Once Upon a Time in Scarborough

Mike Filey passed along to me a clipping from the Toronto Star of June 29, 1977.

A high-speed streetcar line providing service between the Scarborough Town Centre and the Bloor-Danforth subway has been approved by Metro Council.

The $108.7-million line … was approved on a 23-8 vote.

Streetcars on a separate right-of-way should make the trip in about 15 minutes.

The cost of this route was to be shared 75-25 between Queen’s Park and Toronto.

It is no secret that this line was not built, nor was the planned extension to what is now Malvern Centre.  Instead, Queen’s Park, always happy to meddle in Toronto’s transit planning, strong-armed Toronto and the TTC into changing to the technology we now have on the RT at a cost, by the time the line was finished, of about $240m.  The hope for low-cost transit expansion was dashed by a technology that was almost as expensive as a subway.

The network that might have sprung from this to serve Scarborough and other suburbs never materialized.  Instead, we have endured 36 years of arguments about where we can afford to put our next subway lines, one at a time.

Premier Bill Davis may have said that the city is for people, not for cars, but he did bugger all to advance that position by making Toronto a showcase for a failed transit technology rather than a burgeoning network that grew along with and shaped its suburbs.

Scarborough LRT Study, April 1977, Excerpts

24 thoughts on “Once Upon a Time in Scarborough

  1. There is no way that 2 car CLRV trains could handle the volumes of passengers currently using the SRT. This is much less capacity than the proposed Scarborough LRT which city council cancelled last week would have had.

    Also there were supposed to be level crossings at Lawrence and Ellesmere? I somehow suspect that running 3.5 minute headways through there would have resulted in those roads being constantly blocked in rush hour. Luckily we chose to build grade separations there. This sounds very similar to the bad decision to not grade separate the Leslie and Eglinton intersection on the Eglinton LRT and build in the middle of the road rather than the south side. Good luck reliably running headways of less than 5 minutes through there without banning left turns there (not going to happen).

    Steve: Of course there would be more service today than 2-car CLRV trains with a nominal capacity of 150 for service planning, or 3,000/hour for a 3′ headway. Yes, the grade separations would have been necessary. However, with those grade separations, we could have easily moved to 2′ headways of 3-car trains (or 2-car ALRV trains) for a capacity of 30 x 225 = 6,750/hour, well above what the RT can carry today. Even longer trains, even more capacity. Don’t forget that the SLRT proposal would have seen 3-car trains of LVLRVs, the equivalent of a 6-car train of CLRVs.

    More importantly, we would have built the Malvern extension and more to boot, and expansion of an LRT network would be a basic part of our planning. Who knows, there might even have been development of demand to the point we would be thinking about a subway extension. Instead we got an overpriced, unreliable line that pissed off everyone who had to use it regularly, and a total cessation of rapid transit improvements in Scarborough.


  2. ICTS is not a failed technology. Vancouver and other world cities use it and it works well.

    The TTC made a mistake in not extending the line from Kennedy to downtown via the Lakeshore GO route. Or via Eglinton Ave to Yonge and Eglinton and beyond to the airport.

    Steve: Very few other cities use the technology. Vancouver had the same problems in snow as we did, but is snows far less there than here. Kuala Lumpur doesn’t know that kind of weather. I call it “failed” because unlike LRT and conventional subways, Skytrain has not managed to gain a sustained market. Even Vancouver’s original installation was a deal between the governments of Ontario and BC.

    As for running a line all the way into downtown via the rail corridor or across Eglinton to the airport, well, the cost of the technology pretty much ruled it out of play.


  3. Steve wrote:

    “…we could have easily moved to 2′ headways of 3-car trains…”

    Kevin’s comment:

    Section 3.2 of the linked material talks about 6-car trains. On a 2′ headway, that gives 13,500/hr capacity. That blows out of the water anything the existing “toy trains” have ever been capable of.

    Steve is absolutely right. This was a major blown opportunity that has blighted Scarborough and the rest of Toronto ever since. Just like the failure to implement Transit City. Sigh… when will they ever learn?


  4. In Figure 7 of your document, the line from STC to Finch seems to be taking an awkward route. There doesn’t seem to be a road or hydro corridor over there according to google. Is it because the area wasn’t developed at that time?

    Steve: The diagonal route is an abandoned Canadian Northern Railway corridor. It is the same rail line that the subway uses until it turns east at Kennedy Station. That part is also used as a hydro corridor, but the rail corridor goes much further.


  5. Six-car CLRV trains would have been technically possible as was noted in photos of testing posted prior on Steve’s site. I thought though that the intention had been to develop some flavour of the ALRV for the Scarborough Line (and would also have been part of a UTDC marketing exercise to the world for the vehicle). How far had any of this decision progressed before it was torpedoed by the ICTS conversion? I’m wondering if it eventually would have been viewed as an even worse waste of money for requiring a crew member on every vehicle in a train much in the way the ICTS never managed to shed its live operator even with an automated control system. Ironically it appears the subway extension will forever etch in stone at least one operator per train whether or not ATC is implemented.

    Steve: The TTC and Hawker-Siddeley had a preliminary design for an updated PCC and were talking to the Czech firm, Tatra, who held the PCC design rights, about licensing arrangements. All that stopped when the ICTS scheme surfaced. I don’t think that they had progressed to an artic yet, but obviously that’s what would have been appropriate. It’s unclear why an operator would have been needed on each car if the door controls could be trainlined.


  6. I remember making a presentation to Scarborough Council on April 1, 1974 about the benefits of LRT for Scarborough. The council voted almost or completely unanimously to back the LRT project on the SRT right of way. I guess it turned into a never ending April Fool’s Joke on Toronto. I remember the date because I had a job offer to start that day but had to beg off until April second.


  7. Steve:

    Kuala Lumpur doesn’t know that kind of weather.

    5 years in Kuala Lumpur and it became obvious that the ICTS technology doesn’t handle heavy monsoon rains very well either. I’m not sure how the other cities using the technology (Yongin, Beijing, New York-JFK) are handling things.

    On the 6 car CLRV trains, I remember seeing a great picture of a multi-car (3, maybe more) CLRV train that gives a great idea of how much capacity a CLRV train could offer.

    Cheers, Moaz


  8. 6-car CLRV trains? This is where you LRT advocates really show your fanaticism. If it has to be that long, it may as well be a subway. You know, you guys would probably try to corner Petticoat Junction’s Homer Bedloe into a corner and lobby him into converting the Cannonball (between Hooterville and Pixley) to LRT too.

    Grade-separated crossings in Scarborough in the 70s were being phased out after that crash between a GO train and TTC bus. Most of your readers here are probably too young to remember that, but there was no way a high speed LRT line would be crossing streets at grade in Scarborough after that accident, and not as those frequencies.

    Steve: A 6-car CLRV train is the same length as the proposed 3-car LFLRV trains that would be used on the Scarborough corridor. As for the grade crossings, yes, they were all being eliminated as part of the Uxbridge Subdivision grade separation, although oddly enough, the crossings north of Ellesmere (e.g. Sheppard) seemed to be a lower priority. It was the implementation of ICTS that required grade separations and accelerated that project where it was needed.

    As for the Cannonball, only a subway is good enough.


  9. Compare what might have been achieved in Scarboro, to, what was accomplished in “second-class” Manchester from 1992 to the present.

    Geographic map of system with future extensions to 2016.

    Youtube clip of “second-class” BOMBARDIER T5000 LRVs on ghost service a few days before the latest extension from Droyslden to Ashton-under-Lyne.


  10. I rode the SRT a couple of weeks ago; it was jam-packed just like a Yonge train at rush hour. I could not see anything amiss with the system with my untrained eye.

    Steve, if the McCowan subway will not be completed for 10 years, will the “creaky old” SRT be able to last that long? What is the SRT system’s weakest component?

    Steve: The TTC projects that it will have to spend $8m/year to keep the SRT running. The cars have been through one major physical overhaul and that may keep them going for another decade, although the TTC had expected to retire them a lot sooner. There are ongoing issues with the control systems, but again the question is how much should be spent on a line with a short lifespan. The technology is quite old and has not been refreshed because it was assumed the line would have been rebuilt or replaced by now.

    Many problems relate to weather issues — ice buildup, clearance issues between the face of the LIM and the reaction rail, control system issues with power surges. These were supposed to have been addressed by installation of heaters along the rails, but the problems remain if we have a cold winter. The doors can jam because snow and ice build up in the tracks/pockets the doors slide into.

    We could of course send teams of pilgrims to pray along the right-of-way for mild winters.


  11. I don’t know if you remember Ralph Day, but I recall him saying that streetcars were the best mode of transit in Toronto, and that subways were only being put in to please motorists. The real problem was (and is) that our roads downtown are simply too narrow for them. Take a very wide road like University for instance — you could put a light rail system down the middle of it for almost nothing and divert a lot of traffic off that section of the subway.


  12. Steve mentioned an interesting thing about the old LRT plan for Scarborough.

    The majority if not all of the network was to operate on grade separated right of ways, or along underused railway corridors.

    This is exactly how LRT is supposed to operate, and the original cities which started the LRT renaissance, like Edmonton, all built LRT this way.

    It is only in the last decade or so that pro-LRT people have morphed LRT into glorified streetcar networks operating in the middle of the street. That is not really LRT, and I think a distinction has to be made.

    The LRT plan from the 70’s is totally different than Transit City, and the old plan from the 70’s was about delivering a rapid transit service. Not building streetcar lines down local arterial streets, in the hope that they will turn into Queen Street.

    Steve: And since the 70s, planning and transit advocacy have evolved. Nobody lives in corridors, and if we want to have active, pedestrian friendly streets, then they should have transit on them. A centre reservation with proper traffic signal priority (not the half-baked efforts we have in Toronto) won’t be the BD subway, but it will move faster than the buses and surrounding traffic, especially when growth over a few decades is factored in.


  13. @Michael:

    Edmonton later shifted to “glorified streetcar[s] operating in the middle of the street.”

    The extension of the existing LRT line from Health Sciences/Jubilee to Century Park runs beside 114 Street, then in the middle of 111 Street, with railway crossing arms to halt road vehicles regardless of what the traffic signals show.

    The future North LRT will also be running alongside or up the median of streets.

    Since I’ve been working in Edmonton since April, I’ve taken the LRT dozens of times. This is what we should be showing people in Toronto, not St. Clair Avenue.

    Like Steve said, “planning and transit advocacy have evolved.”


  14. I just moved from Toronto to Edmonton, and took the LRT for the first time, I was surprised how fast it was. Perhaps if Rob Ford took a ride on the Edmonton LRT he would change is mind about the technology.


  15. As I understood it the CLRV control system as implemented isolates door control per-vehicle requiring an operator in every seat. Perhaps this would have been needed anyway to ensure no passengers tampered with unoccupied and unprotected driver controls. In the winter this would have made more sense, especially in the blustery arctic climate of Scarborough, since you would only need to open requested doors at stops. Individual passenger-activated door buttons will now serve this purpose on the new LRVs when required albeit on other lines. I’m not going to place any bets on it but I suppose by the time final vehicle design had been completed for the original ’70s LRT plan they may have had closed cabs and a more ‘capable’ inter-car control setup. I’m curious though – How is this handled in Boston now and historically and how was it operated during the CLRV demonstration there?

    Steve: When the CLRVs were there 3 decades ago, Boston still was a farebox-based city and required an operator in every car if for nothing else but to check fares. There is still a limited number of cash fares available, but the majority of fares have migrated to the Charlie Card. I have not been to Boston recently, but as far as I know every car still has an operator.


  16. @kd:

    Or Calgary, or Portland, or Dallas, or anyplace that actually has an LRT. This is a Green Eggs and Ham situation.


  17. Steve said …

    And since the 70s, planning and transit advocacy have evolved. Nobody lives in corridors, and if we want to have active, pedestrian friendly streets, then they should have transit on them. A centre reservation with proper traffic signal priority (not the half-baked efforts we have in Toronto) won’t be the BD subway, but it will move faster than the buses and surrounding traffic, especially when growth over a few decades is factored in.

    The 1960s/70s LRT network was supposed to be fed by buses — it didn’t have to be near where people lived. It was meant to be a trunk service for the suburbs. One of the problems with Transit City was it never even considered St. Clair W. Stn. style fly-unders at certain major intersections, or fully roofed stations, so the thing just looked like streetcars on steroids. LRT has a poor public perception because it’s an ambiguous mode of transit. Everyone knows what a subway is, but no two people can even agree on what LRT is.

    Steve: The issue of flyunders was considered, but rejected for various reasons. First off, at any decent station spacing, the line would spend a great deal of time going up and down. This would require all of the associated utility changes for areas around stations/underpasses. There would be a strong pressure to include a station at any location that had an underpass.

    Stations back in those days were thought of as quite simple structures with short-ish platforms and stairs to the surface. Today, there are issues of security and accessibility to consider, and an underpass station would be far more expensive and complex.

    Transit City stayed on the surface because otherwise we might just as well have build a network of subway lines.

    As for confused nomenclature, Boston’s MTBA includes the Green Line in its “subway” system for fare purposes, and makes reference to boarding the “subway” and paying at a farebox when it runs on the surface.


  18. kd wrote:

    Perhaps if Rob Ford took a ride on the Edmonton LRT he would change is mind about the technology.

    Perhaps, but based on his recent trip to Texas, he won’t set foot on an LRT in the first place. The mind that needs changing is one that believes, “If it can be seen from my SUV, it is not worth looking further.”


  19. I am in Dijon France which has 2 new tram lines that started in Sept. and Dec. of last year. Base service is every 6 to 8 minutes and they carry very heavily. The lines are entirely on Private Right Of Way, most of it grass lined.

    They have signal priority at each intersection and the trams hardly ever stop unless there is one coming the other way then it lets both go through together. As well as the universal tram signals they have a yellow diamond at the bottom that seems to indicate the priority system is on with a blue exclamation mark to the left of it which flashes if you are going slow enough for the signal to turn. If it is going to hold you it does not flash.

    They seem to be confident about their ability to maintain schedule because I saw only 1 short turn crossover. Stop spacing in the outer areas seem to be at least 500 m apart. One line ends north of the city limits in a field of sun flowers. The contented cattle were missing today.

    Perhaps if Toronto had built its LRT plan of the 70s in abandoned rail and hydro lines it would have changed development plans so that they, and not the streets, were the corridors of choice. We shall never see now.

    M. Briganti says:
    October 17, 2013 at 6:14 am

    “6-car CLRV trains? This is where you LRT advocates really show your fanaticism. If it has to be that long, it may as well be a subway.”

    Cleveland’s Shaker Heights line used to operate 5 car PCC trains in the rush hour and had no problem crossing intersections. Granted their headway was probably every 5 minutes. The advantage is still simpler stations and alignments than required for HRT.

    Chicago has some level crossings for its Evanston line, which is third rail, so it can be done but TTC lawyers would **** bricks. The Chicago cars are about the same size as a PCC so an 8 car train would have the capacity of 4 LFLRVs. Eglinton’s under ground stations are being excavated to a length of 400′ with the extra 100′ for “utilities”. It is interesting that this is also the length of a LFLRV.


  20. Robert Wightman said:

    Eglinton’s under ground stations are being excavated to a length of 400′ with the extra 100′ for “utilities”. It is interesting that this is also the length of a LFLRV.

    That is interesting. Just curious though … what is the length of a 4-car Sheppard subway train? How surprising would it be if plans changed and Eglinton moved to a mini-subway and, lo-and-behold, the stations are long enough.

    Rob Ford could do a better job than pressing on the Sheppard East and Finch West LRTs to become subways. Eglinton is not only under construction but nearly a “subway” anyways and could be converted (at the cost of $80 million for an underground Leslie Station plus a few hundred million for the redesign to subway technology) before it is “too late” (for him at least…I don’t necessarily agree that it would be a good decision).

    Frankly it wouldn’t be hard to get Metrolinx support for such a conversion, considering that there was a lot of shilly-shallying and dilly-dallying on Eglinton Crosstown to begin with.

    Metrolinx also has 4 willing cities (Mississauga, Brampton, Hamilton, and Kitchener-Waterloo-Cambridge) that would take the unneeded Crosstown LRVs in a heartbeat for their own LRTs.

    Cheers, Moaz


  21. Jarek Piorkowski said:

    I believe K-W is already buying its own LRVs. Demo mockup was in uptown Waterloo this weekend.

    K-W has confirmed the order of 14 and another 14 LRVs added on to an existing LRV order.

    However, Waterloo Region probably wouldn’t mind terribly to take a few LRVs so they could extend the ION line to serve Cambridge (currently proposed as aBRT).

    Hamilton has the BLAST network which would use up a few LRVs, and if Brampton continues to push for the Queen RT to be an LRT instead of BRT there would be some demand there. Demand on Dundas East of Hurontario in in Mississauga could also be high enough to get fuzzy with the evidence and start people calling for LRT instead of BRT.

    Cheers, Moaz


  22. The big reason for “aBRT” (aka express bus) to Cambridge in “phase 1” is capital funding for the construction – having surplus Toronto trains won’t magically lay track down Hespeler. Trains are a non-insignificant part of the project cost but they’re far from being the dealbreaker.

    Same for Hamilton. You may have the trains but tracks don’t come cheap in this province.


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