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Oil spill that shut Toronto subway line for almost a day not an isolated incident: TTC

The Toronto Transit Commission is launching a forensic investigation to get to the bottom of repeated hydraulic oil leaks affecting the city’s subway network.

Days after a hydraulic fluid spill caused a 12-hour shut-down of its Line 2 subway service, TTC officials revealed there have been seven similar spills since the beginning of the year, two of them happening in the days immediately following the one that caused Monday’s interruption.

Officials scrambled to address Monday’s spill on the tracks between Yonge and Broadview Stations. Trains began overshooting stops within stations, forcing the TTC to halt service between St. George and Broadview stations in the middle of the morning commute.

Crew members manually cleaned the tracks to resume service in time for the evening commute. But the second rush hour came and went with thousands of frustrated transit users crammed onto shuttle buses, or simply opting to walk.

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While Monday’s disruption is still under investigation, TTC CEO Rick Leary said about 200 litres of oil was discharged from a work car as it was being returned to a service yard.

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“This oil release was significant enough that it caused three trains to slip on the track areas and overshoot their assigned stopping points at the station platforms,” said Leary.

Following the incident, he said despite efforts to minimize the disruption, service still felt short of expectations – prompting an apology to those affected.

At Thursday’s TTC Board meeting, staff members outlined what went wrong this week, while revealing Monday’s spill was just the latest in a troubling trend that officials couldn’t explain.

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Since January 2024, there have been seven hydraulic failures involving spills, the latest happening on Wednesday night. All of the spills occurred from failed parts on maintenance vehicles, but Leary said they don’t know why it keeps happening, and wouldn’t rule out if they had been tampered with.

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“Just suppose it was the failure of a part, we want to make sure the industry know,” he said. “I don’t exclude anything though, but I need to find the cause.”

TTC officials also said that other spills were reported on both Tuesday and Wednesday this week, and Leary admitted it was lucky they, too, didn’t lead to similar delays on the transit network.

“We’re very lucky, I’d never seen that what occurred on Monday before,” he said.

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The TTC CEO said in the wake of the disruption, the transit agency was initiating a “deep dive” probe with a forensic investigator who will arrive this week.

“What troubles me is the frequency of these leaks and how they occurred,” said Leary, who added it was puzzling that a hose reinforced with steel braiding was able to leak.

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This was the second successive board meeting where the matter of leaks on tracks was brought up after ATU 113 union members raised safety concerns of subway operators last month.

Several TTC board members indicated they were troubled to be learning about the leaks in the wake service disruptions and from union members, and not directly from TTC staff.

“Why did it take such a horrible incident … for this report to come to the board today?” asked Ward 12 Coun. Josh Matlow.

Ward 11 Coun. Dianne Saxe pushed back against any assertion there was a link between transit funding to how the TTC responds and prevents leaks.

“This is not to me a question of lack of money from the federal government, this is a question of improper operations and proper precautions being taken,” she said.

Leary couldn’t say how long the investigation would take, but committed to monthly updates to the board.

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