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What Toronto streetcars might have looked like

Posted by Chris Bateman / January 18, 2013

toronto streetcarI suspect the most enduring image of Toronto over the last 40 years or so (CN Tower aside) is likely to be a red and white CLRV streetcar, trundling and whirring through the city's streets. What a lot of people don't know is these vehicles, designed to replace an aging American-built fleet, were almost never built at all.

In 1970s, Toronto - like just about every North American city - was practically itching to tear out its streetcar lines in favour of buses, highways, and subways. According to Transit Toronto, the TTC planned to entirely phase out its light rail service by 1980, but thanks to a concerted effort by activists in the wake of the Spadina Expressway cancellation, the Commission ultimately abandoned its plans and began seeking a replacement for its aging Presidents' Conference Committee streetcar fleet.

toronto streetcarThe result was the Canadian Light Rail Vehicle, a brand new vehicle designed by the Urban Transit Development Corp. for various Canadian and American markets. The prototype vehicles, the first of which were screwed together in Switzerland, were tested on Toronto streets in 1979 and entered service the same year. Unfortunately, other cities like Boston that also tested the vehicles didn't bite.

What we have here are photographs of the first prototype CLRV during a media op in 1977. Note the generic white livery and angled front seats which were fitted to the first six vehicles, but later ditched in favour of the current configuration. Also gone are the subway-style door areas and large sealed windows installed on the first cars in anticipation of air conditioning units.

Give us your thoughts on the prototype. Streetcar 4000, the one pictured here, is still in active service on the system like all but one of the CLRV fleet. (edit: this is actually a full-scale model.) Bonus points for spotting the real number 4000, the first CLRV to roll of the production line, on the street. It's still out there.


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Photos: City of Toronto Archives



iSkyscraper / January 18, 2013 at 08:38 am
It's not well known, but San Jose actually did buy and use CLRVs, with a modified shell that did not look so much like a PCC. In an alternate universe this could have easily been what Toronto streetcars might have looked like.

San Jose's VTA was the only US customer for UTDC, although they later sold their vehicles to Salt Lake and Sacramento. Photos: (in Utah) (in Sacramento)

As for Boston, yes, they did look at the CLRV but never bought it:
Simon Tarses / January 18, 2013 at 09:04 am
A tragedy that the interiors of the current streetcars and the upcoming ones don't look like the interiors of this mockup; EVERYBODY would be able to ride, regardless of shape or size.
the lemur / January 18, 2013 at 09:33 am
'The prototype vehicles, the first of which were screwed together by Switzerland'

I think you meant to say that they were screwed together in Switzerland by SIG.

All six of the SIG-built CLRVs are still in service (nos. 4000-4005). According to some streetcar operators, they offer a better ride than the later UTDC vehicles.
the lemur replying to a comment from iSkyscraper / January 18, 2013 at 10:02 am
Thanks for posting these.

This one:

appears to have designated spaces for bikes. We can only dream.

scottd / January 18, 2013 at 10:45 am
Terrible design.
Mike / January 18, 2013 at 10:52 am

Quite the opposite, these streetcars are poorly designed. When you face inwards, you are more likely to have people bumping into your knees, scuffing against your shoes and putting their bags/crotch/rear into your personal space. Also, you can see that there are no handrails or anything to hold on to if you are standing which makes it even more likely to fall into someone who is sitting.
Simon replying to a comment from Mike / January 18, 2013 at 11:21 am
Inward-facing seats aren't an inherently bad idea, they just only work when there are adequate handrails and the cars are tiny like on the London Underground.
Josh / January 18, 2013 at 11:36 am
Quote "Streetcar 4000, the one pictured here, is still in active service on the system like all but one of the CLRV fleet. Bonus points for spotting it on the street."

Actually this was a non-working mock-up designed in '77. 4000-5 weren't built until '78-'79 and were built to built to the design you see operating today. The only significant change made was the removal of the 45 degree angled seats in the front (only about 6 per side when delivered) with a more conventional design, and the addition of opening windows.

As a bonus to your bonus, what if I said I've driven it, and about 3/4 of its sisters too? And I will attest to those SIG (Swiss Industrial Group) cars generally offering a better ride than the remaining ones. But even then, we've only lost 1 car in over 30 years of daily service, and that was due to a cancelled rebuilding program, and not an accident. Kudos to the men and women who not only designed, but help maintain the fleet. Not many systems can claim that kind of life out of a "new" vehicle design.
Rob L / January 18, 2013 at 02:10 pm
The six cars built by SIG were all delivered by the fall of 1978 and underwent all sorts of on-street clearance testing since they were larger than the PCC cars. At least one of the first cars did arrive with the angled seating in the front half of the car. The CLRV design was also created so that it could be built as a single four-axle car, an articulated six-axle car (the ALRV) and an articulated six-axle double-ended version (which evolved into the San Jose LRV).
Albert H Wagstaff / January 18, 2013 at 02:14 pm
"I suspect the most enduring image of Toronto over the last 40 years or so (CN Tower aside) is likely to be a red and white CLRV streetcar, trundling and whirring through the city's streets."

PCCs were still a very common sight on the streets until the end of the 1980s so maybe the last 20 years but not 40.
tDilla replying to a comment from iSkyscraper / January 18, 2013 at 02:35 pm
Point of Nerd, those are ALRVs in the links, not CLRVs.
Bill / January 18, 2013 at 07:34 pm
"40 years or so"?!?


Let see... CLRVs went into servive during 1979, and we are now in 2013, so that's 34 years, tops, by my reckoning.
Aaron / January 18, 2013 at 08:36 pm
Considering the amount of public money that was poured into it, amazing that UTDC was such a complete failure of a company. Right up there with Avro, De Havilland and Orion.

lesson learned: Ontario should stick to assembling other people's vehicles and leave the design initiatives to the more capable.
CP / January 18, 2013 at 09:07 pm
Yeah, It's obvious to anyone that the prototype CLRV 4000 isn't the actual CLRV 4000 that operates on city streets. I understand that this isn't The Toronto Star, The Globe & Mail, The New York Times, et cetera, but why don't any of these sites properly research their articles? So lazy.
me / January 18, 2013 at 09:40 pm
It's the internet, they don't care about facts. It's opinion, not fact anyways.
iSkyscraper replying to a comment from Aaron / January 18, 2013 at 09:52 pm
Government-owned companies are never a good idea, but as a North American manufacturing concept UTDC was simply two decades ahead of its time. They lived and died before the LRT and streetcar revolution took off in the US.

Although privately owned, a very similar company called United Streetcar has been started in Oregon to produce Czech streetcars for the US market, just as UTDC was created to adapt Swiss designs.
Simon Tarses replying to a comment from iSkyscraper / January 20, 2013 at 12:24 pm
Government-owned companies ARE a good idea when people and governments believe in them and make them work (just like the government-owned companies in the People's Republic of China were, and are, successful in building most of the arms, tanks, fighter jets, etc. used by the PRC and other nations.) Just because they had a few failures in the West doesn't mean that the concept is bad or not sound. We still need a company like UTDC now employing Ontarians and putting money into the province, but just not producing crap like the RT.
Jeff Bentley / January 30, 2013 at 12:52 am
user-pic A chance encounter I had with SIG 4001 back in 2007.
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Frank Birksted / May 23, 2014 at 03:53 pm
I was just doing a Google search for images of the Toronto streetcars over the years and noticed your black and white of one of the CLRV models that I made at UTDC as the staff industrial designer back around 1976 to promote my new colour scheme design concepts for the new streetcar that we had on order with the TTC. The full scale mockup that you have pictures of here was built for display at the CNE early on in the design/development phase by Claude Gidman Industrial Design (seated on the left with the late Len Bardsley, TTC Hillcrest Equipment Department Manager on the right, in your second interior photo up top). The car mockup was white with an orange stripe on it because that was our UTDC corporate colour at the time. In the following months, inspired by the fact that the TTC's bus stop posts were red, white, and black, and the fact that I hated the old looking cream and maroon of the streetcars and buses, plus being a new streetcar I created a red, white, black, and grey (the grey on the lower skirts was to hide road dirt) colour scheme/livery design for the CLRV as a possible alternative to the standard PPC car cream and maroon. Then surprise.... surprise the TTC loved it. The full scale mockup after its stint at the CNE that year travelled to the Scarborough Town Centre for a display stint to promote the planned Scarborough LRT Project and then travelled to TTC's Hillcrest Shops where it got repainted in the new CLRV colours for TTC final design review. After the first CLRV's started appearing on the streets of Toronto I got a call from Len Bardsley at the TTC asking if I could create a red, white, and black livery design based on my CLRV design scheme for a fleet order of new buses on order from GM and Flyer, and also their existing bus and trolley fleet . The design was approved by the Commission and a decision was made to repaint the existing fleet as they became due for body work/refurbs. That's the story of how the colours of the TTC evolved.
Potrzebie replying to a comment from Frank Birksted / May 23, 2014 at 04:10 pm
So how does it feel to have your work become a massive part of the visual identity of Toronto?

Very cool. And bravo on the design work -- it has held up extremely well.
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