Article by James Bow.
As Toronto entered the new millennium, questions arose about what should replace the CLRVs and the ALRVs then operating on city streets. Although these vehicles were still providing useful service to Torontonians, the fact remained that the first CLRVs were already a quarter-century old. The design life of the current batch of streetcars meant that they would have to be rebuilt or replaced in order for streetcar operation to continue beyond 2018.
At this time, the Toronto Transit Commission and Toronto City Council took the opportunity to reconsider the streetcar's design. The CLRVs had been designed and built by the Urban Transportation Development Corporation, a crown corporation owned by the Ontario government, with an eye to marketing the design to other systems in North America. This did not pan out, and the TTC had been left with an orphaned design that was costly to maintain. Could a new model be purchased "off-the-shelf", based on models currently operating in Europe or the United States, to take advantage of the availability of parts? Could such a model be adapted to operate on Toronto's tracks, with their wider gauge and their tight curves?
At the same time, the Ontarians with Disability Act required that all public transit operations be wheelchair accessible by 2025, and the CLRVs and ALRVs weren't. Finally, TTC ridership was on the upswing, and passengers were crowding onto the streetcars, pushing the capacity of the system. The TTC needed to make more seats available to passengers on streetcar routes, or more and more people were going to be left behind.
A Design Wishlist
In June 2005, TTC Commissioners approved a plan to refurbish 100 CLRVs in order to keep them operating while the search was on for a new streetcar. Initially, this refurbishment was to include a replacement of all major subsystems, including the electronics, but this was later scaled back to just a major body overhaul.
In December 2007, tenders were requested from manufacturers interested in designing the next generation of Toronto's streetcars, with a prototype to arrive in 2009. In the end, three builders posted bids for the contract: Bombardier (the current owner of UTDC's properties), Siemens of Germany and Britain's TRAM Power Ltd. The Czech builder Skoda did not put forward a bid, despite their Portland model being viewed favourably by the commission. The bidding process was complicated by the tight specs of the TTC's legacy streetcar system, and that the new vehicles be built with 25% Canadian content.
To sweeten the deal, the new streetcar purchase was initially combined with the contract for new vehicles to operate on the TTC's proposed Transit City LRT network, despite the fact that the "legacy" streetcars would be different from the new LRT cars in a number of respects. The proposed LRT cars were to be longer, have cabs on both ends, and doors on both sides of the vehicles.
Initially, the Transit City network was to be built to the TTC's wider gauge, allowing the legacy streetcars on St. Clair to be stored at the LRT carhouse at Eglinton and Black Creek, but Metrolinx altered this plan. As the provincially funded agency was to build the new Transit City lines, it was decided that Metrolinx should own them, and it made sense for Metrolinx to combine the Transit City LRT vehicle purchase with purchases made for LRT lines built in other cities in Ontario. Rather than force Mississauga, Ottawa and Kitchener-Waterloo to adopt Toronto's unique streetcar gauge, Toronto's new LRT lines would offer a different gauge from its legacy streetcar lines.
Despite this, the contract for replacing Toronto's legacy streetcars promised to be a lucrative one, albeit a complex order. By 2008, the TTC were considering buying as many as 200 new streetcars, at upwards of $5 million a piece. The hefty price tag proved controversial, especially as the federal government hemmed and hawed about meeting its proposed third of the purchase price. Then, while this was going on, the search for tenders resulted in no winners in July 2008. The TTC's vetting process disqualified Britain's TRAM model as untested, and raised concerns over the ability of Bombardier's model to operate on Toronto's legacy tracks. The winner would have been Siemens, but the German manufacturer pulled out, citing an inability to meet the 25% Canadian content requirement. The TTC had no choice but to start the tendering process again.
Meanwhile, Bombardier embarked on a public campaign, unveiling a mock-up of one of their light rail vehicles (based on a model operating in Minneapolis, known as the Flexity Swift) at a number of locations around the city. Design work and negotiations continued, complicated by the decision of TTC Commissioners to turn away from the 70% low-floor design (which featured in a number of off-the-shelf models) in favour of a more complicated 100% low floor version. Bombardier got the edge on the competition, and soon a $1.22 billion contract for 204 vehicles based on a modified Flexity design was before city council ($6 million per vehicle, including inflation over the life of the contract, warranty and training). Siemens did bid, but their bid came in 50% over Bombardier's price.
While Toronto City Council and the province of Ontario had both committed to finding a third each of the contract, attempts to convince the federal government to kick in an equal amount fell through, and a special meeting of Toronto City Council had to be called days before the deadline to rearrange the city's capital budget so that Toronto could pick up the remaining third of the cost. So, by the end of July 2009, the City of Toronto and Bombardier had a contract to build the next generation of Toronto's streetcars.
LRV 4400 Mockup
Design work and test building began at Bombardier's plant in Thunder Bay. Bombardier and the TTC again unveiled Bombardier's Minneapolis Flexity mock-up -- this time at Yonge-Dundas Square -- and surveyed Torontonians about their desires for the new streetcar. The new vehicle, they determined, had to be 100% accessible. Wider doors and a proof-of-payment system allowing all-door operation would speed up loading, and space for more standees would help increase capacity and ease of movement. The vehicles were also to be longer, up to 30 metres, offering 70 seats and space enough for 181 standees at crush load (62 standees are anticipated for an average load). The initial order of 204 vehicles was designed to replace both the 196 CLRVs and 52 ALRVs, providing an additional 2,000 seats in rush hour, offering room for service expansion.
Despite the election of Toronto Mayor Rob Ford leading to speculation that the streetcar contract might be in jeopardy, Bombardier and the TTC were able to unveil a mock-up of the new Flexity LRV at Hillcrest in November 2011. Again, the public was invited to check out the model (with shuttle-buses connecting the site to St. Clair West and Bathurst stations) and offer their suggestions. The event was covered extensively by the local media, which spoke favourably of the new streetcar's sleek look, both inside and out, but wondered how the new fare collection (system-wide proof of purchase, with ticket vending machines available inside the streetcar) would work in practise.
Demonstrators Begin Operation
Bombardier took feedback from the mock-up and proceeded to work on the prototypes. Operating car 4400 arrived in Toronto on September 25, 2012, delivered by rail from the Thunder Bay plant to the Canadian Pacific's Lambton Yard near Keele and St. Clair. The car was then loaded onto a flatbed trailer and trucked to Hillcrest shops. The car was formally unveiled to the media on November 15, 2012. Nighttime demonstration runs began in March 2013, starting with one trip from Hillcrest down to Bathurst station and returning, with another going as far afield as Lakeshore Boulevard. On Tuesday, July 23, 2013, car 4401 made a daylight run with media on board from Hillcrest to Bathurst station and back.
The new Flexity models will also ship with a trolley pole and a pantograph, at least until the TTC rewires its overhead system to accept pantograph operation, ending over 130 years of its legacy poles. The conversion of the overhead wiring system was already underway by 2014. More vehicles were to arrive, with deliveries continuing to 2018. The TTC expected that, in 2014, the cars would be put to work route by route, rendering each one fully accessible in turn. The new cars would be launched on 510 SPADINA, followed by conversions of the 509 HARBOURFRONT and 511 BATHURST routes. 505 DUNDAS and 501 QUEEN would follow in 2015, 504 KING and 508 LAKE SHORE in 2016, 502 DOWNTOWNER, 503 KINGSTON ROAD and 512 ST. CLAIR in 2017, with the remaining routes seeing the last of the CLRVs and ALRVs in 2018.
This schedule was pushed back due to production delays, including a weeks-long strike by workers at Bombardier's Thunder Bay Plant. As a result, only two "production line" vehicles (4400 and 4403) were available to serve passengers during their public launch on the 510 SPADINA line on Sunday, August 31, 2014. However, passengers flocked to see and ride the new streetcars. The strike at Bombardier's Thunder Bay plant was resolved soon after, giving the TTC hope that more vehicles would be delivered by the end of 2014.
The Next Generation
In June 2013, TTC General Manager Andy Byford expressed a desire for the TTC to purchase an additional sixty Flexity LRVs. These are needed to provide service improvements that would otherwise be limited by the limited size of the fleet. It is also hoped that new streetcars would soon be operating on new routes extending out into the eastern Waterfront and the Port Lands. This depends on capital funding for construction that has not materialized.
However, this doesn't diminish from the importance the new LRVs represent. Forty years ago, the TTC made the landmark decision to abandon its streetcar abandonment policy, resulting in a search for a new generation of streetcars that gave us the CLRVs and the ALRVs. Now, forty years later, the next generation has been chosen that will keep the streetcar operating on Toronto's streets for decades to come.
Fleet Numbers: 4400-4603 (assuming all 204 are delivered and numbered sequentially)
Seating: 70; Service Load: 132; Crush Load: 251
Weight (empty): 48,200 kg
Dimensions: length 30.2m, width 2.54m, height 3.84m
Minimum horizontal curve radius: 10,973 mm (36’0”)
Minimum verticle curve radius - convex: 122 m
Minimum verticle curve radius - concave: 244 m
Top Speed: 70 km/h
LRV 4400 Mockup Image Archive
Toronto's Flexity LRVs Image Archive
- Wickson, Ted and Pat Scrimgeour, 'Toronto's new Spadina streetcar line' Rail and Transit, January 1995, p8-9, The Upper Canada Railway Society, Toronto (Ontario), 1995.
- Bombardier and Praha websites.