Siemens S70 on Minneapolis Green Line (Wikimedia)
Siemens S70 on Minneapolis Green Line (Wikimedia)

At yesterday’s Sound Transit Board meeting, CEO Peter Rogoff gave board members a brief update on new Link vehicle procurement planned for 2018 (see video below from 4’30” to 6’30”). The 122-car order went out to bid late last year, and Rogoff told the board that ST would soon issue a Notice of Award to Siemens to build the new vehicles, beating out Stadler and the maker of the current fleet, Kinkisharyo. The Board will take final action on the procurement later this year.

The new Link vehicles are needed to fulfill the operational needs of Sound Transit 2 (ST2). At roughly $730m, the order is the largest single contract in Sound Transit history, and will triple the Link fleet from today’s 62 cars to 184. The purchase is required to run “all 4-car trains, all the time” once Northgate Link opens. (By choosing to batch the order into a single contract, the 2016-2019 period has left Sound Transit short of vehicles, and unable to run as many 3 and 4-car trains as riders want.)

The S70 Siemens light rail vehicles (LRVs) are some of the most commonly used in the United States, and can be seen in places like San Diego, Portland, Minneapolis, and Charlotte. In a phone call, Sound Transit’s Bruce Gray said that while the final specs aren’t yet determined, the new vehicles will likely have higher capacity, a more open floor plan, double the bike capacity (4 hooks per car), and both a wider walkway and better seating in the center section. The new vehicles will not be compatible with the current fleet for coupled use in revenue service, as enabling compatibility would have added 20% (or roughly $140m) to the order. So future trains will be composed of either Siemens or Kinkisharyo cars, but never both.

Light rail vehicles are admittedly still an awkward fit for our grade-separated “light metro”. When coupled into 4-car trains, there are 8 operator cabs per train, wasting a lot of space that could be used for passengers. “Open gangways” are also not possible at this time, as Gray said that longer cars are incompatible with current and future Operations Maintenance Satellite Facilities (OMSF), and accommodating them “would require cutting up and rebuilding all the existing maintenance bays.”

No need for 8 operator cabs... (Wikimedia)
Portland making good use of its cars… (Steve Morgan – Wikimedia)

Fortunately, places like Portland – where 2-car trains are forever the maximum due to at-grade running on short blocks – have enabled greater capacity by reducing operator cabs to 1 per car, and using the other end for additional seats. I hope that Sound Transit will look to do similar things with this new order, as Link is being sold to the public on account of its high capacity. If all-4-car train operation is the plan, consists could be permanently coupled into sets, only needing 2 operator cabs for push-pull operation and 6 for seating, yielding up to 48 additional seats per 4-car train.

45 Replies to “Sound Transit to Select Siemens to Build 122 New Link Vehicles”

  1. An article on another blog, the Urbanist I believe, indicated that although the Siemens and Kinkisharyo cars are not operationally compatible they will be mechanically compatible meaning they can couple together so that a disabled train can be cleared by either brand. If so that at least solves the biggest issue of incompatible LRV’s.

  2. TriMet does not perminately couple their S70s into sets, but they do keep the type 4 and 5 S70s mated to their own kind. Type 1/2/3 are all mixed together. Perminately coupling them into sets makes little sense as you can always pull a bad car out and use a spare to remake the rest of the set.

    1. I didn’t mean permanently, per se. More like indefinitely, until they need to be pulled for maintenance/rotation, whatever. Idea is to not need 8 operator cabs per train

      1. A halfway solution would be “married pairs” where 2 LRVs are more or less permanently coupled together with one operators cab per LRV.

      2. The Type I (BN Bombardier) and Type 2/3 Tri-Met MAX cars had to run together because the Type Is are high-floor, and Tri-Met needed to be more ADA compliant and dump those station-lifts which had become unreliable. Using the way-side lifts also added significant delays to operations.

      3. I agree with aw. A car with two “observation car” sections would not be operable by itself. It couldn’t make a move into the maintenance building. Married pairs would at least free up four “ends” per train.

  3. Closer to Seattle, both Calgary and Edmonton operate Siemens (or cars made by Siemens Transportation predecessor Düsseldorf Wagen AG(DüWAG) exclusively, though not the S70.

    Muni has also ordered cars from Siemens, opting instead to go with the S200 that Calgary did.

      1. The S200s in the article you posted is actually 100% high-floor, which gives it more uninhibited space. Notice at each door, there is a collapsing stairwell which allows these trains to make stops at high-level platforms as well as low-level or non-existent platforms.

  4. Zach, great point about the wasted space taken up by the unused cabs (6 of them, as you pointed out). I am puzzled by ST’s dicision to not use longer trainsets, which would save them tens of millions in the long run. I struggle to imagine reconfiguring the single maintenance facility we have today would cost that much, and changing the plans for the new one can’t be that hard either.

    1. Added note, I think LRVs with no permanent cab at all on either end is not as crazy of an idea as it may sound.

      1. There are a number of agencies in Europe running “trailer” trains — no cab, no motor.

      2. It’s certainly not. Many subway operators have cabless cars. BART, for example, has a huge fleet of B-cars without cabs. If necessary, they can be operated independently by small maintenance-accessible panels. Same with TriMet’s single-ended vehicles as they contains small panel allowing for low-speed (<10mph?) operations.

      3. Mike,

        Why does Tri-Met need a “small panel allowing for low-speed (<10mph?) operations"? Can't the cars be backed from the primary cab?

      4. Sure you could, but it makes operation a bit harder for coupling, etc.

      5. Anandakos,

        you’d need a spotter (a second crew member to do that. It’s standard practice to have basic controls behind a maintenance panel on the “back” of single-ended cars so the single driver can take the vehicle backwards when necessary (and does not have to wait for another staff to come from the depot ….


      With three-side windows and skylight. The light and the view makes the cars more pleasant.

      1. Well, there’s Portland cars ends and there’s other Portland car ends.

        What’s in the photo is the car end on the 400 series cars.

        The 500 series are somewhat more blunt because that is what Siemens was building for someone else at the time. This makes the skylight effect a bit less in those.

    3. Um, er, ah, “Pioneer Square”, “University Street”, “Westlake”. Those are very trenchant reasons not to run longer trains.

  5. Seems to me that this order was designed and placed too long ago to address the capacity problems. ST needs to seriously rethink their vehicle strategy given their capacity issues.

    That said, this LRV is so common (as is the Kinkisharyo’s) that I have no doubt there is a SIGNIFICANT discount. Having Siemens design a 200ft vehicle would result in significantly higher price. For ST3, however, that price (along with the cost of redesigning the maintenance bays) may be well worth it.

    I am hopeful that they will significantly reduce the number of seats in each car — seats are terrible waste of space on a system with such a high ridership.

    1. “Having Siemens design a 200ft vehicle would result in significantly higher price”
      I can see where you are coming from, but I respectfully disagree. I have spent some time working for a Japanese Train Manufacturer, and from my limited experience there I can tell you that most of the work of designing a train is spent designing individual components, and stretching a 100′ long train to 200′ requires very few new parts. The assembly plant won’t need much re-configuring either; remember, most manufacturers, including Kinki, Siemens, and the one I worked for builds everything from LRVs to HSR trains to Locomotives. If anything, I am willing to bet that a 200′ train will cost less than 2 100′ trains, which has less capacity, and cost more to maintain.
      I understand that stretching an airplane, or changing the wheelbase on a car is a drastically different story, but with trains, it really is no big deal, and if anything, a money saver.

      1. The thing is, there are too many cities with different needs, so these days there is a common design with common components, but adaptable to assorted needs by using different pieces.

        Need an S70 that’s 9 feet wide instead of 8.5? Well then, the 9 foot wide frame components get plopped in but everything else is pretty much the same.

      2. As Glenn said,

        my point mostly that the 100ft vehicles are “off the shelf” It’s like picking options on a car — the cost of that car is SO much lower because 95% of it is identical across all the units.

        Seattle would become the only LRT system in US running 200ft trains and it would cost them.

        Single cab is easy. Better interior configuration is easy. 200ft vehicle would add to cost … and I assume ST is not yet ready to eat that cost.

    2. Speculating wildly about prices, I think Zach’s idea to reduce the number of cabs makes sense, but open gangways do not. Modifying the interior a little on an off-the-shelf car should be pretty cheap – the <10% space gain from removing cabs would likely have a price bump of 10% extra, but still improved capacity by <10%, certainly <10% above what you'd get by replacing some cab space with seating.

      In a system that's bumping into its capacity limits, like in NYC or SF, this investment makes sense, because it's cheaper than building a whole new line. But here, at least outside of the RV, we theoretically have plenty of headroom in headways. It might take upgrades to the signaling system and such, but it can't be that hard to go from 6 minute headways to 5:24 headways.

      Given the ridership gains that come along with frequency boosts, I think it would be wiser to spend the money boosting frequency. *dreams of the capacity and convenience of 120 second trains*

      1. Agree. Especially with the investment in the 2nd tunnel to allow for greater capacity downtown, I’d much rather have higher frequency with shorter trains, the benefits for transfers and passenger wait times outweigh the extra labor costs for operations

      2. If anything, eliminating one cab should make things less expensive. These is a lot of work that goes into creating a cab.

        This is why only very few locomotives in North America have cabs at both ends, and why some places worldwide only have cabs on one end of their streetcars / trams / light rail cars.

        It wasn’t so bad when each cab was a muti-tap knob and a brake wheel with a chain. Today, each full cab is thousands of hours of work.

      3. +1
        >Today, each full cab is thousands of hours of work.
        And hundreds of very expensive parts!

      4. I’m not understanding any rational for the double cab cars either since I can’t imagine any operations of single car train-sets other than maintenance and switching/coupling. Surely the operational costs of of occasionally end-for-ending a car via switching can’t exceed the procurement costs of double cab train-sets and the sacrificed passenger capacity.

      5. Sometimes TriMet has single car trains. Today, with the high temperatures and thus lower operating speeds, they broke up a few two car trains and were operating some single car trains more frequently.

        But, yes, with an existing fleet with two cabs, any conceivable low demand period need for single car trains is met by the existing fleet of double cab units.

      6. EHS
        100% agree. The design capacity of the ST3 buildout is ~1M passangers per day .. IIRC (I’d need to go back to the calculations and notes) … so once we have that … we can begin eking out the last bit of capacity with open gangways and 400ft trains with open gangways. And get ST3 system to maybe 1.2 -1.5M capacity.

        Those would be the days, tho!

        double-cab design is what allows ST to build by stages as the car ends in (SEA-TAC and switches tracks, driver switches cabins and drives the train backwards.

        Many older systems (especially in EU have loops or turnbacks at the end of lines so they can have a single cab and doors on only one side of the vehicle, lowering costs and improving capacity.A double-ended vehicle, however has operational advantages.

        I assume originally, ST was not bullish enough to sacrifice the ability to run 1-car trains … after all, this first batch was to serve an unproven system, unproven market …. ST was likely hedging their bets and wanted the option to run single-car trains if demand is low.

        Obviously the region has proven them wrong.

      7. 2-4X the number of cabs not only reduces capacity but adds cost. Plus it seems they are continuing the policy of ordering way too much rolling stock for demand beyond what’s predictable or required for lead times. Airlines place large orders to get better pricing but they are based on options for additional planes are various times in the future.

        How does the cost of this wasted space (and maintenance costs) compare to the cost reduction, both capital and operational, of the upcharge of making the fleet operationally compatible? I’m not seeing anything here that makes me want to double down on the taxes we entrust to the ST board.

  6. Any word on the gearing for these? If we’re going all the way to Tacoma it seems ridiculous we can’t match DART’s 65 mph top speed.

    1. Agreed. Admittedly, it’s kinda hard to have one kind of vehicle move faster others when they share a track. But you could have the 55 mph vehicles run turnback service on the parts of the line where station spacing doesn’t allow vehicles to spend an appreciable amount of time at their top speeds, anyway. Those are the same areas where demand is highest, too.

      You could even remove the majority of the seating if you knew the vehicle was never leaving the urban core.

  7. In the mid 1990s, TriMet was the first to push the issue of wanting a low floor light rail (not lower speed streetcar), and this has proven to be to the benefit of everyone with a light rail line.

    Ottawa was the first to push for a 100% low floor higher speed car.

    I think it would be worthwhile to see if Siemens is willing to head that direction. Once one manufacturer comes up with a basic design advancement everyone else is going to want to head that same direction.

    If Siemens can’t do that yet then so be it, but it would be a shame to be the last city to receive partial high floor cars rather than one of the first higher speed 100% low floors – especially since Siemens probably has something on their drawing board to match Alstom’s Ottawa car.

  8. Love the idea of going with Siemens for the cars. They seem to have built up quite a reputation in the US.

  9. Given Seattle’s topography and the resulting popularity of taking bicycles on the train, maybe ST should consider a configuration on some of the new train cars with standing room only to accommodate more bicycles and airport bound riders with luggage.

  10. The S70 is also the car that was chosen by Atlanta for use on its streetcar line.

    Should there be any desire to, you know, standardize everything in the region to use the same type of equipment.

  11. It’ll be really nice to have more open space, but I have to ask – why do we bother with bike hooks? They only work for a portion of bikes, and a portion of people (not everyone can or wants to lift their bike, and heavy bikes are getting more and more common thanks to places like G+O Family Cyclery). The current iteration of bike hooks cause bikes to block the aisle. I’m assuming (hoping!) newer design would do away with the aisle blockage, but why can’t Sound Transit just order cars that have open space for bikes/strollers/wheelchairs?

    1. How does that work? I’ve not noticed bikes on Link hooks blocking the aisle, but I’m no regular either.

      TriMet’s hooks don’t seem to cause this.

      1. Siemens hooks TriMet wound up with point the bike parallel to the aisle, rather than perpendicular to it.

  12. It seems like it would be smart for Siemens to design an open gangway option for the S70. Essentially, you would replace a pair of cabs and a coupling with a high-floor articulating section. If you do this in 3 places on a 4-car train, you end up with an entirely open train with just two cab ends. Passengers with the ability to use stairs could walk the length of the train.

  13. Why did they batch this order and create a situation that caused service constraints?

    Why does it cost $140M to connect these vehicles? The interconnect and spares will also be a huge cost, but likely under scoped in the contract.

    All the brand x is better than brand y is really missing the larger point.

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