We head underground to explore the nitty-gritty subway repairs the public seldom sees.
They’re the cause of ire amongst subway riders. They bring about dreaded shuttle buses, inconvenient rerouting to destinations, and confusion for those who don’t often take transit and can’t figure out where to go.
Ah, the scheduled subway closure.
For the remainder of the year, the TTC is planning more than 30 closures—some weekend-long—across stretches of both Lines 1 and 2. (Yes, we hear your collective sigh.)
This weekend, the Yonge-University-Spadina subway was closed between St. George and Lawrence West stations. But while platforms were empty of commuters, activity below ground didn’t stop.
To get a better sense of what goes on during these foreboding subway closures, we headed underground.
TTC engineering crews spent the roughly 48-hour window between the last train on Friday, Mar. 4 and start of service on Monday morning, Mar. 7, delving into a slew of repairs, upgrades, and cleaning tasks.
“We’re trying to do as much work as we can,” said Mike Palmer, the TTC’s Deputy Chief Operating Officer and subway chief. “What would normally take us five weeks to do, we can do in a weekend.”
Part of the work involved replacing worn-out rail between Dupont and St. Clair West stations, which had previously forced trains to operate slowly through the area.
Engineers cut out sections of old track with a circular saw, hoisted fresh rail into place, and thermite welded the whole thing together.
Tired but otherwise serviceable rail was refreshed using a special grinding machine brought in from the United States.
The TTC crews also installed sensors and cables associated with Automatic Train Control—a new signalling system that’s due to go live on Line 1 by 2020 and, in theory, revolutionize the way the subway works. The primary advantage of ATC from a passenger’s perspective is that it reduces the wait time between trains. Whereas the current system divides the line into fixed blocks only one train may occupy at a time, ATC creates a virtual moving barrier around each train, allowing them to run much closer together.
“The protection envelope in front of the train and behind the train is dynamic, so you can squeeze them up,” Palmer said.
The system also optimizes the acceleration and braking of each train, further reducing gaps and wait times for customers. When ATC is up and running, the TTC expects to run 32 trains an hour at peak times—roughly seven more than the current signal system allows.
“You’ll have a faster journey time, and you’ll have more trains,” Palmer said.
Palmer also used the closure to wage war on “tunnel fur,” a black cotton candy-like substance that builds up on the subway walls and other surfaces.
“No one could remember it ever being removed in a proactive way, so I had a sample taken and analyzed,” Palmer said. “It’s minerals, it’s oil, it’s human skin, human hair, mouse droppings, rat droppings, and a tiny amount of debris. It’s flammable and it’s not hygienic, so we have a crew of six or seven and all they’re doing is working round the system removing this stuff.”
TTC CEO Andy Byford said the short-term pain will ultimately result in long-term gains.
“This is the unsexy stuff, the stuff that goes on behind the scenes,” he said. “But if you let yourself get behind on basic maintenance, and if you let the system decline in terms of condition or get overly old, it will become increasingly unreliable.”
Byford added that he’s prepared to “take the flak from frustrated customers who don’t like having the service suspended because I know it’s the right thing to do. I know it’s going to be a good legacy.”
Below are the scheduled 2016 subway closures, with dates and the affected stations.
|March 19-20||St. George to Lawrence West|
|April 2||Kennedy to Victoria Park|
|April 3||Pape to St. George|
|April 9-10||St. George to Jane|
|April 16-17||St. George to Lawrence West|
|April 17||Pape to St. George (early closure)|
|April 23-24||Kennedy to Victoria Park|
|April 30-May 1||McCowan to Kennedy|
|May 1||Pape to St. George (opening late)|
|May 7-8||Ossington to Jane|
|May 15||Pape to St. George (opening late)|
|May 28-29||St. Clair West to Downsview|
|June 4-5||McCowan to Kennedy|
|June 11-12||Pape to St. George|
|June 18-19||St. Clair West to Downsview|
|June 25-26||McCowan to Kennedy|
|June 26||Pape to St. George (opening late)|
|July 9||Woodbine to Pape|
|July 23-24||Union to Osgoode|
|August 6||St. George to Union|
|August 13-14||Pape to St. George|
|August 27-28||Lawrence to Bloor-Yonge|
|September 3-4||Lawrence to Bloor-Yonge|
|September 10-11||Pape to St. George|
|September 17-18||St. Clair West to Downsview|
|September 24-25||Wilson to Downsview|
|October 8-10||Pape to St. George|
|October 15-16||St. George to Downsview|
|October 22-23||Sheppard-Yonge to Bayview|
|October 22-23||McCowan to Kennedy|
|October 29-30||St. George to Downsview|
|November 5-6||St. Clair to Union|
|November 12-13||Lawrence to Bloor-Yonge|
|November 19-20||McCowan to Kennedy|
|November 26-27||Finch to York Mills|
|December 3-4||Wilson to Downsview|