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W30-W31 - The TTC's Streetcar Railgrinders

Text by James Bow.

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See Also

The TTC's Last Surface Rail Work Cars

The TTC used to count amongst its surface rail vehicles a large fleet of work cars designed to keep the system moving. These included snowsweepers that cleared the tracks and farebox cars that delivered fareboxes to various carhouses and returned the cash to the TTC's central headquarters at Yonge and Front. There were cranes, flatbed cars, and even electric shunter locomotives designed to ferry unpowered Witt trailers along yard tracks.

Over time, the TTC found that these work vehicles did not need to run on the streetcar rails in order to effectively assist the system. Snowsweepers were phased out as the city of Toronto's snow-clearing methods improved; farebox cars were replaced by money trucks, the yard shunters disappeared as the trailers fell into disuse. As the TTC found that various pieces of flanged-wheel equipment could be replaced by rubber tired equivalents, the TTC's work fleet diminished, until it stood at two: W-30 & W-31, a pair of old PCC cars converted to provide rail grinding. Rail grinders drag bricks or some other heavy, abrasive material overtop the rails to smooth out nicks and bumps in order to ensure a smoother ride for streetcar patrons

A Brief History of W30 and W31

After April 1976, work cars W30 and W31 provided all of the rail grinding services for the TTC streetcar network. They replaced car W28, a converted Toronto Civic Railway double-truck Preston, originally purchased in 1915. W28 was donated to the Halton County Radial Railway Museum. Cars W30 and W31 were converted from ex-Cleveland PCCs 4631 and 4668 respectively, purchased from Cleveland in 1952. These cars featured couplers for multiple-unit operation (which took place on the Bloor and Queen routes), and were thus the last two multiple-unit capable PCCs on the TTC system.

Among the modifications made to change these cars from passenger equipment to work equipment, the seats were removed, as was the rollsign (replaced with a single sign saying 'Rail Grinding Car'). The small standee windows located near the roof of the car were covered over, but this was a later modification, as a photograph in Larry Partidge's book, Mind the Doors, Please, shows these work cars with their standee windows visible. The rear car (W31) has a set of bricks placed between the wheels on each truck, weighed down in such a way that they scraped against the track. These bricks could be lifted up when the car isn't grinding. These bricks replaced W31's breaks, requiring W30, the front car, to pull the train and provide the bulk of the braking power. Some photographs show these two cars in operation with W31's trolley pole down, suggesting that W31 operated as a dummy that W30 dragged along the rails. W31 retained its pole, however.

In the 1980s and the early 1990s, these cars were called upon to break in new track after it was laid down, before other vehicles were brought in. It was seen soon after trackwork was relaid on McCaul Street and it was seen prior to the opening of the Harbourfront LRT and the Spadina Streetcar line.

The End of the Line

The last rail grinding project took place on March 1999. At the time, the cars were called out to perform work on Queen's Quay and the Bay Street tunnel after renovations had shut down this portion of the Spadina line for six months. Due to engine problems in W31, rail grinder W30 was separated from its longtime companion and sent out alone. Ironically, W31 was the car that contained the grinding bricks -- W30's duty was to provide braking power. So the trip was of little use -- the long line of CLRVs that followed W30 did most of the work in smoothing out the track.

After that, W30 and W31 were stored on the southern tracks in Hillcrest. The opening of the TTC's new track on Queen's Quay between Spadina and Bathurst occurred without a visit from these rail grinders. It was said that the grinding bricks on W-31 were only providing a light scraping, and the cars had to get up to some speed before the grinding became effective -- hard to do in mixed traffic. In addition, lighter machinery became available which could do the job of grinding.

In September 2002, the TTC removed the rail grinders from their property, donating them to the Halton County railway museum where they now reside. W31 remains in dead storage, while W30 retains its distinctive colours and provides passenger service. To carry passengers, new seating was installed on the vehicle.

W30-31 Image Archive

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