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Twilight of the CLRVs/ALRVs

Text by James Bow Additional text by Jelo Gutierrez Cantos

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It was a long reprieve. The CLRVs and ALRVs days were numbered starting in July 2009, when Toronto City Council approved a decision to purchase 204 new low-floor streetcars from Bombardier. The oldest of these vehicles (CLRVs 4000-4005) had just turned 30, while the ALRVs were just over 20. These had been the workhorses of the fleet since the 1990s, and while there were briefly proposals around 2005 to rebuild these vehicles for more use, the TTC ended up recommending a new generation of streetcars, offering wheelchair accessibility and increased capacity, despite the reduction in overall numbers.

However, Bombardier ran into difficulty getting the new Flexity LRVs into production. A mockup was shown off to the public at Hillcrest on November 14, 2011, and prototypes 4400-4403 delivered in 2013-14. However, plans to launch the Flexities by completely converting the 510 SPADINA route to Flexity operation on August 31, 2014 fell through, with only cars 4400 and 4403 available for passengers, only 14 cars were delivered and in service. The TTC, it seems, would have to nurse the CLRVs and ALRVs for a little longer.

Another consideration was the significant increase in streetcar ridership and crowding, which led the TTC to briefly consider rebuilding the remaining CLRVs and ALRVs to maintain their operation until the end of 2024, when the Ontarians With Disabilities Act would make the non-wheelchair accessible vehicles illegal. However, an attempt to rebuild selected ALRVs showed that the electrical equipment was too antequated and expensive to replace. Problems with the pneumatics meant that the vehicles stopped working during extreme cold spells, disrupting service. CLRVs and ALRVs began to be retired and hauled off for scrap, and the rates of retirement sped up.

On January 20, 2019, an extreme cold snap again forced the TTC to pull the aging CLRVs and ALRVs from service. The last ALRV detected to be in service by the Transsee tracking website was car 4204 on January 19. While the CLRVs returned after the cold snap, the ALRVs stayed offline. Streetcar shortages led the TTC to replace streetcars with buses on routes 511 BATHURST, 505 DUNDAS and 502/503 KINGSTON ROAD. With 124 Flexities now delivered and in service (barring a few that had been sent back to Bombardier for repairs), and with Bombardier now on track to deliver most of its promised streetcars by the end of 2019, the TTC announced that the ALRVs and CLRVs would be completely removed from service by the end of the year.

The CLRVs had officially entered their twilight, with the ALRVs possibly permanently retired. The venerable CLRVs were now over 40 years old. Railfans had long and fond memories of how these vehicles were the backbone of the fleet through the nineties and the first decade of the new millennium. In these vehicles memory, transit photographers would, through 2019, log the last of these vehicles as they plied their remaining routes, until the rest of the Flexities arrived.

Finally, on September 2, 2019, the TTC officially retired cars 4207 and 4204 with a ceremonial retirement runs on the 501 QUEEN between Russell Carhouse and Wolesley Loop. Car 4207 was used earlier that day for the Labour Day Parade and car 4204, the first ALRV, was officially retired at 5:20 PM, thus ending the era of the ALRV cars. ALRV 4204 was transferred to the Halton County Railway Museum in Rockwood, Ontario, on October 23, 2019, where it made its way through the museum under its own power to its sheltered resting place. Then, on Monday, November 4, the TTC delivered CLRV 4010 to Halton County. It was joined the next day by CLRV #4003 and the day after that by CLRV #4039. On Thursday, November 14, the Illinois Railway Museum announced the arrival of CLRV #4034.

In late October 2019, the TTC’s Coupler magazine announced that the board period ending on December 21, 2019, would see as many CLRVs as possible scheduled to operate as a special service on weekends on 501 QUEEN, in celebration of their long history and passing before the end of the year. The TTC confirmed this with its announcement for the November-December 2019 board period, stating that CLRVs would operate on 511 BATHURST only throughout the weekn and special extras would operate on 501 QUEEN from Roncesvalles to Connaught. Finally, at the end of November, the TTC announced that Sunday, December 29, 2019 would be the official last day of operation for the CLRVs, holding a contest to select attendees who would ride the ceremonial last car.

The era of the CLRVs and ALRVs was officially over.

CLRV Twilight Image Archive

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