Today, August 31 2014, marked the beginning of a new era for the TTC: the first of Bombardier's new-generation Flexity Outlook streetcars entered revenue service. Although given the crush of dignitaries and press on the first run of 4403, it's hard to imagine that many actual fares were collected.
The main ceremony was underground on a hot and humid morning. I chose to skip the crowd – and the $3 admission fee – and waited at Sussex avenue instead. This is the first southbound stop, and my vantage point was perfect for catching car 4403 as it emerged from the tunnel portal. It also helps that I live nearby, and walk past this spot every day. I like to stay local.
But of course this is still Toronto, so the first streetcar run also got stopped at the first possible red light. Sussex is a very minor cross street, and adding transit-priority signals would inconvenience almost nobody, myself included. Instead a vehicle costing almost $6 million, with a crush load capacity of 250 people – many of them Very Important Passengers – sat and waited as a couple of cars and pedestrians went past on this very long light.
The front of the new Flexity streetcars look vastly different from the older cars. The electronic pixel boards replace the illuminated roll signs of the preceding generations, and are proving somewhat difficult to photograph.
But the biggest difference is the lack of the large central headlamp. This has been an unmistakable beacon of hope to everyone who has stood for ages waiting for a streetcar to finally arrive as they trundle through mixed traffic.
Spadina has been using CLRV – Canadian Light Rail Vehicles – since the line was restored back in 1997. These are shorter than the Articulated Light Rail Vehicles, which don't play well with the tight turning loop at Union Station. But the longer Flexity cars have four articulated points to the ALRV's one, so perhaps that – and some light reconstruction – will make the difference.
In addition to being substantially longer than the CLRV and ALRV the new cars are wheelchair accessible, as marked by the blue running lights. This gives a convenient way to tell what generation is coming next, both visually and electronically as this information is marked on the next-vehicle notification system.
The TTC still only has a handful of the new cars, so mixed running will be a fact of life for quite some time. Here we have the very first Flexity, 4400, queuing up and waiting its turn to join 4403 in the festivities.
It's also worth noticing that there are a lot of TTC people around in these photos. For the first run car 4403 had a support truck pacing along side it just in case, but by all accounts everything went smoothly.
I had two plans: one was to be at the south side of Sussex to catch the first run as it came up to street level, and the other was to be on top of the portal where I could look down as the car ran past. Fortunately the TTC ran 4403 and 4400 back-to-back, giving me the ability to do both.
This photo, showing the original 4400 and CLRV 4051, has proven to be my most popular of the day and is my own early favourite as well. It gives a good sense of size as well as the complexity of the new cars, which now include air conditioning. It also shows the twin pickup systems that the new fleet has: the Toronto-traditional trolley pole, in use, as well as the stowed pantograph that the city isn't quite ready for yet.
The new streetcars have been minor celebrities as they have been doing test and training runs throughout the streetcar network. It has brought the railfans out of the woodwork – and maybe inspired some new ones, as well.