Original photo of snapped switch that was shared with electrician and journalist @meganysta.
Original photo of snapped switch that was shared with electrician and journalist @meganysta.

A broken switch is not normal. What’s happening at the TTC?

The TTC unexpectedly shut down a section of the Line 1 subway during rush hour on Friday, March 1, because a broken switch rail was discovered overnight. 

Acting quickly to complete urgent safety repairs makes sense. But a snapped switch rail is not normal wear and tear, and the TTC has not been transparent with the public about the incident or the state of subway maintenance. 

The TTC’s media relations account posted about the cause of the incident only after electrician and journalist Megan Kinch posted a photo on X/Twitter that had been sent to her.

Here are three important questions that the snapped switch rail raises: 

Is the TTC being maintained properly? 

The broken switch was discovered between Spadina and St. Andrew stations, which was one of the reduced speed zones implemented by the TTC in early winter after conducting an annual test of the subway track alignment. After questioning from city councillors at a February TTC board meeting, TTC staff admitted that there were an “abnormal” number of reduced speed zones compared to previous years but did not provide further details. 

Transit expert Steve Munro has pointed out that the TTC had hoped for years to purchase its own track geometry equipment so they could conduct testing more regularly, but the project stopped appearing in budget request documents in 2020.

Has the TTC learned its lessons from the Scarborough RT derailment? 

After the shocking derailment of the Scarborough RT in July 2023, the TTC brought on external consultants to investigate and make recommendations. The initial findings that broken anchor bolts were to blame for the accident were shared in a PowerPoint presentation at a TTC board meeting, but the detailed reports were never shared in a public meeting. That is, until Steve Munro discovered the consultant reports on the TTC’s website. The TTC says it will share the reports publicly in April. 

The consultant reports contain shocking details. One consultant wrote that even before the derailment happened, he had expressed concerns to the TTC in early 2023 about the way the agency prioritizes defects and conducts inspections. 

The same consultant wrote that if the TTC took his advice and trained its track inspectors in the risks of “combination defects,” meaning multiple defects that together increase risks, areas would be prioritized differently and could require a reduced speed zone. Another report states that “some actions linked to preventive maintenance were no longer carried out once the [Scarborough RT] line was announced to be closing. Furthermore, the anchor bolts were never subjected to preventive maintenance.”

The reports raise many questions that have yet to be answered. Has the TTC implemented expert advice about how it deals with defects and repairs? Who decided to stop doing preventive maintenance on the Scarborough RT? Why were so many reduced speed zones implemented this winter?

Will the federal government do its part to fund the TTC’s repair needs? 

After the deadly Russell Hill subway crash in 1995 that killed three people and injured dozens, the TTC instituted a “state of good repair” program to prioritize system maintenance. 

Today, the TTC’s infrastructure is aging and its state of good repair backlog is projected to rise by $8.2 billion over the next 10 years, even though city councillors recently voted to prioritize state of good repair work over building new transit projects.

The federal government has promised a Permanent Public Transit Fund coming in 2026, but transit agencies want the funding sped up. The CEOs of public transit agencies in Vancouver, Toronto, and Montreal made the unusual move of issuing a joint statement urging the federal government to make the funds available this year for urgently needed projects. 

In Toronto, one of those urgent projects is ordering new subway trains. New trains are needed to add capacity both on Line 1 (Yonge-University) and on future subway extensions which are under construction, and to replace the aging Line 2 (Bloor-Danforth) subway trains. Without new trains, subway service will become less reliable, and Toronto will miss its chance to install sliding safety doors at the edge of subway platforms in the future.

TTC staff warned back in 2006 that the aging Scarborough RT vehicles needed to be replaced. With the federal government’s unwillingness to chip in for new subway trains today, are we seeing history repeat itself? 

The TTC needs more resources to keep the system safe and well-maintained. At the same time, transit riders deserve more transparency about what the TTC is doing to make sure that a derailment never happens again.

This article appeared in the 2024 May/June issue.