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A brief history of the Tokyo Rose garbage train

Posted by Chris Bateman / May 5, 2012

Tokyo Rose Yard 2Before the TTC outsourced its garbage collection, several converted cars had the unglamorous but essential job of prowling the Yonge-University-Spadina and Bloor-Danforth lines for platform garbage at the end of each day. The fact the garbage trains stopped only for a brief moment while workers tossed bags of garbage inside meant sightings were generally rare and limited to late night subway riders. Nevertheless, the Tokyo Rose won enough affection among Commission staff to be given a nickname, the only TTC vehicle to be bestowed such an honor.

Named after the collective title given to second world war Japanese propaganda broadcasters, Tokyo Rose was purchased from Nippon Sharyo - the Japanese rolling stock company working with Sumitomo Corporation to build the new diesel airport rail link trains - along with a flatcar and a crane vehicle in late 1960s.

According to Transit Toronto, who were kind enough to share their knowledge and pictures for this post, the Tokyo Rose was made from unpainted aluminium and fitted with large doors to allow workers more room to toss garbage inside. As you can see from the photos, the most distinguishing feature of the train was its short length and large circular windows that gave it a vaguely nautical feel.

Tokyo Rose ScrapThe Tokyo Rose worked both subway lines for 22 years, until roughly 1990, when a pair of retiring Gloucester cars were converted into garbage collection vehicles, as seen in the video below. Two separate trains cut the time required to collect bags along both lines and gave some much needed relief to the ageing Japanese train, which was transferred to the Davisville yard and eventually scrapped in 2002.

The "new" Gloucester garbage trains, made distinctive by a yellow stripe down both sides, didn't last as long as their predecessor. Because the trains had been in service since the 1950s, wear and tear on the chassis and various components must have been immense - presumably as was the cost of sourcing replacement parts. By the late 1990s, a new pair of retired H1 vehicles were making the garbage run instead.

The process of scrapping the Gloucester garbage trains wasn't quite as straightforward as it was with the old Tokyo Rose. A special crane had to be brought in to lift the weighty trains off the track and onto a flatbed truck after the one used to lift the Tokyo Rose wasn't prove up to the job. Once in service, the H1s would be the last of the TTC's garbage fleet.

The final garbage trains were fully converted from the floor up to handle waste instead of discerning passengers. The floor, seats and walls were all covered in a layer of metal to make the interior easier to hose down at the end of a shift; stanchions and the opposing seats were removed and a special open/close buttons fitted to the inside of the doors to make collections easier for TTC staff. Most people who remember the H1 garbage train would have caught it in action between 11pm and 1am - its main operating hours.

The end of the garbage trains came about suddenly on the December 8, 2000, when one of the H1 cars caught fire at Old Mill station, damaging parts of the station and partially destroying the vehicle. As a result, the TTC immediately halted its track level garbage service in favour of collection by staff and a external contractor - a system it uses to this day.

Tokyo Rose H1 CarAlthough the TTC plans to fully outsource its garbage collection and remove its own staff from the equation, there are no plans to bring back the late-night prowling by a dedicated subway train. Despite no longer moonlighting as a mobile garbage can, the remaining H1 garbage cars live on as a shuttle vehicle for staff making after-hours repairs on the system.


The Tokyo Rose in its twilight years at the Davisville yard.Tokyo Rose YardAlternative view of the Tokyo Rose in retirement.Tokyo Rose Yard 3Interior of the Tokyo Rose during scrapping.Tokyo Rose InsideAlternative interior view.Tokyo Rose Inside ScrapGloucester garbage train waits at the Davisville yard.Not Tokyo RoseH1 asbestos abatement car - a train similar to the garbage vehicle - in action.

Interior of the H1 garbage train.Tokyo Rose H1 Car InsideImages: Transit Toronto, used with permission.



J / May 5, 2012 at 07:51 am
I really enjoyed this original piece, thanks!
lxpatterson / May 5, 2012 at 09:31 am
I wonder if they used garbage train duty as a punishment for bad must have been awful in there....they should bring it back!
Jer / May 5, 2012 at 09:34 am
Cool story. I see the pickup trucks by the exit to subway stations with their blinkers flashing picking up garbage now but never thought that they did it a different way before!
v79 / May 5, 2012 at 04:11 pm
I had no clue these existed. Either way, looking at the H1 in the last pic, would it not have made more sense to remove the seats from them completely, instead of covering them with metal?
Craig replying to a comment from v79 / May 5, 2012 at 05:27 pm
The seats were probably built from scratch and were used by the crew that removed the garbage from the platform.
Reg the wedge / May 5, 2012 at 07:28 pm
Cool story! Thanks!
Myron / May 5, 2012 at 07:46 pm
Note the pre-911 actual trash cans in the first video.

Great story, I always loved the Japanese car. But never heard about these asbestos abatement trains. What was that about?
!! / May 5, 2012 at 08:01 pm
Ah. A Toronto urban legend debunked.
Rob L / May 5, 2012 at 08:13 pm
Apparently the man who designed the car gave it round windows just for "something different".

Tokyo Rose was supplemented by the Gloucester garbage train in 1988 because it was too small to do the whole system in on e trip. It was retired from garbage duty when the H-1 garbage trains came out. Garbage trains were discontinued after a cigarette but caused a fire which destroyed one of the H-1 garbage cars in December 2000.
w-hat / May 5, 2012 at 10:19 pm
I enjoyed the video. They really fire those bags into the train. Without a doubt that it the hardest I've ever seen a TTC employee work.
James / May 6, 2012 at 06:25 pm
I remember seeing what must have been Tokyo Rose on my (quite rare) trips up through Davisville. I think I assumed for years that all of Toronto's original subways must have had round windows before realising that it was a one-off.
EC / May 7, 2012 at 01:03 pm
There is something so CREEPY about this...!
Tommy / May 7, 2012 at 02:26 pm
I can't watch that Garbage Train video without breaking out in laughter. The music, the grainy video, the dudes dressed in all black. It's like a bank heist. I half expect to see a band of ninjas jump out of the train to 'steal' the garbage away to their ultra secret underground lair.
Ray / May 7, 2012 at 09:51 pm
When I was a Signal Maintainer at Finch I remember the garbage car would stop there and the crew would sit on the car and eat lunch. I couldn't stand the smell on the outside of the car and the crew must have been immune to the smell.
Bandi / January 12, 2014 at 02:03 pm
Very cool read. Thank you!
Edward / September 23, 2015 at 08:32 am
I recall seeing these trains back in the late-70s and early 80s. If you look carefully at the second (lower) video, the driver is wearing a gas mask. It must have smelled pretty bad in there but imagine the reaction of the riders on the platform seeing this in action. Thanks for the interesting article.
Wilfred / January 18, 2016 at 03:39 pm
I was told that the tokyo rose was battery powered, is it does anyone know?
Wilfred replying to a comment from lxpatterson / January 18, 2016 at 03:41 pm
If they did I would work quite well if I worked with the TTC
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