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The Globe and Mail

The first new streetcars entered regular service in Toronto, drawing big crowds of transit fans eager to celebrate.

Two of the Bombardier vehicles were put into the rotation on the 510 Spadina route Sunday morning. These are the first of an order for 204 streetcars that will be rolled out across the network over the next five years.

The big new streetcars -- which are about twice as long as the non-articulated ones in use now -- are quieter, more spacious and faster than the old ones. They're wheelchair accessible, allow boarding through all four doors and are air-conditioned.

"This is tangible evidence of the modernization of the TTC," Andy Byford, the transit agency's CEO said before the mid-morning launch. "In spite of all of our financial challenges we are progressively modernizing the whole of the system, and that's going to continue."

The TTC was taking no chances with the launch, shadowing the vehicle with a service truck and stationing staff along the route. The novelty of the first ride made for a crowded vehicle but it all progressed smoothly. Pedestrians took pictures as the streetcar rolled south on Spadina, a trend that grew as the streetcar underwent months of testing and training runs. There was a burst of cheers on board when the new streetcar crossed paths with a PCC, the vehicle used before the current fleet, which was on a charter.

The TTC has hyped the arrival of the new streetcar and used Sunday's official rollout to keep ramping up the enthusiasm. The tracks were hung with a banner depicting the two-generation-old PCC and the new streetcar burst through to the tune of Metallica's Enter Sandman. Mr. Byford called it a "momentous day."

The enthusiasm found a willing audience in the hundreds who turned up to ride the new streetcar.

Chris Plaushine, who said he'd been waiting since 8 or 8:30 a.m., said he was "excited for new transit" in Toronto, which often waits a long time between improvements to the transit system.

"It'll be nicely air-conditioned, much larger, lot more seats, easier to get in and out of cause of all the doors," he said. "Everything about it is just better."

Another man keen for the new streetcar to arrive said he'd ridden the first of the current fleet in 1979.

"I'm a first fan, do something first," said Adam West, who'd been waiting since 7 a.m. "I think it's huge. It's a huge improvement, and I'm waiting now for the first accident between a car trying to rush though an intersection and the side of one of these things."

The streetcars represent a $1.2-billion commitment to this type of transit, funded by the three levels of government, confirming the importance of surface rail to Toronto's transportation options.

"We will continue to make public transit a priority and a more convenient option for commuters," said Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca.

Finance Minister Joe Oliver was also on hand, representing the federal government. Mayor Rob Ford, who is known for his strong dislike of streetcars, did not come. The city was represented by councillor and TTC chair Maria Augimeri.