A Boeing Vertol USSLRV in service for the San Francisco Municipal Railway in 1980, on the then-newly opened Muni Metro.
By Steve Morgan, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=22970745
US Standard Light Rail Vehicle
The US Standard Light Rail Vehicle was a light rail vehicle (LRV) built by Boeing Vertol in the 1970s. The Urban Mass Transportation Administration (UMTA) of the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) promoted it as a standardized vehicle for U.S. cities. Part of a series of defense conversion projects in the waning days of the Vietnam War, the LRV was seen as both a replacement for older PCC streetcars in many cities and as a catalyst for new cities to construct light rail systems. The USSLRV was marketed as and is popularly known as the Boeing LRV (not to be confused with their prior lunar roving vehicles for NASA) and is usually referred to as such.
Origin and production
The original concept of the LRV came to fruition in the late 1960s as the limited number of cities with PCCs in North America were looking for modern replacements for their aging rolling stock. When Muni in San Francisco, California and the MBTA in Boston, Massachusetts were looking at building new vehicles or import existing European vehicles, UMTA created a committee (the BSF Committee) to design a standardized light rail car. At the same time, a flood of defense conversion projects came to fruition as the result of government encouragement to help keep defense suppliers busy as the Vietnam War was coming to an end. UMTA, under President Nixon's "Buy America" program, would not fund any transit vehicles which were not produced in the United States, nor approved by the Administration.
By 1973, UMTA awarded Boeing-Vertol of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania the contract to produce the LRV at a cost of approximately $300,000 per car. Muni initially ordered 80 cars and the MBTA ordered 150. Later, the orders were expanded to 100 and 175 respectively. The first demonstrator model was produced in 1975 and was intended to be an early Muni car. The LRVs entered revenue service on December 30, 1976, on the MBTA's Green Line "D" Branch. In San Francisco, the first two LRVs were delivered in October 1977 and production deliveries started in December 1978. The first regular runs on the Muni system came on April 23, 1979, on a temporary shuttle service, with more extensive use beginning with the opening of the Muni Metro in February 1980.
The LRV was also nearly purchased by the RTA in Cleveland, Ohio. The RTA was given a demonstrator LRV car which was tested for use on their former interurban lines for a brief period during 1976, but ultimately declined to purchase the rail cars and later purchased LRVs of a different design from Breda (who, ironically, later built cars that replaced the Boeings in both Boston and San Francisco). The Cleveland demonstrator subsequently became MBTA car 3401, but was withdrawn shortly after entering service due to damage to its articulation joint and scrapped. Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania had also considered the car for its streetcar lines, but was unable to secure funding at the time and later purchased cars of their own design from Kawasaki.
The car body shells and truck frames were built by Tokyu Car Corporation and the motors provided by Garrett, with assembly at the Boeing plant in Ridley Park, Pennsylvania. After production was ended by Boeing, Tokyu Car Corporation as body builders of the original production run, used the LRV design to build LRV cars for Buffalo Metro Rail.
While Boston and San Francisco bought their cars at the same time and they appear identical externally, the cars have differences:
Doors: The doors themselves, at first, were essentially the same. However, Muni's cars had moveable steps, which could be lowered for street-level boarding or raised for boarding from high-level platforms, such as those in the subway. The Boston cars did not have this feature and so must be boarded from street-level. These doors proved troublesome and the MBTA eventually replaced them with bi-folding doors, further distinguishing them from Muni's.
Appliances: The MBTA's LRVs were fitted with air-conditioning units for Boston's humid climate. Muni's cars featured more specialized equipment for subway operations, such as cab signaling, but due to San Francisco's relatively cooler climate, they provided forced-air ventilation instead of air conditioning. The air conditioning units that the Boston cars were delivered with had problems such as sucking up dust and other debris from the subway tunnels and were later replaced with roof-mounted Sutrak air conditioners in the late-1980s to mid-1990s.
Interior styling: The "Boston" cars featured wood grain interior parts at the operator's cab and articulation section, while Muni cars had a yellowish-orange color interior. However, a few of Muni's cars actually had the same wood grain interior as Boston's because those cars were originally built for Boston, who rejected and returned them to Boeing. Muni then bought these cars, had their air-conditioners removed and fitted them with all the features exclusive to its fleet. The wood grain in these cars is thus the only feature that distinguishes these cars from those originally made for Muni.
The San Francisco cars originally had cushioned seats, but they were replaced with hard plastic seats in 1985, because of vandalism.
Capacity: San Francisco's cars seated 68, while the Boston cars seated 52 until the MBTA later had four seats removed to better accommodate wheelchairs.
From their earliest days of service, the LRVs proved to be a major financial and mechanical nightmare. Their most frequent problems include but are not limited to:
Derailments on tight curves, which would seriously damage the car's articulation section, itself problematic as Boeing designed its own articulated section so as to avoid obtaining a license from overseas builders such as Duewag.
The shorting of electrical systems and premature failures in the car's motors and propulsion systems was also a big problem. Boeing used an advanced chopper control system for the cars as insisted by the federal government. While such systems have been implemented successfully in many subway, light rail and trolley bus systems, the systems installed in Boeing's cars were found to be overly-complicated for the transit systems' use.
The LRVs came equipped with overly complex "plug doors," which were originally intended for the high-platform operation in the Muni Metro subway. These doors would frequently short circuit and caused a significant nuisance for the MBTA. The transit agency later attempted to correct the issues with the plug doors by adding a wider rubber strip and eliminating the recycling circuit, but the issue was not fully resolved until the mid-1990s, when MBTA retrofitted all Boeings with much more reliable bi-fold doors.
The corrosion of car shells was another major issue. As both Boston and San Francisco are port cities, the cars were particularly susceptible to damage from airborne elements. Some cars barely saw a decade of service before being withdrawn due to corroded bodies, as their bodies were shipped from Japan as deck cargo and spent a further amount of time sitting outside the Boeing plant before being assembled and delivered.
The Boston cars' air-conditioning units originally were mounted under the car, and constantly sucked in dirt and debris from under the car. The MBTA later modified 76 LRVs with roof-mounted air-conditioning units to address this.
One of the largest issues was simply that the Boeing LRV was a "compromise" car. Both Boston and San Francisco had very different needs for the LRV: Boston needing a more traditional streetcar, while San Francisco needed a more specialized car for its Muni Metro subway. The San Francisco cars needed stairways for ground-level boarding on the surface parts of their trips, but their stairways needed to convert for high-platform operation in the Muni Metro subway. This became a passenger flow problem since Muni could only use the two center doors on the LRVs in the subway, as the front end of the car curved away from the platforms too much to allow passengers to safely board or alight the cars. The narrow front end was required by Boston so that the LRV could navigate the tight curves in MBTA's 1897-vintage subway.
In Boston, the LRV situation was becoming a major political and public relations nightmare and led to the LRV fleet availability typically being less than 50% of the total number of cars on the property for the first few years of service. The MBTA was still accepting new cars from Boeing-Vertol, but the cars were falling out of service faster than the MBTA's maintenance staff could repair them. Additionally, the MBTA could not acquire replacement parts fast enough to repair the disabled LRVs. In an effort to keep as many LRVs operating as possible, MBTA maintenance crews began cannibalizing some of the disabled cars for replacement parts. To help prevent the riding public from seeing the sheer number of brand-new, but heavily cannibalized LRVs, several of the cars were hidden around the system where the public was not likely to find them. A major newspaper story emerged when a reporter and a photographer managed to get into a section of the Green Line's subway which was not in use at the time and found it was full of cannibalized cars which had been abandoned in the tunnel. The MBTA had been towing the cars into the subway during the middle of the night when the subway was closed to the public. The story and photographs brought the problems with the LRV into the public eye for the first time. After the story broke, out-of-service LRVs began to appear in several storage yards which were easily viewed by the public, though this may have simply been due to the ever-increasing number of disabled cars.
The MBTA instituted a PCC rebuilding program to augment the LRV fleet and maintain Green Line service. In San Francisco, the problems with the LRVs led to the Muni Metro not reaching its full potential until 1982.
In 1979, the MBTA was able to make up for some of its financial losses by successfully suing Boeing-Vetrol for financial damages, in addition to the cost of repairs and modifications to several cars and the ability to reject the delivery of the last 40 cars of their 175-car order. The rejected MBTA units sat in storage at Boeing-Vertol's plant for a short time, until Muni decided to purchase some of them. The first of the "Boston" cars which Muni purchased was to replace one of their LRVs which had been damaged in a mishap and was deemed beyond economic repair. After the successful conversion of that first car, Muni ordered an additional 30 LRVs from the rejected Boston units to further bolster their fleet. The "Boston" cars in San Francisco were modified to meet the needs of the Muni Metro, but were easily distinguished by the wood grain interior parts at the operator's cab and articulation section, which were in stark contrast to the yellowish orange color on the original Muni cars.
In 1983, the last of the LRVs at Boeing-Vertol's facility were finally delivered, when the MBTA took delivery of the remaining nine cars of the group which they had previously rejected. They also took delivery of five cannibalized "shells" of cars which were delivered to the MBTA earlier in the 1970s and subsequently returned to Boeing in 1979.
Replacements and retirement
The problems of the LRV led their purchasers quickly looking for replacements and supplements to their fleet. After the MBTA terminated their contract with Boeing-Vertol, they were free to make their own modifications to the cars. Several systems were upgraded or improved. Slowly but surely, cannibalized cars were brought into the MBTA shops to be prepped for service.
The MBTA also started "splicing" damaged cars together. Cars 3454 and 3478 had been involved in a high-speed, rear-end collision. The two ends of the cars that made contact were severely damaged. The MBTA's maintenance crews brought the two cars into the shops, and later car 3478 (consisting of 3478A and 3454B) returned to active duty. Car 3454 (consisting of the damaged 3454A and 3478B) was pushed out into the dead storage yard for future disposition. The experience gained in this type of repair laid the ground for several other such cars being returned to revenue service. Eventually, the MBTA's maintenance staff got the active fleet to around 114 cars in the early 1980s.
By the late 1980s and early 1990s, it had become clear that the Boeing cars were no longer part of the long-term future of either transit system, as they were still proving to be problematic. For this reason, between 1986 and 1988, the MBTA took delivery of new Type 7 light rail cars built by Kinki Sharyo of Japan. These cars have proved to be far more reliable and quickly assumed most of the base service on the Green Line. With the Type 7's, the MBTA was finally able to retire most of its PCC cars, which had to remain in service much longer than originally planned due to the unreliability of the Boeings.
In order to make room for the new cars, the MBTA instituted its first LRV scrapping program beginning in 1987. By the end of 1988, nineteen cars had been removed from the property, most of which had been in dead storage since the late 1970s and the remainder were victims of major collisions or derailment damage.
San Francisco began retiring their LRVs in 1995 after the first of their replacements (the LRV2) arrived from Italian manufacturer Breda Costruzioni Ferroviarie. The newer Breda cars are more like what Muni wanted for its Muni Metro back in the early 1970s, before the design of the Boeing LRV.
Boston also turned to Breda for a replacement for the Boeings. While both the Boeings and Type 7 cars have wide door openings and reserved wheelchair spaces that make them compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, Boston's proposed Type 8 car would have a portion of its floor lower to the ground, allowing wheelchair persons to board without the need for a lift or mini-high platform. To help maintain Green Line service until the Type 8s were expected to be in service and to replace Type 7s destroyed in accidents, the MBTA took delivery of an additional 20 Type 7s from Kinki Sharyo in 1997. Additionally, the MBTA contracted with Amerail (formerly Morrison Knudsen) of Hornell, NY to completely rehabilitate 55 LRVs for extended service. The LRV rehab was intended to add an additional three to five years of service to the cars, and to eliminate the trouble plagued plug doors once and for all by installing traditional folding doors.
At the end of 2001, Muni retired the last of their Boeing LRVs after the LRV2s had proven their reliability on the Muni Metro system. The MBTA was originally expected to have retired their LRVs around the same time. However, the new Type 8s had been prone to derailing and other technical defects, which had significantly delayed their entry into service, with the MBTA nearly suspending the contract. These issues were finally resolved in 2006, allowing production and delivery of the Type 8 cars to resume. By early 2007, a sufficient number Type 8 cars had entered service to allow the retirement of the remaining Boeings. The final revenue service run of the MBTA Boeing cars was made on March 16, 2007, on the Riverside Line by cars 3485 and 3499. By late 2007, all Type 8s had been assembled and delivered for service.
The MBTA still owns 3 decommissioned LRV work cars:
Rerailer car No. 3417
Track geometry car No. 3448
Maintenance of Way car No. 3453
Boeing LRVs 3468, 3480, 3485, 3499, 3514 and 3520 were sold to the US Government in Pueblo, Colorado, for testing with real-life scenarios.
2000s plan for use in UK
In 2002 the city of Manchester, UK was host to the British Commonwealth games. Manchester has its own LRT system named Metrolink. As many of the athletic stadiums were on the route of the LRT capacity problems were foreseen and a short term solution was required. Manchester Metrolink approached Muni about the possibility of buying redundant Boeing LRVs for use on Metrolink. Two units were purchased for US$200–US$500 for initial evaluation and shipped to the UK. One unit was sent to the UK Railways Inspectorate in Derby, to ensure the LRV met UK road and rail safety standards and another to Metrolink in Manchester for conversion evaluation. Units 1214, 1219, 1220, 1221, 1234, 1249, 1268, 1288, 1305, 1308, 1312 and 1327 were then stored pending the sale.
Investigations concluded the trams were not in line with UK safety standards (in fact they would suffer more damage than a UK car in the event of accident) due to their height and width. Additionally other problems were found including the drivers seat being on the opposite side of the road (UK roads drive from the left), Conversion to remove ticket sales (Tickets are sold from the stops before boarding). LRT system requirements dictate the separation of the driver from direct passenger contact for road safety reasons. As the driver was next to the door (in order to receive fares), this wasn't possible. Given this list of changes for such a short-term solution, even though practically free to purchase the Boeing LRVs, Metrolink declined to buy the remaining stored units and they have since been scrapped.
Today, car No. 1326 has since been scrapped and car No. 1226 is still stored at Derby. The Muni trams would have fit well in Manchester as their color scheme and Muni logo were almost exact matches of the old Greater Manchester Transport color schemes (Orange and White exterior and Wooden finish interior). Due to the large number of railway preservation schemes in the U.K., 1326 may end up being preserved.
Two of the Muni cars have been saved in museums, cars No. 1213 and No. 1258 at the Oregon Electric Railway Museum and the Western Railway Museum, respectively. Two others remained stored on Muni property for several years after retirement of the last cars from service, car No. 1320 at Geneva Division and car No. 1264 at the streetcar yard at Market and Duboce near the U.S. Mint (but later also moved to Geneva). These two cars remained stored until being scrapped in April 2016.
The Seashore Trolley Museum had inquired about acquiring plug-door-equipped Boston LRV No. 3444 for their collection, but did not take in the car because the car was not in operating condition and Seashore wanted an operating example. 3444 was missing several essential components, including one of the trucks and was heavily rusted. No. 3444 was later scrapped in 2005 and Seashore instead acquired rehabilitated car No. 3424, which was moved to the museum from MBTA's Riverside Yard on July 9, 2009. Seashore Trolley Museum is also considering acquiring non-rehabbed car No. 3417, now a part of the MBTA work fleet, for the collection.
State of the Art Cars
There was also a similar program for rapid transit called "State of the Art Cars" (SOAC). SOAC was also funded by UMTA and managed by Boeing Vertol. The SOAC cars were built by St. Louis Car Company and made demonstration runs in several cities, including New York, Boston, Chicago, Cleveland and Philadelphia. The Seashore Trolley Museum acquired the cars when the test program ended and they are now on display on the museum grounds.
US Standard Light Rail Vehicle Overview
Entered service: 1976–1984
Number built: 275
Capacity seated: 52 (MBTA, later reduced to 48 to provide room for wheelchairs) or 68 (Muni), with crush load of 275
Car length: 71 ft (21,640 mm)
Maximum speed: 50 mph with multiple units
Weight 67,000 lb (30,390 kg)
Traction system: Monomotor, 210 hp (160 kW), 152 kV, 280 V DC, 600 A
Prime movers: 2 Garrett 420 hp (310 kW)
Braking systems: Air/Hydraulic NY Air Brake
Track gauge: 4 ft 8 1⁄2 in (1,435 mm)
Boeing Vertol USSLRV No. 3523 in service for the MBTA on the Green Line "C" Branch, bound for Cleveland Circle, in 2005. This view shows the roof-mounted air-conditioning units and bi-fold doors added by MBTA in place of the original equipment. MBTA's last Boeing cars were retired in March 2007.
By Adam E. Moreira - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2453024
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