Transit control: Where the TTC makes day-to-day decisions affecting your commute

If you've ever wondered what happens behind the scenes when someone pulls the emergency alarm on a TTC vehicle, or when some other transit delay makes you late for work, look no further. CBC News was invited to visit Transit Control, the nerve centre of the TTC's day-to-day operations.

CBC News gives you a behind-the-scenes look at the TTC nerve centre

TTC Transit Control is where staff monitors every train, streetcar and bus on the road in the city. Crews are dispatched from this room to prevent delays on the system. (Michelle Cheung/CBC)

If you've ever wondered what happens behind the scenes when someone pulls the emergency alarm on a TTC vehicle, or when some other transit delay makes you late for work, look no further.

CBC News was invited to visit Transit Control, the nerve centre of the TTC's day-to-day operations.

"On the two major [subway] lines every morning, we try to put a train through every two minutes and 21 seconds… in the afternoon and evening rush, we operate a train every 2 minutes and 31 seconds," said Mike Palmer, the TTC's Deputy Chief Operating Officer.

So any problems will put the TTC off schedule.

The Transit Control Centre is in an undisclosed location. It operates 24 hours a day and oversees the day-to-day operations of the TTC. (Michelle Cheung/CBC)

Issues on the transit system — medical emergencies, mechanical problems, criminal activity, even complaints and praise of TTC drivers — all come through Transit Control, which operates 24 hours a day.

"All the time, they're looking for the next thing to go wrong, and to fix it, and when they fix it, they're waiting for the next thing to go wrong," says Palmer.

Many things can go wrong:

Power outage in the subway or streetcars

When senior managers were alerted early Tuesday morning about a fire in a cable chamber that knocked out power to most of the subway and streetcar lines in the downtown core, a high-level team held conference calls every half hour.

That team decided where to redirect replacement buses to get passengers to their destinations when the subway was supposed to open at 6 am.

"We don't have any spare buses so we have to pull buses off existing routes. At the height of yesterday morning, we had 133 buses running," said Palmer.

"Because of the magnitude of the incident, we stopped bus maintenance. So buses that were being kept back for maintenance that day, if they were serviceable, they were put back on the road with spare crews."

The TTC keeps daily records of how its service was that day. On Tuesday, the TTC didn't keep the trains running on time because a cable-chamber fire shut down subway and streetcar service for much of the downtown during the morning rush. (Michelle Cheung/CBC)

In situations like Tuesday's massive subway and streetcar shutdown, Palmer says the TTC has an agreement with GO Transit to allow passengers to use their TTC fare to take GO instead.

Bad weather

When there's an impending snowstorm heading toward the city, Palmer said the TTC takes certain steps overnight to ensure people get to work on time:

"We store trains in tunnels to keep them warm. We have extra crews on all night clearing switches and train stops. We ran the trains through the night, spraying anti-icing fluid."

He said staff at Transit Control keep a close eye on any train delays during operating hours, field calls and send out crews to keep the switches clear and trains free of ice.

If a train isn't moving, Transit Control will call the driver to find out why there's a delay, Palmer said.

Each subway station is illustrated on the screen that Transit Control monitors. A red line represents a train with a given number. (Mark Bochsler/CBC)

Medical emergency

During rush hour, Palmer says paramedics are stationed at key stations. He says there can be as many as eight medical emergencies in a morning:

"Generally people overheating so they wrap up warm to come inside. They get on the train and overheat or they don't have breakfast. So we have to get them off the train, give them medical assistance and try and get the trains moving again," Palmer said.

Fender Benders

If there`s been an accident, a driver is expected to call Transit Control, he said. Someone at central command will call police, fire and paramedics.

It will also dispatch supervisors to divert buses or streetcars around that accident scene and take pictures for the investigation.

Keeping the public informed

Transit Control has a 24 hour social media desk. That person sends out alerts and updates to passengers on Twitter, Facebook and can take over the TV screens on the subway platforms to inform riders about changes or delays.

Transit Control's social media desk monitors twitter and other social media for complaints about service. (Michelle Cheung/CBC)

"She's listening to everyone's conversation in the room and without being told, she will be processing information and putting it out in a way people will understand," said Palmer.


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversationCreate account

Already have an account?