Schrödinger’s Cat, The Queen Car & Other Mysteries

In case people think all of this talk about headways and link times and clouds of data points and 19th-century railway timetables is getting far too technical, a respite.

In the course of this analysis, I have often thought that there may be some relationship between Quantum Physics and the operation of the Queen Car.  After all, a cup of tea can provide a model of random motion (and power the Infinite Improbability Drive).  We may presume that some deeper forces are at work on Queen Street that are manifest at the visible level in what passes for service on that route.

By analogy:

Einsteinian Time Dilation tells us that the faster we run for the car, the slower time will move, and we will never quite catch up before the car leaves the stop. 

Schrödinger’s Cat is a paradox demonstrating the concept that we cannot know the state of something until we actually look at it.  This is roughly akin to not knowing where the Queen Car is going until we have been on it long enough that the gods of improbability reveal our ultimate destination.

Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle deals with the problem that the act of observing an event can interfere with the event itself, and that we can never know simultaneously the position and momentum of a subatomic particle.  Applied to the Queen car, we all know that there are always lots of streetcars, except when you want one, and then you can never be sure that the one that has space is also going to your destination.

I invite suggestions for other possible explanations for the behaviour of transit service.  With centuries of scientific thought, we can unravel the mysterious behaviour of the Queen car.

17 thoughts on “Schrödinger’s Cat, The Queen Car & Other Mysteries

  1. “Streetcars are herd animals” is a favourite saying of a colleague who rides the 501 from Leslieville. They like travelling in packs. We should make sure that any new streetcars purchased are of the solitary-traveller kind so as to spread them out a bit. We should also ensure that new streetcars don’t have flighty characteristics that make them shy and short-turn; nor should they be secretive and prone to hiding.

    To go with your quantum physics analogies, streetcars should be fermions, not bosons. Only one fermion can occupy any quantum state, while any number of bosons can occupy the same quantum state. When three streetcars show up at the same time, they’re acting like schedule-bosons. We don’t want that.


  2. hmmm I wonder if we will ever see an appearance from einsteins theory of special relativity?

    Steve: The Special Theory is already accounted for in the post. I think you are refering to the General Theory which involves things like gravitation and black holes, those mysterious objects into which all service disappears, never to be seen again.


  3. I think that perhaps the movement of transit has some sort of correlation to special relativity. In the Twin Paradox We can see that the observer on earth ages, while the traveling twin does not age. I believe that once we step onto a streetcar, it travels so incredibly slowly that everything else is essentially traveling much closer to the speed of light, and as such, we age much quicker than the rest of the universe.

    I’ll leave the mass/energy, and the Lorenz contraction calculations as an exercise for the other readers, but they appear to also be consistent with my observations.



  4. I believe that the Queen cars are inhabited by the ghosts of George and Marion Kirby and their slobbering St. Bernard, Neil. After Cosmo Topper passed on they had nobody to play tricks on so they moved to Toronto where they wreck havoc on the 501 line while Neil chases Schrödinger’s Cat which increases the uncertainty of the service or the location of the next car. What we don’t realize is that because of the time dilation is that the entire line operates on schedule, just not in our reality.

    If the guy who came up with the terms fermions, bosons (an all time favourite) quarks etc. did not get a Noble Prize in Physics then he should get one in literature.

    Steve: In fact, Murray Gell-Mann did get the Nobel prize. Given that quarks come in various forms including “up” and “down”, terms also used for TTC’s sense of direction, it is clear that Quantum Chromodynamics is at work in transit operations.


  5. I’ve suspected for some time now that Roncesvalles Carhouse is home to a pesky wormhole. King cars disappear from sight here and then suddenly reappear in the Eastbound direction, completely missing their round-trip to Bloor and back. I dare not risk following their mysterious path to see if I re-materialize on the exit track for fear I be crushed by the gravitational forces of the swirling cars!

    There couldn’t possibly be any other rational explanation for the number of times I’ve walked from Queen to Bloor on Roncesvalles without seeing a single car in either direction, could there?!? (Your data analysis did already prove the existence of teleportation…)


  6. But you’ve got Einstein’s theory a little wrong. To you, your watch would appear to tick at normal speed. A stationary observer looking at your watch would see it ticking slower than his watch. And to him, you would appear to be as thin as a piece of thread (length contraction).

    Steve: Ah yes, that is true, but just think how many people we could pack onto a car if only we could somehow keep it at the normal size while shrinking the passengers.


  7. I believe that Einstein’s Unified Field Theorem comes into play here. That is the theory that he published in 1905, but later revoked because either it was not complete (the official reason) or that humankind was not ready for what it contained (the unofficial reason).

    It is believed that what it contained could make levitation and teleportation possible, and while these could be good tools for operating a transit agency, I suspect that TTC management would not use them correctly and result in things suddenly disappearing and going to where they are not needed by passengers in the interest of putting them back on the schedule (i.e.: a new way to short-turn vehicles!).

    The real problem, I suspect, is that when the TTC holds a job fair, no one shows up for three or four hours and then several show up in a pack, so they hire them! 😉


  8. Actually Steve, I was referring to the part of Einstein’s theory of special relativity that deals with the speed of light. That is to say I was wondering if the speed of light would ever match the speed of the Queen car.

    Steve: Hmmmmm. It is felt by some that the concept of “infinite” is such that the negative and positive senses of this word actually meet in a curved space. Stretching that hypothesis, it would be possible for infinite slowness to be equated with the speed of light.


  9. My main concern is that, should we open the lid on the TTC head office, as in Schrödinger’s Dead Cat experiment (as I have always know it), we would find it moribund. But you knew that….

    Steve’s linking of a cup of tea and the Improbablity Drive in the same sentence would seem to be a reference to Russell’s Celestial Teapot and the need for a Divine intervention for the TTC.

    Given the prior mention of Schrödinger’s cat, I’m not certain what Heisenberg has to do with the Queen Car….

    Ed’s mention of flighty streetcars makes me think the TTC might consider Swanboats for Queen Street. This might be great for tourism, but I suspect it would have a dampening effect on local commerce.


  10. This must be a textbook case of Murphy’s Law – anything that can go wrong, will go wrong. What else could possibly explain it more simply than Murphy’s Law? It would explain, in no uncertain terms, the Long Branch and Beaches/Kingston service statistics.


  11. I’ve always suspected that the Doppler effect came into play when you saw a vanishing Queen Car.

    As for Murphy’s Law, the variant of that is what I call the TTC effect. Whatever vehicle you’re waiting for, it’s the one that goes the other way that comes first. The exception is at terminus points : just as you catch sight of the vehicle, it pulls away.


  12. Hi Steve.

    I think that Trevor has the right idea. Let’s canalize Queen Street and the Lakeshore so that we can use swan boats.

    I realize that there are still a lot of details to be worked out – short turning is one the immediately leaps to mind. But, these are early days in the project. We could import a form of the Bermuda Triangle so that swan boats can appear and disappear, thus preserving the service style that people have become accustomed to.

    There could be two other twists to this – how about CNG powered swan boats? Or, we could use SRT technology and build elevated guideways. We may be beaten by low floor swan boats, but it’s worth a try.


  13. Steve wrote: the negative and positive senses of this word actually meet in a curved space. Stretching that hypothesis, it would be possible for infinite slowness to be equated with the speed of light.

    I think it’s more likely that wormholes between spatial planes account for the bunching effect of streetcars. The likely locations of the wormholes are very close to the coffee shops on Queen. Alternatively, the wormholes might also go a long way to explaining the sudden adjustments in the positions of the cars that you found during your analyses.

    BTW, if we could get a streetcar to go fast enough to thin its in habitants, we would 1) not be having this discussion, and 2) Weightwatchers would (at least temporarily) go out of business. Think of the lawsuits….


  14. Worse than Murphy’s law is Finagle’s Law; the formulation I like best is “The perversity of the Universe tends towards a maximum”.

    If I walk slowly to a stop, then the streetcar will pass by just before I get there, and I’ll be waiting for the next forty minutes.

    If I run quickly to the stop, the streetcar will pass by just before I get there, and I’ll be waiting for the next forty minutes.

    If by some miracle the streetcar arrives after I get to the stop and I get on, it will be short-turned before I get to where I want to go.

    Yeah, it’s quite quantum-mechanical as well.


  15. The streetcars do end up like quantum mechanics: it’s a random event that a streetcar will appear at such a time, and in some alternate universe the streetcar is there. Just the percentage of it happening in our universe is quite small.

    The Strong Nuclear force comes into play here: when streetcars join in a pack (like protons/neutrons in the nucleus of an atom), they are held together and stay together, no matter how much the riders want them to seperate (504 runs 6 and 8 come to mind here…)

    However, the Weak Nuclear force is not applied: when a pack of streetcars (a large and unstable nucleus) forms, Transit Control does not force a streetcar or 2 out of the nucleus to create a smaller and more stable nucleus.

    Steve: Another phenomenon we have omitted so far here is the “action at a distance” concept where pairs of particles can remain “bonded” even at a huge distance, to the point that it has been postulated that information can be transmitted faster than the speed of light with this mechanism. In the case of streetcars, the effect is that if a car is held up by someone parking their car in Long Branch (and, yes, I know this would be quite a feat), the rest of the line collapses into chaos sympathetically through the long distance bonding of streetcar states.

    An alternative interpretation of this behaviour might be the Butterfly Effect applied to transit systems.

    As for chaos theory itself, there may be some debate about its ability to describe a process as sophisticated as the Queen car.


  16. Ah, the Butterfly effect. How that work work in the TTC’s case is a two-second delay of the 85 SHEPPARD EAST bus on Island row causes a complete catastrophic shutdown of the Queen line west of Roncesvalles.

    God only knows what would happen if another Hurricane Hazel should hit (which was decidedly not a hurricane when it hit Toronto, though, yes, it was bad enough).

    Steve: Owing to symmetric effects, a butterfly in a prehistoric forest would be crushed by someone stepping off the footpath.


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