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Queen 501 streetcar: the longest, wildest ride



Jim Rankin Staff Reporter

The 501 Queen car courses from the Long Branch Loop in the west to the Neville Park Loop in the east — and back again — 24 hours a day, picking up and dropping off the city's lifeblood.

People shuttling from hundred-year-old homes to downtown jobs in gleaming towers. From homeless shelters to soup kitchens. From art studios and galleries and clubs to cafés and bistros and late-night poutine. From a detox centre to a fresh start.

On the Toronto Transit Commission's 501 Queen route, life can begin and end.

One can enter this world at St. Michael's Hospital or St. Joseph's Health Centre, or die at either facility and be mourned at one of a number of funeral homes along the line — or in a seedy bar where the beer comes cold, served in pitchers, before noon..

Life, like the streetcar, comes and goes. And it carries on.

The Queen route, which extends from just short of the eastern border of Mississauga to near the western extremity of Scarborough, can be infuriating. The press of too many passengers. The short turns. Unmannerly cellphone users. Occasional driver-rider spats.

The car, on a bitterly cold or rainy day, that seems to never come.

But with its 501 Queen streetcar project, the Star celebrates the 25-kilometre line — not just one of the longest streetcar routes in North America, but arguably the coolest public-transit ride on the continent.

The series is not so much about the ride as the areas it serves. The people who live and work along it. The history. The issues.

The route, though it ducks south where Queen ends in the west and hugs the Queensway and Lake Shore Blvd., is known by many simply as the Queen car. By some, the ultimate Red Rocket route. By others, the Vomit Comet.

However it's perceived, the 501 Queen streetcar showcases an amazingly varied urban landscape. Hop aboard.

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The 501 Queen car courses from the Long Branch Loop in the west to the Neville Park Loop in the east — and back again — 24 hours a day

ANDREW FRANCIS WALLACE/TORONTO STAR

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Only one little thing - the Vomit Comets are the all night buses that take over for the subways, not our streetcars!

For our honeymoon, my wife and I decided on a trip on the Queen car, from one end of the route to the other. We started at the west end and went all the way east. We both had Metropasses so we could hop on and off whenever we wanted. At the time it was all we could afford, but it was a magical day, bookended by a lovely breakfast and delicious supper. In between we went to all our favourite shops, bookstores and other haunts. We're hoping to recreate the experience some day when we can find the time.

I have often taken visitors to Toronto for a ride on the streetcars, the best being this Queen Car as well as the College one. As the article writes, "it is cool" as I do not think there is another transportation route in the world that covers the diversity that these 2 lines cross. Are we not lucky in Toronto to possess this? I love our clanky old streetcars, but not when you have to be somewhere, just for fun!!!!

All I remember about the Queen St. street car is last new years eve when one broked down and I had to walk four miles to the university subway line. The problem with street cars if one breaks down you better start walking because they cant move the street car to replace it with another one

Why is The Star doing PR pieces for the TTC? Streetcars slow, inefficient and causes more traffic than they save. When there were less cars, they might have been more worthwhile. Now, they are just a relic to which a few people have sentimental attachments but are no longer worth the time or money they cost.

I remember well this ride.  When I met my future husband, we both described where we lived as "at the end of the Queen Street car line."  We couldn't believe we lived so close to each other, until we realized that I lived one street past Neville Park, and he lived on the lake at Long Branch.  And so I often took that 501 from one end to the other to see him.

I lived on Lakeshore Blvd in Mimico when I first moved to Toronto in 1981 at the age of 18. I remember taking the 501 downtown and back on many Friday and Saturday nights (there were also a couple rides that I did not remember when I woke up at home in the morning). I was able to walk to work, but the 501 was the my connection to a social life and everything that the big city had for a young man from a small town to discover.

I grew up on the 501 line, and it was always my connection the rest of the city. I know it's often late (you wait half an hour, only to have 3 of them come along in a bunch) there's the inconvenience of short-turns, and it can move really slowly, but now that I no longer live in Toronto I miss it. The Red Rocket is a quintessential part of the city!

Great way for your visitors that are here from another city, province or country to spend the day while you are busy at work. Toronto has many gems. The 501 running thru so many diverse areas of this great city is fantastic. It sure is a great way for a tourist to get a real feel of the city for under $25.00 per person including a lunch mid way thru the ride. Get a transfer when you want to go for a bite to eat, coffee or use a restroom. I'm not sure how long transfers are good for, but it would give them enough time to get off the car, stretch their legs, a short stroll to find a place to eat and get back on the 501 car and resume the tour. Hard to get lost on that 501 line and the TTC is a relatively safe way to tour around the city and enjoy the day.

The Queen Street car is 25.1km (or so) long, each direction.
The 54 Lawrence East busy is 26.5km long, each direction, thus making the Queen Street car the 2nd longest route in the city.

I am a regular visitor to the amazingly beautiful, varied, kind, gentle and friendliest city in the world - Toronto. One of my most favorite activities whilst in the city is to travel in the city's Street Cars. Riding it in the heart of Toronto is fun, interesting and educating. I experience all the attributes of Toronto mentioned in the opening sentences in a single ride on the 501 Long Branch and Neville Park route. More interestingly the daily riders come from all age, gender, ethnicity, colour, creed, style, mood, temperament and economic status. Ride the Scarlet Beauty and you meet the world. There is something so magical about the way it strides on its steely rams. I am so happy that the city of Toronto, like some other great European cities, has the Street Cars for public transportation. Please treasure them. Toronto would never be the same without them.

Im from Hamilton and remember taking the 501 every friday and Saturday to go to Greenwood Race track.I really was the way to go.

Some 40 years ago some friends were driving home along Queen with their new puppy, tossing around possible names en route. At sone point the Queen streetcar approached in the other lane. A few seconds of silence ensued, and without any further discussion, the puppy was dubbed Neville.

I live in Orlando fl. I vacationed in Toronto 5 times since 2005. I love th 501 route. As a tourist i see the experience different then somebody who lives there. I dont remember havent to wait long for a car. Slow in traffic thats yeah thats what happens in a big city. Buses cant fly over traffic either!!!. The best time to ride the 501 is late at night or early sunday morning. what a ride!! It moves very fast. Relic of the past sorry look at european cities and us cities. THEY ARE COMING BACK!!.15 miles of pure fun. college streetcar not far behind.

If you get on the streetcar at 3:00-4:00 in the morning they will sometimes go ridiculously fast. I remember entering the Beaches this summer eastbound around Woodbine and I'm pretty sure we were going about 75-80 km/h! the driver didn't realize I was on board the thing was empty and it was a heck of a ride.

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