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Canadian Streetcar Systems- Toronto






Toronto Transit Commission

Began Operation: 1861

Route Miles: 57 

Stops:  Many

Org: Transit Agency    

Schedule: Daily

Photo: John Smatlak

Toronto, Canada is home to North America's largest streetcar system. Toronto is one of the "legacy" systems that bucked the trend of other US and Canadian cities, and retained an extensive streetcar network. In 1989 they began expanding the streetcar system, a process which has continued into the present day. The system is well covered on other websites, but we've included a basic introduction here to encourage you to learn more.  

The system is operated by the Toronto Transit Commission, a public entity that assumed operation of the city's transit services beginning in 1921, taking over from the existing municipal and private operators. As of 2008, the system included 139 bus routes, 11 streetcar routes, 3 subway lines and one rapid transit line. Streetcars serve on some of the heaviest surface routes, using a mix of dedicated rights-of-way and traditional mixed traffic running (with efforts underway to increase the amount of dedicated rights-of-way). TTC is also undergoing a major expansion, with the addition of light rail service as part of the "Transit City" plan. 

Streetcar service is provided with a fleet of 248 vehicles built between 1978 and 1984. The 196 single-unit "Canadian LRVs" (CLRV) replaced the predecessor PCC streetcar which had served for more than forty years. The 52 "Articulated LRVs" (ALRVs) are a substantially larger vehicle but are built along the same basic concepts and equipment. Toronto also retains three heritage trolleys, two PCCs and a 1921 "Peter Witt" style car. System operating voltage is 600V DC, and like Philadelphia in the United States, Toronto continues to use trolley poles for current collection. All streetcar track is broad gauge 4 feet 10-7/8 inches.

TTC is now in the process of procuring a large new fleet of modern, accessible streetcars to replace the vast majority of its existing fleet. 204 new 100% low-floor cars will begin arriving in 2012, supplied by Bombardier Transportation. A rendering of the new vehicle appears below. Click here for more information on the new fleet.

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Toronto streetcar map, click to enlarge

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August 2012- the APTA Streetcar Subcommittee visits Harvey Shops, with the 1921 heritage car and the mockup for the new low-floor fleet. An ALRV turning onto Broadview The Roncesvalles line is being upgraded with "bulb-out" platforms that share space with the bike path
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Classic streetcar scenes at the corner of Bathurst and King. The trackwork arrangement that completely interconnects the crossing of two double-track lines is called a "grand union", allowing cars to move between the two lines in any direction. Once a common piece of streetcar infrastructure in cities throughout the world, only a handful remain.

Cyclists, autos and streetcars all compete for space on the Bathurst St. bridge.

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On Queen at Yonge

Single-ended streetcars mean turning loops at the end of each line. Here an ALRV snakes around the Neville Park loop.

Pulling out onto the street from the Dundas terminal

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Streetcars are woven into the fabric of Toronto's neighborhoods, which retain an amazing amount of small-business retail establishments along the primary commercial streets. Here streetcars pass a corner grocery at Broadview and Gerrard.

Downtown also hosts a small railway museum, co-located in an a restored roundhouse along with a restaurant and a furniture store. Urban development envelops the scene, and may ultimately push out the museum.

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The area around the Yonge & Dundas subway station has developed into a lively night spot

Operator's position on a CLRV- note foot control, as on the predecessor PCC cars. The new fleet will provide operators with an enclosed cab.

One of the challenges of on-street operation- an improperly parked delivery truck results in mere inches of clearance 

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CLRV Passing the famed Maple Leaf Gardens

Much of the system retains the traditional method for streetcar boarding; passengers simply walk from the curb to the vehicle.

Some lines use "island" platforms between lanes of traffic
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In addition to operation in mixed traffic, some lines make extensive use of exclusive lanes to help service speed and reliability  Chinatown scenes along Spadina Avenue 
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Passengers arrive and depart inside a pre-paid fare area at the east end of the St. Clair line

Re-opened in 2009, the 512 St. Clair West line represents TTC's latest effort to upgrade the traditional streetcar line. The line utilizes reserved right-of-way with traffic priority and new platforms. The overhead trolley wire was also upgraded with stylized support structures as part of the effort to improve aesthetics.

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This underground transit center links the 512 line with a subway station and several bus routes.   New street lighting and other streetscape improvements were also incorporated. A pair of photos illustrating the left turn phase, permitting turning cars to cross the right-of-way in a controlled fashion.
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Along College Street In Little Italy

Streetcars roll by outside the restaurant window

Passengers board on College Street

Route 504 crossing York Street
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The beautiful "Old City Hall" building in downtown Toronto The ALRV is a 76-foot articulated car 

Night scene downtown with one of the heritage PCCs

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Scenes along Spadina Avenue
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Where the streetcar routes cross each other, they remain connected together in traditional fashion. These connections permit detours around line blockages. The car in the right-hand photo is detouring around a track construction project.

Bicycles and streetcars share the road on Queen Street

Car 4070 passes the Canadian Westinghouse Building on King Street.

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Turning off Spadina onto Queen's Quay along the waterfront. An historic sailing ship is docked in the background.

This man-made "water cut" brought the water in closer to the land, enhancing public access to the waterfront while providing more room for a smallcraft harbor. The iconic CN Tower is in the background.

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Segregated right-of-way along Queen's Quay. This style of median is "mountable" for use by emergency vehicles.

Waterfront intermodal; water taxis meet streetcars.

Additions to the streetcar system since 1989 have included a short underground section to connect with the subway system downtown. 

Car 4012 has just gone through a loop, "short turning" on route 504 

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TTC retains three heritage cars, including this 1923 "Peter Witt" type car. It  was brought out for an inspection trip by APTA's Streetcar & Heritage Trolley Subcommittee during the 2007 Rail Transit Conference
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Two PCC cars are also part of the heritage fleet. These scenes are also from the APTA 2007 Rail Transit Conference. TTC makes the heritage cars available to the public for charters.

A visit to the Halton County Radial Railway museum outside Toronto offers the visitor a whole world of Toronto transit history
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Interior views of a CLRV
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Scenes at the corner of Spadina and King The appearance of the streetcar right-of-way on Spadina has been further enhanced with landscaping Dog-friendly transit!


 John Smatlak Photos 

News / Updates / Links

Official TTC website

Transit Toronto website

TTC-"Toronto Meet Your New Ride" website

Halton County Radial Railway (the local trolley museum)

Bombardier Gets Nod for $1.2B Streetcar Contract, National Post article 4/24/09

This page was last updated on 8/23/12


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