Bombardier Flexity streetcar rolls down the tracks down by Olympic Village Canada Line station
CityCaucus.com was thrilled to be able to provide our readers a "first look" at the new Bombardier Flexity streetcar which as of January 21st begins running on the "Olympic Line" between the "Olympic Village" Canada Line station under the Cambie Bridge and Granville Island prior to and during the 2010 Games. The sixty-day trial ends March 21, 2010.
Streetcar fans can follow what's happening on Twitter @2010Streetcar. The official website of the Vancouver Bombardier Flexity streetcar is located here, and there is more info about the Olympic Line. Here's a description of the Flexity streetcar from their website:
In urban centres around the world, the streetcar is making a welcome reappearance on city streets. Modern streetcars and light rail vehicles can help shape a city's identity and are easily integrated with existing transportation networks. Bombardier's FLEXITY streetcars and light rail vehicles operate in world-class cities from Marseilles to Berlin and Brussels.
The FLEXITY 100% low-floor streetcars offer passengers convenient and comfortable journeys. The floor of these vehicles is only 30 to 35 cm above the track, which is a welcome benefit to passengers with children's strollers and mobility challenges, and enables a continuous flow of passengers.
Today's presentation of the streetcar was in essence a tease. We didn't actually get to roll down the tracks while sitting on board, but getting an up-close look of the Flexity cars (which are on loan from Brussels, Belgium), and see the line operating with test rides was the second best thing we could experience.
Bernie Eide, a longtime streetcar enthusiast, former BC Rail/CP driver and new operator for the car gave us a tour and a history lesson on streetcars in Metro Vancouver. It was fun to have Eide wax about the old days of streetcars (Vancouver was the fourth city in Canada to get streetcars at the end of the 19th Century, when we had a total population of 5000!). When it came to Flexity, Bernie was like a kid in a candy store.
Eide is not alone in his high opinion of the cars. I spoke to other staff with years of experience with similar systems around the world, and they all raved about Flexity.
The cars themselves were well-appointed with big windows, lots of big grips and comfortable seating. The leather seats might seem like an extravagence, but as transportation planner Stephen Rees comments in my video, too many public services come across like public toilets – something you simply hose down at the end of the night. He argues that you have to make trains and buses appealing to attract riders, but giving them a comfortable environment and things like video displays for infotainment.
I have to thank Stephen for obliging my request to record his comments on video. Rees has a short and very good analysis of the system, as well as an estimate of its cost to expand in his post from today.
One fact I heard repeated regularly this morning is that this is the first "low floor" train of its kind in North America. The low floor has its advantages in that it will allow for smoother loading/unloading. But the cars right now are being placed on a separate right of way where people will queue up on platforms. What would make this system really impressive is if it operated on streets like other systems.
There is a growing chorus of voices who wish to see this system stay, and grow to meet the needs of the city. The proposal to use Flexity to connect the Millennium Line terminus at VCC to Canada Line and go all the way to Arbutus makes a lot of sense, if the dollars and the public support exists for it.
Thanks to Bombardier for inviting a few of us social media types on board today. I think that they can count on a great turnout at their launch next Thursday, January 21st at 9:30am. The cars will run 18 hours per day for the following 60 days. The rides are free, and it is one of the items on our Olympics Free Venues guide.