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Review into Scarborough RT derailment raises questions about TTC maintenance, councillor says

A Toronto city councillor is raising concerns about whether the TTC engaged in enough preventative maintenance of the Scarborough Rapid Transit system before a train derailed in July 2023.

Coun. Josh Matlow, who represents Toronto-St. Paul’s, said on Thursday his concerns stem from an independent review into the causes of the July 24, 2023 derailment that sent five people to hospital with minor injuries. Broken and loose bolts caused the derailment, which prompted the TTC to close the line permanently. 

The Nov. 30, 2023 review by Systra Canada, an engineering consulting firm based in Montreal, found that the number of TTC reports of defects of one part of the Scarborough RT dropped significantly in the past two years compared to the previous four years. 

Matlow, a TTC commissioner, said the review is “startling,” raises more questions than answers, and makes him wonder if the Scarborough RT was kept safe up until the day it derailed. The review was posted to the TTC website in December, but Matlow said it should have been brought to the TTC board as an agenda item. It is slated to be discussed at the TTC’s April board meeting.

“This report is a canary in a coal mine,” Matlow told reporters at city hall. “The TTC needs to re-earn the trust of Torontonians because this report says that there wasn’t the maintenance needed to ensure the SRT would be safe and functional until its very last day.”

Matlow, who raised the issue when TTC CEO Rick Leary presented his report to a TTC board meeting on Thursday, said he is worried that the TTC may be struggling to keep up with heavy maintenance needs.

“It leads to, I think, a bigger question now, aside from the accountability on the SRT. Is our subway system being maintained as well as it should be?”

A photograph of Josh Matlow inside Toronto City Hall. He's the City Councillor representing Ward 12 Toronto—St. Paul's who has been pushing for a maximum temperature bylaw in Toronto for years.
Coun. Josh Matlow, who represents Toronto-St. Paul’s, asks: ‘Is our subway system being maintained as well as it should be?’ (Farrah Merali/CBC News)

A TTC investigation, presented to a September board meeting, found that the cause of the Scarborough RT derailment was “failed reaction rail anchor bolts.” The reaction rail anchor bolts, part of the RT’s propulsion system, hold the power rails in place.

Reporting of defects dropped in last 2 years, firm says

After the derailment, Systra Canada was asked by the TTC to investigate why there was a reduction in the number of reports about defects of the reaction rail of the Scarborough RT. Systra was also asked to review investigation reports by three external engineering firms that looked into the cause of the derailment.

In its report, Systra said early data presented to the firm shows that the reporting of defects of the reaction rail dropped over the last two years, 2022-2023, compared to the previous four years, 2018-2021. The TTC reported:

  • 125 rail defects in 2018.
  • 127 rail defects in 2019.
  • 132 rail defects in 2020.
  • 121 rail defects in 2021.
  • 14 rail defects in 2022.
  • 16 rail defects in 2023.

Systra says the reduction occurred during “data migration,” when the TTC was moving to a new system of collecting data.

The report adds: “One of the effects of the closure of the line was the reduction of the capital project investments planned on the line, which is typical during such events. However, the various stakeholders interviewed confirmed that this had no impact on corrective maintenance.

“Furthermore, with the reduction of capital project investment, this also meant that the reaction rail was no longer maintained in a preventive way, leaving only the 72 hours track patrols to detect any potential issues.”

The firm says a priority was placed on corrective maintenance of the Scarborough RT, adding it was carried out efficiently and on time. 

“However, the preventive maintenance appears to be weak or even non-existent,” the report says

Reduction in reports due to change in data collection: TTC

Transit expert Steve Munro, who found the Systra review recently on the TTC’s website, said the review raises questions about maintenance on the system.

“We have to start looking seriously at the amount and quality of maintenance on the subway,” Munro said on Thursday.

A man, smiling, looks at the camera for a photo.
TTC CEO Rick Leary told reporters on Thursday: ‘We knew that we did not reduce maintenance. That I can tell you was very true.’ (Rick Leary/LinkedIn)

Leary said the subway system is safe, and the agency is still looking into the review. He said the TTC is committed to safety, the review was not buried intentionally, and a reduction in the number of TTC reports of defects is due to a change in the way data was collected.

“We knew that we did not reduce maintenance. That I can tell you was very true,” Leary told reporters at city hall.

Leary added that the TTC has a $25 billion state of good repair backlog that it needs help from the province to address. He said the TTC will have more to report on the Scarborough RT derailment in April.

Asked about the review on Thursday, Ontario Premier Doug Ford stressed the province is spending billions building new transit in the city.

“We always want to work hand in hand helping any municipality, including Toronto, with their infrastructure.” 

Public transit system in Toronto is safe, mayor says

Mayor Olivia Chow, for her part, said the public transit system in Toronto is safe. 

“I know, as we speak, the TTC board and the CEO Rick Leary are seized with this issue. It is important to assure riders that everything is safe,” Chow said.

According to the TTC, the derailment happened when a rear car of a four-car train, travelling southbound, separated from the rest of the train and left the tracks after leaving Ellesmere station for Lawrence East station. At the time, the Scarborough RT was already 10 years past its design life. 

After the derailment, the TTC implemented bus replacement service.

Line 3 was a 6.4-kilometre rapid transit line with six stations, and opened in 1985. The TTC announced on Aug. 24, 2023 that the line would close permanently.

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