The Early Days of the CLRVs

As I write this, it is Christmas morning in 2019, and the TTC’s fleet of CLRVs, now 40 years old, has only a few more days to run in revenue service.

Here is a gallery of photos culled from their early years. There is a preponderance of photos showing construction activities because that is what I tended to focus on in those days. Although the TTC had decided to retain its streetcars and bought a new fleet, track construction techniques had not caught up with the idea that things should be build to last. Untreated ties and rails that were only spot welded at the top, not with a solid top-to-bottom thermite weld, were not the most robust.

This design combined with the vibrations from the original Bochum wheels on the CLRVs led to the quick disintegration of roadbeds leaving the TTC by the mid 1990s with a double-dose of track repairs. Not only did they have to rebuild track that was 20-30 years old, they had a fresh batch that was 10-15 years old. The overall track repair program caught up with this backlog a few years ago for tangent (straight) track, but the adoption of panel-based and properly welded special work (intersections) took longer to get underway. Some major intersections, notably Queen & Roncesvalles, are falling apart leading to slow orders on various parts of the streetcar system. (Ironically, because this is a blanket order, there are slow orders on all special work whether it needs it or  not.)

Back in the 1980s, the CLRVs were brand new, and after many teething problems they became the workhorses of the network as the PCC fleet was gradually retired.

32 thoughts on “The Early Days of the CLRVs

  1. “Installation of bidirectional loop at Fleet Loop Fall 1981”

    What was the large building for on the left of this photo?

    Steve: Molson’s Brewery, long since replaced by condos.


  2. Liked the all-electric PCC’s streetcars. Didn’t like air compressors on the CLRV’s, which reminded me of the air-electric PCC’s and the Peter Witt’s air compressors.

    Steve: And the air systems on the CLRVs were an ongoing problem with these cars.


  3. Many thanks for this wonderful look-back Steve!

    Ironic that the compressors crop up in the discussion (pretty hard not to in light of on-going issues) , but some of the CLRVs, at least superficially, are in great shape, but my favourite seat at the very back is a vibration chair due to the compressor banging away. One senses imminent bearing failure.

    It’s odd, like a lot of things in life, it’s only towards the end that you realize how much you love something.

    Time waits for no-one…

    Best of the season folks!


  4. The CLRVs had some design ideas in the beginning that didn’t last.

    Rarest (I think) were the angled seating in the front part of the car. The seat edges were a perfet way to knock your knees. That innovation didn’t last. I remember riding at least once on a car thus equipped. There are pictures floating around of this interior arrangement, but they’re pretty few and far between.

    Steve: Yes, those stupid seats were adapted from the “dial a bus” vehicles that were tried out. Clearly a design that nobody who actually rode a transit vehicle would use.

    The windows that didn’t open were another ‘innovation’. There were just the two or three flip-in windows on each side. That was quickly recognized to be a problem, so the non-opening windows were soon retrofitted with the sliding windows. This became standard production practice somewhere along the way, but right up to 4199 the flip-in windows were installed in the same locations as on 4000. The ALRVs ditched this for all slider windows. (Ironically, the ALRVs also had way more problems with water leaks around the window frames.)

    The Bochum wheels, as you mentioned. You could tell a CLRV by its rumble from blocks away. CLRVs were actually replaced by PCCs after about 10 PM while this was being sorted out. 4047 was the first car equipped with PCC-style cushioned wheels.

    Steve: The brand name for the resilient wheels was “SAB”, and they were mechanically similar to the PCC wheel.

    The couplers, well, they didn’t last long, and eventually the ‘Shiner skirts’ were installed at both ends of the cars to make a presumably more pleasing as well as safer arrangement.


  5. One thing I was never precisely sure of – Does anyone know which year the closed-side air intake grille was changed? This was to allow installation of an intake air filter, if I understood correctly, an issue which Steve has mentioned a number of times in the past. Originally these were grey like the as-delivered version and eventually revised to red to blend in with the body colour. (And, if my SPTC Boston demonstrator model is accurate, metallic silver along with the roof-line grilles at the time.)

    Steve: I have updated my article CLRVs Visit Boston to include a photo of the left side of the cars clearly showing the silver-grey air vent. The date is 1980.


  6. Thanks for the photos! It was odd to see CLRVs running over open track during construction. When did the TTC decide to change to running shuttle buses over track work?

    Steve: I would have to check for the exact date, but I think it was in the early 90s when they moved to the new style of construction with complete replacement of the substructure. Just to excavate down to the slab and rebuild to the point there are running rails is a few weeks’ work and obviously cannot be done under service. Also, the concrete cures better if there is no vibration from service while the layer around the track is setting.


  7. “Just to excavate down to the slab and rebuild to the point there are running rails is a few weeks’ work and obviously cannot be done under service. Also, the concrete cures better if there is no vibration from service while the layer around the track is setting.”

    They could easily run service during construction again before they pour the top layer since only the top layer will be replaced, no? Except for when after they pour the concrete.

    Steve: But schedules are in place for about six weeks, and so track projects (and bus replacements) are built into that cycle.


  8. These streetcars are NOT accessible – GOOD RIDDANCE. Let us invest more in Wheel Trans and subways rather than keep pouring in billions on the streetcar network.

    Steve: You are deliberately mixing the issue of accessibility with the generic question of streetcar retention. If you want to waste billions, subways will soak them up and not take you very far. Of course promises of subways are cheap if you never build anything. Just ask the folks in Scarborough how they are enjoying their new line, still a decade away.


  9. I seem to have been more of a fan of the CLRV streetcars than others here. I was a teenager when the design was announced. I still love the old PCC design. And the CLRV looked like lineal descendants of the PCC design.
    Some of the US cities that also decided to continue to use streetcars when their PCCs started to show their age commissioned new American made designs. But those vehicles didn’t look like streetcars.

    I know those responsible for the CLRV design, and the competing American designed vehicles, hoped for sales from other cities.

    Steve, didn’t some of the vehicles cities like Boston, Philadelphia bought have to be scrapped, after a decade or less, even though they had been designed to last 35-40 years like the CLRV?

    I regret that the TTC didn’t keep more than two heritage PCC vehicles. I hope they keep a couple of CLRVs, even though they can’t be kept in working order, for a static display, when we open our much needed transit museum.

    Steve: Yes, Boston had no end of problems with not one but two sets of new cars. In one case, the manufacturer, Boeing-Vertol, was not an experienced rail car builder, and their vehicles were not a good fit, let alone questions of reliability and durability. These “Type 6s” were kept running, partly out of necessity, for many years. Cars from Ansaldo-Breda (the type 8s) had difficulties with Boston’s track, although this was eventually rectified both by changes on the cars and to some of the track itself. (Don’t believe Toronto is the only place with demanding track layouts.) One set of cars (known as Type 7s), built by Kinki-Sharyo, but designed by the MBTA, did prove successful from the outset.

    The CLRV had some oddities from its joint TTC/UTDC parentage including a design requirement for high speed suburban operation. This led to the heavy trucks and the ability to run in “high rate” at over 50 mph. This has only ever been done on test in Toronto, and when a few cars were in Boston, they were governed not to exceed 50 which was the maximum speed for the Riverside line. Ironically, some of that heavy construction was probably responsible for the cars’ physical longevity.


  10. Hi Steve,

    From your photos of the CLRVs in their early days, I noticed that they kept their original windshield wiper arms. The ALRVs, however, were outfitted with another type of windshield wiper arm and blade that worked much better than those of the CLRVs. Is there any reason why the TTC didn’t replace the CLRV windshield wiper system?

    Steve: I don’t know. Maybe someone else reading this comment will enlighten us.

    Also, any word on whether the TTC is still going ahead with restoring ALRV 4207? Do you know which CLRVs the TTC plans on keeping post-December 29? I’ve heard that 4001 will be a keeper. Perhaps 4178 as well?

    Steve: I have not heard anything definitive about which cars are to be retained by the TTC.


  11. WRT the railway style attachment equipment the CLRV and some PCCs used…

    I took some photos when I was delayed, on Broadview, when a CLRV broke down, and had to be towed away. A bar was attached, connecting the disabled vehicle to its rescuer – about 2 meters long and about 3 cm in diameter. Connecting the vehicles took more than 15 minutes. I don’t know why. I don’t remember the rescuers establishing an electrical connection to power the disabled vehicle’s signal lights.

    Steve: It can actually be done in less than 15 minutes, but many operators don’t have the experience of doing this. There is provision for an electrical link between the cars. Whether it is used is another matter.


  12. Hi,

    Do you by any chance know if the second set of streetcar tracks inside Long Branch loop are operational?

    Also, I’ve noticed several 501 drivers slow down right before a crosswalk despite no pedestrians attempting to cross or even being near the crosswalk. Is this a new TTC policy?

    Steve: It looked fairly rough the last time I saw it, and on the ALRV Farewell charter, we opted not to attempt using that track. As for the crosswalk, I don’t know. Do any operators on the Long Branch car know of this as a new policy? In any event, vehicles entering the roadway would have to stop anyhow (e.g. an auto coming out of a driveway), not that most motorists do.


  13. The CLRVs were to be used for the Scarborough Rapid Transit Line, before they were replaced with the ICTS system. Instead of steps, they would have been level with the platforms, and not used for any mixed street use. Since they would have been off street, there would be no salt to rust the steel on the cars as quickly. They could have been used as a rapid transit extension from Kipling Station using CLRV vehicles as well. See this article for what could have been.

    Steve: I beg to differ. At Kennedy Station you can still see the original “streetcar” platform at track level at the east end of the station, including the checkerboard warning tiles. Platforms would have been, at best, level with the bottom step of a CLRV, not at the interior floor height.

    You can also look at my articles here and here where, among other things, you will see platforms at the standard height for streetcars.


  14. I took some photos of the old streetcars too. Steve, here are a couple of links to my favourites. I put them all in the public domain, so they can be freely re-used.

    In 2013 I encountered two CLRVs, with their bells ringing like crazy, as they both tried to turn west, from Church, onto Richmond.

    In 2014 I snapped some photos of a CLRV preparing to tow a disable ALRV.


  15. Thanks for your reply, Steve. Aside from slowing down prior to crossing a cross-walk, I’ve also observed some streetcar drivers going very slowly through intersections with perpendicular streetcar tracks despite there being no traffic ahead. I’ve also noticed a few streetcar ops wearing high-visibility orange vests (they resemble the high-visibility vests that construction workers wear). Is this a recent addition to the op uniform? I haven’t seen bus or train ops wearing the vests, just a handful of streetcar ops. Thanks again.

    Steve: The slow order at all junctions has been standard for some time. The degree to which this is respected varies from operator to operator, with the juniors being more likely to crawl through special work. This is an example of how the TTC’s lack of maintenance at some locations translates into operational effects on service everywhere. As for the vests, I’m not sure if it is TTC-ordered or suggested practice, or something ops are doing on their own, but it is definitely more common, although not universal.


  16. Beautiful cars and beautiful photos. The CLRVs will be missed. Just one question, Steve. Above the center headlight, what is the metal piece sticking out?

    Steve: It is the flap of an air vent which, if open, allows air to blow into the lower part of the operator compartment as the car moves.


  17. I have seen the spare track (if that’s the term) at Long Branch loop in use occasionally throughout 2019. It could be a CLRV with its lights out (maybe having problems), or a Flexity on burn-n, as they liked to run them out to Long Branch when testing newly-delivered ones. (In fact, Flexities came to Long Branch long, long before they provided regular service on Queen, never mind west of Humber loop.

    The SETAC website header picture is 4402 taken in the fall of 2014. As a bonus, it’s sitting on the spare track. 🙂


  18. Hate to admit it, but I never really warmed up to the CLRVs. I tried, I really did. Perhaps I’m too nostalgic; yet, I really like the look of the Flexities.

    Back in 1980, during the era of the weight and noise issues with the CLRVs (remember when they weren’t allowed on Howard Park Ave.?) I was in the basement of an audiophile store near Neville Park Loop. I remember the building started to shake and the noise level was quite high. A CLRV just went by. The owner said it was a huge problem. Plaster was even cracking because of it. He kept all high calibrated turntables on the first floor.


  19. I noticed that the TTC Tracker website dropped almost all CLRVs from its list of legacy vehicles. I was hoping the they would all be listed until the heart stops beating (i.e. the GPS transponder is permanently turned off on each car). Hopefully, the author of TTC Tracker reads this suggestion as the site seems to have no contact link.

    About noon-1PM, yard crews were moving all CLRVs not used on last runs to the west side of the yard, presumably the dead storage area. Before 6PM, the TTC Tracker showed that most of the CLRVs used on the last day runs were put into the carhouse instead of at the west side of the yard. Is that some kind of special treatment for the last-run cars? The colourful CLRV 4178 was parked in the middle of the yard at about 6PM.

    The TTC Tracker marks CLRVs 4021 and 4105 as “mules” stationed at the Leslie Barns. Does this mean that the TTC now has streetcar work vehicles? The CPTDB site shows 4105 as “retired”. However, the transponders on both cars appear to be working.

    The TTC Tracker shows 4089 as a car to be preserved; however, its transponder appears to be dead. I did not see 4089 in my recent photos.

    Steve: Each of the websites has its own sources of info and peculiarities of its authors. Even mine!


  20. “The overall track repaid program caught up with this backlog a few years ago for tangent (straight) track”: What?

    Steve: Should be “repair”. Thanks for catching this.


  21. Just an FYI: the 508 Lake Shore ran with buses instead of streetcars today. With Flexity cars now placed on the 511 now I guess they didn’t have many to spare.

    Steve: Also there is a planned increase in the number of cars at Roncesvalles where the 508 is based, and the grand shuffle may not yet be completed.


  22. Sam on December 30, 2019 at 8:47 pm

    Just an FYI: the 508 Lake Shore ran with buses instead of streetcars today. With Flexity cars now placed on the 511 now I guess they didn’t have many to spare.

    I also saw a bus signed 501 Kingston Rd. making the left from Lakeshore onto Windermere tonight. Probably one that had run out to Long Branch as a 508, and was heading back to the garage, although it would seem to make more sense to run them out of Queensway.


  23. The other day – Sunday, December 29, 2019 – the last CLRVs were retired. Over the years, it has been fun riding them and their double-length articulated cousins the ALRVs on the “511 Bathurst” route to get to and from the Canadian National Exhibition (CNE). When the CNE was running, there was the high-spirited excitement of the passengers aboard a “511 Bathurst” streetcar, especially one heading southbound from Bathurst subway station. During the last weekend of the CNE, the air show adds extra excitement.

    Nowadays, it’s just as fun riding the new low-floor Flexity Outlooks on the “511 Bathurst” route to get to and from the Canadian National Exhibition.


  24. I always tried to promote even a small increase in average speeds for streetcars to reduce the total amount for the same frequency of service. Plus faster service and perhaps less cost in labour. Averaging 24k instead of 18 is one 1/4 less cars or more more capacity with the same cars. Oh well. It’s becoming hard to support public transit anymore.

    Steve: Getting to 24k for an urban streetcar route is a big stretch. Moreover speed isn’t everything if one has reliable, frequent service because the wait time is a significant chunk of total trip time.


  25. Steve, it’s been fun riding the CLRVs (as many as 196) and their double-length articulated cousins the ALRVs (52 of them). Both types of streetcar – the CLRV and ALRV – had slider windows which you could open and close, to let in fresh air, when they became overcrowded with passengers. The busiest time of year for the “511 Bathurst” streetcar route – which used both CLRVs and ALRVs – was late summer when the Canadian National Exhibition (CNE) was running; these streetcars carried thousands of excited passengers to and from the fair, from Bathurst station on the Bloor-Danforth subway line to the Exhibition loop located under the Gardiner Expressway. Over the many years of going to the CNE aboard the “511 Bathurst” streetcar, I will never forget noticing the high-spirited excitement of the passengers.


  26. I saw on a Facebook page that ALVS have? One thin g I remember reading in a UCRS newsletter before the CLRVs started being delivered was that there were to be two different equipment packages depending whether any given car would be assigned to the legacy system or the Scarborough line. Of course we all know what happened to the Scarborough line.

    Steve: This comment appears to have been partly eaten. Can you try again to say what it was that ALRVs were supposed to have?


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