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The Davisville Subway Yards

Google Satellite image of Davisville YardsAerial photograph of the Davisville Yards, circa 2008. Photograph courtesy Google Maps.

Text by: James Bow,
Revised by Robert Lubinski

The Davisville Subway Yard celebrated its 50th anniversary before the Yonge Subway reached that same landmark. The subway may have opened on March 30, 1954, but the Davisville Yard existed for months before that, storing trains in plain view to the hundreds of gawkers peering through the fence from Yonge Street. Although the first two subway cars (5000 and 5001) were delivered to the TTC’s Hillcrest Shops, the remaining Gloucester series of subway cars were delivered directly to Davisville station via Toronto’s Belt Line.

The Belt Line, which opened in 1892, was a failed attempt to bring fast downtown train service to the communities of North Toronto. It lingered until 1970 as a freight railroad operated by Canadian National. Deliveries to Davisville continued until the Greenwood shops opened and a more convenient connection with the railway was built there. The Belt Line bridge over the Davisville Yard remained in place, albeit sealed-off and abandoned, until the mid 1990s, when it was reopened as a footbridge connecting the Belt Line bike trail to Yonge Street and Mount Pleasant Cemetery. It offers a promising vantagepoint for train watching.

The transfer of the first two subway cars from Hillcrest to Davisville did not occur without incident. The two cars were inspected and put on public display at Hillcrest before being transferred on streetcar trucks over the TTC’s streetcar networks to a bigger display at the 1953 Canadian National Exhibition. When the Exhibition closed, the cars were to have been transferred from the CNE to Davisville Yard on streetcar trucks via Bathurst, St. Clair, Yonge, and a temporary track built from Yonge Street into the yard at the place where the yard and the street were level with each other. The first car (5000) made it to the temporary tracks, but derailed on its way into the yard. The other car had to be stored overnight at Lawton Loop and towed into the yard the next night.

Like Eglinton Carhouse in 1921, the property for Davisville Carhouse had been bought for a song, compared to today’s prices for land, although there was some opposition to having a busy rapid transit yard in the area from the Oriole Ratepayers Association when it was first proposed. The proposed yard location was shifted east to abut the subway mainline, with apartment buildings proposed as a buffer between the established neighbourhood and the yard. As the value of the property increased, the TTC has eyed developing some of the vast open space. A few years after the Yonge Subway opened, a new TTC Headquarters building (the McBrien Building) was built over the bus bays at the corner of Davisville and Yonge. This was not directly over the subway tracks, however, and required no decking to make the construction work. Although there have been proposals to mount a deck over the yard and develop the property, nothing has ever materialized, and Davisville remains open to the elements.

The Davisville Yard was solely responsible for the storage of Toronto’s subway trains from 1954 through to 1966 when the Greenwood Yard opened. The yard had just enough room to handle the fleet, and some maintenance facilities including a truck repair shop, wheel re-profiling machines, inspection pits, and a small paint shop. Heavier overhaul work on the motors and other equipment were handled at Hillcrest Shops. When Greenwood Shops opened with a new state of the art paint shop, the paint shop at Davisville was closed.

Davisville remained a hub of subway activity even after the larger Wilson Yard opened in January 1978. Davisville’s influence on the Yonge-University-Spadina subway waned, but hardly vanished. Davisville was still responsible for all maintenance and inspections on the Gloucester subway cars, while Wilson Yard was home base for the Hawker-Siddeley cars.

The third platform on the opposite side of the southbound service tracks was often used by passengers lucky enough to arrive just as a rush-hour extra was about to enter service. Davisville station is, of course, the only subway station on the system with an extra platform. In the days when trains ran two cars shorter in the evenings (which lasted until about 1985), the third track (known as the Build-Up Track) was used to separate the last two cars of service trains.

Trains would take the third track after having their last two cars isolated at Finch Station so that their lights were off and the doors wouldn’t open. Upon arrival at Davisville, a TTC yard worker would enter the rear cab of the second-last car and set up the controls, while a second yard worker would unhook the safety chains and then enter the third-last car. A mechanic was also underneath the platform to observe that the cars uncoupled properly and test the safety tripcock device after the last two cars were uncoupled. Another mechanic on the other side of the train also observed that the couplers separated completely and that they returned to their uncoupled configuration where the electrical connections were closed. The Uncouple button would be pressed in the cab of the second-last car (if it was a Gloucester train, as the Couple and Uncouple buttons were only found in the odd-numbered cars), and the rear two cars reversed a few inches. The new trailing car was then checked to ensure that the destination sign and run number were correct and that all electrical and pneumatic systems were working properly. A third yard worker was responsible to co-ordinate with the two other yard workers and the two mechanics and then give the all-clear signal to the Dispatcher and the train crew that the whole process was complete and the train was ready to depart. The leading cars would then leave Davisville station in service, returning to the southbound mainline track, while the disconnected cars drew up slowly behind, waiting to take the yard track and be parked either in the yard or inside the carhouse. Mark Brader recollects that, often, the driver of the service train would forget that he was driving a short train for the rest of his trip, and would continue to make stops at the station markers for full-length trains.

The yard fell silent in 1993 when repairs had to take place to the retaining wall along the main line of the Yonge Subway where it was below the grade of the yard, south of the Belt Line bridge. By this time, Wilson Yard had capacity to spare as a result of the extra tracks that were built to store the Gloucester cars as they were retired. Davisville was still storing about a dozen trains for the Yonge subway, with Wilson handling the remainder. All but four of these trains were transferred to Wilson, with the remaining sets placed in the three tail tracks (and one of the platform tracks) at Finch Station each night. The TTC was so satisfied with this arrangement that even after the repairs to the retaining wall finished, Davisville was not reactivated as an active storage facility.

Davisville was temporarily reactiveated as an active yard following the fatal collision of two subway trains south of St. Clair West Station on August 10, 1995. Since the collision blocked one of the mainline tracks on the Spadina Subway and the Spadina Subway was closed, Davisville was opened up to store as many service trains as possible until the Spadina Subway was finally re-opened several days later. Since trains were only operating between Finch Station and St. George Station, Davisville was able to store most of the trains required for the shortened line.

Davisville continued to play host to subway trains after that, however. When the Montrealers and H-1 & H-2 series cars were decommissioned and stored for scrap, the dead cars were parked at Davisville and picked up by the scrapper from a spur track at the west side of the yard. The Gloucester garbage train (RT38-RT39) and Gloucester tunnel washing train (RT15-RT15) were also stored there, but the trucks were too wide for them to be picked up by truck, as the Montrealers and H-1s had been. The stored Gloucester work cars had to be towed to Wilson Carhouse where the scrapper cut part of the cars off so that they could be trucked away. Davisville also handled new cars as well. The new T-1 series cars may have been delivered to Greenwood, but they were inspected and commissioned into service at Davisville. The Davisville Carhouse building was enlarged, with the north end of the carhouse extended to accommodate longer trains, as it had originally been designed for the Gloucester cars. Finally, on June 23, 2002, just a few months before the opening of the Sheppard subway, Davisville Yard reopened for business as an active storage yard.

While the TTC often stores the Sheppard Subway’s trains in the tail tracks at the Sheppard-Yonge wye, each weekday afternoon one train is changed off at the Davisville Yard and replaced with another to keep equipment circulating on and off the Sheppard line.

The Davisville Yard and carhouse remains very active today especially on weekdays, providing additional capacity and some maintenance work. It is quieter on the weekends as there is little maintenance activity carried on there, however the yard is fully used for train storage. One can often see trains parked on the northern and southern tail tracks. Besides passenger car sets, one also can also see work equipment. There usually are 2 or 3 pairs of Hawker cars with each pair coupled to a flat car. Now and then, one sees other work cars “visiting” the yard. Although the TTC is working to expand the Wilson Yard to handle the new “Toronto Rocket” subway trains, the Davisville Yard will still retain a key role in servicing the Yonge-University-Subway after the new trains enter service and after the subway is extended to Vaughan.

(Note: The reference to the opposition from the Oriole Ratepayers Association and the location of the yard are from City of Toronto Council minutes, of which Robert has a copy does have the date of the meeting, but it was probably sometime between 1948 and 1950. The person that made the copy didn’t record the date of the meeting on the copy.)

Davisville Yards Image Archive

Thanks to Mark Brader for correcting this web page and offering additional information.

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