The countdown clock has started and Toronto’s newest Rocket is through testing and ready to enter service. This morning, the TTC welcomed members of the press on board for a test run and technical tour of the new subway trains as they enter the final phase of pre-launch preparations. We were brought on board at Davisville Station for a non-stop trip to Union Station and back.
Here is Torontoist‘s five-senses guide to our shiny new trains!
SIGHTS: The Toronto Rocket was first unveiled back in October and most of its visual features were revealed then. The riveted metal exterior has given way to a smooth, sleek, stainless steel body marked by a restyled front end. What’s really new is what you’ll see when the train is in action.
The most talked-about feature of the new subways is that they are each one full-length train rather than divided into separate cars, allowing you to move from one end to another. This creates almost 10 per cent more space per train by eliminating the gaps between cars, as well as unneeded operator cabs. It is the most striking visual feature when you get on the train. And it gets more fun: when in motion, you can watch the whole train snake through the subway tunnels and the many curves in the track. Bets are already on for how soon after the trains are in service someone will decide to race from one end to another. For now, walking, it took us one and a half minutes.
You will also be greeted by the new electronic subway map above every door, which, as promised, flashes to show which station is next. At an interchange station such as Bloor-Yonge, the entire Bloor-Danforth line will light up and flash to let you know you can switch lines. The map, however, brings back the tightly spaced, bolded, condensed typeface that made a brief, highly criticized appearance back in 2008. The new map also moves all the information we are used to seeing in the current subway map, such as accessibility and the station’s address, onto a new, incredibly difficult to read panel a foot away.
There are more visual distractions for your subway ride on the Rocket as well. LED and LCD displays show you the name of the next station. The LCD screen will also show periodic public service announcements, like reminders to look after your valuables and to keep gum in your mouth. Finally, as you are looking at all these distractions, you in turn will be watched, by four cameras in each section of the train. Similar to cameras on buses and streetcars, the footage will only be viewed if requested as part of an investigation by the authorities.
SOUNDS: The familiar door chime will still ring as the doors close, but the Toronto Rocket has a brand new sound. The train has a distinctively different acceleration sound than the existing subway fleet: a higher-pitched hum compared to the lower-pitched hum of the oldest trains, and the robotic acceleration of the newer ones. Once in motion, the train feels more silent—though that may be a product of only having 20 or so passengers on a train that carries over 1,200.
The biggest change you will hear is in the next stop announcements. The now-familiar, sometimes drowsy-sounding voice has been replaced by a computerized one, clearly pronouncing, then repeating, the next station name. Riders will be glad to know that the system announces Bloor-Yonge as an “interchange station,” though it does not say what it interchanges between.
TOUCH: The new Rockets are perfect for germophobes, with an anti-microbial coating on virtually every stanchion and overhead pull handle. The coating, according to the marketing material, uses “positively charged molecules [to] attract microbes and electrocute them on contact.” Sadly, we did not bring a microscope on board to watch this in action.
It was a good thing the poles are now germ free: you will want to hold on because this train sure can accelerate. Travelling through and slowing down through the stations, the one thing we felt was how much smoother the ride was. At the same time, you can really feel it kick up as it left the stations, and we got to some nice cruising speeds heading south toward Bloor-Yonge.
Sitting down, you will have the familiar feeling of the red velvet seat padding. Seating has been rearranged: there are now flip-up seats that stay flipped up to accommodate wheelchairs and bicycles and the forward-facing seats are now staggered to give more standing room.
SMELL: There’s definitely a new train smell on the Rocket, though we will see how long that lasts. The air conditioning gives a good stream of fresh air, with none of the musty smells of the older subway cars.
TASTE: It’s new, but, yeah. No.
The new trains are a massive improvement on the existing fleet. They feel roomy, look modern, and, as assured by staff on hand, have the newest high-tech bells and whistles under the hood. The TTC currently has four of these trains on property undergoing “final safety approvals,” with another 64 on order. By the end of 2013, 70 of these trains will be running on the Yonge-University-Spadina subway.
As we approach the fifth anniversary of the trains being first announced, the final countdown is on to bring these trains into service. When can you catch a ride on the new Rocket? “A few more weeks,” says TTC spokesman Brad Ross. In the meantime, the TTC invites everyone to Davisville Station this coming Sunday, May 29th, between 10:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m., where the Rocket will be on display for a public open house and walkthrough.
Photos by Christopher Drost/Torontoist.