Schrödinger’s Cat, The Queen Car & Other Mysteries

In case people think all of this talk about headways and link times and clouds of data points and 19th-century railway timetables is getting far too technical, a respite.

In the course of this analysis, I have often thought that there may be some relationship between Quantum Physics and the operation of the Queen Car.  After all, a cup of tea can provide a model of random motion (and power the Infinite Improbability Drive).  We may presume that some deeper forces are at work on Queen Street that are manifest at the visible level in what passes for service on that route.

By analogy:

Einsteinian Time Dilation tells us that the faster we run for the car, the slower time will move, and we will never quite catch up before the car leaves the stop. 

Schrödinger’s Cat is a paradox demonstrating the concept that we cannot know the state of something until we actually look at it.  This is roughly akin to not knowing where the Queen Car is going until we have been on it long enough that the gods of improbability reveal our ultimate destination.

Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle deals with the problem that the act of observing an event can interfere with the event itself, and that we can never know simultaneously the position and momentum of a subatomic particle.  Applied to the Queen car, we all know that there are always lots of streetcars, except when you want one, and then you can never be sure that the one that has space is also going to your destination.

I invite suggestions for other possible explanations for the behaviour of transit service.  With centuries of scientific thought, we can unravel the mysterious behaviour of the Queen car.

Swan Power in L.A.

A reader, Vic, remembering my fondness for Swan Boats as the only possible solution to our transit woes, sent along a link to an article in the Long Beach (California) Press-Telegram. 

I know that many people who read this blog don’t use an RSS feed to see recent comments on old threads, and since the last post about Swan Boats was last July, I thought that you wouldn’t want to miss this.

The article details (with lovely photos) the seven-week project by Sierra Brown to commute to class once a week by  different human powered forms of transport.  The grand finale was an 11-mile paddle by Swan Boat.

In Case You Have A Spare Billion or Two

The Globe and Mail reported yesterday that a maglev train would be installed linking Munich, Germany, with its airport, a distance of 37 km.  This will use a modern incarnation of the magnetic levitation technology originally proposed for a stillborn Toronto network.  Our only legacy from that fiasco is the Scarborough RT.

The line will cost a cool $2.63-billion (although this is expected to rise because the estimate is out of date), or a mere $71-million/km.  Of course, it won’t have to worry about pesky, expensive things like stations, except at the termini, and we all know that the demand to and from airports is not what anyone would call rush hour rapid transit levels.

The article also reports considerable opposition to this scheme, and this is clearly a vanity project for Germany where hopes for the Transrapid system were stuck on the drawing boards for four decades.

The whole idea is to cut the travel time in a quarter, from 40 to 10 minutes.   Hmmm … that means an average speed of 222 km/hr, very impressive and probably quicker than the average of the airborne trips it will connect with once terminal delays are factored in.

As high-speed rail networks grow, the market for fast airport links evaporates, unless, of course, the whole purpose is to sell a technology project regardless of the need.

I Told You: Swan Boats Are The Answer!

TTC Chair Adam Giambrone, reported to be off at his cottage, may be getting too much fresh air for his own good.  The National Post reports that our fearless leader has asked newly-minted Chief General Manager Gary Webster to investigate setting up commuter ferries to downtown from Etobicoke and Scarborough.

In a related story Mayor Miller is less than ecstatic.  Maybe the air is different where he is today.

The idea is to run fast ferries from two locations — Bluffers Park in Scarborough and Humber Bay Park in Etobicoke — to downtown.  I am not going to waste time on a clever jokes about this idea, much as the idea of putting swan figureheads on the new craft and getting one of them named after me has its merits.

Here are the reasons this is a cockeyed scheme:

  • This is a commuter service requiring a parking lot at both terminals.  Aside from my feelings about park-and-ride services which have been discussed elsewhere, this would require lots of all-day parking in locations where we want to encourage pedestrians to congregate on sand and grass, not asphalt.
  • Bluffers Park is at the bottom of the Scarborough Bluffs at the end of a long road which may not be negotiable in winter.  This would definitely be a terminal only accessible by auto.  Unlike Humber Bay Park at Lake Shore West, Bluffers Park is nowhere near Kingston Road.
  • I believe that the beaches at both locations are shallow.  Unless we plan to build new quays out into the lake, the ferries won’t just pull up to the shore as they do at the foot of Bay Street.
  • Someone travelling to downtown must (a) get to the ferry terminal, (b) wait for the scheduled departure, (c) travel to the downtown terminal, (d) walk over to Queen’s Quay Station, (e) wait for the 509/510 service to appear, (f) ride one stop to Union and then (g) get to their office.  Commuter ferries make sense where there is a comparatively large body of water to cross, and if the time saved by the ferry trip is substantial compared to other routes.
  • The length of time for these trips will easily exceed the time that even a lumbering CLRV would take to get from Park Lawn and Lake Shore to downtown.  To the east, we won’t provide a direct service from Brimley and Kingston Road to downtown on the TTC, but there is a GO station nearby.  If the TTC really wants to provide an express service, all they need to do is run an express bus.
  • The service would not be able to operate frequently, and GO transit will almost certainly have better headways.
  • This would be a completely new mode for today’s TTC.  Experience from over 50 years ago of running the Island Ferries does not translate to this type of commuter ferry operation.

The TTC has two Environmental Assessments in progress, one for Kingston Road and one for Waterfront West, addressing travel from exactly the same locations as the proposed ferries.  Maybe we should have towed the Trillium up from Queen’s Quay to Dundas Square last week instead of the Bombardier mockup!  A network of canals in place of Transit City would make Toronto a tourist paradise.

Part of me really wants to see a marine division in the TTC if only to see how badly they would screw it up.  Common sense, however, has a shorter answer: 

The Transit Commission, when formally asked to approve a study of this plan next week, should tell Adam Giambrone to figure out how to run his streetcar network before he branches out to ferries.

If you want to get people from the lakeshore to downtown, run better service on the system you’ve got.

For more information about potential marine services:

Swans on the Don

More Swans on the Don

In another thread, Dennis Rankin wrote:

Hi Sarah and Steve:-

If today’s CFMX Radio news report was real and not part of my awaking dreams, then I will suspect a high level of collusion between you two and Adam Giambrone if any of those proposed Scarborough and/or Etobicoke to the Downtown Ferry Terminal high speed ferries have swan figure heads.

Could the first one launched be christianed ‘Hans C. Andersson’? Which of the two of you will be appointed Admiral? Will the Trillium be retrofitted with ultra high pressure boilers and after burners? Possibilities worth pondering? Maybe not!

[Note:  Sarah and I were co-authors of Swans on the Don.]

On Land, On Sea and In The Air!

David Crawford wrote a while ago …

You may want to put [this] somewhere, or on your pile of “interesting but irrelevant ideas”!

I read the TTC Mandate from the City www site today. Makes one wonder why the Toronto Island Ferry is not part of the TTC – I think it maybe used to be? The island ferry service is doubtless something the TTC does not want to take over but water transportation (ie an expanded ferry service) is something which could help move people if it were properly integrated into the public transit network.


The Commission is responsible for the consolidation, co-ordination and planning of all forms of local passenger transportation within the urban area of Toronto, except for railways incorporated under federal and provincial statutes, and taxis.

The Commission’s functions are to construct, maintain and operate a local passenger transportation system, and to establish new passenger transportation services where required. The Commission may also operate parking lots in connection with the transit system, and may enter into an agreement with municipalities or persons situated within 40 kilometers of Toronto, to operate a local transportation service.

Ah yes, the TTC used to have a marine division called the “Ferry Department”.  It was merged into the new Metropolitan Toronto Parks Department in 1954.

Of course, there would be some challenges if this were still a TTC operation. 

  • If the Sam McBride is half way across to Centre Island, and is short turned, do the passengers have to get off?
  • Would crews exchange vessels in the middle of the harbour to get back on time?
  • Would the TTC operate an express ferry to The Beach in competition with the Queen Car, and would it replace the express bus?

Finally, will Swan Boats ply the waters of the Don, and will the TTC go into competition with Porter Air?

The Future of Transit: Swan Boats!

Back in the early days of this board, I posted an item co-authored with my good friend Sarah concerning the use of Swan Boats as a solution to transport technology in the Don Valley corridor.

You laughed!  You scoffed!  You doubted our pride and professionalism! From that day forward, only movie reviews and endless arguments for LRT graced these pages.

Until today!

Now all will be revealed!  The future of Toronto’s transit is canals and swan boats!

He’s gone mad, you say!  He must be drunk, or worse, you say!  But, no, it is true!

First the canals:  CNN today reported that Panama citizens will vote on a $5-billion project to widen the Panama Canal, while Nicaragua is thinking of building its own canal at a price of only $18-billion.  Let’s put this in context.  The canal is 51 miles (81.6 km) long, and that translates to a cost/km of a mere $221-million.

That’s for a whacking great canal to handle huge ocean freighters and take them across the continental divide.  Looking at the proposed Spadina extension’s cost, this is a competitive technology!

Now we turn to the vehicles.  Swan  boats are available (On sale now!  Two week delivery!) for a mere $28,997 (US).  Just go to this site if you don’t believe me. [The URL no longer works.]

People are so fond of making comparisons on vehicle cost — let’s look at a swan boat.  It holds 12 people, hence a cost per seat of about $2,400.

The design load of a bus is around 50 and the current products seat around 30.  At a capital cost of roughly $600K, this is $12,000 per passenger or $20,000 per seat.

Subway cars have a design load of about 200 and seat about 75.  They cost roughly $3-million, for a cost per passenger of $15,000 and a cost per seat of $40,000.

It’s no contest!  Toronto must immediately abandon all plans for unproven technologies and start building canals for swan boats.  Only with this visionary plan will the future of Toronto’s transportation system be safe!

A Rose By Any Other Name (Updated)

Profound thanks to the many readers who commented on this item!  Based on all this feedback, not to mention my own preferences, the list of new station names is almost complete.  Here’s what it looks like now:

Bloor-Danforth East:

Scarborough Junction, Massey Creek, Dentonia Park, East Toronto, North Beach, East York, Linsmore, [Donlands], Ελλας, Riverdale, Playter, [Castle Frank, Sherbourne]

Bloor-Danforth West: 

Roy’s Square, Yorkville, Rochdale, Lowther, The Annex, Willowvale, [Ossington], Brockton, [Lansdowne], West Toronto, Parkside, [High Park], Swansea, Baby Point, [Old Mill], Kingsway, Montgomery, Six Points


Finch’s, Willowdale, Lansing, Hogg’s Hollow, Muir Gardens, Rebellion, Belt Line, Avoca, North Toronto, Crescent, Roy’s Square, Rainbow, Carlton, O’Keefe’s Lane, City Hall, Melinda, Royal York


[St. Andrew], Osgoode Hall, [St. Patrick], Taddle Creek, Planetarium, Rochdale, Lowther, Casa Loma, Wells Hill, York, Viewmount, [Lawrence West], Arc en Ciel, Downsview, Wilson Heights.

I am amused that we have two “rainbows” one in each official language.  Moreover, the one formerly known as Wellesley has the most boring decor on the system.  Just imagine what a few inspired decorators could do! 

The original post and comments follow below. Continue reading

Everything Old Is New Again

My friend Ed Drass just sent me a puff piece from the Greater Toronto Airports Authority (GTAA) about the impending opening of their new inter-terminal shuttle.  Read all about it here.  [This link is no longer active.]

What amuses me immensely is the propulsion technology.  The cars are pulled along by a “rope” to which they are attached.  There is only one unit on each of two tracks and so collisions are impossible.

We technically savvy railfan types will recognize this as a blend of elevator and cablecar technology.  Just think of the tourism potential if they hadn’t built an automated system!  In my mind’s eye, I see GTAA staff, in a period conductor’s uniform with the title “gripman” (or maybe “gripperson” to be more 21st century about it).  The cars could have lovely wooden trim, bench seats, and running-boards for the adventurous riders.

Might be a bit chilly for those interterminal transfers in February, but maybe we could have a summer and a winter fleet.

Hmmm … this sounds like the sort of high-tech transit the Urban Transportation Development Corporation would lap up.  A new world-beating technology!  Just in time to replace the Scarborough RT!

[We will return to our regular, curmudgeonly programming later this week with a look at next Wednesday’s TTC meeting.]

A Bold Initiative for Don Valley Transport

The City of Toronto has spent a lot of time thinking about possible ways to improve capacity in the Don Valley corridor.  One night, after a particularly good concert at Tafelmusik, a conversation ensued in front of Greg’s Ice Cream.  This evolved into a late evening flight of whimsy together with the realization that transit could be much better in Toronto, that we could fly ahead of the world in transit innovation.

If only we could get enough feathers.

Swans on the Don