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The Toronto Flexity Outlook Light Rail Vehicles

Article by James Bow.

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As Toronto entered the new millennium, questions arose about what should replace the CLRVs and the ALRVs that had operating on city streets since the late 1970s and 1980s. Although these vehicles were still providing useful service to Torontonians, the fact remained that the first CLRVs were already a quarter-century old. The design life of the current batch of streetcars meant that they would have to be rebuilt or replaced in order for streetcar operation to continue beyond 2018.

At this time, the Toronto Transit Commission and Toronto City Council took the opportunity to reconsider the streetcar's design. The CLRVs had been designed and built by the Urban Transportation Development Corporation, a crown corporation owned by the Ontario government, with an eye to marketing the design to other systems in North America. This did not pan out, and the TTC had been left with an orphaned design that was costly to maintain. Could a new model be purchased "off-the-shelf", based on models currently operating in Europe or the United States, to take advantage of the availability of parts? Could such a model be adapted to operate on Toronto's tracks, with their wider gauge and their tight curves?

At the same time, the Ontarians with Disability Act required that all public transit operations be wheelchair accessible by 2025, and the CLRVs and ALRVs weren't, and making them so wasn't feasible. Finally, TTC ridership was on the upswing, and passengers were crowding onto the streetcars, pushing the capacity of the system. The TTC needed to make more seats available to passengers on streetcar routes, or more and more people were going to be left behind.

A Design Wishlist

In June 2005, TTC Commissioners approved a plan to refurbish 100 CLRVs in order to keep them operating while the search was on for a new streetcar. Initially, this refurbishment was to include a replacement of all major subsystems, including the electronics, but this was later scaled back to just a major body overhaul.

In December 2007, tenders were requested from manufacturers interested in designing the next generation of Toronto's streetcars, with a prototype to arrive in 2009. In the end, three builders posted bids for the contract: Bombardier (the current owner of UTDC's properties), Siemens of Germany and Britain's TRAM Power Ltd. The Czech builder Skoda did not put forward a bid, despite their Portland model being viewed favourably by the commission. The bidding process was complicated by the tight specs of the TTC's legacy streetcar system, and that the new vehicles be built with 25% Canadian content.

To sweeten the deal, the new streetcar purchase was initially combined with the contract for new vehicles to operate on the TTC's proposed Transit City LRT network, despite the fact that the "legacy" streetcars would be different from the new LRT cars in a number of respects. The proposed LRT cars were to be longer, have cabs on both ends, and doors on both sides of the vehicles.

Initially, the Transit City network was to be built to the TTC's wider gauge, allowing the legacy streetcars on St. Clair to be stored at the LRT carhouse at Eglinton and Black Creek Drive, but Metrolinx altered this plan. As the provincially funded agency was to build the new Transit City lines, it was decided that Metrolinx should own them, and it made sense for Metrolinx to combine the Transit City LRT vehicle purchase with purchases made for LRT lines built in other cities in Ontario. Rather than force Mississauga, Ottawa and Kitchener-Waterloo to adopt Toronto's unique streetcar gauge, Toronto's new LRT lines would offer a different gauge from its legacy streetcar lines.

Despite this, the contract for replacing Toronto's legacy streetcars promised to be a lucrative one, albeit a complex order. By 2008, the TTC was considering buying as many as 200 new streetcars, at upwards of $5 million apiece. The hefty price tag proved controversial, especially as the federal government hemmed and hawed about meeting its proposed third of the purchase price. Then, while this was going on, the search for tenders resulted in no winners in July 2008. The TTC's vetting process disqualified Britain's TRAM model as untested and raised concerns over the ability of Bombardier's model to operate on Toronto's legacy tracks. The winner would have been Siemens, but the German manufacturer pulled out, citing an inability to meet the 25% Canadian content requirement. The TTC had no choice but to start the tendering process again.

Meanwhile, Bombardier embarked on a public campaign, unveiling a mock-up of one of their light rail vehicles (based on a model operating in Minneapolis, known as the Flexity Swift) at a number of locations around the city. Design work and negotiations continued, complicated by the decision of TTC Commissioners to turn away from the 70% low-floor design (which featured in a number of off-the-shelf models) in favour of a more complicated 100% low floor version. Bombardier got the edge on the competition, and soon a $1.22 billion contract for 204 vehicles based on a modified Flexity design was before city council ($6 million per vehicle, including inflation over the life of the contract, warranty and training). Siemens did bid, but their bid came in 50% over Bombardier's price.

While Toronto City Council and the province of Ontario had both committed to finding a third each of the contract, attempts to convince the federal government to kick in an equal amount fell through, and a special meeting of Toronto City Council had to be called days before the deadline to rearrange the city's capital budget so that Toronto could pick up the remaining third of the cost. So, at the end of July 2009, the City of Toronto and Bombardier had a contract to build the next generation of Toronto's streetcars.

LRV 4400 Mockup

Design work and test building began at Bombardier's plant in Thunder Bay. Bombardier and the TTC again unveiled Bombardier's Minneapolis Flexity mock-up -- this time at Yonge-Dundas Square -- and surveyed Torontonians about their desires for the new streetcar. The new vehicle, they determined, had to be 100% accessible. Wider doors and a proof-of-payment system allowing all-door operation would speed unloading, and space for more standees would help increase capacity and ease of movement. The vehicles were also to be longer, up to 30 metres, offering 70 seats and space enough for 181 standees at crush load (62 standees are anticipated for an average load). The initial order of 204 vehicles was designed to replace both the 196 CLRVs and 52 ALRVs, providing an additional 2,000 seats in rush hour, offering room for service expansion.

Despite the election of Toronto Mayor Rob Ford leading to speculation that the streetcar contract might be in jeopardy, Bombardier and the TTC unveiled a mock-up of the new Flexity LRV at Hillcrest in November 2011. Again, the public was invited to check out the model (with shuttle-buses connecting the site to St. Clair West and Bathurst Stations) and offer their suggestions. The event was covered extensively by the local media, which spoke favourably of the new streetcar's sleek look, both inside and out, but wondered how the new fare collection (system-wide proof of purchase, with ticket vending machines available inside the streetcar) would work in practice.

Demonstrators Begin Operation

Bombardier took feedback from the mock-up and proceeded to work on the prototypes. Operating car 4400 arrived in Toronto on September 25, 2012, delivered by rail from the Thunder Bay plant to the Canadian Pacific's Lambton Yard near Keele and St. Clair. The car was then loaded onto a flatbed trailer and trucked to Hillcrest shops. The car was formally unveiled to the media on November 15, 2012. Nighttime demonstration runs began in March 2013, starting with one trip from Hillcrest down to Bathurst Station and returning, with another going as far afield as Lakeshore Boulevard. On Tuesday, July 23, 2013, car 4401 made a daylight run with media on board from Hillcrest to Bathurst station and back.

The new Flexity models will also ship with a trolley pole and a pantograph, at least until the TTC rewires its overhead system to accept pantograph operation, ending over 130 years of its legacy poles. The conversion of the overhead wiring system was already underway by 2014. Initially, plans called for only the first sixty Flexity vehicles to feature trolley poles, but delays to the conversion of the wiring system competed with delays in the delivery of the Flexities, and so trolley poles were added for all of the Flexities delivered in 2017 and 2018. On September 12, 2017, riders of the 509 HARBOURFRONT streetcar were surprised to find the Flexities on the line operating with pantographs up. This was confirmed as standard operating procedure, although the cars continued to use trolley poles to get to and from the carhouse. On May 14, 2018, pantograph operation began on the 510 SPADINA route. On Monday, October 1, 2018, after a weekend of work to adjust the wires, 512 ST. CLAIR also became a pantograph operation.

Ongoing Delivery Problems

The TTC expected that, in 2014, the cars would be put to work route by route, rendering each one fully accessible in turn. The new cars would be launched on 510 SPADINA, followed by conversions of the 509 HARBOURFRONT and 511 BATHURST routes. 505 DUNDAS and 501 QUEEN would follow in 2015, 504 KING and 508 LAKE SHORE in 2016, 502 DOWNTOWNER, 503 KINGSTON ROAD and 512 ST. CLAIR in 2017, with the remaining routes seeing the last of the CLRVs and ALRVs in 2018. This schedule was pushed back due to production delays, including a weeks-long strike by workers at Bombardier's Thunder Bay Plant. As a result, only two "production line" vehicles (4400 and 4403) were available to serve passengers during their public launch on the 510 SPADINA line on Sunday, August 31, 2014. However, passengers flocked to see and ride the new streetcars.

The strike at Bombardier's Thunder Bay plant was resolved soon after, giving the TTC hope that more vehicles would be delivered by the end of 2014. Frustratingly, this did not happen, with Bombardier now citing quality control issues at one of its parts production plants in Mexico. Bombardier revised its schedule, committing to deliver only 16 vehicles for 2016, bringing the TTC's fleet of Flexities up to 30. Bombardier promised 40 deliveries in 2017 and managed to meet that schedule up to the end of July, before falling two vehicles short by the end of August. The following October, Bombardier admitted that it couldn't deliver 40 streetcars by the end of the year, promising to deliver only 35 instead. In the end, they were only able to deliver 29.

By this point, the delivery problems were a media nightmare for Bombardier and the TTC, with riders and politicians reacting angrily to the continuing delays, along with related delays to Flexity LRT vehicles for the EGLINTON-CROSSTOWN LRT and Waterloo's ION LRT. Metrolinx responded to Bombardier's delays by rolling back its order for equipment, turning to Alstom to supply its LRT lines on Finch West and Hurontario. Then, on July 4, 2018, the TTC announced that 67 Flexities had welding flaws that needed repair at Bombardier's plants. Bombardier did agree to fix the flaws -- which didn't compromise the current safety of the vehicles; only its 30-year lifespan -- but it meant that the cars had to be taken out of service for 19 weeks each. The TTC and Bombardier agreed to a schedule that sent three or four streetcars at a time back to the La Pocatiere plant, starting with car 4401 in May 2018, and car 4400 in September 2018.

Taking Over the Fleet

Bombardier did pick up the pace on Flexity deliveries. On September 12, 2017, TTC Flexity #4444 sat on a flat car in Thunder Bay, awaiting delivery. Car 4459 was delivered on December 22, 2017, and car 4520 was delivered on December 31, 2018. In February 2018, to try and get back on schedule and deliver all remaining Flexity LRVs by the end of 2019, Bombardier announced that it was opening a second production line of Flexities in its Millhaven plant, to handle the last 34 cars of the order (4570-4603). The first of that order, 4572, was delivered to Hillcrest on December 17, 2018, and was placed in service on 504 KING on January 11, 2019. However, while the Thunder Bay deliveries picked up, reaching 4551 by May 31, 2019, only four cars (4572-4575) were delivered from Millhaven by that time.

The terms of the contract between Bombardier and the TTC allowed the TTC to claim up to $50 million in penalties for the delays. After negotiations, the TTC and Bombardier announced in late April 2019 a settlement which would have Bombardier pay the TTC $35 million. The amount covered some of the costs the TTC had taken on maintaining its aging CLRV and ALRV fleet while it waited for the Flexities to arrive.

As the Flexity fleet grew, the CLRVs and ALRVs were retired, with the TTC announcing that all of the older generation streetcars would be off the streets by the end of 2019. The Flexities continued to be rolled out line by line. Introduced to 510 SPADINA on August 31, 2014, the Flexities covered all runs by January 2016. Full conversion of 509 HARBOURFRONT followed on March 2017, along with temporary placement on 511 BATHURST. The Flexities were introduced to 514 CHERRY when the line opened on June 19, 2016, and covered all runs by the summer of 2017. 512 ST CLAIR received its first in-service Flexities on September 3, 2017, with full conversion taking place the following September. 504 KING received Flexities in January 2018 and were fully in service by 2019. The first in-service 501 QUEEN Flexities arrived on September 2, 2019, covering weekend runs until the fleet increased. Regular weekday runs were added in January 2019, with further conversion proceeding throughout the year, as cars became available. As of June 2019, the only routes that hadn't yet seen regular Flexity service were 502 DOWNTOWNER, 503 KINGSTON ROAD, and 505 DUNDAS, which have been largely operating with buses due to construction work and the streetcar shortage, and 506 CARLTON.

The Next Generation

In June 2013, TTC General Manager Andy Byford expressed a desire for the TTC to purchase an additional sixty Flexity LRVs. According to the contract signed between the TTC and Bombardier, the TTC had an option to extend the contract to cover those sixty vehicles at the contract's price. The TTC was supposed to make a commitment one way or the other after the first sixty or so Flexities were delivered. Bombardier's delays in delivering the Flexity LRVs have made the TTC reconsider this option, and it is looking at other builders that can provide additional equipment.

By 2019, the TTC saw signs that ridership was reaching the capacity its new Flexity fleet offered. Moreover, the TTC and the City of Toronto had plans to establish new streetcar routes serving the eastern Waterfront and the Port Lands. Up to 100 new streetcars may be needed, though it remains to be seen whether these cars will come from Bombardier or another manufacturer. It also depends on whether capital funding for such construction, or fleet expansion, could ever materialize.

However, all of these issues do not diminish the importance of the new Flexity LRVs. In 1972, the TTC made the landmark decision to abandon its streetcar abandonment policy, resulting in a search for a new generation of streetcars that gave us the CLRVs and the ALRVs. Now, in 2019, the next generation has been chosen that will keep the streetcar operating on Toronto's streets for decades to come.

Technical Specifications

Fleet Numbers: 4400-4603
Seating: 70; Service Load: 132; Crush Load: 251
Weight (empty): 48,200 kg
Dimensions: length 30.2m, width 2.54m, height 3.84m
Minimum horizontal curve radius: 10,973 mm (36’0”)
Minimum verticle curve radius - convex: 122 m
Minimum verticle curve radius - concave: 244 m
Top Speed: 70 km/h

Document Archive

LRV 4400 Mockup Image Archive

Toronto's Flexity LRVs Image Archive


  • Wickson, Ted and Pat Scrimgeour, 'Toronto's new Spadina streetcar line' Rail and Transit, January 1995, p8-9, The Upper Canada Railway Society, Toronto (Ontario), 1995.
  • Bombardier and Praha websites.
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