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The US Standard Light Rail Vehicle was an attempt at a standardized light rail vehicle promoted by the United States Urban Mass Transit Administration (UMTA) and built by Boeing Vertol in the 1970s. 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 NASAmarker) and is usually referred to as such.


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 the San Francisco Municipal Railway (Muni) in San Franciscomarker, Californiamarker, and the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) in Bostonmarker, Massachusettsmarker, were looking at building new vehicles or import existing European vehicles, the Urban Mass Transportation Administration (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 conflict in Vietnam 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 Philadelphiamarker, PAmarker 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; the first regular runs on the Muni system came in 1979 in the months leading to the opening of the Muni Metro. The LRV was also nearly purchased by Southeast Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) in Philadelphia and Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority (GCRTA) in Clevelandmarker, Ohiomarker, however those companies later struck down their deals and went their own ways.


From their earliest days of service, the LRV was prone to numerous problems including, but not limited to; derailments on tight curves, which would seriously damage the car's articulation section, the shorting of electrical systems, premature failures in the car's motors and propulsion system, and the LRV's overly complex "plug doors" failing to operate properly. These problems caused the cars to have a very low mean time between failures. In Boston, this led to the LRV fleet availability typically being less than 50% of the total number of cars on the property for the first several years of service. 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 Boston, the LRV situation was becoming a major political and public relations nightmare. 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 chock-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.

In 1979, the MBTA successfully sued Boeing-Vertol for financial damages, 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 yellow-ish 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.

Other problems with the LRV's arose because the car 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 their 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 in San Francisco. 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 their 1897-vintage subway.

Similarly, Muni's need for the high-platform operation in the Muni Metro subway required the design of the trouble-prone "plug-type" doors. Unfortunately for the MBTA, they had to deal with these difficult to maintain doors until the 1990s when all passenger cars were retrofitted with more reliable bi-fold doors.

Replacements and retirement

Interior of San Francisco Boeing LRV #1226 in Derby, England.
The problems of the LRV led their purchasers quickly looking for replacements and supplements to their fleet. After the MBTA sued 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 being 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 which 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.

The MBTA also modified 76 LRVs with roof-mounted air conditioning units. The original units supplied by Boeing-Vertol were mounted under the car, and continually sucked in dirt and debris from under the car. The MBTA also simplified the plug doors by adding a wider rubber strip, and eliminating the recycling circuit from the doors.

It was clear that the LRV was no longer a part of the MBTA's long-term future. By the mid-1980s, the MBTA had contracted with Kinki Sharyo of Japan for their new Type 7 car. When the first Type 7s entered service in 1986, after successful testing, burn-in, and operator training, the new cars quickly assumed most of the base service on the Green Line.

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. The newer Breda cars were more like what Muni wanted for their Muni Metro back in the early 1970s, before the design of the Boeing LRV.

Boston also turned to Breda for their new Type 8, low-floor car. The Type 8 was supposed to make the Green Line compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. To help maintain Green Line service until the Type 8s were expected to be in service and to replace Type 7s damaged in accidents, the MBTA took delivery of an additional 20 Type 7s from Kinki Sharyo in 1997. Additionally, the MBTA contracted with Amerail 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 eliminate the trouble plagued plug doors once and for all by installing traditional folding doors.

Unfortunately, the new Type 8s have been experiencing LRV-type problems, especially derailments. All of the Type 8s were originally supposed to be in service by the end of 2001, but as of 2007, the fleet is only now nearing its final deliveries.

At the end of 2001, Muni retired the last of their 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, but the Type 8 problems have added additional years to the fleet.

The MBTA's last revenue run of LRVs was made on March 16, 2007 on the Riverside Line by cars 3485 and 3499. The MBTA continues to operate three LRV work cars:

  • Rerailer car 3417
  • Track geometry car 3448
  • Maintenance of Way car 3453

LRV 3468 will be kept as a parts car, to be cannibalized for parts to maintain the LRV work car fleet.

Two of the Muni cars have been saved in museums, one at the Oregon Electric Railway Museummarker and the other at the Western Railway Museummarker, while two are stored in different conditions, one at the railway yard at Market and Duboce near the U.S. Mint, and one at Geneva Division. The Seashore Trolley Museummarker had inquired about acquiring plug-door-equipped LRV 3444 for their collection, but has since not taken the car because the car was missing several essential components, including one of the trucks. 3444 was not in operating condition and Seashore wanted an operating example, as well as the car rusting heavily, 3444 was later scrapped. Seashore acquired rehabbed car 3424, which left the MBTA's Riverside Yard on July 9, 2009 and arrived safely at STM that same day. Seashore Trolley Museum is considering acquiring unrehabbed car 3417, now a part of the work fleet for the collection.

In 2002 the city of Manchestermarker, 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 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 LRV was not selected. The remaining units in storage in San Francisco are now scrapped.

It was however noted that their ability to manage sharp curves and fast acceleration on high hills would have been valuable in the city centre of Manchester.

Today these cars 1226 and 1326 remain intact at Derby and Manchester. The Muni trams would have fitted well in Manchester as their colour scheme and Muni logo were almost exact matches of the old Greater Manchester Transport colour schemes (Orange and White exterior, and Wooden finish interior). Due to the large number of railway and road transport schemes in the area, the Muni trams in Manchester may end in preservation.

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 Yorkmarker, Bostonmarker, Chicagomarker, and Philadelphiamarker. The Seashore Trolley Museummarker acquired the cars when the test program ended.

See also


  1. Muni knew about trolley lemons / Test runs in Boston found major trouble in many systems
  2. Muni cars on a roll into city junkyard / Even preservationists reject the clunkers
  3. Interior of a MBTA Boeing
  4. Interior of an original Muni Boeing
  5. MBTA Boeing Car 3468
  6. Muni Boeing Car 1213 at Antique Powerland
  7. Muni Boeing Car 1258 at Western Railway Museum
  8. Muni Boeing Car 1264 parked at Duboce Yard
  9. Muni Boeing Car 1320's location
  10. Muni Boeing Car 1326 at Manchester Metrolink
  11. Muni Boeing Car 1219
  12. Muni Boeing Car 1234
  13. Muni Boeing Car 1249

External links

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