Where’s My Streetcar?

Tess Kalinowski, writing in today’s Star, tells us of the job that TTC Route Supervisors have in managing service.  We learn of great hopes for vehicle location technology so that supervisors will actually know where cars might be up and down their lines, but the telling comment comes here:

Frequent mechanical problems mean supervisors have to scramble to find another car. These days, the 30-year-old Rockets are failing so fast the TTC expects to be running buses on some routes by the end of the year to keep service levels up.

“There are days when you’re constantly scrambling to find a piece of equipment,” says [route supervisor Doug] Smith.

This is the reality of TTC operations at a time when the St. Clair line is partly shut down for reconstruction.  A report on fleet plans is due later in 2009 for all modes including streetcars.

Toronto needs to know how its service will be provided, and the streetcar system needs an infusion of confidence.  The last thing we need is the feeling that “streetcars mean bad service” just as we are trying to expand LRT into the Transit City network.

31 thoughts on “Where’s My Streetcar?

  1. So to pick up on Mr. Dowling’s note from a previous thread, why would we be scrapping a CLRV if we are in such dire need of vehicles? The TTC seems fully willing to rebuild GM buses indefinitely. I can’t see how car 4063 could have been deemed surplus given the depth of rebuild work put into past crash victims. If we can’t even cover our current bus needs how can we possibly be able to substitute buses for streetcars?!? What are the implications for service on existing bus routes from this syphoning of vehicles, especially on accessable routes? Why is the TTC so sure they will get functioning low-floor streetcars at some uncertain future date when they’re not even finished with the bidding process? How bad are things going to get over the next few years before they ever get better? I have a hard time believing the coming fleet plan report is going to satisfactorily answer these questions.


  2. How long, if an order is placed for Streetcars this year, will it take before we start replacing the CLRVs/ALRVs? If it is 5 yrs + before all are replaced I am scared we won’t be able to keep enough cars running until then.

    Do you think any consideration will be given to a rebuild of some of the CLRVs since the order has been delayed?

    In my opinion,in order to avoid the “streetcars mean bad service” we have to keep St. Clair (once finally finished) and Spadina running smoothly, without running buses. After those routes, if the TTC has to run buses, what routes could they feasibly replace streetcars without a backlash from the public?

    I live at King/Sherbourne and it’s pretty hard to get on a streetcar during rush hour with current service levels. I can only imagine how much worse King West is.

    Just a few thoughts – thanks.


  3. Over the last couple of years riding the Queen Streetcar I’ve noticed there are weeks at a time when it seems like a third of the cars are CLRVs instead of ALRVs, then the ALRV return for a few months.

    Even when you get a ALRV on more then half of them at least one of the Stop Request signs don’t work, sometimes both.


  4. I’ve been pushing for some streetcar lines to go 100% bus until we get low floor cars (at which time they would be the first to get them). I’ve pushed for Carlton, but some math and a look at the service summary shows that Bathurst plus the 502 and 503, when combined, use just about as many cars. I know that you do not like the idea of running busses in with streetcars (IE the 502 and 503 as buses in with the 501) but it seems like we will be facing that fate anyway.

    Using these routes gives us the opportunity to improve service (unlike my previous Carlton suggestions) Bathurst buses could now run on two branches. A regular 7 branch that goes from Steeles, not to Bloor, but to King, and a new branch running where the 511 did. What’s so great is that in terms of seats (passenger space) Bathurst south of Bloor is almost exactly double that north of Bloor (IE if you turned around half of all northbound buses at Bloor, you’d match current capacity) Doing these things would allow for Bathurst to continue to operate and even see better service. Depending on how long these rail bridge repairs take, you could even extend a 511 bus service all the way to St.Clair West.

    Next is the 502 and 503, which would also be bus service. You could now operate these routes in true off-peak hours (taking over from the 22) at 15 minute or better frequencies. No longer will Kingston road be better served at midnight then at noon. The added benefit is that we can merge both the 502 and 503 (run it down King, or perhaps, Adelaide and Richmond) and that now we are not worrying about cars trying to pass one another in Bathurst station, we can even run the true “downtowner” route, and run these routes up to Bathurst station.

    I truly and honestly feel that if we let 10% of all runs on all routes become buses, that next year it will become 20%, and then 40%, and finally 100%, and all our legacy routes will be eliminated, and we will only have LRT in the suburbs.

    Steve: Riders on the 511 should not be condemned to bad service while the 7? makes its way around construction at Dupont Street. Regardless of mode, the service south of Bloor should stay separate from that north of Bloor. Also, there will be times when streetcars are needed for special events. If anything, it is the streetcars that should run express, not the buses, but that’s a long story.

    By the way, there is a problem on Fleet Street in that buses cannot operate reliably on the right of way. Something about those pesky centre poles. Hmmmm.

    As for the 502/503, I have been arguing for combining them into one route for some time, if only so that a car might show up now and then, reliably, outbound from downtown. Off peak service on Kingston Road is a joke, however, considering that the 22A when it runs provides much better service than the 502.


  5. It’s my impression that the 501 actually is doing better these days. Although I have been stuck in a couple of 7 p.m. streetcar die-offs at Queen and Kingston Rd. recently — no following car in sight, no car in front to wait for us — which makes me fear they are backsliding.


  6. Here’s a really important question – How are meaningful statistics supposed to be generated in regards to recent service adjustments and line management changes if the poor and wildly shifting availability of the streetcar fleet does not allow for a consistent baseline to measure against?

    Steve: I expect to receive the CIS data for the Queen routes covering December and January in the near future. I already have data from December 2006 and 2007, and January 2008 which have been previously summarized on this site. I think we will have quite enough material to get a sense of changes in the line over time.


  7. I realise we’re looking for general trends which should be quite clear from your personal data analysis. The question is how the TTC will be presenting their story and whether once again they will be using averages and trends to gloss-over a number of serious issues. I certainly trust you to get this right and hold their feet to the fire but I don’t have the same faith in their ‘political’ handling, especially as it relates to future fleet size, vehicle size and associated headways/service levels/loading standards. And whatever happened to “Spares”?

    There have already been lengthy discussions in this blog on the issue, most recently about the subway. There seems to be clear intent to exceed designed loading maximums in the future even though we’re already exceeding them now. How long before “Service Assistance Crews” means white-gloved pushers jamming every last possible rider into the subway cars?


  8. Hi Steve:-

    The necessity of some degree of CLRV/ALRV rebuilding has been apparent for many, many months now! Where are our transit leaders? Certainly not leading! They are capable of sheepishly nodding approval at a foolish report of keeping and extending ICTS in Scarberia though! Wow what a marvellous group, eh?

    Ya’ know, this is unbelievable that the TTC would even consider bustituting when streetcars are on the property but not available for use. It brings to mind the lowest ebb of streetcar subway service in Boston when they could field one, or maybe two car PCC trains on most schedules (some were missing) when ideally there should have been three car trains. And we as visitors from our great burgh of TO laughed at thier plight, knowing full well that it wasn’t the real transit people on the ‘T’ who were failing their patrons, but the so called leaders; the bureaucratic office types and handcuffing politicos who were to blame. The car yards were full of out of service cars for lack of committment to repair and or rebuild them.

    Why, when that kind of lesson was only three decades ago, do we now have to suffer through the same lack of regard for our needs. Canadians, eh? We just love to copy our ‘Big Sister’ to the south don’t we; warts and all!

    Dennis Rankin


  9. Interesting comment that the Bathurst streetcars should run express and leave the local pickup to the busses. It was noticed long ago on Bay street that the streetcars basically controlled the flow on the street. I have noticed this effect for years on Bathurst when busses were used. The “express” busses could not get past the street cars and were therefore were not effective as an express service. Running the streetcars with limited stops would speed up the whole operation.


  10. One small wrinkle in having buses take over some streetcar routes (one hopes, temporarily) is the fact that we don’t exactly have millions of spare buses lying around either. I was at the public input meeting, and Giambrone averred that right now, with several hybrids in the shop getting their batteries replaced, there are *no* spare buses in the AM peak. I don’t know if he was exaggerating, but that’s pretty worrying.


  11. Please, please don’t interline all those Bathurst street services. It is bad enough that the buses can’t even bother to make their way to St. Clair on time, but bear in mind that even overnight, the damned 310 can’t make it from Steeles to the Ex without bunching up. They run every 15 MINUTES!!! I shouldn’t be an issue.

    Also, about Fleet Street, it can be done, but the real problem is when no policy exists directing buses as to whether or not to use the ROW. Not fun, I say, not fun to wait for a bus when you might just have to cross 10 lanes of Lakeshore Blvd, W to catch it.


  12. I sense that bus refurbishments must be a lot cheaper than streetcar rebuilds. At the very least they have a lot more experience refurbishing buses.

    In the light of the existing (or impending) streetcar shortage mentioned in the article it would seem a reasonable bet that those 52 GM buses to be refurbished may just be the beginning of things. Those streetcar routes are not accessible and neither are those old buses. When push comes to shove they may just keep them around another five or six years until new streetcars arrive.

    Maybe someone on the inside can comment about whether they are still sending buses to scrap these days that have been removed from the road – if they start stashing them in long lines at various garages it could be that they are keeping them as insurance.


  13. Is Kristian saying the 4063 is to be scrapped? I have a picture of the previous 4063 — sticking out from under a pile of Landsdowne carhouse. (how do I send that in?)

    Sometime (in the late 60s?) one magazine published some stats on streetcar availability. Most cities were in the same bracket, but Boston was way below. There was a comment “But Boston is a special case” with no explanation, Anyone remember why?

    (apologies if I’m off topic)

    Steve: You can email it (see the email topic in the navigation bar). The 4063 you refer to would, of course, be a PCC, not the CLRV of the same number.

    Boston had notoriously poor maintenance and fleet availability, and not just for streetcars. I remember seeing a bus garage with 300, count ’em, 300 dead buses. The garage was used only for storage and these vehicles were fairly new. The problem was that they had no proper inventory or maintenance management. A bus with a minor problem would have a part stolen to fix another vehicle, and now a small problem became a big one because of the missing parts. This was the classic capital vs operating subsidy issue — lots of money to buy vehicles, but no money to maintain them. We still do the same thing today right here in Toronto by starving the operating side for funds while holding lots of photo ops for cheques to buy stuff.


  14. The rebuild of the CLRVs and probably the ALRVs should start now. I have opined before about the harm done to “mass” transit by those who think that “mobility” is achieved by “accessibility” (low floor). The obsession with low floor lead to a major delay in replacement of the TTC’s bus fleet, and the unfortunate embrace of the disasterous Orions. Clearly new low floor – or other design – streetcars are many years away. An ordered rebuild of the existing fleet is required. One of the few things the TTC does with excellence is rebuilding – our GM Diesels would not be running on most systems at their age – and we need to employ that excellence to rectify the horrible planning that has otherwise been exhibited. I talked with an Operator who was on her third streetcar of the day. This is unacceptable, and each changeover would have resulted in a service delay. We need reliable cars and rebuilt cars could run for a full shift unlike the old broken down fleet we now have.


  15. Michael Greason Says:
    “TI talked with an Operator who was on her third streetcar of the day. This is unacceptable, and each changeover would have resulted in a service delay. We need reliable cars and rebuilt cars could run for a full shift unlike the old broken down fleet we now have.”

    Since most streetcar routes are in the downtown core, with all 3 streetcar carhouses outside of the downtown core (Hillcrest at Davenport Road & Bathurst Street, Roncesvalles at Queen & Roncesvalles and Russell (Connaught) at Queen & Coxwell),… if a streetcar breaks down downtown, it’ll need about 30 minutes to get to one of the outlying carhouses and another 30 minutes for the replacement streetcar to get to the downtown core. Anyways, wouldn’t it be great if the TTC had a streetcar carhouse in the downtown core,… or at least someplace where the TTC can store service ready streetcars downtown,… or at least close by. Hey, don’t the TTC have that humongous streetcar loop with storage track at Exhibition Place (that’s only really busy “a few weeks a year”),… and it’s under the Gardiner Expressway which serves as a roof. Certainly it can’t hold as many streetcars as a regular carhouse and it won’t have a full repair shop,… but add a few more storage tracks and it’s close enough to the downtown core,… just a quick run up Bathurst,… err, probably better to take Spadina and the replacement streetcar will be in the downtown core with less downtime.

    Hmmmm,…. now if only the TTC can find some replacement streetcars ready for service!


  16. About 20 years ago a carhouse shedman at Russell pointed at the three tracks of PCC cars at the west side of the yard and said (as best I can remember) “Those cars are the TTC’s bread and butter. When the CLRVs have problems, they’re ready to run and save the day so we can make service. I don’t know what we’re going to do when they’re gone.” Well, here we are, no more bread and butter. Hoping that the CLRVs will limp along long enough without proper repairs until some unidentified date when a new fleet will save the day is not going to cut it. Those cars need beefed-up maintenance and the refurbishing of some or all cars to some extent must be done to ensure a basic level of reliable streetcar service for the next three-four years.


  17. Like Colin, I live close to King/Sherbourne and one problem in this stretch of King is that short-turned King cars returning west from Parliament or Broadview/Dundas are routed down Church Street from Queen and thus completely miss the increasingly busy stretch of King Steet east of Church. I live in hope that when the 504 branch down Cherry is built (2010?) the King cars being turned will return westbound from there and Parliament/Church will no longer be used for these ‘direction changes”. Until then it’s a pity the Parliament Street loop was given up (and is to be another car dealership when the building permit is approved.)


  18. Every streetcar that breaks down takes another out of service to push it which is a double-blow to the service. This is compounded by the ridiculousness of the tow-bar coupling system which takes extra time to set up and cuts the running speed way down for safety reasons. It’s an absolute disgrace that the automatic couplers were removed. It is also unlikely the new streetcars (non-TC) will have coupler provision at all and will perpetuate this problem for 30 more years, except the disrupted passenger capacity will be like four CLRVs at once, not including the wider headways we’re pretty much guaranteed.

    Steve: The new LRVs are intended to be capable of train operation on Transit City lines. They will have couplers. Even when the CLRV fleet had couplers, there was a problem with not being certain that the “automatic” coupler worked on a disabled car, and the tow bar was used to be sure.


  19. Note I specifically stated the new single-ended non-TC fleet where there are no plans for MU operation.

    The automatic couplers of the past used a self-latching mechanism which didn’t necessarily require the electrical contacts to be engaged. If the TTC didn’t use them for disabled towing it sounds like this was more out of paranoia than anything else. The couplers were designed to be mechanically failsafe when locked together. The “couple” button on the control console was only to engage the electrical contacts if necessary AFTER the couplers snapped themselves together. I fail to understand how tow-bars could have been safer than the self-locking couplers especially when the TTC had to redesign the tow-bars recently because they were wearing out prematurely and separating.

    Steve: I believe that they had at least one runaway and changed their procedures to use the tow bars thereafter. The problem may have been on a steep grade where the coupler was unable to hold against the weight of the car being “pushed” downhill.

    If the tow bars are wearing out, this suggests that they are getting a LOT of use.


  20. Raymond Jean said:

    “Hmmmm,…. now if only the TTC can find some replacement streetcars ready for service!”

    Last summer, at a meeting at the “North Pole” I suggested to a TTC official, when told they were short of cars and it would get much worse before new low-floor LRVs arrived, that TTC should consider acquiring some of the Berlin Tatra T6 cars newly removed from service (but in excellent condition) before they (Berlin) started selling them off to former east bloc systems. The T6 has advanced PCC technology and the B-3 trucks are capable of being regauged from 1435mm. The pans are easily replaced by trolley poles with some minor wiring relocation and hardware remounts. All were rebult in the late 1990s with modern upgrades to replace the original spartan components. I rode them in 2006 and they were in fine condition, MU equipped as well, with automated systems to run 2 and 3 car trains with a single crew-person (try that here). Nowhere else but in Berlin are there sufficient USABLE spare cars to solve TTC’s shortage. Nowhere.

    The official considered this and thought it had considerable merit but doubted that funding could be obtained. It all comes down to $$$$$, folks. and this is way less expensive than rebuilding CLRV/ALRV cars. Now Berlin is starting to flog a few T6s eastward. That window of opportunity is closing quickly.


  21. It’s pretty clear to me that running buses on a completed (whenever that happens) St. Clair would be political suicide for LRT. Spadina, and Harbourfront cars also cannot make this conversion (due to the Union Station loop in particular, and the Spadina station loop as well (likely)

    Queen and Carlton should be the next least likely to change to bus (given the volume of traffic on the routes and 24-hour service levels.)

    I suppose the best (of the worst) to be converted IS the 502/503 Kingston/Downtowner and then the 511 Bathurst.



  22. “I suppose the best (of the worst) to be converted IS the 502/503 Kingston/Downtowner and then the 511 Bathurst.”

    As someone who uses 502/503 from time-to-time (and really wished they just simply ran them all as 502, and ran a 12-minute frequency all day), replacement by bus would be a great thing. It would no doubt increase reliability and regularity. Though I’d think that having some buses running down Queen, and mostly streetcars, would be confusing – and there isn’t that many vehicles available on 502/503. I’d expect they would simply add buses to the 502 through 506 routes ad-hoc as necessary.


  23. Kristian said, “Every streetcar that breaks down takes another out of service to push it which is a double-blow to the service.”

    One thing I noticed fairly regularly in Melbourne is the presence of Tram Recovery Vehicles – see http://www.flickr.com/photos/mybarina/2920408845/

    Though they will sometimes use a tow bar with another tram to move a disabled tram, these vehicles allow breakdowns to be moved to a depot without using another part of the fleet.


  24. The other problem is that streetcars are on “fixed” routes – if there is an accident, you cannot always route streetcars around it like you can with a bus. That’s why we need more dedicated tracks.


  25. Although the T6 isn’t the cutest (nor best) streetcar out there, it’s newer than both the CLRVs and ALRVs; has about 29 seats, and standing room for 81 people; probably can be purchase for cheap; and can give the TTC a chance to try out all door boarding before any new streetcars come in.

    The only I want to know is: how much work and money might be need to convert these for operation on Toronto’s streets?


  26. Actually, Christian, the Berlin Tatra PCCs are overall yellow with gray under the rubrail over the trucks. You’re probaby thinking of the simiar cars in Prague and those aren’t availablel

    At least they’d be ready to convert to Rail Grinders, something TTC desparately needs.


  27. Sorry, mislabelled web photo, but at least it’s inspiring. Frankly I’m starting not to care what they look like any more just as long as we have an operational fleet.
    Good call on the Rail Grinders. I thought there had been discussion of purchasing a new grinding train – What ever happened about that?


  28. Nicholas,

    Actually, I think the #12/B bus could be brought past the loop, down all of Kingston Road and up to Coxwell Station instead (having the negative effect of transferring trips to the BD subway (which would likely go South of Bloor as that is where the 502/503 had terminated). The 502/503 cars could be used on the other lines.

    Downtown Toronto is not, and will never be wide enough for streetcars to operate within a ROW. (Unless they’re moved onto Richmond/Adelaide or some other one-way scheme– which wouldn’t allow them to easily meet up with the BD stations on the east or west).

    A more-than reasonable alternative would be to lay track down on every major street between Roncesvalles and Coxwell between College and (King–with necessary use of different streets between Queen & King). These tracks would not be used for revenue service, but to divert cars on College/Dundas/Queen/King out of the way for a single block instead of the current massive sections:

    Lansdowne/Jameson, Dufferin/Gladstone, Ossington/Shaw
    McCaul/Duncan, Bay, Church, Parliament, Carlaw, Jones, and Greenwood.

    Actually tracking Dufferin (if it were possible) to St. Clair would add one more diversion option — though we know the problems the CLRV/ALRVs have with with the Lake Iroquois shoreline.

    Steve: Somehow I think that your diversion option is not going to get much, er, traction.


  29. I don’t know how running Kingston Road buses up to Coxwell would help replace the 502/503 service. Last time I tried to go downtown via the Danforth subway from that area in rush-hour, I near got myself and my baby killed trying to change at Bloor-Yonge, the platforms were packed so badly – I had to stand about an inch from the track holding a baby! I’m amazed they aren’t putting people into jail, it’s so clearly unsafe.

    What I’d do next time is take the 506/504/501 if there was no 502.


Comments are closed.