US Standard Light Rail Vehicle

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US Standard Light Rail Vehicle
San Francisco Boeing LRV at Duboce & Church, March 1980.jpg
A Boeing Vertol USSLRV in service for the San Francisco Municipal Railway in 1980, on the then-newly opened Muni Metro.
In service1976-1998 (MUNI) 1976-2007 (MBTA)
Entered service1976–1984
Number built275
Capacityseated 52 (MBTA, later reduced to 48 to provide room for wheelchairs) or 68 (Muni), with crush load of 275
Car length71 ft (21,640 mm)
Maximum speed50 mph with multiple units
Weight67,000 lb (30,390 kg)
Traction systemMonomotor, 210 hp (160 kW), 152 kV, 280 V DC, 600 A
Prime mover(s)2 Garrett 420 hp (310 kW)
Braking system(s)Air/Hydraulic NY Air Brake
Track gauge4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm)

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[edit]

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.[1] Muni initially ordered 80 cars and the MBTA ordered 150. Later, the orders were expanded to 100 and 175 respectively.[2] The first demonstrator model was produced in 1975 and was intended to be an early Muni car.[1] 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.[3]

The Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority tested MBTA car #3401 on former interurban lines in mid-1976, but ultimately declined to purchase the USLRV, instead buying custom LRVs of a different design from Breda.[4] SEPTA of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania was initially interested (especially because the LRV would be locally produced), but purchased custom LRVs from Kawasaki because the USLRV would not clear the City Hall loop.[4] The USLRV design also influenced the early design of the Canadian Light Rail Vehicle.[4]

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.[5]
  • 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.[citation needed]
  • Another major problem was the shorting of electrical systems and premature failures in the car's motors and propulsion systems. 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.[citation needed]
  • 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.[2]
  • 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 sea spray. 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.[citation needed]
  • The Boston cars' air-conditioning units were originally 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.[1] 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 the 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 the MBTA's 1897-vintage subway.
Boeing Vertol USSLRV #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.

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 a desperate 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.[citation needed] 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.[citation needed]

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.[1][2]

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, the MBTA rejected delivery of 40 cars remaining in its 175-car order.[1] The rejected MBTA units sat in storage at Boeing-Vertol's plant for a short time, until San Francisco's Muni purchased some cars at a steep discount. 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,[6] which were in stark contrast to the yellowish orange color on the original Muni cars.[7]

In 1983 the last LRVs at Boeing-Vertol's facility were delivered when the MBTA accepted nine remaining cars from the group MBTA had previously rejected. MBTA also took delivery of five cannibalized "shells" which had been delivered to MBTA in the 1970s, but subsequently returned to Boeing in 1979.

Replacements and retirement[edit]

Retired Muni Boeing Vertol USSLRV #1264 stored at the Duboce Yard in San Francisco in 2007. This car was scrapped in 2016.
Rerailer car #3417 on the MBTA Green Line "E" Branch in 2007.

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 together" damaged cars. 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.[citation needed]

By the late 1980s and early 1990s, with the LRVs still proving to be problematic, it had become clear to both cities that Boeing cars would not be part of the long-term future of either transit system. For this reason, between 1986 and 1988 MBTA took delivery of new Type 7 light rail cars built by well known train car manufacturer 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 aging 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 Kinki Sharyo Type 7 cars, Boston's 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.[citation needed]

San Francisco began retiring their Boeing 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.[2]

Boston also turned to Breda for a replacement for the Boeings. While both 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.[2] 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 total 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 3417
  • Track geometry car 3448
  • Maintenance of Way car 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.


A Boeing LRV stored at Derby Litchurch Lane Works, seen from a passing train
Interior of San Francisco Boeing LRV #1226 in Derby

In 2002, the city of Manchester in the United Kingdom was host to the British Commonwealth Games. Many of the venues used for the games were served by Metrolink, a regional light rail network which first opened in 1992. With capacity problems foreseen and thus requiring a short term solution, the Greater Manchester Passenger Transport Executive (GMPTE) approached Muni about the possibility of buying redundant Boeing LRVs for use on Metrolink. Two units were purchased for US$200–US$500[2] for initial evaluation and shipped to the UK. One unit was sent to the UK Railways Inspectorate in Derby to ensure the vehicle met UK road and rail safety standards, while the other was delivered directly to Metrolink's Queens Road Depot in Manchester[8] for conversion evaluation. Units 1214, 1219,[9] 1220, 1221, 1234,[10] 1249,[11] 1268, 1288, 1305, 1308, 1312 and 1327 were then stored in the US pending the sale.

Investigations concluded the trams were not in line with British safety standards, as although they were acceptable for use in the US, the cars were designed for collisions against similar-sized US cars, not against the larger trams used in the UK, such as Metrolink's existing fleet of T68s. Other problems found included the driver's seat being on the opposite side of the road (as the UK adopts right-hand-drive), and the need to remove facilities for on-board ticket sales (as Metrolink sells tickets from stops before boarding). Furthermore, British transport regulations dictated the separation of the driver from direct passenger contact for road safety reasons, which was not possible due to the driver's position next to the front door. Given this list of changes for such a short-term solution, even though practically free to purchase the Boeing LRVs, GMPTE declined to buy the remaining stored units and they have since been scrapped; however, due to the large number of railway preservation schemes in the country, 1326 may end up being preserved.[2]

Preserved cars[edit]

Car 1213 in operation at the Oregon Electric Railway Museum

Two of the Muni cars have been saved in museums, cars 1213 and 1258 at the Oregon Electric Railway Museum[2][12] and the Western Railway Museum,[13] respectively. Two others remained stored on Muni property for several years after retirement of the last cars from service, car 1320 at Geneva Division and car 1264 at the streetcar yard at Market and Duboce near the U.S. Mint[14] (but later also moved to Geneva).[15] These two cars remained stored until being scrapped in April 2016.[16]

The Seashore Trolley Museum had inquired about acquiring plug-door-equipped Boston LRV 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. 3444 was later scrapped in 2005 and Seashore instead acquired rehabilitated car 3424,[17] which was moved to the museum from MBTA's Riverside Yard on July 9, 2009. Seashore Trolley Museum is also considering acquiring unrehabbed car 3417, now a part of the MBTA work fleet, for the collection.[citation needed]

State of the Art Cars[edit]

SOAC 1&2 On Display at Seashore Trolley Museum, Kennebunk ME 2009

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.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e Sullivan, Kathleen (September 14, 1998). "Muni knew about trolley lemons in '70s: Test runs in Boston found major trouble in many systems". The San Francisco Examiner. p. A. Retrieved December 7, 2012.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h Lelchuk, Ilene (January 14, 2002). "Muni cars on a roll into city junkyard: Even preservationists reject the clunkers". San Francisco Chronicle. p. B-1. Retrieved December 7, 2012.
  3. ^ Perles, Anthony (1981). The People's Railway: The History of the Municipal Railway of San Francisco. Glendale, CA (US): Interurban Press. pp. 234, 245, 250. ISBN 0-916374-42-4.
  4. ^ a b c Chiasson, George (March–April 1982). "LRV's in Boston: The Road Back". Rollsign. Boston Street Railway Association. pp. 11–12.
  5. ^ Modern Tramway, April 1985, p. 140. Ian Allan Publishing.
  6. ^ Interior of a MBTA Boeing
  7. ^ Interior of an original Muni Boeing
  8. ^ Muni Boeing Car 1326 at Manchester Metrolink
  9. ^ Muni Boeing Car 1219
  10. ^ Muni Boeing Car 1234
  11. ^ Muni Boeing Car 1249
  12. ^ Muni Boeing car 1213 at the Oregon Electric Railway Museum
  13. ^ Muni Boeing car 1258 at Western Railway Museum
  14. ^ Photo of Muni Boeing car 1264 stored at Duboce Yard in 2007
  15. ^ Both Boeings in Geneva yard, in 2015.
  16. ^ Rodriguez, Joe Fitzgerald (March 31, 2016). "Last of Muni's 1980's-era clunker trains will be scrapped". The San Francisco Examiner. Retrieved 2016-08-01.
  17. ^ "Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority 3424". Seashore Trolley Museum. Retrieved 2017-05-04.

External links[edit]