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TTC eyeing light rail replacement for streetcar network

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The folks working at the TTC’s Hillcrest Yard on Bathurst stripped the above streetcar bare — no seats, no floorboards, no wiring — basically to understand how to put it together again. About 100 of the TTC’s 248 streetcars will need rebuilding over the next few years if they are to last until 2020, which would give the TTC time to gradually replace them with new light rail vehicles.

KEVIN MCGRAN
TRANSPORTATION REPORTER

The future of Toronto’s streetcar may be decided next week in Rome.

A delegation, including TTC chairman Howard Moscoe and chief general manager Rick Ducharme, will be at an international gathering of transit authorities to check out the latest in light rail technology.

“The essence of what we’re looking at right now is what to do with the streetcars,” says Moscoe. “Do we really need streetcars that are as heavy as tanks?”

The answer is no, says Moscoe. The 248 streetcars on our streets are approaching 30 years of age, the end of their shelf life. They can be repaired at a cost of $1 million to $1.25 million apiece and the TTC could squeeze out another 10 years. Or the city could replace them.

“If we spend $3 million a car and get light rail, we get 40 years out of it as opposed to $1.25 million and get 10 years. “It’s a cost benefit thing,” says Moscoe.

While no one will be writing cheques in Rome — it’s more of a fact-finding mission — it’s clear there’s been a shift in thinking at a resurgent TTC, backed by an official city plan designed to turn Toronto into a “transit city.”

And a slew of funding announcements from Ottawa and Queen’s Park — money from the gas tax, and for infrastructure and a new city charter — may not add up to everything TTC officials say they need, but it will afford them the opportunity to dream.

“There is cause for considerable optimism,” says Moscoe. “I think just the announcement the province and feds are going to bring back some funding is kind of the shot in the arm we needed to start thinking, because we stopped dreaming. We stopped thinking we could do things because we never had the money for anything.

“Now the hope, the prospect of some sustainable funding will give us the energy and excitement to think about innovating again.”

Talk is increasingly turning to light rail, with the first new line to be built with the Waterfront Redevelopment Project. Increasingly, buses and streetcars will operate in their own right-of-way, a cheaper alternative to subway and — if done right — just as effective at moving large numbers of people.

“Let’s talk about the principle of getting things out of mixed traffic, and then use the appropriate technology for the line and as ridership builds,” says Moscoe. “Let’s get us there first, with busways, up to a light rail, then into a possible subway.”

While officials are in Rome looking at the latest in technology, they’re eyeing a Siemens vehicle now in operation in Houston and a Bombardier vehicle in Minneapolis. The new vehicles would likely run on the current tracks.

The TTC will need the first of the new vehicles — which will cost up to $4 million each — in about five years.

“We have to put together the new specs for a new vehicle,” says Ducharme.

“We have to get this going. It’s going to take a while to put together the specifications and get a new fleet.”

After years of decline, changes — large and small — are coming to what was once the top-rated transit system in North America.




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