Frequently Asked Questions about Toronto's Subway and the Scarborough RT

See Also

When Did the Toronto Subway Open?

The stretch underneath Yonge Street between Union Station and Eglinton opened to the public on the afternoon of March 30, 1954 (history here). This was followed by the following extensions (note: official/VIP openings in brackets if different from public openings):

  • University (Union Station to St George) -- February 28, 1963
  • Bloor-Danforth (Keele to Woodbine) -- February 26, 1966 (Feb 25)
  • Bloor West (Keele to Islington) -- May 11, 1968 (May 10)
  • Danforth East (Woodbine to Warden) -- May 11, 1968 (May 10)
  • Yonge North (Eglinton to York Mills) -- March 31, 1973 (Mar 30)
  • Yonge North (York Mills to Finch) -- March 30, 1974 (Mar 29)
  • Spadina (St George to Wilson) -- January 28, 1978 (Jan 27)
  • Bloor West (Islington to Kipling) -- November 22, 1980 (Nov 21)
  • Danforth East (Warden to Kennedy) -- November 22, 1980 (Nov 21)
  • Scarborough RT (Kennedy to McCowan) -- March 24, 1985 (Mar 22)
  • North York Centre Station -- June 18, 1987
  • Spadina (Wilson to Downsview) -- March 31, 1996 (Mar 29)
  • Sheppard (Sheppard-Yonge to Don Mills) -- November 24, 2002 (Nov 22)
  • Spadina (Downsview to Vaughan Metropolitan Centre) -- to come in 2016

What's this I hear about the Spadina Subway being dropped as a subway name?

We have not confirmed anything officially, but we have heard persistent rumours that, when the Yonge-University-Spadina subway is extended to York University and beyond to Vaughan, its official name may be shortened to just the Yonge-University subway. Effectively, Spadina would disappear as a name to describe a portion of the yellow subway line on the TTC's maps, and University would take over.

Speaking personally, this makes sense on a number of levels. The Spadina subway was named because it mostly parallelled the route of the controversial Spadina Expressway when it opened in 1978. Since then, the Spadina Expressway was officially renamed Allen Road. The Spadina subway travels beneath Spadina Road for a very short portion of its route. The monicker makes less sense today than it did back in 1978, and the Yonge-University-Spadina line is quite a mouthful to say.

So, when the subway is extended to York University and beyond, it may make more sense to just drop the Spadina name, since the western leg of this subway now serves two universities as well as University Avenue. The opening of the extension is also an opportunity for the TTC to rebrand in other areas. It is likely that Downsview station will be renamed (likely to Sheppard West) when the opening occurs.

Once the Yonge-University extension to York University and Vaughan is Finished, What New Subways Will the TTC Work On Next? Why was so little built between 1985 and today?

Frustratingly, it's hard to say. A lot depends on politics.

From 1959 to 1985, Metropolitan Toronto (in partnership with the province of Ontario) embarked on a constant program of subway and rapid transit construction. Once the Scarborough RT opened, however, things ground to a halt. Part of it was bad timing, as Metropolitan Toronto was slow in coming up with a plan for the next phase of new subway construction, only to go to the province and ask just as a significantly less transit-friendly government had taken office. Deficits and recession tied the hand of the province in terms of lines it could fund and, from 1996 to 2002, the provincial government pulled out of public transit funding altogether. It was only after the government changed in 2003 that funding finally came through to extend the Yonge-University subway from Downsview into Vaughan.

During this time, congestion throughout the Greater Toronto Area got significantly worse, until the consensus grew that things had to be built. In 2007, the provincial government of Dalton McGuinty and the Liberals commissioned MoveOntario 2020 and formed the agency Metrolinx to prioritize and fund the construction of major public transit infrastructure for the next twenty-five years. The government also committed $12 billion to begin construction on what it deemed the highest priority projects. Construction finally got underway in 2010, and work is continuing on a number of projects, including:

  • An LRT line operating elevated and in tunnels along Eglinton Avenue from Jane Street east to Leslie, and then on reserved right-of-way in the middle of Eglinton Avenue east to Kennedy (with underground sections at Don Mills and at Kennedy) - An $8 Billion project due to open in 2020. (See history here)
  • The Union Pearson Express, a premium-fare shuttle operating from Union Station to Pearson International Airport via the Kitchener GO Train route and over a 3 km elevated spur to a station at Terminal 1, with intermediate stops at Bloor Street and Lawrence - a $400 million project opening ahead of the Pan-Am Games in 2015. (See history here)
  • A replacement to the aging Scarborough RT. Until July 2013, it would have been refurbished as an LRT line and extended to Malvern by 2018. After July 2013, the province and the City of Toronto investigated using the money to extend the Bloor-Danforth subway just to Scarborough Centre instead - a $1.4B project that, as a subway, could open as late as 2023.
  • New LRT lines built along Finch Avenue west from Keele (connecting to the Yonge-University subway) to Humber College and along Sheppard Avenue east from Don Mills station to Conlins Road. These could have opened in 2015 before political wrangling at Toronto city council delayed and nearly cancelled both projects. Both projects should now be open around 2020.

There are also a number of projects happening elsewhere in the Greater Toronto Area, including:

  • A bus rapid transit line running parallel to Highway 403 through central Mississauga from Renforth and Eglinton to Winston Churchill, opening in phases between October 2013 and 2015. (See history here)
  • A bus rapid transit network called VIVA, running along major corridors through York Region. Launched in 2005 as a series of limited-stop bus routes, bus-only rapidways are now opening and will continue to do so through 2018. (See history here)
  • An $818 million LRT/BRT corridor in the Region of Waterloo running from Conestoga Mall in northern Waterloo to downtown Galt in Cambridge, now under construction and opening in 2017
  • A bus rapid transit network called Zum, running along major corridors through Brampton, launched as a series of limited-stop bus routes, with bus-only rapidways proposed in the future.
  • A bus rapid transit line called Pulse, running along Ellesmere Road, Kingston Road and Highway 2 from UofT Scarborough west through Durham Region, starting as a limited stop bus route, but with bus-only rapidways planned in the future.

The above are examples of projects currently funded and under construction. Many more have been proposed, including LRTs along Hurontario and Dundas Streets in Mississauga, significant improvements to GO's train lines (including possible electrication of routes), a Downtown Relief subway line, and an extension of the Yonge subway to Richmond Hill. Whether these proposals become reality is all a question of political will and finance.

What is this I hear about Toronto's "lost" subway stations?

Toronto does indeed have "lost" subway stations. Click here for more information.

Why do they no longer use that "Lower Bay" station?

Again, Click here for more information.

Is there anything else on the TTC system that has been blocked off, and why? (Also, what's the deal with the "jail" on the south end of the Museum station platform?)

Museum, Queen's Park and St. Patrick stations all have island platforms. When they were built, they had areas which connected the northbound and southbound platforms, and did nothing else. For most of Museum, the way to the exit is very clear, and two of the three original cross-platform connections in Queen's Park and St. Patrick were landings for stairwells leading to the surface. The southern end of Museum station and the remaining cross-platform connections at Queens' Park and St. Patrick were blind alleys. When a teenage girl was attacked in St. Patrick station in November 1975, the TTC decided to close these areas to the public. The blind alleys of Queen's Park and St. Patrick stations were walled off and converted into storage rooms.

There is conflicting reports about Museum getting the same treatment at the same time; some say that the bars were actually in place the moment the station opened. Whatever the case, bars were used instead of a solid wall because of the ventilation fans in place at this part of the station. Used primarily for fire safety, these fans are also used on very humid days to keep air circulating. Solid walls would impede the air flow.

The TTC has blocked off a number of areas on TTC property. Two examples include the connection between the temporary streetcar loops and the original termini of the Bloor-Danforth subway. When the Bloor subway opened in 1966, streetcar shuttles continued from Keele and Woodbine stations out to Jane and Luttrell loops. These streetcar shuttles did not loop at the Keele or Woodbine bus terminals, but at temporary loops connected to different parts of their respective stations.

Woodbine's temporary loop was located just east of Woodbine's current bus terminal, in what is today a parking lot. A tunnel leading from this platform to the mezzanine level of the station was built. When the Bloor subway was extended to Warden and the streetcar shuttle eliminated, the corridor was walled off and the temporary terminal torn down. Shuttle streetcars looping at Keele did so near the Indian Grove exit of the station, on what is today land occupied by a retirement home. A corridor leading from this temporary loop to the eastbound platform of Keele was built, and a moving sidewalk constructed to hurry passengers along. Again, when the subway was extended to Islington, the temporary platform was abandoned, and the corridor blocked off. The moving sidewalk was largely left intact and simply walled in. You can see evidence of this corridor on the wall of the eastbound platform; the bricks covering over the entrance don't quite match the tiles of the rest of the station wall.

Then there's Keele Yards -- officially referred to by the TTC as Vincent Yards. Click here for an article and photo tour about Vincent Yards. The TTC is currently working on rehabilitating these yards to store trains in order to address issues of overcrowding at Greenwood and Wilson Yards.

Disused bus platforms also exist at various stations, left over from when the stations were terminals. At Eglinton station, the added building with platforms 11-13; at Wilson, the added building that was called the north bus terminal when open; at St. George, one of two bus platforms.

Also at Eglinton, the back (north) corridor originally used for unloading buses from platforms 1-9 was blocked off, possibly to save the cost of retiling it while allowing its gray Vitrolite tiles to replace damaged ones elsewhere in the station.

Davisville Carhouse was almost abandoned soon after expansions to Wilson took place. It remained open, however, being used as the place where the new T1 cars were inspected. Just before the Sheppard subway opened, it was reactivated to house extra trains for the Yonge line.

I remember the old red subway cars. Are any still operating on the Toronto Subway?

These "red cars" were Toronto's first subway cars, built by Gloucester Railway Carriage & Wagon Company of Gloucester, England and shipped to Toronto in 1953. They served the city for almost four decades before being retired from passenger service in 1990. A number of cars were converted for use as work and maintenance cars. Arguably the most famous of these was The Garbage Train numbered RT-38/39. Unfortunately, its life ran out when the next classes of subway cars started to be retired; it was replaced by an H-1 garbage train and scrapped. According to our records, a scant ten Gloucester cars remain on the property, serving in the work fleet. These operate late at night when the subway is closed, and the average citizen would probably not have a chance to ride them.

Two Gloucester cars can be seen in their original colours, however, at the the Halton County Radial Railway and Museum. Cars 5098 and 5099 were accepted by the museum in the early 1990s and are being preserved. You can see these cars on display (and possibly in operation, if you're lucky) along with a bunch of other Toronto cars and many other vehicles from other cities across Ontario and North America. For more information, visit the HCRR's web site.

Why did the lights in those Gloucester Cars always flicker on and off as they ran through the tunnels?

Mark Brader supplied us with this answer: "The G cars had incandescent lights, which don't care what sort of power they're operated on. This means that you can power them straight off the 600 V DC traction power by the simple expedient of wiring groups of five bulbs in series to divide the voltage, and I have no doubt that this was done. And, of course, it means that the smallest gap in the third rail would cause the lights to blink off."

Ray Corley adds: "The main body lights with 30 volt lamps are in 2-series strings -- 20 plus a resistor on the cab side and 21 on the other side -- across 600 volts. Over each doorway is a 30 volt lamp, powered off the battery (2 in series) as emergency lighting"

Mark continues: "Fluorescent lights, on the other hand, require AC, or at least the usual designs do. Therefore subsequent cars had a motor-generator or MG set: that is, a DC motor powered off the traction supply and simply driving an AC generator (which is also called an alternator, so the term MA set is also used). All that's needed is for the rotating parts to be heavy enough that they'll keep spinning for a second or two when the power goes off, and you have lights that stay on as you cross a section break. If the train stops with the car on a third rail gap, or the power fails, the lights fade and go out after two seconds, following which the emergency lights come on.

"If I read the brochures correctly (and they're not always clear), this technology was used on classes M-1 through H-4, and again on H-6.

The T-1 cars, on the other hand, have AC traction motors, which are a whole different ball game. For the massive levels of DC to AC conversion that this requires, they use a solid-state device called an "inverter", and the lighting power is supplied off this. On these cars the electrical systems of a two-car set are linked, so each car has both traction and lighting power so long as either one is on the third rail.

The H-5 cars have "inverter ballasts", which I take to be the same thing on a smaller scale, just for the lighting circuits. I don't know if they also do the sharing of power between cars thing.

The Painted H-1

Red H1.

Actually, there was a pair of H-1 cars that were painted in Gloucester red. For more on this story, consult the Interesting H1 Series Facts section of the H-1 Subway Page.

Why doesn't the TTC paint its newer subway cars, like it did with the Gloucesters?

The answer is money. The fact is that it costs the TTC a fair amount of money to maintain paint schemes and, if the TTC can eliminate this expense, they will.

The better question to ask is why the TTC bothered to paint the Gloucesters, and the answer to that was because the Gloucester's bodies were made of steel. Thus, the paint represented a necessary step to protect the Gloucester bodies from rusting. Even with the paint, the Gloucesters stored at the Halton County Railway Museum do show a little sign of rust. The bodies on the TTC's later cars were made of aluminum, which don't corrode as readily.

So, why are the TTC's surface vehicles painted? One answer is probably visibility and identity; customers are happier if they can see the bus or streetcar coming and the paint scheme identifies the transit agency operating the vehicle. This is less of a concern on the subway, of course, where there is no competing vehicular traffic and road conditions. Also, the surface vehicles are made primarily out of steel, and face harsher conditions that can corrode their bodies. The paint helps to protect against that.

How come they only use one platform at the McCowan RT Station?

You can figure out why they use only one platform at McCowan Station, if you think about it logically. If trains alternated platforms, how would you know which one to take?

Because McCowan Station, unlike most of the other terminal stations in the history of the subway, has platforms on the sides as opposed to between the tracks, passengers would be forced to guess which platform to board the next train on. If the train on the other platform leaves first, they're ticked. If they want to pick a different train, they have to run down the steps, across the mezzanine, and then up the other set of steps. Major inconvenience.

Of all of the stations used as terminal points in the TTC's past, only five, including McCowan, used side-platform options. Keele and Woodbine were like this; Paul Jackson pointed out that both platforms were used at Woodbine Station during the months when it was the eastern terminal of the Bloor-Danforth subway line. If so, it is likely that Keele Station on the west end saw something similar. Passengers were notified as to which train would be departing next through the use of signs by the stairs leading to each platform. When the subway was extended, these signs were modified into typical 'eastbound' and 'westbound' signs. With every second Bloor-Danforth train heading downtown via the University Line, one platform was used for crosstown trains and the other for downtown trains. This ensured that passengers got on the right train right at the beginning. St. Clair West has side platforms, but it's a short-turn terminal, and so the train uses one platform to let passengers off, and another to let passengers on. Even Kennedy Station on the SRT followed this arrangement, before renovations eliminated the loop.

Why was the Kennedy RT station renovated so soon after it was built?

When the Scarborough RT was first conceived, it was supposed to be a high-speed streetcar route, using CLRVs on private right-of-way. The Province of Ontario stepped in, however, and asked that the TTC upgrade the line to the new ICTS (Intermediate Capacity Transit System) technology which now graces this line and Vancouver's Skytrain. The Province wanted to sell this technology, and felt that they needed a system to test it on and showcase it for the world.

A considerable amount of planning had already gone into the Scarborough line, however, but the province convinced the TTC by promising to pay for any and all cost overruns that hit the Scarborough line as a result of the design change. TTC agreed, and the result was that the Scarborough RT opened a year late, and over $100 million over its original budget estimates.

But the problems did not stop there. The streetcar influence remained at Kennedy Station, where the Scarborough RT cars were asked to perform an operationally frustrating maneuver of entering the station on the northernmost tracks, dropping passengers off, travelling through a loop designed to handle streetcars, and entering the station again on the southern tracks to pick up passengers. It was soon discovered that the cars didn't have the turning capabilities that had been advertised. Speeds through the loop were reduced to 5 km/h, but derailments still stalled the system. It soon became impossible to run four-car trains as a result of this loop. Other problems included flat spots on the wheels caused by an overly efficient braking system and the resulting noise that angered neighbouring residents; there were problems keeping the snow off the tracks, computer difficulties, but the Kennedy Station design proved the most costly of all of the problems.

So, about two years after the Scarborough RT opened, in the summer of 1987, the TTC embarked on $27 million worth of renovations. I believe the Province paid for the cost. One of those renovations included installing a crossover at Kennedy Station (or, rather, a wye). Kennedy Station was cut to one track instead of two, and the southern platform was extended to meet the northern track, so now the Scarborough RT vehicle opens all of its doors to board and detrain passengers simultaneously. This was done because a traditional subway crossover probably wouldn't have fit, and also because, with platforms on the sides of the stations, only one of the tracks would see use anyway (just like at McCowan).

So, Kennedy Station was renovated about two years after the Scarborough RT opened, and the Scarborough RT took on the shape it has today.

Why is there a glassed-off platform on the side opposite the Kipling Station bus platforms?

On the upper level of Kipling Station, on the side opposite the bus loading bays, there is what appears to be a platform and a shallow trench. This area is closed off from the public by a long glass wall.

This would be where the Etobicoke RT would have connected with the Bloor-Danforth subway. Although not as far along in the planning process as the Scarborough RT, the TTC still expected that a streetcar on private right-of-way or, possibly, an ICTS line would extend out from the western end of the Bloor-Danforth subway line. When Kipling and Kennedy Stations were opened, the TTC thought that these would be the last extensions to the Toronto subway system. Subway construction was extremely expensive, and the high density corridors that best supported subway development had, by and large, already been served by subways. To extend rapid transit into the lower density suburbs, the TTC envisioned high-speed, but lower capacity (and, hopefully, cheaper) service running out from the subway terminals.

As I said, the Etobicoke RT was not nearly as far along the planning stages as the Scarborough RT when Kipling Station was built, and no progress has been made on the idea ever since. However, the TTC's long term plans for rapid transit development called for service to be extended either westward to Sherway Gardens and into Mississauga, or west then north up Highway 427, into northern Etobicoke and possibly the Airport. The extreme long-term plans for the Sheppard Subway, as detailed in the Network 2011 proposal released in 1985, called for the line to be extended west and north to follow the Hydro Right-of-way north of Finch into northern Etobicoke. The line would then turn south and follow Highway 427 before connecting with the Bloor-Danforth Subway at Kipling. By the time this proposal was made, however, the expectation was that the Sheppard Subway would use traditional subway equipment, so we can assume that this idea would be a direct interlining between the Bloor-Danforth and Sheppard Subways (the Scarborough RT would end up being the gap preventing the original 'Subway Circle' plan from taking place), and that the Etobicoke RT platform would remain unused in this case. This shows, however, that the TTC saw the eventual need for a north-south Etobicoke rapid transit corridor, and that was one thing an Etobicoke RT was supposed to address.

Today, the priority for westward rapid transit expansion (such as it is - this is a priority more for the politicians than for the TTC) calls for the Bloor-Danforth subway to be extended west to Sherway Gardens and possibly into Mississauga. If the Etobicoke RT platform is to be used, it will likely be for a high-speed streetcar service connecting Kipling Station with the Airport. An express bus between Kipling and the Airport is already in operation. If successful, who knows what services may follow...

So, how do you know all this stuff?

We've had a life-long passion for public transit in general and subways in particular, and we love our home town of Toronto. The Toronto subway was a big part of our growing up in the city; it was as good as owning one's own car in terms of the freedom it gave us as teenagers. So we remember the subway fondly, and we have built this site partly in honour of that memory.

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., and Jack May Fifty Years of Progressive Transit, Electric Railroaders' Association, New York (New York), 1973.
  • 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.
  • Corley, Raymond F., Vehicle Handbook, Toronto: Toronto Transit Commission, 1988.
  • Filey, Mike, The TTC Story: The First Seventy-Five Years, Dundurn Press, Toronto (Ontario) 1996.
  • Partridge, Larry, Mind the Doors, Please, The Boston Mills Press, Erin (Ontario), 1983.
  • Pursley, Louis H., The Toronto Trolley Car Story, INTERURBANS, Los Angeles (California), 1961.

We are also 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, George Davidson, Ray Corley, Curt Frey, 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...

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