Toronto Rockets Are Here, But Not Rolling Yet

On October 14, Torontonians finally got a look at their new “Toronto Rocket” subway cars, although to do so they had to wade through a bevy of politicians and media.  Many stirring speeches were heard from all levels of government, and from the manufacturer, Bombardier.  Any mention of keeping jobs in Canada brought rousing applause.

The new cars have been some time coming going back to an order in 2006 that should have been on the rails last year.  Delays with suppliers are blamed, notably the doors.  One wonders why the contract wasn’t simply given to another supplier, or if other factors were involved leaving the doors as a handy scapegoat.

There are two striking features of these cars, one physical, and one technical:

  • From the passengers’ viewpoint, a six car trainset is one continuous space.  This will allow people to roam through the train to better distribute loads, and also frees up space used for mid-train cabs and car ends to become part of the passenger compartment.
  • From the technical point of view, not only are these trains equipped for Automatic Train Control, they are supposed to be much, much more reliable than their predecessors.  We shall see, given that the T1 cars were, themself, supposed to be a huge improvement over the H-series equipment they replaced.

For the next five months or so, the TTC will be testing its first sets of cars, and revenue service is expected in spring 2011.  Over the next four years, leading up to the Spadina Subway Extension opening in 2015 (itself not a sure thing), the H4, H5 and H6 equipment will be phased out of service, and much of the T1 fleet will shift to the Bloor-Danforth line.  (I will write about fleet planning in a separate article.)

Meanwhile, here are a few scenes from the event at Downsview.

Car 5391 facing south midway along the platform at Downsview where the ceremony was held.  Partly visible is the door between the operator’s cab and the passenger compartment.  This has a window, although how often the blind will be up allowing a view through the cab and out onto the tracks will depend on individual operators.

An important feature not obvious in this photo is that the central panel (from just under the destination sign to the floor line) is hinged at the bottom and folds down to provide an escape ramp.  This is a welcome feature for those with mobility problems, but they will still have to deal with sundry obstacles at track level including track mounts, signal boxes and special work at junctions.

This is the interior of the train looking from the front of the second of six cars to the back of the train.  The space has been designed to increase standee capacity.

This view looks across the articulation between the first and second cars.  (The white chain hanging across the aisle was temporary to keep visitors from wandering off into the far end of the train.)  These gangways between cars are much wider than on the ALRV fleet, although subway cars are not faced with the constraints of tight curves on the streetcar system.

Route maps are illuminated to show which line the train is on, and the current station is lit in green.  Probably the most important change here is that the maps are riveted to the cars to prevent theft.

Although not immediately obvious in this photo, the doorways are a bit wider than those on the T1 fleet.

This is a wheelchair location just beside one of the doorways.  Seats at this location normally flip up out of the way, but can be folded down by passengers wishing to use them.  The pullbox on the wall just above the middle seat is not an emergency brake, but a request to talk to the operator.  Similar units are mounted at each doorway, and they are tied into the camera system on the train.  These are intended only for emergencies, not for asking directions to Yorkdale.

The TR certainly looked shiny, but it was not moving on its own power.  After the dignitaries and most of the media were out of the way, a train of T1s pushed the new train back to Wilson Yard.  5396 is the “back” end of the TR train here.  (Each set will be numbered from car xxx1 to xxx6, and there will be no TR cars with numbers ending in 7, 8, 9 or 0, unless the TTC opts for a seventh car to be inserted within existing sets.)

I cannot help commenting here on the relative cleanliness of the TR and the T1, itself a set that was in what passes for “fair” condition these days.  Thanks to wash tracks being out of service at Wilson and Greenwood, there are a lot of grimy cars on the system, and a few that appear to have been forgotten for months.  How long will it take for the TRs to look the same?

After the TR was out of the way, the next service train made its way south from Downsview giving a chance to see the TR with a bit more space than on the platform earlier.

Once the TRs are actually in service we can see how they behave, whether they are as smooth and reliable as claimed, and whether the bold words of praise for Bombardier are merited by the equipment actually in operation.

53 thoughts on “Toronto Rockets Are Here, But Not Rolling Yet

  1. Stupid questions here Steve but perhaps you know the answer?

    I assume there are actual emergency brakes in the car much like the pull cords we have now. Those pull cords trip a switch in the cab when pulled. With that in mind, how would one stop a train mid-trip if something, lets say for example the train loses integrity? Are there pull cords or are we going to have to run to the end of the train and bang on the operators door?

    Also, are the destination signs programmable? What I mean by this is lets say we have an emergency short turn at Glencairn. Could the destination sign be set to say Glencairn?

    Steve: I asked about this, and, no there is no emergency stop within the passenger compartment. You have to pull the emergency communication trip and hope that the operator reacts quickly enough. As for the destination signs, they are digital. One hopes the TTC will put a full set of possible destinations in their program.

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  2. Steve said: I asked about this, and, no there is no emergency stop within the passenger compartment.

    Any idea why they did not place on in the passenger compartment? Misuse perhaps? I just hope it does not come back to bite us in the behind one day.

    Steve: Misuse, I presume, or very rare use. It is worth noting that this scheme creates problems if the trains are on automatic operation without a driver.

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  3. “One hopes the TTC will put a full set of possible destinations in their program.”

    Oh dear, I hope not. If the experience of Irish Rail’s use of LED signs is any guide, we will see TRs displaying “Kipling” long before that fleet is cleared for the BD line…

    Steve: When they start showing “Scarborough Town Centre”, I will really worry.

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  4. My problem with the look of the train ends is more about the fact that they don’t compliment any other visual aspect of the rest of the train rather than that they are just plain ugly on their own. Think about it this way – the GM ‘fishbowl’ works because the entire bus shares a certain style of rounded lines. The first generation of hybrid buses looked fine, but then some marketing department stuck their dirty hands in and put a very rounded front on a body with laser-straight lines and windows. It just doesn’t match up. Pick a theme and stick with it! (Not to mention that a properly designed front for the train would have given us a much larger and wider destination sign, although I would have to assume that size was a cost-cutting exercise because the TTC places such a low priority on their use on the subway. Don’t worry Steve – the subway will never go to Scarborough Town Centre solely because that won’t fit on the tiny display. Perhaps Mr. Ford would like to shell-out from his office budget for some larger destination signs.)

    As for emergency stopping, just pry apart any set of doors far enough and that’ll do the trick. By the way, where will the Guard be stationed?

    Someone mentioned position lights on the map already in place for a westerly extension of the Sheppard Subway. Is this a done deal we don’t know about? It seems like there’s been a lot of unnecessary effort put into a demonstration map. Have these maps been placed throughout the train already?

    Steve: Prying open the doors only cuts traction power, but does not apply the brakes. The Guard will be at the back end of the train. That’s why there are new triangular positioning markers on the YUS platforms.

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  5. I know it doesn’t apply the brakes, but it’s close enough. (Not that I’m encouraging anyone to do it!)

    What’s to become of all the Designated Waiting Areas if the Guard is at the back end of the train?

    Steve: The idea is that with one continuous compartment, it wouldn’t matter. More to the point, however, is the fact that in many stations it is a very long walk just to get to the back of the train. The benefit of the DWA will still exist from the Collector’s booth, but the overall video coverage of stations now means that any incident is going to be recorded. It’s not perfect, but equally I am not sure that it’s worthwhile counting on someone being “right there” in person or real time video screen monitoring for every station on the system. Would-be baddies know (or learn) that their actions are recorded and available as evidence.

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  6. A couple of things:

    1. What the hell was the TTC thinking about getting rid of the passenger assist alarm?!? I remember a year or two ago there was an incident where someone was mugged on a subway train, and the camera captured it along with no one doing a thing about it. While I can understand why one would not want to get physically involved in the altercation, there was no excuse for no one to hit the alarm. I’m sure that a person on board the train would feel more comfortable quickly pressing the alarm than to engage in a conversation with the driver. I myself once used it, when a drunk man opened the train doors and got out (fortunately near Rosedale outside).

    Steve: The alarm that has been eliminated is the emergency train stop, a pull cord located on the back wall of the driver’s cab fairly high up. Passengers can alert the operator via emergency intercoms at every doorway.

    The passenger assist alarm works well because it allows for quick reaction to emergency situations. The limited locations of the communicator will also limit the ability for passengers to react in an emergency, especially in a crowded train. When there is a fire, do you push the alarm or do you engage in conversation with emergency personnel? Hopefully the TTC will find a way to have them installed before they regret it.

    2. How come the Bloor-Danforth line always gets ‘hand-me-down’ trains?

    Steve: Because it doesn’t need the new technology of automatic train control.

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  7. Kristian asked:

    What’s to become of all the Designated Waiting Areas if the Guard is at the back end of the train?

    I sometimes take the subway from St Clair West to Eglinton West, and most of the time I ride in the last car since platform access is at the south end of both stations. I have occasionally found the Guard operating from that car, rather than being opposite the DWA.

    If I remember correctly, this occurred during the evening peak time, so I wonder if they found it easier to see when the doors were clear and thus better able to close them faster without cutting people off.

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  8. “How come the Bloor-Danforth line always gets ‘hand-me-down’ trains?”

    It used to be the other way around. The H2s through H6s all made their debut on the Bloor subway first. YUS got the hand-me-downs … until the T1s showed up. The T1s went to YUS first because of their wider doors.

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  9. I’m surprised that these trainsets cannot easily be taken apart to be shortened. Isn’t there some way to tweak the design of these trains so that they can be shortened or lengthened to an ideal length for any given station or time of day? Otherwise these trains will be the most inflexible “tubes” I ever heard of. All joking aside, this could get awfully frustrating and expensive if it ever becomes necessary to remove a car where a malfunction occurs and put the other 5 cars back into service pronto.

    Steve: The middle cars cannot easily be removed because they don’t have driving controls of their own. Also, equipment is distributed among cars on the train, and you would have to remove sets that left the remainder a workable entity.

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  10. One unique feature of the new Toronto Rocket is to be “From the passengers’ viewpoint, a six car trainset is one continuous space. This will allow people to roam through the train to better distribute loads, and also frees up space used for mid-train cabs and car ends to become part of the passenger compartment.”

    It looks like the Montréal Metro will be getting the same. From Bombardier’s press release is the following:

    “The next-generation metro cars will provide a range of new features for passengers, ensuring maximum space and safety, including:

    * Open gangways allowing riders to walk freely from one end of the train to the other.
    * A new spacious interior design with optimal and ergonometric sitting arrangement.
    * A state-of-the art electronic passenger information system.
    * New security features, including onboard cameras and a two-way intercom system connecting passengers with the driver and the control center.”

    “Spacious interior” on a Montréal Metro car? Means it will be just as wide as Toronto’s new streetcars.

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  11. @JHT – the existing H and T series fleets are 2 x 2 and 3 x 2 aggregations but the TTC has not found it useful to split them in the way you suggest. It makes sense therefore for the TTC to acquire sets in keeping with the way they operate on a regular basis.

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  12. @ Steve: There are no doors between the cars. It is one continuous passenger compartment.

    Are these permanent or can cars be disconnected/connected to make longer or shorter cars?

    Steve: The cars can be uncoupled, but will typically run in permanent 6-car sets with “A” cars (with cabs) on the ends and “B” cars (no cabs) in the middle. The cars are a fixed length, but one could make up a shorter train by removing cars in the middle. There would be some constraints because equipment on a train is shared and you can’t arbitrarily take out any car. One other option that has been talked of for the future is a seventh, short “B” car that would fill out trains to the complete length of station platforms.

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