I have been in Vancouver this past week and finally had the chance to use SkyTrain and ride on a Bombardier ART Mark-II car, as well as another ride on a Mark-I car to remind me of the differences.
The Mark-II cars are longer and married pairs have a gangway between them making the two a continuous space. While this added length increases the feeling of having more room, these cars actually feel wider than the Mark-I cars even though they are not wider. The seating layout, which actually has more forward/reverse-facing seats, makes it feel like a wider car.
For the rail/transit fan, the Mark-II cars have a larger window in the front (with windshield wiper), with a seat available that has one seated facing forward. SkyTrain is fully automated, so there is no driver’s cab. There are two versions of the Mark-I car: the original 114 cars have a window on the front door similar to the centre window in the driver’s cab on the Scarborough RT. In 1991 and 1994, a total of 36 additional Mark-I cars were purchased that had no door on its front end, but had a slightly larger window with a windshield wiper. The Mark-I cars have a fold-down seat that faces sideways in the narrow space in the front.
If the Scarborough RT were to keep the ART (formerly ICTS) technology, new Mark-II cars would have to be ordered as Mark-I cars are not manufactured anymore. For the most part, these are interchangeable as is the case on SkyTrain, but there are some changes that will be needed on the Scarborough RT as a matter of course including a lengthening of some stations and a re-alignment of Kennedy station to remove the sharp curve and place the RT platform at the mezzanine level below ground. These are significant projects that will have the line shut down for a period of a few months.
It is believed that Mark-II cars can negotiate the tunnelled curve between Ellesmere and Midland stations. I am unaware of how this belief has been determined, but if it is wrong, some major work will be necessary. If converted to LRT, the articulated nature of the type of vehicle to be ordered will allow negotiating this curve. The issue with the Scarborough RT is that the overall infrastructure was originally designed to accommodate CLRVs and it turned out that Mark-I cars worked for the most part. Only the loop at Kennedy was a problem, which required the station to be shut down for the single stub track to be built as it is now.
Years ago, when the TTC first considered purchasing 72-foot subway cars, they actually built a frame of a 72-foot car on wheels that could be pushed through the tunnels to ensure that it would fit. I have not heard if they have done a similar test on the Scarborough RT.
As nice as the Mark-II cars are, the linear induction motor technology has a serious flaw in Toronto’s environment: slushy wet snow clogs up the gap between the reaction rail and the underside of the train. Furthermore, there is a slight heating effect when a train passes over the reaction rail that can cause some minor melting of snow that refreezes before the next train passes. This can occur when the temperature is not so cold that a slight heating will melt snow, but the repeated melting and refreezing can cause a build-up of ice that can cause problems like the wet slushy snow can. The great technological breakthrough to combat this is a heated reaction rail, which is not exactly the epitome of energy efficiency. It is one thing to heat switch points to prevent freezing problems, it is a whole other thing to heat the reaction rail along the entire double-track length of the line!
The Scarborough RT should be converted to Transit City-compatible LRT. The power pick-up would be changed from third/fourth rail to overhead catenary, and the platforms at stations would have to be lowered (or the track level raised). If the Transit City lines are to be built to TTC gauge, the track will have to be re-gauged. If the Transit City lines do not need to have connect-ability with the legacy streetcar network, then they could be built to standard gauge and then the current Scarborough RT tracks are usable as-is.