By Joseph Hall
Toronto Star Transportation Reporter
Tuesday, August 11, 1998
A resurrection is unfolding at the Toronto Transit Commission’s Hillcrest bus and streetcar complex.
Dozens of them, in fact.
Here in the TTC’s vast Bathurst St. garages, a fleet of scrap buses waits to rejoin the city’s transit system.
“We’re bringing them back from the dead,” says TTC chief general manager David Gunn.
“If we didn’t have this program, we’d have a very hard time keeping enough damn buses on the street.”
The program, which has already returned 43 vehicles to active duty over the past year, is taking spent TTC buses and as many as 100 scrap-bound vehicles from Montreal’s transit system, rebuilding them almost entirely, and putting them back on Toronto’s streets.
These are the commission’s newly christened 2000-series buses (the number appears on the top of the rear window).
They’re vehicles built by General Motors in the late 1970s and early 1980s that have reliably served their 18-year guaranteed lifespans and were headed for retirement.
“But the grave will have to wait for these babies,” Gunn says.
The old GMs, he says, are more sturdy and reliable in their second life than many newer buses half their age.
And at about $150,000 a rebuilt bus, they are also far more affordable than $450,000 for a new vehicle.
“I bet these will last another 12 years. I mean it, I’ll be well out of here (the TTC) before they are,” the 62-year-old Gunn says of the rebuilt buses.
“They’ll be 25 or 30 years old, but they’ll run better, they’ll be easier to fix …”
GM’s assembly-line, bulk-building abilities allowed the giant automaker to make its buses with a heavy, solid steel frame, Gunn says.
But in the 1980s, when many large transit systems began to buy locally made vehicles, GM pulled out of the bus business. The TTC has been buying its buses from Orion Bus Industries and New Flyer Industries Ltd. for more than a decade.
And the newer buses, like the Ontario-built Orion, are made with lighter tubular carbon steel, which TTC mechanics say collects moisture inside and rots relatively quickly.
“They went to the soft carbon steel construction, which is easier to piece together when you’re making the bus, but that tubular steel is a disaster,” Gunn says.
“When we pull these buses (into the garage) at 10 or 11 years of age, they’re rotted right out. There’s just pieces missing. The frame will be cracked. It’s really bad.”
The frames can be repaired, but the buses are out of commission while they are being fixed. And although the TTC is about to buy some stainless-steel frame buses from Nova Bus Corp., those buses are expensive and do not have low-floored handicap access, Gunn says.
So the 2000-series buses will fill a gap, says Rick Cornacchia, deputy general manager of the TTC’s surface operations. “There’s over 600 GMs in our fleet and eventually what’s going to happen is when all those GMs hit 18 years, they’re going to become part of the 2000 series,” he said. The TTC purchased its last GM bus in 1987, but most were acquired in the early 1980s.
“The appropriate term is extended-life buses. We’re moving their life span from 18 to 24 years or more, but we call them the graveyard buses,” he said.
The TTC plans to have 10 more rebuilt buses in use this year, he said, and a total of 550 by 2002. There are 1,250 TTC buses on the city’s streets.