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The Chopper Control Hawkers
(Series H5 and H6)

Text by James Bow and Robert Lubinski

H-6 Schematic

Click on the diagram to see a full outline and plan

The true second generation of the Hawker-Siddeley-designed cars is the H-5 class. Although comprised of separate classes, the H-1, H-2, H-3 and H-4 series were all very similar to each other. The H-5 cars were ordered to provide cars for service on the Spadina subway, which was then under construction. Commissioned in September 1974, the first two of the order of 134 H-5 cars were delivered in October 1976 and entered service for the first time in the spring of 1977. Four cars were added to the order to replace the four H-1 cars lost in the Christie station fire in late 1976 bringing the total order to 138 cars.

Wide shot of H-5 interior

A shot showing the seating arrangement of an H-6. Photo by David Cavlovic.

A Big Departure

The H-5 cars, numbered 5670-5807, were a significant departure from their predecessors. They were the first subway cars to be air conditioned and they were also the first to use chopper control as standard equipment (this feature had been tested in the H-3 class cars leading to the decision to make this feature standard). Chopper control provides "stepless" acceleration and also allows regenerative braking, where some of the kinetic energy lost in the braking process is converted back to electricity and recycled into the third rail. This produced a distinctive buzz whenever the train accelerated and decelerated. The H-5 cars were originally planned to be outfitted with carpeting on the floors, but this idea was soon dropped, and the cars had the same type of flooring as previous orders.

Other differences included an MA set from Safety Electric (one per car), Otaco modular seating (each seat was individually covered using a design similar to the CLRVs of the time. These were easier to maintain but, unfortunately, less comfortable than the seats on the older subway cars) and inverter ballast lighting. The last four cars of this series were also equipped with M.A.N. (Germany) trucks. Hawker-Siddeley had just acquired the manufacturing rights to these trucks, and this modification allowed the company to test the design in North American service. The seating arrangement was slightly different, after being tested to some degree by the H-4 series cars with the three-person transverse seats reduced to two spaces. The interior colour scheme of the H-5 cars was quite contemporary, with orange and brown seats, yellow doors, red flooring and a continuation of the fake woodgrain panels.

Unusual Features

The H-5 trains were delivered with an unusual paint scheme: the fronts and rears of the cars were all black. This arrangement did not last long, however, as the TTC became concerned over the cars' visibility to crews working in the tunnels. The cab ends of the cars were quickly repainted silver, and eventually both ends of the cars were repainted. The last four cars, which were the add-on cars to the order, arrived much later than the main batch (in February 1979 and accepted by August 1980) as they were equipped with some experimental features, such as the M.A.N. trucks. This resulted in the cab ends of the cars sporting a bright paint scheme with a primarily white front augmented by orange and red stripes. This distinctive paint scheme lasted until the early 1990s when the TTC painted the ends silver to match the other Hawker-Siddeley trains. Other than the Gloucesters and the experimental red H-1s, this was the only other case of revenue subway cars receiving a coat of paint.

5898 - Train Side Exterior - Kennedy Station

A westbound H-6 train waiting for its' dispatch from Kennedy station. Photo by David Cavlovic.

Due to their new equipment, the H-5s had numerous mechanical problems when they first entered service, but after a couple of years, the bugs were worked out and the cars became more reliable. The H-5 cars were originally split between the Yonge-University-Spadina Subway and the Bloor-Danforth Subway, with the first 56 cars normally on the Yonge-University-Spadina based out of Wilson Carhouse, and the last 82 cars based at Greenwood Carhouse and operating on the Bloor-Danforth line. The H-5s were gradually all shifted to Wilson as H-6 cars entered service in greater numbers on the Bloor-Danforth beginning in 1988. Other than a change in the seating, with dark red cloth replacing the orange and brown vinyl, the H-5 cars remained in service generally unchanged from their early years.

The H-6 Class Cars

In 1981, the TTC considered expanding its subway fleet by another 26 cars as the change from high-rate to low-rate operation on the Bloor-Danforth Subway required the use of more trains. It was decided to delay the order since such a small purchase would be very expensive, per car. A year later, the TTC proposed to purchase 126 cars, with the additional 100 allowing for the replacement of the 134 Gloucester cars. Thus the H-6 series marked the first series of subway cars on the TTC which were purchased to replace an older generation, rather than merely expanding the fleet.

By this time, UTDC had entered into joint ownership of the Thunder Bay plant with Hawker-Siddeley and, in May 1983, the Ontario Ministry of Transportation and Communications requested that the TTC purchase its vehicles only from UTDC. The TTC agreed to this after they were allowed to select an independent referee to adjudicate the proposal prices and terms. After much negotiation, the referee reported on the fairness of UTDC's bids on November 28, and a contract was awarded to UTDC on December 30, 1983 for 126 cars at a unit price of $1,147,500 exclusive of training costs and future escalation. The new cars were expected to enter service in 1985-86 and would be numbered 5810-5935.

There were a few new features on the H-6 cars, including force ventilated traction motors from Brush Electrical Machines Limited (England), gear units from Hurth (Germany) and a DC motor driven compressor from CIR. The cars had overhead as well as baseboard heating, door threshold and coupler heaters (to prevent freeze-ups during winter), 120V AC lighting (same as on H-1 cars) and 14 speakers for a carbody P.A. system. The H-6 cars were delivered with M.A.N. trucks similar to those that were tested on cars 5804-07. The H-6 cars had a similar interior layout to the H-5s, with OTACO seats, however the seats were light orange and beige, with dark orange doors and darker fake woodgrain panels, and the floors were light beige.

Teething Troubles for the H6s

The first pair of cars (5810-11) was "rolled out" at the UTDC Thunder Bay plant in a ceremony on February 4, 1986, after numerous delays to production related to labour issues at the plant. Technical problems delayed its shipment to Greenwood Yard until April 18, 1986. Further problems were revealed during type and performance tests, resulting in deliveries being halted after 5814-15 (May 8). Finally, the first pair of cars entered revenue service on May 26, 1987, and the first two trains finally entered regular service in September 1987 and the backlog of stored cars at the Thunder Bay plant was released that October. By the end of the year, only 30 cars were in service, with eight more awaiting acceptance.

Final manufacture and shipment was impacted by several more technical problems, and at one point the entire H-6 fleet was pulled out of service for inspections in July 1988. The cars continued to be delivered and entered service with more delays, with the last cars delivered at the end of 1989, and accepted by April 1990, four years after the first two cars were delivered. As the H-6 cars entered service, H-5 cars were transferred to Wilson from Greenwood, allowing the Gloucester cars to be retired, however with the numerous problems that were encountered with the H-6 cars, many Gloucester cars were kept in service longer than expected, as a form of insurance. It was only when nearly all of the H-6 cars were finally in service that most of the Gloucester cars were retired.

The H-6 cars, like the H-5s, have had their seats changed to the red cloth, but they are otherwise unchanged on the inside since their delivery. Mechanically, the cars have continued to experience difficulties, as they have undergone numerous retrofits including replacement of the original trucks and various other components. The H-6 cars had operated almost exclusively on the Bloor-Danforth Subway, except during rare emergency situations on the Yonge-University-Spadina line.

Overhaul and Retirement

The H-5 fleet was overhauled at Greenwood Shops in the late 1990s, and continued to provide base service on the Yonge-University-Spadina Subway into the start of the millennium. The H-6 cars, being nearly ten years younger, received only a minor refurbishment. Starting in 2005, however, the chopper control Hawkers began to show their age, and the TTC began considering purchasing replacement equipment. The new design elements of the T-1 series cars, with wider doors and improved electronics, highlighted the deficiencies of the older equipment. As the TTC looked set to expand its subway network, and thus its fleet, with an extension of the Spadina subway to York University and the city of Vaughan, buying new to replace the older cars proved more cost-effective than rebuilding the older cars to extend their lifespan. Retiring the older cars could also allow the TTC to bring in more cars of a new design that could increase subway capacity and accessibility.

After engaging in design consultations with Bombardier, the first Toronto Rocket trains started to be delivered to the TTC in 2010. The new trains were operated exclusively on the Yonge-University-Spadina subway, pushing the H-5 series of cars into retirement. The new trains also displaced a number of T-1 series cars to the Bloor-Danforth subway, which displaced in turn a number of H-4 and H-6 series cars.

Last Runs

The days of the Hawker series of subway cars were soon numbered. The H-4 class (Camshaft control) cars were honoured with a last run on January 27, 2012. The H-5 class did not last much longer. A number of cars were originally sold to Lagos, Nigeria, to serve out their days as part of the city's new Eko Rail rapid transit network, but many were destined for the scrap heap. However in August 2015, Eko Rail had opted to purchase new trains from China manufactured by CRRC Dalian instead. The H-5 received their last run on June 14, 2013, with a train consisting of cars 5788-5789, 5778-5779 and 5790-5791 operating as an unscheduled midday extra over one round trip on the Yonge-University Spadina line. Unfortunately, mechanical problems cut the last run short at Eglinton West station, forcing passengers to disembark and the train to deadhead back to Wilson yard.

This left the H-6s as the last of the old cars still operating on the system, although many sets were retired through 2013 and 2014. H-5 Car 5824 was granted a reprieve from the scrapheap and used in May 2014 to advertise new Godzilla film. The car was cut up, redecorated with San Francisco BART details, and made to look like it had been pushed up from underground by a giant monster onto Elm Street. The display generated much interest with passers by and the local media.

Finally, on June 20, 2014, a train containing H-6 class cars 5898-5899, 5909-5908, and 5859-5858 operated as an unscheduled midday extra, doing one round trip on the Bloor-Danforth line from the Greenwood yard, then to Kennedy, Kipling, and Kennedy again before being deadheaded back to Greenwood, ending the era of all Hawker subway cars in Toronto after almost 50 years.

Interesting Facts

  • Car 5755 was retired on June 28, 1984 then scrapped in November 1985 due to a split switch accident which occurred at Greenwood on December 31, 1981. Its counterpart, 5754, was modified on November 5, 1985 for use as an A or B unit to substitute for single cars within two-car trains that are out of service for maintenance. The car could also operate on its own for testing purposes. It was occasionally used in service with other cars, such as being paired with 5797 while 5796 was at UTDC.
  • 5796 was modified by the UTDC/Bombardier (Thunder Bay) between July and December 1990 to become a T-1 "prototype". The interior of this car was modified twice in order to decide on the T-1's final interior design. The car was delivered with an experimental paint scheme on the front of the car, with a primarily grey front, with white, black and red striping around the outside, and a "T1" design on the front door. The car was later repainted silver and looks like most of the H-5 cars, except for some differences around the marker lights and roof line. The interior has remained in its T-1 configuration. Numerous mechanical modifications were also made to the car to test equipment proposed for the T-1 cars, including different trucks and door mechanisms.
  • The fatal train crash at Russell Hill on August 11, 1995 involved a train containing H-5 cars 5721, 5720, 5758, 5759, 5692 and 5693. Car 5721 was in the lead and was sold for scrap on May 6, 1999. 5720 was held to be paired with 5754 to make up one complete unit. Eventually 5720 was renumbered as 5754, and the original 5754 was renumbered as a new 5755. This modified unit entered service in November 2003.
  • Cars 5840-41 were outfitted with brown hard plastic molded seat inserts to test anti-vandalism seating, however they were later replaced with the red cloth-covered seat inserts that the rest of the fleet received.
  • Cars 5930-31 were returned to UTDC at Thunder Bay in May 1991 for modifications as a second T-1 prototype set, involving various mechanical alterations and modifications such as a new design of inverter. The most visible of these modifications was a set of green LED lights which could be seen on new undercar equipment.

Principal Specifications:

Fleet Class



Fleet Numbers



Deliveries commenced



Date Acquired






Length over anti-climber

<-------------- 74' 5 5/8" -------------->

Width over side sheets

<-------------- 10' 3 7/16" -------------->

Height to top of roof

<-------------- 11' 11 1/2" -------------->

Truck centres

<-------------- 54' 0" -------------->

Truck wheelbase

<-------------- 6' 10" -------------->

Track gauge

<-------------- 4' 10 7/8" -------------->

(Average of A & B car):

W1 (tare)

67,110 lbs+

72,000 lbs

W4 (service)

104,160 lbs
(250 psgrs)

109,500 lbs
(250 psgrs)

W5 (crush)

112,100 lbs
(300 psgrs)

117,000 lbs
(300 psgrs)




Motors (4)

- Type


TMC 2072A

-HP (1 hour rating)



Gear Ratio

64:9 (7.11:1)

64:9 (7.11:1)

Initial Acceleration Rate:

1.9 MPHPS to 20 MPH (Low rate)
2.5 MPHPS to 25 MPH (High rate)

Maximum Speed:

55 MPH

Braking Rate:

Service: 2.8 MPHPS
Emergency: 3.0 MPHPS

+ Note: Class H-5 5804-5807 have MAN trucks; W-1 wt 64,260 lbs. 5796 has UTDC trucks
++ Note: Class H-5 5796 has 60 seats

Late Hawkers Image Archive

Now click here for the T-1 series.


  • Corley, Ray F., Subway Car: 75 Foot Aluminum Class H cars (Chopper Control), The Toronto Transit Commission, Toronto (Ontario), June 1996.

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

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