RT-7 prepares to move the burnt-out husk of RT-9 in the aftermath of the fire. Photo by Marshall Shunk.
Text by James Bow, photos by Jim Bowman, except where noted.
At two in the morning on Friday, December 8, 2000, A fire started in RT-9 of the RT-9/RT-10 H-1 series garbage train. The train was travelling eastbound towards Old Mill station when the fire was discovered, and the train was stopped at the very east end of Old Mill Station while the crew evacuated. This placement allowed fire crews easier access to the stricken vehicles and limited the amount of smoke that poured through the subway tunnels. RT-9 and RT-10 were gutted, with nothing remaining of RT-9 except for the undercarriage. Considerable damage was also done to Old Mill station, with several windows in the south platform wall of the station broken.
Once fire crews had extinguished the flames, TTC crews set about repairing the damage. By 9:00 A.M. the lead car was removed from the scene, and a flat car was in place on the westbound track. Despite fears that the fire may have caused damage to the track itself, TTC engineers were pleased to discover that this was not the case, and the station structure itself was also sound. The TTC was able to reopen the affected section by 4 P.M. and Old Mill itself reopened to passengers the following Sunday.
The fire resulted in no deaths and few injuries. Everyone was evacuated promptly and only a few passengers at Royal York station had to be treated for minor smoke inhalation. A westbound service car had to be cleared of passengers between Old Mill and Jane stations, with passengers escorted through the tunnels back to Jane station.
The fire cut service on the western portion of the Bloor-Danforth subway, forcing the TTC to operate subway trains between Kennedy and Dundas West stations only. Buses had to be pressed into service to fill the gap between Dundas West and Kipling. Every spare bus was used, including GMs, NFIs, Orions and RTSs. Buses were run into and out of Dundas West station, operating via Dundas, Annette and Jane, as Bloor Street was severely congested throughout the Bloor West village. Connecting routes such as Kipling, Islington and Royal York were also extended to Dundas West, many operating express along Bloor. Even Mississauga Transit was affected, forced to route buses into Dundas West station, and some even heading all the way downtown via the Queen Elizabeth Way and the Gardiner.
The TTC put in a request to neighbouring transit agencies to lend buses to assist in handling the crowds. Despite the "Battle of Burnhamthorpe", Mississauga Transit supplied a number of buses and operated their runs express to Dundas West station. GO Transit also leant a hand for the afternoon rush-hour. The people got home, although a number probably wished they had taken the day off.
The disaster ended garbage train service permanently on the TTC. The fire highlighted the risk to passengers and employees of carrying garbage through the tunnels, and by storing it in rooms that were not properly insulated or set up to handle loads that could catch fire. Until March 30, 2001, TTC subway garbage was collected by an outside firm, after which point the commission collected it itself, using several of its own garbage trucks that weren't in use during the night. One TTC commissioner (Sherene Shaw) wanted to see the garbage trains back, but the others supported outdoor garbage collection, and the Toronto Fire Service expressed strong objections to the use of garbage trains.
The help that Mississauga Transit provided may have been the first olive branch offered in resolving the "Battle of Burnhamthorpe". A couple off weeks after the disaster, newly appointed TTC chair wrote to Mississauga Mayor Hazel McCallion to thank her for Mississauga's assistance and to offer the prospect of more talks to resolve the dispute.
The remaining garbage trains were kept as extra work cars used only if needed. There are no new garbage trains being built, and none will be unless an executive order is received from the Commission (this information from TTC reports, GM of Operations Gary Webster, and GM of Subway Operations Rick Cornacchia and forwarded by Richard Hooles.). The roof of Old Mill station retained its scars for two years until renovations finally made the necessary cosmetic repairs.