Putting New Streetcars to the Test
The TTC's new fleet is being put through its paces.
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.
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.”