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Streetcar enthusiasts drawn to unveiling of new line

Jennifer Prittie
National Post

The opening of a new streetcar line tomorrow is, for public transit buffs, a notable occasion, and one that even spectators from the United States will attend.

“As a streetcar enthusiast, I’m very excited about it,” says Robert King, a local 18-year-old student. Mr. King, who has an acquaintance from New York coming for the ceremony, will take photographs of the inaugural run to put on his Web site.

The new tracks run along Queens Quay West between Bathurst Street and Spadina Avenue. The line is less than one kilometre long, but by connecting two existing lines — one from Union Station to Spadina Avenue, and one from Bathurst Street to the Exhibition Place grounds — they could clear up some waterfront congestion.

Transit enthusiasts who focus on planning and lobbying view tomorrow’s opening as an accomplishment. Steve Munro, a long-time transit advocate in the city, says the new tracks are a victory in a decades-long battle about whether to use surface vehicles or subways to expand public transportation in Toronto.

“Anytime a new line gets opened, those of us who have been fighting for it all this time like to show up and see it,” he explains. Mr. Munro believes there would be a larger crowd for the event if it fell on a U.S. holiday weekend.

Observers are also keen about the new tracks because, at a cost of $13.25-million, their construction is considered both remarkably cheap and speedy compared with other TTC projects.

“It’s good that we’ve managed to build a new section of streetcar line without too much political argument, or delay, or cost overruns,” observes Jordan Kerim, a 17-year-old transit fan who will also take pictures tomorrow.

The new route, which will open to the public on Sunday, should take a good deal of pressure off of Bathurst station, where crowds currently go to catch streetcars to the CNE. It will also eventually carry more local traffic from residential space now under development.

Popular interest in streetcars is linked to a North America-wide resurgence in their use. Mr. Munro says they gradually died off all over the continent until the mid-70s, but rebounded because of the expense, and other problems, associated with building new subways.

So, even if fans can’t be here, says Jeffrey Kay, a member of the Toronto Transportation Society, they’ll make a point of viewing the new line later.