Dashing thru the snow ….
The RTG literature for the new Confederation Line assures us repeatedly that their equipment runs in cold and snowy climates. Given those frequent winter stories in the mass media that we live in the coldest (capital) city in the world, I’d feel much better knowing that our model of trains were running flawlessly in Edmonton, or Winnipeg or Moscow.
Instead we are assured they run in “northern cities”. Copenhagen may well be north of us, but it has a maritime climate. The 100% low floor trains currently run in Adelaide, Lyon, Bordeaux, Paris T2, Valenciennes, Rotterdam, Buenos Aires,Madrid, Melbourne, Nice, Murcia, Barcelona, Jerusalem, Le Havre and Grenoble. With the exception of Grenoble, none of these strike me as having a severe continental climate. Is it too much to have the supplier provide a chart showing the winter conditions in a couple of cities running the same equipment for the same run lengths proposed for Ottawa? And could staff then phone those cities to see if the equipment runs in mid-winter?
The last time we had street-cars in Ottawa, they were notorious for breaking down in the snow, which packed underneath them and lifted the vehicle off the tracks, paralyzing the system.
Deep Frozen Storage
We also propose storing our train-sets outdoors. After they have been washed and cleaned, we’ll roll them outside into the minus 40 and leave them for several hours, before sending them out at 6am to collect passengers. I’d be a lot more confident that they would be warm and unfrozen if they were stored indoors, even if the storage yard was just minimally heated to above freezing.
The characteristic Ottawa foot-stomp
The trains aren’t the only things we are leaving out in the cold. The passengers will be, too.
Unlike the current Transitway system, which has several heated stations (eg, Lincoln Fields, the former Baseline Station, Hurdman, Place D’Orleans) the new surface stations apparently will not have any heated passenger waiting areas.
Earlier in the planning process, I asked city engineers why not. The wait, I was told, was only 3 1/2 minutes for a train. But that’s at rush hour, what about 9.30 Sunday night, there might be a train at Baseline every fifteen minutes? So, the answer went, you get dropped off and might have a ten minute wait, that’s really not long. Dropped off? what if I just walked through the snow for 20 minutes with an 8 year old to get there, and now we have ten or fifteen minutes standing in the cold?
Really, I thought the planning staff had a hard time seeing beyond rush hour commuters and lacked understanding for those who use the system as their primary form of medium and long haul transit, who are thus on the system at all hours of the day and night, when service is not nearly as frequent.
These new surface stations will probably function great at rush hour, when train service really is every 3 or 5 minutes. But outside of rush hour, when trains are less frequent, waits will be longer. And thus far OC Transpo hasn’t guaranteed that all the connecting bus services will run at 5 minute headways, which means there will be lots of passengers waiting for longer periods. The lucky ones will be in unheated stations.
Some of the current transitway stations are little more than a collection of bus shelters. Despite all the pictures of grand glass-enclosed stations trotted out to sell the RTG Confederation scheme, a closer look shows that the stations have miraculously shrunk to a fraction of the size they were proposed as just a few months ago.
Look at Tunney’s, for example. Previous stations enclosed the bus passenger waiting areas on the Holland Avenue side. Then the NCC axed these, as the roof lines violated their precious view lines toward the Claxton Building. Instead, transit users freezing their butts off waiting for the bus will be warmed by their inspirational views of a 60′s office tower.Iconic modernism warms the heart and and feet. Other people waiting for the bus will have modest glass wind and rain shelters, but no heat.
Ironically, the train users which are likely to have the shortest waits get the grand stations, while the bus users with the longer waits get shoved outdoors. I’d love to see our Councillors asking a few questions about why there are no heated waiting areas, the success or failure of the current transitway heated shelters, and maybe even hear from some transit users as how they rate unheated stations. As it is now, I feel Council is sleepwalking into a design choice that is not well understood.
Stairway to Heaven
A number of those unheated stations will have escalators in them. For reasons of economy of space and funds, there will not be two way escalators (one up, one down). Instead, the single escalator will run in the preferred rush hour direction, sometimes up, sometimes down. People won’t be confused by this reversing flow because the stations are so well designed users will just intuitively know whether they should head for the escalator or the manual staircase, which may be in different locations in our new stations.
Our stations will be closed during the wee hours. So those escalators will carry people with snowy boots and collect moisture and salt and grit all day, then shut down at midnight for a six hour nap in the minus 30. At six am someone out on Belfast road will push a button and the escalators will silently begin rolling again. I have repeatedly asked the city engineers planning this system to identify some locations with outdoor escalators in a continental climate, but never got an answer. RTG was no better, simply assuring me that the contract calls for heavy duty escalators and there are penalty clauses of they don’t work. Yeah, fine, but where are there escalators running unheated in a winter like ours? It’s not like we can tear them out later if they don’t work, since we are depending on the volume of passengers they carry (more, apparently, than a manual staircase can) for the stations to work.
I get the feeling that Council is rushing too much on the Confederation Line. It takes time to absorb just what is being offered. Thus far, staff are giving a good sales pitch, pointing out the nifty neat stuff. The glamour. The sizzle.
But I haven’t seen an itemization of what compromises where made to get here. Councillors and the public may still have memories of earlier PR extolling planned features that have in fact disappeared.
It was a bit of a challenge to get citizen and user input at the earlier planning stages, when there were so many options being considered. But now that there is a plan, is it too much to set up various users groups to run through the details? When our Community Association asked to meet with staff to run through the station designs in our neighborhood, we were told that might occur in February, after the contract is signed. You know, when it’s too late.