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A brief history of Toronto's first subway cars

Posted by Chris Bateman / April 28, 2012

Gloucester Subway ClearWhen Canada's first subway line officially opened on March 30, 1954, the first trains to run the 4.6 miles between Union Station and Eglinton didn't look much like the uniform silver vehicles plying the underground TTC network today. Painted bright red, the British-made Gloucester "G-Series" trains proudly represented the post-war optimism of the developing city.

According to Transit Toronto, a great resource for everything on wheels in Toronto, several companies submitted bids to build the country's first fleet of underground trains. The winning tender, entered by Gloucester Railway Carriage & Wagon Co. of Gloucester, UK, was accepted after TTC officials experienced the smooth ride provided by the company's other trains running on the London Underground.

Though they were longer and considerably heavier than the TTC wanted, the Commission bought 104 of the company's Gloucester vehicles for $7.8 million in 1951. The new cars were delivered in batches to the ports of Montreal and Halifax starting in 1953.

Gloucester Subway PlansFreighted to Toronto on the back of modified CNR flatcars from Quebec and Nova Scotia, the first of the new trains to arrive were set up for display at the Toronto exhibition grounds complete with a mock-up station, platform, track and signals. For a few weeks in late August and early September 1953, Toronto residents were able to get up close to the trains that would soon be operating beneath Yonge Street in place of the overcrowded streetcars.

Before the trains could be readied for service the exhibition had to be dismantled and the trains moved across town. Specially adapted streetcars towed the train to the Davisville yard via Bathurst, St. Clair and Yonge but a derailment of the leading car in the convoy on a section of temporary track on Yonge meant the train had to spend a night in the open in a turning loop to keep it out of the way of streetcar traffic.

Gloucester Subway CNE ExhibitWith the Yonge subway complete, the first G-Series trains began operating the busy underground route. Years ahead of predictions, the ridership figures on the line began to exceed the number of available trains. To counteract this, the TTC purchased an additional set of trains from Gloucester, this time constructed from lightweight aluminium instead of steel, to help keep up with passenger demand.

The new silver aluminium cars had no engine and were designed to be bookended by the older, red steel cars to reduce weight and improve speed. Named the "G-3" series, the 34 new lightweight cars cost $3.2 million and were delivered in 1958 and 1959, boosting the TTC's subway fleet in line with demand and ridership projections.

Gloucester Subway InteriorOn March 27, 1963, the Toronto subway experienced its first brush with disaster when a small fire beneath a Gloucester car rapidly spread out of control at Union Station. The blaze caused the complete loss of the train, seriously damaged the tunnel and took several hours for firefighters to completely extinguish. When the smoke cleared the melted remains of the train were towed back to Davisville and scrapped. Although there were no injuries, the accident was the first time a TTC subway train was written off.

Over the next 25 years the workhorse Gloucester cars operated on the extended Yonge-University-Spadina line while the TTC gradually introduced the replacement Hawker-Siddeley H-Series vehicles. Due to construction delays on the H-Series cars, the last Gloucesters weren't officially retired until 1990. As testament to the build quality of the old trains, several cars were converted into maintenance vehicles that continued to grind rails, collect garbage, and wash tunnel walls well into the 90s.

The final rush-hour Gloucester G-Series train made normal stops on its way round the subway system on October 26, 1990. A few weeks before that final trip, a special farewell charter gave Torontonians a chance to say goodbye to the famous trains. An offer from Lima, Peru to purchase the remainder of the ageing vehicles never materialized and those that weren't converted were scrapped at the Wilson yard in March, 1991. The only remaining Gloucester train, car numbers 5098 and 5099, is currently on display at Halton County Radial Railway museum in Milton, Ontario for those interested in visiting a piece of Toronto's railway history.

MORE IMAGES AND VIDEO:
Gloucester Subway CNE StationView of the mock station and Gloucester car at the exhibition grounds.Gloucester Subway OpeningMayor Allan A. Lamport and Ontario Premier Leslie Frost take the inaugural trip on the Yonge subway.Gloucester Subway Red SilverSilver aluminium "G-2" cars.Gloucester Subway in YardOriginal series red Gloucester train enters the yards.

Home video of a ride on a Gloucester train from YouTube (via beenie3) circa. 1987.

"Toronto's First Subway," a CBC feature from 1954 on YouTube (via staypuft42)

Images: Wikipedia (lead), City of Toronto Archives (exhibition and opening), and Transit Toronto (all others).

Discussion

15 Comments

Jimmy / April 28, 2012 at 03:52 am
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The best part of BlogTO are the history pieces.
mr. hood / April 28, 2012 at 04:42 am
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it would be good to run the red rocket again similar to running the old school streetcars.

ship them from halton radial, and get them into service for a few days...
Brad Ross / April 28, 2012 at 07:08 am
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Small correction to the lede - the subway opened in 1954, not 1950.
Quark replying to a comment from mr. hood / April 28, 2012 at 08:39 am
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Then the TTC shouldn't have run them so ragged like they did for countless years. If they hadn't, then the Gloucester could have been kept for special occasions like Jays games, tourist trips, etc.
akswun / April 28, 2012 at 09:20 am
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man I remember riding these trains when I was a wee boy. Kinda scary because the lights would flicker on and off occasionally along with the ventilation fans. Great piece blogTO
charalique / April 28, 2012 at 09:47 am
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I find it so comical how the CBC broadcaster kept saying, "Toronto's got itself a subway...really!". Information delivery styles have definitely changed. I would have loved to ride one of those first trains--at least we still get the old streetcars on Sunday's in the summer :)
W. K. Lis / April 28, 2012 at 01:35 pm
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You might still HEAR the Gloucester train cars, but on our streetcars. The horns were removed from the Gloucester cars and placed on the streetcars. The horns are sounded because the drivers in automobiles and trucks did not react accordingly when the streetcars sounded their gongs.
Robert Wightman / April 28, 2012 at 04:45 pm
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The TTC never had any motorless cars.They did buy 6 aluminum cars that all had motors and controllers that were silver. They then bought 28 cars that had more aluminum than the original cars that motors but no driver controls. These were also painted red. They did have cabs for the guards to use to open the doors. These cars were coupled between the first 28 cars in G1 series. This resulted in 4 car units.

The G trains were having problems with truck fatigue when they were scrapped. They also were not able to run as fast as the newer cars. Unfortunately the TTC has kept the maximum speed of the new cars at the same low rate as the G cars.
HeavyHolly replying to a comment from akswun / April 28, 2012 at 06:33 pm
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I have the exact same (fond) memories!
W. K. Lis / April 28, 2012 at 08:24 pm
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The Gloucester cars had 6 doors (not counting the end doors), while the longer non-Gloucester cars had 8 doors. Unlike the non-Gloucester cars, the conductors had to change cars to operate the doors on the opposite side. The window opposite the driver's cab was fixed and the seat stayed down.
Adam Sobolak / April 28, 2012 at 11:36 pm
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Ah, the aluminum G2 cars--because there were so few of them (to the point where a lot of us must have wondered if they were imported from systems elsewhere, a la the PCC streetcars), they came across as the primeval, exotic mutants of the TTC subway fleet. (Though their weird stylishness, with that horizontal Moderne striping and those bizarre parallelogram car numbers, was perhaps the truest forerunner to the shiny happy human-centipede allure of today's Toronto Rockets.)
Rob L replying to a comment from W. K. Lis / April 29, 2012 at 10:55 am
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Those were horns salvaged from H-1 Hawker-Siddeley subway cars.
Alex R (Toronto) / April 30, 2012 at 03:06 pm
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The TTC's streetcar horns do not sound like the old Gloucester subway car horns, the horns on the streetcars were installed in 2005 and were from the old M1 and H1 subway cars which were replaced by the T1 subway cars
Alex R. (Toronto) / May 1, 2012 at 01:37 pm
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I have noticed that the whistles/horns on the TTC streetcars sounded funny like either that the feed of the horn is dying or it could have been changed, some of them even have the new roadrunner BEEP BEEP horn, when I heard that it made me laugh since it was so funny, and some of them have weak streetcar horns.
Bob / July 19, 2012 at 10:02 am
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The man in the front of the train with Premier Frost was TTC Chairman William McBrien, not Mayor Lamport. The TTC Head Office at 1900 Yonge is named after him, his picture is hanging inside the front door.

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