TTC pantograph cars

The TTC is rolling out a new type of streetcar technology

Toronto's transit system is in the midst of a transformation that will make our streetcars more powerful, agile and reliable — but you won't be able to see a difference unless you look up.

As the TTC rolls out more and more of its new Flexity Outlook streetcars, the agency is also upgrading the technology used to power its vehicles from overhead.

Say goodbye to elaborate "crossing frogs" over major intersections, and wave hello to pantographs (but only on Harbourfront and Spadina. For now.)

Most Toronto streetcars currently have a "trolley pole" — a long, straight rod that sticks out from the top of the car and connects it to power lines above.

This is considered old school and less effective when using cars as long as the new Bombardier Flexity. 

Streetcars with trolley poles are more prone to "dewiring" (aka breaking down) and more complicated to make turns with than their more-modern counterparts, according to experts. They also lead to gross, oily build-up on the back windows of new streetcars.

Pantographs, on the other hand, can maintain contact with overhead wires even when they're not perfectly centred, as well as during ice storms and under low-clearance bridges. They also pull in a lot more power, allowing for higher speeds.

The new Bombardier streetcars all come equipped with these roof-mounted, spring-loaded pantographs, but Toronto's overhead wire network isn't quite ready for all of them yet.

This will change, slowly but surely, as the TTC works to convert its overhead contact system and carhouses to accommodate the new technology.

You may already have seen some pantographs in action on the 509 Harbourfront route, where they've been powering cars since September. 

Now, as of Monday, you can see them on the 510 Spadina route as well.

"Indeed, Spadina is the next route being converted followed by other lines in the network," wrote TTC spokesperson Stuart Green on Twitter in response to local transit buff David Lussier.

"This is so exciting," said Lussier. "Pantographs are MUCH sexier and they don't get the rear of streetcar all greasy."

True say!

Lead photo by

Alex Glista


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