The idea of sending some of SkyTrain’s old Mark I cars to the Toronto Transit Commission’s (TTC) Scarborough RT system can now be crossed off the list.

Later this decade, TransLink is retiring all 150 of the original Mark I cars that arrived in several batches in the 1980s and early 1990s, as these aging cars will be replaced by an expansion fleet of 201 new generation Mark III cars from Bombardier. The new five-car trains will arrive between 2023 and 2027.

The forthcoming disposal efforts for the Mark I cars will not be an insignificant task; if the cars were lined up from end-to-end, they would stretch the equivalent distance of Robson Street between Denman Street and Beatty Street.

Over the years, there have been suggestions that some of these old SkyTrain cars could be sent to Toronto to extend the lifespan of the Scarborough RT, but the TTC recently officially dismissed this option in favour of a strategy of decommissioning the train system and temporarily replacing it with shuttle buses, until the Scarborough Extension of the Line 2 Bloor-Danforth Subway opens in 2030. Bus rapid transit has also been suggested as a temporary alternative to supplement the shuttle buses.

In a recent report, TTC staff stated Vancouver’s SkyTrain cars are compatible on the Scarborough RT and “substantially similar” to the cars used on the Toronto system. But there are still some key design differences that would require an expensive retrofit, such as the installation of secure compartments at end heads of the trains for driver cabins. Although the Scarborough RT is fully automated, TTC policy mandates the redundancy of drivers.

Another issue with using Vancouver’s cars deals with timing, as TransLink informed the TTC that the old SkyTrain cars would not be available for sale until 2024. This would be “too late to avoid cannibalizing Scarborough RT vehicles for maintenance parts,” and “it is likely these vehicles would present similar structural concerns due to their advanced age.”

SkyTrain Mark I car on the Expo Line. (Shutterstock)

Inside a Mark I SkyTrain car. (Juan M. Sanchez/Flickr)

Line 3 Scarborough opened in early 1985, nearly two years before the opening of SkyTrain Expo Line. Unlike the Vancouver system, the TTC has completely depended on the same fleet of 28 Mark I cars for more than three decades.

The light metro system technology used on both the Scarborough RT and SkyTrain was first developed by Urban Transportation Development Corporation (UTDC), a crown corporation of Ontario. Bombardier acquired UTDC in 1992, and it discontinued the Mark I model of car shortly after it developed the improved Mark II model.

But the Mark II cars, which are nearly 50% longer than the Mark I cars, are incompatible on the Scarborough RT due to a single section of track with an impassable tight curve for longer cars. In 2006, the TTC determined a fix to this track geometry problem — allowing for the acquisition of Mark II cars — would cost $190 million. The acquisition of a new fleet of Mark II cars to replace the Mark I cars would have cost another $170 million.

Scarborough RT

Scarborough RT’s Mark I cars traveling through a tight curve. (Wylie Poon/Flickr)

But for various reasons, including political factors, this economical fix that would have extended the lifespan of the Scarborough RT by decades was not pursued. Instead, Scarborough RT’s replacement will be a 7.8-km-long extension of the Line 2 Bloor-Danforth Subway with three stations at a cost of $5.5 billion. The Scarborough RT, in contrast, is 6.4 km long and has six stations.

Without the ability to acquire more trains, service levels and the ability for ridership growth on the Scarborough RT have been severely stunted.

The Scarborough RT is now scheduled to be decommissioned in 2023, and there are currently some suggestions that the elevated guideway could be converted into farmers’ markets, bike lanes, and linear parks, similar to New York City’s High Line.

Although Ontario is abandoning the Scarborough RT, it is now considering the construction of a fully-automated metro system modelled after SkyTrain, with track technology similar to the Canada Line and the capacity similar to the Expo Line. The $11-billion Ontario Line would run 16 km from Exhibition Place (CNE) through downtown Toronto and into the suburban communities with a total of 15 stations. The aim is to have the Ontario Line operational by 2030.

skytrain mark ii cars downtown vancouver

Mark II SkyTrain cars in downtown Vancouver. (Shutterstock)

skytrain mark iii train 2020s generation f

December 2020 artistic rendering of the new Bombardier Metro 300 (Mark III) trains for TransLink’s new SkyTrain car order. (TransLink)

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