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Subway Marshalling at the Warden Tailtracks (August 1970)

Text by James Bow
With Contributions by David Cavlovic and Robert Lubinski Photos by Richard Glaze

Most passengers riding the Toronto subway in 2021 take it for granted that the trains will stop at roughly the same spot on the platform every time. For them, the length of the train is constant — six cars on the YONGE-UNIVERISTY and BLOOR-DANFORTH lines and four cars on the SHEPPARD line. This approach has been further locked in with the new Toronto Rocket trains operating as a single unit, with just two cabs (one at each end), and the gaps between the individual cars semi-permanently bridged with articulated sections.

But it wasn’t always this way. Subway trains older than the Toronto Rockets operated as a set of “married-couples” — two-car trains with cabs at each end, with three such couples coupled to form a six-car train. The TTC can use these to operate shorter trains, and this they did when the subway opened. During periods of lighter service, the TTC operated four or six-car Gloucester trains, and four-car Hawker-Siddeley trains. Two-car Hawker-Siddeley trains even operated on Sundays during the early part of their run.

Passengers in the early eighties will remember the special pain of waiting at the end of a platform after the afternoon rush hour and being forced to run as a four-car train pulls into the station, leaving them standing by empty tracks.

The TTC had a practice of shortening the six-car trains used during rush hours into four-car trains to be used that evening. As trains pulled into the station at the end of the line, work crews would uncouple the first two cars of the train and pull them forward into the tail tracks, letting the remaining four-car train pull out and continue service. The next six-car train would repeat the process, with the first two cars pulled into the tail track to couple with the two-car section already there. The remaining four-cars of the service train would reverse and continue on its way, while the new out-of-service four-car train would deadhead to the yard.

This operation could be performed at any terminal. In practice, BLOOR-DANFORTH trains were shortened at the east end of the line, to reduce the length of deadhead time for the out-of-service train returning to Greenwood yards. On the YONGE-UNIVERSITY line, trains pulled into the third track at Davisville Station, which was convenient for passengers, and also for the TTC given the station’s proximity to Davisville yards.

Shortened trains typically operated during weekday evenings and on weekends. Longer trains were operated during these periods during higher traffic periods of the year, such as the Christmas shopping season, or during major events like the Santa Claus Parade. However, in the late 1980s, the TTC decided that the work of marshalling these trains was too much of an inconvenience for passengers and TTC workers, and simply scheduling full-length trains to operate less frequently was more cost-effective. Evening cutoffs on the Yonge line were cancelled in September 1986, and similar cutoffs on the BLOOR-DANFORTH line may have ended at that time. Weekend short-train service also continued into the mid-1980s, with Saturday short-train service ending in the mid-1980s, with Sunday short-train service continuing until at least 1989. By the mid-1990s, all passenger trains operated at a consistent length all the days of the week.

David Cavlovic recalls the marshalling operations clearly: “BOY was it noisy when done! Even more so than on the Gloucesters. Occasionally, because of the 5200 (series) dead units, if the rear consisted of them, the front two cars were the ones that had to be decoupled. That would cause the remaining six cars to do the backwards buckle away from the lead cars, causing passengerS to stagger on their feet. Can’t imagine that even being conceivable today!”

The change-over of full-length trains to shorter trains at the end of the afternoon rush-hour provided an interesting show where it was conducted — assuming you could photograph it. In August 1970, Richard Glaze ventured to Warden Station’s north parking lot north of St. Clair Avenue where the tail tracks of the BLOOR-DANFORTH subway ended until the line’s extension to Kennedy later that decade. There, in the waning light of a summer’s day, he captured the decoupling operation in action.

Subway Marshalling Image Archive

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