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What Exactly Happened at Queen and Spadina?

A step-by-step explanation of why, exactly, your commute was all messed up for two weeks.

The intersection of Queen Street and Spadina Avenue reopened today after being closed for two weeks while TTC construction crews replaced the streetcar tracks there.

As one of only three intersections in the city where streetcars need to turn in all eight possible directions (the other such intersections are King and Bathurst and King and Spadina), Queen and Spadina presented unusually complex engineering problems.

Mohammad Kashani, a project engineer for the Spadina track-replacement effort, talked to us about the process of overhauling the intersection. For step-by-step details, check out the (mostly) chronological gallery of the work, above. All the information is in the captions.


  • From the Beach

    This made my commute into a nightmare. I’m so happy that it’s over.

    • Marcg

      It was two weeks. Just two weeks. This happens in every city. In New York they’ll close an entire subway line for a month.

  • Ben Elling

    Great walkthrough. I’m always amazed how QUICKLY they can do this. It blows my mind.

  • Anonymous

    I’m sure it’s been posted in many places, but WHY were the streetcar tracks being replaced? The Spadina ROW is what, 15 years old? That’s not very old, and it’s definitely fodder for the anti-LRT crowd. Is all of Spadina being replaced? Or is it just the intersection?

    And why don’t all of our streetcar tracks have interlocking stone like Spadina? That would make for replacement relatively easier and quicker.

  • Steve Munro

    @44North: There is very little interlocking stone on Spadina (only at the south end). The rest is actually a pattern stamped into the concrete to look pretty. The problem with the intersection wearing out was the way it was built originally (part of this is noted in the captions). First, instead of three separate layers, the concrete had been poured as one block making it hard to tear up just the upper layer (you can see an example of how this should be done in one of the photos which shows the anchors for the track exposed). Second, when this was originally installed, the track was not preassembled in welded sections with rubber cushioning around the rails. This made for lots of vibration and disintegrating concrete. Water gets into the cracks and freezes, and the whole thing falls apart. TTC has been using this new much improved construction method for about 8 years now at intersections, for regular track, almost two decades.

    The track on Spadina is being replaced where it wears badly, or is in rough shape. North end near the portal (unwelded track, lots of breaks). Around the circle at Sussex/College (wear). From King south to the Lake (older track from the original 1990 Harbourfront line, built in solid concrete without rubber insulation and very noisy). Also tracks at carstops get replaced more often because they wear out faster.

    • Anonymous

      Brilliant, thanks. I was under the impression that all the tracks in the core were built to the newer/better standards (welded rail, dampers, rubber etc)… I guess that’s still a work in progress.

      Instead of a top layer of concrete, I’d assume interlocking brick/stone/pavers to be more effective for track repairs. The cost for this aesthetically-pleasing look would seemingly be negated by the ability for quick repairs. Instead of jackhammering, pouring, setting, concrete; just remove the bricks, do work, replace.

      • Steve Munro

        There are various objections to brick pavers depending on where they are used. If it is a lane shared with other traffic (e.g. Queen Street), then it’s harder to plow snow off of the rough surface of the pavers without accidentally snagging and ripping up the road surface. Even if flat pavers are used rather than the rough-hewn granite setts of the olden days (still visible in a few locations), those pavers tend to shift around thanks to weather and the pressure of passing tires. Intersections are particularly tricky because the spaces between the castings are irregular. Also, of course, even on Spadina which has a right of way, the crossings are used by regular traffic.

        The change to concrete all the way to the rail head came several decades ago (in the 70s I think) as part of a general change in paving standards. With heavier trucks, roads needed to be more substantial to avoid damage. The poorly built streetcar tracks of that era were a side effect. It was not until the 90s that the TTC realized that its infrastructure was wearing out in about half the time planned and they faced a huge job (nearly complete now) of rebuilding both the 30-year old track and the prematurely aged 15-year old track too. Harbourfront and Kingston Road are the two remaining pieces, and both will be rebuilt over the next few years. The “non revenue” track (diversions like Church) is being done in bits and pieces and much of that is complete too. This year’s project is Dufferin from Queen to the CNE. Development of a robust technique for intersections took longer, and so that work is not as far advanced.

  • Steve Munro

    @From the beach: Streetcars return to Queen east of Coxwell on Sunday July 29. They will run via Gerrard over to Broadview to get around the construction still underway at the carhouse. That’s a more complicated job with many steps to allow as much of the carhouse to remain operational as possible.

    For lovers(?) of this sort of event, King & Spadina will be done next year. That will finish the reconstruction of Toronto’s three Grand Unions (the other one is at Bathurst & King, and was done in 2011).

    Adelaide & Spadina will be done in mid-August, but this doesn’t have as big an effect on transit services and traffic because there is much less track to replace.

    • Adamv

      Any idea why the Spadina platform isn’t’ up yet on Queen?

  • Anonymous

    Just get rid of those noisy cost inefficient rail cars replace it with electric or bio diesel buses.

  • Anonymous

    I dare not to imagine when they try to build one rail line on Eglinton Av instead of try improve and extent St Clair existing rail line, that way it save 4/5 of the money to use it on sharperd subway extension.

  • kexiao

  • A. S.

    thanks for posting this, it’s helpful to get an understanding of how much work goes into keeping the city functional.

  • NorthAmericanway

    Let’s eliminate all the surface rails repave with diesel or electric bus.