light-metro’; though poor sales led the UTDC to rename SkyTrain ALRT or Advanced Light Rail Transit in the late 70’s. ICTS was supposed to bridge the gap of what a streetcar could carry and that which would justify a full fledged metro, but ended up costing as much as a heavy-rail metro, while having the same potential capacity of LRT. ICTS was designed to be elevated as speed of a transit system was the ‘flavour of the month’ and thought essential for a successful transit system. Sadly for the companies developing and marketing ICTS or light-metro, LRT and with articulated cars, priority signaling at intersections, and the concept of the reserved rights-of-way,  proved superior to its much more expensive light-metro cousin. Light-metro became another dead branch on the tree of railway evolution.

The legacy of ICTS or light-metro lives on and despite overwhelming evidence that there is little benefit of very expensive grade separated transit systems, much political, bureaucratic, and academic prestige is still wedded to the notion that speed trumps all for a successful transit system. To increase the commercial speed of a transit system, the number of stations per route km. must be reduced. Thus light-metro systems have one half to one third the stations or stops than a comparable LRT system.

Manila, Philippines.

With 4-car trains and carrying over 500,000 passengers a day, Manilla’s LRT systems justifies the need for grade separation.

Grade separation of a transit line is very expensive and propels LRT into the category of light-metro, complete with its failings. Of course, when ridership demand, such as Manila, or Kuala Lumpor is very high, then it’s quite right to build LRT as a light metro; yet operating as a light-metro, the elevated (or underground) light-rail still maintains the ability to operate on much cheaper, at-grade rights-of-ways.

Seattle LRT

Seattle’s new LRT has more in common with light-metro, than light-rail.

There is a disturbing trend in North America to build LRT on miles of viaduct or tunnels (subways), with Seattle being a good example of masquerading light-metro as light-rail! The result is a very expensive transit system, which despite their much higher costs, will attract the same or fewer passengers than at-grade LRT. Many planners have blurred the definition of LRT and plan for light-metro, while still calling it LRT, with TransLink’s Evergreen line light-rail proposals being a good example. More confusion is sewn, by calling ‘rail’ transit systems the meaningless ‘rapid transit’ or ‘mass transit’, which do not define transit mode at all.


There are several reasons:

  1. Because the huge sums involved, politicians turn light-rail projects into make work mega-projects, spreading the taxpayers money to many more politically friendly companies and organizations.
  2. Local officials desperate for funding, try to fool more frugal Senior governments by building a politically prestigious metro by calling it LRT.
  3. The auto lobby wants all transit up in the air, out of sight, leaving the roads for cars.
  4. Land next to light metro lines tends to be rezoned for higher densities, giving windfall profits to landowners.
  5. Transit bureaucrats can hire more employees with light-metro, enhancing their departmental ‘prestige’.
  6. Planners do not understand the difference between metro, light-metro, and light-rail and lump them together as ‘rapid transit’.

Despite the much higher cost of light-metro, there is little evidence of superior operation. Cities that build hugely expensive light-metro and/or LRT built as light-metro, tend to have smaller networks with higher operating costs. Higher transit costs means new taxes must be found (carbon tax?) to fund the light-metro and taxes curbs the appetite for ‘rail’ transit expansion. Smaller ‘rail’ systems mean a much smaller modal shift from car to transit and in the time of global warming and peak oil, one wants to get the biggest bang for their transit buck.

In the U.S.A., planners now consider LRT as a variant of a metro and what once was called LRT, is now being labeled fast streetcar! In Europe, a tram can be the simplest of streetcar or a commuter train (Karlsruhe’s Two-system LRT).  A dichotomy has appeared; in Europe transit planners strive to simplify and reduce costs of LRT, while in North America planners do the opposite, making LRT far more complicated and expensive than it need be! 

Have American and Canadian transit planners lost their way?

One wonders if transit planners should get back to the basics and again plan for user and taxpayer friendly transit systems that were so popular, successful, and affordable thirty years ago. Maybe the old adage: “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it!” should be remembered by those advocating turning LRT into a metro.


Calgary’s C-Train LRT in the transit mall. 90% of the line is at-grade.