A Day To Celebrate on St. Clair

Saturday, December 19, 2009 brought the first passenger-carrying streetcars to St. Clair from Bathurst to Lansdowne on the new streetcar right-of-way.  Regular service starts on Sunday, but the preview day featured PCCs 4500 and 4549 shuttling between St. Clair West Station and Earlscourt Loop from about 11 am to 4 pm.

4500 was the politicians’ car with TTC Vice Chair Joe Mihevc, Chair Adam Giambrone and MP Carolyn Bennett.  Mihevc wryly noted that Bennett (a Liberal) was part of the government when funding came from Ottawa for this project.  It’s been underway for some time.  Mike Filey was along to provide historical commentary.

4549 was generally less loaded, but featured the Hillcrest Choir whose renditions of stop announcements were a distinct improvement over the standard TTC offering, and they even pronounced the streetnames correctly.

After riding several times in both directions, I can honestly say that the weaving track, although unusual, was not at all uncomfortable or any threat to standing passengers.  The first few trips encountered work crews putting finishing touches on parts of the line, but with only two cars operating, it wasn’t hard for them to dodge out of the way.

Everyone was having a marvellous time, and the crowd was fascinating for its makeup — many parents taking their young children out to ride cars built in 1951 on a line that might not have had active streetcar service when they were born.

To my amazement, the heat worked quite well on both cars, something I did not find on any other transit vehicle (bus, streetcar or subway) I rode on the same day.  The biggest problem with the PCCs is that the centre doors were not working on either car, and this made for lots of congestion as people had to push through crowds (at least on 4500) to reach the one working door at the front.  The running joke on board was that if we paid 50 cents more on the fare, we could have cars with doors that worked.  Memo to TTC:  Fix the doors.

Earlier in the week, test runs were made with CLRVs to check out clearances, overhead alignment and track.  Harold McMann sent a few photos of car 4165, the first test car on Monday, December 14.  Many thanks to him for these.

The real test comes Monday morning with a rush hour load.  A few problems were obvious even with the PCC runs, notably difficulties at Lansdowne.  There does not appear to be a dedicated transit left turn, and cars must bull their way through traffic.  This is probably because the westbound switch is not yet electrified, and the traffic lights don’t “know” that they have to give a transit call on.  This should be fixed.

A more difficult problem is the exit from Earlscourt Loop which is close to Lansdowne eastbound, and will regularly be blocked by traffic waiting for a green signal.  Streetcars must push out into traffic from the loop without any sort of signal to assist them.  They may also find an occasional 47 Lansdowne bus laying over, and it will be interesting to see how often this form of “congestion” puts gaps in the service.

The operation of traffic signals generally follows the pattern we have seen elsewhere with a left/U turn phase for autos, followed by a through green for autos and transit.  Some parts of the line now have detectors that will hold a transit green for an approaching streetcar, but I have not seen enough of the operation to know if this is installed or working at all locations.

Here are views of the test run with 4165 and of the PCC operation.

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