On Tuesday, January 19, 1988, the TTC's first Articulated Light Rail Vehicle–an ALRT or "bendy" streetcar– carried its first paying passengers along the 507 Long Branch route. That first ALRT in service, #4204, continued to serve Toronto commuters for more than 31 years--until yesterday, Monday, September 2, 2019.

The TTC retired #4204 and its companion, #4207, the last two survivors of a fleet of 52, after a day of free ceremonial rides along Queen Street between the Russell Carhouse (east of Greenwood Avenue) and Bathurst Street.

TTC ALRV #4204--the first and one of the last in service--at Dundas West Station in 2017, image, James Bow, Transit Toronto

In 1973, the Government of Ontario established the Ontario (later Urban) Transportation Development Corporation (UTDC), which began to examine technology and designs available for streetcars and other rail vehicles worldwide.

By 1979, UTDC had designed and produced new streetcars for Toronto, the Canadian Light Rail Vehicle (CLRVs) – now the iconic cars that most Torontonians have in mind when they think about streetcars. Those cars, in turn, helped replace another venerable and iconic Toronto streetcar, the Presidents' Conference Committee (or PCC) cars, then more than 30 years old.

At the same time as the UTDC was developing the CLRV streetcar, it was also designing a longer, articulated version of the vehicle. It manufactured a prototype, which it designated the ALRV in 1981. The prototype featured an advanced concept of the articulation section.

With this in mind, UTDC cut its original order for 200 CLRVs to 196, so that its manufacturer would have enough components to produce an ALRV prototype. It painted the prototype in a modified version of TTC colours (orange instead of red) and numbered it 4900. It tested the model in revenue service along the Queen route, starting on August 10, 1982.

TTC ALRV #4207—one of the last two cars—eastbound on Queen Street West at Spadina in 2016, image, James Bow, Transit Toronto

After six months of testing in 1982 and 1983, the TTC authorized its staff to buy 52 ALRVs the following year. The UTDC shipped its final vehicle to the TTC in 1989. The longer cars contained room for 50 percent more passengers than CLRVs, carrying 61 passengers in seats and a maximum of 155, including standees. (The CLRVs accommodate 46 seated riders and a total of 74.)

The ALRVs continued to successfully move passengers along Toronto streets, mostly along the 501 Queen and 511 Bathurst routes and, more recently, 504 King. But, as the CLRTs and ALRTs started reaching the end of their service lives, the TTC ordered new, low-floor, accessible cars from Bombardier. But, since Bombardier struggled to meet its commitment to supply 204 of its Flexity Freedom streetcars, in June 2015, the TTC launched a $24 million program to refurbish 30 ALRVs. It planned to overhaul these streetcars inside and out, repairing corrosion damage and repainting the exterior of the body, repairing interior sub-flooring and door step-wells, refurbishing pneumatic air systems, propulsion motors and braking systems, cleaning the electrical systems and replacing suspension components.

According to James Bow of Transit Toronto, "Unfortunately, in November 2018, the TTC reported that the program had not been successful in substantially increasing the lifespan of these vehicles. Their age, their dated technology and their extra moving parts compared the CLRV models made them too much of a challenge given the funds provided."

TTC ALRV #4203 crosses the Don River on Queen Street East, image, TTC

The TTC will maintain one of the two remaining ALRVs and it will assume a place in the transit agency's fleet of heritage vehicles, only to reappear on city streets on special occasions.

Meanwhile, Bombardier seems to have overcome its earlier problems in building and delivering Toronto's newest streetcars. In his August 2019 report to the Toronto Transit Commission, TTC chief executive officer Rick Leary explains, "The delivery of new Low Floor Light Rail Vehicles (LFLRV) continues to progress well. As of August 2, 2019, Bombardier has delivered and commissioned 165 LFLRVs. TTC staff remains optimistic that Bombardier will fulfill their order of 204 vehicles by the end of 2019.

"While 2019 delivery commitments are being met, Bombardier and the TTC also continue to address reliability concerns, while balancing service requirements. Of the 165 LFLRV commissioned, nine LFLRV have been returned to Bombardier for the Major Repair Program (MRP) and for flood-related damage."

TTC Bombardier Flexity car #4403 at Spadina Station on launch day, August 31, 2014, image, James Bow, Transit Toronto

The contract with Bombardier included options for as many as 100 more streetcars and the TTC says it needs at least 60 more to meet its future ridership growth projections. However, in September 12, 2017, staff issued a request for interest and invited major rail manufacturers to respond. That way, they could  assess the interest of the marketplace to design and supply more accessible low floor streetcars. The TTC received responses from ten different manufacturers in eight countries, including Bombardier.

The TTC has determined that the additional 60 streetcars will satisfy demand until about 2023. Beyond 2023, it says it will need even more cars and a facility to accommodate this growth and expansion of the streetcar network. Nevertheless, as yet, no government has funded these projects.

What do you think about the last of the ALRVs and the future of the Flexity cars? Add you thoughts to the form below or join the discussion in our dedicated Forum thread.

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