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A Brief History of Toronto's Garbage Trains

Scrapping the Gloucester Garbage Train

RT 38 and 39, as yet unscrapped, in Davisville Yard. Photo by George Davidson

Text by James Bow

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Among transit fan circles, few work trains are as fondly remembered or as easily identified as the garbage train. In Toronto, four train-sets provided refuse collection duties from 1954 until the end of garbage train service on Friday, December 8, 2000. These cars were instantly recognizable, and had a special cachet. Transit Toronto’s Garbage Train Video remains one of the most popular videos the site has produced in its twenty-year history. The cars’ popularity is likely a combination of visibility — the garbage trains were the most regularly seen work trains on the commission — and a respect for the dirty job they had to do. They became the underdog folk heroes of the system, and this is their story.

RT-4 (1954-1974)

The first garbage train was RT-4, officially referred to as the “Platform Maintenance Car”. This car started life as Large Peter Witt car #2528, built by Canadian Car & Foundry for the TTC in 1921. This car and its comrades were the workhorses of the TTC fleet for most of their lives. They were able to pull trailers, and many operated on the YONGE streetcar line.

In 1953, as the first phase of the YONGE subway neared completion, the TTC realized it needed a number of pieces of equipment to operate as work cars for the subway line. In many cases, the TTC converted work equipment that had been built for the streetcar network, as the streetcar and subway network shared the same gauge and the same power source. The TTC decided to take Witt #2528 out of service and convert it to operate on the subway to haul trash out the stations to a dump site at Davisville Yards. Many of the Peter Witt cars were expected to be retired after the YONGE subway opened, replacing a number of streetcar routes, so the equipment was available.

Peter Witt car #2528 was officially renumbered RT-4, and given a utility yellow paint job. A large sliding door was cut into the left side of the vehicle, and a smaller door placed at the rear. The remaining doors were converted to remove the steps, to allow platform boarding. An second controller was installed at the rear of the vehicle, since the subway did not offer turning loops, third rail contact shoes added to the trucks, and the trolley pole removed.

In spite of these changes, RT-4 retained much of its Peter Witt appearance, with most of its original windows being retained. It plied the YONGE subway at the end of service ably clearing the twelve stations of trash, and the UNIVERSITY and BLOOR-DANFORTH lines as they opened in 1963 and 1966 respectively. As the car continued to operate, further changes were made. The windows were eventually covered over, barring those in front and on the doors

Tokyo Rose (1967-1999)

By the time the BLOOR-DANFORTH subway opened, however, RT-4 was almost 45 years old. The car was reaching the end of its useful life, and the TTC felt they needed a car that was better designed to handle the growing job trash clean-up as the subway expanded. In 1967, the TTC turned to the Japanese builder Nippon Sharyo to purchase a four new work cars, including a replacement garbage car (the other three were RT-11, a flat trailer delivered in 1967, RT-12, a battery-electric locomotive delivered in 1968 and RT-13, a crane car). This car, numbered RT-10, arrived soon after, and was soon nicknamed “Tokyo Rose”.

Tokyo Rose bore superficial similarities to the Hawker Siddeley passenger cars that were arriving at the same time. It had an unpainted aluminum exterior with metal fluting along its lower half. The front cab design was also similar to the Hawker classes, including a central door to allow for walking between cars, even though Tokyo Rose was a single car. It’s possible that RT-10 could have been coupled with other trans-sets and work cars, but there are no reports of this ever happening.

But Tokyo Rose also featured a number of differences that gave it a distinct and instantly recognizable appearance. Instead of a rolling above its centre front door, three large spot lights illuminated the tunnel ahead. The train was shorter than a Hawker Siddeley car, and the doors were wider. The windows were also perfectly circular portholes.

I vaguely recall a time in the late 1970s when I accidentally boarded Tokyo Rose. I wasn’t even ten years old, and I was travelling home with my parents from family friends in Mississauga, near midnight, transferring from the BLOOR line to the UNIVERSITY subway at St. George. Tokyo Rose was waiting at the platform with its doors open, and I walked in before my parents realized what I was doing and hustled me out. I remember being struck by how there weren’t any seats on this subway car. I remember that it was lit as well as a subway car, and I don’t recall any stench of garbage.

After the arrival of Tokyo Rose, RT-4 was placed in standby service, but its days were numbered. It was retired around 1975 and sent to the scrap heap, leaving Tokyo Rose to handle the garbage duties alone. Tokyo Rose performed those duties through the 1980s and into the 1990s before it too neared the end of its service life. This time, when the TTC considered a replacement, they decided against purchasing new.

The Gloucester Garbage Train (1987-1997)

By the late 1980s, the Gloucester series subway cars which served the YONGE subway since its opening were now over thirty years old. Though they remained in operational condition, the TTC found them to be slow compared to the newer models, and the TTC had funds from the provincial government to replace them. This moved a number of still operational cars into mothball status that were a convenient source for equipment that could be converted to work train operation. This saved a number of Gloucester cars from the scrap heap, including G2-class cars 5100 and 5101, renumbered RT38 and RT39 respectively.

The conversion took place in 1987, requiring few changes, except to rip out the upholstery on the seats, and ripping out the forward-facing seats that would have been annoying obstacles for workers. These cars already had aluminum bodies, and had a distinctive largely unpainted scheme compared to the red-painted Gloucesters (earning them the nickname the “White Gloucesters”). The red stripes and metal numberplate were removed and a strip of utility-yellow paint was applied halfway between the bottom of the windows and the bottom of the cars. The controls were reworked so that the car could operate with doors open, to allow workers to clear trash quicker as it passed through the station.

As cars RT-38 and RT-39 began operation, Tokyo Rose’s service was reduced, but it was not retired. The two trains shared the garbage train duties, with each taking one line. Tokyo Rose’s garbage hoist within the car also proved too useful while at the same time too difficult to move to another car. When the next garbage train arrived, cockily numbered RT9/10, Tokyo Rose was renumbered RT-10a.

The H1 Garbage Trains (1997-2000)

The Gloucester Garbage train was already old when it was converted, and it was not rebuilt to extend its service life. By the middle of the 1990s, it was clear that it would need to be retired and a new train-set put in its place. At this time, the first Hawker Siddeley cars were also facing retirement from passenger service, and the TTC started dipping into these for their next generation of work cars.

H1 trainset 5374-5375 was converted into the first H1 garbage train in 1997, and renumbered RT-10 and RT-9 respectively. Why these cars should swap places in terms of which received the lower number is not known. The TTC also converted H1 trainset 5422-5423 into RT38 and RT39, which immediately replaced the Gloucester garbage train set. With these two trains now in service, Tokyo Rose could also be officially retired and it and the Gloucester Garbage Train were soon cut up and sold for scrap.

The interiors of the H-1 garbage trains were completely rebuilt for garbage collection purposes. Baseboards, floors and side-facing seats were all “upholstered” in metal decking. This was likely done so that the train could be thoroughly hosed out after each garbage run. Aaron Adel wrote, when composing a page on the H1 garbage trains around 2000, “one would assume that this train would smell really bad, but after being on it myself, it smells like nothing but a hint of soap.”

The side-facing seats were retained in their stripped-down condition likely because it would have been too costly to remove these seats from the car’s structure. It is obvious that these seats aren’t for sitting. The crew had their own sectioned off compartment at the front of the cabs, which nicely isolated them from the garbage and its associated smell. The cab maintained the original seating (including upholstery) with windows in the separating wall salvaged from the doors of other H-1s. Everything else in the car was removed, including poles, stanchions and the forward/backward-facing seats to increase the space available for garbage. Other features of this work car included exterior door buttons so that the crew could open and close the doors from all points.

In the late 1990s, the Yonge-University-Spadina garbage train usually left Wilson Yard at around 11 p.m. and finished its run through the line at around 1 a.m. The Bloor-Danforth garbage train left Greenwood around 10:50 p.m. each night, heading eastbound and arriving at Kennedy at around 11:10 p.m. before proceeding westbound to Kipling and then returning to Greenwood.

The End of Garbage Train Service

Garbage train service abruptly came to an end on Friday, December 8, 2000 when a fire began in some trash on board RT-9 at 2 a.m. The train was heading eastbound through Old Mill station when the fire was discovered. The train was stopped at the east end of the station, by the Humber River bridge, to allow fire crews to more easily douse the flames and to limit the amount of smoke that would billow through the tunnels.

However, by this time, the fire was out of control. The crew were safely evacuated, and the fire gutted both cars, melting RT-9 so badly that only its undercarriage remained. Old Mill station itself was damaged, forcing the Bloor-Danforth line to be closed to Dundas West station (trains let off at Dundas West, then continued to Keele in order to cross over and return). Mississauga Transit buses were called in to help the TTC ferry displaced customers to the new end of the subway line.

Although RT-10 was salvageable, the incident convinced the TTC to abandon garbage train service entirely. The Toronto Fire Services argued against retaining the service and, of the TTC Commissioners, Only Councillor Sherene Shaw supported retention. The TTC contracted with an outside firm initially, while it purchased rubber-tired garbage trucks to visit the stations from the outside and haul the trash away.

RT-10 was retained and repurposed as a general work car for asbestos abatement. It was partnered up with ex-H1 car #5351 as the new RT-9. The pair were retired and scrapped a few years later, replaced by a purpose-built motorized flat-car RT-9 and ex-H4 car #5626 as its mate RT-10. Cars RT-38 and RT-39 were similarly repurposed as general utility cars and were retired in 2013 to be replaced by a ex-H4/flatcar combo.

Legacy

With the departure of the garbage trains, the appearance of work cars on the TTC became a more random event. Different types of cars were called out to various construction sites on the line, usually heading out on the line late at night, and returning just before the start of service during the day. None are as instantly recognizable, or have the same sense of character as the TTC’s old garbage trains.


The Garbage Trains Image Archive

Scrapping the Gloucester Work Cars

The presence of H-1s available for work car conversion made the TTC decide to abandon its aging Gloucester work fleet. The H-1 Garbage Train was created, and the Gloucester train put out to pasture. An attempt was made, at first, to remove the cars using the rubber tired trailer that hauled the scrapped H-1’s to Hamilton. However these Gloucester cars were too heavy for this operation and the TTC had to break down these cars the same way the rest of the fleet had been done back in 1991. Below you’ll see pictures of the progress of this operation, which occurred at Wilson Carhouse between August 31 and September 10, 1998.

Scrapping the Gloucester Garbage Train Scrapping the Gloucester Garbage Train
Scrapping the Gloucester Garbage Train Scrapping the Gloucester Garbage Train
Scrapping the Gloucester Garbage Train Scrapping the Gloucester Garbage Train
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