Doors Open Toronto and Toronto Transit

Subway cars getting an overhaul

Up on stilts

If there’s one thing that stands out about employees at the Toronto Transit Commission’s heavy repair facility at the Greenwood Shop, it’s that they all love their jobs. I don’t mean “job satisfaction” or contentment or anything like that. We’re talking love, here.

This weekend is the tenth anniversary of Doors Open Toronto, in which significant buildings all over the city open doors to the public that are usually shut. And all the tours are free. I go every year, and usually I favour old, historic buildings, rather than something newer.

But when it comes to the TTC, I make an avid exception. Last year I missed the tour of the Lower Bay Street subway station that’s been closed for decades, so the Greenwood Shop was at the top of my list today.

It seems to be at the top of the list of the people who work there, too. It didn’t matter which shop you walked through — Vehicle Overhaul/Body Repair, Electrical and Electronic Repair, Truck/Axle/Gearbox/Rewheeling — everyone standing by to explain their section to onlookers was enthusiastic and interesting, knew their stuff — and loved being there. That was a universal theme with anyone I talked to, whether the Axle/Rewheeling guy who had been on the job for almost 29 years, or the young man in Pneumatic Repair who had been there only three.

Bright and shiny!


They do a darn good job, and are justly proud. The Pneumatic guy explained the mechanism by which the air pumps work, to power the doors in streetcars or release the brakes in subway cars. Farther along the line, another man showed off his bright, shiny new paint job on a 15-year old car.

In another section, the Axle/Rewheeling guy spoke at considerable length about how they balance the wheels on those huge things. Did you know that there are something like 26 motors on a 6-car train, all of them controlling the wheels? And that, while those are great for pulling a train up a steep grade, there’s little you can do to reduce all that power when the train is flat and you really don’t need them all going at once? We learned what the millwrights do, and how there’s a “flat wheel monitor” that watches each train passing between Eglinton and Lawrence stations, producing graphs that let supervisors know if any of the cars need to get their wheels worked on.

We saw gearboxes and trucks and snow throwers and air pumps and couplers and breakers and nuts and bolts — it almost made you dizzy, this proliferation of mechanical and electronic gear! And right in the middle of it all, several men ran a gorgeous train set that featured miniature models of TTC streetcars from several eras. It was charming, and I coveted it mightily.

Touchy equipment!

Touchy equipment!

Rows of yellow “Caution” tape guided us from shop to shop, while keeping us at a safe distance from all the equipment. But there were pieces of that equipment all along the other side of the tape, clearly labelled, with people to answer any questions we had. All the staff were friendly and helpful, and seemed just as pleased as punch to tell us about all the cool things they did. And all of us spectators were just as pleased to be there; I didn’t see one person who appeared bored.

Really, you just couldn’t be, in the midst of that dazzling display of craftsmanship and skill.

Considering that this was the first time the Greenwood Shop had done a Doors Open tour, it was a well-planned, very detailed, frankly spectacular success. If these people are even half as thorough and competent when they work on subway trains and streetcars, Torontonians have the safest system on the planet.

(For more photos, visit my Doors Open Toronto 2009 set at Flickr.)

Subway cars getting an overhaul

4 thoughts on “Doors Open Toronto and Toronto Transit

  1. Tim Lukeman says:

    What a wonderful idea! I wish they did something like this where I live. It’s always fascinating to get an insider’s view of the things we take for granted, but which are in fact an entire, invisible (to us) world, busily going along beside us all the time.

  2. multinik says:

    I looked through your pictures of the little streetcar models. I thought they were so cute. I wish the TTC had little streetcar models for sale, especially the PCC’s. I enjoyed the tour myself, even though my camera ran out of batteries when I got there.

  3. kashicat says:

    I know what you mean. When I started taking pictures, my own batteries seemed to be dead, and they were just new! But I switched to two others from the new package, and everything was fine. It was a frustrating moment, till it reached the happy resolution.

    Wasn’t it fun there, though? đŸ™‚

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