Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Transit City measures up to international standard - Toronto Star

Metrolinx, which will be responsible for constructing and owning (they will likely contract day-to-day operation to the local transit agency) all new rapid transit lines built in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area, has announced [Toronto Star] that the Transit City light rail lines to be built in Toronto will use standard track gauge. Most railways around the world run on rails spaced 4 feet, 8-1/2 inches apart. The TTC uses rails separated 4 feet, 10-7/8 inches apart. Some say that it was to prevent freight trains from using city streets, while other say it was to allow private wagons to use the ruts between the rails. This was Muddy York, afterall, and I remember reading something about a by-law that allowed for citizens to use the rails provided they did not delay streetcars... but I digress.

What does this mean for transit it Toronto? Some feel that moving to standard gauge will allow more companies to bid on the supply of vehicles, and more choice will result in more competitive prices. Others contend that it is the steep hills and sharp curves that keep many bidders away, and that modifying to TTC gauge does not have a noticeable effect on the price of a light rail vehicle. Some rebut that Transit City lines will not have the sharp curves and steep hills of downtown, so breaking down all - not some - barriers to using "off the self" equipment is appropriate. Others counter-rebut that this move will prevent connecting new lines to old lines to share storage yards and offer customers a one-seat ride into the downtown core.

From my perspective, there is no need to make an issue here. Downtown cars would never be able to travel on the Transit City network because they aren't double-ended, and Transit City cars would never be able to handle the curves of the downtown core. The systems have to be separated. Besides, what Metrolinx has said is that the Transit City lines will use standard gauge. But,, Transit City is merely a marketing name applied to the Mayor's vision. Routes like proposals Sheppard, Finch West and Eglinton can continue to be called Transit City lines, but what is stopping these agencies from rebranding projects like the St. Clair streetcar extension, the Waterfront West line, or any other line that requires a connection to the downtown network? They could be called "Toronto Streetcar Expansions", rather than Transit City, and constructing them to TTC gauge would not contradict what was announced today.

If the above is not possible, then there are international precedents of trams using dual gauge tracks for running in the same right-of-way as incompatible systems. If that is not possible, then there are even wheelsets that automatically vary the width of the wheels to match a changing rail width. They are used successfully in Spain, where high speed lines use standard gauge and traditional lines use a broad gauge.

Semantics are important, but we can't get bogged down in them!

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At 1/07/2010 2:42 p.m. , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I want to quote your post in my blog. It can?
And you et an account on Twitter?

At 1/07/2010 3:02 p.m. , Blogger Andrae Griffith said...

My blog is licensed under Creative Commons, so you're free to quote me provided that it's not for commercial purposes, you attribute me, and you're willing to be quoted under those same terms.

Where do you blog?

At 1/09/2010 12:08 p.m. , Blogger DA said...

I'm continuously frustrated with the hesitance to commit to a larger and more comprehensive vision for subway construction, for the simple reason that Toronto is a winter city, and our climate is well-known for damp cold that makes, for example, Calgary cold, much more comfortable to those who've experienced both. (Toronto's humidity works the same in summer, as people of Caribbean origin consider Toronto's summers uncomfortably humid relative to what they experience "back home".)

Couple this with the poor service outside the core, and you've got people standing for extended wait times in bitter cold for too few overcrowded vehicles - that's all the motivation anyone needs to vow to do whatever they can to get a car.

I have no comment or insight as to the value or problems with the right-of-way concept, from a traffic standpoint. My concern is that the vehicles themselves do not have the capacity of a subway train, nor do the outdoor surface access points provide sufficient shelter from the elements in winter during waits.

At 1/09/2010 12:59 p.m. , Blogger Andrae Griffith said...

Yes, the trains do not have the capacity of a subway train, but studies by the TTC and Metrolinx both indicate that the capacity of a subway is not warranted in the corridors where LRT will be constructed, even after 20 years of development is factored in. Subways are very expensive, almost ten times as expensive as an LRT line, and I believe that the region as a whole will benefit more from a large number of LRT lines than from a small number of subway lines.

When it comes to winter, I would support adding heated shelters to these stops. GO uses them at Square One, among other locations, but I haven't had the But we have to recognize that at some point, we're going to have to brave the cold. The LRTs will run every 5 minutes or better, and while this might not be as frequent as the subway, the reliability over the current bus routes will deliver a better quality product at the end of the day.

At 1/09/2010 2:54 p.m. , Blogger DA said...

"They" said the same thing about the 401 when it routed "so far north, no one will use it."

This speaks to my concern that planning is "reactionary" rather than "proactionary." Development builds up around transit. Transit can lead development. Would "the Danforth" be "the Danforth" without the subway under it? The same can be said for Yonge Street (especially the North York City Centre), or Bloor West Village, or the Annex...

Conversely, look at the lack of development in Scarborough where the subway runs at a north-east angle rather than directly under a street. A well-planned subway would support development that could reverse the need for urban sprawl to provide affordable housing. In other words, built properly, there WOULD EVENTUALLY be the density requiring the capacity.

This would support density within the city, providing the critical mass that keeps transit profitable (ridership would not go down as people could live and move about the city more easily with shops and services, residential and and institutional along these corridors).

And yes, anyone living in Toronto must be prepared to deal with winter. We're not going to put a dome over the entire city. However, human nature is what it is, and if our LRTs are not built with some effort to shelter people, it won't be an attractive alternative and people will continue to make cars their first choice.

So, to me, the onus of facing the reality of winter should be on the shoulders not only of the commuter on the demand side, but also on the planners on the supply side.

At 1/16/2010 4:55 p.m. , Blogger z said...

DGA, you have valid concerns about waiting in the cold, but remember, it's the future now:

There's absolutely NO reason this should not happen: from opening day of the first Transit City line, you should be able to press a button on your cell phone, which will display a GPS map of how far away the next LRT is. You can sit in the local coffee shop while you wait.

Heck, a coffee shop catering to TTC riders could be built near every major LRT stop, with seating, and a big screen with service updates and arrival times. Are you listening, Tim Horton???


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