How did the term “Red Rocket” come about?
It’s a common misconception (one harboured by this author until recently) that the first “Red Rockets” were the Peter Witt streetcars. This misconception was inadvertantly fostered by Larry Partridge, who titled his Mind the Doors, Please chapter on the Peter Witt streetcar “Red Rockets I” (a format that we applied to our streetcar descriptions on Transit Toronto).
In fact, the term “Red Rocket” was only taken up by the TTC as a marketing slogan in the early to mid 1980s. It was in widespread use throughout the 1970s thanks to John Downing of the Toronto Sun, who applied the nickname during a series of articles attempting to bend the will of the TTC in favour of retaining streetcars. John Downing got the idea for the term from John Bromley during a lunch meeting between the two and Mike Filey. John Bromley originally coined the term on March 30, 1954, to (in his words) “facetiously” describe the slow Gloucester cars operating on the newly opened Yonge line. The term remained in limited use amongst John Bromley’s friends during the fifties and the sixties until John used it during the lunch meeting with John Downing, and the idea took off like a (ahem) rocket.
Why are there tracks on Bathurst Street, north of Bloor, when all the Bathurst Streetcars turn south at Bathurst Station?
Before the Bloor subway opened in 1966, streetcars did run on Bathurst in revenue service as far as St. Clair. From 1966 to 1978, the tracks between Bloor and St. Clair were retained so that streetcars from Wychwood carhouse (located off St. Clair Avenue) could be used on the Bathurst route, and so that the streetcar network would not be disconnected into two parts. And since 1978, when the Wychwood carhouse was closed, streetcars operating on St. Clair Avenue have had to use the tracks to get there (normally from Roncesvalles carhouse). The tracks also provide access to Hillcrest Shops at Bathurst and Davenport.
There are no plans to abandon streetcar service on St. Clair (indeed, there are plans to further enhance it), so the link up Bathurst street will remain. It may end up challenged, however. Should the St. Clair streetcar be extended to Runnymede, as the TTC hopes, rumour has it that one should expect streetcar tracks to be laid up Dundas Street from Dundas West Station to the St. Clair/Runnymede loop (effectively converting the Junction bus to streetcar). Such an arrangement would save the TTC a fair chunk in dead-head time. The Bathurst link would likely remain, however, as an alternate route onto St. Clair, and the only access to Hillcrest Shops.
I’ve heard that ALRVs are not allowed on St. Clair because they can’t go up the Bathurst Street hill. I’ve also heard that ALRVs can’t fit into Union Station loop or Spadina station loop. Is this true?
Having attended this charter, I can tell you that there are very few places on the TTC’s streetcar network where ALRVs can’t go. If such places exist, they’re probably marked off with big signs notifying drivers that these tracks are forbidden (note that there are a number of places on the TTC where CNG buses are banned, and signs point these out). ALRVs were designed according to the same specifications of the CLRVs. Generally, whereever a CLRV can go, an ALRV can follow.
However, it is unlikely that you will find ALRVs operating on St. Clair Avenue, or into Union Station loop or Spadina station loop in revenue service, and there are a few different reasons for this.
With St. Clair, the Bathurst Street hill is a problem. ALRVs can climb this hill, albeit with the sound of its engines straining. The problem comes if the ALRV breaks down, especially in wet weather. Then the ALRV’s weight, combined with the slope, makes it very difficult to push the ALRV out of the way. A neither a CLRV or a second ALRV could accomplish this. And as Bathurst Street is the only link between the St. Clair tracks and the rest of the system, the TTC does not want to risk one afflicted ALRV blocking other service cars from entering the route.
As for Union Station, although the curve of the loop is extremely tight and the platform narrow, breakdowns are less of a worry for the TTC. The main problem is that the loop is so tight that a driver cannot see the rear of his vehicle as it proceeds through. And while the TTC can take steps to maintain safety when an ALRV visits Union Station, the complications are such that the TTC isn’t interested in scheduling ALRVs in regular service to the station.
ALRVs can visit Spadina station without difficulty, but as the Spadina streetcar line runs into Union Station, even if ALRVs were scheduled to operate to Charlotte loop only, their presence would complicate the supervisors’ ability to rearrange schedules.
What was the TTC’s Streetcar Abandonment Policy?
Have you noticed that Toronto is one of the few cities operating streetcars in North America? For the longest while, Toronto was the only city in Canada to have streetcars — Montreal and Ottawa abandoned theirs in 1959. Some people blame a conspiracy of the car companies, while others refer to it as a reality of the transit picture of the time, but the fact was, from the 1930s until the 1960s, it was fashionable for cities to abandon their streetcar lines. Cities such as Halifax(1948), Hamilton(1953), Vancouver(1950s), Edmonton(1950s) or Omaha NE(1953), it was all the same: those cities still operating streetcars in the 1960s (Toronto, Pittsburgh, St Louis, to name a few) weren’t doing so because of any sense of urban forethought, but rather because they were slow in embracing what was seen as the progressive trend.
It was always the TTC’s intention, from the 1950s onward, to abandon its streetcar fleet. The opening of the Yonge Subway in 1954 resulted in the abandonment of a large portion of Toronto’s streetcar system. Abandonments continued as more subway extensions opened. This would have continued, the TTC thought, until 1980, when the last streetcar routes would fall concurrent with the opening of the Queen Subway.
Enter the Streetcars For Toronto Committee. This community activist group, disturbed at the prospect of Toronto losing its system of streetcars, lobbied the TTC to rethink its policy. It worked. In 1972, the TTC proclaimed that it had abandoned its streetcar abandonment policy, and was even looking at reinstating lines (the proposal for a Spadina Streetcar was first floated in 1973). Rogers Road would be the last streetcar route to fall under this policy.
So, why was Rogers Road abandoned? Well, when the TTC made the decision to stop its streetcar abandonment program, it was making a bold, progressive move, so much so that they found that there wasn’t a streetcar-construction industry prepared for it. No one in North America was making streetcars in the 1970s, so although the TTC had the free world’s largest fleet of PCCs (745, with 205 of them obtained second-hand), they wouldn’t last forever, and if the TTC was serious about maintaining its fleet, a builder for a new generation of streetcars had to be found. Fortunately, the Ontario Government was sympathetic to the TTC’s plans, and had its crown corporation, the Urban Transit Development Corporation (UTDC), work with a Swiss manufacturer in designing the CLRV, the Canadian Light Rail Vehicle. The first of this new generation arrived on Toronto’s streets in 1978. That still left a gap of seven years with which to use an aging fleet. As a result, the TTC also embarked on an extensive rebuilding program and, in order to maintain enough streetcars for the rest of the system, a route had to be abandoned. With the Borough of York requesting extension of Rogers Road service to Jane, and with the line in need of repairs anyway, the decision was a no brainer. “Rogers Road” fell to an extension of the Ossington trolley bus in 1974.
Was Rogers Road the last streetcar route to be abandoned, though?
No. Four other routes fell, but for different reasons:
In 1975 or so, the TTC broke off the portion of the St. Clair Streetcar route east of St. Clair Station and renamed it “Mt Pleasant”. This route really didn’t have much to do with the western half of St. Clair, and so it made sense to make it independent. However, after only a year of operation, it was abandoned and converted to bus operation temporarily before trolley bus service could be installed. The problem was that the line needed to be rebuilt, and so too did the roadway. From here, politics had a part to play. Despite the fact that the local residents preferred streetcar operation to its alternatives, the Metro Roads Department still managed to effectively veto the TTC’s desire to keep the line open. Fortunately, this was the last portion of revenue streetcar trackage to be abandoned on the system.
The next of the three routes to fall was “Earlscourt”, a strange route, overlapping St. Clair, with a full service schedule of its own. Sometimes, Earlscourt would run from Eglinton and Mt. Pleasant while St. Clair would run to St. Clair Station only, and sometimes this arrangement was reversed. Where the route got its name was the fact that it always used as its western terminus, Earlscourt Loop. The loop was (and is) located at the corner of St Clair and Lansdowne Avenues, in the neighbourhood of Earlscourt.
By 1978, Earlscourt had become a rush-hour branch of the St. Clair route, operating between Lansdowne Avenue and St. Clair West Station. When the new CLRVs did away with route names and replaced them with route numbers, the TTC decided that Earlscourt didn’t merit its own route number, and merged it under the 512 designation used by St. Clair cars (certain PCC rollsigns had “512L” for the Earlscourt service). Separate Earlscourt transfers disappeared, replaced by standard St. Clair transfers. Today, the only remnant of the once mighty Earlscourt route happens to be a short-turn service at Lansdowne operating during the morning rush-hours only.
Then there was 522 Dundas Exhibition, the special service operating along Dundas Street, Roncesvalles, King and Dufferin to the western gates of the CNE. First the route was replaced by an express bus and renumbered 93, and then this disappeared altogether. Changing travel patterns spelt the end of this route; it was gone before the 1990s rolled around, although it made a brief reappearance due to bus shortages in 1995…
Finally, there was 507 Long Branch, operating along Lakeshore Boulevard from Humber Loop to Long Branch Loop. In 1995, the route was merged into the 501 Queen operations, producing a long route running from the Mississauga border in the west to the border of the old City of Scarborough to the east. The old interchange between the two routes at Humber was a bit of an anachronism, anyway, since most people leaving 507 at this point were doing so to board 501 cars. The arrangement had its roots in the early 1920s when the TTC interchanged with the Mimico line of the Toronto & York Radial Railway, and was maintained due to the TTC’s zone fare system, forcing passengers had to pay a second fare in order to continue their trip in one direction or the other. This system was abandoned in the early 1970s, but the interchange remained in place for another twenty-four years.
The next abandonment was 521 King Exhibition, running from a loop of Richmond, Victoria and Queen, down Church, along King and then down Bathurst and Fleet to the Exhibition, operating whenever the Canadian National Exhibition is open and for special events including the Molson Indy. The route was rendered obsolete when the new 509 Harbourfront service opened on Saturday, July 23, 2000, to provide a link between Union Station and the Exhibition.
Did the TTC plan to reinstate the Coxwell Streetcar?
The TTC considered it, briefly, but dropped the idea. In February 1997, the TTC commissioned a report on which bus routes in Toronto could be easily converted to streetcar operation. It ranked various routes in terms of peak-hour ridership, the capital costs required, and how many streetcars could be used. At the time, about 30+ CLRVs lay surplus, thanks to service cuts. To make use of these streetcars in the short term, the TTC considered creating streetcar routes using as much of the current streetcar infrastructure as possible.
The three routes identified as most preferable for conversion were 22 Coxwell, 29 Dufferin (south of Bloor) and 63 Ossington (south of Bloor). Each of these had tracks already in place for part of the route, and some of these had looping facilities at one end of the route. Coxwell was found to be the easiest, as looping facilities are in place at Queen, Coxwell Station could conceivably handle streetcars, and only 1 km of new track would need to be built. Evening and weekend operation could continue as it is now, with Coxwell streetcars operating up Kingston Road to Bingham Loop, as the Coxwell bus currently does.
However, the TTC could not recommend any such conversion. None of these three routes had the 3000 passengers per peak-hour load that made conversion to streetcars economically justifiable. The narrow width of these streets, compared to Spadina, also precluded the possibility of private right-of-way operation, which would negate the operating advantage that streetcars possess over buses. Conclusion: no go.
So, will there be any new streetcar lines in the future?
On Sunday, July 23, 2000, operation began on a $13.25 million line to bridge the gap on Queens Quay from Bathurst to Spadina. Ridership will be high for a 509 Harbourfront route between Union Station and the Exhibition, particularly with the building boom that’s apparently in progress.
After that, the future of Toronto’s streetcar expansion is less certain. A few proposals have surfaced recently. One proposal is to connect Exhibition Loop to Dufferin Loop along the north side of the CNE; another proposal extends the St. Clair Streetcar, either to Runnymede and Dundas, or possibly all the way to Jane, and a third proposal suggests that a Queen’s Quay East or a Cherry Street streetcar could support the proposed redevelopment of the Port Lands.
The proposal to connect Exhibition Loop to Dufferin loop first came about when the TTC considered replacing its two streetcar barns with a single facility located at the site of the old Molson’s Brewery on Fleet Street. The connection would provide the TTC with a prudent second access to the rest of the streetcar network. Although nothing came of the carhouse proposal, the connection is still being considered, as it would represent another phase of the Waterfront LRT. With the connection in place, streetcars could run from Union Station to southern Etobicoke, via Queens Quay, Fleet Street, the CNE grounds and the Queensway to Humber Loop, a run almost exclusively on private right-of-way. Councillor Joe Pantalone has speculated that this arrangement could be part of a $300 million project to extend streetcar tracks west along the Queensway to Sherway Gardens.
In the 1997 service report, the TTC recommended the eventual extension of the 512 St. Clair streetcar from Keele west to Runnymede, or possibly Jane. With the redevelopment of the slaughterhouse lands in progress, ridership is bound to increase, and such a move would greatly improve transit in the area. When the report came out, however, ridership was not at the point where such an extension was advisable, although the TTC stated that if any developer wished to build the tracks for them, they’d happily run on them. The conversion of the St. Clair line to private right-of-way, expected to happen in 2005, makes the westward extension more likely to happen. In the same report that recommended the right-of-way upgrade, the TTC noted that roadwork was scheduled for St. Clair Avenue west of Keele in the latter half of this decade. Such a project would be a good opportunity to build the extension, combining construction and reducing costs. We may be hearing more of this proposal once the private right-of-way on St. Clair Avenue is complete.
Finally, there is the question of how to support the increased traffic once the redevelopment of the Port Lands heats up. If new houses and commercial developments spring up in the Port Lands and in the former Atiritari housing site, then improved services will be required to connect these people to the downtown. One idea is to run streetcars along Cherry Street, connected to Union Station via Queens Quay East — a proposal the TTC had previously opposed, but is now having a second look at. Another is to run streetcars along Front Street, and a third is to build private right-of-way from King.
As for longer LRT runs, the Toronto Official Plan calls for streetcars on Don Mills Road, and “high capacity transit” on Kingston Road. It has also been said that, in terms of ridership, the TTC would love to convert the Jane bus to streetcar operation. These are the proposals. As for what actually happens, only time and money will tell.
Why doesn’t the TTC use the pantograph on streetcars?
This question was debated on the newsgroup misc.transport.urban-transit and, although no definitive answer was reached, it was pointed out that pantograph catenary is different from typical overhead streetcar wire, and that the two systems might not be compatible. Typical trolley wire may be too frail for the heavy duty pantographs to operate, and pantograph catenary usually is staggered side to side, so as to not wear a groove into the metal surface of the pantograph, and trolley poles might find that difficult to handle. Also, there are no frogs in pantograph catenary “switches”, and major consideration is also given to the interference between the more complicated pantograph catenary with TTC and city signage (e.g. crosswalks, etc).
Milan, Brussels, Pittsburgh and Boston have all converted from trolley pole operation to pantographs. Toronto could similarly do it in stages, converting routes by installing catenary beside the trolley wires, and then later removing those trolley wires. Streetcars would have, for a brief period, both pantographs and poles. However, all this would represent a cost to fix a system that is not really broken.
Mark Brader also notes that another issue on the TTC’s mind may have been the fact that streetcars were being operated alongside trolley buses in Toronto until 1993. Trolley buses require trolley poles so they can flexibly connect with the trolley wires (can anybody picture a pantograph for a trolley bus?). Although cities such as San Francisco and Edmonton have shown that pantograph and trolley wires can intersect, the intersections are a lot more complicated affairs.
So, really, the answer is that the TTC has a system which, while old hat, works. Why should they spend money to fix what already works?
I have heard that standard railway equipment can not operate on TTC tracks. Is this true? And why?
It’s true. Standard railway gauge is 4 feet, 8 1/2 inches, whereas the TTC uses a decidedly non-standard 4 feet 10 7/8 inches. The TTC is the only railway in the world to use this gauge (they and the Halton County Railway Museum, which runs equipment retired from the TTC). The gauge used by Toronto’s streetcars and by its subways but not by the Scarborough RT (which uses standard gauge, just to confuse matters), and the gauge has existed since streetcars began operation in Toronto, back in 1861.
In the Articles of Agreement negotiated between the City of Toronto and the Toronto Street Railway on March 26, 1861, article five states the following: “That the gauge of the said railways shall be such that the ordinary vehicles now in use may travel on the said tracks, and that it shall and may be lawful to and for all and every person and persons whatsoever to travel upon and use the said tracks with their vehicles loaded or empty, when and so often as they may please, provided they do not impede or interfere with the cars of the party of the second part (Toronto Street Railway), running thereon, and subject at all times to the right of the said party of the second part, his executors, and administrators and assigns to keep the said tracks with his and their cars, when meeting or overtaking any other vehicle thereon.”
Note that there is no mention of a specific gauge in this passage. However, Bill Miller of Electric Lines of Southern Ontario cites Ken Heard, Consultant Museologist, Coordinator, Technology and Transport Museums Sector, Canadian Museums Association, as stating: “One of the terms of these agreements was that the track gauge was to accommodate wagons. As horse car rail was step rail, the horse cars, equipped with iron wheels with flanges on the inside, ran on the outer, or upper step of the rail. Wagon wheels naturally did not have a flange. They were made of wood, with an iron tire. Wagons would use the inner, or lower step of the rail. The upper step of the rail guided the wagons on the track. In order to accommodate this arrangement, the track gauge had to be 4 feet, 11 inches. As the streets themselves were not paved, this arrangement permitted wagons carrying heavy loads a stable roadbed.”
This is the definitive story, and not the tale that the odd gauge was selected because the city feared that Mackenzie and Mann would operate steam trains over streetcar tracks (one quoted by the TTC itself). After all, the TTC’s unique gauge was in place right from the beginning, 1861, when the issue of Mackenzie and Mann and their ownership of both the TRC and Canadian Northern was over thirty years away. The myth about steam railways is proving a difficult one to put down, however.
The odd gauge was maintained because it was easier to convert streetcar equipment to use the track as each piece arrived, rather than to put in all that work to convert the track. Why did the subways maintain streetcar gauge? When subways were being seriously designed for Toronto in the 1940s, there were suggestions that streetcars could be routed into the subway right-of-way, or be converted into the subway cars themselves. Certainly, a number of streetcars were converted for use as subway work trains, and there has been plenty of mixing of parts between the streetcar and subway network that the two have benefitted from the common gauge. And although the Scarborough RT was initially designed to be a streetcar line, the ICTS system which replaced it was designed from the ground up, and its design did not allow for interchanging of parts between the subway and RT networks.
So, how do you know all this stuff?
The information presented here is not crammed into our heads. We have access to a number of publicly available sources which have helped us get our facts straight. You can consult these sources too. Here is a listing of what we have used…
Bromley, John F., TTC ‘28, The Upper Canada Railway Society, Toronto (Ontario), 1968.
- Bromley, John F., and Jack May Fifty Years of Progressive Transit, Electric Railroaders’ Association, New York (New York), 1973.
- Bromley, John F., ‘Toronto Streetcar & Radial Loop History’, Transfer Points, March 1999, p4-10, Toronto Transportation Society, Toronto (Ontario).
- Brown, James A. and Brian West, ‘All about the Bloor-Danforth Subway’ UCRS Newsletter, March 1966, p50-56, The Upper Canada Railway Society, Toronto (Ontario), 1966.
- Byers, Jim. “Cut size, cost of Spadina LRT, committee urges.” The Toronto Star 10 Jul. 1990: A7.
- Carlson, Steven B., and Fred W. Schneider III PCC: The Car that Fought Back, Glendale: Interurban Press #64, 1980.
- Corley, Raymond F., ALRV: Articulated Canadian Light Rail Vehicle, The Toronto Transit Commission, Toronto (Ontario), October 1996.
- Corley, Raymond F., ‘Beach Car Lines Reach Back 120 Years’, Rail and Transit, September 1995, p4-5, The Upper Canada Railway Society, Toronto (Ontario).
- Corley, Raymond F., CLRV: Canadian Light Rail Vehicle, The Toronto Transit Commission, Toronto (Ontario), October 1996.
- Corley, Raymond F., The PCC Car: Presidents’ Conference Committee Car, The Toronto Transit Commission, Toronto (Ontario), February 1988.
- Corley, Raymond F., ‘Roncesvalles Centennial’, Rail and Transit, February 1995, p4-5. Upper Canada Railway Society, Toronto (Ontario).
- Corley, Raymond F., Vehicle Handbook, Toronto: Toronto Transit Commission, 1988.
- Corley, Raymond F., The Witt Car: Peter Witt Design, The Toronto Transit Commission, Toronto (Ontario), February 1988.
- Filey, Mike, Not a One-Horse Town: 125 Years of Toronto and its Streetcars, Gagne Printing, Louiseville (Quebec), 1986.
- Filey, Mike, The TTC Story: The First Seventy-Five Years, Dundurn Press, Toronto (Ontario) 1996.
- Harvey, Ian. “So lets get Spadina LRT rolling.” The Toronto Sun 27 Jan. 1992: 20.
- Hood, J. William, The Toronto Civic Railways: An Illustrated History, The Upper Canada Railway Society, Toronto (Ontario), 1986.
- Haskill, Scott, ‘Through Service to Long Branch’, Rail and Transit, February 1995, p17, The Upper Canada Railway Society, Toronto (Ontario).
- Kashin, Seymour and Harre Demero. An American Original: The PCC Car, Glendale: Interurban Press #104, 1986.
- Kerr, Tom. “Peterson may be forced to settle transit line row.” The Toronto Star 8 Feb. 1988: A6.
- Mallion, Godfrey, ‘Operational Improvements on the 504 King’, Transfer Points, April 2000, p4, Toronto Transportation Society, Toronto (Ontario).
- Partridge, Larry, Mind the Doors, Please, The Boston Mills Press, Erin (Ontario), 1983.
- Pursley, Louis H., Street Railways of Toronto 1861-1921, Ira Swett, INTERURBANS, Los Angeles (California), 1958.
- Pursley, Louis H., The Toronto Trolley Car Story, INTERURBANS, Los Angeles (California), 1961.
- Roschlau, M.W., ‘Adieu, Mt Pleasant’ Rail and Transit, Sept-Oct 1976, The Upper Canada Railway Society, Toronto (Ontario), 1976.
- Sarick, Lila. “The perils of reworking a landmark.” The Globe and Mail 6 Apr. 1992: A9.
- Schneider, Fred W. III, and Stephen P. Carlson PCC From Coast to Coast, Glendale: Interurban Press #86, 1983.
- Smith, Michael. “Alternatives to Spadina rapid transit line to be studied.” The Toronto Star 5 Feb. 1987: A7.
- Smith, Michael. “Spadina line wins support as solution to congestion.” The Toronto Star 9 Jun. 1988: A7.
- Smith, Michael. “Streetcar line to have European Touch.” The Sunday Star 12 Mar. 1989: B6.
- Stamp, Robert M., Riding the Radials: Toronto’s Suburban Electric Streetcar Lines, The Boston Mills Press, Erin (Ontario), 1989.
- Toronto Transit Commission, Report No. 7: Opportunities for New Streetcar Routes, The Toronto Transit Commission, Toronto (Ontario), January 21, 1997.
- Westland, Stu, ‘The Winchester Carline’ Rail and Transit, September-October 1979, p23-24, The Upper Canada Railway Society, Toronto (Ontario), 1979.
- Wickson, Ted and Pat Scrimgeour, ‘Toronto’s new Spadina streetcar line’ Rail and Transit, January 1995, p8-9, The Upper Canada Railway Society, Toronto (Ontario), 1995.
We are also heavily indebted to a number of people whose authority over TTC history was gained through personal experience. This includes, but is not limited to John Bromley, Mark Brader, Ray Corley, Curt Frey, George Davidson, Pat Scrimgeour, William E. Miller and others too numerous to mention. We would like to thank them for helping to make this website what it is…