Thursday, June 28, 2007

Streetcars' `wheel squeal' driving reader to despair - Toronto Star

Streetcars' `wheel squeal' driving reader to despair
June 28, 2007
Jack Lakey
Staff Reporter

Kimberly Tiessen is being driven around the bend by the ceaseless screeching of streetcars that have reached the end of the line.

Tiessen lives near the TTC's streetcar turnaround loop at the east end of the Queen St. route, at the corner of Neville Park Blvd. Eastbound streetcars turn south and wind their way around the curved track before heading west.

As long as streetcars are on straight track, their steel wheels don't make much sound.

But when they travel curved track, such as a loop, the surface of the wheel moves across the track at an angle, creating friction, while the part that extends over the side of the rail also rubs against it.

The result is a loud squealing sound, which has long been a source of annoyance for people who live near loops or curved track.

For decades, the TTC used a system that squirted water onto the tracks, which serves as a lubricant to reduce the sound, but it doesn't work in cold weather.

Other things have been tried that have reduced the squealing, but not eliminated it.

Tiessen sent us a highly descriptive email about how the noise from the Neville Park loop is driving her nuts. And with 24-hour streetcar service on Queen, it never ends.

"For the love of my sanity, sleep and overall well-being, will somebody please, please help with the streetcar screeching!"

Every time a streetcar enters the loop, she describes it as "11 seconds straight of that God-awful, fingers down a chalkboard, eye-piercing screech.

This isn't once a night, it's ALL night and day long.

"Eleven seconds may not seem like a long time, but close your eyes, imagine the quiet and stillness of the night, and count to 11. Imagine, all night, every few minutes, all you hear is screeching!

For the love of Pete, can't the TTC do something here?

"This is really driving me crazy. I beg of you, help stop the noise!"

STATUS: Jim Teeple, who's in charge of streetcar track issues for the TTC, said a state-of-the-art system for reducing "wheel squeal," as they call it, is already in place at the Neville Park loop. It applies a coating of Teflon to the tracks, but due to the angle of curvature, it cannot entirely eliminate the screech. For now, it's the best they can do, he said.
Welcome to the city. There are noises in the city. There's always houses in the suburbs. I would gladly swap houses with you.


Monday, June 25, 2007

One-fare transit test launched - Toronto Star

One-fare transit test launched
June 25, 2007
Tess Kalinowski
Staff Reporter

No more change, no more tickets and transfers.

Transportation officials are promising that the new green Presto fare smart card being rolled out in a test next month will revolutionize public transit in the Toronto region. Presto will be launched on Mississauga Transit, GO and the TTC, starting in mid-July, allowing riders to move across the three systems with only one fare card.

"We're making public transit as seamless and convenient as possible," said Transportation Minister Donna Cansfield today at the Cooksville GO station in Mississauga.

The plastic wallet-sized cards are embedded with a computer chip that deducts the value of a transit fare when it is tapped or held close to an electronic reader. The readers show riders who much has been deducted from their card and the balance they have remaining.

When the user's "e-purse" is empty, the transit rider needs only top up the amount at a sales kiosk or online.

Users will be able to register their card for replacement if it is lost or stolen.

Mississauga Transit will begin tomorrow recruiting about 500 regular riders on the Cooksville and Meadowvale shuttle buses, who transfer to GO and the TTC, to test the card and help work out any bugs.

By 2010 the card should be available from Hamilton to Durham Region. The TTC is the only area transit authority that still hasn't officially signed on to the project.
Don't take the "no more transfers" literally. You will still be allowed to transfer from vehicle to vehicle for free, only you will need to swipe the Presto Card instead of getting into a dispute with the driver over the validity of the transfer. I've been advocating for this type of project for a long time, mainly because:
  • It will reduce fare evasion and counterfeiting, because its very difficult to hack a stored value card when the information is stored on a central database.
  • It will save trees, as tickets and transfers will be taken out of circulation.
  • It will reduce fare disputes, as the fare payment will be done automatically.
  • It will reduce confusion, especially in cases where riders use more than one system.
  • It doesn't have to be limited to transit. It can facilitate convenience store and food purchases.
Although I am happy to see the fare card moving forward, I do have two problems. Firstly, the time-frame that the TTC wants to operate on is unacceptable. Chair Adam Giambrone was quoted as saying not until 2015 or 2017. I may never say this again, but the province needs to play hardball and bring the TTC on-board sooner.

Finally, I'm still unsure about the name "Presto." I might warm up to it, but the name "Metropass" seems to be working fine...

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Transit experts tout electric trains - Toronto Star

Transit experts tout electric trains
GO revamp would accommodate more passengers on faster, quieter trains and reduce diesel fumes
June 25, 2007
Tess Kalinowski

It may have surprised commuters when the Ontario government announced earlier this month that it wanted to electrify GO's busiest rail line along the lakeshore.

But among public transit experts the move really is a no-brainer, says GO's managing director Gary McNeil.

Most commuter rail around the world is electric, employing technology similar to that of Toronto's streetcars but built to run on dedicated rail lines rather than streets and to withstand the impact of locomotive collisions.

The benefits are significant, says McNeil.

Electrification would accommodate more riders on faster, quieter trains and cut down on diesel fumes in densely populated areas.

GO has studied the idea several times, most recently six years ago. But the money's never been there to do it before.

"It's what I consider to be a natural transition," said McNeil, adding that it likely would take about six years and $1 billion to install the electrical systems, deal with construction and buy the equipment.

The conversion would be done as part of an overall expansion of the regional service.

The new diesel locomotives would move on to GO's branch lines to make room for the new trains that would run on overhead wires strung along the track.

Electric trains can accelerate and slow down faster than diesel, shaving time off a commute and accommodating more trains on the line so GO could increase its frequency.

"It's very basic infrastructure. It's readily available throughout the world. The trickiest thing of all is getting the railways onside," said McNeil.

All but about 4.8 kilometres of the Lakeshore line, which carries about 90,000 people a day, is owned by Canadian National Railway Co.

The private railway depends mostly on freight for its business and has been slow to modernize.

Converting the tracks to electric with overhead wire would mean different vertical clearances on freight and re-educating train crews to work in an electric rather than diesel environment.

But there's no reason to believe the railways wouldn't be onside with the conversion, said a spokesperson for Transportation Minister Donna Cansfield.

"We haven't heard anything against the plan from them," said Jamie Rilett. "I was told it could be done without interfering with traditional trains."

The GO conversion would most closely resemble that of the New Jersey Transit system, which put high-voltage systems on some lines in the 1980s.

"Electric trains are smoother and faster," said Sal Conte, New Jersey's chief electrical engineer for transit.

But nothing's perfect and it took the operator a few years to work the kinks out. Icicles would build up under bridges and in tunnels, affecting trains' overhead clearance.

"We had an icicle gang set up who would physically knock the ice off before the rush hour," he said.

And nobody anticipated that pigeons would trip the wires.

"The day we turned the system on we must have killed a couple hundred pigeons," said Conte.
The rail lines are the property of the railways, so they must be on board before any modifications are made to the right-of-way. There is no (convincing) evidence that overhead wires prevent excess-height freight cars from passing, but the private railways in the GTA have been known to put profits ahead of the public good - but can you really blame a corporation for doing so?

Perhaps, when the federal liberals come to power, we can have the debate about putting the needs of commuters and passengers ahead of the need of freight trains on the country's railways.

...And by the way, the MP40PH-3C locomotives that GO has ordered produce 4000 HP. The ALP-46 electric locomotives that New Jersey Transit acquired produce 8000HP, making for quicker acceleration and more pulling power. Also, they are built by Bombardier, making them politically friendly locomotives.

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Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Guelph opts for high-tech cure for bus wait woes - CBC News

Guelph opts for high-tech cure for bus wait woes
Tuesday, June 19, 2007 | 6:27 PM ET
CBC News

The 55 vehicles in the Guelph, Ont., transit fleet are the first in Canada to be equipped with a Canadian-owned technology designed, in part, to solve the classic commuter dilemma: "Will I miss the bus if I grab a coffee?"

The NextBus technology, to be officially launched in Guelph on Wednesday, uses global positioning system data to track each bus. The location of the vehicle is then combined with data and formulas predicting when it will arrive at the stop.

The software uses the internet to relay the estimated arrival time for the next three buses to would-be passengers through signs at bus stops or through their web-enabled cellphones, mobile devices or home computers.

A telephone service will also provide the information, and a web alert system is in place for transit disruptions such as construction or detours.

Unlike traditional services based on the transit schedules, NextBus bases its prediction on the current location of a bus. The time, day and season are also factored in, but current weather conditions are not.

"We are always looking to move to bigger and better things for our customers," Elisabeth van der Made, a supervisor with Guelph's Transit Authority, told CBC News.
Continue Article

"When there's a more reliable service people are more apt to use the service."

Guelph has invested more than $340,000 in the system, plus ongoing fees and charges for upgrades.

NextBus also allows the transit authority to gather more accurate data on its service and will be useful in resolving customer complaints, says van der Made. It allows them to replay the route followed by a particular bus and verify stops made and the speed travelled.

Guelph will start with two display boards — at the university transit centre and at Stone Road Mall. Passengers can look up their own stops at the website.

Better service equals more riders

Owen Moore, president of Toronto-based Grey Island Systems International Inc. the company that owns the technology, said the ability to make taking transit more convenient and reliable for passengers helps transit systems boost ridership.

Given environmental concerns and crowding on highways "we really have no other choice but to get people out of their cars and into the public transit system," said Moore.

While this is the first system for the public to use in Canada, Grey Island's technology is already in place for transit riders in more than 40 U.S. locations, including San Francisco and Washington, D.C.

Systems for internal company use are also in place to track fleets as diverse as commuter trains, emergency vehicles and snow plows across North America.
For people to flock to transit, it needs to be swift, frequent, and reliable. While GPS tracking doesn't make it more frequent or faster, it does ensure that the rider will always know when the bus is due. There's no possible way a display board could be installed at every bus stop, even in a city as small as Guelph, but every stop with a major trip generator should have one. This is something the GTA should be looking at, because if it works for Guleph and for YRT, then it will surely work for the rest of us.


Friday, June 15, 2007

Move Ontario 2020

It was a long, hot friday afternoon when even the most cynical transit advocate smiled and dreamed.

Today, the Premier announced a 12-year, 17 billion dollar plan to improve transit in the GTA, Hamilton and Waterloo region. Named Move Ontario 2020, this plan promises to construct 902 km of new or improved rapid transit in the greater golden horseshoe, which will reduce greenhouse gases and pollution, reduce traffic congestion, and support sustainable urban development. Included in the plan are 52 specific projects from all corners of the GTA, which, if constructed, form a network that will serve the GTA well.

Here's the details, condensed and with commentary:

source: Ontario Government

GO Transit Commuter Rail
  • All GO rail lines will have additional tracks to improve capacity.
  • Both Lakeshore lines will be electrified, and an extension east to Bowmanville will be constructed.
  • The Bradford, Richmond Hill & Stouffville lines will be extended to Barrie, Aurora Road and Uxbridge, respectively.
  • The Crosstown line will be built, between Weston Road and Agincourt, where branches will take it through Seaton to Brock Road over the Belleville sub., and to northern Pickering on the Havelock sub.
  • The Bolton line will be built.
GO Bus Rapid Transit(BRT)
  • The GO BRT proposal will be fully implemented, which means the existing 407 bus network will see its own busways. The current destinations will stay the same, but the routing will be different.
Subway and Other Rapid Transit
  • The Yonge subway, will be extended from Finch station to Richmond Hill Centre / Langstaff GO station, while the Spadina end of the line will have its extension to Vaughan Corporate Centre completed.
  • The entire VIVA network that isn't replaced by subway extensions will be placed in private rights-of-way.
  • Toronto's Transit City proposal will be fully implemented.
  • The Hurontario Street LRT will be constructed between Mississauga and Brampton, as will the Acceleride BRT between Brampton and Vaughan. Durham region will also get a BRT line along Highway 2.
  • The James line in Hamilton will be built from the mountain into the downtown core, as will an east-west line between Eastgate Mall and McMaster University.
  • A rail link will connect Pearson Airport with Union Station.
  • The Waterloo Region rapid transit plan will be implemented.
Aside from a missing transit connection between the GTA and Waterloo Region, this plan is one of the most comprehensive transit plans proposed to date. What's more, the fact that it includes many of the municipally proposed projects shows that the province is starting to see that city planners are capable of planning the solutions to our transit problems. Though this plan does depend on the liberals being re-elected, they have definitely fired a shot over the bow of the HMCS Progressive Conservative. Hopefully, this election will be the one that cements transit expansion high on the list of government priority, regardless of who controls the legislature in the fall.

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Monday, June 11, 2007

Revolving Door

John Tory, the leader of the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party - and my member of provincial parliament - said that if he were elected premier, he would mandate that GO Transit meet on time performance standards or face a housecleaning of management. John Tory used to be the CEO of Rogers Cable, so I'll put the analogy in terms he can understand.

What if Rogers didn't own its cable wires and simply rented time on them from another company? What if the content Rogers sent to its customers had to take a backseat to the owner's content, and disruptions resulted when the owner couldn't offer as much airtime as usual? What if the cable wires went down, and the owner wanted to take his good sweet time to fix them? What if the owner's technicians called in sick?

That's the reality at GO. They are at the mercy of the railroads, and unless that bondage is broken, GO will never live up to it's reliability expectations. Sacking the management whenever the trains are late will result in a revolving door of managers until there is no one qualified or willing to do the job.

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Monday, June 04, 2007

Why some people shouldn't be sprinters

Ottawa announces national transit strategy to improve collaboration [Stephen Rees' Blog]

Seems as if the conservatives were winning the race, had the finish line in sight... and then stopped and ran in the other direction.