Our Not So New Streetcars

When I was digging in my files for the Queen Subway post just below this one, I ran across a report from December 1972 entitled Streetcar Replacement Policy that discussed the implications of the decision on November 7, 1972, to retain the streetcar system.

Late in 1971, the Commission forces establish a set of parameters for new streetcars if the replacement of all or part of the present fleet was to be considered.  These were discussed with Hawkey Siddeley Canada Limited [now part of Bombardier] who advised that they would be interested in the manufacture, and at a price of approximately $173,000 per car.

The report goes on to say that with some simplification of the control system, this price could be reduced by about $22K, and compares these estimates with those for more complex articulated cars proposed for Boston and San Francisco at a cost of about $400K.  Those would turn out to be the ill-fated Boeing cars.  Philadelphia is mentioned as a possible partner with the TTC for new streetcars, and a joint venture with that system is proposed.

My handwritten notes on the report observed that Commissioner Hurlburt stated that the TTC had no criteria yet for what they wanted to accomplish with these streetcars.  He was concerned about problems for handicapped people and asked if low level vehicles were possible.  He also asked about multiple unit operation and said that the way to transport people at least cost may be with trains of streetcars on a private right-of-way.

The discussion continued with various Commissioners talking about trying for private rights-of-way on arterial roads since the City seemed favourable to the idea.  The Queen streetcar subway proposal floated back into view as an option.

The Commissioners were also worried about the quality of any new cars and the possibility of other manufacturers bidding on the work.  Some debates never change.

Meanwhile, in correspondence, Public Works Commissioner Ray Bremner (for whom Bremner Blvd. is named) writes:

It seems to me that your decision to retain indefinitely all of the existing trackage system will necessitate a greater emphasis on a programme of rail renewal and/or rail grade improvements at car stop locations.

Sadly, it took until the mid-1990s before the quality of streetcar track construction came back up to a level appropriate for “indefinite” retention of the system.

The process set in motion on December 5 enventually brought us the CLRV and ALRV fleets, but not until after the fiasco of Queen’s Park’s affair with magnetic levitation ran aground and the government of the day was desperate to have something for its pet transit company, the UTDC, to sell.  The original TTC/Hawker design gained many needless bells and whistles, not least the ability to run, yes, at 70 mph (110kph) for a high-speed suburban service the CLRVs would never see.

This time around, the City and the TTC are really embracing streetcars/LRT as an important part of the transit network, and the new fleet is seen as an opportunity to build the transit system, not simply as an industrial boondoggle for Queen’s Park. 

11 thoughts on “Our Not So New Streetcars

  1. With Transit City and all the suburban LRTs planned, won’t speed also be important? I’m thinking of the proposed Jane, Don Mills and Finch lines where I expect that the stops will be fairly far apart (at least 200-300m). If the tracks are separated from car traffic, should they not be able to go 80-90 km/h between stops? Speed will be a key potential factor at getting people out of their cars, and as long as safety can be preserved (e.g. good bracking capacity for traffic lights), lets let ’em go as fast as possible.

    Steve: There is no point in accelerating to 90 km/h for stops that close together. Top speed on the subway is under 80 km/h, and that’s on sections with the stops 1 km or more apart. A very large amount of energy is required to accelerate to high speed, and that’s a huge waste unless you are going to stay at that speed for a substantial time.


  2. Hopefully, when going through the system and car specs process, they will come to realize that snazzy new low floor articulateds will require a modern current collection system. However unofficial it may be, I have heard suggestions from within the TTC that they will try to retain the current (pardon the pun) overhead, which would indicate the application of trolley poles. The mind boggles. It will be necessary, and they should realize this, to provide up-to-date technology and the costs in infrastructure that go with that will need to be built into the equation. They can’t seriously consider the new cars and then try and nickel-and-dime the process to save a few sheckels.

    During the building of the CLRV demo’s in Schaffhausen, Switzerland, Ray Corley was kind enough to arrange a factory tour for my wife and myself. We duly presented ourselves at the appointed hour and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. The point to which I slowly lurch is that, during the tour, the chief engineer at SIG pointed disgustedly at the method of roof access he was forced to apply by the TTC specs. He said, flipping one of the roof access flip-out “steps”, a technology (if that’s the right word) used in Toronto since Toronto Railway days, and I can quote him word for word to this day, “we offered a nice hideaway aluminum ladder but they sent me these and said their operators did not want to use anything else”. His look said it all – he thought they were ridiculous and unsafe in a modern era.

    And now there may be a trolley pole controversy and that, too, is ridiculous. There are modern overhead systems that are not outlandish and overbuilt (such as that used in Pittsburgh, for example).

    There’s a bullet out there waiting to be bitten. What we need is for the powers that be to sink their teeth into it and do the right thing and budget accordingly.


  3. @Tom: I agree with you that we need speed, but in terms of quick acceleration and actually operating AT THE ROAD SPEED LIMIT OR HIGHER. A significant amount of the frustration experienced with our transit services today is the need for transit vehicles to crawl along well below the posted speed limit so as not to get ahead of schedule. It is simply impossible to beat the automobile in the public’s mind if this operating practice is maintained. I’m not sure how to change this effectively, but it is CRITICAL to find a way to up the basic operating speeds. Sometimes it feels like I’m experiencing time travel back to the days of single-truck horse-cars on rickety track. Unless I’m riding streetcars for entertainment alone it is quite simply impractical to take necessary trips on them for long distances. They are either running slow to stay on schedule or running slow because of traffic – rarely are they running at an acceptable pace. (They sure as hell go fast when returning to their division to end a shift though!) Given the distances involved with the new lines they are going to have to operate at a pace closely mirroring the subway or else they will be a public relations disaster. Private right-of-ways should deliver reliability AND SPEED!

    @John: While I agree that pantographs would be a step forward in many regards, there is one problem with them that really irks me – all that carbon soot from the contact shoe ends up washing down the sides of the vehicle making an unsightly mess in the second worst-possible location (the worst possible location would be the front windshield, but that would only occur in a double-ended car with poles). At least a rear-mounted pole keeps the mess on the very back end only. Have any systems found a design change that gets around this problem when using ‘pans’? I will punch the first person who says widen the roof – there are far too many overly boxy LRVs around that look so ugly as a result that they make me want to throw up! The CLRVs look distinctly better because they taper in towards the roof and curve softly at the roofline – they had a dramatically bolder presence then the Boeing cars in the photos I’ve seen of them demonstrating in Boston. However, they did not look ‘monstrous’ unlike of number of recent production designs.

    From what I’ve read, Pittsburgh’s system only has a small percentage of ‘simplified’ overhead. But I guess we have to take what little inspiration we can and not ignore good ideas even if the rest of the system might be considered overkill. (I also read that they are studying Maglev technology for future lines – This is where I tune out on Pittsburgh and get real…. )


  4. Compatibility with the current overhead is probably the only spec that is feasable for streetcars that will travel within the existing lines. For a number of years the old and new must coexist and it is not possible to change the complete overhead overnight. Compatibility is likely neither required nor desirable on the new lines of course. The existing overhead can be used for lower speed operation normal within the base system by use of special fittings at switches and section breaks. This is the option used by the Rockwood trolley museum where they mix troley pole and pantographs.


  5. I fail to see any issue with switching to pantograph. Obviously, the switch will not be overnight, but the same can be said for the retirement of our existing vehicles.

    New lines (Transit City) would be built with the new overhead and would use new vehicles from day one. Older routes would continue to use the old fleet with old overhead and would be converted one-by-one as the old fleet begins to be retired.

    Both vehicles can use the same overhead in places where slow operation is the norm (i.e.: storage facilities)


  6. If we fully convert the existing lines to pantograph-exclusive overhead then we can kiss our historic cars goodbye. Howard Moscoe clearly stated this was the intention before he left The Commission (read “was removed from”.) The wiring would change and the historic cars would be forever banished to the Museum. Putting a pantograph on the Peter Witt car would be a disgrace. I’m not saying we should have to hold off conversion just to keep the historic cars, but most folks concerned about them seem to be overlooking the ramifications of conversion. Sure we could keep a small amount of overhead ‘dual-capable’ – the surface portion of the N-Judah line in San Francisco has been maintained as such (They even have a dual-capable wye shortly before the loop at the end of the line!) But what fun would it be having only one isolated route for the old cars.

    I’m of the opinion that conversion to pantograph is unnecessary in Toronto when the only back-up moves required happen within carhouse grounds. Unless we’re going to have dramatically fast streetcar-subways and long stop-spacings there is no need. Poles work perfectly well when they and the overhead are installed and maintained properly, and our poles are much less mechanically complex and bulky than a typical LRV pantograph. As a perfect example of what I’m talking about, Philadelphia uses single-ended cars with poles on their ordinary city lines and double-ended cars with pantographs on their higher-speed and wider-stop-spacing suburban lines. The conversion was made only where it made sense.

    It was clearly stated at the public LRV consultation at Dundas Square that our new cars will be single-ended and use loops to reverse, even on the new lines. I wasn’t very surprised to hear this because the vehicle cost will be dramatically lower than full-blown double-ended cars and the seating capacity will be higher due to the lack of left-side doors. If this is what we end up with then there is little justification for pantographs. One downside however is that it is very unlikely there will be any provision for emergency short-turns within the entire length of the Eglinton-Crosstown tunnel. (Imagine having to run shuttle buses over this entire section!!!) This also means that the roughed-in station shell at Eglinton West station will likely have to be gutted and re-built from scratch! The work-around for allowing the use of centre-platforms where practical would be to have the tunnel operated as left-hand running so that subway conversion in the future was much more useful. In fact, left-hand running within private right-of-ways using centre-islands would make a lot of sense because the platforms would take up less road space and automatically protect customers from passing traffic. Signalised crossovers would allow easy swapping of the running side for any extended running within mixed traffic. I’ve never heard anyone make such suggestions. Is this anywhere near practical?


  7. Hi Steve. A note to Kristen’s comment on Witts and pantographs. Milan uses around 150 Witts in regular service and they all have pantographs. Not what we are used to, but the Witts run and their pantographs work.


  8. The Bombardier reps that I spoke to all insist that we will get double end cars. It will actually cost more money to manufacture these non standard cars. The new cars will only be compatible with a pantograph.

    Pantographs are really better than poles. Inside the driver’s cab, a button can lower or raise the pantograph. Why go back to the CLRV days and doing it manually? In addition, compatiblity is not a big deal. At the Halton museum, they have cars running both the pantograph and pole. The Port Stanley car runs on Pantograph there while the old PCC cars run on poles. They don’t have any problems.

    This is my opinion. If the transit city lines can run with 1000m to 1500m stops, hitting 80 km/h would not be a problem. This should keep it compatitive with cars. Just for reference, most trams in Japan run stops between 400m to 700m. Their trams only travels at about 40 km/h even on dedicated right of ways.


  9. The controversy between the use of poles versus pantograph I find quite interesting.

    Firstly, a direct suspension overhead system, such as used in Toronto, is a perfectly good system for power distribution to the vehicles provided that it is installed with the correct height, alignment and tension, and that a never ending constant maintenance and repair/replacement program is in place. I believe it is a costly system to maintain as the crossover and frog fittings need frequent replacement because of metal on metal wear. When there are hundreds and hundreds of those fittings in the city, the cost adds up. If these are not replaced when worn then pole dewirements are caused and then, of course, other problems arise from that situation. Over periods of time, trolley wire slackens, suspension spans stretch and poles bases can shift and this all adds to the changing of alignment, height and in some cases creates slack spans, but through all this, the trolley pole still seems to find its way along the trolley wire. This type of system is probably a more forgiving system.

    Overhead systems, for pantograph use, are not as forgiving as a system that uses poles. They are certainly not interchangeable where one can use pantographs on a system that was built for trolley pole use without major changes. The same would go for a system that was built for pantographs, you could not run a car with a pole on it. There must be greater space between the overhead suspension structure and the contact wire. (e.g.—Spadina line, in some tangent areas has the “stitch hanger” which allows a much greater space between trolley wire and x-span). This allows for any uneven track or side-to-side car movements that would cause the ends of the pantograph to shift higher or lower. The “overhead” intersections in Toronto (large and small) would be a nightmare for pantograph operation and would have to be totally rebuilt. Maintaining tension of contact wire and suspension wires would be very crucial on a pantograph overhead contact system(OCS). If there is a “wire pull-down”, and these can and will happen, the use of pantographs will cause a far bigger wire down situation than a system that uses trolley poles.

    I think the TTC should have started their “overhead conversion—poles to pantograph” when they built the Harbourfront line in the late 80’s, however that was not to be! I believe a pantograph system would be better in the long run for our streetcar system BUT the conversion will take years and during that time there will be many, many problems to overcome to keep service moving.


  10. Of course the biggest complaint about systems with turning loops is the noise generated by steel wheels on steel tracks. And the real estate the loops, like the Beaches end of the Queen line, themselves take. Double ended cars would eliminate that source of noise pollution once and for all. Not sure what credence, if any, should be given to preserving the cute look of the old cars.


  11. I find your use of the term “cute” rather insulting. Are you suggesting that you’d rather have a car dealership force you to buy the “Oscar Meyer Wienermobile” than allow you to buy an automobile that looks respectable and is more practical??? Practical and reliable does not have to mean ugly. Classy and respectable design does not automatically mean impractical or unreliable. Take for example the difference between the trucks of the CLRV and ALRV. The CLRV trucks were clearly designed to be a sightly blend of form and function. Attention was paid to the looks of the sideframe area making it one of the most attractive trucks of any rail vehicle in the world, as far as I’m concerned. The ALRV truck on the other hand looks rough and bizarre. No attention was paid to symmetry or style – it looks like it was pieced together from scraps out of a junk bin! It also happens to be louder and generally less reliable, apparently the victim of the compromises needed to share production with the H6 subway cars. Take your pick – class or class-less!

    On the topic of single-ended versus double-ended cars, there is one major downside to the simplicity of using crossovers to reverse direction rather than turning loops – It is highly likely that crossovers will be installed in much higher numbers than loops so that short turns will become a much more common occurance and at much more random locations. I’ve experienced this kind of unpredictable service while riding many systems elsewhere in the world. This only serves to balance out service over small sections of a line. The awful gaps occuring on the extremeties of our streetcar routes would be much worse with crossovers under the current operating methods used in Toronto. Loops would force the TTC to space-out their short-turns more appropriately. Loops that can be entered and exited from both directions of travel and better line management with a dedication to full service over the entire line length would make the new “Transit City” routes worth using. Loops also provide the priceless bonus function of a parking spot for disabled cars or for staging extra runs or gap-fillers all of which are done using the centre-track sidings in our subways.

    Regarding pantographs, I’ve already made perfectly clear why Toronto’s operations don’t require them. I won’t bother restating those reasons. Read my earlier post. I don’t care what Milan did with their Witt cars – I’m talking about OUR heritage. If our operations don’t need pantographs then we don’t have to ruin the look of our historic cars. Is anyone here aware of how many American tourists flock to our city to salivate over the ‘classic’ nature of our streetcar system? And before anyone makes the comment, I’m the same age as the CLRV streetcar – nostalgia has little to do with my opinions regarding the retention of trolley poles. I would futher note that the ‘skates’ required at overhead intersections to make dual-mode running possible require pantographs to pass at quite low speeds in general. This type of arrangement should be avoided whether or not we switch to pantographs.

    Steve: One more point about loops versus crossovers for all those defenders of roadspace: If we have crossovers and get rid of the loops, all of the turnbacks, the layovers, the coffee breaks, etc., that now occur with cars sitting off of the street will take place with them parked right in the middle. Of course, this might lead some to advocate a conversion to buses so that they can, wait for it, loop somewhere rather than sitting in the middle of the street.


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