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The Toronto Flexity Freedom Light Rail Vehicles

Text by James Bow

See Also

In 2007, the TTC was looking for its next generation of streetcars. At the same time, Toronto City Council, led by Toronto Mayor David Miller and TTC Chairman Adam Giambrone, were looking for ways to expand the city’s rapid transit network. Since 1980, Toronto’s subway network had only been expanded by eleven stations. Plans to extend subways or establish new lines had come and gone, with various governments balking at the expense.

The previous attempt to provide rapid transit at a lower cost did not live up to its promise as the specialized technology used to power the SCARBOROUGH RT proved to be too expensive and inflexible. To finally get construction started, Mayor Millor and Chair Giambrone proposed a plan to use light rail vehicles. Streetcars on private right-of-way had been proposed to expand rapid transit through Scarborough before the provincial government intervened to upgrade the technology to linear induction. Since then, other cities, including Portland, Denver, and Los Angeles, had substantially increased their rapid transit networks and transit use through light rail. Miller, Giambrone and the TTC proposed the construction of LRT lines across the city. The proposal was called Transit City.

A New Generation of Light Rail

Transit City’s LRTs would operate largely on the surface on Sheppard Avenue East, Finch Avenue West, Jane Street, Eglinton Avenue East/Morningside and Don Mills Road. The keystone of the network, however, would be the EGLINTON-CROSSTOWN LRT line operating from Kennedy Station to Renforth Drive, and on into Pearson Airport.

The Transit City plan took a big step forward the following July when the provincial government agreed to fund the projects as part of their MoveOntario 2020 initiative. With the City expecting to build tens of kilometres of LRT lines at the same time as replacing its old CLRV and ALRV streetcars, it made sense to roll the LRT vehicle order with the order for the city’s next generation of streetcars. However, with Metrolinx responsible for the construction of Toronto’s Transit City lines, Metrolinx decided against earlier plans to build them to the TTC’s unique track gauge, opting instead to use standard gauge, in line with new LRT lines planned for Mississauga, Hamilton and Waterloo Region.

Bombardier Bids.

As a result of Metrolinx’s decision, the plan to roll the LRT order with the order of the TTC’s replacement streetcars was curtailed, and Metrolinx began work on tendering out a large LRT order instead. Bombardier, which had hoped to build the TTC’s streetcars and LRT vehicles — a potential order of up to 400 vehicles, would not be disappointed for long, however. In June 2010, Metrolinx placed an order for 182 LRT vehicles with Bombardier, with an option for 118 more vehicles that could be ordered within six years. By combining the orders for several cities into one production line, Metrolinx and Bombardier hoped to lower procurement costs and reduce the chance of delays.

Whereas Bombardier’s cars for Toronto’s legacy streetcar network was a customized version of its Flexity Outlook model, the Toronto LRT cars would be based on Bombardier’s Flexity Freedom design. This vehicle was 100% low floor, but was wider than the Outlook, at 2.65 metres. Unlike the legacy Flexities, the Flexity LRT vehicles would have driver cabs at both ends, with doors on both sides, meaning it would not need loops to turn around at the ends of lines. The Flexity Freedom vehicles could be made up of three, five, or seven articulated sections, although five-section vehicles were preferred by Metrolinx (Edmonton would order a seven-section vehicle for its Valley Line LRT, to open in 2022). The cars would drive on 750 Volts, drawing power from an overhead wire through a pantograph in each car.

In 2013, Metrolinx officially assigned 28 vehicles out of this LRT order to Waterloo Region for use on their LRT, which would open in June 2019. The actual order was for 14 vehicles, with an option for an additional 14 in later years.

As part of the design process for the new Flexity Freedom vehicles, to promote Bombardier’s LRT production line, and promote the construction of LRT lines, Bombardier built a mock-up LRT vehicle. It was ready and painted in a red livery in time for the 2011 American Public Transit Association Expo. After this showing, it was redone in a green livery that Metrolinx had selected for the EGLINTON-CROSSTOWN line, showing up at locations around Canada to hlghlight what transit passengers might be riding in the future. Showings included in Vancouver (July 6-8, 2012), Edmonton (July 13-15, 2012), and Calgary. It was shown in Toronto as part of the 2012 Canadian National Exhibition, and appeared elsewhere in Toronto, in Brampton, and in Waterloo Region over the next two years. In 2015, Bombardier changed the livery again, replacing the green with grey, possibly as Metrolinx had decided to go with this livery for its EGLINTON-CROSSTOWN LRT.

One design change that occurred after the order came around the start of 2013, when Metrolinx asked Bombardier to reduce the number of cabs in the EGLINTON-CROSSTOWN LRVs. The vehicles would now feature a single driver’s cab, while a hidden control panel would be found in the rear. This arrangement allowed the installation of four additional seats and standee room at the backs of the LRVs, and Metrolinx planned to operate the EGLINTON-CROSSTOWN cars in permanent two-car sets, at least to start, with the married pairs coupled rear-to-rear. The Waterloo ION light rail vehicles were not modified, and were delivered with a full cab at each end.

Production Begins and is Delayed

Although Bombardier lobbied for its light rail vehicles by promising that Toronto’s investment would help the economy of the fellow Canadian city Thunder Bay, production of many of the parts of the Flexity Freedom (and the legacy Flexity Outlook) was outsourced to Sahagun, Mexico, with the Thunder Bay plant only handling the final assembly. Quality control issues from the Mexican plant ended up severely delaying production of these vehicles, with the delays to Toronto’s legacy Flexity cars becoming a media nightmare. Soon, Metrolinx was complaining that delivery schedules weren’t being met, and delivery delays were cited as one reason why Waterloo Region’s LRT was pushed back from an initial September 2017 opening.

In May 2016, Bombardier promised to address the issue, by shifting manufacturing to their plant in La Pocatière, Quebec, with additional assembly taking place at their Millhaven facility. This wasn’t quick enough for Metrolinx, who expressed concern that Bombardier’s delays could delay the opening of the EGLINTON-CROSSTOWN, FINCH WEST, and HURONTARIO LRTs. The following October, Metrolinx announced its intention to cancel their contract with Bombardier, saying that the vehicle delays represented a default. Further, they claimed that the pilot vehicle built for Metrolinx did not meet their criteria, and could not operate under its own power. For its part, Bombardier claimed that Metrolinx had changed the specifications of its order. The two threatened to face off in court, although Metrolinx exercised its leverage by serving notice that it would not renew the contract it had with Bombardier to operate and maintain its GO trains. Further, Metrolinx announced plans to order LRT cars from Alstom to operate its FINCH WEST and HURONTARIO LRT lines.

In December 2017, Metrolinx and Bombardier reached a settlement that halted further court action. Bombardier agreed to reduce Bombardier’s order to 76 LRVs for the EGLINTON-CROSSTOWN line and 14 for the Waterloo ION LRT, down from the 182 initially agreed to. There were also stronger financial penalties for Bombardier if it missed further delivery deadlines. In return, Metrolinx extended Bombardier’s contract to operate and maintain Metrolinx’s GO Trains for another 18 months.

Testing and First Deliveries

The Metrolinx pilot LRV was transported to Bombardier’s Millhaven facility in November 2016. It was joined shortly thereafter by the first Waterloo ION LRT, and both vehciles were later spotted being operated around the test track. Testing and early production continued until the end of October 2018, when Bombardier held a media event to show off a completed EGLINTON-CROSSTOWN LRV. They promised the vehicle would be delivered to Metrolinx’s Eglinton Storage and Maintenance Facility the following November, with another five following in February 2019. The first LRV actually arrived in January 2019, with five more arriving by the end of May. However, Metrolinx was able to hold a media event where Flexity LRV #6201 glided out under its own power to wow reporters on May 22, 2019. By this time, Bombardier’s production had picked up speed, and the company promised that the remaining LRVs would be delivered by 2021, ahead of the EGLINTON-CROSSTOWN line’s opening date of September 2021.

Outlook Legacy and Freedom Future

In spite of Bombardier’s delivery delays, the company’s Flexity LRV model will define the image of light rail transit not just in Toronto, but throughout Ontario into the 2020s. It may have competition from Alstom in Ottawa, and on the FINCH WEST and HURONTARIO LRTs, but the design will be instantly familiar to passengers in Waterloo, Toronto’s downtown, and the EGLINTON-CROSSTOWN line.

Technical Specifications

Fleet Numbers: 6200-6275
Seating: 56; Service Load: 186; Crush Load: 251
Weight (empty): 48,200 kg
Dimensions: length 30.8m, width 2.65m, height 3.84m
Minimum horizontal curve radius: 26 metres (82.02 feet)
Minimum verticle curve radius - convex: 122 m
Minimum verticle curve radius - concave: 244 m
Top Speed: 70 km/h. Initial Fleet Capacity: 12,464 passengers
Initial Cost of Fleet: $392 million

Document Archive


Flexity Freedom LRV 6200-6275 Image Archive

References