On December 29, 2019, the Toronto Transit Commission’s venerable Canadian Light Rail Vehicles disappeared from the city’s streets. To mark the occasion, six CLRVs, offering free rides, were put into service on Queen Street between 10:00 AM and 2:00 PM before a ceremonial last run to Russell Carhouse in Toronto’s east end.
The first six CLRVs, 4000-4005, were built by SIG in Switzerland, and entered service on the 507 Long Branch route on September 30, 1979. An additional 190 streetcars were built by Hawker-Siddeley in Thunder Bay, with the last cars arriving in 1981. Those were followed by 52 articulated ALRV streetcars, which were delivered between 1987 and 1989, and retired earlier this year.
The CLRVs were unique to Toronto, designed by and for the TTC. Other North American cities that still operated streetcars in the 1970s opted for different designs to replace their ageing PCCs, though Boston have the CLRVs a try.
Several CLRV and ALRV streetcars will be preserved at transit museums, including the Halton County Radial Railway near Rockwood, Ontario; two CLRVs will remain on TTC property for special events.
With the arrival of the last of the 204 Bombardier Flexity low floor streetcars this month and the retirement of the CLRVs, the entire TTC fleet is now 100% wheelchair accessible and fully air-conditioned. Gone, too, with the CLRVs are back-lit vinyl destination signs, treadle rear doors that open by stepping on the stairs, and windows that open at face level and the warnings to keep arms inside.
Though the accessibility and the capacity of the new Flexity streetcars represent major improvements, I will miss the old CLRVs, and not just because they’re the last transit vehicle in Toronto that are older than I am. I was fascinated by Toronto’s streetcars at an early age. As a child growing up in Brampton, I would lobby hard to ride Toronto’s subways and streetcars whenever we went downtown as a family. My parents took me on a ride on the 501 Streetcar between downtown and Parkdale (with lunch at Harry’s Charbroiled Burgers when it was across from the Gladstone Hotel) when I was seven.
Streetcar 4178, A Streetcar Named Toronto, at Greenwood Avenue, December 29, 2019
Once I was old enough, at age thirteen, I was making my own trips to Toronto, taking GO Transit trains from Downtown Brampton or Mississauga Transit buses from Shoppers World and Square One to the subway, buying a day pass, and then spending a day wandering the city. The high floor CLRV and ALRV streetcars with their open windows offered great views of the city rolling by.
I continued to ride the rocket regularly when I attended university, taking advantage of breaks between classes to ride further out into the suburbs, eventually riding nearly every bus route in the city. Even after I moved to Toronto, a streetcar ride was an affordable delight (as long as I wasn’t in a rush).
Short turn: Swiss-built CLRV 4001 turns into Wolesley Loop at Bathurst and Queen
My favourite seats were right at the back, with the curved rear with great views on three sides, similar to the bullet lounge at the end of VIA Rail’s Canadian and Ocean trains. The single seats on the operator’s side of the streetcar were also favourites.
Though the last of Bombardier’s 204 new Flexities have finally arrived, there is still a streetcar shortage in Toronto. The 505 Dundas and 502/503 Kingston Road routes continue to be operated with buses. Many of the new vehicles planned for Dundas and Kingston have been reallocated to King Street, where the transit priority project resulted in a significant increase in ridership. The TTC wishes to purchase 60 more streetcars to fully furnish the existing demand and support expansion on the waterfront, but funding isn’t yet available.
Unfortunately, buses will have to fill in those gaps as the CLRVs disappear.
Retired streetcars at Russell Carhouse await their fates
Thanks for the memories!