151120 Spadina Station - matthew piers robertson • photography writing creative toronto

Shutting the subway down for weekend maintenance disrupts the city and inconveniences dozens of people.

It also creates some interesting opportunities for sound.

I took the opportunity to record the streetcars in Spadina station without the bustle and distraction of the subways, and this six-minute clip is the result. As usual the photos that accompany it aren't really linked to the sound, except that they are from the same place and time. My goal was to capture the old Canadian Light Rail Vehicles in service while I still can; although Bombardier is struggling to keep them around, eventually they'll be replaced by the new Flexity cars that sound completely different.

The dwell time in the audio has been compressed, and it combines two different positions.

It starts with CLRV 4154 loading on the underground platform, with a low rumbling from track construction in the subway tunnels below. An escalator can occasionally be heard squeaking as well – even though the subway platform was gated shut at the bottom, the lonely upbound escalator was still running. And yes, I have audio of that, too.

Soon 4154 rang its gong and headed up to the street, leaving the platform empty for a few minutes. Then another CLRV arrives, 4043, with a distinctive rattle. It comes around the entry curve in the tunnel, unloads passengers, and then pulls forward to the loading area. After a respectful pause for a PA announcement it too departs on its next run.

These first two cars were recorded from a position near the exit tunnel, but with 4043 gone – before someone wants to ask the bus driver – the perspective shifts to be in the middle of the loading zone. CLRV 4145 is taking on passengers, and as it pulls away Flexity 4408 sneaks into the space it vacated.

The new streetcars are very quiet, with traction motors that sound a bit more like subway cars. And like the subways they make all kinds of electronic bings and chatter away with their synthetic voices. The mechanical gong and rattles of the CLRV have no place here.

And that's where the recording ends, as it began, with a streetcar waiting for more people.


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