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The Canadian Light Rail Vehicles (The CLRVs)

CLRV Diagram

Click on the diagram to see a full plan and diagram

Text by James Bow.


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Picture this:

It’s 1972, and you’re the Toronto Transit Commission. After following the thirty-year-old trend of other North American cities and gradually eliminating your streetcar fleet, you’ve come up against a hastily but effectively organized group of concerned Toronto citizens, inspired by the successes of other activists against the Spadina Expressway. They want you to keep the streetcars running into the 21st century. Wisely, you agree, bucking the longstanding trend, and you abandon your streetcar abandonment policy. However, being so progressive, you suddenly find yourself with an aging streetcar fleet in need of replacement amongst a continent that has largely given up its streetcars. You need a new fleet, and there’s no off-the-shelf model available. What do you do?

The Post-PCC Generation

This is precisely what happened to the TTC in the early 1970s when it was convinced by concerned citizens to kill its policy of abandoning its streetcars by 1980. The youngest of the venerable PCCs had been bought by the commission in the early 1950s. Many more were now well over 30 years old, and in need of replacement. However, there was no easy answer as to what that replacement would be. So, the commission embarked on an extensive rebuilding campaign of their youngest PCCs to keep them in top condition. In the meantime, the search was on for the new generation of streetcar, that would trundle along Toronto’s streets into the 21st century.

Enter the Ontario government, who had already acted in support of Toronto citizens by killing the southern portion of the Spadina Expressway. The government created a crown corporation named the Ontario Transit Development Corporation (OTDC - later renamed Urban Transit Development Corporation or UTDC for short). The TTC, with Hawker-Siddeley, had embarked on a project to design a new car in 1972. The car, named the “Municipal Surface Car” was fully documented but when OTDC came on the scene, the TTC, beholden to the Ontario government for 75% of its capital funding, was told to support OTDC in its design program.

Reinventing the Streetcar

In August 1973, the TTC placed an initial order for 200 new vehicles from OTDC, ten prototypes of which would be designed and built by a manufacturer in Switzerland, called Schweizerische Industrie Gesellschaftbefore (SIG) before design and manufacturing was transferred to Thunder Bay, Ontario. The initial order would have been followed up with more, as the TTC and Metropolitan Toronto planned to use the vehicles for its proposed Scarborough LRT line connecting the eastern end of the BLOOR-DANFORTH subway to the Scarborough Town Centre. This would have been the first phase of a branching network of high-speed light rail lines stretching out into the far reaches of Scarborough. Although the Province of Ontario convinced Metropolitan Toronto to abandon the idea in favour of more high-tech linear induction ICTS vehicles being designed by UTDC at the time, the CLRV still influenced parts of the design of the Scarborough RT, and featured on early literature promoting the line.

The order for ten Swiss CLRV models was cut down to just six in the late 1970s in order to provide the parts needed to build an experimental articulated version of the design. It is because of this that the CLRV fleet number jumps from 4005 to 4010 in sequence. There has never been any CLRVs numbered 4006, 4007, 4008 or 4009. Only one articulated prototype would be built (ALRV 4900). In the meantime, the new SIG cars started to arrive in 1977 and 1978, with the UTDC cars starting in 1979.

Revenue service began on September 30, 1979 on the LONG BRANCH route. As deliveries continued, this was followed by BATHURST (February 29, 1980), ST. CLAIR (including EARLSCOURT, which ended up merged into the former route name, April 16, 1980), KINGSTON ROAD (June 9, 1980), DOWNTOWNER (August 7, 1980), QUEEN (January 4, 1981), KING (July 20, 1981), and finally DUNDAS and CARLTON (October 23, 1981).

Teething Problems

The CLRVs’ European styling was quite different from the Art Deco subtleties of the PCCs, which came as a bit of a shock to Torontonians. However, they didn’t arrive without their teething problems. Passengers complained about the inability to open windows (a design feature to enhance possible future air conditioning, although air conditioning was not installed in the cars ordered) and the seating arrangements (angled front seating in the first six cars was modified to the standard seating style of the remaining cars in 1981). Some Torontonians also didn’t like it when the streetcar route names like QUEEN and KING were removed from the front rollsigns, in favour of route numbers like 501 and 504, and some blamed the CLRV’s single rollsign design for this change.

As the cars started operating on Toronto’s streets, there were further complaints about wheel noise. These vehicles, which had been designed for heavy-duty use on the Scarborough RT (before its conversion to linear induction technology), were undeniably louder, and homeowners near the 501 QUEEN streetcar complained that passing streetcar would shake their homes. This issue was solved by changing the CLRV’s Bochum wheels (which contained rubber in compression) to SAB wheels (which contained rubber in shear, as was the case with the PCCs). The Commission also had to tackle the issue of salty slush. During the CLRVs’ first winter, the corrosive slush got under the streetcars and into the equipment shorting out components that weren’t adequately protected against the elements. Further fears about the couplers snagging pedestrians unlucky enough to be hit by these cars were trumpeted by councillor Edna Shiner, resulting in “safety skirts” nicknamed “Shiner shields” being installed in 1984. The couplers proved to be problematic in any event, and were removed by 1988.

It wasn’t long, however, before the mechanical issues were resolved and the cars properly shielded against Toronto’s weather. By 1985, the public had gotten used to the new vehicles. They quickly became the face of the TTC’s streetcar fleet as PCC retirements began in earnest in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

The Beginning of the End

The Canadian Light Rail Vehicle did not become the North American leader of the resurging American streetcar. Despite initial interest from Boston (which borrowed CLRVs 4027, 4029 and 4031 from the TTC for testing on the Green Line subway, including runs as two and three-car trains) and other cities, only the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority went as far as buying a version of these vehicles (50 double-ended articulated models; as of 2015, these are being used second hand by Sacramento and Salt Lake City). However, they still chalked up millions of kilometers of use on the TTC in the decades that followed. By 2009, only one CLRV (#4063) was scrapped; the rest were still in service.

By 2009, however, it was clear that these streetcars were reaching the end of their design life. In 2006, the TTC did consider a plan to refurbish 100 CLRVs to extend their life, ahead of a further purchase of new streetcars. CLRV 4041 was taken aside and rebuilt, with an air conditioning unit added to its roof. However, while the now distinctive-looking CLRV 4041 was returned to service, the TTC felt that the rebuilding would not produce a sufficient return on investment. In addition to the cars age and antequated electrics, the Ontarians with Disabilities Act would male all non-wheelchair-accessible transit vehicles illegal in Ontario by the end of 2024. With low-floor buses increasingly practical, the TTC and the City of Toronto felt that the time had come to commission a low-floor streetcar, to be the first of a new generation that would replace the CLRVs.

In 2007, the City of Toronto and the TTC took out a call for tenders on the replacement generation. Delays in the procurement process meant that the plan to purchase new Flexity LRVs from Bombardier was not approved by Toronto city council until July 2009. Delays in the construction of the Flexity LRVs meant that the CLRVs would remain the backbone of the fleet well into the 2010s, with the CLRVs celebrating their thirty-fifth and then their fortieth anniversary of operation on city streets.

The End

On December 27, 2014, TTC bus #7807 ran a red light on Main Street, crossing Danforth Avenue and rammed CLRV #4062 head-on, de-railing the car and causing injuries. Car 4062 was hauled to Hillcrest but, after a few weeks at the facility, was deemed too costly to repair. It was removed from TTC property on a flatbed truck on March 16, 2015, the second CLRVs to be scrapped. Other retirements of CLRVs commenced soon after, primarily to remove the most decrepid cars and use them for parts to help rebuild the others. CLRV #4109 was retired in March 2015 followed by 4097 in April, and 4005 in May. CLRVs 4019 and 4031 followed that same year. Others followed in 2016. On July 28, 2017, the prototype car 4000 was officially retired. No attempts were made to preserve this vehicle, which apparently was not in salvageable condition. The car was hauled away for scrap on a sad day on December 9, 2017.

By 2016, the remaining CLRVs were in need of constant maintenance, and the extremely cold winter of 2015 conspired to freeze hydraulic lines on a number of the vehicles, forcing the TTC to pull almost 20% of the fleet during some winter rush hours. Extreme cold snaps in 2016 and 2017 again forced CLRVs out of service. On January 20, 2019, another extreme cold snap caused the TTC to pull every CLRV from service. Though they would return, the TTC would soon announce that, with over 120 Flexities now in service, and the bulk of the remainder likely to arrive before the end of 2019, the last of the CLRVs would be retired by the end of the year. The twilight of CLRV operation was now underway.

On Monday, November 4, 2019, the TTC packed off and shipped away CLRV #4010, which arrived later that day at the Halton County Railway Museum. There it was unloaded and travelled under its own power to Barn 2 at the museum. The next day, it was joined by CLRV #4003 and, the day after that, by CLRV #4039, both of which travelled under their own power to their own storage tracks where they posed for pictures with the replica of ex-TRC open car #327. On Thursday, November 14, the Illinois Railway Museum announced the arrival of CLRV #4034.

It is a lot to ask any vehicle to continue to serve as many people as the CLRVs do almost forty years after entering service. The CLRV has been a workhorse, almost on par with the TTC’s PCCs. As 2019 rolled on, railfans turned out in force, catching last runs, attending farewell charters, and taking as many pictures as possible to remember these venerable streetcars by.

Finally, in late October 2019, the TTC’s _Coupler_ magazine announced that the TTC’s plan for the final phaseout of these vehicles. For the November-December 2019 board period, the cars would run solely on 511 BATHURST throughout the week, while weekend extras would trundle along 501 QUEEN between Roncesvalles and Connaught. Finally, at the end of November, the TTC announced that Sunday, December 29, 2019, exactly 42 years to the day of the arrival of the first CLRV on TTC property, would be the official last day of operation for the CLRVs, holding a contest to select attendees who would ride the ceremonial last car.

CLRV Trivia

  • As the CLRV was being designed, some thought was given to fitting the vehicle with a pantograph. CLRV #4000 had a pantograph installed when it was under test by Schweizerische Industrie Gesellschaftbefore. The pantograph was replaced by a trolley pole before the car was delivered to Toronto. It would be another thirty-five years before pantograph operation was seriously considered, in time for the arrival of the next generation of streetcars, the Flexity LRVs.
  • The CLRV continued the TTC’s tradition of mounting green bull’s eye lights to the top-front of the vehicle, as seen on the Peter Witt and PCC models. Indeed, they mounted two, above the top corners of the destination sign.
  • The CLRVs, along with the ALRVs, were equipped with typical streetcar gongs to warn away competing vehicles. These proved inadequate in 1997 when the 510 SPADINA streetcar route opened to a rash of streetcar-motor vehicle accidents. To make the warnings more audible, the gongs were supplemented with horns salvated from M-1 and H-1 class subway cars that were being retired and scrapped. These horns were replaced in 2011 by new electric horns during a rebuild.
  • Car 4063 was the first CLRV to be officially retired. Around 2005, the car was stripped down ahead of a possible major overhaul, which would have introduced propulsion and control systems. However, the cost of such an overhaul was not deemed to be a sufficient enough savings compared to buying a new generation of streetcars (which would have been fully accessible). With the car stripped to its frame and no overhaul to be done, the shell was sold for scrap in March 2009 and taken away by Future Enterprises of Hamilton, Ontario.
  • As part of the TTC’s work to commemorate the final runs of the CLRVs, the TTC commissioned artists to repaint CLRV #4178 in vibrant colours, inside and out. The rolling art installation was entitled A Streetcar Named Toronto, and its full story can be found here.

Principal Specifications:

  • Fleet numbers: L1 Class - 4000-4005 (Swiss built), L2 Class - 4010-4199 (Canadian built)
  • Seating: 46
  • Normal service usage: 102 passengers - 29,685 kg
  • ‘Crush’ load capacity: 132 passengers - 31,735 kg
  • Empty streetcar weight: 22,685 kg (50,000 lbs)
  • Minimum horizontal curve radius: 10,973 mm (36’0”)
  • Minimum vertical curve radius - convex: 122 m
  • Minimum vertical curve radius - concave: 244 m
  • Motor rating: 2 x 185 HP continuous, 245 HP in acceleration, 370 HP in braking
  • Initial acceleration rate: 1.47 m/s/s (3.3 MPHPS)
  • Braking rate: 1.6 m/s/s (3.6 MPHPS) in service, 3.46 m/s/s (7.7 MPHPS) in emergency
  • Maximum speed: 80 km/h (50 mph)

CLRV Final Disposition

After TTC CLRV #4063 became the first of its class to be scrapped on March 12, 2009, the days slowly began to count down on these vehicles. As the new generation of Flexities were slowly delivered, more were pulled off the line. A lucky few were set aside sent off to museums for preservation, but the rest were stripped for useful parts, and sent off to the scrap heap.

Andre Truffi, after digging through the CPTDB forums, Facebook and Twitter posts, private messages and his own experience, compiled this list of the final disposition of all CLRVs to have operated on the TTC. Those vehicles not listed were still on TTC property as of April 15, 2020:

  • 4000: removed for scrap December 9, 2017
  • 4002: removed for scrap October 2019
  • 4003: removed for preservation November 5, 2019 (Halton County)
  • 4004: removed for scrap October 30, 2019
  • 4010: removed for preservation November 4, 2019 (Halton County)
  • 4012: removed for scrap early October 2019
  • 4013: removed for scrap April 1, 2017
  • 4014: removed for scrap March 31, 2019
  • 4018: removed for scrap December 2017; photo posted on Facebook December 10, 2017, but unable to verify EXIF data
  • 4019: removed for scrap October 2017; photo posted on Facebook October 9, 2017, but unable to verify EXIF data
  • 4020: removed for scrap August 7, 2019
  • 4021: removed for scrap January 15, 2020
  • 4022: removed for scrap July 9, 2019
  • 4023: removed for scrap July 16, 2019
  • 4024: removed for preservation March 16, 2020 (Illinois Railway Museum)
  • 4027: removed for scrap week of October 29, 2018
  • 4029: removed for scrap July 9, 2019
  • 4030: removed for scrap October 21, 2019
  • 4032: removed for scrap March 8, 2019
  • 4034: removed for preservation mid November 2019 ((WHO?))
  • 4037: removed for scrap April 5, 2019
  • 4039: removed for preservation November 6, 2019 ((WHO?))
  • 4041: removed for scrap July 8, 2019
  • 4042: removed for scrap January 13, 2020
  • 4045: removed for scrap April 25, 2018
  • 4046: removed for scrap February 21, 2019
  • 4049: removed for scrap August 15, 2019
  • 4050: removed for scrap October 23, 2019
  • 4055: removed for scrap April 25, 2018
  • 4061: removed for scrap January 22, 2017
  • 4063: removed for scrap March 12, 2009
  • 4065: removed for scrap August 1, 2019
  • 4066: removed for scrap July 17, 2019
  • 4068: removed for preservation February 21, 2020
  • 4075: removed for scrap December 4, 2019
  • 4077: removed for scrap August 16, 2019
  • 4080: removed for scrap on April 5, 2019
  • 4084: removed for scrap July 8, 2019
  • 4085: removed for scrap January 21, 2020
  • 4086: removed for scrap November 28, 2019
  • 4087: removed for scrap June 7, 2019
  • 4090: removed for scrap April 5, 2019
  • 4091: removed for scrap December 30, 2019
  • 4094: possibly removed for scrap on January 2, 2020
  • 4100: removed for scrap December 19, 2019
  • 4101: removed for scrap July 8, 2019
  • 4106: removed for scrap March 2019
  • 4109: removed for scrap September 2016
  • 4115: removed for scrap July 8, 2019
  • 4119: removed for scrap November 19, 2019
  • 4120: removed for scrap July 8, 2019
  • 4125: removed for scrap August 12 (?), 2019
  • 4126: removed for scrap on April 5, 2019
  • 4127: removed for scrap October 24, 2019
  • 4132: removed for scrap October 31, 2019
  • 4133: removed for preservation February 22, 2020
  • 4134: removed for scrap May 23, 2018
  • 4135: removed for scrap September 6, 2019
  • 4136: removed for scrap October 7, 2017
  • 4139: removed for scrap late March 2018
  • 4140: removed for scrap July 9, 2019
  • 4141: removed for scrap circa November 6, 2019
  • 4145: removed for scrap circa November 6, 2019
  • 4146: removed for scrap October 25, 2019
  • 4147: removed for scrap January 17, 2020
  • 4151: removed for scrap July 9, 2015
  • 4152: removed for scrap week of October 29, 2018; possibly November 1st
  • 4153: removed for scrap in mid-July 2019
  • 4154: removed for scrap week of October 29, 2018
  • 4155: removed for unknown purposes circa January 17, 2020
  • 4158: removed for scrap August 20, 2018
  • 4161: removed for scrap in April 2018
  • 4163: removed for scrap March 2019
  • 4164: removed for scrap January 16, 2020
  • 4167: removed for scrap February 21, 2019
  • 4170: removed for preservation March 17, 2020 ((WHO))
  • 4176: removed for scrap January 3, 2020
  • 4177: removed for scrap July 8, 2019
  • 4178: removed for preservation February 14, 2020 (Halton County)
  • 4180: removed for scrap August 13, 2019
  • 4181: removed for scrap June 7, 2019
  • 4182: removed for scrap July 15, 2019
  • 4187: purchased by 24-year-old railfan Alex Glista and removed to a farm in Priceville, ON July 30, 2020
  • 4188: removed for scrap August 19, 2017
  • 4189: removed for scrap October 18, 2019
  • 4191: removed for scrap on November 26, 2019
  • 4192: removed for scrap August 13, 2019
  • 4195: removed for scrap November 22, 2019
  • 4199: removed for scrap March 22, 2019


CLRV Image Archive


  • Corley, Ray F., CLRV: Canadian Light Rail Vehicle, The Toronto Transit Commission, Toronto (Ontario), October 1996.
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