The Articulated Light Rail Vehicles (the ALRVs)

ALRV Diagram

Click on the diagram to see a full plan and diagram

Text by James Bow

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Toronto’s First Bendable Streetcar

When the TTC made the decision to continue operating its streetcars into the next century, they searched for a streetcar to replace the venerable PCCs. They settled upon the CLRV. The Ontario Government-owned Ontario Transit Development Corporation (of 1973) commisioned SIG (Switzerland) in 1975 to design the vehicle, and soon the new models were trundling Toronto’s streets. It was UTDC, successor to the OTDC, who decided to produce a longer, articulated version. Articulated vehicles were common in Europe; indeed SIG had already developed an articulated version when designing the CLRV, and it was felt that utilizing this concept would be attractive to transit companies thinking of getting into the LRT business.

With this in mind, the original order for 200 CLRVs was cut by UTDC to 196, so that SIG would have components enough to have two ALRV prototypes produced. Only one prototype was constructed, but by UTDC, not SIG. The prototype was painted in a modified version of TTC colours (orange instead of red) and numbered 4900, and was tested in revenue service along the Queen route, starting on August 10, 1982. 4900 was moved to Exhibition Place on August 15 of that year and displayed during the Canadian National Exhibition until September 6, after which it was placed back in service until its withdrawal on February 25, 1983.

The Prototype Arrives

Car 4900, as originally built, featured a pantograph instead of a trolley pole, hand controls instead of foot controls, Brown Boveri propulsion components, WABCO brakes, was gauged at standard rather than TTC gauge (4 feet, 10 and 7/8 inches), and tested an electronic rollsign. For operation on the TTC, the vehicle had to be regauged (the TTC furnished replacement trucks) and the pantograph was replaced by a trolley pole. The hand controls remained, and the TTC decided to test the effectiveness of the electronic rollsign (although electronic rollsigns are the norm now for TTC buses, the TTC has never replaced the streetcar ‘linens’, likely because the sign cavity is too small for an effective electronic sign). Revenue service proved effective, and the TTC agreed to purchase 52 modified ALRVs at $1.369 million per vehicle, with an option for 11 more, should they be needed on the proposed Harbourfront and Spadina LRT lines.

After its successful testing testing, ALRV 4900 was stored at St. Clair Carhouse, venturing out only occasionally for demonstration trips (for transit visitors and railfans). The car was loaded onto a flatbed trailer on March 7, 1987 and removed from TTC property the next day. Returned to the UTDC’s Kingston test facility, the car was used as a test and tow car for the TTC ALRV contract which produced ALRVs 4200-4251. On March 24, 1988, while it was parked at the end of the UTDC test track in total darkness it was rear ended, at about 13mph, by TTC ALRV 4211, which had suffered an electric brake failure during a high-speed test run for ‘electric-brake-only’ evaluation. In 1997 car 4900 was sold for scrap to, and removed by, Kimco Refuse Systems of Kingston, Ontario.

Other than their extra long bodies and the bend in the middle, ALRVs have another feature which distinguishes it from its CLRV cousins, that of a large box that sits on the roof near the front of both sections of the vehicle. This box houses the larger ventilating air intake, for the larger volume of the ALRV. The ALRVs also never had any couplers, and the ‘safety shield’ skirt came already installed on the front of the vehicle, rather than being added later as in the case of the CLRVs.

Deliveries Commence

Car 4200, the first of the current class of ALRVs, operated under its own power at the UTDC facilities on April 27, 1987 and was shipped to the TTC on June 11, 1987. After a static display at Toronto’s City Hall, plus further tests and modifications, revenue service began with car 4204 on the Long Branch route on January 19, 1988. With further deliveries, revenue service began on the Bathurst route on July 17, 1988 and the 501 QUEEN route on January 23, 1989.

Although ALRVs could travel throughout the system, they were rarely played in regular service on any route other than 501 QUEEN or, initially, 511 BATHURST. The TTC initially favoured these cars on crowded routes with short headways, where the longer, higher-capacity cars could allow the TTC to reduce the number of cars in service, but still keep the same number of seats passing a stop each hour. This led to criticism from some that the longer ALRVs gave the TTC the excuse to reduce service levels. While, in theory, reducing the number of cars in service on a high frequency route can increase reliability, in practise, it often made the delays longer.

In any event, the bulk of the ALRV fleet remained on 501 QUEEN, even as other routes became more congested, or had higher ridership. ALRVs did ply the 510 SPADINA route in the summer of 1999, and ALRV extras were assigned to tripper service on 504 KING soon after. With rush hour frequencies on 504 KING now pushing every two minutes, calls have been made to move the ALRVs to King Street, and return more frequent CLRV operation to Queen, but so far the TTC has resisted such a move. They may have been facing a shortage of streetcars in the last few years, however, and looking ahead to the arrival of the new, even longer Flexity LRV models.

Pending Retirement

By 2014, as the next generation of Toronto streetcars started to arrive, the TTC drafted a fleet replacement plan that called for ALRVs to be retired almost as soon as the new LRVs arrived. Although the CLRVs were older, the ALRVs had proven themselves more prone to breakdowns, and were thus were planned to be scrapped by 2015. However, delays to the deliveries of the LRVs, as well as increasing crowding on Toronto’s streetcar network forced the TTC to rethink things. In November 2014, TTC CEO Andy Byford suggested that the ALRVs might be refurbished instead, to give them a few years of additional life. Not only would this allow them to serve until the delayed LRVs arrived, the retained vehicles could add to the capacity of the streetcar network.

As of November 2014, the ALRVs are on their last legs, but they continue to provide important service to TTC passengers. The TTC literally cannot pull as many people without them. While their days may be numbered, it is comforting to know that we still have a little time before we say goodbye.

Principal Specifications:

  • Fleet numbers: 4200-4251
  • Seating: 61
  • Normal service usage: 155 passengers - 47,655 kg
  • ‘Crush’ load capacity: 205 passengers - 51,165 kg
  • Empty streetcar weight: 36,745 kg (81,000 lbs)
  • Minimum horizontal curve radius: 10,973 mm (36’0”)
  • Minimum verticle curve radius - convex: 122 m
  • Minimum verticle curve radius - concave: 244 m
  • Motor rating: 4 x 87 HP (65KW) continuous, 4 x 123 HP (92KW) one hour.
  • Initial acceleration rate: 1.2 m/s/s (2.65 MPHPS)
  • Braking rate: 1.6 m/s/s (3.6 MPHPS) in service, 3.13 m/s/s (7.0 MPHPS) in emergency


ALRV prototype 4900 Image Archive


ALRV Image Archive


References

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

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