The Canadian Light Rail Vehicles (The CLRVs)

CLRV Diagram

Click on the diagram to see a full plan and diagram

Text by James Bow.


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 venerable PCCs where now well over 30 years old, in need of replacement, but there was no easy answer as to what that replacement would be. So, the TTC abandoned one more line, Rogers Road (replaced by trolley buses in 1974) to ensure that they had enough PCCs to stock the system while they embarked on an extensive rebuilding campaign. 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. As of 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, and the City of Toronto and the TTC took out a call for tenders on the replacement generation. Delays in the procurement process and in the construction of the new Flexity LRVs resulted in the CLRVs providing the bulk of the service on Toronto's streetcar fleet thirty-five years after the first vehicles hit the streets. By this point, they 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.

Still, it is a lot to ask any vehicle to continue to serve as many people as the CLRVs do thirty-five years after entering service, and it's possible the CLRVs may reach their fortieth anniversary before final retirement arrives. The order for the Flexity fleet won't be completely fulfilled until 2019. The CLRV has been a workhorse, almost on par with the TTC's PCCs.

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.
  • 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.

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 vernicle 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 Image Archive


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