The Toronto Rocket Trains (T35A08)

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This concept drawing shows the exterior of then proposed Toronto Rocket train.

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This concept drawing shows the interior of then proposed Toronto Rocket train.

Text by James Bow

An Aging Fleet

In 2005, the Toronto Transit Commission’s remaining H4 and H5 subway cars started showing their age. Rather than rebuild these vehicles to extend their operating life, the Commission decided it would be more cost effective to replace these vehicles with new cars. Although the TTC was satisfied with their newest T1 models, commissioners and staff planners saw this as an opportunity to completely redesign the subway train, installing features that would save money, enhance accessibility and safety and increase capacity.

Early in 2006, the TTC committed itself to purchasing 234 subway cars (totalling 39 trains) and commissioned Bombardier to help them design the new fleet, which the TTC hoped would arrive in 2009. There were critics of this plan, who felt this gave Bombardier an unfair advantage in the bidding process, and essentially awarded the carmaker the contract without a proper tender. TTC officials and Toronto politicians defended this process, however, saying that they had received the best deal from Bombardier, saved money by going to a single source for maintenance parts, and saved hundreds of jobs in Thunder Bay. The criticism, however, may have ensured a more competitive bidding process for the next generation of Toronto’s streetcars — a competition Bombardier also won.

Articulated Trains

The biggest improvement identified by the TTC and Bombardier early in the design process was joining the cars within a six-car train together with articulated gangways, allowing passengers to walk the length of the train while it was in motion. Because the TTC typically ran only six car trains (four car trains on the Sheppard subway), and because the coupling and recoupling of trains was now a less common occurrence, such a design would not only allow the passenger loads within a train to spread out, it would reduce the number of cabs in a train, saving money, while increasing the capacity of a six car train by 8% (80 passengers).

The T35A08 trainset design was partially based on Bombardier’s Movia trainset, a modular design which also boasted open gangways, currently in use in the London Underground, Shanghai, Delhi, Singapore and Bucharest.

In 2006, the Toronto Transit Commission set up a contest to name the new model. Out of over 3000 entries, the Commission settled on the name the Toronto Rocket. Work began on the new vehicles in Bombardier’s Thunder Bay factory in 2007, and a prototype was on hand when Ontario premier Dalton McGuinty and Toronto mayor David Miller arrived in June 2009 to announce funding for the next generation of Toronto’s streetcars.

The T35A08 Mockup

To showcase the proposed new design features and to assist in the design process, the TTC produced a mock-up car, modifying a T1 vehicle with the new interior configuration. Cars 5344 and 5345 were taken out of service and changes made. These cars were put on display beside the third platform of Davisville station and opened to the public from June 6 to June 20, 2006, Mondays to Fridays, 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. After this, the cars were displayed at these times at Finch station from June 21 to June 23, Downsview station from June 26 to June 30, Kipling station from July 10 to July 14 and Kennedy station from July 17 to July 21.

As part of the display, viewers were asked to fill out a survey assessing the effectiveness of various features and asking for customer input. Potential passengers praised the passenger intercom system, and the ability for train crews to see the customer who is talking to them, as well as the electronic version of the Toronto subway map and other features letting passengers know which stations the train would arrive at next. The gangway design was also popular, both as a means to spread out the load throughout the train, and to aid in a possible evacuation. (Click here for a photo gallery of the mockup)

T35A08 (Toronto Rocket) specifications

  • Car Builder: Bombardier Transportation
  • Car Body: Aluminum and steel
  • Unit Numbers: TBD
  • Fleet of: 234 cars (i.e. 39 6-car trains)
  • Train Length: 139,980 mm (based on Movia)
  • Car Width: 2620mm (based on TTC T1 specifications)
  • Car Height: 3658 mm (12’ 0”) (based on TTC T1 specifications)
  • Track Gauge: 1495 mm (58-7/8”)
  • Total Weight: 205,000 kg
  • Propulsion System: Bombardier MITRAC
  • Motors: AC Traction motors
  • Power (Third Rail): 600 VDC
  • Power (Auxiliary): 120/208 VAC
  • Braking System: N/A
  • Total Seating: 288 (based on Movia)
  • Coupling/Numbering Arrangement: None - single car set
  • Air Conditioning System: Yes
  • Price per car $18.2 million per set (6 cars) or $710 million

The Toronto Rocket Cars Arrive

Bombardier worked on building the Toronto Rocket trains, encountering difficulties which they blamed on problems with a supplier of the train doors. This delayed the completion of these cars for several months, but on October 1, 2010, the first of the vehicles was delivered to the TTC’s Wilson yard by truck.

The doors continued to be a problem in the early days of operation of the Toronto Rocket trains, with complaints raised that they closed more slowly than the doors of previous generation trains and that they were too sensitive, with even strong air drafts causing them to re-open, to the point that service was slowing down. In addition, some passengers have taken advantage of the sensitive doors to stop the doors closing knowing that the doors will re-open so they can board. Repeated instances of door cycling required the trains to be taken out of service so that the door cycling could be reset. The TTC has promised to look into the matter. Unfortunately the door issues have impeded the reliability of the trains.

Following the initial October 2010 deliveries, more cars followed until enough were ready to form a full train (trainset 5391-96). On the morning of Thursday, October 14, the TTC towed these cars to Downsview station using a T1 train, and unveiled the train to the media. The Honourable Lisa Raitt, the federal Minister of Labour, the Honourable Kathleen Wynne, Ontario’s Minister of Transportation, Toronto Mayor David Miller and Toronto Transit Commission chair Adam Giambrone unveiled the new Toronto Rocket subway trains during a ceremony that morning.

Previews and Revenue Runs

Previews of the Toronto Rocket trains were held on May 26, 2011 with a demonstration round trip run for media between Davisville Yard and Union Station and public display on May 29, 2011.

Before the first train went into revenue service extensive tests were conducted, first at the Wilson Yard, and then in non-revenue runs on the Yonge-University-Spadina line. At first, these distinctive cars gave late night passengers a start as they glided into stations far more quietly than their T1 counterparts. In this age of cellphone cameras and Twitter, shots of these mysterious trains soon found an audience on the Internet, and anticipation built. When the first train entered revenue service on July 21, 2011 (trainset 5411-16) journalists reported favourably on the new features of the Toronto Rocket cars, noting especially the customer information systems (such as the LED subway map), the long passenger gangway and other accessibility features.

Passengers were said to applaud when the new trains entered stations. However additional trains went into service very slowly, resulting in a bit of a “where are the new trains?” phenomenon until they started appearing more regularly. As the Toronto Rocket trains began operate more regularly, some other issues arose, such as the lack of hand grips under the ceiling mounted air-conditioning units, leaving passengers on crowded trains scrambling to find something to steady themselves, and problems with the exterior cab doors that allow operating crews to enter the cabs directly from the platform. An experimental handgrip arrangement was tested on trainset 5461-66 to improve the situation and numerous modifications to the cab doors have been tested. So far the rest of the fleet has not yet been retrofitted with the additional handgrips. There have also been issues with the height of the trains at various station platforms, with the car floors sometimes being significantly higher than the platforms, causing accessibility advocates to call for modifications to address the situation.

The order of the first 78 cars (enough for thirteen six-car trains) came to $236.7 million, with the government of Canada contributing $92.3 million to the cost, Ontario contributing $83.7 million and the City of Toronto the remaining $60.7 million. A further 156 cars (26 trainsets) comprised the original order. The Toronto Rocket order was extended by an additional 31 trainsets to take advantage of the opportunity to modernize the fleet further by giving early retirement to the troublesome H-6 class cars, with the total expected cost for the additional 31 trains coming in at $479,920,321. The total cost of the entire Toronto Rocket order is estimated at more than $1 billion ($1,031,063,017).

The ongoing reliability issues have caused the Toronto Rocket deliveries to gradually fall behind schedule, resulting in deliveries to continue likely through to the end of 2014 at least to get all 70 trainsets into service.


Toronto Rocket Image Archive

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A look inside the first Toronto Rocket subway train. Public unveiling ceremony at Downsview Station, October 14, 2010. Photo by TTC / Mike DeToma.

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Another look inside the first Toronto Rocket subway train. Public unveiling ceremony, Downsview Station, October 14, 2010. Photo by TTC / Mike DeToma.

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The first Toronto Rocket subway train poses at Downsview Station, just after the public unveiling ceremony on October 14, 2010. Photo by TTC / Mike DeToma.

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Car 5392 forms part of the first Toronto Rocket subway train at Downsview Station after the public unveiling ceremony on October 14, 2010. Photo by TTC / Mike DeToma.

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In the evening of November 15, 2010, railfan Benny Cheung came upon Rocket train 5391-5396 at Davisville station and snapped some pictures. The red flaps festooning the train are part of a tunnel clearance test.

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A shot of Rocket train 5391-5396 on the evening of November 15, 2010, showing the add-ons for testing tunnel clearance, and work crews within preparing for the test. Photo by Benny Cheung.

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The articulation between Toronto Rocket cars 5392 and 5393, in the November evening glow. Photo by Benny Cheung.

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With a DSLR in hand, Benny Cheung caught this gorgeous April 2012 shot of a Toronto Rocket train pulling into the southbound platform at Davisville station.

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As of April 2012, the Toronto Rocket trains are numerous enough to be stored in off-hours at Davisville Yards, as seen here with these trains (along with a single H5 train) waiting to enter service for the afternoon rush hour. Benny Cheung took this picture, which is a nice update of this picture of Davisville Yards taken in 2006.


Extras

References

  • TTC Commission Report May 6, 2010 Procurement Authorization Amendment - Option to purchase 31 additional new subway train sets.

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