Every emergency call on Toronto’s transit system goes through this room.
Every time a passenger hits the alarm in the subway; every time a collector has a fare dispute; every time an operator is assaulted; every time a collector leaves his booth to go to the washroom, Transit Control knows about it.
This is the TTC’s safety valve on a system that carries 1.5 million people a day. It is considered so vital to city security that Torstar News Service was allowed a rare look inside on the condition its location was kept secret.
Kept deliberately dim, the sloping room’s main light source is the glow from the giant interactive maps that are projected on screens forming a semi-circle around four long banks of computer monitors.
“This is the action centre,” says tower controller John Nestor, one of three veteran operators assigned to monitor the lines in a shift.
Here, 76 veteran TTC employees — 15 per shift — work 24/7 tracking the trains. Sometimes, they must make the agonizing decision to hit the brakes and bring the entire city to a screeching stop.
That happens when public safety is threatened, such as after the January shooting at Osgoode station. While riders on the stopped train, an average of 1,200 people, wait, Transit Control supervisors try to keep other trains moving to the next station instead of halting them in tunnels and bringing Toronto, the city on the move, to a standstill.