It is found in experiments carried out in Tokamak Chauffage Alfvén Brésilien (TCABR) that two regimes of runaway discharges (RADs) with very different characteristics are possible. The RAD-I regime, which is similar to that observed in other tokamaks, can be obtained by a gradual transfer from a normal resistive to a RAD by decreasing the plasma density. This regime can be well understood using the Dreicer theory of runaway generation. The total toroidal current contains a substantial resistive component and the discharge retains some features of standard tokamak discharges. The second runaway regime, RAD-II, was recently discovered in the TCABR tokamak (Galvão R.M.O. et al 2001 Plasma Phys. Control. Fusion 43 1181). The RAD-II regime starts just from the beginning of the discharge, provided that certain initial conditions are fulfilled and, in this case, the runaway tail carries almost the full toroidal current. The background plasma is cold and detached from the limiter due to the recombination process. The primary Dreicer process is suppressed in the RAD-II and the secondary avalanche process dominates, even at the start-up phase, in the generation of the toroidal current. It is possible to trigger a transition from the RAD-I to the RAD-II regime using plasma cooling by gas puffing. The experimental results are shown to be in reasonable agreement with theoretical predictions based on the runaway avalanche process.