Video shows TTC trains one metre away from 'catastrophic head-on collision'

Two TTC trains came within one metre of a possibly disastrous crash last summer, in an incident the union that represents TTC employees says raises questions about the safety of a plan to eliminate the guard position on each train at the TTC.

The moment, which was caught on video obtained by CTV News Toronto that was taken from the front of one train as it travelled through Osgoode Station last June, shows a train leaving a pocket between tracks and then suddenly slamming on the brakes to avoid colliding with another northbound train.

“The guard at the back of the vehicle saw the other train coming. The driver of the vehicle wouldn’t have seen it coming,” said Carlos Santos, the president of the ATU Local 113. “If there was not a guard on that vehicle we would have had a catastrophic head-on collision.”

Toronto Councillor Shelley Carroll said she was surprised the video had come out via the media, and not via the disclosures that the TTC CEO regularly makes to the TTC board.

“When you have an incident that is serious enough that you’re doing an immediate internal review, and you are doing a third party review, those are good things to do, but they’re also a flag that it’s time to tell your board,” she said.

The incident was first reported by the Toronto Star.

The TTC confirmed that just after midnight on June 12, 2020, train 123 had offloaded its passengers and was entering a pocket between two tracks.

At 12:08 a.m. the train was moving forward, but the driver was unaware that another train was heading north on the main track. The guard at the back of the train saw the danger, and alerted the driver, who slammed on the emergency brake.

TTC spokesperson Stuart Green said the driver missed a red signal that told him to stop.

“We have found this is simply a case of human error. There was a red signal and that’s not supposed to be passed,” said Green. He said incidents like this are extremely rare.

The TTC is installing a $700 million automatic train control (ATC) system that is supposed to keep the trains apart. But that wouldn’t have worked in this case, as the train in the pocket was in manual mode and invisible to the computer.

“This happened at a time when we were in transition. The ATC is now in place on those crossovers so an incident like that can’t happen again,” Green said.

The transit agency has suspended the operator and guard. The union has grieved those suspensions, and says there’s a larger lesson against a TTC plan to eliminate the guard position on that track.

“Even if it as human error, which is wasn’t, doesn’t that prove how important it is to have a guard?” Santos said.

Councillor Carroll said she believes the ATC is an investment that will allow more trains to serve more commuters in a way that avoids most human error.

But she said there’s no reason that both the guards and the ATC can’t operate at the same time.

“If we have ATC do we want to get down to one-person trains? If it turns out there are still places for human error, and places where having that second person on the train can safeguard against, then we really have to look at that,” she said.

“At the end of the day there are plenty of savings and plenty of increased volume just by using that automatic train control. We can get up to 30 per cent more riders because with this signalling system we can have longer trains, trains running closer together. But if we need this extra layer of safety that’s an investment worth making,” she said.