Bill Davis Had A Plan (Updated)

Updated June 3, 2020: A PDF version of the document has been added.

With all of Metrolinx’ recent hype about the Ontario Line and its design, I have been digging into my archives looking at the promises made back in 1972 when Premier Bill Davis announced “An Urban Transportation Policy for Ontario”. This was to be the transit answer to his cancellation of the Spadina Expressway, a new transit network that would bring rapid transit to outlying areas in Toronto, as well as to Hamilton and Ottawa.

There was to be a test track around the CNE grounds linking to Ontario Place. A new technology, trains that would fill the missing link between buses and subways that were far too expensive at the then astronomical cost of $25 to $30 million per mile.

This scheme was doomed from the outset by its dependence on an untried technology (although at the point of the announcement, the Krauss-Maffei magnetic levitation system had not been officially chosen). All that ever happened at the CNE was a small stand of trees near the Princes Gates were felled in anticipation of guideway construction, and a few column footings were built. So much for the brave new world of a transit network.

Oddly enough, buried in the announcement is the following acknowledgement that existing technology could be used, at least as a stopgap:

“As an interim measure it may be feasible to provide express routes through parts of these corridors using existing modes of transportation such as buses or streetcars. When operating in exclusive rights-of-way these facilities are capable of providing intermediate capacity transit facilities.” [p 15]

This was the only time the government acknowledged that a brand new technology was not a pre-requisite for building their network. Within a few years, Davis’ dreams would be dust. The government would resurrect the work on a new TTC streetcar design that was underway in the late 1960s, but was stopped when the focus shifted to Davis’ Intermediate Capacity Transit System (ICTS). Eventually, a less technically complex system that we now know as the SRT in Toronto and Skytrain in Vancouver came along, but the plans were never resurrected on quite so grand a scale.

The announcement itself makes interesting reading with many comments that will be familiar today especially as they relate to the limits of car-based travel and expressways.

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Planned Changes to King, Queen, Roncesvalles and The Queensway for 2021

Correction: This item was to have been approved by Council at its April 1, 2020 meeting, but that was cancelled. The item is still pending approval.

Update: This item was approved by Council at its meeting of April 30, 2020.

Toronto Council Infrastructure and Environment Committee recently approved the long-awaited changes at the intersection of King, Queen and Roncesvalles, and on The Queensway to occur in 2021. The detailed construction staging plan is not yet available, but the overall plans were part of the city’s report. This work had originally been planned a few years back, but was delayed for various reasons including conflicts with other  projects and the desire to bundle all works affecting this area in one major undertaking.

The transit work includes extension of the “new” Roncesvalles street design south to include the stops just north of Queen, reconfiguration of the intersection between the four streets, and extension of the transit right-of-way on The Queensway from Claude (east of Parkside) east to Roncesvalles.

King-Queen-Roncesvalles-Queensway Intersection

This intersection, which has been the subject of iconic photos in the TTC’s history, will be reconfigured as shown below. The biggest change is the realignment of the approach tracks from King Street so that they meet Queen Street in a conventional 90 degree configuration rather than the angled approach today. At the same time, the eastbound traffic channel that allows traffic to slip past the intersection onto King Street will be removed.

The eastbound carstop will be moved farside with a bump-out platform similar to those used on Roncesvalles Avenue.

The eastbound approach to the intersection will include four lanes: streetcars (reserved), left turns, through, and right turns. With the farside eastbound carstop, it is clear that the City is not anticipating a lot of through traffic. Traffic signals will be changed to use only two phases rather than the lengthy three-phase cycle now in place.

This arrangement greatly improves the safety for pedestrians crossing to and from the southwest corner of the intersection which provides access to the bridge over the Gardiner to Sunnyside Beach.

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The Early Days of the CLRVs

As I write this, it is Christmas morning in 2019, and the TTC’s fleet of CLRVs, now 40 years old, has only a few more days to run in revenue service.

Here is a gallery of photos culled from their early years. There is a preponderance of photos showing construction activities because that is what I tended to focus on in those days. Although the TTC had decided to retain its streetcars and bought a new fleet, track construction techniques had not caught up with the idea that things should be build to last. Untreated ties and rails that were only spot welded at the top, not with a solid top-to-bottom thermite weld, were not the most robust.

This design combined with the vibrations from the original Bochum wheels on the CLRVs led to the quick disintegration of roadbeds leaving the TTC by the mid 1990s with a double-dose of track repairs. Not only did they have to rebuild track that was 20-30 years old, they had a fresh batch that was 10-15 years old. The overall track repair program caught up with this backlog a few years ago for tangent (straight) track, but the adoption of panel-based and properly welded special work (intersections) took longer to get underway. Some major intersections, notably Queen & Roncesvalles, are falling apart leading to slow orders on various parts of the streetcar system. (Ironically, because this is a blanket order, there are slow orders on all special work whether it needs it or  not.)

Back in the 1980s, the CLRVs were brand new, and after many teething problems they became the workhorses of the network as the PCC fleet was gradually retired.

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Humber Loop QEW Realignment 1973-74

There was a time when the curve between the Queen Elizabeth Way and the Gardiner Expressway at the Humber River was rather tight. In 1973-74, while the highway structures were realigned, the Long Branch car continued to run through the site on a single track with signals.

Rather than overhead contactors common on single track street railway operations everywhere, the TTC opted for subway-type track circuits to control access. With a lot of water in the construction site, especially through winter, “track down” conditions showing the presence of a “ghost” car, were an ongoing problem. Nonetheless, through service continued over the single track, first on the old alignment, and then on the new one.

Special work for the crossovers was mined out of the street. One location was on Dufferin north of King and the other on Spadina south of King.

The Dufferin crossover had been used originally for a shuttle service to the CNE western gate that operated with double-end equipment. Later, this location was a point where the TTC snow plows reversed direction. Yes, there were official routes for the plows and sweepers when the TTC still had such cars. Ironically, after the work at Humber, the TTC re-installed the crossover on Dufferin even though by then the snow fighting fleet that used it had been retired.

The crossover from Spadina was last used in 1948 when double-ended streetcar operation on the Spadina streetcar route (along with the route itself) ended, and it had been buried in asphalt for years.

Access to the construction site was much more relaxed than today when, of course, the streetcar line would have been shut down and replaced by buses.

The photos with Peter Witt cars were all on charters. The Tour Tram never got this far west.

Brill Bus Fantrip July 29, 1972

As a holiday gift to the fans of old buses (and I know you’re out there even if you think this is really a streetcar blog), a photo gallery from a fantrip I organized many years ago using one of the TTC’s Brill coaches. Bus 1935 dates from 1955, and was retired in the mid 1970s.

For more information on the TTC’s fleet before the arrival of the GM “New Look” buses, see Before the New Looks on Transit Toronto.

The Tour Tram Debuts in 1973

Forty-five years ago, on June 24, 1973, Peter Witt car 2766 began operating on the streets of Toronto as the Tour Tram. For that first day, the car was decked out with bunting, Canadian and Ontario flags, a Union Jack and photos of HM Queen Elizabeth whose official birthday was celebrated about a week earlier in mid June.

In a previous article, five years ago, I showed the restoration work at Hillcrest Shops. Now, here are photos from on-street operation in the early days. The photos are arranged geographically around the route rather than by date. At the end of the gallery are a few shots of a Tour Tram diversion on Adelaide Street on its third day of operation.

Throughout these photos there are many buildings that no longer exist and views that are now impossible to take because open spaces have been filled in with redevelopment.

Early Days of the CLRVs (Updated)

With the demise today of car 4000, the first of the Canadian Light Rail Vehicles, a look back on the prototypes when they were brand new.

The photos here were taken on June 4 1978 at St. Clair Carhouse. I don’t know which fleet numbers the cars shown here wound up with, but I’m sure there is a reader who knows these details and will supply feedback.

Updated December 25, 2017 John Bromley has provided additional information about the prototype CLRVs:

The car in the photos you posted is 4003 II.  The photo op was June 4 1978, I was there and have a few photos.  Perhaps the July date is the processing date on the slides?

Steve: Thanks for the correct date. I had neglected to write it on the slides at the time.

Below pic shows 4000 II from the rear June 29 1977 at SIG, taken from inside the unfinished carbody of 4003 II.  Even then 4000 II had the all-white top on front rather than the black just visible in 4001 II behind it.  Do I need to mention the pantograph?

Sorry for the delay in sending, we’ve been in Europe for three weeks.

125 Years (And More) of Electric Streetcar Operation (Updated)

From 1861 to 1891, the Toronto Street Railway Company (TSR) operated a network of horse car routes serving the then small City of Toronto. By the end of the TSR franchise, the City was eager to see the new railway electrification technology replace the horses, and granted a 30-year franchise effective September 1, 1891, to the Toronto Railway Company (TRC) with the express requirement that electric operation begin within a year.

August 15, 1892 saw the official first run of an electric streetcar on the TRC’s Church Street route (Union Station to Rosedale), and revenue service began the day after. In keeping with the terms of its franchise, the TRC beavered through electrification of the horse car routes, and the last of these (McCaul Street) ceased operating in August 1894. Electric service began on this route in December 1894 completing the conversion of the system.

There was money to be made from street railways and related businesses including power generation. Niagara power would not reach Toronto until 1907, and until then the railway companies had to generate their own. It was no coincidence that ownership of the street railways and electric light companies were related.

The TRC’s operations were based out of many buildings near Front and Sherbourne, and several of these had been taken over from the predecessor TSR. The requirements of an electric railway were quite different from those of a horse car operation, and over time buildings were repurposed or rebuilt. Only one building remains on the southeast corner of Front and Frederick, and it is now the Young People’s Theatre. This began life as a TSR stable in the 1880s, but was converted to a power house with steam generation by the TRC. Even after hydro-electric power arrived from Niagara, this building remained as a standby facility thanks to the unpredictable supply. It was decommissioned by the TTC in 1924.

Front & Frederick Streets Power House 1925

 

Interior of Front & Frederick Substation 1927

 

Although August 15 is the TRC’s 125th annniversary of electrification, this was not the first such operation in Toronto.

Updated August 16, 2017: Based on information from John F. Bromley (see the comments), the first year of operation for this line was 1883, not 1884. During that first year, the line ran with power from a third rail, but from 1884 onward from overhead. The text below has been modified to reflect this timeline.

From 1883-1891, an electric railway operated from Strachan Avenue to Dufferin Street in the Canadian National Exhibition grounds, then known as the Toronto Industrial Exhibition. The line was a demonstration by J.J. Wright of the Toronto Electric Light Co. and Charles Van Depoele, described in the archives as “a Belgian-American street railway promoter”.

For the first year, the line ran with third rail power, but from 1884 from overhead wire and a pole pickup that showed more promise for street operation.

The line was seasonal and ran only during the CNE linking the grounds with the horse car service on King Street. The fare was a princely five cents, separate from the TSR.

 

 

The next electric railway operation in Toronto was out in what were then the suburbs of Deer Park, Davisville and Eglinton. The Metropolitan Railway Company (later the Metropolitan Division of the Toronto and York Radial Railway Company) operated a horse car line from the then northern City limit at the CPR tracks (where North Toronto station now stands) to Eglinton starting in January 1885. This was extended to Glen Grove in 1886 where the Metropolitan’s owners built a “Park and Pleasure Ground”, an early example of street railways creating demand by building destinations.

The demonstration at the Industrial Exhibition and electrification of other networks (Windsor, Ontario in 1886; an interurban line between St. Catharines and Thorold in 1887) prompted the Metropolitan to pursue electrification in Toronto. The first electric car ran on September 1, 1890, with power coming from a steam plant at Davisville.

Early operations were less than ideal because the horse car track was not up to the weight of the heavier electric cars, and electrical bonding of the rails was poor. These problems were ironed out in the first year’s operation, and pressure for expansion northward quickly followed. By 1892 the line ran to “York Mills South” at what later became Glen Echo Loop, the northern extent of the TTC’s “city” network after it took over operation north of the CPR tracks. The line would eventually reach Sutton at Lake Simcoe.

The fare boundary at the CPR between the TSR, later the TRC, and the T&YRR was an annoyance quite reminiscent of complaints we now hear at Steeles Avenue.

Metropolitan Station at Birch Avenue circa 1910

 

Yonge & St. Clements looking north, 1910

The TRC sped through its electrification program in three years and continued to expand the system, but there were troubles ahead. Investments with decades to pay back and a growing population to support the railway were one thing, but as the franchise ran on, the TRC refused to expand beyond the City Limits as they were in 1891. This led Toronto to build the Toronto Civic Railway with lines in newly annexed areas such as the Danforth, St. Clair and Bloor West. By 1921, the City had no appetite for another private railway company, and it formed the Toronto Transportation Commission to consolidate all of the operations within the City.

That centenary is four years and many articles away.

Sources:

  • Street Railways of Toronto 1861-1921, Louis H. Pursley, Interurbans Special 25, June 1958.
  • The Toronto Trolley Car Story 1921-1961, Louis H. Pursley, Interurbans Special 29, June 1961.
  • Riding the Radials, Toronto’s Suburban Electric Streetcar Lines, Robert M. Stamp, The Boston Mills Press, 1989.
  • City of Toronto Photo Archives

The Spadina Streetcar Turns 20 (Part II)

Part I of this article presented some of the background and construction photos of the Spadina streetcar line which celebrates its 20th birthday on July 27, 2017. In Part II, a look at Spadina in the early months of operation.

Much of the northern part of the street has not changed very much over the years, but the south end with its booming condo district is very different and changing still.

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