The long-awaited second generation of Link light rail trains has arrived at Sound Transit’s OMF in SoDo. The Siemens-built S70 car was put on display for local media on Wednesday, giving a small look into the future of our light rail system.
The display car, number 202, is the first of 152 Siemens light rail vehicles that were ordered by Sound Transit in 2016 for use on the ST2 extensions (including those that rolled over into ST3), covering Northgate Link, East Link, Lynnwood Link, and Federal Way Link. The $624.5 million contract covers all 152 vehicles, which are being manufactured and tested by Siemens in Sacramento, California. The ST3 extensions beyond 2025 will be served by a third generation that will require a new bidding process, and potentially more design changes if necessary.
Sound Transit expects to receive one to three vehicles per month through the end of the order in 2024, with many cars slated to also fill the under-construction OMF East in Bellevue. Following a few months of testing and commissioning, the first of the new Siemens cars will enter service in early 2020. Northgate Link will require 40 cars, while East Link will take up 112; both sets will be shared with the Lynnwood and Federal Way extensions.
The new Siemens cars will run in separate trainsets from the old Kinikisharyo cars, which will be pulled from service and trucked to Bellevue while undergoing minor software change to prepare them for East Link service, namely adding a new speed setting for the Bel-Red section’s 25 mph limit. Yes, this means that four-car train service will have to wait a bit longer, perhaps until the in-service testing for Northgate Link begins in late 2020.
The Siemens car is the same length and seating capacity (74 seats) as the current Kinkisharyo cars, but slight adjustments to the seating areas will mark major improvements for riders on Link. The articulated joint between the two low-floor “bowls” features a wider aisle and an extra pair of seats, allowing for less knee-knocking when circulating around the car.
The bicycle/luggage area now sports two hooks for bicycles, which are staggered to support different bike lengths. The pairs of seats that are adjacent to the luggage area have been turned to face the aisle, eliminating the cramped compartment between the door and joint. The partitions between seating areas have been slimmed down to a small glass panel from head to toe, instead of the half-glass, half-opaque version we have today. The fold-down seating in the wheelchair area is now only two seats rather than three, and the transverse (forward/backwards facing) seats in the low-floor area now face the wheelchair areas.
The seats themselves are also slightly thinner and have more leg (and knee) room, similar to the newer generation of Metro buses (albeit with cloth fabric). The number of seats that have underside room for stowed luggage has been increased, thanks to the elimination of some seat struts that are present on the Kinkisharyo cars. The Siemens cars also come with larger windows, which curve inwards at the top.
The four doors on each side of the car are equipped with LED light strips that change based on whether the door is opening soon/closing soon (red) or already opened/closed (blue). These visual cues are paired with the existing audio chimes and are highly effective at getting people to squeeze in and prevent unnecessary door blocking.
Above the doors closest to the high-rise section (which still has sixteen transverse seats), a small screen displays the next three stations and can be customized for rider alerts. These screens are now becoming commonplace on newer North American trains (having been used effectively in Asia and Europe for almost 20 years), but Sound Transit’s current configuration is simple and could use more information, such as bus connections and station layout maps.
On the outside, the Siemens car looks sleeker and near identical to the newer-generation S70s that they have deployed for San Diego and other cities. The destination sign has colored LEDs that will be used for our multi-line system, and Sound Transit has seemingly dropped the redundant use of “station” in the scrolling signs on the train. One would hope that this is a permanent change that also gets applied to the Kinkisharyo cars as soon as possible.
And speaking of much-needed retroactive fixes, ST CEO Peter Rogoff said offhandedly that the agency is considering a public outreach process to fix the dreaded University-University-University station naming problem that will rear its head in 2021. The on-board maps in the new car already display the three new Northgate Link stations, complete with their pictograms, and also highlight Westlake (as “Westlake/Seattle” to emphasize its place in downtown) and Sea-Tac Airport.
Overall, I was impressed with the Siemens car’s general comforts and am anxiously awaiting them to enter service. While it is unfortunate that the four-car trainsets that Sound Transit plans to run will have six intermediate operator cabs (which will largely remain unused), the additional standing space in these new cars should provide a tiny capacity increase.
The unveiling of the new car has generated a lot of interest on our Twitter feed, so we will be gathering questions there, in this comment section, and from random discussions online to ask Sound Transit about the new fleet. Just post a query below and we’ll try to get it answered in an upcoming post.