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TTC steering toward high-tech new trains

JEFF GRAY

For Torontonians used to the no-frills aesthetic of the TTC’s current subway cars — boxes of rivet-covered grey metal that recall the Second World War — the next generation of vehicles in the city’s transit tunnels could be a shock to the system. In a good way.

Still in the design-concept phase, the new cars will replace most of the 30-year-old H-4 and H-5 cars, starting in 2009. They will run alongside the newer T-1 cars.

The exterior will look something like Bombardier’s sleek Movia cars running in the Chinese city of Shenzhen, where TTC officials recently paid a visit.

The details are still being worked out, but Toronto’s cars will have a similar curved, modern exterior. This rivet-free design is also easier to clean. And welding, rather than riveting, produces a lighter but stronger outer shell, explained TTC project manager Chris Heald.

Mr. Heald, a 33-year-old Briton with experience buying vehicles for Virgin Trains, is in charge of the $755-million project and is steering the TTC’s talks with Bombardier, which is expected to build the 234 new subway cars at its plant in Thunder Bay.

A sleek exterior, of course, matters little to the subway riders who will be inside. But the TTC also has plans to bring some of the interior bells and whistles common on transit systems in Europe and Asia to Toronto.

“T-1 was cutting edge, introducing new technologies 10 or 15 years ago. And now, looking forward, we’re looking at where the world’s gone in that 10 or 15 years,” said Mr. Heald, who led a recent TTC delegation to visit four transit systems in Hong Kong and China.

Proposed gadgets include subway route maps that light up, telling riders what direction they are going in and what station they are approaching.

Message screens may also display the next station, as will automated audio announcements.

Small LCD screens — not the ad-laden TV screens on station platforms — would display safety messages. Instead of the current passenger alarm strip, riders in distress could talk to TTC staff on the train via an emergency two-way intercom. Closed-circuit television cameras would watch over passengers as well. Evacuation ramps at the nose and tail of the train would halve the time it takes to get off a train in an emergency.

But the biggest change for riders will be physical layout of the cars. Passengers will be able to walk freely between cars, which will be permanently connected in six-car trains. With so much concern about overcrowding on the system, this innovation actually increases capacity on each train by 8 per cent, or about 80 extra people on a six-car train with an average rush-hour load of 1,000 passengers.

The cars will also have “perimeter seating,” with bench-like seats lining the walls rather than the awkward conversation corners the TTC has now. This makes it easier to move around, and easier to ride without “standing over people,” Mr. Heald said. But the cars will still have the same number of total seats as the current crop.

The new cars will also be quieter, Mr. Heald promised. Since they are put together as permanent six-car trains, the engines can be distributed better. And the TTC is looking at a new brake-lubrication system that may tone done the squealing.

The TTC is working with Bombardier to put together a life-size mock-up of a quarter of the proposed subway car, to put on public display at Davisville and Union stations, likely in May or June, for public comment.

One downside: the TTC’s subway repair facilities at Wilson Station are built to fix trains with four cars, and need a $50-million upgrade to be made big enough to handle the six-car trains.

But, Mr. Heald said, because the new cars are cheaper, even with this added bill and all of the added gadgetry, buying the new ones will cost the same as buying a whole new batch of the current T-1s.

Dr. Gridlock appears Mondays. Send comments or questions

to jgray@globeandmail.com.




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