Rocket Talk: Streetcar Track Switches




Rocket Talk: Streetcar Track Switches

Have questions about the TTC? Rocket Talk is a regular Torontoist column, featuring TTC Chair Karen Stintz and Director of Communications Brad Ross’s answers to Torontoist readers’ questions. Submit your questions to!

Reader John Sime asks:

How come some streetcars seem to be able to turn without switching the track while others have to stop, the driver gets out, switches the track, then gets back in, turns, gets back out, and switches it back? I witness this a lot but I also see a streetcar turn onto Bathurst from King, for example, while the next one goes straight—no switching involved (unless I am missing something here). Why does the switching have to be done manually?

TTC Director of Communications Brad Ross says:

The majority of switches, about seventy per cent, are electric and are, you guessed it, switched by the operator from the comfort of the streetcar. The rest are manual, requiring the operator to stop the streetcar ahead of the switch, get out of the car, and manually set the switch in the direction he or she wishes to go.
Once the operator has made the turn and is at a safe distance from the intersection, the operator then gets out of streetcar—again—and resets the switch to its default position: straight on through, presumably, for the next streetcar.
Now, occasionally, switches get stuck or don’t respond when the operator attempts to set the switch from the cab. At all switch locations across the city, operators must stop and look to ensure the switch is set correctly. Failing to do so will take you on a route you didn’t anticipate. Streetcars are stubborn and will—we always hope—stay on the track you’ve set for them. If the switch doesn’t respond, then it must be set, and then reset, manually.
Short turns or diversions—the subject, perhaps, of another question I look forward to answering—will take streetcars along routes that are seldom used, such as Bay, Church or Parliament Streets. Those turns (switches) almost always require manually switching.
However, busy and key intersections for streetcars, such as Queen and Broadview, have electric switches to ensure speedy passage where the track is shared, in this case, by both the 501 Queen and 504 King streetcars.
And there you have it. It’s a fairly simple and straightforward process, but an important one for TTC operators to always be cognizant of. And they are. After all, taking a streetcar down a route you didn’t intend often equals a bad day.