Fleet Street Overhead and Other News of Changing Streetcar Infrastructure

The TTC plans to resume streetcar service on Fleet west of Bathurst with the 509 Harbourfront and 511 Bathurst routes on March 30. Trackwork, except for Fleet Loop, is in place, and the overhead construction is underway working west from Bathurst Street.

One of my regular readers, Harold McMann, sent me a few photos of overhead installation on Fleet Street and I am including one of them here because it shows a very recent change in the TTC’s standards for streetcar overhead.

Look closely at the hangers and you will see they are different from those commonly seen on Toronto’s system. These hangers are designed so that the contact wire will be held below the span wire and so that both pantographs and trolley poles can navigate them. If you look closely, you will see that hangers on alternate spans face in opposite directions so that there will be a slight meander to the overhead to avoid groove wear on pantographs.

Another change not as obvious from a photo is that the TTC is now using 4/0 gauge wire rather than 2/0. This is a larger cross section, but not twice as big even though the number might imply this. You can read about the arcane world of wire on Wikipedia. The larger cross section allows more current to be delivered by the wire in anticipation of the power demands of the new larger streetcars planned for Toronto.

The TTC Capital Budget contains a project to convert the entire overhead system by 2012, but it’s sad to note how long it took the TTC to accept that this would be necessary.

Further west on Fleet beyond the loop we find a forest of closely spaced poles marching down the centre of the right-of-way. These appear to be much closer together than the normal span wire spacing. This design leaves a lot to be desired if it is an indication of what we will see on future routes because the poles will dominate the visual landscape. I have already written here extensively about the shortcomings of centre poles on downtown streets and will not belabour the point.

Another project in the works is the complete replacement of the automatic track switch system. The current switch machines and their electronics date from the arrival of the ALRV fleet when the distance from the trolley shoe to the front of a car ceased to be constant. This meant that the old contactor-based switching had to be replaced, and a new system with pavement loops was installed.

This has been no end of trouble to the extent that some switches on the Spadina project have switch machines, but have never been activated. Many regularly used switches around the city sport “out of service” signs because they are no longer reliable or their parts have been raided for other more important locations. Because these switches are so unreliable, streetcars must come to a full stop at all facing point switches (including, amusingly, manual switches that cannot leap open in front of a car).

This practice makes for slow and jerky operation at intersections, and the TTC has not bothered to deal with this problem of reliability for quite a long time. Design of a new track switch system is underway and is expected to complete this year with procurement and installation to follow in future years.

Over the next four years, we will see a gradual transformation of the streetcar infrastructure in anticipation of the new fleet. Let’s hope the TTC gets it right this time. We cannot afford another fiasco like the CLRVs and their inability to deal with a system that PCCs had navigated for decades.

5 thoughts on “Fleet Street Overhead and Other News of Changing Streetcar Infrastructure

  1. It does not take a rocket scientist to design overhead that will work on both pantograph and pole; many systems have done it. I wonder if the close pole spacing is a function of the track geometry, a long gradual curve that would normally have had extra span wires from the pole on the curb to pull the overhead into a curve. Since the poles are in the middle of the ROW they can not hold the extra spans so they use extra poles. I notice that they appear to have raised the extra wires at the end of the bracket arms that run parallel to the overhead to a position above the bracket arm; probably to keep them out of the way of the wide swinging pantograph. Maybe some day they will figure out that the overhead will keep the arms from twisting and can save the cost of the ugly extra wire.


  2. Steve, is this part of the round of service improvements you talked about for the end of March?

    Are there more improvements coming?

    Steve: This is simply putting routes back to normal following construction. I don’t have the list of improvements yet, but hope to have them soon.


  3. Hey Steve,

    Was it in the original plans of the fleet street reconstruction that there would be streetcar platforms installed?

    From what I notice when I pass by, was that there was a small break from the concrete divider that’s not even the size of half a streetcar. I have no idea what they are doing with that.

    Steve: I’m not sure what location you are talking about, but for a good stretch along Fleet, the sidewalk will be extended out on one side into what is now the curb lane. As the TTC’s notice mentions, this will be done initially with asphalt, but later in the year as part of the road reconfiguration, it will be built properly.


  4. Whops after reading the TTC notice I see that there are supose to be platforms constructed.

    But this brings a new question on about the Statium road stop. That is my local stop and no mention of a platform or the name in that notice.

    Well I hope they either forgot to mention it or they aren’t adding a platform. The worst thing that could happen is that they would have eliminated my stop. But, I shouldn’t jump to conclusions.


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