Text by Godfrey Mallion and James Bow.
Construction of the 4,146,000 square foot McCowan Carhouse, Yard and Substation began in the spring of 1983. The steelwork for the pre-cast concrete Carhouse Building was completed by August, 1983. The yard has 4 storage/"staging" tracks outdoors on the north side of the Carhouse building. There is an outdoor loop on the south side.
The Carhouse, itself, contains four tracks. One track is used for the storage of maintenance vehicles, one track houses the car-washing equipment, and two tracks are used for cleaning of and light maintenance on the passenger vehicles. Heavy maintenance is carried out at the Greenwood Subway Complex with the railway gauge vehicles trucked to that facility.
A two-story office building is situated on the south side of the carhouse. The Transportation Office is located on the first floor, while the Equipment and Plant Offices occupy the second floor. McCowan Carhouse and Yard is located south-east of the McCowan (Road) Station, the eastern terminus of the Rapid Transit (RT) line.
The initial vehicles were delivered to Ellesmere Station for the April 17, 1984 unveiling. 3002 was used for inspection by guests on that on that day. The line was unpowered at the time. The cars were towed to Lawrence East, and eventually Kennedy Station, for storage. Trackwork for the McCowan Yard was scheduled to begin one month after the unveiling ceremony. Eventually vehicles for the line would be moved to the Yard area.
Maintenance vehicles for the RT line, housed at McCowan Carhouse, include a centre-cab diesel locomotive (ST-1), a non-motored crane and rail maintenance car (ST-2), two non-powered rail grinding trucks (ST-3, ST-6), a non-powered power rail cleaner and de-icer (ST-5), and a non-powered snow blower (ST-4) which is installed on a P.C.C. truck.
The line has 28 passenger cars, 3000-3023 delivered in 1984, and 3024-3027 delivered in June, 1986. The $1.5 million each, 40-foot cars seat 30 passengers. They operate automatically, with a guard controlling the vehicle doors from a cab at the front of the four-car train.
Preview rides, for the general public, were carried out in July and August, 1984.
McCowan Carhouse and Yard had finishing work completed in early December, 1984 and received their first cars on December 21st.
The Future of McCowan Yards
As the first decade of the 21st century drew to a close, the TTC confronted hard facts about the Scarborough RT in general and McCowan Carhouse in particular. The line was approaching its thirtieth anniversary; its cars were getting old and the infrastructure was in need of renewal.
The line was also hampered by the fact that it only had 28 vehicles. Keeping four aside as a spare train meant that only 24 were available to serve the public, and these could not ferry across the line fast enough to handle the crowds. The TTC set up a parallel express bus on the 131 NUGGET to take some of the load, but still estimated that the TTC would lose as many as six million passengers per year by 2011 if capacity issues on the Scarborough RT were not addressed. The line needed more vehicles. Unfortunately, these vehicles were unavailable.
Faced with paying a considerable premium to get Bombardier to relaunch production of the original ICTS vehicles, or upwards of $120 million to convert the line so it could operate Bombardier's new and longer Mark II ICTS vehicles, the City of Toronto eventually proposed in 2006 that the Scarborough RT be converted to a conventional LRT as part of the city's Transit City plan, and extended to Sheppard Avenue near Markham Road. The province initially considered converting the Scarborough RT to an LRT by 2015, in time for the Pan-Am Games, but delays in provincial funding have delayed the conversion project. The election of Rob Ford as mayor of Toronto in November 2010 threw the LRT conversion in doubt, as he proposed an extension of the Bloor-Danforth subway to replace the Scarborough RT, but as of the time of this writing (February 2011), negotiations are continuing between the mayor's office and the province,
In the long term, this means that the days of McCowan carhouse are numbered. A conversion to a subway would eliminate the yard along with the RT, with subway trains stored at Greenwood. A conversion to an LRT would likely mean the elimination of the yard as well, with cars stored at carhouses serving other LRT lines in the network. Even a upgrade of the line to Mark II ICTS equipment would likely mean the end of the carhouse, especially if the line is extended to Malvern. McCowan carhouse is designed to house and repair 36 ICTS vehicles, just eight more than the line currently operates. With the yard operating this close to capacity, and with the property penned in on all sides by development, plans for the line's expansion call for McCowan to be demolished and a new facility built near Bellamy Road.
But with plans up in the air, McCowan carhouse continues to service the cars of the Scarborough RT, cleaning and checking and repairing the vehicles and keeping them in service for the thousands who ride the line each day.