Streetcar Vehicles, Operations and Service: Reader Comments

It’s time to catch up on the backlog of comments.  Here are several that came in about various aspects of streetcar operations over the past weeks:

Greg King writes:

I agree with what you have said [about new cars] apart from the switches.  Until I retired on New Years Eve, I was a senior instructor on the streetcars in Melbourne.  Indeed I made a study tour of North American transit operations in 2002 to study training methods and the TTC was on top of my hit list. 

Here, we have (unfortunately) 100% low floor cars in the form of the very poorly designed (for street use) Citadis and the Combino.  These cars have poor riding rigid trucks and are independent of each other, whilst the majority of our switches are double blade, some are still single (especially depots) and they take them as well as a double blade. 

However, the best car type has been purchased by Adelaide, the Bombardier “Flexity” 70% low floor car and this has conventional trucks at the ends.  These ride so much better and handle curves with ease.  I did try and convey my impressions of 70% as opposed to 100% to the TTC when I was there.  I truly hope it was heeded!

Steve:  The TTC wants to ensure that any new vehicle will fit on its system without major re-engineering of the infrastructure, and they don’t want a repeat of the situation Boston had where new cars derailed.  I’m glad to hear about Adelaide’s experience with Flexity because that is the vehicle family we are likely to see in Toronto. 

The Adelaide car is the “Classic” model, a three-section, 30-metre car.  The Minneapolis car is the “Swift” model, a two-section, 28.6-metre car.  Variations on both cars come in different lengths and numbers of sections.  [For more information about Bombardier’s Light Rail Vehicles, click here.]

David Crawford writes:

I have lived in Toronto for 4 years, moved from Montreal, and have a number of comments.

1.  The TTC offers a much better service, at least downtown, that its Montreal equivalent but Montreal has MUCH better timetables (esp. those at bus stops) — theirs are FAR clearer.  I actually wrote to Mr. Moscoe [TTC chairman] last year and got a response from the Chief General Manager saying they would “look at it”.  No action to date.

Steve:  The TTC website is not user-friendly, and if you didn’t know where to find timetable info, you would be hard-pressed to do so.  Routes are organized by number rather than by name, for example.  Public participation is complicated by the diverse locations and formats of information.  A redesign is supposed to be in the works, but I’m not very hopeful.

2.  Streetcars on Adelaide and Richmond.  I understand that most of the track on these two streets is now unusable but is due for replacement in 2008 and 2009.  Pity this could not be speeded up as sending SOME King/Queen cars along these streets would surely help to speed things up in rush hours and they could be used to by-pass accidents and festivals.  These streets could maybe be used for your interesting idea for changing the Queen streetcar service.

Steve:  Adelaide Street is a real mess with years of neglect and selective removals of track for road construction projects.  It is currently useable only for the short stretch eastbound from Victoria to Church.  Richmond at least is all there from Church to York.

These tracks are useful for diversions, but I’m not so sure about using them for regular services like the King or Queen cars.  This would make subway connections at University and Yonge a long walking transfer.  In particular I would not want to split services between, say, Queen and Richmond/Adelaide because many outbound passengers from downtown don’t care which of several routes shows up first.  If the services are split among parallel streets, they would not longer have that choice.

When the King and York intersection was rebuilt, the TTC missed a chance to add an east-to-north curve.  This would have given a King diversion eastbound via York-Queen-Church and, if a north-to-east curve were added at York and Adelaide, via York-Adelaide-Church.  The bean-counters got to that project and we didn’t get that vital new curve.  However, if the Adelaide trackage is restored all the way east from Spadina, an eastbound Spadina-Adelaide-Church diversion will become possible. 

I worry that the track west of York will just disappear as a cost saving measure.

3.  Most of the track on Parliament is not used for service, though it is a major short-turn link, and it is scheduled for replacement in 2008.  When it is done, it would make sense to allow cars to turn WEST along King, again to allow more flexibility.  (Now east-bound King cars can turn north and southbound Parliament cars can turn west.) 

It would also surely make sense to link Parliament from King to the proposed Queen’s Quay line and, one day, actually put service onto Parliament and extend it to Castle Frank.  If or when the West Don Lands and East Bayfront take off the passenger demand will really increase and linking to the subway at Castle Frank would be useful.

Steve:  A west-to-north curve at King and Parliament would be extremely tight.  However, if the proposed diversion of King service via Parliament-Front-Cherry goes ahead, then a westbound car could easily go straight up Parliament.

As the plans for the eastern waterfront are developing, we will probably see a connection up Cherry from Queen’s Quay as part of phase I of the implementation.  This would permit a through service from Broadview Station to the eastern waterfront via Cherry and Queen’s Quay.

Connecting to Castle Frank has a number of problems, notably structural issues with the loop and the modifications it would need to hold streetcars.  Also, Parliament is a very slow street with many, many traffic signals, and the trip would be glacially slow (just try riding the 65-Parliament bus).  Finally, the development plans for the West Don make Cherry a main north-south artery for transit centrally located around new housing.  If the service is this far east, it makes more sense to go up to Broadview over existing trackage.

Geoff Dahl writes:

I know that the politics will likely play a huge role [in new car selection] (Bombardier & Thunder Bay), but I’ve heard both possibilities for Bombardier & Skoda streetcars.  From a technical viewpoint what is the main difference between them, and if you know, what has been Portland Oregon’s experience with the Skoda models?

Having lived in Vienna for a couple years, I rode their Siemens/Elin designed ULF (ultra low floor) styled streetcars quite a lot.  Would they be technically feasible to handle the TTC’s network?

Steve:  For the convenience of readers, you can click here to see Skoda’s line of vehicles.  For information about the Portland streetcar, click here.  For information about Portland’s Light Rail system (which uses vehicles from Bombardier and Siemens), click here.

Portland has only seven of the Skoda cars and they are used on a small downtown loop where geometric constraints favour “streetcar” rather than “light rail” operation.  This certainly makes the Skoda car a possibility for the Toronto network, but the TTC folks want to see more operating experience with this model.  The jury is out, you might say.

As for the Siemens, click here for information on their cars.  I believe that this car is not under consideration for Toronto because it cannot meet the geometric requirements of our system.  If anyone has different information, please let me know.

Wil Brubaker writes:

Gee guys, service every four minutes . . . I sympathize with you.

Here in Philadelphia we think a PCC2 on Girard Avenue every 15 minutes is terrific.  Someday I wanna visit Tronna; I know I’ll bring lots of film, and expose every frame.  Take care.

Steve:  Philadelphia’s is a classic streetcar system (with a downtown streetcar subway) that survived despite the best efforts of many people to kill it off.  There was a time when the headways were better than 15 minutes.  Without constant support for transit and streetcar/light rail options, Toronto could have gone the same way.

Jeff Harris writes:

Streetcars bunching seems to be a major problem.  Often, I’ll wait 15 minutes for a streetcar and then 2 or 3 will come at the same time.  I think that one factor that causes this is the delay while passengers get on the streetcar at Yonge Street.  I regularly see a crowd of about 30 people waiting to get on the streetcar and it takes several minutes for all of the passengers to board the train.  In the meantime, the next streetcar catches up.  The TTC should move to a pre-payment system for streetcars and allow passengers to board the train from all doors (similar to Viva in York Region).  This would help this problem.

Steve:  In theory, there is a proof-of-payment system in use on Queen Street where all-door loading is permitted.  This started out at all stops and there were roving fare inspectors.  Then through budget cuts, the inspectors vanished, all-door loading dropped back to major stops and at certain times of the day, mainly at the operators’ discretion.  This is a classic example of how TTC management sabotages things they don’t want to work.  They are paranoid about fare evasion, but won’t provide the supervision needed to check that riders are not freeloading. 

Service?  Delays?  It’s easier to complain about interference from traffic and demand reserved lanes than to work on speeding up loading.  With new streetcars, pay-as-you-enter fare collection will disappear, and with it many delays at busy stops.

That’s all for now.