An upcoming order of new SkyTrain cars for the Expo Line and Millennium Line systems will be the single largest batch of new train cars on Metro Vancouver’s rapid transit network.
And as these 203 new train cars will account for about half of the total number of cars on the fleet and be used daily over the 30-year lifespan of the trains, the planners at TransLink want to ensure they get the design right.
That is why TransLink has launched a public consultation and survey on the design of the new cars, specifically the interior design and how passengers will interact and use the car space and seating.
According to Michelle Babiuk, a Project Manager with TransLink, the intention is to build on the positive feedback the public transit authority received on the new generation Bombardier Mark III trains, which began operating on the Expo and Millennium lines in the summer of 2016.
Perimeter side seating vs. row seating
Some potential interior layout changes being considered for future train orders include implementing more perimeter side seating, which is an inward-facing seating orientation along the sides of the train. Some perimeter seating configurations can already be found on the old Mark I cars and the Canada Line cars.
“For the Mark IIIs, we have gone entirely with forward and backward row seating, and since then we have heard requests from time to time from people who prefer to see some sideways seating again,” Babiuk told Daily Hive in an interview.
“For example, some people felt nauseated sitting forwards or backwards, and some people had difficulty getting out of those seats. For taller people, they have more leg room with perimeter seating.”
As well, perimeter seating generally provides more overall carrying capacity within each car with its allowance for greater standing room. This layout also creates more vertical and overhead handrails for standing passengers to hold on to.
With wider corridors between the seats, such a sideways seating layout could make the trains more efficient for quick ingress and egress through the car doors. This can be a challenge with the row-oriented forwards and backwards seating layouts, particularly during the busy peak hours when trains are crowded.
For these reasons, perimeter seating is primarily used in the train cars of the world’s busiest subway systems, including London, New York, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Beijing, Shanghai, and Seoul.
“We’d like to hear from more people on how they use the trains and what is most comfortable for them before we make a decision on that,” she said.
Open flex areas, leaning rails, and bike racks
Besides the seating arrangement, other potential layout considerations may include additional open flex areas designed for passengers using a mobility device or transporting a baby in a stroller.
Such flex areas could have leaning rails, which is an alternative seating option that may benefit specific groups of riders, specifically seniors.
“From our accessibility committee, we have heard some seniors can find it challenging to sit down because it can be hard for them to get up again once they are seated,” said Babiuk. “For other customers who have bags and are making a short trip, it would be easier for them to lean against a rail instead of using a full seat.”
Additional bike racks with such flex areas are another option being contemplated to provide cyclists with further comfort and stability.
In recent years, TransLink’s planning has placed a greater emphasis on bringing new passenger amenities to the transit system, but it remains to be seen what new creature comforts could be introduced for these new cars.
Babiuk noted the public transit authority heard passengers like the larger windows on the Mark III trains, and it is interested in looking into onboard LCD screens given that the feature is becoming more widespread in the industry.
Additional capacity and replacing the old Mark I cars
The feedback received from the public consultation will be used to create the framework for Request For Proposals (RFP) going out to manufacturers later this year.
The first new train cars from this batch could begin arriving as early as 2023, which will address demand from both annual ridership growth and the surge in ridership anticipated from the 2025 opening of the Millennium Line’s Broadway Extension.
Not only will these new cars provide the train system with additional capacity, but it will mark the end of an era for the Mark I trains.
TransLink intends to fully replace the ageing fleet of 150 Mark I cars by the end of the 2020s. More than three-quarters of these first generation SkyTrain cars began operating in time for the 1986 World’s Fair, and the remaining cars arrived in two further batches in the early-to-mid 1990s.
“We will be phasing out the Mark I in a way that allows us to keep the capacity we need at any one time, so our planners are refining some of our forecasting and modelling right now to inform the exact timing of that,” said Babiuk.
The Mark III cars, the newest model of train car, are connected together as fully-articulated trains. Their larger size allows the same amount of capacity to be provided with fewer vehicles and fewer service hours.
New additional cars and other infrastructure upgrades as part of the Phase Two transit expansion plan will boost the Expo Line’s capacity to 17,500 passengers per hour per direction (pphpd) and the Millennium Line’s capacity to 7,500 pphpd. These increases represent a 32% and 96% boost in carrying capacity, respectively, over existing capacities.
But these capacity increases will not necessarily be a result of new Bombardier products, as for the first time TransLink is actively seeking highly competitive bids from around the world.
To date, all three generations of the Mark series of train cars, using highly-specialized linear induction motor (LIM) technology, have been designed and built by Bombardier. But this technology is certainly not proprietary.
“There are other manufacturers that produce LIM trains. I think we will be looking during our RFP for them to demonstrate what their experience is exactly with LIM,” added Babiuk.
In the meantime, Bombardier is scheduled to deliver a total of 56 Mark III cars — worth $210 million — by the end of 2019. Several cars recently arrived and are now being tested, and at least one four-car train is already in service.
Separately, 24 cars will arrive from South Korea’s Hyundai Rotem in 2020 to provide much-needed relief for the Canada Line. This $88-million order will increase the Canada Line’s capacity by 30%.
For the survey and dates for the public information sessions for TransLink’s public consultation on SkyTrain interior layouts, click here.
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