Red Rocket Renaissance: The A15 Class PCC Cars

4600

PCC 4600 (ex PCC 4505) at the Halton County Radial Railway. James Bow photo.

by Peter C. Kohler

The PCC's Last Gasp in Toronto

For half a century red and cream PCCs called JANE BLOOR and NEVILLE QUEEN had carried Torontonians to work and play, but by the mid 1980s the largest fleet of streamlined street cars in North America had dwindled to the 160 or so remaining units of the A-6, A-7 and A-8 classes of Canadian-built all-electrics. Last rebuilt in the early seventies, they were showing their age amid the shiny new CLRVs and ALRVs, but those Red (and now rusty) Rockets had earned a place in the hearts of Torontonians and in the city's streetscape in the same way that London's red double-deckers and San Francisco's cable cars do for those cities.

In reaffirmation of Toronto's love affair with its Red Rockets and to cater to a sudden upswing in ridership as well as the new Harbourfront LRT, a study was undertaken in late 1984 regarding a second PCC rebuilding program. The TTC approved the $70 million, two-kilometre Harbourfront LRT (Light Rail Transit) line on 30 October 1984. This would be the first new carline in Toronto in some 60 years and would serve the newly developed waterfront area. Although the Harbourfront LRT would eventually figure significantly in the future of the Toronto PCC, it was initially planned to assign 15 CLRVS or 10 ALRVs, but pressure was put on the TTC and the Metro Council to review its future equipment needs before disposing of the remaining PCC cars. There was also considerable lobbying to emulate other cities, notably San Francisco's Market Street line, in operating 'heritage' cars on Harbourfront which would derive much of its patronage from tourists.

A Call to Rebuild

4610

PCC 4610, seen here in its previous life as PCC 4541, was also purchased by the Vintage Electric Streetcar Co, and may be running in Kenosha...

At the direction of the Metro Council, bids were requested in February 1985 from Urban Transportation Development Corp. (UTDC), Ontario Bus Industries (OBI) and Garrett Railroad Car & Equipment; the lowest tender coming from OBI. TTC's Chief General Manager Alf Savage told Toronto Star on 12 July that a second major rebuilding might be given to as many as 30 PCCs, sufficient to equip both the Harbourfront LRT and the proposed Spadina extension. This option would cost $15 million; 5 million less than purchasing a like number of CLRVs. The Commission decided on a test rebuilding of one A-8 by an outside source. Bids were received in November from UTDC and OBI with the former winning the $431,317 contract on 11 February 1986. Another A-8 would be rebuilt to the same specifications by TTC's own D.W. Harvey Shop as a cost comparison although the Commission had maintained it could not undertake the program with their existing resources.

Car 4512 left Hillcrest on 6 March 1986 for UTDC's Millhaven (Kingston) works while no. 4505, which had been idled after a 18 June 1984 collision, arrived at the D.W. Harvey Shop on 3 March.

As Good as New

The rebuilding was even more extensive than that done in the 'seventies. The body was essentially remanufactured with new side sills, bolsters, window posts, frame members and side skin replaced with new and in some cases heavier, steel. Only the roof was original. The underframe was slightly modified and certain areas reinforced. The trucks, motors and all electrical components were rebuilt and all wiring replaced. All the wiring between the front and middle of the car was relocated in a sealed conduit in the side sill instead of beneath the car floor. The new control rods featured Teflon spacer/guide blocks instead of rollers. Newly added features included the installation of side sill heaters, replacement of all fuses with circuit breakers and a new 32v. circuit and relays for the gang switch assembly. Inside, new CLRV style seating, paneling below the windows and flooring was installed.

Reflecting their 'good as new' status, the rebuilt cars were renumbered as 4600s and assigned a new classification, A-15. A tribute to the Hillcrest Shop's staff, TTC's 'home' rebuilt PCC was delivered much quicker and cheaper than UTDC's. In September 1986, no. 4600 (ex no. 4505) emerged in CLRV livery of grey skirting, red body and letterboard and black window area and white roof and striping. Inside, the new colours were cream ceiling, brown to the window sill and wood-grained laminate below and low-lustre black was used in the operator's area. The rubber floor was light marbled grey and upholstery was orange-red. No. 4601, ex no. 4512, followed in service in February 1987.

Two years of successful operation and anticipating the need for a fleet of 225 double-truck cars and 52 ALRVS, TTC authorized on 19 April 1988 the rebuilding in its own shops of three more A-8s (nos. 4500, 4537 and 4548) at a total cost of $1.4 million.

Amid plans for the construction of the long debated Spadina line which was anticipated to increase fleet requirements by 1997 to 236 double-truck cars and 52 ALRVs, TTC opted against purchasing 35 new cars and instead would rebuild six additional PCCs over the next three years pending final approval of the Spadina project. Approval of the additional 18 PCC cars came on 29 November 1988, for a total of 23.

4500 class Rebuilding Program

New Number

Former Number

Year Outshopped

4600

4505

1986

4601

4512

1987

4602

4537

1989

4603

4548

1989

4604*

4500

1989

4605*

4549

1989

4606

4528

1989

4607

4536

1990

4608

4544

1990

4609

4526

1990

4610

4541

1990

4611

4540

1990

4612

4543

1990

4613

4503

1991

4614

4509

1991

4615

4518

1991

4616

4515

1991

4617

4539

1992

4618

4501

1992

* - officially so numbered by TTC but retaining
original numbers for historical accuracy

A Venerable Fleet

At the same time, TTC faced the need to re-equip its Tour Tram service which had been in operation, in varying guises and with some gaps, since 1973 using restored Peter Witt cars. However, the increasing maintenance costs associated with such venerable equipment, led to the decision to withdraw Witts no. 2424 and 2766 at the end of the 1987 season. Replacement mooted included replica cars using PCC trucks and controls, the rebuilding of a post-war all-electric to resemble an A-1 air-electric or restoring an all-electric car to 'as delivered' condition and livery. It was decided that the most economic and efficient course was the latter and the two 'bookends' of the A-8 class, nos. 4500 and 4549, would be rebuilt with the other PCCs, but restored to original condition. Designated as A-15(H) (Historic), they were only rebuilt cars to retain their original numbers, although officially listed as nos. 4604 and 4605.

4607

PCC 4607 in service on Queen's Quay, when the Harbourfront LRT still ran PCCs. Photo by Brad O'Brien.

Finally, on 27 February 1989, to the delight of traditionalists, TTC decided that all of the rebuilt PCCs would, unlike the pilot cars, be painted in their original TTC wine red and cream and carry the old TTC monogram. The first PCC so outshopped from Hillcrest was no. 4602 (ex-4537) on 21 May 1989 followed by the lead 'historic' car, no. 4500 which emerged on 14 July looking truly resplendent in 'as delivered' condition. This included refitting of the original large hooded dash lights, retention of the old style stop lights and inside, the authentic seats were kept and reupholstered. The original two-tone blue interior livery was recreated and only the revised operator's area and a few minor details betrayed the car's modernized A-15 status. No. 4500 entered Tour Tram service on 18 July and no. 4549 left the shop on 7 December. Cars 4600 and 4601 were repainted in the red and cream on October 14 and June 22, 1992 respectively.

Harbourfront Operation

Fittingly, the A-15s inaugurated the 1.3-mile Harbourfront LRT (route 604, later 510), the first new street car line in Toronto in 60 years. On a trial run, no. 4500 was first on the new trackage on 23 May 1990 followed the next day by yet unrebuilt no. 4518. No. 4603 was the third car to ply the route on 16 June in company with CLRV no. 4114 and ALRV no. 4251. The official opening day on the 22nd saw, in order, nos. 4500, 4549, 4609, 4601, 4602, 4603, 4606, 4608 and 4607 in service. After three days of free travel, the route opened to revenue operation on the 25th. Initially, because of safety exit problems, cars did not stop at Queens Quay underground station (the only underground stop after Union Station) and instead used a temporary surface stop immediately after leaving the subway ramp.

The future looked bright for a handful of beautifully rebuilt PCCs to carry the Red Rocket tradition into the 21st century. In addition to the four cars usually required to hold down the Harbourfront LRT (from Roncesvalles Division), other A-15s, based from Russell and Roncesvalles Divisions, were employed as rush hour trippers on the Dundas, Carlton, King and Kingston Road routes. Nos. 4500 and 4549 rotated on the summertime 'Tour Tram' service and charters.

The Rebuilding Stops

Cuts in service and an edict passed by the Metro Toronto government in 1991 that all future transit vehicles had to be handicapped accessible, abruptly halted the A-15 rebuilding program at the commission meeting of August 21, 1991.

The last rebuilt PCC, no. 4618, was outshopped on 31 March 1992 and entered tripper service on Kingston Road on 3 April. The following month the last remaining unrebuilt PCCs were withdrawn and it was left to the A-15s to continue the Red Rocket tradition. Only 19 cars had been rebuilt and the other candidates (nos. 4524, 4529, 4530 and 4546) remained in rusty limbo at St. Clair carhouse, retained for future rebuild. These, however, were not among the 15 A-6, 10 A-7 and four A-8s authorised for disposal in 1991.

In another blow to the future of PCCs in Toronto, residents near the Spadina Ave. loop of the Harbourfront LRT complained about the characteristic 'squeal' of PCC wheels. In reply, TTC test operated a ALRV on the route for five days in spring 1993. However, there were concerns about extracting an articulated vehicle from the subway tunnel after a more prolonged test operation from 14 August to 19 September. After flange lubricators had been installed at Spadina, the PCCs were back by 20 September. But in October 1994 CLRVS finally replaced the A-15s which were thereafter restricted mainly to rush hour trippers on the King, Dundas and Carlton routes and occasional base service at the request of operators. With a surplus of cars as ridership continued its downward spiral, only four A-15s were normally in service on any given weekday. On a more encouraging note, the Tour Tram service was revised from 9 July-October after a two year hiatus with no. 4500 and 4549 used in rotation.

The Fall of Toronto's PCCs

At the 23 November 1995 Commission meeting the momentous decision was made to retire the entire PCC fleet except for nos. 4500 and 4549 which would be retained for tour and charter use and nos. W30 and W31, the rail grinding train. The reasons for the sudden demise of the PCC Car in Toronto after 57 years were; 1) declining ridership, 2) sufficient CLRVs and ALRVs to maintain existing routes and the new Spadina Ave. line and 3) economy of having a standardised fleet without maintaining a separate spare parts inventory for just 19 cars.

So it's time to say FAREWELL to an old friend. One who has proved us all with work. One who has served us well for almost sixty years. One who has brought a smile to many a young face and a few older ones. One who has taken us to the Ex, the Island ferries and more when were kids ourselves. One who has taken us all to our grandparents for Sunday dinner. One who will be never matched in style, charm or service. THANK YOU for the memories, the service and so much more. GOOD BYE.

--The Rocket Report, December 1995

4618

PCC 4618 is seen here at the Halton County Radial Railway though the windows of CTA 48. James Bow photo.

Capping five days of nostalgic farewells, specially decorated nos. 4601 and 4600 made the ceremonial last run on 7 December 1995 along Queen St. from Russell Carhouse to Roncesvalles under police motorcycle escort and back to Russell via King St. Later no. 4600 made a final charter trip from Russell to Bingham, St. Clair, Bathurst, King and Harbourfront. The next day, with the announcement 'Queen, Queensway, Roncesvalles, final stop for PCCs', operator Frank Hood concluded the last scheduled PCC run in Toronto when he guided Carlton line short-turn car 4611 into Roncesvalles depot at 9:31 p.m. On 29 January 1996 most of the cars were shifted to Wychwood Carhouse; a few inoperable cars remained at Roncesvalles.

In January 1996 the TTC donated nos. 4600 and 4618 to the Halton County Radial Railway Museum and no. 4612 to the Edmonton Radial Railway Society. Thanks to the efforts of Tom Twigge of the Halton County Radial Museum, the remaining Red Rockets have largely been preserved in various North American museums and heritage trolley operations. Mr. Twigge organised a consortium of trolley museums to make a joint bid which was accepted by TTC in March. In early April, nos. 4602 (Trolleyville, Ohio USA) and 4603 (National Capital Trolley Museum, Maryland USA) were the first to leave the property and by summer, all of the A-15s save nos. 4500 and 4549 had gone to their new owners.

The Disposition of the TTC's A15 PCC Cars

4600

Halton County Radial Railway, Ontario

4601

Michigan Transit Museum, Michigan

4602

Trolleyville, Ohio

4603

National Capital Trolley Museum, Maryland

4604[4500]

Toronto Transit Commission, Ontario

4605[4549]

Toronto Transit Commission, Ontario

4606

Vintage Electric Streetcar Co, Pennsylvania *

4607

Initially Phoenix Transit System, Arizona,
Then by the Arizona Railway Museum.

4608

Old Pueblo Trolley, Arizona

4609

Vintage Electric Streetcar Co., Pennsylvania *

4610

Vintage Electric Streetcar Co., Pennsylvania *

4611

Halton County Radial Railway, Ontario

4612

Edmonton Radial Railway, Alberta

4613

McKinney Ave. Transit Authority, Texas

4614

McKinney Ave. Transit Authority, Texas

4615

Vintage Electric Streetcar Co., Pennsylvania *

4616

Vintage Electric Streetcar Co., Pennsylvania *

4617

East Troy Electric Railway, Wisconsin

4618

Halton County Radial Railway, Ontario

* - These cars were purchased on behalf of Kenosha Transit, who had the cars rebuilt and put into service in 2000. PCC 4529 was also purchased for parts salvage.

Today, these museum cars and most importantly, nos. 4500 and 4549 still on TTC metals, remind us of the almost 60 years when Red Rockets signed JANE BLOOR and NEVILLE QUEEN ruled the streets of North America's most livable city.


PCC - A-15 Image Archive


References

  • Bromley, John F., and Jack May Fifty Years of Progressive Transit, Electric Railroaders' Association, New York (New York), 1978.
  • Bromley, John F., 'Toronto Streetcar & Radial Loop History', Transfer Points, March 1999, p4-10, Toronto Transportation Society, Toronto (Ontario).
  • Carlson, Steven B., and Fred W. Schneider III PCC: The Car that Fought Back, Glendale: Interurban Press, 1980.
  • Corley, Raymond F., Vehicle Handbook, Toronto: Toronto Transit Commission, 1988.
  • Kashin, Seymour and Harre Demero. An American Original: The PCC Car, Glendale: Interurban Press, 1980.
  • Partridge, Larry, Mind the Doors, Please, The Boston Mills Press, Erin (Ontario), 1983.
  • Schneider, Fred W. III, and Stephen P. Carlson PCC From Coast to Coast, Glendale: Interurban Press, 1986.

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