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TTC's feeling a little 'fragile'

No promises that Yonge line will be clear

By Joseph Hall
Toronto Star Transportation Reporter

The Toronto Transit Commission was promising to throw everything it had at the storm that was walloping the city through most of yesterday and last night.

But whether the system had enough clout to drive back the snow and keep key subway segments open would not be known until this morning, TTC officials say.

“If the storm persists through the night then we could be down in the morning in several important sections,” Lynn Hilborn, head of corporate affairs for the system, said yesterday.

“We’re in a fragile state right now and we’ll have to see how successful we’ll be at bulling our way through the drifts.”

Hilborn said the system was able to keep its key Yonge St. line opened for both morning and evening rush hours yesterday.

But he could not promise that a crucial section of that line between Bloor and Eglinton - much of which is outside - would survive the night.

“We’re hoping to keep it open but we’re not making any promises,” Hilborn said.

“It’s all a matter of how much gets dumped and how bad the winds are.”

Hilborn said the system would be attempting to run empty trains up and down the exposed section of the Yonge line at rush hour frequency - 3 1/2-minute to four-minute intervals - throughout the night in an attempt to keep the segment clear.

The line carries some 500,000 passengers a day and is the spine of the TTC subway and surface network.

“It’s by far our most important line and it’s the one we have to concentrate on,” TTC chief general manager David Gunn said.

He said staff would also try to keep up the same rush hour frequency along the exposed western end of the Bloor-Danforth line to keep it opened to Kipling station for the morning start up.

Hilborn said the system’s usual practice is to run overnight snow trains - ordinary trains empty of passengers - at far less frequent intervals during most snow storms.

But accumulations over the past 13 days, plus yesterday’s deluge, have pushed the system to the breaking point by smothering outside segments of the electrified third rail that powers the subway.

The snow and ice that build up on the rail, which carries a 600-volt charge, prevents the “paddles” that jut from the side of subway cars from making their electrical connection.

“If they can’t make that connection, they can’t run, it’s as simple as that,” Gunn said.

The commission was also using diesel-powered locomotives in between its passenger trains to help clear the track, TTC spokesperson Marilyn Bolton said.

Equipped with compressed air equipment, these trains would be used to blow off snow from the third rail should it build up enough to halt the electrically powered passenger vehicles.

“We’d quickly start using that equipment to help get the regular trains moving as fast as we could,” Bolton said.

The commission also had some 250 of its construction staff working through the day and night to try and keep the third rail clear.

But TTC riders will simply have to listen to their radios in the morning to see what is running, Hilborn said.

“We just can’t say today.”

Gunn, however, said large segments of the subway network that have been closed since Wednesday morning would remain down to start the day.

These include sections of the Spadina line between St. Clair West and Downsview stations and the Bloor-Danforth subway and Scarborough Rapid Transit line between McCowan and Woodbine stations.

“I can guarantee that they won’t be opened (this morning)” Gunn said.

“We almost had the Spadina line opened to Wilson station (yesterday morning) but then this storm hit and we had to pull our people back to the sections that were already working.”

Shuttle buses will be poised to carry passengers between these stations, but transit officials admit they are a poor and inadequate substitute for the subway.

Gunn said the system’s biggest worry now is their subway yards, where snow is piling up.

“If we don’t get a few good days, we’re in real trouble,” he said.

“We can’t move in those yards now and we have to get our trains in there for servicing.”