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Streetcar noise issues at King East and Sumach



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The TTC recently hosted a community meeting Wednesday, November 16 about noise from streetcars operating across the intersection of King Street East and Sumach Street.

During the most recent event, TTC staff and residents discussed what the TTC has done to address the issue, including testing, and the next steps for reducing the noise.

The TTC introduced service along its 514 Cherry route June 19 — it was the first new streetcar route in 16 years. Streetcars operating along the new route add extra service to the 504 King route along King Streets East and West between Sumach and Dufferin Streets. Streetcars carry more than 65,000 passengers to and from stops on King annually.

Streetcars serving the new route also operate along brand new tracks on Sumach and Cherry Streets to the Distillery and Canary Districts. It’s these tracks — or, more specifically, the track junction at King and Sumach — that are the source of the noise that residents are complaining about.

Residents have complained about three kinds of noise since streetcar service started:

  • rumbling — from the eastbound track switch;
  • squealing — from streetcars turning; and
  • honking — streetcar operators sound the car horns, when motorists have driven onto what should be a streetcar-only right of way on Sumach and Cherry Streets.

When CBC Toronto reported on this issue, it interviewed the TTC’s spokesperson, Brad Ross:

“He blames the problem on what he calls ‘wheel creep.’

“‘When the streetcar goes around a corner, it’s really just physics. The wheels jump across the track.’

“He says after residents complained, crews ground the tracks and ordered streetcar drivers to slow down through the intersection.

“The permanent solution, he says, will be new streetcars. They’ve got a self-lubricating system, which is supposed to prevent squealing.”

King_Sumach-streetcar intersections.jpg

Local news source, The Bulletin, reported on the meeting and when the TTC’s head of streetcar operations, Steven Lam, explained in more detail:

“… the major source of the noise on turns is simply that the streetcars, like all streetcars in service around the world, are built in exactly the same way that railroad cars have been built since streetcars were introduced to Toronto in 1892. (In fact, as TheBulletin.ca has since verified, they have that in common with all railroad cars since the railroad itself was introduced in the 1830s.) That is, they have a solid axle; the two wheels do not rotate independently, so that the inner and outer wheels on a turn are still trying to rotate at the same speed, causing steel-on-steel slippage plus some sideway friction. This is scarcely noticeable on a railroad with gentle curves, but as Lam noted, the inside radius of TTC streetcar turns is very sharp, between forty and forty-nine feet. (An average European turn is closer to 85 feet, thus producing less noise).

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“Lam then added in response to audience questions that independently-rotating wheels, seemingly a simple enough fix, are not a solution because the switches in the system (again like streetcar switches everywhere) are one-point design - that is, only the inner rail is switchable, while the outer wheel simply follows its mate into the alternate groove. With over 100 switches in the system, the cost of re-engineering both fleet and tracks would be prohibitive.

The TTC designed these new tracks specifically for the new Toronto Flexity low-floor streetcars. As the CBC and The Bulletin have reported, these new cars contain a wheel lubricating system that should reduce wheel-squeal. However, the TTC still has not received enough of the new cars from Bombardier to replace all streetcars serving the route with new ones.

The Bulletin continued:

“TTC representatives noted that to this point they have brought in a third-party consultant to monitor sound, replaced a noisy switch at King/Sumach, continued with rail-grinding and alignment experiments, and installed lubrication equipment at the Distillery Loop…”

The consultants, Aercoustics Engineering Limited, measured sound levels before and after the TTC starting grinding and adjusting the rails and switch — first, August 10 and then, October 4 and 6. They found that noise had decreased, particularly in higher-frequency ranges. They also tested noise levels at two other similar streetcar junctions — at Bathurst and Fleet Streets and Broadview Avenue and Queen Street East. They found that after the TTC enhanced the junction, noise at King and Sumach was below that at the other two intersections.

King_Sumach-testing1.jpg

In the meantime, the TTC continues to replace streetcar service with WheelTrans buses late at night and early mornings, as it has since Thursday, August 11. Starting Thursday, November 17 (or, possibly, earlier) it simplified the route of the shuttle buses. During the Toronto Christmas Market in the Distillery District, streetcars operate until 11:30 p.m. and the buses operate afterwards each evening and early mornings until about 1 a.m. Starting Friday, December 23, after the Christmas Market ends, buses enter service at 10 p.m. each evening.

The TTC expects to continue to monitor noise levels and meet with the community next year. It intends to entirely serve the route with new streetcars by next summer, and, over time, as the wheels “find their path” — wear down — the rails, the squeal will decrease.

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You can view the entire presentation from the November 16 meeting here (.pdf)


The TTC is revising service along this route after 11:30 p.m. every day along this route until Thursday, December 22:

WheelTrans shuttle buses replace the cars after 11:30 p.m. until December 22 and after 10 p.m. starting Friday, December 23. Streetcars resume service at 7 a.m. Mondays to Fridays and at 10 a.m. Saturdays, Sundays and holidays.

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(Note that the TTC mislabels “Adelaide Street East” as “Richmond Street East” in this map.)


514 Cherry

The TTC is detouring streetcars off Sumach and Cherry Streets after 11:30 p.m. every day until Thursday, December 22. Starting Friday, December 23, it’s detouring the cars after 10 p.m. Mondays to Fridays and after 11 p.m. Saturdays, Sundays and holidays. Streetcar service resumes Mondays to Fridays at 7 a.m. and Saturdays, Sundays and holidays at 10 a.m.

Westbound cars start their trips on King Street East at Sumach Street, then proceed:

eastward along King and Queen Streets East;
northward along Broadview Avenue;
westward along Dundas Street East; and then
southward along Parliament Street to King East,
resuming their regular route westward along King.

Westbound cars skip their regular stops

  • in Distillery Loop and
  • on Cherry Street at Front Street East.

Instead, westbound cars drop off or pick up passengers at temporary stops

  • on King Street East at St. Lawrence Street,
  • on Queen Street East across from Carroll Street and at Broadview Avenue,
  • on Broadview Avenue north of Queen Street East and at Dundas Street East,
  • on Dundas Street East at Munro, River, Sumach, Sackville and Parliament Streets and
  • on Parliament Street at Shuter Street and Queen, Richmond, Adelaide and King Streets East.

Shuttle buses replace the cars on Sumach and Cherry Streets.

Eastbound cars operate along their regular route to King Street East and Sumach Street, ending their trips.

Eastbound cars skip their regular stops

  • on Cherry Street at Front Street East and
  • in Distillery Loop.

Shuttle buses replace the cars on Sumach and Cherry Streets. Eastbound streetcar passengers may transfer to southbound buses at stops on King Street East between Parliament and Sumach Streets.

514 Cherry shuttle bus

After 11:30 p.m. every day until Thursday, December 22 WheelTrans buses replace streetcars along the 514 Cherry route.

Starting Friday, December 23, the TTC’s replacing the cars with buses after 10 p.m. Mondays to Fridays and after 11 p.m. Saturdays, Sundays and holidays. Streetcar service resumes Mondays to Fridays at 7 a.m. and Saturdays, Sundays and holidays at 10 a.m.

Southbound buses start their trips at King Street East and Parliament Street, then proceed:

northward along Parliament;
eastward along Adelaide Street East;
southward along Power Street;
eastward along King East; and then
southward along Sumach and Cherry Streets to Distillery Loop,
ending their trips.

Southbound buses drop off or pick up passengers at stops

  • on King Street East [westbound] at Parliament Street,
  • on King Street East [eastbound] at Trinity, Sackville and Sumach Streets,
  • on Cherry Street at Front Street East and
  • in Distillery Loop.

Northbound buses start their trips in Distillery Loop, then proceed:

northward along Cherry and Sumach Streets; and then
westward along King Street East to Parliament Street,
ending their trips.

Northbound buses drop off or pick up passengers at stops

  • in Distillery Loop,
  • on Cherry Street at Front Street East and
  • on King Street East at Sackville Street, across from Trinity Street and at Parliament Street.

Northbound bus passengers may transfer to westbound streetcars at stops on King Street East between Sumach and Parliament Streets.