By Daniel Garcia and James Bow.
GO Transit is famous for its double-decker passenger coaches that have graced the fleet for the past twenty-two years. The coaches are universally popular with riders and have been successfully marketed elsewhere in North America. Hawker Siddeley and, later, Bombardier, were able to sell 500 of these cars, and they have been seen operating in Vancouver, Los Angeles, Dallas and Miami/Ft. Lauderdale. These coaches can take much of the credit for earning GO's reputation as a well-maintained, efficient and progressive carrier.
Few realize how groundbreaking these coaches were. GO's Bi-levels were the first...in North America to feature a full width upper floor. Other attempts at double decker commuter cars, like Chicago's gallery cars, and Montréal's double-deckers, did not make as efficient use of the second level. They were built at the time that GO Transit was seeing a significant increase in its service and ridership. To improve its ability to move commuters, and to offer them a better ride, GO turned to Hawker-Siddeley and worked together on a custom design.
The Bi-Levels feature a lightweight aluminum superstructure that, combined with a durable steel underframe, gives them an empty weight of just 49.5 metric tons. They are quite large, measuring 85 feet long by almost 16 feet in height and 10 feet in width. They have 6' 6" high, 4' 4" wide, pneumatically operated doors, with two sets per side. Despite having no more doors than their single level predecessors, Bombardier brags that a full car can be unloaded in 45 seconds. A full car can seat 162 passengers (142 for series IV, and 1 or 2 less in the cabs) and still have room for 276 standees. A packed 10-car train can carry over 4000 passengers -- a significant load that would otherwise be clogging the Queen Elizabeth Way (or the 401) with almost as many automobiles.
An interesting feature of these cars is the use of pneumatic tread brakes and disk brakes. It's the disks that allow a speeding train to stop within the length of a platform. The cars are rated to provide braking up to almost 1 m/s2, which is unusually quick for a car of it's size. The quick deceleration, coupled with quick acceleration, speeds up service and gets commuters to their destinations without a significant delay at intermediate stops.
The first group of 80 bi-levels were bought from Hawker-Siddeley in 1976, and were delivered in 1978. None of these cars had cabs, and so had to be used with either a single level cab car, or an APCU. Many or these cars were recently refurbished at GEC Alsthom's AMF Transport shops in Montréal and are currently are numbereed 2000-2079.
The second batch of cars, 71 in total and the last to be built by Hawker-Siddeley, were delivered from 1983 to 1984. Fifteen of these cars featured cabs and are numbered 200-214 while the rest of them are numbered 2100-2155. Can-Car, who also built the ALRV's and H-6's, built the next group of cars, numbered 215-223 (cabs) and 2200-2253 (coaches), delivering them in 1988 and 1989. Immediately, Can-Car set to work on GO's next order and delivered 18 cab cars numbered 224-241, and 40 (the lowest such order) numbered 2300-2341. These 40 cars were later modified for wheelchair access, removing 20 fewer seats on the lower level to accommodate up to 12 wheelchairs.
The last order of bi-levels, delivered in 1990 and 1991, were also the last to be built by Can-Car, since the factory and the company were bought out a couple of years later by Bombardier. In this order, 57 coaches, no cabs, were delivered, numbered 2400-2455 and 2499. Car #2499 was numbered specially as it was a prototype, featuring body panels that were welded instead of bolted, wheelchair positions on the lower floor, and a modularized braking system. We have no record of how this car has performed in service. (If you have any info on this special car, please contact us).
Of the 331 bi-level cars that GO Transit ordered, GO currently owns 315. Service cuts in the early 1990s rendered a number of cars surplus and 16 coaches plus four F59PH locomotives were sold to Fort-Worth, Texas in 1997. Even with this sale, GO still has a number of coaches surplus, but is making use of them by leasing them on a number of occasions. When Vancouver's West Coast Express wasn't going to get their coaches in time from Bombardier, GO sent them some extra cars to ensure that they had enough for start-up. They also borrowed an F59PH as well. Metrolink, Los Angles' commuter railroad leased 25 cars after the earthquake in 1994, to expand service. Closer to home, CN used GO equipment for the Casino Rama Express that ran in August and September 1996.
It is a testament to the design of the GO Bi-level coaches that these cars do not seem dated, despite the fact that the first batch are almost 25 years old. These trains have provided versatile service to customers and will likely remain GO's choice for moving passengers well into the new millennium.