by James Bow.
- 509 Harbourfront Opening Ceremonies (July 21, 2000)
- 604 Harbourfront Opening Ceremonies (June 22, 1990)
The 509 Harbourfront Streetcar runs from the underground platform at Union Station, through the tunnel beneath Bay Street, along at-grade private right-of-way on Queens Quay, north for a block along Bathurst Street, west through mixed traffic and newly created private right-of-way on Fleet Street and into Exhibition Loop. In the early morning hours, service operates between Union Station and Fleet Loop. Service past Fleet Loop starts at 8 a.m., 9 a.m. on Sundays. The line serves the already busy Harbourfront development between Bay Street and Spadina Avenue, plus new attractions as the developing Harbourfront West and the Molson Brewery redevelopment. The line passes Yo-yo Ma's new music garden and, of course, there is the attraction of the Exhibition at the end of the line.
During the months of May through to September, service is expected to be frequent, running from 6 a.m. to 1 a.m. the next morning. After the summer crowds dissipate, from September to May, service is less frequent, running from 6 a.m. until 6 p.m. Service along Queens Quay east of Spadina is supplemented by the Spadina Streetcar.
The line came about after the construction of 850 metres of double track on Queens Quay between Spadina Avenue and Bathurst Street. It uses established tracks from Union Station to Spadina Avenue -- the loading platform at Union may be a little small to handle streetcars serving two routes, but it can't be easily expanded. At Spadina Avenue, a full T-intersection has been built, with west-to-north and east-to-north switches. Here, the line continues west, running along a boulevard in the middle of Queens Quay to Bathurst Street and along Bathurst Street to the Bathurst/Fleet/Lake Shore intersection.
The Bathurst/Fleet/Lake Shore intersection has a number of interesting design features. On the north side, southbound Bathurst cars run into the second lane from the right, avoiding a new left-turn lane. From the south, cars pass through a track switch before entering the intersection and travel a number of meters north along interlaced tracks before turning west onto Fleet Street. This way, cars don't dewire or otherwise run into trouble while in the middle of the wide intersection.
From this point, the 509 Harbourfront Streetcar uses established track along Fleet Street. Portions of this track have been made off limits to automobiles, using temporary bollards similar to the ones placed around the Spadina line between College and Front. This keeps streetcars moving to Strachan Avenue where the line reenters private right-of-way on its way to the LRT-worthy Exhibition Loop. There, 509 streetcars take up the bay that used to be used by the 521 King Exhibition cars. Crossovers will allow a 509 or a 511 car to pass through while the other lays over in the loop.
The private right-of-way along Queens Quay matches the style of the raised right-of-way to the east, rather than the pseudo-cobblestone tracks on Spadina. This is either an attempt to match the character of the rest of the Harbourfront line, or the acknowledgement of the initial problems experienced by the Spadina streetcar, caused by its private right-of-way being not private enough.
A History of the Harbourfront LRT Line
Since the 1960s, the City of Toronto has looked at ways to reconnect itself to its waterfront. The area was deindustrializing, but the City worried that commercial and residential redevelopment would not occur without a push. In the late 1970s, the Waterfront LRT was conceived as that push. The first proposals called for a long line, operating on private right-of-way from a redeveloped Mimico motel strip, along the lakeshore (some proposals suggested making use of the Queensway tracks, which are also on private right-of-way) and then along the CN railway tracks and through the north end of the Exhibition. The line would continue down the middle of a reworked Lake Shore Boulevard and Fleet Street, south on Portland, and along Queens Quay to Union Station. Plans also called for the line to extend east, through a redeveloped Port Lands, terminating around Queen Street and Coxwell Avenue.
Given that the Waterfront LRT was designed to spark development and not respond to it, it was not expected that the line would see many passengers initially (although some could have used it to bypass the congested Queen Streetcar downtown). The proposal was sheer speculation, fueled by dreams of industrial redevelopment, and a possible 1996 Summer Olympics. The cost of the proposal proved to be Toronto's reality check. The LRT's proponents were only able to get the City to support construction of the Harbourfront LRT as a first stage. Harbourfront was also envisaged as a leg of the Spadina LRT, and the Spadina line had the necessary development that could generate the passengers required to make it a success. Ironically, although the Harbourfront LRT was approved, the Spadina LRT was delayed, as community concerns forced the city and the TTC to redesign the project.
When is a Streetcar not a Streetcar?
When the 604 Harbourfront line opened as an LRT on June 22, 1989, (Click here to see the opening ceremonies) it was criticized as a 'toy train'. It was a short line, providing little in the way of commuter value, save for a connection to the Ferry Docks and the antique market. It would have made more sense as part of a longer line running along the waterfront, but that proposal died as soon as the announcement came that the 1996 Summer Olympics would be held in Atlanta. With the Spadina LRT still eight years away from opening, the Harbourfront LRT risked a reputation of a white elephant.
The line did not open without incident, either. The fire department insisted at the last moment that an emergency exit be added at Union Station. At the same time, a dispute erupted with the hotels around the Queen's Quay and Bay intersection regarding a direct connection between this station and the hotel properties. This dispute kept the Queen's Quay station closed for several months after the line opened, and eventually the idea of a direct connection was dropped. While Queen's Quay station remained closed, streetcars used a temporary stop at the end of the tunnel ramp on Queen's Quay in order to connect with the Ferry Docks.
The TTC made the most of the service, however. It proved useful in ferrying passengers to the SkyDome, and merchants appreciated the pull it provided bringing tourists to the area. During the off-season, streetcars operated at 7.5 minute intervals, with vehicles entering service via non-revenue trackage laid down Spadina from King (laid to LRT standards in anticipation of the Spadina Streetcar).
During the summer season, service was more frequent, with free rides being offered during the weekends and holidays. Fares were free for travel along Queen's Quay, but *not* to and from Union station. Drivers would collect fares at all, leaving passengers to pay at Union Station at a fare barrier placed in the tunnel between the streetcar platform and the subway mezzanine. This system is still in effect for eastbound streetcars, including the new track along Queen's Quay. Normal fares and procedures apply for westbound streetcars. On a summer weekend or holiday, if you pay by cash, ticket or token before the eastbound car reaches Queen's Quay, you are required to take a transfer, in case you are riding to Union.
The PCCs were removed from the route around 1994, thanks to complaints from local residents about squealing wheels. CLRVs operated with a blank rollsign for a few years, until new rollsigns were added, and the line was suddenly renumbered '510' on February 18, 1996
The renumbering was in acknowledgement of the fact that the Harbourfront line was a streetcar route, and that 'LRT' was a political monicker that was actually more frightening to local residents. When the Harbourfront line opened, the TTC attempted to market it as a rapid transit route, displaying it on their maps as if it were a subway route (the orange line) and giving it a rapid transit route number (604 -- the TTC formerly used 601 to officially designate the Yonge-University-Spadina subway, 602 for the Bloor-Danforth subway and 603 for the Scarborough RT). This resulted in it getting included on the Subway Navigator.
Then the TTC discovered that the phrase 'Spadina LRT' frightened Spadina Residents, concerned that their local street was going to become a pedestrian unfriendly transit corridor. Streetcars were something they were more used to. As a result, the TTC chose a streetcar series route number when numbering its Spadina line 510. The Harbourfront stretch was going to be incorporated into the Spadina line on July 27, 1997, so it received the renumbering as well (although 604 continued to exist as a route number on some rollsigns until recently).
As for the Harbourfront line, proposals came from a number of quarters to extend it to the CNE grounds, the closest major passenger generator. One route option would have moved the line north to an extended Esplanade and along private right-of-way north of Fort York. The stalling of the railway lands redevelopment killed that proposal. In 1996, the TTC commissioned a report on how to make use of some of its surplus CLRVs, and the only construction that the report recommended was bridging the gap on Queens Quay between Bathurst and Spadina. The Waterfront LRT proposal had foundered because there was insufficient development along the route to make the line useful as anything other than a development generator. By 1996, however, the area around Queens Quay west of Spadina was experiencing a development boom. The TTC anticipated that, within a decade, a line through the area could expect to carry as many as 11000 passengers per day. Current transit arrangements were clearly insufficient for this demand.
The old Exhibition Loop was replaced, thanks to the construction of a trade centre on the site of the old loop. The new loop, opened June 16, 1996, had been built to Waterfront LRT standards and was underused. As a result, the TTC found that it could construct the Harbourfront extension on the cheap, with less than a kilometre of new track required to put the new line into service. By deviating from the accepted proposal and using established trackage on Fleet Street, the cost of the line could be brought down to $13.25 million (a 1989 study concluded that an extension to the CNE was 'physically feasible' at a cost of $67 million). The bargain price convinced them. The TTC got the necessary approvals from the City of Toronto and the Province of Ontario, and began building.
The section on Queens Quay from Spadina to Lower Portland was built first, as this section conforms to what was already approved under the Waterfront LRT's environmental assessment. The remainder of the construction had to wait until the Province approved the deviation from the plan. The original proposal had the line turning north on Portland and then west on Lake Shore Boulevard, wholly on private right-of-way, down the middle of a combined Lake Shore-Fleet Street. Such an arrangement would have added millions of dollars to the cost of the project.
When the 509 Harbourfront line opened on July 23, 2000 (again, the TTC picked a streetcar-series number for the new route), it replaced the western half of the 121 Front-Esplanade service (the eastern half of the 121 Front-Esplanade service was replaced by extensions of the Parliament and Pape buses) as well as part of the 510 service between Spadina loop and Union Station. The TTC will not mourn the loss of the Front-Esplanade route. Although providing the only transit service to this developing area, route 121 did not do this job as efficiently as the streetcar (although it did provide a far more convenient connection to Ontario Place, when it ran there), and had been the victim of serious congestion around Union Station. The 521 King-Exhibition streetcars ceased after July 16, 2000, as 509 Harbourfront provides similar service more effectively.
A number of proposals have come forward to extend the 509 Harbourfront streetcar east and west. The TTC is currently considering a proposal to connect Exhibition Loop with Dufferin Loop. Initially, this proposal was fueled by the prospect that TTC might replace its Roncesvalles and Connaught carhouses with a single carbarn located at the old Molson's Brewery site on Fleet Street. If such a move was made, it would only be prudent that this carhouse have more than one access to the rest of the streetcar network.
However, while nothing seems to be coming of the Molson Brewery carhouse proposal, the TTC is considering adding the connection into its ten-year capital budget program. While there are few destinations along the route, the connection would allow for streetcars to operate between southern Etobicoke and downtown Toronto using the private right-of-way along Queens Quay, Fleet Street, the CNE and the Queensway. This author sees a possible combination of the 508 and 509 streetcars into a single route. More will be known about this proposal, its benefits and its drawbacks when the report comes due on the TTC's capital budget this December.
To the east, extension proposals are fueled by the 2008 Summer Olympics bid and by the Robert Fung report on the revitalization of the Port Lands. Politicians have suggested that the Harbourfront line could be run east along Queens Quay to serve an athletes' village that could be built in Cherry Beach for the 2008 Summer Olympics. Although the TTC has opposed this in the past, it has noted that intensive development proposed within the Fung report and arising out of the West Don Lands will significantly increase traffic between the King-Parliament area and the downtown. To accommodate these passengers, streetcars might have to run either on Queens Quay East or Front Street, or the TTC has to install private right-of-way along King Street. These proposals have been set aside for further study.
A limiting factor that has to be addressed before these expansion proposals go through is Union Station. The current streetcar platform has space enough for only three streetcars, with no passing sidings or storage tracks. This loop is already operating close to capacity, serving 510 Spadina streetcars as well as their 509 Harbourfront counterparts. Additional streetcars from Front Street or Queens Quay East might prove too much for the loop to handle.
The City of Toronto's purchase of Union Station and the renovations that have been proposed may solve this problem. Within the next few years, the TTC may be starting work constructing a second subway platform to handle the passenger loads at the subway station. This second platform will likely cut into the passageway that now connects the streetcar platform with the rest of the station. The renovations may prove to be a good excuse to completely rebuild the loop to accommodate the extra load. Early plans call for the loop to be widened out, by tunnelling around the massive support columns holding up Union Station. A new streetcar platform would be built perpendicular to the subway station, and passing tracks and crossovers would be added to allow as many as four full-time streetcar routes to interchange.
But all of this is at least ten years into the future. Right now, the 509 Harbourfront streetcar already does more than ferry tourists through the bustling Harbourfront area during the summer months. It provides a major link between the CNE and the subway, and it supports a developing residential area on what was once industrial land. It also illustrates the TTC's long term commitment to its streetcars, and offer hope for further expansion in the future.
509 and 604 Harbourfront Photos
- Kerr, Tom. "Peterson may be forced to settle transit line row." The Toronto Star 8 Feb. 1988: A6.
- Smith, Michael. "Streetcar line to have European Touch." The Sunday Star 12 Mar. 1989: B6.
Thanks to John Bromley and Ray Corley for their corrections to this web page.