Transit City measures up to international standard - Toronto StarMetrolinx, which will be responsible for constructing and owning (they will likely contract day-to-day operation to the local transit agency) all new rapid transit lines built in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area, has announced [Toronto Star] that the Transit City light rail lines to be built in Toronto will use standard track gauge. Most railways around the world run on rails spaced 4 feet, 8-1/2 inches apart. The TTC uses rails separated 4 feet, 10-7/8 inches apart. Some say that it was to prevent freight trains from using city streets, while other say it was to allow private wagons to use the ruts between the rails. This was Muddy York, afterall, and I remember reading something about a by-law that allowed for citizens to use the rails provided they did not delay streetcars... but I digress.
What does this mean for transit it Toronto? Some feel that moving to standard gauge will allow more companies to bid on the supply of vehicles, and more choice will result in more competitive prices. Others contend that it is the steep hills and sharp curves that keep many bidders away, and that modifying to TTC gauge does not have a noticeable effect on the price of a light rail vehicle. Some rebut that Transit City lines will not have the sharp curves and steep hills of downtown, so breaking down all - not some - barriers to using "off the self" equipment is appropriate. Others counter-rebut that this move will prevent connecting new lines to old lines to share storage yards and offer customers a one-seat ride into the downtown core.
From my perspective, there is no need to make an issue here. Downtown cars would never be able to travel on the Transit City network because they aren't double-ended, and Transit City cars would never be able to handle the curves of the downtown core. The systems have to be separated. Besides, what Metrolinx has said is that the Transit City lines will use standard gauge. But,, Transit City is merely a marketing name applied to the Mayor's vision. Routes like proposals Sheppard, Finch West and Eglinton can continue to be called Transit City lines, but what is stopping these agencies from rebranding projects like the St. Clair streetcar extension, the Waterfront West line, or any other line that requires a connection to the downtown network? They could be called "Toronto Streetcar Expansions", rather than Transit City, and constructing them to TTC gauge would not contradict what was announced today.
If the above is not possible, then there are international precedents of trams using dual gauge tracks for running in the same right-of-way as incompatible systems. If that is not possible, then there are even wheelsets that automatically vary the width of the wheels to match a changing rail width. They are used successfully in Spain, where high speed lines use standard gauge and traditional lines use a broad gauge.
Semantics are important, but we can't get bogged down in them!