Archive for December, 2007

Are Pantographs the Future for the TTC?

Friday, December 14th, 2007

[updated December 20 below…] 

There has been some speculation that the next generation of streetcars/LRVs for the TTC may use pantographs for power collection. If the new lines for the Transit City proposal are to provide a true rapid transit solution, then without a doubt we will see pantographs on those lines. Click here to see the new page on comparing trolley poles with pantographs.

Ideally, a single type of vehicle would provide the most flexibility, but there will be some overlap as the CLRV and ALRV fleets will continue to be used as long as it is practical to do so. On a loop of track, both trolley pole and pantograph operation can co-exist. The problem comes when you reach a track switch or crossing. Trolley poles require a frog to guide it through properly, while pantographs only have to slide under it. I am not aware of crossings and frogs that allow trolley poles to pass and at the same time cannot snag a pantograph. There may be such a beast, and please forward an example of this, but I have not seen it.

I had thought that existing streetcar routes could be upgraded one at a time as new fleet using pantographs arrived. The CLRV and ALRV fleet would be relegated to the remaining trolley pole routes as the fleet and number of routes still using trolley poles dwindled. There is still the issue where one route crosses the other and how to get vehicles back to the car-house. Other cities, such as Pittsburgh and Melbourne, have converted from trolley poles to pantographs as a total conversion that involved retrofitting existing trolley pole vehicles with pantographs.

Having one type of vehicle may be a moot point. The TTC may end up placing an order for new LRVs that have doors for boarding only on the right side as all current operations have loops to turn around at the end of the line. I strongly suspect that the Transit City plan will require vehicles with doors on both sides. It would be more practical and less costly to turn-back using crossovers instead of loops. Loops require land, while crossovers require little, if any, road-space. Crossovers also make it possible to operate a section of the line on a single track while maintenance is performed on the other. With loops, you have to close part of the line completely and bring in replacement buses. Furthermore, having doors on both sides makes it feasable to have less costly stations with centre island platforms at some locations instead of separate platorms for each direction of travel.

Getting back to the issue of pantographs, there is a fair bit of the TTC’s streetcar overhead that would work as-is with a pantograph-equipped vehicle under it, but there are enough areas where changes are needed. I plan to add to the Trolley Pole vs Pantograph page in the next month or two with some information on what changes would be required on the TTC. For an example of what an ALRV looks like with a pantograph, check out this page on the Transit Toronto website with photos of ALRV prototype 4900.

UPDATE - December 20

A comment was posted on Steve Munro’s website here containing a response to a letter sent to the TTC. In a nutshell, trolley pole operation will be retained at this time for the current streetcar network (and likely for the new waterfront projects) but may eventually be converted to pantograph. The new vehicles for the existing streetcar network will be uni-directional with doors on the right side only.

The Transit City network will adopt a pantograph catenary system to allow higher speed and bi-directional operation. The new vehicles for Transit City will therfore have doors on both sides.

Revenue Service to the Garage/Carhouse?!?

Tuesday, December 4th, 2007

How many times have you seen a “Not In Service” transit vehicle pass you by, especially on a cold, rainy, or snowy day? Why exactly do most transit operators have dead-head runs return to a garage.

I know from my experience waiting for a YRT eastbound Route 85A/B  bus on 16th Avenue at Bayview near the end of a morning rush hour, that some buses are taken out of service at the west end of the route and deadhead back to the garage on Woodbine near the 407. On one cold, snowy morning a year or two back, one driver deadheading back actually stopped and said he was only going as far as Woodbine. This suited myself and several other passengers as we were heading for destinations west of the 404. I emailed YRT’s customer service to find out why they cannot take buses out of service closer to the garage. A Route 85 could run as a “short turn” going only to Woodbine, or an 85A/B could go out of service at the Beaver Creek end of its run, which is only about a kilometre from the garage. I also had the gall to complement the driver, though I did not note the bus number, which turned out to be a good thing for that driver.

YRT’s response on the short turn issue was that they didn’t want to “confuse customers” with a bus that went out of service part way through the route. I wonder why buses have destination signs if not to alert riders to where the bus is actually going (notwithstanding buses with incorrect destination signs, and people who fail to read or believe the signs). They also didn’t want to inconvenience passengers who would have to get off the bus when it left service. Never mind those who would take it only as far as it was going who would be left waiting by the out of service vehicle passing by. One silly thing about these excuses, is that they actually have scheduled runs that start service at intermediate points on the route.

As for the complement about the driver that had compassion for us freezing riders, I was told he should not have done this. Apparently, once a driver changes the sign to “Not In Service”, there is no liability coverage for anyone besides the driver on board. This may be so, but I do see a common practice of a bus that uses side streets to loop to change the sign to “Not In Service” so anyone waiting on the loop’s streets will know the bus won’t serve them, even though there are still passengers on the bus.

One thing I have discovered in Melbourne, at least in the afternoon at the end of rush hours, is that trams going out of service return to the depot as an “extra” revenue run. Not associated with any specific route, their signs display either “00″ or nothing for a route number while the destination shows the name of the depot they are returning to (photo above is of a tram running from the Docklands to Kew Depot). The driver lets passengers know that it is not a regular run, but they actually use this movement to carry fare-paying passengers!

This is something, I believe, would go a long way towards improving the perception of actually providing a service in the GTA! How often do you hear people grumble about all the out of service buses or streetcars passing as they wait? To give credit where it is due, the TTC has been known to run streetcars with “Connaught” or “Roncesvalles” destination signs.

Poor service is one thing that needs addressing and will involve costs. However, when poor service is magnified by perceptions that make it seem ten times worse and these perceptions can be altered for almost no cost (the vehicle is making the movement anyways, though it is possible that it may take several minutes longer if passengers are involved), why not make the change?