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Days are numbered for TTC's "Original Six" streetcars

Posted by Chris Bateman / February 24, 2014

toronto streetcar 4000When the first of the sleek new low floor, air-conditioned streetcars leave Spadina station this summer it will mark the beginning of the end for the 195 iconic red, white, and black streetcars currently circulating in Toronto. At nearly 40 years old, the CLRVs, as they are technically known, hark back to a time when the TTC seriously considered doing away with surface rail entirely.

The first six CLRVs - numbers 4000 through 4005 - are particularly special. Built in Switzerland, they still feature several interior design choices not found on other TTC streetcars. The very existence of the "original six," and the streetcars that followed, is the result of a well-timed and effective citizen-led protest.

toronto streetcar 4000The story starts in the early 1970s, when Toronto, like Montreal, Ottawa, Vancouver, and many other cities in North America, did not foresee a future for streetcars: Toronto's some 400 maroon and cream Presidents' Conference Committee vehicles were nearing retirement age and only a costly new fleet of streetcars could make future service viable, the TTC said.

By 1972 the official TTC plan was to gradually replace Toronto's streetcars with trolley buses - electric vehicles powered by overhead wires - or diesel vehicles, and it had already begun using the former on St. Clair east of Yonge in 1971. The rest of the line was due to be converted by the end of the year. The Dundas and College lines would be closed in 1975 and 1976; King and Queen cars would stop with the opening of the Queen Street subway line.

Enter Streetcars for Toronto, a citizens' committee organized to represent the users of surface rail. The group was founded by Andrew Riemiller, a University of Toronto psychology professor, with the intention of convincing the TTC that streetcars, popular with riders, made financial sense.

For a time, the province seriously considered replacing many of the old streetcar routes with a 56-mile monorail network. The magnetic levitation trains would have floated above a elevated concrete guideway, similar to parts of the Scarborough RT. Trouble was the West German Krauss-Maffei prototype displayed at the CNE in 1972 struggled to turn corners, which led the province to back away.

toronto streetcar 4000When it became clear the monorail idea was fundementally flawed, the province threw its weight behind a vehicle being developed by its own Urban Transportation Development Corporation, which would eventually become the ICTS Scarborough RT cars.

Meanwhile, a research paper by Streetcars for Toronto had successfully convinced the TTC that sticking with surface rail made financial sense. Since the Commission was 75 per cent funded by the province at the time, the vehicles it selected to replace the PCCs would also to be supplied by UTDC.

The design of the new streetcar was produced Swiss company SIG to the TTC's specifications. As part of the agreement with SIG, the first 10 vehicles would be built in Europe and shipped to Toronto where the design would be replicated by Kingston engineering firm Hawker Siddeley, the company that was also building Toronto's subway cars.

Of the initial 10 only six were completed - two were spliced together to make a prototype articulated model that would eventually lead to the ALRV streetcars that run on Queen. The rest were cancelled.

toronto streetcarThe six streetcars that made the Atlantic crossing were given the registration numbers 4000 though 4005 by the TTC and were different in several ways from many of the ones currently operating in Toronto.

Most noticeably, the front rows of seats were angled diagonally inward. The interior trim - ceiling air vents, seat backs, and panels that divided up the car - were accented bright red and the windows were sealed shut in anticipation of air conditioning. On the outside there were coupling devices that allowed the CLRVs to be joined together in a train.

The first of the $363,000 streetcars - about $2.1 million in today's money - were extensively thrashed during testing, leading to several derailments. One caught fire after a build up of snow caused an electrical short circuit.

According to Transit Toronto, a treasure trove of streetcar, bus, and subway information, the TTC ditched the angled seat arrangement shortly after the first six vehicles entered service on the now-defunct 507 Long Branch line, but the red interior trim remained. The subsequent 190 Canadian-built streetcars were given metal seats and a distinct 1970s wood-effect look.

toronto streetcar 4000What's most impressive about streetcars 4000-4005 (and really the rest of the fleet) is their longevity. All but one remains in service thanks to a team of mechanics at the TTC's Hillcrest facility - there's even an in-house blacksmith who forges metal parts.

The only streetcar to be destroyed, 4063, was gutted in anticipation of a refit program that was subsequently cancelled. The shell was sold for $4.32 in 2009.

When the first of the new low floor streetcars enters service on Spadina this summer the TTC will start the process of retiring the existing fleet, including the original six cars, on a "one-for-one" basis. The head of streetcar maintenance, Kevin Seto, says the ALRVs will be the first to go.

"CLRVs will be prioritized for retirement based on a number of different factors and just because these were the first vehicles built doesn't necessarily mean that they will be first to be retired," he says.

Finding one of the streetcars for an early farewell ride is tough: the TTC doesn't say where they are at any given time, though recently number 4000 has been on the 506 Carlton route between Main Street station and the High Park Loop.

Catch them while you can.

Chris Bateman is a staff writer at blogTO. Follow him on Twitter at @chrisbateman.

Images: Chris Bateman/blogTO, City of Toronto Archives



W. K. Lis / February 24, 2014 at 02:15 pm
How much would be the sticker price for a used streetcar?
Chester / February 24, 2014 at 02:28 pm
Instead of gutting them and selling them for scrap they should create a community orientated project for them. Convert them to small kitchens and have a food truck or stand up food lane. Put them in parks and covert them to play pens for the kids. As much as I hate those pieces of shit, they are an undeniable image of this city.
Elle Em / February 24, 2014 at 02:41 pm
Food truck vendors from the old streetcars would be AMAZING!
Freedom 55 / February 24, 2014 at 02:45 pm
We should be celebrating getting these p.o.s. off the road to make way for 21st century progression.

Not 1second should be spent lamenting these relics.
the lemur / February 24, 2014 at 03:05 pm
According to some of the drivers, cars 4000-4005 are better assembled and handle better than the later models.
Marc replying to a comment from Freedom 55 / February 24, 2014 at 03:11 pm
Mao, is that you?
Jacob replying to a comment from Freedom 55 / February 24, 2014 at 03:32 pm
Says a guy with "Freedom 55" as his name.
Brendan / February 24, 2014 at 03:53 pm
As I passenger I loved catching one of these - they run much smoother than the subsequent 190 delivered (better braking, no crazy vibrating air compressor). They also aren't rusting to pieces like the rest. Why take them out of service?
Shannon / February 24, 2014 at 03:57 pm
As someone who takes the streetcar 2 hours a day, I can't wait for the new cars! I have ridden on these CLRV and ALRV's for a very long time, I feel no love for them anymore. I think I may just start taking the subway and Spadina line, come August. That's until they put them along Queen West... Super excited for that!
Vinnie replying to a comment from Freedom 55 / February 24, 2014 at 04:00 pm
Rob Ford? Is that you?
Raymond Simmons / February 24, 2014 at 04:33 pm
There must be a good way to repurpose these great streetcars...
I like the idea of food truck conversion...
Maybe a private party can buy a few and turn them into "party cars" that lease the tracks for private parties throughout the city?
How about joint the craze of turning containers into homes and using these as mini abodes?
Ryan / February 24, 2014 at 04:47 pm
We'll always have that smell of pee.
NotThatDave / February 24, 2014 at 04:56 pm
I was on that streetcar just the other day. I thought the red stripes were new. I guess I was about 30 years late.
G / February 24, 2014 at 05:33 pm
Queen Street Subway > streetcars
BlogTO / February 24, 2014 at 05:51 pm
They should re-appropriate these into a food stall like the shipping containers at Bathurst and Dundas. Could be a cool way to keep them around a little longer...
Holy Thundering Jesus / February 24, 2014 at 06:34 pm
They should sell that TTC Streetcar Scent of pee and vomit, call it Eau De Rob Ford Toilette!
That's gold I tell ya! GOLD!
Old People Suck / February 24, 2014 at 06:36 pm
Freedom 55 sounds like one of those over entitled douchebags that figures just cause he's old he can say what he want and f*ck the rest of us. Speaking as an old person I love the streetcars but Freedom 55 probably never gets out of his SUV and is too much of a pussy to pass a streetcar... He should move to Elliot Lake.
thatlastcommentwashilarious / February 24, 2014 at 08:15 pm
I have no idea where elliot lake is, but that comment is fucking hilarious
john replying to a comment from Raymond Simmons / February 24, 2014 at 09:18 pm
There's one of the old pcc streetcars on highway 10 just north of Orangeville doing duty as a restaurant to this day... I always meant to stop, but never remember.

There used to be one stuck in the middle of a field somewhere along highway 6, but I haven't been that way in years, so couldn't tell you if it was still there
James Powell / February 24, 2014 at 09:22 pm
No. Freedom 55 should NOT move to Elliot Lake. Perhaps, he should move to Dunlop lake (near Elliot), then complain about the total lack of transport when they get done for DUI.

The CLRV's are getting long in the tooth. I'd like to see one of the SIG and one of the UTDC cars to Halton County Radial Museum. (I'd like to see a ALRV there too...and a 2nd CLRV as a source of parts).

Spike / February 24, 2014 at 09:26 pm
These cars should be sold to Cairo, or to Shaker Heights (which has our PCC cars running down its streets) or to San Francisco, which also has PCC's from Toronto running down the streets. A few could be kept as tourist cars by the TTC.
B. Ross Ashley / February 24, 2014 at 09:27 pm
Should sell at least one of them to San Francisco ... they maintain a rolling museum of streetcars, in addition to the cable-car fleet, one of my friends drives 'em. Streetcars from all over the world on the F Line.
Brent / February 24, 2014 at 09:39 pm
Darwin O'Connor's TransSee web site allows you to search for buses and streetcars by fleet number, so it is actually pretty easy to see where (and if) these are operating. Go to this link and scroll to the bottom:
C / February 24, 2014 at 10:05 pm
Cars 4000 to 4005 did not arrive with angled seats. In fact, the black and white photograph above of "car 4000" was not the production version of 4000. It was a mock-up that, at best, many people, slightly before my time, got to see at the CNE. None of these cars were ever intended simply as "disposable prototypes;" they were always intended to operate in the city.

Finally, streetcar service on Yonge Street, east of St. Clair, ended on July 24, 1976, not in 1972. http://transit.toronto.on.ca/streetcar/4114.shtml

Is it really that difficult for "writers" on BlogTO to fact check?
mike / February 24, 2014 at 10:16 pm
Rob ford should buy one and call it 'the gravy train'
Steven / February 24, 2014 at 10:44 pm
Nobody will be buying these cars unless they are masochistic enough to try to maintain computer systems from the 1970s.
MilaCam / February 24, 2014 at 10:47 pm
This is long overdue. The new LRTs will be much lighter allowing for quicker stops and starts. We desperately need this.
nfitz / February 24, 2014 at 11:21 pm
Brent above is correct. Easy to find out where 4000-4005 are at any point in time, when in service.

Here's a simpler link:


Right now, 4002 is an eastbound 504 near Yonge. The rest must be asleep for the night.
nfitz replying to a comment from nfitz / February 24, 2014 at 11:22 pm
Oops, extra semi-colon in link.

Try this:

nfitz replying to a comment from nfitz / February 24, 2014 at 11:22 pm
Okay, delete the semi-colon ... not sure why it's appearing.
Godfrey Mallion / February 25, 2014 at 05:46 am
The ALRV cars will be retired first, before the CLRV cars.
Moaz Ahmad / February 25, 2014 at 07:13 am
The funny thing is, for all the criticism of streetcars being '19th century technology' we still have streetcars because the 'modern 20th century' maglev trains didn't work properly. The 20th century Linear Induction Magnet system used on the Scarborough RT hasn't worked that well either and will be lucky to last 30 years.

Cheers, Moaz
stevemunrotoronto / February 25, 2014 at 07:36 am
Correction: The founding chair of Streetcars for Toronto was "Andrew Biemiller" (not "Riemiller").
Al / February 25, 2014 at 08:11 am
Fuck that Andrew Riemiller and the idiots who abandoned the queen st subway plans! Downtown traffic is a mess!
KG / February 25, 2014 at 09:16 am
At least one, and probably only one CLRV, #4000, had the angled seats in the front half of the car, and that was it. One PCC car also had the angled seats as a trial, but it was converted to the training car so that was the end of that. People preferred to sit in the normal forward-facing seats behind the back doors if they had a choice.

Avoided these cars as much as possible when new because the windows didn't open, and there was always a PCC behind where every seat had its own window you could open right up.

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