TTC launches brighter, more open subway cars

 

New Toronto Rocket trains unveiled at Downsview Station.Cars are open to one another with larger area for Handicapped passengers

October 14, 2010

Tess Kalinowski

The better way is about to get better yet, Mayor David Miller said at the Thursday launch of the TTC’s new Toronto Rocket subway trains on the platform of Downsview Station.

With open gangways that allow a full-length view of the six-car trains, enhanced security features and an open-floor design, the Rockets will carry up to 10 per cent more riders and offer greater mechanical reliability.

The cars included in the $710 million purchase, shared by all three levels of government, were made at Bombardier’s Thunder Bay plant.

Miller said he has no regrets about sole-sourcing the trains to Bombardier in 2006 as a way of keeping the company’s plant open in northern Ontario.

The 234 subway cars to be delivered over the next two years will begin running by early next year on the Yonge line.

The improvement “is about the continued revitalization of the lifeblood of this city,” said Miller, who was joined by Ontario Transportation Minister Kathleen Wynne and federal Minister of Labour Lisa Raitt.

The trains also represent an important investment in Canadian jobs, particularly during the recession, Miller said.

The cars feature an anti-microbial coating on stanchions to prevent the spread of germs; a more open design inside the doors to provide easier loading for crowds and people using wheelchairs or strollers; three flip-up seats inside the door for accessibility, and new emergency features that automatically train cameras on the area from which an alarm has been triggered.

The TTC is exercising its options to buy more trains as the capacity of the Yonge line is expanded with the installation of a computerized signaling system and as the Spadina extension is built, said TTC chair Adam Giambrone.

Once the new signaling system is installed, along with the new cars, the Yonge line will have 30 per cent more capacity.

With the signaling system, the Toronto Rockets can operate without a driver. But Giambrone said he doesn’t foresee a time when the TTC wouldn’t staff all trains with at least one person to assist passengers in an emergency.

The public will get a look at the Toronto Rockets sometime in the next couple of weeks, when the first train will be parked for viewing, probably at Sheppard Station, said TTC chief general manager Gary Webster.

Hume: New TTC subway cars are just the ticket

October 14, 2010

Christopher Hume

The romance hasn’t been easy, but when the object of desire finally appeared Thursday morning, it was love at first sight — all over again.

We refer, of course, to the city’s new subway cars, already better known as the “Toronto Rocket.” Designed and built by Bombardier, these are the vehicles we are counting on to carry us into our glorious civic future.

And if our mayoral candidates get their way — unlikely — we’d have more subway and many more of these subway cars.

For the most part, the new carriages do represent an improvement on the ones we’ve learned to dislike over the last three decades. Though no less utilitarian or idiot-proof than what we’re used to, there are major differences between the new trains and old.

From a rider’s point of view, the most obvious change is that the new rolling stock is so much more spacious than the current equipment. The fact the cars open to one another, instead of each one being self-contained as they are now, alters the experience significantly. Henceforth, you won’t enter a particular car; you’ll enter a train. The interior runs uninterrupted from one end to the other, which means you can see all the way from front to back.

This will lead to subtle shifts in usage; for example, passengers will no longer need to congregate at specific points of the train to be close to an exit. The train is fully accessible from within; passengers can wander the entire length of the train.

On the other hand, the seats haven’t changed; with a width of 42.5 centimeters (17 inches), they’re still a bit too small, especially now that so many of us are fat. The doors have also remained large — 153 centimeters (60 inches). However, designers did manage to introduce more standing room into the cars by narrowing the walls. This will be helpful during rush hours when the system is jammed to the rafters.

TTC officials claim the new vehicles can carry up to 10 percent more passengers, but most of them will be standing. Given this, it’s no surprise there are more stanchions and poles throughout the interior.

The illuminated route maps are a nice touch, as is the general cleanness of the lines and surfaces. And let’s not forget lighting, which has been vastly improved.

By contrast, the exteriors of the new carriages look strangely empty and unfinished. Unlike the old cars, which were made of corrugated steel, these are plain sheet metal. This may give the trains a certain minimalist appeal, but the surfaces are so stark, even the TTC logo seems somehow out of place.

What makes the new cars so interesting is that they were created at a time when the “passenger experience” has never been taken more seriously, but also when manufacturing costs have never been higher. These contradictory imperatives — comfort versus cost — exacerbate the sense these new vehicles aren’t quite complete, that something remains to be done.

Perhaps the biggest disappointment is the windows; in this design they are larger but there are fewer. That might have been a result of structural concerns, but even underground, glass provides an important visual and psychological connection with the world beyond.

Mostly, though, these subway cars could well set the stage for a more engaged ridership; the wide-open interior spaces might encourage feelings of commuter solidarity. Rather than being isolated in some crowded corner, metres from any way in or out, passengers will become part of something much larger and more meaningful — the city.

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