The Toronto Transit Commission was on the verge of closing and clearing out the busiest subway station in the network after a cascade of problems and delays on Tuesday morning led to intense crowding at Bloor/Yonge.
Unhappy passengers took to social media to show their ire, posting images and video of people packed cheek by jowl on a number of platforms. There were reports of passengers fainting in the crush, waits lasting upward of 30 minutes before people could board trains and limited communication from TTC staff.
"I've never seen anything quite like this," Dominic Lee, 33, who has been commuting for about two years between Islington and Queen stations and was stuck for a lengthy period at Bloor/Yonge, said in an interview. "If somebody, let's say, started pushing, I think it would [have been] very unsafe."
Mr. Lee was one of those documenting his commute on social media. In one of his images, taken at the Bloor/Yonge subway interchange, passengers were packed into the north end of the Yonge platform, the adjoining area and a stairwell leading down to the Bloor line. He said he finally gave up and started working his way toward an exit. He was nearly out of the station when a fresh train arrived.
"We were on the verge of closing the doors and beginning to clear [Bloor/Yonge] when an empty train came through, then another, negating that need," TTC spokesman Brad Ross explained in an e-mail.
In an interview, he explained that there are a series of actions the agency can take in response to crowding. Staff can shut down the escalators, which prevents people from being propelled into already-full spaces, bring trains in extra slowly or have them bypass the station. In only the most serious cases, when the agency deems the situation dangerous, will a station be closed and emptied.
"It's a call that's made by station staff; it's a call that's made by transit control," Mr. Ross said.
Measures enacted on Tuesday at St. George and Bloor/Yonge stations included deactivated escalators, walking-speed trains and announcements as they approached.
Critics pointed to Tuesday's problems as a by-product of an underfunded transit system, noting that a downtown relief line would have allowed many passengers to avoid the Bloor/Yonge chokepoint. In the shorter term, though, the TTC insists that the specific problems that hit the network were not due to funding shortfalls.
According to the TTC, Tuesday's issues included the decision to move a disabled train with brake problems from a storage area north of Finch station to the yard at Davisville, just as the morning rush was building. The train was smoking when it got to Eglinton, setting off a 16-minute delay.
Problems were compounded as a result of overnight work near Finch station being wrapped up late. Instead of bringing the vehicles used for that work back to the yard, interfering with the morning rollout of subway trains, this equipment was put onto bits of storage track just off the main line. As a result, those spaces weren't available to stash trains that could be inserted into service when overcrowding grew.
On the University side of the line, at 8:15, a southbound train had door problems at Museum station, holding it there for 10 minutes. That was followed by an emergency alarm on the same train, which delayed it another 11 minutes.
"A 21-minute delay at that hour truly kicked off this morning's problems," Mr. Ross wrote in his e-mail. "Overcrowding at St. George Station resulted, and the station was bypassed, with trains sent to Bloor-Yonge Station. It didn't take long for Bloor-Yonge Station, then, to become excessively crowded."
Bloor/Yonge and St. George are the two busiest stations in the network, raising the stakes for any decision to bypass or close them.