And Then There Was Six

Despite the ongoing charade by regional mayors pretending that the now called Movia Automatic Light Metro is not a proprietary railway, the singular fact remains, it is. This Linear Induction Motor (LIM) powered bit of history has always been a proprietary railway, unable to operate with any railway, except its own family of seven such transit systems.

Even Vancouver’s versions of MALM cannot operate coupled sets of MK.1 and MK.2/3 trains.

As there is no “off the shelf” and as one overseas expert told me:

“You just cannot slap a pair of LIM’s on any bogie and expect it to work”

Thus vehicles that can operate on the MALM lines, the Expo and Millennium Lines, operate a proprietary railway and by doing so, creates many problems.

We must return to Gerald Fox’s 1991 study “A Comparison Between Light Rail And Automated Guided Transit” (AGT) to see his conclusions have proven extremely accurate. Please also remember that the two of the AGT systems used in the study, ALRT and VAL, were proprietary transit systems.

  1. Requiring fully grade separated R-O-W and stations and higher car and equipment costs, total construction costs is higher for AGT than LRT. A city selecting AGT will tend to have a smaller rapid transit network than a city selecting LRT.
  2. There is no evidence that automatic operation saves operating and maintenance costs compared to modern LRT operating on a comparable quality of alignment.
  3. The rigidity imposed on operations by a centralized control system and lack of localized response options have resulted in poor levels of reliability on AGT compared to the more versatile LRT systems.
  4. LRT and AGT have similar capacities capabilities if used on the same quality of alignment. LRT also has the option to branch out on less costly R-O-W.
  5. Being a product of contemporary technology, AGT systems carry with them the seeds of obsolescence.
  6. Transit agencies that buy into proprietary systems should consider their future procurement options, particularly if the original equipment manufacturer were to cease operations.

Despite boasting by TransLink and echoed by ill informed civic, provincial and federal politicians, only seven such systems have been sold and not one of the systems sold was ever allowed to compete against light rail. No one has copied Vancouver’s exclusive use of automatic light metro, no one has copied Vancouver’s use of the proprietary and now called MALM.

Toronto’s Scarborough Line was so designed not use light rail vehicles and even cannot use MK 2/3 cars is telling! Very soon there will be only six MALM systems in operation and Detroit’s wee MALM system will soon follow, being life expired.

Then there will be five.

GOLDSTEIN: Why Scarborough RT is dying and Presto’s on life-support

Author of the article:

Lorrie Goldstein

Publishing date:

Feb 12, 2021


Passengers wait for a TTC Scarborough RT Line 3 train at Scarborough Centre Station in Toronto, Ont. on Friday, March 8, 2019. Photo by Bryan Passifiume /Toronto Sun/Postmedia Network

Two City Hall stories covered in the Toronto Sun this week by reporter Bryan Passifiume illustrate perfectly why public transit in this city has been a train wreck for decades.

They are the official and long-predicted death of the ancient and creaking Scarborough RT (rapid transit) line in 2023, and the potential replacement of the Presto fare system post-2027.

Both sagas would be a comedy of errors if they weren’t costing taxpayers and transit users billions of dollars and thousands of hours in wasted travel time.

They demonstrate two enduring truths about public transit in Toronto.

First, our municipal and provincial politicians love to debate building public transit as opposed to building public transit.

Second, when they finally do something, they screw it up.

As a result, beleaguered Scarborough commuters post-2023 will be going back to the future — on buses — hoping for the completion of the three-stop Scarborough subway, supposedly to be ready by 2030, but don’t hold your breath.

We got here because of a decade-plus political battle at City Council and Queen’s Park about whether it would be better to build a seven-stop Scarborough LRT (light rail transit) or a one-stop, three-stop or four-stop Scarborough subway.

The predictable and inevitable result is that Scarborough residents will be getting neither an LRT nor a subway in time to replace the Scarborough RT, which opened in 1985 and should have been mothballed a decade ago.

Replete with cynical political grandstanding and opportunism on all sides of the debate and breathtaking and hilarious flip-flops in hopes of winning municipal and provincial elections, here are the various and sundry positions City Council has taken on an LRT versus a subway for Scarborough since 2007.

We got here because of a decade-plus political battle at City Council and Queen’s Park about whether it would be better to build a seven-stop Scarborough LRT (light rail transit) or a one-stop, three-stop or four-stop Scarborough subway.The predictable and inevitable result is that Scarborough residents will be getting neither an LRT nor a subway in time to replace the Scarborough RT, which opened in 1985 and should have been mothballed a decade ago.Replete with cynical political grandstanding and opportunism on all sides of the debate and breathtaking and hilarious flip-flops in hopes of winning municipal and provincial elections, here are the various and sundry positions City Council has taken on an LRT versus a subway for Scarborough since 2007.


(1) We should build the LRT. (2) No, wait, we should build the subway. (3) No wait, we should build the LRT. (4) No wait, we should build the subway.

For the provincial government it’s been (1) We want you to build the LRT. (2) No wait, we want you to build the subway.

It’s like a never-ending Mad Hatter’s tea party.

Which brings us to Presto, the regional electronic fare card that was the brainchild of the provincial government starting in 2002. This should not have been the expensive fiasco it has turned into.

Presto cards at kiosks and in use at and around the Queen St. W. area and subway station on Wednesday October 23, 2019. Photo by Jack Boland /Toronto Sun/Postmedia Network

This wasn’t new technology when it was being developed.

Honk Kong has had its Octopus card and New York the MetroCard (now the OMNY card) since 1997.

London, England has had the Oyster Card since 2003, Chicago the Chicago Card, now replaced by the Ventra Card, since 2004.

Presto, has the distinction of being criticized by three — count ’em three — auditors general, two provincial and one city, going back to 2012.

That’s when then Ontario auditor general Jim McCarter described its rapidly escalating costs — more than $1 billion at the time — as “among the most expensive fare-card systems in the world.”

Its introduction into the Toronto public transit system has been a comedy of costly errors.

That includes everything from malfunctioning vending machines and fare gates, to frozen card readers, charging customers twice for the same fare, charging students and seniors adult fares, and fares being declined because of delays between the time a commuter pre-loads the card and the time it registers in the system.

As Casey Stengel famously said of the hapless 1962 New York Mets, “Can’t anybody here play this game?”


8 Responses to “And Then There Was Six”
  1. Adam Fitch says:

    One thing that must be recognized, from my point of view in 2021, is that when Gerald Fox did his comparison in 1991, LRT meant surface trains driven by ON-BOARD drivers, while Automated Guided Transit meant trains on separated guideways, driven remotely.

    Now, LRT generally means trains on separated guideways, driven remotely. All the most recent mass transit systems developed in Canada in recent years are trains on separated guideways, driven remotely – Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, Calgary. The same in Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Seattle.

    These new systems are all called LRTs in the popular press and by the political class, so as to easily distinguish them from conventional subway trains and from regional commuter trains in the public understanding and conception.

    But it is important to understand that modern surface LRT can be operated by on-board drivers, and that such operation is not more expensive than remote-operation in the long term. Yes, unionized drivers cost significant money, but remote operation involves very expensive signaling and detection systems, and very expensive operations and maintenance costs. In the long term, just as expensive, perhaps more expensive than drivers.

    In addition, drivers avoid a lot of disruptions that remote operation cannot avoid, and so result in better operations reliability.

    It is also important to understand that once a transit agency or political body decides that an LRT must be remotely operated, it necessitates TOTAL SEPARATION OF THE GUIDEWAY AND STATIONS from all other modes of traffic, and this adds EXPONENTIALLY to construction and operational costs, complexity and traffic disruption during construction, and continued disruption to other transit services after the development of the LRT.

    And it is all so unnecessary. Perfectly viable and effective LRT can be established without such great costs and impacts, simply by using on-board drivers.

  2. Adam Fitch says:

    It is funny/tragic that Laurie Goldstein calls the Scarborough RT “ancient and creaking”, when it began operation in 1985. If it is ancient and creaking, then what of the original Toronto subway system, which began operation in the 1950s? This is the height of rhetoric.

    If the SRT is ancient and creaking, it is only so because it has not been maintained and improved over the years, as has the subway. And this is for political reasons, not because it did not work.

    Zwei replies: I believe there was a host of problems with the line, including issues in snow. The local media in Vancouver do not report any ills with the SkyTrain system unless the entire thing craps out. I do know in the recent years, reliability was a big problem.

  3. Haveacow says:

    Actually Zwei, the Scarborough RT’s track, bridges, stations and now removed turning loop were designed for LRT, The now retired CLRV and ALRV’s used in Toronto for decades was supposed to be the lines original vehicles.

    Yes, having lived in Toronto for the first 25 years of my life, including the time of the 1985 SRT opening and the1984 trial public rides between Kennedy Station and Lawrence East Station, it was always a little creaky. It was the snow performance, the ugly concrete station finishes and puny toy train sized cars, that really bugged people. The SRT cars were so tiny that, if you took off the wheels, the remaining bodies could almost fit inside a CLRV Streetcar (Canadian Light Rail Vehicle) or a ALRV Streetcar (Articulated Light Rail Vehicle) and would definitely fit inside the much wider subway cars. It left many Scarborough residents, including me, feeling quite betrayed.

  4. Haveacow says:

    The Presto System is still in use and will be, for at least the next decade. The Presto System is actually a province wide system. Nearly all of Ontario’s 48 transit systems use it. Only a handful of transit systems do not use Presto. The largest non Presto user being Grand River Transit in Waterloo, operator of the ION LRT Line.

  5. Haveacow says:

    Yes, the SRT was always expensive to maintain because it used tools and maintenance equipment that no other North American railway or LRT system used. Everything from the wheel or flange lathes to the testing equipment was non USRA compliant. This forced the TTC to have an entirely separate maintenance and training division for it. Even the new Bombardier Flexity Outlook Streetcars have common parts and systems with the Bombardier Movia Subway Trainsets and all use common railway tools and equipment. Yes, there is always some specialization between rail transit vehicle designs and modes but even the Alstom Citadis Spirt LRV’s used by some of the province’s newer LRT Lines, use or will use common maintenance equipment , operational systems and tools compared to the existing Bombardier based equipment here in Ontario.

  6. Paul says:

    The Scarborough RT was different than the other six. First, Toronto insisted on having drivers. Second, Toronto neglected it, never bought new trains, refurbish the stations and lack of maintenance. it could have been extended further east and north. The trains were designed to be automatic. The old trains are small. The newer trains bought by Vancouver are much bigger.

    Zwei Replies: The cars were ICTS cars the same as Vancouver’s MK.1 cars. yes, there was a driver, but the train operation was automatic and all the driver did was to start the trains at stations, a procedure used on most metro trains. The Mk. 2 trains could not operate on the line due to tight curvatures.

  7. Haveacow says:

    The higher cost of the RT Line was because of the switch from away the original LRT technology. The province of Ontario (which offered to pay 100 % of the capital cost if the RT/Skytrain technology was used) was forced to cut back the planned line. The line is actually 2 km shorter than originally envisioned. Some unused land parcels that were adjacent to the unbuilt main line sections, would have been the main storage and maintenance yard. With the line cut back, a new much smaller yard had to be used, This yard was barely large enough to store the 28 original cars, let alone any new ones. By the time new Mk. 2 cars came along, no one and I mean no one, the TTC and the provincial government included, wanted to extend the line, build a new yard, change the underground curve between Ellesmere and Midland stations and upgrade other equipment. The public wanted either an LRT line or a subway extension. Both subway and LRT technology carried more passengers, had much bigger, more comfortable vehicles and they were cheaper to run and maintain. Plus, the construction was easier with LRT or Subway technology..

  8. Paul says:

    Why didn’t they just extend the subway in the 1980′s instead of building this RT line? Seems like a waste of money to abandon it now. Vancouver is now using mark 3 skytrains. Mark 1 and 2 trains are being replaced.

    Zwei replies: The reason not to extend the subway was because there was nowhere near the ridership to justify a sybway.

    Please remeber the threshold to build a subway is when ridership on a transit route exceeds 15,000 pphpd. A lesson Vancouver will soon learn.

    The Line was designed for UTDC’s CLRV’s and the curvature is too tight for MK.2 cars. The last figure I saw to configure the line to use MK 2/3 stock was $600 million!

    The MK.3 cars are merely gangwayed at both ends and slightly modernized MK.2′s, only the MK.1′s are being replaced as they are near being life expited in operation.

Leave A Comment