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. I can’t help but notice with disappointment the mixed-case lettering on the destination board, with yet ANOTHER font not typically in use. Presumably these boards are programmable; however, it would have been you would think a very simple matter to get right for the big media event.

    Steve: What is particularly striking when you see them is how illegible they are because the letters are so small. It’s a good think we don’t have trains going to many different destinations.


  2. I never realized that the TRs would have plain stainless steel sides similar to the older subways. If you were running to catch your train you would probably not realize it was a TR until you got inside!

    Steve: There are no rivets or fluting. There’s no question this is a different car.


  3. Hopefully the engineers have determined a remedy for the ear-splitting brake squeal of the T-1s, or is the screeching a function of the level of maintenance as opposed to the design?

    Steve: The squeal is caused by a combination of a software problem (yes, these cars have been in service for 10+ years) as well as mismatch between the brake shoe and the wheel. They’re working on this, and a fix should also reduce the amount of brake shoe dust accumulating in the tunnels and on the cars.


  4. Excellent pics. How many of the TRs have arrived, and will they be stored at Wilson Yard previous to early Spring 2011 service?

    Steve: As far as I know, this is the only train. They need to run the prototype and identify problems in order to retrofit equipment at Thunder Bay before it is shipped. Yes, I believe Wilson will be their base because that carhouse will host the TRs and will receive all of the new equipment needed to service these cars.


  5. The electronic “lite brite” maps don’t show the VCC extension. Those maps are “hard coded” in a sense, so won’t it be a pain (and a considerable expense) to change them later on? I notice they can light up the stops of the other lines, even though they’ll probably never be used on Bloor (and can’t be used on Sheppard due to their length). LED destination signs on the side of each car would also be useful for the Spadina short-turns and for possible route diversions through the “Y” in the future, so the TTC should think about adding these in now.

    Where are the in-car video screens they promised? And, those same lousy non-cushioned seats! Is it too much to ask for cushioned bench seats that can accommodate the “wider” crowd?

    I think they could have done much better — aside from the open gangways, the basic design hasn’t changed much since the early 1960s.

    Steve: I am amused by the fact that there are lights for the SRT section of the map just in case a train takes a really fast run at Kennedy Station! The video screens were scrapped some time ago and replaced with text-based announcement panels. I agree that the lack of external signage advertising where a train is going is poor.


  6. One more thing I forgot to add … there could be issues with a 7th car at some stations. The curve at Union Stn. could be a problem, and the southbound platform at Museum definitely has a very wide gap at the northern end to accommodate trains coming up from Bay at a different angle — that gap is wide enough for a person to fall though if a train occupies the entire platform’s length.

    Steve: This issue actually comes up from time to time when trains don’t stop in the “correct” place.


  7. Looking at the LED route map, it is apparent that the TTC finally fixed some inconsistencies within their own not-to-scale scale. Given that one unit north on the map is equivalent to anywhere from 3-6 units east/west (approximately), the trunk of the Spadina line was always too close to Bathurst, and the east end of the B-D line never actually made it up to Eglinton. Seems they got it right this time.

    Steve: Except that Dupont is on a diagonal northwest of Spadina Station. These maps, sadly, look far more like somebody didn’t want to address the basic point of splitting off the “you are here” function from the basic system map. I want to see what happens if we add the Richmond Hill extension.


  8. I am sad to see the H4s go. Sure, they have no heat or air conditioning, and are freezing in the winter and sweltering in the summer, but they have by far the most comfortable seats of any TTC vehicle, whether subway, streetcar or bus. There’s also the nostalgic element – it really feels like you’re stepping back into the 1970’s when you board an H4. Maybe, for the first time in their history, the TTC will keep a set of H4 cars as a sort of heritage train, like they did with the two PCCs. I’m sure there are several excuses not to do this, but it would be great even if just for the odd charter on a Sunday morning.


  9. Clarification – hopefully the TRs will not feature the same squealing as the T-1s, with luck the designers have made changes to the brakes to avoid a repeat of this characteristic.

    Also, I agree with Andrew, considering the amount of space at the top of the front of the car, the destination sign is disappointingly small and the font illegible at any distance.

    Steve: See my previous remark about the T1 braking problem.


  10. About squealing brakes… while biking through Normandy I made use of the trains, which were made by Bombardier – they were wonderful BUT the brakes! What a racket! Not promising in that respect.


  11. Steve: I am amused by the fact that there are lights for the SRT section of the map just in case a train takes a really fast run at Kennedy Station!

    Rob Ford called Thunder Bay and asked for that, since he thinks he can run a subway on the SRT guideways — although they did forget to color the SRT section green.

    With the trains now totally walkable (and viewable) from one end to the other, visually it really makes you appreciate the enormous passenger capacity of one subway train.


  12. According to one of the instructors (female, short)….she said the maps you saw there are “temporary”, the lights are set up and they have for the Spadina extension.

    I saw the Wilson alignment to Sheppard-Yonge.


  13. As promised by the early renderings, the front end of the TR looks just plain awful and doesn’t suit the look of any of the rest of the train. Bombardier probably thinks it’s a work of art. UGLY.


  14. Please tell me these shiny new toys have anti-graffiti/scratchiti coatings on the finishes?

    Steve: There are some surfaces that will present a prime target, and they didn’t appear to be graffiti-proof.


  15. The T-1s first entered service around March, 1996 and the brakes have always squealed when in use. Why the TTC is only fixing this now is beyond me. I just assumed that the noisy brakes were part of the design. I can even remember riding on some of them while they were still being delivered in the late 90s and I can remember that there would be some jerkiness to their braking at times (kinda like riding on a hybrid bus when braking). I am very pleased that the walls by the side doors on the Toronto Rocket trains have been shrunk down, on the T-1s they were just too large. The newer design will definitely help with passenger loading/unloading flow. It’s frustrating that I will have to wait some more before I can ride one though.


  16. “The space has been designed to increase standee capacity.”

    Now there’s an ominous design feature. I’m tempted to write “design defect.”

    My prediction: We are about to see that the phenomenon of induced demand applies to the Yonge subway. In other words, the alleged 40% increase in capacity by having TRs using ATC will be immediately swallowed up.

    Steve: That claim of 40% is based on the assumption that they can get the line down to a headway of about 1’45”. For a number of reasons discussed before here, I believe that this is an unattainable goal. They will do well to get to 2’00”. The 40% improvement comes from the combined effect of 25% more trains per hour (25.7/hour at 140 seconds vs 34.3 at 105 seconds) and 11% more train capacity. This is related to the platform doors proposal and various other schemes, and I will discuss this in a separate article.

    Right now, during the morning peak, the Yonge trains are comfortably full when leaving the end of the line at Finch station. They have a few standees and a few empty seats. Life is good. Or at least it would be if there were no other stations between Finch and Bloor.

    During the morning peak, the Sheppard trains are packed uncomfortably full when arriving at Yonge. This is in itself a testimony to the phenomenon of induced demand. Even the much-reviled “Sheppard stubway” attracts so many riders that it is packed with standees upon arrival at Yonge. The station has inadequate stairway capacity for all those people to move to the Yonge subway, causing lengthy human traffic jams of people waiting to get to the stairs.

    And what do you think happens when all those people from the jam-packed Sheppard train arrive to get on the already-full Yonge train? The results make a sardine tin look roomy. Many times it is simply not possible to fit all the people onto the Yonge train so passengers are left standing on the platform when the train leaves.

    Needless to say, very few people even try to get on the train south of Sheppard during the morning peak.

    The end result is a very, very unpleasant ride. I strongly suspect that the number of users would double or even triple if they knew that they could get a seat. Particularly south of Sheppard.

    Which makes the proposed expansion of the Yonge line to Hwy #7 in Richmond Hill completely insane unless something is done to provide capacity relief.

    That “something” is, of course, the Richmond Hill GO train line which runs parallel to the Yonge subway. And which could have four interchanges at shared GO/subway stations when the Yonge subway reaches Hwy #7.

    These four stations would be:

    *The new subway station at Yonge and #7
    *Leslie station at Leslie and Sheppard
    *Castle Frank station on the Bloor line
    *Union Station

    Express GO trains running at five minute headways between these four subway stations would take an enormous burden off the Yonge line. It would allow the subway system to act as local feeders to the express GO train.

    This is, of course, not cheap. The railway line would have to be double tracked. There is a challenge of moving people a significant vertical distance at Castle Frank. This challenge has been successfully met elsewhere, but not cheaply.

    Not cheap, but the benefit is enormous. It would provide immediately relief to the Yonge line, allowing an enormous number of currently suppressed trips south of Sheppard to happen.

    I predict that without doing this improvement, it will be impossible to expand the Yonge line to Hwy #7. Demand would simply swamp the line, resulting in massive resentment in Toronto that the people of Toronto are completely unable to use “their” subway line.

    Steve: The connection at Castle Frank has many problems, although the use of Swan Boats and Trebuchets discussed here some years ago might be a solution. The DRL is expensive too, but it would intercept demand further east, would serve the corridor north through Thorncliffe/Flemingdon and would connect to the Eglinton line. This is much more useful than infrastructure to link GO with the subway for, likely, peak only demand. By the way, getting on a BD train eastbound at Castle Frank in the PM peak is rather difficult.


  17. Thank goodness, no more car jumping so I can get to the proper location to exit subway car to run up the stairs and catch bus.


  18. The station has inadequate stairway capacity for all those people to move to the Yonge subway, causing lengthy human traffic jams of people waiting to get to the stairs.

    That’s made worse by the TTC’s easily fixed bad layout at Don Mills.

    If you look at Don Mills, the West escalator goes down, while the East one goes up. At Sheppard the East side of the platform has the stairwells/escalators to the Yonge line.

    That means that people tend to wait at Sheppard on the East side of the platform so that they can jump onto the up escalator. At the same time, people tend to prefer the East side of the train so that they can go straight down the stairs.

    If they simply switched the direction of the escalators at Don Mills, then people at Sheppard would tend to stand at the West side, so they could go quickly up, and the reduced crowd on the East side would give more room for people to get out of the train.

    I saw this problem the first day that the Sheppard line was open, but they’ve not fixed it yet.

    Steve: The TTC is horrible at designing stations around heavy passenger flows, assuming that “design” even enters into it. A simple change like the direction of the escalators only requires observation, something those wonderful “Station Masters” might do, assuming we ever actually see them, and assuming the same one is responsible for both Sheppard/Yonge and Don Mills.


  19. I just hope that, because this didn’t go to tender, the TTC doesn’t rue their “exclusive” Bombardier contract (shades of Charest and Quebec).

    Is the bogie-spacing be the same as on the traditional cars? Will we still here the “thunk-thunk…..thunk-thunk, thunk thunk…” at signals, etc, as of old?

    Steve: These are unit trains with trucks under the articulations. You will get thunk-thunk, but on a different pattern. Fewer per train.

    Note: This info was incorrect, and has been updated in a later comment.


  20. I don’t think frequent GO service on the RH line and the DRL would serve the same purpose. The DRL would catch demand from the southern part of Toronto (south of Eglinton), while an upgraded RH service would catch demand from northern part of Toronto (north of Sheppard, given a Castle Frank GO station isn’t practical).


  21. One thought about the possibility of a 7th car and suicide barriers. A seventh car will only be about 50 feet long and would probably have 3 doors and since 3/50 is not equal to 4/75 the door spacing would be different. If the TTC wants the platform doors then they had better decide NOW if the want to add car 7 otherwise they would have to move all the platform doors.

    Steve: That’s another tiny detail the TTC seems to have missed in its love affair with platform doors as the answer to every problem in the known universe.

    The trains that I have ridden that are like the TR’s all had moving route signs that only showed the location for the line that you were one; the route map was separate. I also seem to remember that the maps over the doors were oriented so that the Finch end of the map corresponded with the end of the train going to Finch. This would present a problem to the TTC since they tend to run trains around the loop track at Greenwood and Wilson and the vehicle orientation changes.

    I hope that the TTC will have side signs and voice announcements telling where the train is going since the will have multiple turn backs in order to drop the headway. It would also be nice if the trains had something more than “Finch” on the sign because if you get on an VCC “Finch” is not helpful. It should say something like “Finch via Downtown” until the car gets south of Bloor and then only “Finch” would be acceptable.

    Most new vehicles in other countries had lights above the door that would turn on to let passengers know which side was opening; did the TR’s have these or internal station name signs?

    Steve: I believe that this is handled by the text signs, although there are not many per train. In general the passenger info displays seem cheap and the result of much work by people who don’t actually ride trains.

    Someone said the ends looked ugly; this was true to me for every trains that I saw of this design. I don’t know how to make it more pleasing. Perhaps it will grow on you.

    As much as we like to complain about the TTC’s service I have been in many medium and small cities in the US as well as Chicago on this trip and Toronto’s transit service, even in Mississauga and Brampton is much better than in the US. Many towns and small cities do not have any service. Fight for better service but also realize how much better our service is than in most places. Melbourne, the Light Rail Street Car mecca, is constantly comparing their service to Toronto and asking why they can’t have service anywhere near as good as ours.


  22. Re: Mimmo’s point about a 7 car train at Union – I remember when I was a kid in the 70s, riding the New York subway with my grandmother to the South Ferry station in lower Manhattan (as a side note, this was pure evil – she thought it was great fun to ride the Staten Island Ferry, and even though I was terrified of boats as a child, as I could not swim and those things seemed to run aground every couple of months, she insisted on doing this multiple times a summer.) The platform was quite curved and to prevent people from falling through, they employed movable platform extensions, which apparently are known as Gap Fillers, and get their own Wikipedia entry. I don’t think Union would have quite that problem, but if it did, there are solutions.


  23. Steve – Is there any reason that the new TR train, coming northbound into Downsview Station, has “Finch” on the roll sign?

    Steve: Because it is pointing south. The train was actually spotted with the back end in the tail track beyond the station so that the front (and the location for the media event) was under a skylight.


  24. Transportation design is generally handled by the same stream of professionals that work in car design, but you must appreciate the incredible cost of anything other than flat panels that leaves these designers little to work with (Marseilles has pretty streetcars, but curved wraparound windshields cost quite a bit.) As long as we care about the price point of things like subway cars, there isn’t much room for attractive design. On top of managing production costs, designers don’t come cheap either, and I highly doubt that Bombardier would put a room full of them to work on a contract that was sole-sourced.


  25. That “something” is, of course, the Richmond Hill GO train line which runs parallel to the Yonge subway. And which could have four interchanges at shared GO/subway stations when the Yonge subway reaches Hwy #7.

    These four stations would be:

    *The new subway station at Yonge and #7
    *Leslie station at Leslie and Sheppard
    *Castle Frank station on the Bloor line
    *Union Station

    A station at Castle Frank does not make any sense, given the huge vertical distance. However, a station at Eglinton would make a lot of sense. The vertical drop down to the rail tracks is reasonable – see the view from Eglinton. The Eglinton LRT line would be at the surface on that bridge, and connections to the GO line would be reasonably straightforward. There is also considerable residential population and employment within walking distance, from the Wynford Dr and Don Mills/Eglinton area to Bermondsey Rd.

    The Oriole GO station also needs to be integrated with Leslie subway station. There’s simply no reason for the GO station to be located 500m south of the subway station when the bus terminal at Leslie is only 15m away from the railway track.

    Then again this require Metrolinx to see the TTC and GO transit as complementary services, which doesn’t look like it has any chance of happening. Sigh.


  26. The real question though: Does it do high rate? (sorry couldn’t resist)

    Steve: These trains are supposed to be capable of high rate which will save some equipment if the TTC actually switches over to that. In theory, they could run high rate today, but they need to retime some of the signals and braking markers. The TTC has been foot-dragging on this for decades preferring to buy more cars instead. I believe that some of the claims for faster trip times with the new trains refer to high rate operation.


  27. Kevin Love said
    “Right now, during the morning peak, the Yonge trains are comfortably full when leaving the end of the line at Finch station. They have a few standees and a few empty seats. Life is good. Or at least it would be if there were no other stations between Finch and Bloor.”

    This is bunk. I used to take that train every day for a year at 8am. Never did I find a seat. I used to take the train down to North York Centre just so I could get off, and get back on a northbound train, and thus not have to stand the entire way to Bloor.


  28. Mimmo said: “….they’ll probably never be used on Bloor (and can’t be used on Sheppard due to their length).”

    Technically, thanks to the open gangways, they COULD be used on Sheppard. But they’d have to be programmed to keep the over-reaching doors beyond the platform ends to stay closed while the others open. And riders in those end cars would have to be reminded through the PA to move out towards platform-accessible doors well in advance of their stop.

    And re: increased capacity on Yonge. That’s great but if you think things are bad now when breakdowns/delays occur just imagine the logjam increased by whatever %. All the more reason to build a DRL.

    Steve: The TTC is making outrageous claims for reduced delays on the subway thanks to the supposed reliability of the TRs even though a large number of delays are not caused by mechanical failure. The real issue in favour of the DRL is that it actually provides a net new route to and from downtown and serves a new part of the inner suburbs. Ramping up capacity on the YUS only addresses the height of the peak period while doing nothing for the overall network.


  29. I am just experiencing New York’s subway for the first time. So far we’ve just been on 2 sets of lines.
    Each car has had a lit route diagram — purely linear with lights at all the stations it will call at. The current station flashes. There is also often an LED display giving next station and final station info, the same being announced.

    But of 8 trips and 10 trains, I’ve been on 2 that were on the wrong line and so had the wrong maps. The first had a little lit sign that said “This train is not on this line” (or something). The second had the sign operating but showing a wildly misleading location — about 100 streets out.

    Many of New York’s lines remind me of the shape of the Harbord street car line.


  30. Seeing how these signs are digital, it should be perfectly feasible to use the same trips for the stop announcements to trip a change in the destination sign. If originating at Downsview, or VCC, or wherever, the sign can read “Union” and then be tripped to read “Finch” when passing between, say, Osgoode and St. Andrew.

    Given that these should take less effort to change than the old manual rollsigns, I’d hope that drivers actually do use them to reflect actual operating conditions when something goes wrong somewhere on the system and all trains are temporarily being short-turned somewhere. That could probably even be managed centrally, I imagine, from the Transit Control Centre, should these be operated driverless.

    Steve: Tell people where trains are actually going? Are you trying to undermine the basic fabric of the universe?


  31. If these trainsets could manage to keep some of their doors closed depending on the station, wouldn’t that allow us to build lower-demand stations with smaller platforms and save big on construction costs?

    Steve: If they were “lower demand”, they wouldn’t get built in the first place. While longer stations do add to costs, the big expense is having one in the first place complete with access points on the surface, elevators, escalators, ventillation, fare collection, station staff, janitorial services, etc. Also, try explaining that a station is served only by cars 1-4 of a train.


  32. Back in 1999 I got to ride articulated trains on Paris Metro Line 1 that were something on the order of the new Rockets but, if memory serves, there were still doorways at each end of each section but definitely no doors so you could still walk the whole train if you wanted to.


  33. Steve: These are unit trains with trucks under the articulations. You will get thunk-thunk, but on a different pattern. Fewer per train.

    That is not true. The pattern will be approximately the same as the current trains, because the trains are not articulated like our ALRVs: the trucks are NOT under the articulations. There are still 4 axles per car and 6 cars per train, so there will still be 24 thunks. See this picture I found on Urban Toronto.

    Steve: Thanks for this. I was under the impression that the trucks were at the articulation points.


  34. Shared bogies seen to be going out of style in new equipment – even Bombardier’s new high-speed trains use a conventional two-to-a-carriage arrangement.


  35. About the shared trucks,

    I don’t know how often they’d break the sets up but for major overhauls it’s almost certain. Having the trucks under the articulation makes separating the units much more difficult. Also such a setup would essentially double the weight being carried on each mid-train axle, which would dramatically increase the wear on tracks, particularly switches and section gaps where the rails really get pounded.

    I’ve heard that 1/3 of the trucks will be unpowered – (I wish I could find a source for that though… are the “B” cars 5xx2 and 5xx5 trailers?) anyways so keeping a traditional axle pattern does not significantly increase the complexity, beyond a couple extra sets of brakes – not a bad thing.


  36. The issue of being able to update the route map is important. I mean the new mayor will ensure that stations are added every few months (sorry I couldn’t resist).

    Seriously though, when the SRT is converted to LRT will it be removed from the map? That should make for some interesting political optics. Alternatively any designer who could fit Transit City and all its stations onto the map has my respect. If that is the plan then why are the existing routes with pretensions to being LRT not on the map already?

    Thank you.


  37. I guess I’m the only one who likes the design? Say what you will, but it beats the utilitarian, industrial design of our current trains. Not to mention with the updated looks of our new buses and streetcars, it will keep up in terms of modern design.

    I also think they look like something out of Batman: The Animated Series 😀


Comments are closed.