Skip to main content

The public finally got to ride the new TTC subway cars , seen here arriving at the Rosedale station's southbound platforms, made by Bombardier on July 21 2011.Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

Door problems with Toronto's new subway trains are causing delays that are gumming up the system, an unexpected headache plaguing deployment of the latest rolling stock.

The first of the so-called Toronto Rockets, a six-car train, was unveiled with great fanfare two years ago. But after the gleaming new trains started to go into service in the summer of 2011, passengers began to suffer what the TTC acknowledges are "unacceptable" delays.

At issue, TTC spokesman Brad Ross said Tuesday, is part of a safety system that doesn't allow the trains to move unless all the doors are closed. And if the doors fail to close three times in a row – for example because someone is blocking the gap – "the train has to be taken out of service." In these cases, all passengers must be offloaded and wait for the next train.

It was not immediately clear how often the new trains have had to be unloaded. Mr. Ross said it was "not nearly as frequent" as a smaller but still significant related problem. If a train's door doesn't close until the second or third attempt, although not triggering a disembarkation, these few additional seconds can add up and have a knock-on effect that cascades through the system.

Mr. Ross suggested that this is not the kind of problem that becomes evident before the train is in service. "You wouldn't see something like this in testing ... because you're not testing them with full loads," he said.

A representative from Bombardier, the train's manufacturer, said that problems will inevitably emerge and be fixed once trains are in use.

"There comes a point in time when you are in real life, with different loads, [and] you come up with issues along the way," said Marc Laforge, spokesman for Bombardier Transportation. "I'm not saying this is the problem, but we know that ... the TTC requested very sensitive doors. If this is the cause it's a question of software. It's not insurmountable."

The TTC is scheduled to receive 70 of these trains by 2014.

TTC CEO Andy Byford will meet Raymond Bachant, North American president for Bombardier Transportation, to discuss the door problem and other concerns. Both the company and the manufacturer characterized the Friday meeting as a routine chance to address a number of issues.

Although the frequency of both types of door problem was unavailable Tuesday, delays with the new train are at the heart of scheduling issues cited in a recent report to the Toronto Transit Commission. Punctuality targets on the route on which the new trains have been deployed were met 92.7 per cent of the time in September, below the goal of 96 per cent.

"Subway punctuality is generally ahead of target, with the exception of the Yonge-University-Spadina line," Mr. Byford wrote in a commentary included in his report to the Commission. "This line continues to be affected by issues relating to Toronto Rocket (TR) integration. A high level CEO to CEO meeting is being arranged to allow the TTC to impress upon Bombardier the need for substantial improvement in the performance of the TR units as current performance is unacceptable."