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.”
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.