Why Streetcars?

Tom Jurenka sent in the following note, and it raises questions that deserve a debate.

Hello Steve

As a non-native Torontonian (grew up in Winnipeg, but have lived in Toronto for 24 years now) I have always been puzzled — and often infuriated — by streetcars (and the absolutely terrible traffic light timing in Toronto, but that is another story).

My question is an honest one — WHY? All I can see is the negatives of streetcars:

  • they tear up streets (I’ve lived through Queen Street E, Gerrard, now St. Clair, being torn up utterly to undo the damage of streetcars pounding the rails)
  • they are slow as molasses (as a bicyclist, I routinely pass 5 or 6 streetcars on Queen Street heading from AC Harris to downtown)
  • because of their slowness and immobility they delay traffic all the time, causing snarls and the attendant idling pollution
  • they are super expensive (witness the recent funding mess)

So I’m really curious why streetcars are a better alternative to trolley buses or just plain old buses, which move fast, are mobile, and are less expensive per unit to buy. Would you be able to point me at some links/articles/studies/whatever to help me understand this issue?

Thank you for your time.

Best regards,

Tom Jurenka

This is a far more complex question than just the list above, but I will use this as a jumping off point.


Without question, track construction is a major pain in the ass for affected neighbourhoods.  We are now nearing the end of a long program to correct the combined effect of short-sighted TTC practices in track construction and design flaws in the CLRV fleet.  Once that’s done, the frequency of track construction, especially on the grand scale we have seen for the past eight years or so, will diminish and along with it the associated disruption and capital cost.

This is an object lesson in the perils of bad design and the long-range effects of poor choices.

Until the late 1960s, TTC track was built from continuously welded sections of rail, and this was installed in the street in a manner that made it fairly easy to dig up and make repairs.  The welded rail holds together much longer and does not produce vibrations at the joints that lead to breakup of the pavement.  In 1968, after a derailment accident with one of the two crane cars used to perform track installation, this practice stopped.  At that time, the TTC’s policy was that streetcars would be gone by 1980, and there was no point in building track that would last for decades.

This decision, however, was compounded by a change in road paving standards imposed by the city primarily to increase roads’ structural capacity for trucking.  All pavement around streetcar tracks was built of concrete slabs with no mechanical isolation from the track.  The vibration of passing streetcars and the effect of the unwelded joints led to concrete deterioration around the rails.  Salt water seeped into the trackbed, and the common freeze-thaw problem further broke up the pavement.

When the TTC had decided to keep streetcars, track construction standards did not revert back to the old, more robust welded arrangement, and it was claimed that the concrete would hold the rails in place.  This short-sighted stance was compounded when the new streetcars arrived.  They were about 25% heavier than the PCC cars, mainly because they had been designed for high-speed suburban operation that they would never actually see.  Moreover, the wheels on the cars were particularly good at transmitting low frequency vibrations into the ground, and this accelerated the demise of the track.  That problem has since been fixed with the use of new wheels, but we are stuck with the weight.

Fast forward to the early 1990s.  By this time, the track infrastructure was badly deteriorated through inferior construction and vibration from the newer fleet, and the TTC had to roughly double the rate at which it replaced track.  Roadbeds that should have lasted 25 years were wearing out in about 10.  They are now using a construction technique with welded rail and mechanical isolation of the track from the roadbed.  Moreover, the substructure uses steel ties, rather than the untreated wood used since sometime in the 1970s.  This means that the track bed will not disintegrate as the ties rot underneath it.  Finally, all recent construction has gone right down to the base slab, and the lower layers of the structure should last a very long time with future track replacement limited to the upper part of the structure.

Just as we reach that point, the City has begun a program to rebuild its antique watermain system and this has complicated and lengthened the period during which streets are under construction (Roncesvalles and Church as examples).  On St. Clair, leaving aside basic design issues, the decision to rebuild just about everything — water, hydro, streetcar track, roads — sounded like a good idea.  Do it once and get it over with.  However, in practice there were many problems with co-ordination of the projects and arbitrary changes by individual agencies that cascaded through the overall plan.  The design and tendering process was done in such a way that work did not begin as promtly as it might in some areas, and jobs that should have finished in one construction season dragged into two.

The streetcar, as a vehicle, is taking the rap for many atrocious decisions of past TTC management and poor contract co-ordination by the City.  On top of this, the St. Clair project suffered from one major problem:  many competing interests wanted their priorities reflected in the design, but there simply isn’t enough room on St. Clair to fit everything in.  Some design decisions resulted in precious space being lost, and political decisions favoured priorities for motorists over pedestrians.

In brief, the TTC decided to retain streetcars in 1972, but its track construction, if anything, deteriorated over the following decades.  Couple that with heavier cars and a bad initial choice of wheels and you have a recipe for a self-destructing system.  Stir in a decision to perform “co-ordinated” repairs by many agencies and you have never-ending construction projects.

Slow Streetcars on Queen

Some aspects of streetcar operation are going to be inherently slower than road traffic because transit vehicles must stop to load passengers.  However, this is compounded by several TTC operating practices.

  • Queen runs with larger cars, but at most stops all loading is done through the front doors.  This underutilizes the space within the car and substantially increases the time spent at stops.  This problem will not be corrected until the new cars are in operation with all-door loading and self-service fare collection.
  • At all intersections with switches, the TTC now has a stop-and-proceed policy for facing point switches.  This prevents cars from quickly pulling away from stops and, on occasion, even results in cars getting just far enough to trip the sensor for the “transit priority” signal and turn the light red against the streetcar (which is assumed to have crossed the intersection).  Why stop-and-proceed?  When the ALRVs (the long cars on Queen) were delivered, the TTC had to change the way in which electric switches were controlled to a system that would work for any vehicle length.  This new system has never worked properly, and to guard against derailments, operators must approach any switch prepared to stop in case it leaps open in front of them.  This also happens at manual switches where only a transit poltergeist could force the switch to move.  There is a capital project to replace the switching systems, but it has not actually started yet.
  • On Queen, one of the ways that the TTC has attempted to deal with short turns and service reliability is to pad the schedule with recovery time.  However, at some times of the day the running times are grossly excessive and cars must kill time to avoid getting ahead of schedule.  The TTC has a policy of fining operators for running “hot” even when it is impossible to avoid this because the schedule deliberately has extra time.  This is a classic case of conflicting priorities.  Streetcars are quite capable of sprightly operation.  A move from schedule-based line management to headway-based management would help a lot in this area.  Cars would be able to move at whatever the prevailing traffic speed is provided that they maintain a regular spacing from each other.

You mentioned traffic signal timings.  Toronto has a self-image as a world leader in transit priority signalling.  If this is true, then the rest of the world must have little postcards of Toronto intersections sitting on altars for worship by frustrated traffic engineers.  I think not.

There are a number of problems with “transit priority signals” in Toronto including:

  • There is no mechanism for interaction between operators and the signals.  A car can arrive at an intersection where a large crowd is waiting to board, but the traffic light will hold green for the streetcar to speed it away.  There is a good chance that this process will time out, and the signal will turn red against the streetcar just when it needs a green.  This is time that could have been used for the cross-street.  Once an operator signals that departure is imminent (the crowd is nearly all boarded), the signals should clear for the cross-street(s) as far as the next stop (see next point).
  • Many intersections do not work ideally for transit vehicles because detection for an oncoming car is too close to the signal.  This can happen where signalized cross-streets are close together and some of them don’t have transit stops.  The system should control minor streets based on the progression of green time for streetcars from locations where there are stops, not on a block-by-block basis.
  • At farside stops (Spadina, Harbourfront, St. Clair, etc.), streetcars can be forced to stop twice because they arrive at an intersection on a red cycle and must wait for the following left turn phase before finally crossing to the transit island.  On Harbourfront, there is a separate transit cycle and streetcars cannot use the green time for through traffic.  The cycle is only long enough for one streetcar to cross even though pairs of cars are common during heavy service periods.
  • At a few locations, notably crossings of Lake Shore Boulevard, the green time for east-west traffic is exceptionally long even though there are times when no traffic can be seen.  This is an example of a system that is incapable of analysing actual conditions and adjusting priorities accordingly.

All of these problems would be visited on buses were they to replace streetcars.  The problem is with traffic engineering that is not transit focussed, putting it generously.  The priority is for maximising the green time available for cars together with a “trickle down” claim that if cars move faster, so will transit.  The TTC complains about this all of the time, but refuses to publicly advance alternatives during design discussions such as St. Clair.  Effectively, the TTC is complicit by its lack of open advocacy for better signalling practices.

Cost of Vehicles

Vehicle costs need to be compared in light of capacity, lifespan and operating expenses.

The new streetcars have a base price just under $5-million.  For this we get a car that should last at least 30 years and be rebuildable for another 10 to 15.  The vehicle capacity is claimed to be 240 by Bombardier, but I remain skeptical that this can be achieved under normal operating conditions.  By contrast, the design capacity for scheduling purposes of an ALRV is 108 compared with a crush capacity of around 150.  The new cars, with all-door loading will achieve a better use of space, but I suspect their capacity for planning purposes will be around 150.  By contrast, the capacity of a bus is about 50 for scheduling purposes.  For a subway car, the design capacity is about 167 (1,000 per train) although the crush load is about 200.

Diesel buses cost the TTC about $500K each based on an order for delivery in 2010, and hybrids cost about $932K each based on the current order.  I will not comment on the relative merits of propulsion technologies or political choices of one over the other as that is outside of my scope here.  We can hope that hybrids will become relatively cheaper and of course there are some savings, but not as much as expected, in fuel costs to offset the higher capital cost.

As a matter of interest, back when Streetcars For Toronto argued for streetcar retention back in 1972, the relative cost of a new streetcar and a new bus was much lower than it is today, even allowing for the much larger size of the new cars.  Today, a new streetcar represents roughly 3 buses on a planned capacity basis.  The cost per “planning” space on a streetcar is $33,300, on a hybrid bus is $18,600 and on a diesel bus is $10,000.  However, the streetcar will last at least twice as long as a bus and will have lower operating costs per passenger.  The operator driving a bus is one of the most expensive components of that transit service.

The figures above are quite rough and are not corrected for inflationary effects of deliveries in different time frames.  They are meant to give a general indication only, not a definitive answer.

Line Capacity

When the City decided to keep its streetcars in 1972, demand on the streetcar lines was better than today in most cases.  Part of the change can be traced to changes in demographics, land use and travel patterns.  However, much  blame rests with the TTC.

Starting in 1980, “excess” capacity was tuned out of the system — “tailoring service to meet demand” was the catchphrase from a former TTC Planning Manager.  This is the best sort of accounting exercise that ignores the real effect of trimming the so-called fat.

Transit routes encounter all sorts of upheavals, and it is impractical to schedule service based on every bus or streetcar having a full load.  Even within a peak hour, there will be a super-peak which the service tries to accommodate.  The less “excess”, the more likely any overload from traffic congestion or variations in demand (something as simple as whether or not vehicles meet at heavy transfer points) will affect service leading to delays, short turns and overcrowding.

The link between service levels and riding on the streetcar routes is a chicken-and-egg question to some extent, but one thing is clear.  Where service dropped markedly through the combined effect of service cuts and wider headways for ALRVs (Bathurst and Queen routes), riding fell.  Where service stayed roughly the same (King) riding held.

In the future, the downtown lines will have to cope with growing riding if only there is service good enough to attract it.  The population along streetcar routes will rise and, with it, demand on those routes.

I have written previously on the decline in service on major routes both as an update to Transit’s Lost Decade, a review of service and ridership since 1976 and a look at that old TTC slogan Always A Car In Sight taking things right back to the mid-50s when the Yonge Subway opened.

Recent changes in the Service Standards, part of the Ridership Growth Strategy, have lowered the design targets for vehicles resulting in more service.  However, there are two big caveats:  there must be enough vehicles and operators to actually field the service, and the budget must have enough funding to pay for it.  Streetcars are in short supply, and as readers will see when I review the September 2009 service changes, so are buses.  We have riders, we even have the political will to pay for more service, up to a point, but we have no more vehicles.

Taking King as an example, the AM peak headway gets down to 2’00”.  The design capacity is, roughly, 23 CLRVs at 74 plus 7 ALRVs at 108 for a total of 2,464.  Providing this with buses would require almost 50 vehicles per hour, a service frequency low enough that it would add considerably to congestion due to platooning.  This frequency is possible on some suburban routes only because the streets are wider and there is mixed local and express operation.

By comparison, the Dufferin bus operates on an old-style 4-lane city street, and provides under 1,200 passengers per hour of design capacity.  Buses there commonly run in packs and the capacity is not evenly utilized.

New neighbourhoods in the Waterfront are designed with the premise that most commuters will use the TTC, and projected demands are at and above those now seen on the heaviest parts of the streetcar system.  These cannot be met with buses even with a move to articulated vehicles, assuming reliable, long-lived versions of these can be found.

The streetcar routes need more capacity, but operation with buses would limit what the TTC could provide.  As lands along these routes redevelop, transit capacity must also rise or we will have the absurd situation of forcing people to drive cars in the very part of Toronto where it should be easiest for them to use transit.  The absence of good service has a cost too, although it may not appear on the TTC’s balance sheet.


This article is not intended as a definitive argument for streetcars, but an overview of major issues.  In 1972, Toronto saved its streetcar system, but then did little to reinforce that decision with better service and system expansion.  We waited almost two decades just for the Harbourfront shuttle, and a quarter-century for the restoration of service on Spadina.  Suburban expansion was completely off of the table.

Times change.  I won’t really believe that Transit City exists until I can ride the lines and see new cars brimming with happy riders, but it’s a goal the city finally has pursued.

100 thoughts on “Why Streetcars?

  1. Thank you, M. Briganti, for clarifying your point. Alas, you do hit the nail on the head as to how the TTC will screw up any further streetcar operation. As I have said in above posts, “I can dream, can’t I?”, in hoping the TTC (and other Ontario transit agencies looking at streetcars) will see the light and think things through.


  2. I am hoping that the TTC does not repeat the same mistake they made when the CLRV appeared. They got rid of the PCC’s as the CLRV’s arrived. Today, there are more PCC’s at the Halton County Radial Railway Museum than the TTC has. If the TTC had kept a substantial fleet of PCC’s for rush hour service, we would have been in better condition for service levels.

    When the new low-floor light rail vehicles start to arrive, do not junk the CLRV’s. Rebuild them for rush hour and supplemental service. While they would not be handicap accessible, they can still fill in when needed whenever crowds warrant them.


  3. My calculation was looking at total service – after all, that’s the real world. These are very basic macro numbers provided by the

    Peak ridership is limited to a periods during the day/week – and to a portion of the route.

    Now perhaps you were watching the old documentary about Einstein’s thought experiment regarding special relativity. In this the tram moving at speeds approaching the speed of light apparently shrinks from the the point of view of the ‘stationary’ observer. For example, if a tram is moving ) 0.866c, it ‘contracts’ by a factor of 2.

    However, with everyday speeds, trams or LRVs do not contract when they are not in peak service – i.e. most of the time. So most of the time, the larger vehicle is more empty than the smaller vehicle. This is why it isn’t valid to use the relative size of the vehicles.

    Steve: Actually the issue is the peak versus the offpeak loading standard for the vehicles. In all cases, the off peak standard is based on a seated load. It has nothing to do with relativistic contraction (which does not occur from the passengers’ point of view, by the way).

    Yes – transit users take trips of different lengths. However, the Transit City routes are more or less on existing bus routes. As you’ve written numerous times, the Transit City scheme is not to provide long distance service – but more for local service. It’s not going to be fast enough.

    In terms of the cost of diesel buses, the $550 k is on the high end. Transit agencies in Canada are now buying Novabus LFS models for about $450 thousand. [A consortium of Quebec agencies is buying 731 buses for $300 million. The Montreal agency is taking delivery (between 2009 and 2011 or 410 buses at $460 k each – and $430 K after rebates from the vendor.]

    I’m pretty certain the maintenance costs I quoted were from 2001 – in which case, the CLRVs and ALRVs were not yet at the end of their lifespan. I’d guess that the costs are much higher now.

    The question of meeting peak demand is separate.

    Before the bigger cars came into service at the end of the 70’s, the streetcar service was provided by PCCs – which had a total capacity of 65 passengers – seated plus standing. You’ve often stated that the streetcar service in the days of yore carried many more passengers that today. hmmm.

    Steve: That is not correct. The capacity of a PCC was in the same range as the CLRV for service design purposes, around 75, and considerably higher under crush load.

    You seem to conveniently narrow the capacity question to trying to force feed service down a few select routes – disregarding the fact that there little or no surface transit service on many routes into downtown (Eastern/Front, Laksehore, University.)

    It seems to me that the capacity question and streetcars are respectively, a false question and a false solution.

    In terms of people riding smelly buses, it seems that these vehicles attract 1.25 million riders on a average weekday. It’s hardly the words of a ‘transit advocate’ to make the statement you have above.

    Steve: There is nothing wrong with buses, but they cannot handle the demand we expect to see on major routes.


  4. PCCs riding rough? Well I’ll admit that the ride certainly wasn’t perfect. The worst ride I ever had on one was in Pittsburgh back in the 1980s. That damn thing bounced all over the place so badly that I had my head close enough to the window that I bumped it. And then I stood up and had one hell of a time standing straight up. On the other hand I can remember as a kid thinking a PCC ride in Toronto was a bit too rough until one day my dad, mom, brother and I took that Belt Line Tour Tram for a spin and a PCC ride never seemed so bad again with the exception of that day in Pittsburgh.

    Steve: The track in Pittsburgh was atrocious and it was a testimonial to the PCC design that cars didn’t derail. No track in Toronto has ever come close to the condition of track on the system when it was being allowed to fall apart in hopes of abandonment. A once huge system was reduced to a handful of lines before that was stopped and what was left of the system revived.


  5. On my lunch hour (obviously being ‘out to lunch’), I looked up some specifics on routes that projected to be converted to LRT.

    I used two documents:

    (1) Transit City Light Rail Plan – Evaluation and Comparison of Routes: (Nov 14th 2007)

    Click to access backgroundfile-9473.pdf

    (2) The latest TTC service summary

    Click to access Service_Summary_2009-06-21_v2.pdf

    Page 5 (Table 2) in the first document gives a summary of the before and after line performance. It does not show current vehicles used on the routes. This I calculated from the TTC service summary. I picked two routes to make the comparison:

    1. Don Mills
    2. Sheppard East

    because these have the fewest complications with partially ‘converted’ routes (e.g. Lawrence buses running on Eglinton).

    Don Mills:

    Current annual ridership = 13.7 million
    Estimated daily ( divide by 300) = 45,667

    Peak hour buses = 32
    Gross up for spare factor (multiply by 1.26) [Service summary numbers show about 1350 buses deployed in am peak out 1700 in the fleet.]
    = 40

    Daily riders per bus = 45,667 / 40 = 1142

    Expected LRT annual ridership = 21.2 million
    Estimated daily ( divide by 300) = 70,667

    Daily riders per LRV = 70,667 / 46 = 1536

    Ratio of LRT ridership per vehicle / Bus ridership per vehicle = 1536 / 1142 = 1.345

    Sheppard East:

    Similar calcuation for this route gives:

    Daily riders per bus = 895
    Project daily riders per LRV = 1571

    Ratio of LRT ridership per vehicle / Bus ridership per vehicle = 1571/ 895= 1.755

    Both figures are much closer to 1.73 than they are to 3.

    Steve: This is an indication of two things. Improved service in the short term (higher ratio of capacity to demand) and scope for future improvement.


  6. People are going to be in for a rude awakening when the see how bumpy the new low-floor streetcars will be. I don’t think anything can match the CLRVs in terms of a smooth ride.


  7. Considering the kidney-shaking condtions of most of the roads in Toronto today, many people would prefer the ride of a low-floor LRT over a bus. Besides, I would think the new improved track beds would help for a smoother ride. If Toronto needs to have a vehicle heavier than ten elephants as is the CLRV, then the city is still stuck in the ’70’s.


  8. Steve, your post brings up the issue of the CLRVs being significantly heavier than the earlier PCCS (and David Cavlovic’s recent comment also refers to the weight issue).

    Steve: Yes, the CLRVs were about 25% heavier than the PCCs. Part came from their being a bit longer, but a lot from the heavyweight trucks that were intended for stable, high-speed operation on suburban lines (I am not kidding).

    I am suspicious that the new streetcars will not be any better than the CLRVs/ALRVs in the category where weight counts — in weight per axle. Right off the bat, the new streetcars are going to be 5 m longer than an ALRV (a little over 28 m, compared to 23.1 for an ALRV), but will have the same number of axles (6).

    I don’t see a weight specified for the new Toronto streetcars, but Wikipedia has weights for various versions of the Flexity Swift, which generally work out to about 1.25 tonnes per metre, or a little more. If the Toronto car is in that ballpark, it will be in the order of 35 tonnes (without passengers). This is about 5.8 tonnes per axle, which is about the same as a CLRV (5.7) and higher than a PCC (4.2).

    Ironically the weight per metre of the new cars would be similar to a PCC (if my calcs are correct), but unfortunately the impact on tracks comes from the weight per axle, which is higher.

    Steve: At least now we have better built track with mechanical isolation from the track slab and continuous welds in most places.


  9. Politicians like to throw around comments like “Modern streetcars no-longer have to be as heavy as tanks” in regards to the CLRVs. However the ironic reality I see is an un-altered trend toward larger and heavier designs with a significantly bulkier appearance. Other than more frequent inclusion of a full HVAC system with air conditioning, what is the reason and justification for this? The lessons learned from the PCCs seem to have been lost on everyone responsible for the choices made since the advent of the term “Light Rail Vehicle”. Lighter than a railway or a subway perhaps, but nothing like what came before, and this has been going on with systems that have been sprouting or have been rejuvenated over the last 30 years.


  10. Aside from the fact that the subject of report (identifying the numbver of LRVs) is the initial capital costs for each proposed line – and in no way mentions the numbers being anything else – the idea that the TTC would pad proposed capital costs to such a degree, defies all logic.

    If we use your methodology, the TTC is padding vehicle requirements by 73% – and should only need 210 out of the 364. Given the $6 million per unit expected cost (***not $5 million by the way – see Exbibit 1) + a 41% adder for the maintenance facility (again see Exhibit 1) – this works out to:

    1.41 x 154 x $6 million = $1.302 billion!

    The approximately 1500 per LRV daily ridership for the Transit City routes seems reasonable when current Calgary experience is considered. The busiest LRT system in North America, the Calgary C-Train system (using the latest numbers I could find):

    Weekday ridership = 297 k
    LRVs in fleet = 153

    This gives 1941 per LRV per day. Now the C-train LRV are shorter than the 30 m planned (25 m vs 30m) – but the service operates considerable faster (30 km/hr vs 23 km/hr due to station spacing and mostly fully-protected righ-of-way). The 1941 per vehicle translates to 1785 per vehicle/per day – higher than the 1509 average – but in the ball park.

    (With the population growth in Calgary – the crowding/load factors on the C-train are probably higher than one would wish to plan for in a new system.)

    In terms of how many people could fit in a 46′ PCC:
    – the TTC suggests 65 passengers max for the charter.
    – San Diego studied using PCCs in its downtown – and used 60 total in a 46′ PCC (http://www.sandiego.gov/planning/programs/transportation/mobility/uamp/pdf/plan10.pdf).
    – modern transit planning says 5 passengers per metre length for LRT. However, the PCC has more seating per length than in the modern vehicle – which takes away some capacity.

    Steve: I am really tiring of this discussion. I did not say that the TTC is padding the costs, but that they plan to offer better service to encourage growth in demand. Also your methodology has many holes in it, notably the fact that you simply cannot use ridership per vehicle as a comparison from route to route, that it’s not worth continuing this. A simple example of the fallacy of ridership per vehicle is easy to see on the TTC bus network.

    On very short routes like Coxwell, it is impossible to take a long trip and the rides per vehicle are very high. On longer routes where people are not forced to transfer, the rides per vehicle are much lower. For the most recently published data, Coxwell has 7,100 riders per day, but only 3 peak vehicles for 2,367 each. Don Mills has 40,600 riders and 31 vehicles for 1,310 each. Please don’t suggest that the Coxwell bus is almost twice as productive as Don Mills. The difference lies in the distances these buses carry their riders.

    A similar situation exists on the streetcar network where the riders per vehicle are much higher on Spadina than on any other route. Part of this is caused by the short trips taken by most riders making the resources needed to serve a trip much lower than on, say, Queen.

    Further statistical problems arise when looking at the network as a whole where the “average” peak bus handles about 1,000 riders per day. Thanks to transferring, riders are double-counted because they are included in each route’s figures.

    By comparison, GO carries 180,000 passengers per day on 470 bilevel cars — 383 per car. By your methodology, their system is hopelessly ineffecient, but this is really the combined effect of having a very peak-oriented, unidirectional demand with long trips.

    One of the major flaws in the TTC’s past attempts to allocate fare revenue to routes was that it has a built-in bias for routes that carry short trips.

    The capacity of a PCC for planning purposes has nothing to do with charters where people expect to mingle, and a 2:1 ratio of seated to standing passengers is about as far as you want to go. Seating in almost all Toronto PCCs had the same layout as in the CLRVs — 2-1 seating before the centre doors, 2-2 seating behind. Only one class of cars had 2-2 seating over the entire length, and these cars generally were only out in the peak period on the Danforth Tripper.


  11. This is how light the PCCs were: Back in the late 70’s, as teenagers, a friend of mine and I were riding the CARLTON car all the way from Main Street Stn. to High Park. At the time, my friend had a nervous twitch (being awkard teenagers as we were) and was constantly kicking the side of the streetcar (he had the window seat), causing the car to rock side to side when it was stationary, much to the annoyance of the passengers and the driver, who kept looking at us. I had to keep reminding my friend to cut it out.

    Now, try doing THAT on a CLRV. (Of course, there were worse. The small, double-ended, single-truck Birney’s could easily be de-railed by rambunctious students, who would sit at the back and start rocking, forcing everyone to get out and help re-rail the car!)


  12. Manufacturers had to re-learn the lesson that hard-mounted single trucks don’t handle all the dynamic forces well. That’s why the first generation of the Siemens Combino was an engineering disaster. Not only were derailments common, but the cars literally tore themselves apart structurally. Linking the axel side-frames to the body sections with elastic rubber-encased springs should have raised a number of red flags while the design was still on paper. Bombardier now makes a point of highlighting the fact that they’ve moved back to “traditional” independent pivoting trucks on their low-floor vehicles. This also makes removal for maintenance and replacement much simpler.

    As to weight, when the Breda LRVs arrived in San Francisco they learned the hard way through derailments that the cars were so heavy they had to go extremely slow through switches. The trucks simply refused to steer through the turn. There is no excuse for this with the dangerously steep hills there. Reducing weight should have been a priority in the design. I also remember hearing about a Minneapolis LRV that got stuck in what barely constituted a layer of snow on what barely consituted a grade. Progress? I think not.

    Lighter and simpler is better. Tradition usually stems from learned lessons. Car builders today seem to be starting with the wrong goals in mind and then trying to engineer around them to make it work at all. Once upon a time, “off the shelf” was actually a good thing. Does that hinder us now?


  13. I’m sorry your getting tired.

    To refresh your memory, in the 2nd post, I compared the TTC’s current bus and planned LRV vehicle usage for individual routes (Don Mills and Sheppard East) which would have substantially the same structure in terms of length and location before and after.

    This is nothing to do with GO Transit – that’s a world record red herring.

    These numbers (i.e. what the TTC uses today for today’s ridership VS what they plan to acquire for the ridership they expect to serve.) These show that the equipment needed for LRT is not simpy a ‘divide the buses by 3’ as you stated in the original post – and in fact a much larger investment is expected to be required. This (and the maintenance costs that you did not mention) significantly alter the comparison cost economics.

    In terms of PCC capacity – the study from San Diego (which indicates for 60 for the PCC) is for a real service – not a charter.

    (The TTC suggests 65 passengers for a bus charter – the same as for the PCC.)

    Steve: GO is not a world’s record red herring — I was showing how your own metric falls apart when applied to a different mode. As for PCC capacity, I quote from the TTC’s Electric Passenger Vehicle Roster dated July 1, 1983. W4 loading (seated plus standees at 2.3 square feet each) gives the following loadings:

    Rebuilt PCC – 102
    CLRV – 101
    SRT – 80
    G-class Subway Car – 174
    H-class Subway Car – 230
    Trolley Coach – 83

    We know that the numbers given for the SRT, the subway and the trolley coach are all high compared to the probable achievable load or the actual design load for these modes. But taking a PCC down to 65 is a 2:3 ratio to the W4 load and not credible. I stand by my (and the TTC’s) design load for CLRVs of 74, with PCCs being roughly equivalent.

    Conversely, the capacities claimed for the new LRVs are quite high, even allowing for better distribution of passengers with all-door loading, and I do not believe that they will be achieved except for super-peaks when the service is handling a surge load of some kind. That’s what the reserve capacity between service design and “full” load is for — transient overloads, not day-to-day operation.


  14. Steve: On the continuing saga of how many people will fit on a streetcar, the new trains for Portland TriMet are going into service with a claimed capacity in the same general range (for their length) as quoted for the TC cars. 172 passengers in a 95 foot long (30 metres) car, or 1.81 per linear foot of vehicle.

    A Toronto PCC is just over 46 feet long giving a capacity on the same basis of over 80. This is not a crush load, only a comfortable standing load. Lower figures cited earlier in this thread are simply not credible.


  15. And speaking of passenger handling, note how these brand-new, modern LRVs are ONLY 70-percent low floor. Why can’t we have that too?!?

    Steve: The TTC is paranoid about interior steps, not that it makes any difference on the bus fleet. I am also a little suspicious that for a time, some folks in TTC might have thought they could preserve pay as you enter fare collection, and that would have required the very front of the car to be “low floor”. Obviously, given the position of the first (I can hardly call it “front”) door, PAYE will soon vanish. Long overdue.


  16. Just as a point of interest regarding speed and control, streetcars have a top speed of 80 km/h, and outperform and are safer than any vehicle in rain or snow conditions, including cars. Generally the rail conditions are the exact opposite of road conditions. Another issue to comment on is the trolley pole de-wiring, normally at frogs-a single pole design is used because it’s cheaper, and with the many turns at switches a double (pentograph) would de-wire more. Frogs get worn in when streetcars normally go in one direction, and changing directions from mainline this is the normal cause.

    Steve: A pantograph cannot “dewire” because it uses a slider, not a shoe.


  17. If a Queen subway is ever built, would that spell the end of surface transit on Queen Street where the subway would run under? Is it economical for the TTC to retain streetcar service where subway service runs underneath?

    Steve: This depends on what a “Queen Subway” would look like. If a Downtown Relief East line came down from the Danforth and into downtown with only a few stops on the east-west portion, and it ended downtown, then there would be some effect on the Queen and King cars, but still a strong demand along these routes. If the stops were close together like the original part of the Yonge line, it would draw more local traffic because walking distances to stations would be reasonable.


  18. Steve, why do you use a crush load of 150?

    TTC reported that the crush load was 205 in a presentation on December 18, 2007 by TTC’s Superintendent of Streetcar Engineering – http://www.ttc.ca/postings/gso-comrpt/documents/report/f3441/Presentation_-_Low_Floor_Light_Rail_Vehicle_-_Request_for_Proposal.pdf

    Steve: There are two versions of “crush load”. For pure stuff-in-every-last-person, the 205 number is valid. However, you cannot plan service on this basis. Service is planned based on an average load that allows circulation within the vehicle and tolerable comfort for passengers.


  19. Random question: Why do streetcars continue to have bells when they have horns? Will the new streetcars have bells too?

    Steve: I don’t know about the new cars, but will ask. As for existing ones, the horns were a retrofit.


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