Mission control, but for transit: a look at the TTC's Transit Control Unit

News Jul 09, 2017 by Rahul Gupta Bloor West Villager

In a room the size of a small auditorium located on the TTC’s Hillcrest campus, a small group of transit workers is tasked with the not-so-simple task of co-ordinating operation throughout the network.

This is the TTC’s Transit Control Unit, staffed 24/7 by personnel monitoring the performance of subway trains as well as streetcars. It’s mission control for transit operations, where the group tracks subway movements, dispatches assistance, assigns maintenance orders, and confers with vehicle operators. 

In short, it’s never boring.

“If this was a dull job, we would have attracted a totally different kind of employee, but when they come here and work through a really big delay, for example, it’s organized chaos,” said Jim Ross, the TTC’s deputy chief operating officer. “But, once you get hooked, you never want to leave. It’s stressful but something different every day.”

Ross took Metroland Media Toronto on a tour of the control centre recently, whose exact location cannot be disclosed due to security reasons — “If you wanted to stop the TTC, here is where you would do it,” suggested Ross.

The room opened for use back in 2004, but in the last five years has undergone a major transformation, including the installation of floor-to-ceiling video screens detailing every crucial bit of information needed to operate the subway and streetcar network, track performance, and push out service notifications to riders. 

One of the newer systems, known as Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA), allows the team to track and control everything from power for trains and streetcars to the heaters required in the wintertime for thawing iced-over track switches.  

Underneath that, a “big board” determines the performance of train headways and schedules, which gets compiled and added to a monthly performance scorecard.

Beside the SCADA display, a bank of view screens captures CCTV footage from various subway platform and, at this moment, terminal stations and spots where an inordinate amount of emergency alarms are activated. Eglinton Station notably tops the list in the latter regard, for reasons of which the TTC isn’t completely sure. 

Finally, there’s a light-up track diagram of the entire subway map, determining where trains are and how far ahead or behind they are on schedule. 

At this time, at least, a couple of hours before the start of rush hour on a weekday afternoon and with about 15 people on shift, the numbers are looking pretty good. Line 1 trains adhere to acceptable 20-60 second headways, and there's only a slight issue on Line 4 Sheppard due to “crew change” issues.

The technological improvements represent a quantum leap from the control centre of 15 years ago, when operations still took place on ancient arrays containing countless track switches and levers, some of which had to be jury-rigged in creative ways when they stopped working. 

In those days, it wasn’t rare for a single tower controller — essentially an air traffic controller but for public transit — to operate one single panel.

“We were running around like chickens with their heads cut off,” said Ross, who worked as tower controller in the room for several years starting in 2003.  

When trains go out of service, maintenance is co-ordinated for tasks like track grinding or transporting materials. Approximately 3,400 work orders are put in every week, according to the TTC.

But, as is increasingly the case with aged and declining TTC infrastructure, repairs might also need to be arranged during service, which falls on experienced railcar foremen who confer with crews via radio and remotely monitor the train’s vital functions to offer assistance. When a delay takes place, whether big or small, the foremen act as the first line of defence.

Throughout the years, the team has dealt with almost every situation imaginable. Just the day before, a rider dropped a pencil on the train which somehow got caught on a door track, preventing it from closing and grinding service to a halt. With a controller’s assistance, the train guard was able to quickly locate the pencil and get the train moving again. Then, there are bigger situations such as station flooding, when all hands are required on deck. 

In the case of emergencies, the whole room springs into action, with everyone tasked to pitch in. This is made easier because control centre personnel are cross-trained and can jump in at a moment’s notice. 

This year, the TTC is poised to launch the first phase of its long-awaited Automatic Train Control system, which will allow for computer-assisted train operation, although one human operator will remain on board at all times.

ATC promises to make subway operations more consistent, but Ross admits he’s not yet certain how it will ultimately affect the control centre’s operations following the planned launch first between Wilson and St. George, followed by the entire Yonge line and eventually all of the TTC subway network.

ATC will have built-in redundancies, lessening the need for manual repairs, but it could also be that more employees might be needed at first just for operating the system. This also comes at a time when more TTC personnel are moving into the control centre, which is expanding to an additional floor. 

The plan is to further centralize operations by having dispatchers available for co-ordinating buses, in addition to streetcars and the subway. Ross estimates the migration will take another 18 months, but promises the benefits will be immediate.  

“Now, we’re getting more bang for our buck, because once you put people in the same room the synergies start to happen and it’s really more effective,” he said.

 

Mission control, but for transit: a look at the TTC's Transit Control Unit

One control room manages operations of all streetcars and subway trains, affecting thousands of transit riders per day

News Jul 09, 2017 by Rahul Gupta Bloor West Villager

In a room the size of a small auditorium located on the TTC’s Hillcrest campus, a small group of transit workers is tasked with the not-so-simple task of co-ordinating operation throughout the network.

This is the TTC’s Transit Control Unit, staffed 24/7 by personnel monitoring the performance of subway trains as well as streetcars. It’s mission control for transit operations, where the group tracks subway movements, dispatches assistance, assigns maintenance orders, and confers with vehicle operators. 

In short, it’s never boring.

“If this was a dull job, we would have attracted a totally different kind of employee, but when they come here and work through a really big delay, for example, it’s organized chaos,” said Jim Ross, the TTC’s deputy chief operating officer. “But, once you get hooked, you never want to leave. It’s stressful but something different every day.”

"It’s organized chaos, but once you get hooked, you never want to leave. It’s stressful but something different — ” Jim Ross, Head of TTC Subway Transportation Department

Ross took Metroland Media Toronto on a tour of the control centre recently, whose exact location cannot be disclosed due to security reasons — “If you wanted to stop the TTC, here is where you would do it,” suggested Ross.

The room opened for use back in 2004, but in the last five years has undergone a major transformation, including the installation of floor-to-ceiling video screens detailing every crucial bit of information needed to operate the subway and streetcar network, track performance, and push out service notifications to riders. 

One of the newer systems, known as Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA), allows the team to track and control everything from power for trains and streetcars to the heaters required in the wintertime for thawing iced-over track switches.  

Underneath that, a “big board” determines the performance of train headways and schedules, which gets compiled and added to a monthly performance scorecard.

Beside the SCADA display, a bank of view screens captures CCTV footage from various subway platform and, at this moment, terminal stations and spots where an inordinate amount of emergency alarms are activated. Eglinton Station notably tops the list in the latter regard, for reasons of which the TTC isn’t completely sure. 

Finally, there’s a light-up track diagram of the entire subway map, determining where trains are and how far ahead or behind they are on schedule. 

At this time, at least, a couple of hours before the start of rush hour on a weekday afternoon and with about 15 people on shift, the numbers are looking pretty good. Line 1 trains adhere to acceptable 20-60 second headways, and there's only a slight issue on Line 4 Sheppard due to “crew change” issues.

The technological improvements represent a quantum leap from the control centre of 15 years ago, when operations still took place on ancient arrays containing countless track switches and levers, some of which had to be jury-rigged in creative ways when they stopped working. 

In those days, it wasn’t rare for a single tower controller — essentially an air traffic controller but for public transit — to operate one single panel.

“We were running around like chickens with their heads cut off,” said Ross, who worked as tower controller in the room for several years starting in 2003.  

When trains go out of service, maintenance is co-ordinated for tasks like track grinding or transporting materials. Approximately 3,400 work orders are put in every week, according to the TTC.

But, as is increasingly the case with aged and declining TTC infrastructure, repairs might also need to be arranged during service, which falls on experienced railcar foremen who confer with crews via radio and remotely monitor the train’s vital functions to offer assistance. When a delay takes place, whether big or small, the foremen act as the first line of defence.

Throughout the years, the team has dealt with almost every situation imaginable. Just the day before, a rider dropped a pencil on the train which somehow got caught on a door track, preventing it from closing and grinding service to a halt. With a controller’s assistance, the train guard was able to quickly locate the pencil and get the train moving again. Then, there are bigger situations such as station flooding, when all hands are required on deck. 

In the case of emergencies, the whole room springs into action, with everyone tasked to pitch in. This is made easier because control centre personnel are cross-trained and can jump in at a moment’s notice. 

This year, the TTC is poised to launch the first phase of its long-awaited Automatic Train Control system, which will allow for computer-assisted train operation, although one human operator will remain on board at all times.

ATC promises to make subway operations more consistent, but Ross admits he’s not yet certain how it will ultimately affect the control centre’s operations following the planned launch first between Wilson and St. George, followed by the entire Yonge line and eventually all of the TTC subway network.

ATC will have built-in redundancies, lessening the need for manual repairs, but it could also be that more employees might be needed at first just for operating the system. This also comes at a time when more TTC personnel are moving into the control centre, which is expanding to an additional floor. 

The plan is to further centralize operations by having dispatchers available for co-ordinating buses, in addition to streetcars and the subway. Ross estimates the migration will take another 18 months, but promises the benefits will be immediate.  

“Now, we’re getting more bang for our buck, because once you put people in the same room the synergies start to happen and it’s really more effective,” he said.

 

Mission control, but for transit: a look at the TTC's Transit Control Unit

One control room manages operations of all streetcars and subway trains, affecting thousands of transit riders per day

News Jul 09, 2017 by Rahul Gupta Bloor West Villager

In a room the size of a small auditorium located on the TTC’s Hillcrest campus, a small group of transit workers is tasked with the not-so-simple task of co-ordinating operation throughout the network.

This is the TTC’s Transit Control Unit, staffed 24/7 by personnel monitoring the performance of subway trains as well as streetcars. It’s mission control for transit operations, where the group tracks subway movements, dispatches assistance, assigns maintenance orders, and confers with vehicle operators. 

In short, it’s never boring.

“If this was a dull job, we would have attracted a totally different kind of employee, but when they come here and work through a really big delay, for example, it’s organized chaos,” said Jim Ross, the TTC’s deputy chief operating officer. “But, once you get hooked, you never want to leave. It’s stressful but something different every day.”

"It’s organized chaos, but once you get hooked, you never want to leave. It’s stressful but something different — ” Jim Ross, Head of TTC Subway Transportation Department

Ross took Metroland Media Toronto on a tour of the control centre recently, whose exact location cannot be disclosed due to security reasons — “If you wanted to stop the TTC, here is where you would do it,” suggested Ross.

The room opened for use back in 2004, but in the last five years has undergone a major transformation, including the installation of floor-to-ceiling video screens detailing every crucial bit of information needed to operate the subway and streetcar network, track performance, and push out service notifications to riders. 

One of the newer systems, known as Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA), allows the team to track and control everything from power for trains and streetcars to the heaters required in the wintertime for thawing iced-over track switches.  

Underneath that, a “big board” determines the performance of train headways and schedules, which gets compiled and added to a monthly performance scorecard.

Beside the SCADA display, a bank of view screens captures CCTV footage from various subway platform and, at this moment, terminal stations and spots where an inordinate amount of emergency alarms are activated. Eglinton Station notably tops the list in the latter regard, for reasons of which the TTC isn’t completely sure. 

Finally, there’s a light-up track diagram of the entire subway map, determining where trains are and how far ahead or behind they are on schedule. 

At this time, at least, a couple of hours before the start of rush hour on a weekday afternoon and with about 15 people on shift, the numbers are looking pretty good. Line 1 trains adhere to acceptable 20-60 second headways, and there's only a slight issue on Line 4 Sheppard due to “crew change” issues.

The technological improvements represent a quantum leap from the control centre of 15 years ago, when operations still took place on ancient arrays containing countless track switches and levers, some of which had to be jury-rigged in creative ways when they stopped working. 

In those days, it wasn’t rare for a single tower controller — essentially an air traffic controller but for public transit — to operate one single panel.

“We were running around like chickens with their heads cut off,” said Ross, who worked as tower controller in the room for several years starting in 2003.  

When trains go out of service, maintenance is co-ordinated for tasks like track grinding or transporting materials. Approximately 3,400 work orders are put in every week, according to the TTC.

But, as is increasingly the case with aged and declining TTC infrastructure, repairs might also need to be arranged during service, which falls on experienced railcar foremen who confer with crews via radio and remotely monitor the train’s vital functions to offer assistance. When a delay takes place, whether big or small, the foremen act as the first line of defence.

Throughout the years, the team has dealt with almost every situation imaginable. Just the day before, a rider dropped a pencil on the train which somehow got caught on a door track, preventing it from closing and grinding service to a halt. With a controller’s assistance, the train guard was able to quickly locate the pencil and get the train moving again. Then, there are bigger situations such as station flooding, when all hands are required on deck. 

In the case of emergencies, the whole room springs into action, with everyone tasked to pitch in. This is made easier because control centre personnel are cross-trained and can jump in at a moment’s notice. 

This year, the TTC is poised to launch the first phase of its long-awaited Automatic Train Control system, which will allow for computer-assisted train operation, although one human operator will remain on board at all times.

ATC promises to make subway operations more consistent, but Ross admits he’s not yet certain how it will ultimately affect the control centre’s operations following the planned launch first between Wilson and St. George, followed by the entire Yonge line and eventually all of the TTC subway network.

ATC will have built-in redundancies, lessening the need for manual repairs, but it could also be that more employees might be needed at first just for operating the system. This also comes at a time when more TTC personnel are moving into the control centre, which is expanding to an additional floor. 

The plan is to further centralize operations by having dispatchers available for co-ordinating buses, in addition to streetcars and the subway. Ross estimates the migration will take another 18 months, but promises the benefits will be immediate.  

“Now, we’re getting more bang for our buck, because once you put people in the same room the synergies start to happen and it’s really more effective,” he said.