Where Are Streetcars Going in Toronto?

On April 10, Kevin McGrann wrote an article “TTC Shops for Streetcars” in The Star.  Here are a few additional thoughts on the topic.  First the policy stuff, then the technical bits.

Fleet Size, Network and Service Planning:

Current TTC plans only provide for replacement of the CLRV fleet on a 2:3 basis (two new cars for every three CLRVs).  This, in effect, is a capacity-for-capacity replacement and will do nothing to address fleet requirements from:

  • the backlog of Ridership Growth initiatives
  • normal growth in demand
  • network extensions (Harbourfront East and St. Clair)
  • service enhancements associated with LRT upgrades (St. Clair)
  • restructuring of routes to improve operational reliability (Queen)

Any cars to handle additional LRT lines such as an SRT replacement, Kingston Road, Eglinton, etc. would be an add-on to an order for the “city” system.

A new carhouse will be required both to address the very different servicing requirements of the new fleet and to allow for co-existence of both fleets during the transitional period.

A good case can be made for retention of some of the CLRVs for rush-hour only service as a way to offset the need for new cars in the short-to-medium timeline.

Capital and Operating Budget Planning:

There is no provision in the City’s budgetary plans for the acquisition of new streetcars nor for any operating costs due to increased service on the streetcar network.  Indeed, the Budget Advisory Committee made a point of asking the TTC to rebuild all of the CLRVs rather than just half of them as a way of deferring, sine die, the need to address future fleet requirements.

The TTC can put off a commitment in 2006, but the Budget Committee must get off its ass in 2007 and commit to a vehicle replacement program.  I am appalled that we can be talking about multi-billion dollar subway projects but don’t address the needs for new and expanded surface fleets.  Maybe next year, with the “fiscal crisis” fading from view, we may have more sensibility at BAC, but I’m not hopeful. 

On the Operating Budget, we need to be sure that TTC doesn’t use the larger cars as an opportunity to shred service the way that they did on Queen Street in the off-peak periods.  We need to avoid wide headways where small delays quickly turn into ragged service and chronic short-turns.

Some Councillors may ask for a review of why we run streetcars at all, but this won’t stop them from shilling for subway expansions.  This attitude needs a strong counter-position from the TTC and from Mayor Miller.  If we are serious about using LRT as an integral part of our city’s Official Plan, it’s time our budgetary planning reflected this.

Now the more technical stuff:

Fare Collection:

If you saw that nice picture of the Minneapolis car in spacing wire, you may have noticed that the operator is in a cab that does not have provision for chatting with the passengers.  This means that some form of self-service fare collection must come to the TTC, an organization where any talk of changes in fare collection sends the bean counters into total the-end-of-the-world-is-nigh panic.

For better or worse, smart cards will likely be in place before the new cars, and we won’t have to worry about fareboxes and transfers any more.

Track Gauge:

  • Several people have asked me about track gauge.  For the non-railfans in my audience, a little history.  Back when the TTC’s predecessor system was set up, Toronto’s streets were not what they are today, and one condition for the franchise of the new Toronto Street Railway was that on muddy days, people could drive their carriages on the streetcar track.  Horsecar tracks had a nice shallow groove that was easy for carriages to move in and out of, but they had to be laid 4 foot, 10 7/8 inches apart — English Carriage Gauge.  Toronto is the only street railway in the world using this gauge.
  • The same gauge was used on the subway (because some shop work was shared with the streetcar shops at Hillcrest originally), but not on the SRT which is standard railway gauge 4 foot 8 1/2 inches.
  • Any new Toronto car must fit on the existing city system, and so the car must be designed so that the wheels can be moved slightly further apart.
  • New suburban lines will likely perpetuate this scheme so that the cars can run over the “city system” to reach the main shops.
  • If the TTC drags its feet and a new suburban network in, say, York is built to standard gauge, we then face the possibility of two networks that cannot connect to each other.
  • Interoperation with mainline railways over their tracks is very unlikely both due to the existing level of train service and because the standards for collision strength for the streetcars would have to be astronomical if they run on the same tracks as freight and commuter rail trains.

Track Switches: 

  • One outstanding issue for any new cars is the question of track switches.  Standard North American street railway practice for a century or more has been to use single-blade switches.  Mechanically, the blade is on the inside of the curve and the inside wheel, via the axle, pulls the outside wheel into the curve.  This is a much simpler arrangement than on mainline railways and subways where double-blade switches are used, and the points must move in tandem to avoid derailments.  The advantage of double-blade switches is that they can be taken at higher speed, but for street running this is not an issue.
  • Many new low floor car designs use some form of split axle where there is no mechanical link between the wheels on each side of a car, at least in the low-floor sections.  This means that the inner wheel on a curve exerts no force on the outer wheel, and you need a double blade switch to ensure that the outer wheel also follows the curve.
  • Changing the street trackage to double blade switches has huge implications for the TTC with its large number of complex intersections.  If this will be a technical requirement of new cars, we need to start now to design and install double-blade switches at all rebuilt intersections.  I suspect that no work has been done on this, and that we will see a St. Clair LRT totally rebuilt with single-blade switches.  So much for planning.
  • The normal cycle time for intersection reconstruction is at least 20 years, and some lesser-used special work has been around since the 1920s.  Carhouses present very large scale problems because they have extensive ladder tracks.  Both Russell and Roncesvalles carhouses have been rebuilt comparatively recently.

This issue needs to be sorted out as soon as possible.  It is pointless for us to have a spiffy new fleet if it cannot operate on most of the system.

That’s all for now.  I’m sure a raft of comments will come in, and more will be added to this debate in the coming days.

2 thoughts on “Where Are Streetcars Going in Toronto?

  1. “Many new low floor car designs use some form of split axle where there is no mechanical link between the wheels on each side of a car, at least in the low-floor sections. This means that the inner wheel on a curve exerts no force on the outer wheel, and you need a double blade switch to ensure that the outer wheel also follows the curve.”

    I had a few pictures of Strassenbahn trackage from my trip to Germany, and yes, Bremen and Potsdam have double-blade switches and full-length low-floor articulated trams.

    But some new trams such as the Minneapolis LRVs are semi-low floor with raised floors above the wheel area.  Would these not have full axles to allow running through single-point switches?  Wouldn’t it be better to use semi-low floor trams than to upgrade all the switches?

    Steve:  Yes, I agree.  There will be a presentation at the TTC on the status of the streetcar fleet including a fleet plan on April 19, and I am going to ask specifically about track switches to get clarification on the subject.

    Meanwhile as an historical note, even continuous axles can have problems.  When the CLRVs were new, the wheels they used flexed in such a way that cars would split some switches because the inner wheel would flex rather than pulling its mate into the curve.  The replacement wheels (which also addressed part of the noise and vibration problem) did not have this difficulty and work fine on our track.

    Another consideration is the wheel-chair ramp to get from the low-floor to the street surface.  Last fall Bombardier showed a mock-up of the Minneapolis LRV at the Hummingbird Centre.  I mentioned to the sales rep there that the mock-up had no such ramp.  His answer was that the TTC should construct raised platforms at each stop.  He was not aware of how narrow some of our streetcar streets were.  But he relented and said a ramp could be added as part of the customization.

    Steve:  I am amazed and disappointed that Bombardier, a company dependent on Toronto to keep their Thunder Bay plant alive, would have a rep who didn’t know the city well enough to speak about how their product would integrate with our streets.


  2. Amazing and disappointing, perhaps, but not entirely surprising that UTDC/Bombardier might be left scrambling for clues. Having nothing but the CLRV on offer was what left UTDC standing in the churchyard awaiting the garter flung from Siemens when their U2 metro cars were adapted for Calgary’s C-Train system. It might be cruel to describe it as an early manifestation of the Dingwall Effect, but especially in light of Bombardier’s reaction to the City of Ottawa committing itself to a Siemens solution for its O-Train LRT system, the appearance of a sense of entitlement to bulding Canadian LRT projects makes it much harder for Bombardier to justify its case for participating in the construction and vehicle delivery process.

    Just to be a Canadian supplier is hardly sufficient justification for being given a contract to furnish a product. Ask any Canadian infantryman who was issued a Ross Rifle during the First World War.


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