The Last Word on Perimeter Seating [I hope]

July’s TTC meeting brought us much political theatre that I will cover in other posts, but it also brought what should be the last discussion on the interior layout of our new subway cars.  I am sure most readers are tired of this, but some issues and comments are worth mention.

My own deputation on this issue is posted elsewhere on this site.

Acting CGM Gary Webster opened the discussion about new car design.  He felt that management had not yet done as good a job as they might of presenting the issues of management responsibility and the TTC safety plan.  He said that he was not asking for a decision at the meeting (July 19), but this is not borne out by the actual recommendations in his report:

  1. Adopt a seating configuration in the new subway train specification that reduces passenger security risk to a level as low as reasonably achievable considering effectiveness, feasibility and cost; and
  2. Produce a mock-up of this configuration and conduct a public education campaign to inform the public on the reason for this configuration.

This is a rather odd recommendation considering that there was already a mock-up train making the rounds of the system for comment , but it contained conventional subway-car seating.  The recommendation is rather vague and does not spell out in any way which configuration would be used or how the design parameters would be achieved.

ACAT (The Advisory Committee on Accessible Transportation) asked that a final decision on the design be left to a future meeting.  ACAT members had viewed the mock-up only the week before, but had not yet had a meeting to discuss their position.

ACAT had written to the Commission on May 29 with concerns that their position on the subway car design were misrepresented to the Commission by staff.  Specifically, the designs shown to ACAT were not the designs shown to the Commission even though ACAT approval of them was implied.

The minutes of the ACAT’s Design Review Subcommittee on April 18 show clearly that Project Manager Chris Heald was still advocating metal perimeter seating even after the Commission had rejected these plans.  I hope that after a second rejection, he has learned his lesson.

Mr. Heald spoke about FTA (Federal Transportation Administration, USA) guidelines.  In previous meetings, the term “standards” had been used, but this has softened to reflect the fact that the FTA document on the subject speaks of “design considerations” only.  Moreover, it concentrates much more on blastworthiness and the use of components that will not disintegrate into shrapnel.  Heald also mentioned that blast containment may be counterproductive if the force is concentrated inside the passenger compartment.  The jury is still out on this matter.

In keeping with ACAT’s request, the current proposal eliminates centre stanchions and retains the T1-style seat covers.  Vertical handholds will run upward from seat frames as they do now on the T1 cars.  Heald neglected to mention that ACAT has not endorsed perimeter seating.

Copies of various documents including the FTA design paper and a brochure on the new Montreal car seating layout had been provided to TTC members by the public, including me, in advance of the meeting.

Chair Howard Moscoe asked how the proposed design addressed concerns of modularity and blastworthiness.  Apparently this is still to come in detailed design.  Chris Heald advanced the paricularly tortured argument that although a train with a continuous compartment does not have blast panels to contain an explosion, the absence of end car windows would eliminate a source of shrapnel.  He was silent on the many other windows found on subway trains.

Commissioner Bill Saundercook asked what was driving the changes in design.  Heald replied that the FTA sets the USA standard while in Europe a separate set of standards exists.  Past events on railways lead to guidelines that eventually become new standards.  In Asia, there are few local standards, but systems such as Hong Kong use the British standards.  In the private sector there are no standards, although Bombardier has a working group.

Gary Webster hopes to bring a report on this matter to the September Commission meeting.

Commissioner Joe Mihevc cited Chapter 7 of the FTA document dealing with vehicle design.  It is silent on perimeter seating as a technique to achieve the design goals.

Chris Heald noted that Metro North (London, UK) has just ordered new commuter rail cars with forward facing seats, but these look like subway cars to me, not commuter rail.  They have underseat open space just like the T1 cars.  So much for the claim that the Mother England only uses perimeter seating.

One of my regular contributors, Matt, left this note recently:

If the seating issue ever pops up again, you could point out the new seating design for London’s Metropolitan line:

I see both transverse seats and huge spaces under the seats — and are those luggage racks above?!  All this in a city that, because of the IRA, has been acutely aware of terrorism risks for longer than any other.

Mihevc pointed out that the FTA is concerned with visibility into and out of a vehicle rather than with seating, and asked if the science of perimeter seating is in its infancy.  Heald replied that on buses, the greater acceleration rate makes forward facing seats preferred over bench seats, but on LRT he is not an expert.  One wonders if he has ever been on a Toronto streetcar and noted that all of the seats (except a few in the “solarium” at the back) face forward.Mihevc observed that at St. Clair West Station, where he regularly boards trains that have come out of the pocket track as scheduled short-turns, the first seats to be taken when passengers board the empty train are those facing forward.  Also, for groups of riders, the T1 arrangement provides a better social circle for conversation.He noted that Chicago, like Montreal, tested customer attitudes and went with transverse seating, and the TTC needs to focus on marketing itself as a safe system, not just on one aspect of car design.

Chair Moscoe moved (this is a paraphrase) that although the Commission endorses the System Safety Plan, the TTC needs to respect the comfort of its customers, and they have previously said that the T1 layout is preferred. 

  • All cars should be fully accessible and, as per ACAT’s wishes, have no centre poles. 
  • The Commission reaffirms that the new seating design be similar to that of the T1 cars.
  • Staff be directed to incorporate all possible safety features consistent with the System Safety Plan within these parameters.

Chair Moscoe advised that New York City is about to have the same debate about seating layout, and he expects that they will come to the same result.

He went on to say that about 30,000 parcels are left on transit vehicles every year.  We need to be able to see them, but more importantly we really need to know what to do with them.  A recent threat at Sherbourne Station closed the subway for 90 minutes while the TTC awaited the arrival of the police bomb squad.  Should we stop a train every time someone finds a knapsack?  We must strike a balance between what is prudent and what the public wants in car design.

Commissioner Saundercook attempted a motion of deferral, but this was defeated.  He joked that of the 30,000 parcels, three or four belong to his daughter, and hoped that perimeter seating would reduce the number of lost articles.

For my part, I hope that this puts the issue to rest.  There are far more important concerns about the transit system, its attractiveness to riders and its security from many types of threats.  We should not have to waste hours debating seating layout, an issue on which the Commission and the public (in previous surveys for the T1 design) have spoken clearly.

If any TTC management feels that their professional duties under the System Safety Plan or any other standard are incompatible with producing subway cars with transverse seating, then they should have the courage to resign and seek work in an environment more to their taste.

2 thoughts on “The Last Word on Perimeter Seating [I hope]

  1. Why is this debate still going on?  I am waiting for the RT study and the bike rack feasibility report.  Perimeter seating is not that ideal and Steve has brought up a good point about social interaction with the current T1 metro car seating configuration.

    I notice that on the TTC metro cars, people tend to talk to each other more.  Perimeter seating encourages isolation.  The best case scenario [worst case?] is the various metros in Tokyo.  I remember seeing everyone there simply staring at their mobile phones typing SMS and playing games.  Even at rush hour, the trains are very quiet inside.  A group of students riding there cannot talk to each other.  Try holding a conversation from one end of the bench to the other end.  It will not work.

    If the TTC is interested in passenger safety, stop wasting time with seating configurations.  How about putting more transit constables on the metros?  I get on the metro at Kennedy every day, when the driver changes direction, he does not care what is inside the metro vehicle.  He just walks briskly to the opposite cab.

    If transit constables can sweep the metro cars at the terminals and remove those suspicious packages, it would save the TTC from many false alarm incidents.  Transit constables, if there are enough of them, should be placed everywhere just like air marshalls. This will act as a deterrent to grafitti, drunkeness, fare evasion and many other passenger related safety problems.


  2. One question I had when I saw the mock-up, which wasn’t answered, was about the passenger seats at the front (or back) of the train.  Will rail fans be able look out front or not?  The current T1 trains have the passenger seats facing backwards, they could easily have been built to face forward.  That’s what I would like to see on the new train, front facing passenger seats opposite (left of) the driver’s cab.  If they could turn the overhead light so we could look out clearer, that would be a bonus as well.

    Steve:  No railfan seats.  The cab wall is blanked off right across and there may not even be a window in the cab door.  As for overhead lights, there are none — only the headlights mounted under the front of hte trains.


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