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'Touchy' time on transit system

False alarm leads to 90-minute subway delay

Lessons being learned on how to react, TTC admits


It was initially simply called an “unattended package,” but a small black suitcase triggered an alert that caused the TTC to shut down a portion of the Yonge subway line for about 90 minutes yesterday morning.

The interruption for 15,000 commuters and ensuing visit from the bomb squad — which ultimately found books, personal belongings and identification — is part of the learning curve as society adapts to a time of elevated fear and transit terror, experts say.

“Everybody’s touchy about these things,” said Todd Litman, executive director of the Victoria Transport Policy Institute, an independent research organization. “Anybody who’s managing a system like this has to feel like they’re doing the cautious thing.

“It’s easy after the fact to laugh at an overreaction,” Litman said. “We all need to be very tolerant and not ridicule these decisions because they were well intended, but to learn from them … so that we don’t cause more trouble to ourselves by overreacting rather than under- reacting.”

With two terror strikes on London’s transit system last month, as well as one on Madrid’s last year, transit officials are understandably cautious and extra vigilant.

But a pair of false alarms in Toronto — and an upcoming dress rehearsal for the real thing — has TTC chairman Howard Moscoe promising reaction times will improve.

“We’re all super cautious because of the events that occurred, but as we develop a protocol for dealing with these things, this situation will change,” said Moscoe. “The 90 minutes of delay was excessive. We’re going to have to work with the police to get things speeded up.”

Police spokeswoman Const. Isabelle Cotton defended the amount of time it took the bomb squad to give the all-clear.

“Obviously we want to do it as fast as we can. It was rush hour,” said Cotton. “But you never know (how long it’s going to take) when you investigate.

“The most important thing is the safety of the public.”

The suitcase was spotted by TTC workers around 8:30 a.m., lying on an embankment next to the tracks at the foot of the Roxborough St. overpass. Police were called at 9:01 and the subway was shut down around 9:30. By 9:38, the bomb squad had arrived. Subway service resumed at 11.

About 15,000 people had to walk or take buses between Bloor St. and Eglinton Ave. while the subway was shut down. Sgt. Pat Nassis said she didn’t know how the suitcase got there and couldn’t confirm reports it had been tossed from the Roxborough bridge.

Nassis said identification had been found, but she wouldn’t reveal the name, saying only that attempts will be made to return the suitcase to its owner. The bag has been taken to 53 Division.

TTC maintenance staff Pat Pennacchio and Alex Amm were cleaning lights on the walkway at the south end of Rosedale station about 9 a.m. when they heard an announcement over the subway’s public address system reporting that there was a power outage between Eglinton Ave., and Yonge and Bloor Sts.

“At first we thought it was a signal switch, but as soon as we heard shuttle buses were operating we knew it must be more than that,” Amm said.

Steve Beckley was on his way to work at Davisville and was travelling westbound to Yonge and Bloor about 9:40 a.m. when he heard the announcement that the subway was going out of service and that passengers would have to leave the trains.

“When I got off at Yonge and Bloor it was a mess,” he said yesterday.

“There were a lot of people extremely upset and nobody had any idea what was going on.”

When he saw police racing along Yonge St., to the Rosedale station, Beckley said he believed someone had jumped onto the tracks. “The TTC didn’t indicate there was a problem or a suspicious package near the tracks,” he continued. “If they had, there may have been widespread panic.”

Despite recent terrorist attacks in London, Beckley said he wasn’t concerned for his safety on the TTC.