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A Toronto Transit Commission Streetcar is stopped in its track while the engineer attempts to clears snow on its path during a blizzard condition in Toronto, Ontario February 1, 2015. TTC’s old fleet of streetcars is extremely vulnerable in chilly weather.HYUNGWON KANG/Reuters

The perverse irony is not lost on Torontonians shivering at downtown transit stops – the streetcars they're waiting for suffer from, and risk being delayed by, the same cold.

The TTC's generation-old fleet shows its age in the winter. It's a recurring issue that relates to moisture in the pneumatic systems, which control the brakes and doors, as well as the sand used for traction.

The problem has reared its head repeatedly in recent weeks as a series of cold snaps have gripped the city. With a low around -17 projected for early Thursday, some streetcars can be expected to be out of commission again. And even though it is expected to warm slightly later in the day, getting disabled vehicles back into service can take time.

An oft-quoted statistic is that TTC streetcars serve more people daily than the GO rail network. That volume is carried on only eight streetcar lines and two of the routes – the King and Spadina cars – each carry about as many people as the Sheppard subway. With streetcars playing such a key role in keeping Toronto moving, the effect of their failures can ripple through city.

At least some streetcars have been affected about one-quarter of the days in January, with a cumulative total of 203 of the vehicles knocked out of service by the cold.

So far, no day in 2015 has been as bad as in some previous years, though. On one particularly wintry day last January, about one-quarter of the 200-odd streetcars were out of commission.

It's a vehicle weakness that has only fuelled the anti-streetcar faction. The replacement streetcars are equipped with hydraulic systems that should eliminate this problem. But they are appearing slowly and aren't expected all to be here for two or three years.

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