Ask Torontoist: Ghosts of Streetcars Past
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Ask Torontoist: Ghosts of Streetcars Past

Ask Torontoist features questions posed by you, and answered by our elite team of specially trained investigative experts (also known as our staff). Send your questions to [email protected].
Reader Sivan Vaisman asks:
I was wondering why there are streetcar tracks on Adelaide. There are no power cables for them as far as I can see. Are they remnants of an old TTC line? If so, why don’t they remove them? The tracks and road look like they are in disrepair.

Torontoist answers:
Toronto was once crawling with streetcars, and their tracks criss-crossed the city in all directions. On Bloor, across Front Street and Rogers Road, up Parliament, and, of course, along Adelaide.
In their prime, the Adelaide tracks served pieces of other routes, like the meandering Harbord streetcar, the pre-subway Bathurst streetcar, and the special-occasion King-Exhibition route.
The Harbord streetcar zigzagged across the city from Adelaide and Church up to Lappin and Lansdowne, serving Adelaide from 1911 until 1933. Then the Bathurst car moved in to replace service on Adelaide.
The pre-subway Bathurst streetcar ran from Bathurst and St. Clair to Adelaide and Church, along Bathurst and Adelaide. The City’s decision to make Adelaide a one-way street about forty years ago put a cramp in the Adelaide service of the Bathurst streetcar route, though, and when the Bloor-Danforth Subway opened in 1966, that route was cut way down to travelling only between Bathurst Station and the CNE grounds.
Adelaide began serving the King-Exhibition car—a special route for The Ex—in 1969, when the route was cut back from its previous terminus at Woodbine Loop. Cars now looped much farther west: counterclockwise around Church, Richmond, Victoria, and Adelaide, then back to Church. In 1973, the loop extended north to Queen Street and went clockwise, eliminating any need for Adelaide.

Nowadays, with tracks running on the street between Spadina and Church, streetcars travel along a teeny eastbound portion of Adelaide whenever Spadina streetcars take the Charlotte Loop. There’s also a bit of electrified track at Victoria and Church for short turns and detours.
But the un-electrified tracks on Adelaide between Charlotte and Victoria are useful, too. According to TTC spokesperson Jessica Martin, the TTC keeps Adelaide tracks as emergency back-ups in case a streetcar on the busy surrounding routes gets stalled or into an accident. Old tracks can be used as relief lines—even if they aren’t electrified—by using trucks or working streetcars to pull the dud streetcars along tracks, like those on Adelaide or York Street, and out of the way for repair or police investigations in the event of a collision.
And no doubt the City is glad to hear the tracks are staying for the foreseeable future, because paving over them would be an ordeal. According to John Mende, Director of Transportation Infrastructure Management in the City’s Transportation Services Division, if the tracks are simply paved over, it would raise the elevation (or profile) of the road, which would affect drainage and sewer grates.
So ideally repaving a road with streetcar tracks would require total track removal—which includes deep excavation, since tracks are anchored to a concrete base under the road. At the very least, the top layer of asphalt around the tracks has to be scraped off and replaced, as with any road resurfacing, so as not to combine crumby, crackling asphalt with fresh stuff, which would compromise the integrity of the new asphalt. And scraping up asphalt around the tracks would be a delicate costly operation.
Since no one wants a big expensive hole in the core of the financial district, the old tracks will remain as a convenient escape route for anyone who needs it.
Ask Torontoist illustration by Sasha Plotnikova/Torontoist.

CORRECTION: NOVEMBER 29, 2010, 10:13 PM This article originally mistook Woodbine Loop, located at Queen Street East and Kingston Road, for Woodbine Station, located at Woodbine Avenue and Danforth Avenue. (Thanks to reader Stephen Wickens for noticing this.)