The Scarborough Rapid Transit Line

Proposed SRT Route Map in 1975

Possible alignments initially proposed for Scarborough RT line. Map by Frank P. Teskey; originally appeared in the Toronto Star, Wednesday, January 29, 1975

Text by James Bow.

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Bridging Gaps in More Ways than One

When the Scarborough Town Centre was opened in 1973, what was then the Borough of Scarborough hoped that the centre would become the core of its new downtown. However, with Metro Council only just voting that the eastern terminus of the Bloor-Danforth subway be extended to Kennedy and Eglinton Avenues, there was still a gap of miles between the end of mass transit and the beginning of Scarborough's downtown dreams. Scarborough officials wanted a further extension of the subway, but the TTC looked at the costs involved and decided that a cheaper project was needed.

At the time, new subway construction was starting to come out of vogue. The 1.6 mile extension from Warden to Kennedy was going to cost at least $41 million. Planners cautioned that most of the areas in Metropolitan Toronto dense enough to service a subway was already being served. However, including the Scarborough Town Centre, there were large areas of Metro which could use rapid transit service -- just not service which had the capacity and the cost of a subway. With the lowest economically feasible passenger load by a subway line being 20000 passengers per peak hour, and the highest feasible passenger load of a streetcar being roughly 5000 passengers per peak hour, what vehicle could address the intermediate capacities that the new areas of the city required from possible rapid transit lines?

The TTC had a good idea of what that vehicle was: a streetcar operating on private right-of-way. The Commission set to work on a proposal to link the Scarborough Town Centre to the end of the subway using an LRT line. The initial line would follow much of the same route as today's Scarborough RT operates, however there were plans for mid-block stations between Lawrence and Eglinton, between Ellesmere and Lawrence, and possibly over Brimley Road as well. There were possible alternative alignments down the centre of Ellesmere Road and along Progress Avenue. The line could easily be extended to serve the community of Malvern, and perhaps even Pickering. the first phase of the 8.2 mile line would cost just $85 million -- roughly 40% of the cost of a full-fledged subway at the time.


The Province Goes High-Tech

The Province of Ontario, however, was looking for something far more high-tech. Back on November 22, 1972, the provincial government announced the development of its own Intermediate Capacity Transit System (ICTS) concept. On May 1, 1973, it awarded a contract to Krauss Maffei A.G. of West Germany to design and build a demonstration system of magnetically levitated trains around the Canadian National Exhibition by 1975. The GO URBAN project went as far as building columns to support an elevated track, and there were plans for a connection to Union Station by 1977. However, the West German government withdrew its support and Krauss-Maffei could not continue with the proposal. The beginnings of the 2.5 mile demonstrator line were scrapped.

While the TTC continued to plan and build its streetcar-based Scarborough LRT line (it was planned that out of the initial order of 196 CLRVs, 22 would be used on the Scarborough line, either individually, or coupled together into MU trains), the Province went it alone in designing the ICTS vehicle. Finally, it came up with a design that offered the following:

  • "Steerable-axle trucks for quiet, smooth rides and reduced maintenance
  • "Linear induction motors for improved, all-weather-performance without pollution;
  • "Computerized train operation for safety, reliability and efficiency."

Source: UTDC promotional literature

The trains no longer levitated over their tracks, but the 'linear induction' motors meant that the trains were pulled along using electromagnets inside the trucks. The province had its vehicle, now where could it be demonstrated? After a while, their eyes fell upon the Scarborough RT. Using their powers of "persuasion", the Province of Ontario in June 1981 convinced the borough of Scarborough and the TTC to change the design of the line, away from streetcars on private right-of-way, and more to the mini-subway that the ICTS technology represented. The province promised that, in changing the design midway through construction, the province would pay for all cost overruns associated with the line. As a result, the Scarborough RT opened two years late. Set to cost only $103 million in 1981, the price rose to $196 million in 1985. The City of Hamilton was also offered the technology, and their line would have opened first, but that city rejected the proposal on December 15, 1981.

The TTC agreed to purchase 24 ICTS vehicles on November 5, 1981 (contract signed May 10, 1982). By this time, the system had been successfully marketed to Vancouver (contract on May 29, 1981) and Detroit (approved August 5, 1981). With three systems under their belt, UTDC commissioned a full-scale mock-up of the car, to be constructed by Disney Display of Toronto. This was installed on a section of guideway track on tracks 7 and 8 of the TTC's St. Clair Carhouse. Other promotional events included a naming contest for the vehicle, announced in October 1981, resulting in the name "RT" being adopted for the Scarborough line.


'The Most Advanced Urban Transit Technology in the World.'

UTDC rolled out TTC's car 3000 at its Millhaven plant on October 31, 1983. It and car 3001 were operated as a two-car train on UTDC's test track on December 20, 1983. After further tests, cars 3002 and 3003 arrived at the site of Ellesmere station on April 16, 1984. They were officially unloaded onto the rails at 11:30 a.m. after much ceremony, and made a short run under their own power the next day. Further tests were made on the system as more cars arrived to the Ellesmere station site. Finally, on September 28, vehicle deliveries were made to the SRT McCowan carhouse instead of the temporary unloading facilities at Ellesmere station. The last pair of cars to be delivered were 3000 and 3001 themselves, arriving on December 21, 1984.

A further four vehicles were purchased in January 1984 (3024-3027). These were delivered on June 23 and 25, 1986 and placed into service the following month.

Promotion of the Scarborough RT and the ICTS cars continued. Car 3014 was delivered directly by UTDC to the Canadian National Exhibition on August 9, 1983, for public viewing. It was returned to UTDC on September 5 for further testing. Free rides were offered on the northbound track of the operational test section between Kennedy and Lawrence East stations during the months of July and August 1984. A special run for officials occurred on July 5, followed by public rides from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekends, from July 8 to August 12, 1984 (on July 7, rides were given for TTC employees and their families). The Scarborough RT opened to considerable fanfare on March 22, 1985. Over 30000 people mobbed the line for free rides.


ICTS cars Image Archive

IMG_1374.jpg

The linear induction motor (LIM), seen here resting on a bed of paper on top of a metal stand, is the engine that pulls the Scarborough RT's ICTS cars along the track. I gigantic compound electromagnet, it hangs from the cars' trucks 11 millimetres above a nickel-iron "reaction rail" located in the centre of the tracks. By operating the electromagnets in phases, the cars receive the thrust they need to move forward. Photo by James Bow.

IMG_1383.jpg

A view of the cab of an ICTS car, its seat and control panel. Photo by James Bow.

IMG_1384.jpg

A view out the side window of an ICTS cab. The cab is located on the right-hand side of the front of the train.

IMG_1385.jpg

The rear of an ICTS cab. Photo by James Bow.

IMG_1386.jpg

The seat in the cab of the ICTS vehicle. Note armrest and throttle. Photo by James Bow.

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A view of the ICTS vehicle cab and its associated controls, as seen from the outside. Photo by James Bow.

IMG_1393.jpg

The cab lights on the front of the ICTS cars provide quick information to supervisors standing outside. The red light indicates whether or not the doors are open. The yellow light (currently off) indicates whether the train is linked up with the automatic train control computer. The blue light indicates whether the car's on board computer (one of four on a two-car train) is registering a fault. In this case, the light is on because the train's ventilation fans have been turned off, for the benefit of a shop tour that was going on when this photograph was taken. Photo by James Bow.

IMG_1405.jpg

A sample of the power rail used to provide the TTC's ICTS cars with 600 volts of direct current (left) and the collector assembly used to pick that power up. The TTC uses two power rails, one providing 300 volts of positive DC and another providing 300 volts of negative DC to produce 600 volts of differential power. Photo by James Bow.


Problems Develop

Although the Scarborough RT attracted more people than buses could comfortably serve, it soon ran into some criticism and controversy. Some of the problems which cropped up were due to the design changes that occurred halfway through construction. Others were due to teething pains with the equipment. Still more were due to poor design, plain and simple. In September 1986, the TTC went to the Province, asking for $27 million to repair these problems. These included:

  • "Between $6 million and $15 million to rebuild the turning loop at Kennedy station, which has been blamed for one 'minor derailment in normal operation' and for extensive wear and tear on wheel and rails.
  • "$1.5 million to buy a machine to re-grind worn wheels. So-called 'flat wheels' have been blamed for much of the noise caused by the RT.
  • "$500,000 to eliminate wear on the rails that supply power to the RT cars.
  • "$840,000 to heat the rails so ice won't form on them during the winter, shutting down the cars.
  • "$450,000 to put covers on the power rails, again to prevent icing.
  • "$1 million to solve a flaw in the computer system that guides the trains. Trains travelling too slowly or stopped in certain spots on the line lose contact with the computer unless complicated 'reentry' procedures are started.
  • "Another $1.5 million to repair other communication problems between the cars and the central computer.
  • "$5.9 million for land costs."

Source: Toronto Star - September 24, 1986

ICTS train at old Kennedy

Kennedy Station before (above) and after (below) renovations. Photos by Brad O'Brien.

ICTS train at new Kennedy

By this time, the Scarborough RT was facing mounting criticism from local residents who complained of noise. Much of this was caused by dime-sized flat spots on the wheels created through 'over-efficient braking'. However, it was the turning loop at Kennedy Station which was the greatest concern for the TTC. Originally designed for streetcars, the tight curves of the loop proved too hard for the ICTS vehicles to handle. Within a year of operation, four-car trains had been replaced by two-car trains and 10 km/h speeds replaced by 5 km/h speeds, but the problems continued.

The problems were only ever solved when the TTC rebuilt Kennedy Station, adding a switch and thus eliminating the need for the turning loop altogether. To bring about these changes (which, to their credit, the province did pay for), the Scarborough RT had to be shut down for three months during the summer of 1988. The TTC was also not using the full benefits of the ICTS vehicles, particularly the automatic controls. For safety reasons, drivers remain on these vehicles, increasing the cost to operate the line.

By the end of 1986, the TTC had concluded that the line was too costly to extend to Malvern using ICTS technology. Most planners and politicians had now backed away from the ICTS technology and had returned to the 'tried-and-true' subways as the vehicles of choice for new rapid transit construction. This caused some to call for the replacement of the Scarborough RT by streetcar or subway, calling the line a 'white elephant' and a 'transit orphan'. The TTC responded, however, that the costs for converting the line to either technology was excessive. The city was stuck with it, for now. Some politicians suggested that the TTC's reluctance to part with the line was also due to the Province relying on the line as a showcase for future sales of the technology to Bangkok, Ankara and other cities worldwide.


Stable Operation and Expansion Proposals

After the initial teething problems, the line settled down to relatively smooth operation. Although drivers man each train, each train's on-board computer constantly communicates with a central computer at Kennedy Station and a terminal set up at Transit Control at Hillcrest (Davenport and Bathurst). All this ensures a safe following distance in relation to the vehicle ahead. Six stations currently operate on the line, which is mostly above ground or on an elevated guideway.

In the early 1990s, proposals to extend the line into the Malvern community resurfaced. Among the NDP Government's new proposals, the line was to be taken east to Centennial College and north to Sheppard Avenue. The proposal to extend the line along an abandoned railway to Finch and Morningside never resurfaced, as the right-of-way would take the trains too close to residential houses and the TTC planners did not want a repeat of the problems they had with residents at the southern end of the line. As it stood, though, the extension offered improved transit for the Malvern community and the students of Centennial College. However, the proposal was dogged with 'white elephant' criticisms, and problems raising funding for other lines.

In the end, Metropolitan Toronto and the Province of Ontario could only agree to fund two of the four expansion proposals: the Sheppard and Eglinton West Subways. The York University subway extension and the Scarborough RT extension would have to wait for more funding. Then the Conservatives were elected and they shut down construction on the Eglinton West line. Until those funding cuts are reversed, we are unlikely to see any progress on the Scarborough RT extension.


The Future?

In 2003, the TTC commissioned a Ridership Growth Strategy which offered suggestions on how to improve public transit in Toronto incrementally to increase ridership on the system to half a billion riders per year. One of the items tackled in the strategy was the Scarborough RT.

The TTC was aware that the time was approaching wherein a decision would have to be made on the line's future. The line's Mark I ICTS vehicles were no longer in production, and the TTC faced either paying a premium to restart production, or paying $120 million to modify the line to accept Bombardier's longer Mark II vehicles. The current Mark Is were due to reach the end of their design lifespan by 2015, and the line was already operating with too few cars. Due to problems with overcrowding, the TTC was operating express buses to bypass the line, and estimated that not addressing these problems would cost the system six million riders per year by 2011.

Faced with the possibility of spending as much as $120 million to upgrade the line to handle new ICTS equipment or modified LRT vehicles, the TTC commissioned an engineering study in October 2005 to assess its full range of options. One possibility was to scrap the Scarborough RT altogether and replace it with an extension of the Bloor-Danforth subway. The following month, Scarborough politicians campaigned to have the proposal given priority ahead of the subway extension to York University.

In 2006, the City of Toronto launched its Transit City plan and proposed that the Scarborough RT be converted to LRT operation. With new LRT lines to be built along Eglinton and Sheppard, such a conversion could be done less expensively, rolling in the cost of new vehicles with the larger Transit City purchase and allowing the TTC to store those vehicles at a carhouse other than McCowan (which was too small to handle much more than the current service level of the Scarborough RT, and which had little room for expansion). The province under Metrolinx accepted the TTC's proposal, but delayed conversion until after 2015 in order to save money.

The election of Rob Ford as mayor in 2010 threw Transit City into doubt. He campaigned on a promise to scrap the Sheppard East LRT (then under construction) and to replace the Scarborough RT with an extension of the Bloor-Danforth subway. He ran into criticism that such an act would increase costs too much and rob the City of rapid transit projects elsewhere (such as the LRT beneath Eglinton). As of the time of this writing (February 2011), negotiations between the mayor's office and the province are underway. One possibility floated would have the TTC proceed with the conversion of the Scarborough RT to LRT operation, connecting with the Eglinton LRT line.


3 Scarborough RT Image Archive

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ICTS vehicles rest on tracks 6 (left) and 7 (right) of McCowan Yard. Photo by James Bow.

SRT panphlets from October 1980 and 1982

The cover of these two pamphlets illustrate the technology change which took place while the line was under construction. The line's original CLRVs are profiled on the right (note the pantograph), while the ICTS vehicles that supplanted the original design are profiled on the left.

ICTS mockup at Wychwood

Visitors to St. Clair Carhouse in 1983 were treated to a look of a mock-up of an ICTS vehicle. Photo by Alan Gryfe.

SRT Cars at Thunder Bay Test Facility

ICTS vehicles 3000 and 3001 as seen on the cover of UTDC promotional literature, running down the test track at the Thunder Bay facility.

SRT Control Centre at Hillcrest

The SRT Control Centre at Hillcrest. Shot supplied by Aaron Adel.

ICTS train at McCowan

Four car ICTS train at McCowan station. Photo by George Davidson.

SRT Cars at Thunder Bay Test Facility

If the Scarborough RT had been a streetcar line, the Scarborough Centre station would have looked very different. The bus platform would have been on the same level as the LRT platform.

subway-5107-07.jpg

ICTS vehicle 3000 leads a train out of Lawrence East station, southbound towards Kennedy in this 2005 shot.

Scarborough Centre Station

A four-car train including ICTS vehicles 3002, 3015 and 3014 arrive at Scarborough Centre station in this shot from 2002. Photo by Calum Tsang.

Scarborough Centre Station

Another train rushes into Scarborough Centre station in this 2002 shot. Photo by Calum Tsang.

Kennedy Station

A four-car train heads away from Kennedy station, turning down the sharp decline to the at-grade run to Lawrence East in this 2003 shot. Photo by E. Victor C.

SRT1.jpg

ICTS train (3023+3022)+(3015+3014) as seen from the bridge near Kennedy Station. Photo by Roman Fomin on May 10, 2012.

SRT.jpg

...the same train a bit further north, heading to Lawrence East Station. Photo by Roman Fomin.

srt-in-winter.jpg

Benny Cheung caught SRT train led by ICTS car 3016 approaching Scarborough Centre station westbound at sunrise on December 27, 2013.


Next see North York Centre Station.

Thanks to Mark Brader and Ray Corley for correcting this web page and offering additional information.


References

  • Corley, Ray F., The Scarborough Intermediate Capacity Transit System Vehicle, The Toronto Transit Commission, Toronto (Ontario), July 1996.
  • Haskill, Scott., 'Toronto Subway Expansion', Rail and Transit, March 1993, p3-5, The Upper Canada Railway Society, Toronto (Ontario).
  • Howell, Peter. "Why Scarborough RT is likely here to stay." The Toronto Star 4 Nov 1989: D5.
  • James, Royson. "Scarborough transit line extension approved." The Toronto Star 27 Sep 1990: A7.
  • "Link proposed from subway into Scarborough Centre." The Toronto Star 29 Jan 1975.
  • Smith, Michael. "TTC seeking $27 million to repair Scarborough line." The Toronto Star 24 Sep 1986: A6.

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