Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Blueprints for a better tomorrow

The specs for the new streetcars to be travelling Toronto's streets starting in 2010 were released today, and I must say it looks pretty exciting. Here's what we can expect:

General Features
  • The vehicles will likely be 100% low floor. A 70% low floor design is allowed, but the specs seemed to be written in such a way as to severely discourage it.
  • The first batch will be single-ended, so loops will continue to be used for the foreseeable future. Trolley poles will stay for the time being. Double-ended cars with doors on both sides and with pantographs will be used on the Transit City lines.
  • The vehicles will be constructed with lightweight, high performance and environmentally friendly materials.
  • The vehicles will meet fire, smoke, toxicity and tunnel safety standards.
  • The length will vary between 27 metres and 30 metres (88.6 to 98 feet), depending on the winning design. In comparison, the ALRVs are 23.3 metres (75 feet).
  • They will have three powered trucks, which will allow them to climb the hill to operate on St. Clair. ALRVs cannot do this reliably, which is why they don't normally go that far north.
  • They will be able to "limp home" under reduced power, reducing the chance of a disabled car holding up the line.
  • There will be no fare boxes. Manufactures have to supply the pre-wiring for at-door fare payment systems - Does this mean that Presto will be fully implemented on the TTC by then?
  • All exterior lights will be LEDs.
Safety Features
  • Vehicles will use the TTC's Safety Certificate Plan requirements.
  • The end structural stiffness requirements will be reduced, but only to European standards. Since the Europeans run trains faster and more frequently than we do, I'm not worried.
  • Additional side impact protection will be used, since the cars will be low floor instead of the floor being safely above the roofs of most cars.
  • "Do Not Pass" signs will illuminate whenever the doors open, hopefully being as effective as school bus stop signals.
  • Security cameras will help monitor the long cars.
Passenger Features
  • The door entrances will be 350 mm from the road. This is a step up of only about the height of a elementary school ruler.
  • Each section of the car will have doors, and an accessible ramp will work with both curb-side and street-level stops.
  • All vehicles will have driver-controlled air conditioning.
  • The tops of the windows will "tip-in" to open, but I have heard elsewhere that they are looking for a way to lock the windows closed when the AC is on.
  • Public address system, LED electronic destination signs, and two wheelchair tie-downs will be standard.
  • Emergency alarms like on the subway will be installed.
  • Audio and video stop announcements will be standard equipment, with the possibility of a video messaging system on-board.
  • All handrails will have anti-microbial coatings.
Operator Features
  • The operators will have his own cab, and may even get hand controls.
  • They driver will have a display which monitors all on-board systems to better identify problems.
  • Manufactures have to pre-wire for the TTC to install its own communications equipment.
  • All drivers mirrors will be heated and electronically operated.
  • There will be secondary controls at the rear of the vehicle for safety when reversing.
Propulsion & Braking
  • The traction motors will use advanced A.C. electric technology and will have regenerative braking.
  • Accelration and braking will be about the same as a CLRV.
  • A vehicle must be able to push another disabled vehicle anywhere on the TTC network - an engineering marvel and the main reason why ALRVs don't operate into Union Station.
  • There will be three independent braking systems (like on existing vehicles), ensuring that they will be able to stop under all conditions.
Door Equipment
  • Doors will be opened with a button beside the doors on both the inside and the outside of the vehicle. When the driver unlocks the doors, the button will light up allowing people to open the doors themselves.
  • Stop requests will be cords and buttons on the handles, keeping things familiar.
  • "Accessibility Request" buttons will allow wheelchair users to let the driver know they want the ramp deployed.
I'm definitely looking forward to these new vehicles, but what amazes me is that all engineering that will go into them. The TTC is asking for high-tech, state-of-the-art vehicles which can operate on the circa-1925 network. They are asking for cars which are lightweight, but can push another one up an 8% grade. They are asking for cars which are larger than an ALRV, but accelerate and brake better than the smaller CLRV - it's like asking for a Hummer that handles like a Mini.

Regardless of who wins this design competition, the TTC and the City of Toronto will be much better for it. Hopefully, this will bring a streetcar renaissance and renewed love for our red rockets.

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