TTC Chaos, I Just Don’t Get It

June 9th, 2015 by Potato

The subway was yet again disrupted this week, with all three subway lines out of commission for an extended period Monday morning (and for a while the SRT too) — and not even shuttle buses to try to take up some of the load. I personally think it was a terrorist threat and they’re just not telling us, because the official explanation does not make sense to me at all, and just makes me angry.

Officially, it was a communications failure, and they can’t run any trains in any fashion without communications. TTC spokesperson likened it to “trying to land a plane without having communications with the tower.”

No, come on, pull the other one. I’m going to try to track down a few drivers and see if the media contacts at the TTC will talk to me, but there is just no fucking way it is like that at all. They’re trains, running on tracks, with human drivers. The equivalent scenario is closer to drivers having to cope with a power outage knocking out traffic lights — things slow down, you approach every intersection with caution, but you don’t just throw your hands in the air and say that it’s too unsafe to leave the garage today.

Trains are not cars, but in many ways the differences make the situation easier: they’re on tracks, on isolated rights-of-way, with no worries of kids running across to chase balls or geese1 sauntering across the road. The main thing to worry about are the switches, and it should be super-simple to interlock them to lock in straight-ahead mode for safety when comms go out.

So I can’t see any damned reason why a train can’t creep along under the direction of the human driver, and get some kind of service going. Yes, they may have to go slower — a train can’t exactly stop on a dime, but usnig publicly available information TTC subway trains can come to a full stop from 30 km/h in about 50 m without bowling anyone over, and in as little as 25 m in an emergency braking situation (for scale, the trains are 23.2 m long). Now I know that distances are hard to judge accurately by eye, especially underground in the absence of familiar landmarks for scale, but from all the time I’ve spent on the subway gazing out the front of the lead car, I’m pretty sure the visibility down the well-lit tunnel is at least 50 m in all parts of the line, and multiples of that in most places. And even if it’s not in some curves, from a relative 15 km/h crawl — that still moves something — a train could stop in 12 m.

That leaves the 6 switches at the terminal stations as the main sticking point to operating without communications. And seriously, if those can’t be manually operated by a half-dozen people sent into the tunnels to direct traffic, then they should be redesigned to do so ASAP.

Yes, it would still have been a sucktacular delay, and without communications its likely we’d get trains bunching and gaping through the system pretty quickly. But I just can’t believe that professional, unionized drivers are completely unable to operate their trains without being directed by central communications in constant contact, that there isn’t a 15 km/h failsafe mode. I mean, many cities had subway and trolley systems before radio communications and signalling systems were even invented, and the trains ran.

1. Who can fly, but choose not to. Seriously, fuck geese. Now that I think about it, the TTC’s mascot should be a Canada Goose.

Update: As soon as I hit publish I think I got it: they think it’s a safety issue not because the trains will crash but possibly because the emergency response strips won’t send a signal to TTC central so that they can call an ambulance and hold the line up for the false alarm of the hour. Again, I don’t see how waiting until the train hits the station for a runner to hit the surface and call 911 is such a major safety issue that it warrants a complete shutdown. But then again, if that’s the reason then the plane landing analogy above is totally off base and even more idiotic.

2 Responses to “TTC Chaos, I Just Don’t Get It”

  1. Paul T Says:

    I had the exact reaction at first. But the TTC shutting down is much less risk (PR wise) than having an actual emergency and not being aware of it or being able to react appropriately (PR wise)

  2. Potato Says:

    I suspect you’re right, Paul — but that partly comes down to the hilarious “system running normally” image. The TTC is broken down and delayed so much that there’s basically zero repercussions for them to have a slightly larger shutdown like this, so it’s the zero-cost option.