The TTC's McCowan Yard

McCowan Yard Plan

Click on the diagram to see a full plan of McCowan Yards

Text by Godfrey Mallion and James Bow.

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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 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 Yard, 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 Yard had finishing work completed in early December, 1984 and received their first cars on December 21st.

The Future of McCowan Yard

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 Yard 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 Yard 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 Yard 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 Yard 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.


McCowan Yard Image Archive

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The entrance of McCowan Yard is off of Ellesmere Road. Photo by James Bow.

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Entrance to McCowan Yard is secured with a gatehouse located at the end of the driveway. Workers pass through here. Photo by James Bow.

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Just behind the gatehouse, non-powered snow blower car ST-4 is stored off to the side. Photo by James Bow.

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Non-powered rail grinding truck ST-3, also stored off to the side behind the gatehouse. Photo by James Bow.

Through the Fence

Here's the view that most people get to see of McCowan Road, through the barbed wire fence at the back of a nearby schoolyard. Photo by Michael Boone.

At the Yard Throat

Past McCowan station, trains descend into the yard. Here, at the throat, a double crossover leads into branching tracks connecting to the storage area (left) and the maintenance facilities (right). Photo by Michael Boone.

The Yard Overview

A wider shot of the McCowan Yards, looking east from McCowan station. Photo by Michael Boone.

Inside the Shed

Inside the maintenance shed, a four-car train receives minor work. Photo by Michael Szemeredy.

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Two SRT trains rest on track 6 (on the right) and 7 (on the left). Tables have been set up for a carhouse tour, as the shop workers will highlight some of the equipment used to keep the SRT running. Photo by James Bow.

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TTC ICTS vehicle 3019 poses at the east end of Track 6 at McCowan Yard, with tables in front set up for a carhouse tour. Photo by James Bow.

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A view from the eastern part of the McCowan Yard shops, with a train in Track 6. Photo by James Bow.

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A shop worker shows off the hydraulic wheel lathe the TTC uses to keep the wheels of ICTS cars round and true. Vehicles are pulled over this machine, which pulls apart, allowing the wheel to descend on the machine, where it is turned and flat areas ground off. Before this machine was installed, trucks would have to be removed from the vehicle so that wheels could be repaired, taking up over a week's worth of manpower. The machine allows an entire car to be finished within a worksheet. Photo by James Bow.

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The west end of the McCowan Yard shops, looking at track 5 (left) and track 6 (right), looking east, showing the shop pits. Photo by James Bow.

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

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An ICTS train opens its doors for visitors while sitting on Track 5 at the west end of McCowan Yard shops. Track 5 is the wash track. Photo by James Bow.

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TTC ICTS vehicle 3027 pokes out of the wash track (Track 5) as seen from the eastern doors of the McCowan Yard shops. Photo by James Bow.

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An ICTS train, led by ICTS vehicle 3009 waits to enter service on track 4 of McCowan Yard. This shot was taken from the eastern door of track 5 of the shop building. Photo by James Bow.

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The Scarborough RT's ICTS cars need a "reaction rail" in the middle of the track so that the cars' linear induction motor can pull the train along. The shops need pits, however, to work on the ICTS components located on the bottom of each vehicle, which means no reaction rail is available to get the vehicles over the pits. Trains coast into place, and then lose the ability to get off the pit tracks under their own power. To get the trains going again, the TTC uses a tractor (E291, pictured on the left) to shove the trains out the door. Photo by James Bow.

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McCowan Yard's loop track, seen here from the vicinity of the yard's gatehouse, does not currently see use and has not seen use for years. Shop workers conducting a tour of the facility noted that there were no provisions to turn cars around in or around the carhouse, unlike other yards in the system. The lack of a reaction rail means ICTS cars would have to be pushed through the loop in any event. Photo by James Bow.

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