TTC’s One-Person-Train-Operation (OPTO) scheme to eliminate Subway Guards “a disaster waiting to happen” and should be scrapped, ATU Local 113 says

TORONTO, ONTARIO – An independent external report on the June 12, 2020 near-crash of two subway trains just south of Osgoode Station (Queen and University) found that the Toronto Transit Commission’s Transit Control department bears substantial responsibility for the incident, which TTC had repeatedly blamed on “human error,” publicly inferring, incorrectly, that the two-person crew operating one of the trains had been at fault. The exhaustive report had been commissioned by the TTC from the Emeryville, California-based consulting firm Transit Systems Engineering was dated February 3, 2021. It was first seen by the TTC Board at yesterday’s regular meeting, more than four months later.

Just after midnight on June 12, 2020, a southbound subway train (Run 123) on the Yonge-University-Spadina line (Line 1), was directed by TTC Transit Control to offload all passengers at Osgoode Station, proceed into the “Osgoode Pocket” and merge onto the northbound track. The Osgoode Pocket is a seldom-used siding track where southbound trains can enter, park, and change directions to become northbound. The TTC has an audio recording of this direction from Transit Control.

After the southbound train entered the pocket, briefly parked and began to exit in order to merge onto the northbound track, another train, (Run 142)  with passengers, was coming north from St. Andrew Station (King & University) at near-maximum running speed. It was spotted by the Subway Guard in the back of the pocket train. Fortunately, he was talking to the Operator on the internal train phone when he saw the oncoming train. He urgently alerted the Operator, who immediately hit the Emergency Brake.

According to an internal TTC report delivered to the transit agency’s top management in July 2020, the pocket train stopped approximately five feet before it would have crashed into the fast-approaching northbound train. The TTC’s computerized Automatic Train Control (ATC) system did not, as it was designed to do, detect the pocket train and sped past it on its way to Osgoode Station. A split-second later, had the pocket train not stopped, a “T-bone” crash would have occurred. It is not known how many passengers in that northbound train would have been affected. The Operator of the pocket train would not likely have survived. But for the Guard, the collision would have been unavoidable.

TTC management did not report the incident to the Ministry of Labour as there were no fatalities or critical injuries. Nor was it reported to the TTC Board until it became known through a recent front-page story in the Toronto Star.

The TTC issued a statement that the incident was the result of “human error” and disciplined the Operator and the Guard with suspension, without pay. The union filed a grievance on their behalf.

According to the TSE report: “Based on the interviews conducted, it is reasonable to conclude that central control instruction given to the Run 123 operators to move into and out of the Osgoode pocket track (turnback move) was not sufficiently clear or adequate for this situation.”

“We cannot understand why the TTC is penalizing these workers, who saved an unknown number of lives,” says Carlos Santos, President of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 113, which represents nearly 12,000 TTC Operations and Maintenance employees. “They were heroes, doing their jobs. We have reason to believe their discipline was part of an attempted cover-up of what would have been a human catastrophe. TTC management knew that the “human error” would be widely attributed to them because they were disciplined.”

The TTC has adopted a One-Person-Train-Operation (OPTO) plan to eliminate the Subway Guard, a position in place since the Toronto subway first opened in 1954. The Guards have many passenger-safety-related duties but they are seldom seen by passengers because they are located at or near the rear of the trains. Their main visibility is when they check the platforms at each station to ensure that all passengers and their effects (clothing, straps, packages, strollers, etc) have completely and safely entered or exited the train before closing the doors. The Operator (Driver) in the front car checks the track ahead and proceeds to the next station.

TTC management has said that eliminating the Guards would save the system $18 million a year. The savings would be used to finance the hiring of “Station Managers” to replace the Guards, whose current safety duties would be imposed on the Operator. The OPTO plan is the subject of a nearly five-year arbitration case initiated by the union.

“It is a TTC fantasy that the safety-related duties of the Guards, who are actually on the trains, can be replaced by another layer of management that roams from station to station looking for customers with questions,” said Santos. “Plus they are paid more. This OPTO plan will be a net loss to the TTC, meaning its customers and the taxpayers who help subsidize the system.”

The TSE report contains several more challenges to the TTC’s ATC system but the more immediate problem is the OPTO plan, the union says.

“One Person Train Operation is a disaster waiting to happen,” Santos said. “At a time when the TTC is making significant and complicated changes to subway system operation through ATC, certainly now is not the time, if ever, to remove our Guards. In fact, the hazards of additional complexity are noted in the TSE report.

From TSE report’s Conclusions: “Rapidly changing operation to support the ATC project implementation, along with putting the new signal system into operation, may be putting difficult burdens and challenges on the TTC operating staff. Conducting service delivery tasks under such additional burdens and challenges could result in hazards to normal operation.”

“Our Subway Guards are first responders to onboard medical emergencies, they deter passenger harassment, look out for separated children and potentially suicidal passengers on the platform, come to the aid of unexpectedly-disabled Operators and more. And tell me how a Station Manager would handle a passenger evacuation due to a tunnel fire, smoke or power outage. Once the train leaves the station, they are essentially useless. The Guards are right there, on the train. Eliminating their safety function would be an historic mistake, as the Osgoode near-catastrophe amply shows.”

“It is not too late to stop the OPTO scheme,” said Santos.“ We are asking the TTC Board to stop it, or at least delay it until a meaningful public consultation is conducted on its advisability.”

Earlier this year, ATU Local 113 launched a public campaign to keep the Subway Guards. A February poll conducted by Corbett Communications reported that 71 per cent of Torontonians opposed the OPTO plan, 60 per cent said they would not feel safe on a train with no Guard and 84 per cent said that a public consultation on the issue was important. This poll and more information on the hazards of guardless trains is on the campaign website:

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