What Does the TTC Do During Weekend Subway Closures?
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What Does the TTC Do During Weekend Subway Closures?

We head underground to explore the nitty-gritty subway repairs the public seldom sees.

Transit and all the Fixin's from Giordano Ciampini on Vimeo.

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.

subway closure

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.

subway closure

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.

subway closure

“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.”

subway closure

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 16-17 Sheppard-Yonge to Bayview
July 23-24 Broadview to Main Street (full closure), St. George to Broadview (opening late)
August 6 St. George to Osgoode
August 13-14 Pape to St. George
August 27-28 Lawrence to Bloor-Yonge
September 3-5 Pape to St. George
September 10-11 Wilson to Downsview
September 17-18 St. George to Downsview
September 24-25 Pape to St. George
October 8-10 Wilson to Downsview
October 15-16 St. George to Downsview
October 22-23 Sheppard-Yonge to Bayview
October 29-30 St. George to Downsview
November 5-6 Pape to St. George
November 12-13 Lawrence to Bloor-Yonge
November 26-27 Finch to York Mills
December 3-4 Wilson to Downsview

UPDATE July 9, 12:29 PM: The TTC periodically changes its maintenance schedule. We updated the table on July 9 to reflect the latest changes for the rest of the year.