The car that saved Toronto’s streetcars

Written by John Thompson, Canadian Contributing Editor
TTC 4002 29DEC77 On Flatcar JD Thompson Photo

It was an event that few people within or outside the transit industry had ever expected to see: the arrival of a brand new streetcar in Toronto. However, that was exactly what happened on a bitterly cold but sunny December 29, 1977, when CLRV 4002 completed its long journey from Switzerland to the Toronto Transit Commission Hillcrest Shop. It was the TTC’s first new streetcar since 1951.

This unlikely and historic occurrence was the direct culmination of several related events. The most significant of these was the decision, in November 1972, by Metropolitan Toronto Council to halt the planned abandonment of the city’s streetcar system by 1980. A citizens group, the Streetcars for Toronto Committee, played an important role in this taking place.

There were several factors that probably influenced this decision. One of them was the growing environmental movement, as typified by the Ontario government’s cancellation of the Spadina Expressway, which would have decimated many square blocks of the central city. Another consideration was a strong pro-streetcar statement, published in a local newspaper, by Jim Kearns, the TTC’s highly regarded General Manager of Operations. Kearns said, in part, “Pound for pound, the streetcar is the best vehicle we have.”

TTC 4002 29DEC77 On Flatcar JD Thompson PhotoThe TTC, unlike other Canadian and U.S. rail transit operators, had never been anti-streetcar; the agency had simply felt that their use could not continue beyond the life of the existing PCC fleet. In addition, both the cars and the track had been kept in good repair. The last PCCs had come off the assembly line at the St. Louis Car Company in 1952.

The die was cast, and Toronto’s beloved streetcar system would be saved. The first step was to authorize heavy rebuilds of 173 PCCs, to permit them to carry on beyond 1980. This work was performed in-house, at TTC’s superbly equipped and staffed Hillcrest Shop.

It was decided that 200 new single-unit streetcars would be needed. The TTC originally planned to design a new car itself, in cooperation with its builder of choice, Canadian Car of Thunder Bay, Ontario. Hawker Siddeley Canada, the aircraft company, owned Canadian Car at that time. Consideration may have been given to equipping new bodies with trucks and controls from scrapped PCCs, which would have dramatically reduced costs.

However, all of this changed when, in 1973, the Ontario Government, sensing a potentially lucrative business opportunity, formed the Ontario (later Urban) Transportation Development Corporation (UTDC). Its mandate, in a nutshell, was to design and have built a completely new streetcar for the TTC that could also, hopefully, be sold to other operators.

This activity, which got under way in 1974, resulted in a worldwide examination of technology and designs available; their relation to the defined requirements, not only of the TTC, but of other interested properties; contractual conditions of creation of a design that would be UTDC’s property to manufacture and market; and construction of prototypes by an experienced manufacturer.

The TTC, as it was relying on provincial financing for the project, accepted the terms. A new streetcar for Toronto would be designed from the rails up.

UTDC hired its own engineers to help design the CLRV (Canadian Light Rail Vehicle), as it became known. The TTC’s very capable engineers were also involved, headed up by Len Bardsley, P.Eng., Manager of the Equipment Department, and Ray Corley, P.Eng., Superintendent of Design and Development. Ray had been hired from Canadian General Electric, Peterborough, Ontario, where he gained extensive experience in areas such as traction motors.

The CLRV was designed to be double-ended if required by a customer, although this was not a TTC requirement; a high-platform-boarding version could also be offered. New-to-Toronto features included fluorescent lighting and energy-saving chopper controls, which were already specified on the new H5 subway cars. Couplers and multiple-unit control were also provided.

UTDC specified an outside-frame truck suitable for open track operation. It was expected at this time that 22 of the CLRVs would be used on the approved, 4.35-mile Scarborough LRT line, although this never came to pass. In any event, the truck design, and the initial wheels, caused problems in street operation.

The initial order was for 200 CLRVs; this was later reduced to 196, to provide funds for an articulated demonstrator for UTDC; this unit was subsequently built. An order was placed with Swiss Industrial Company, a highly experienced streetcar builder, for six prototypes. Canadian Car would construct the balance of the order.

UTDC contracted all major subsystems directly with the vendors. The final detailed design contract was awarded to Swiss Industrial Company, although the basic requirements and parameters had already been worked out by TTC engineers.

Cold weather tests were conducted at a Swiss climate chamber, using car 001. Completed car 002 performed operational tests on the Orbe Chavornay Railway, near Lausanne, Switzerland, later joined by 001 for MU testing. It was necessary to temporarily fit the cars with standard-gauge (4 feet, 8 ½ inches) trucks for operational testing, as the TTC track gauge is 4 feet, 10 7/8 inches, except on the Scarborough line.

After its long journey by ship to Canada, car 4002 was loaded onto a railway flat car for delivery to Hillcrest Shop. The siding, at that time, ended on the west side of the property.

The gleaming new streetcar was carefully offloaded down a ramp from the flatcar and onto TTC rails. Hundreds of onlookers braved the cold to watch from behind a fence, as TTC and UTDC employees milled about. The car was then moved inside the shop by a front end loader; our first new streetcar was home at last!

Car 4002 then took its first ride on the shop transfer table, to the cheers and hammer salutes of delighted shop employees. Among them were two veterans who had been there when the first PCC arrived in 1938: Shop Superintendent Howard Ozard, and Supervisor of Training Perc Berry. The CLRV era had dawned in Toronto.

A year and a half of extensive testing and subsequent modifications lay ahead, until the CLRVs made their revenue service debut on Route 507 Long Branch, Sept. 30, 1979.

There is far more that could be written about the CLRVs, but that’s another story for another time. It’s sufficient to say that the CLRV ultimately proved to be a reliable car in service. As 2017 drew to a close, most of them were still in revenue service, soldiering on more than 35 years after delivery. This is a tribute to their original design, and the TTC’s maintenance policies.

The CLRVs will run their last miles in a few years after Bombardier finally delivers the last of the much-delayed Flexity Outlook LRVs, their replacements. That said, it is to be hoped that the TTC keeps at least one CLRV on the property in its historic collection, as a worthy tribute to a car that helped save Toronto’s streetcar system.

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