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Toronto Transit

A farewell to Toronto’s CLRV streetcars

The CLRV streetcars were the first transit vehicles I remember riding. Though the new streetcars are larger, fully accessible, and air conditioned, I will miss the CLRVs.

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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.

Streetcar 4124 on December 29, 2019Streetcar 4124 picks up passengers at Yonge Street, December 29, 2019

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.

IMG_6907-001Streetcar 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).

IMG_6927-001.JPGShort 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.

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Retired streetcars at Russell Carhouse await their fates

Thanks for the memories!

6 replies on “A farewell to Toronto’s CLRV streetcars”

Hi Sean, The 505 Dundas streetcar is scheduled to return in the spring of 2020 after being serviced entirely with buses due to construction and various upgrades to the route, this time it will operate using the new low-floor Bombardier Flexity cars using pantographs, and the 511 Bathurst will be switched back to buses by which point due to construction and panto upgrades on that route, hopefully streetcars will return to that route just in time for the CNE and under pantos this time.

I also heard conflicts that the 204 new low-floor Bombardier streetcars should be enough to do all the routes since they’re larger cars and are able to carry more passengers, than the previous 247 cars that consisted of 196 CLRVs and 52 ALRVs which required more vehicles at the time?

Though the 204 cars do represent an improvement in capacity than the ALRV and CLRV fleet, there’s still a crunch. Equipping the 505 Dundas in April (which is what I heard too) and bringing buses back to Bathurst is a start, but the TTC could equip the whole street railway only through construction projects. A lot more streetcars than planned went to King, especially with the new 504A/504B arrangement vs. the previous 504/514 scheme.

I hate to say this, but maybe it’s time to give up Kingston Road, and run the 22A Coxwell at all times, supplemented with a regular fare express bus in the 900-series on weekdays between Victoria Park and Downtown via Eastern Avenue.

I took my last ride on Bathurst-511 on Saturday, the next to last day of service. It was a better choice weather-wise and the cars weren’t packed to the gunnels with transit geeks. CLRV’s should have been good for at least another year of service. Why not put them on Dundas-505 and the 502/503 tripper?

Hi Sean, the last time I saw and rode an ALRV in regular revenue service was back in January 2019, since the first of the extreme cold snaps of that season and from then onward I haven’t seen any of the ALRVs in regular service (except for a couple of days in May), before they got officially retired in September 2019 because of serious reliability issues. I mean is that the ALRVs had become a rarity to see on Toronto’s streets and for most of 2019, none of the ALRVs were able to operate revenue service. Back in September 2014 when the first of the new low-floor Bombardier streetcars entered revenue service the TTC originally expected to decommission all of the ALRVs by the end of 2015 (except for one or two kept for posterity), but when deliveries of the new low-floor Bombardier streetcar fell behind schedule, in 2015, the TTC announced a massive ALRV streetcar rebuild program which was intended to retain about 30 ALRVs up until 2024, when the TTC would have received the last of the additional 60 new streetcars on top of the original 204 car order delivered to the City of Toronto. By the fall of 2018, it was reported that the ALRV streetcar rebuild program did not work successfully to significantly extend the lives of these vehicles. When I went to the Halton County Radial Railway museum back in October 2019, officials told me that if Andy Byford remained as the CEO of the TTC today, the ALRVs would have stayed in service beyond 2020, but he would have probably had to nix this rebuild program since the project failed to improve reliability and did not substantially extend its life by an additional decade of service. Because we all knew that the 204 cars would still not be enough to cover the entire streetcar network, and they did propose to keep up to 30 ALRVs to supplement some rush hour services on some of the busier streetcar lines (i.e. Queen and King streets) for up to an additional 10 years of service. But since the CLRVs and ALRVs are no longer in service, unfortunately, TTC buses will have to fill in those gaps instead.

Hi Sean, when did the TTC’s CLRV and ALRV streetcars got horns installed? Some people say there is/was no such thing as streetcar horns, since they carried a gong/chime/bell instead, is that true? I first discovered hearing streetcar horns on the 510 Spadina back in 2000, I didn’t know/understand that there was such thing as streetcar horns at the time, but did they update the streetcar horns in 2011-2012? The old streetcars which ran up until December 2019 had horns that sounded like air horns. People used to say that TTC streetcars had no horns on them before but had the chimes instead, whereas TTC buses and subways had horns, is that correct Sean?

I don’t know for sure, but the CLRV horns were added recently – 2011-2012 sounds about right. They were added as a safety feature because of aggressive motorists. I don’t remember other horns before then.

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