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The Toronto LRT Vehicles (the LRTs)

Text by James Bow

When the province of Ontario agreed to fund the City of Toronto’s Transit City proposal, they launched the construction of what will be one of the largest orders of LRT vehicles in many a year. The province’s agreement to build the Sheppard East LRT, the Finch West LRT and the Eglinton LRT (later changed to an all-underground version of the Eglinton LRT, at the request of newly elected Toronto mayor Rob Ford, though the matter is still unresolved at the time of this writing) was part of a wider provincial transit plan, initially called MoveOntario 2020. This plan which called for provincial funding of 52 projects across the Greater Toronto Area and Waterloo Region, included LRT projects in Mississauga, Hamilton, Kitchener-Waterloo and Ottawa.

As Metrolinx took over the task of designing and building these transit expansion projects, a question arose early as to whether Toronto’s new LRT vehicles would share many of the same characteristics as their legacy streetcar counterparts, or if a standard off-the-shelf model would be built instead, using standard gauge. There were obvious advantages of piggybacking the construction of Toronto’s LRT vehicles with LRT vehicles planned for other cities, but did that mean that other cities would have to adopt the TTC’s unique track gauge?

Rather than create a new, Ontario standard, Metrolinx quickly decided that all its new LRTs should be built to operate on standard gauge. This forced some changes to Toronto’s Transit City plan. It would no longer be possible to store some of Toronto’s legacy streetcars in Toronto’s LRT garages, for instance, and plans to connect the St. Clair streetcar line with the Eglinton LRT up Scarlett Road were quickly dropped. Other legacy streetcar characteristics were quickly dropped, or never considered. The new LRT vehicles would have cabs at both ends, meaning that loops would not be required to turn the cars around at the end of the line. The LRT vehicles would have to have doors on both sides to allow for both side platform and island platform loading. Pantographs would be installed from the start, and the LRT cars would be longer, and unable to take the tight curves of the TTC’s legacy streetcar system.

When Toronto Mayor Rob Ford took office on December 1, 2010, he immediately notified TTC General Manager Gary Webster that planning should cease on the Transit City LRT lines (even though construction had already started on the Sheppard East line). Weeks later, Ford reached an agreement with Ontario premier Dalton McGuinty where the funds the province had committed for three LRT lines would be routed entirely to the Eglinton LRT, which would be built entirely underground between Kennedy and Black Creek. While this stopped construction of LRTs on Finch and Sheppard, Metrolinx continued to work on LRT in Toronto, and the order for new LRT equipment continued as planned. At the same time, Waterloo Region and the City of Ottawa both committed to LRT lines, and these will likely piggyback their equipment onto the current Metrolinx order.

The question of whether Transit City was as dead as Mayor Ford said it was became a matter of debate in February 2012, as council called a special meeting to put a matter to a vote, and sided against Ford’s all-underground plan. This may mean that LRT construction could resume on Sheppard and start on Finch. In the meantime, work continued on the design of the new LRT vehicle to operate on Eglinton.

TTC LRT Early Mockup Image Archive