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Putting New Streetcars to the Test

The TTC's new fleet is being put through its paces.

TTC personnel test the streetcars at night. Photo courtesy of TTC Media Relations.

Stephen Lam rides one of the TTC’s new streetcars six days a week—it’s his job. As the head of the TTC’s streetcar department, he’s been overseeing the testing of the city’s new fleet—which will be introduced first on the 510 Spadina route at the end of the summer—for a year and a half.

The new low-floor light rail vehicles—or LFLRV—are twice as long as the existing ones. They come equipped with air conditioning, an automatic retractable ramp, and a “tap and go” fare collection system (Presto).

The new technology is software-driven and relies on computers. This means that problems they encounter now, like stop announcements being made too early or too late, can be tweaked remotely from manufacturer Bombardier’s offices in Thunder Bay, St. Bruno, and Europe. The current 30-year-old streetcars are hardware-driven, which makes it difficult to fix glitches quickly.

Photo courtesy of TTC Media Relations.

The streetcars have gone through rigorous testing since their arrival in September 2012. The city’s first new streetcar was shipped to Ottawa to undergo extreme weather testing at the National Research Council. Because of Toronto’s harsh winters, Lam says, the streetcars have to be able to deal with “road salt, the snow, and slippery rails.”

A lengthy test period has been necessary, Lam explains, because of Toronto’s old, challenging, compact network. The hill on Bathurst Street, for example, is on an 8 per cent grade and “the longest one in the business in North America,” according to Lam. “The vehicles are custom-designed to fit.”

Lam and his crew of engineers will continue to do “ongoing routine testing” until the launch. A test master from the TTC is always present to monitor computers and signals and to gather information. Lam says there are “binders and binders” filled with documentation. “We exercise the doors every night, basically, making sure it goes through all its cycles. We would be extending the ramp to make sure it operates reliably. We could be monitoring automatic stop announcements. Those are the kinds of things we do.”

When one of the new streetcars runs into trouble, it will usually be connected to another streetcar and pulled away. But if a streetcar tow isn’t possible, a tow truck will be pressed into service—hence, the tow truck/streetcar practice run.

He estimates they’ll be undertaking somewhere between 280 and 300 tests (depending on how they are categorized) in total. The goal is to make sure the vehicles are operating perfectly before they are officially launched on August 31, but the testing won’t stop there: it will continue throughout the vehicles’ time on the streets.

The TTC will need to make sure “that the modifications and improvements can be validated,” says Lam. “It’s an ongoing process. I wouldn’t say there’s a stop time or date beyond which there will be no more tests.”


  • nevilleross

    Good to see and hear about all of this testing-now, can we have a firm date on when we’ll all be able to ride these streetcars? And most importantly, when we can use Presto on them?

    • Andy McIlwain

      From the article: “The goal is to make sure the vehicles are operating perfectly before they are officially launched on August 31.”

  • tyrannosaurus_rek

    Have there been test runs with passengers? I’d like to think our experience as the end users is just as important as whether they can complete a turn at a given intersection.

    • nevilleross

      Agreed. In fact, I’d like to be hired on as a TTC test passenger, if such a thing exists.

      I’d love to see these streetcars in suburban Toronto, riding down Victoria Park Avenue or Sheppard Avenue, or even down Finch Avenue or Steeles. But thanks to our shortsighted asshole of a mayor…

      • bobloblawbloblawblah

        But, people want subways, subways, subways!!

        • nevilleross

          Said sheeple (I refuse to use the word people because that’s not what they are) can kiss my big black ass. If I were mayor or premier, they’ll be getting streetcars/light rail in the streets that can support them, and that’s it-no ifs, ands, or buts.

      • TheSotSays

        Well you’re worthless as a Bolshevik troller so you might as well see if you can pick up a gig as “test passenger.”

        You’ll suffer a serious reduction in salary though. There’s no way any test passenger will be picking up the 2 bucks an hour you pick up as a troller.

        • nevilleross

          Since when have I trolled you as you’re cyberstalking me, buddy? Please let me know.

          • TheSotSays

            Men are born ignorant, not stupid. They become stupid by hanging around with friends like yours.

            So the secret is this. If you don’t want people to comment on your remarks trying saying something intelligent for once in your life.

          • dsmithhfx

            Sotty’s a troll. That’s what it does. Ignore it, flag its posts, and they’ll all be gone by tomorrow morning. They don’t usually last >20 minutes during the week, when Torontoist moderators are around.

            Disqus does support banning by user names…

    • bjhtn

      I think that is probably step three on the testing process. This is speculation, of course, but it seems to be how the testing has gone.

      Step 1: make sure these things can work geometrically along every inch of track that the TTC operates, including unusual turns that are used only for diversions. Remember that a big part of the delay in the procurement was finding a streetcar that could work with tight radii and steep hills. You want to do that late at night so that the streetcar can go slowly and so that there is as little disruption as possible in case you come up with a nasty surprise. That’s where we saw the various late-night runs right after the first streetcar arrived.

      Step 2: start doing testing of the streetcars in mixed traffic. These things are longer than Toronto drivers (and streetcar operators) are used to. In part this is testing the vehicles — making sure that they can operate OK in mixed traffic, particularly in a congested downtown environment, but it’s also about training enough operators to be ready for “day one” of service. Again, you want to do this without the added consideration of passenger movements.

      Step 3: testing with passenger movements on board. In theory, they could do some of this in the yard to test things like loading levels, boarding times etc., but some of this you really only gauge with actual passenger experience — but you want to make sure the bugs are out with steps 1 and 2.

    • torontothegreat

      That would be part of the engineering, build and QA processes by the manufacturer. Once it gets to market, there would be very little they could even DO with any whiny, pedestrian-level feedback you may have (most likely about fonts and colours *yawn*)

  • torontothegreat

    “One place the TTC will not test these cars, though, is on the street, with passengers”

  • Joe Clark

    This post does not accurately describe how the current stop-announcement system works. It isn’t mechanical. And not a single error can actually be fixed save for deleting or duplicating an announcement. Next-stop displays use faulty software that cannot be fixed. Why all these unremediable errors? According to legend, the original developer is suing the TTC. Various in-camera meetings have been held on the topic.

    Thus, whenever you take the Christie bus and hear the nice lady mispronounce Yarmouth as Yarr Mouth, rest assured that nothing will be done.

    Not disclosed in this piece is whether or not the LFLRVs use a synthesized voice, a total fucking disaster that the Windows tinkerer-geeks at the TTC would think is just fine.

  • Brad

    These streetcars are significantly longer than the current cars. When a streetcar stops, there is typically space given along the right lane – a no-parking zone – that allows unfettered access to the streetcar. Will these zones be expanded to allow for the larger streetcars? If so, how many parking spaces will be eliminated along the major routes?

    Also, the current streetcars have a tendency to ‘stack up’ on Queen St. East at Neville Park loop – frequently, there are several streetcars waiting in a line for the loop to clear – given the longer streetcars, I would like to know how they will prevent these backups which effectively block the street to traffic.

    • mixandserve

      Who cares, eliminate ALL parking on major streets and make them bike-only.

      I LOVE the New War on Cars!