The Valley Line Southeast will introduce a “low-floor, urban-style” LRT experience to Edmonton passengers who have until now been familiar with “high-floor, suburban” LRT trains.
“From Denver and Toronto to Helsinki and Amsterdam, cities around the world have successfully integrated low-floor, urban-style LRT into their communities,” said Chris Gentile, the City of Edmonton’s Valley Line Technical Manager.
“Inside and out, the new trains and stops blend in with the neighbourhoods and the people they serve,” Gentile said. “When we talk about low-floor, urban-style LRT, we’re talking about a more integrated and accessible style of transit.”
The Valley Line Southeast, a 13-km line between Mill Woods and downtown Edmonton, is expected to open this summer. The commute will take about 30 minutes.
What are the main differences between a low-floor train on the Valley Line Southeast and a high-floor train on Capital Line and Metro Line? Step right this way…
The lowdown (or the long and short of it)
When you stand inside a high-floor train, you are approximately 1 m (3.3 ft) off the ground. Inside a low-floor train, you will be 0.3 m (roughly one foot) off the ground, which is slightly higher than the typical sidewalk curb.
The low-floor system requires less infrastructure than the high-floor system. That means stops can be spaced closer together to improve convenience and connections.
The 13-km Valley Line Southeast has 11 street-level stops and one elevated station. By comparison, the 21-km Capital Line, which connects Clareview in the north to Century Park in the south, has 15 stations, six of which are underground. The existing high-floor system, which also includes the Metro Line, has 39 escalators, 31 elevators and various connections, ramps and staircases between platform level and street level.
“Low-floor, urban-style LRTs don’t need as many ramps, steps and platform structures to make up a street-level stop, so they don’t take as much space as high-floor LRTs,” said Gentile. “This allows us to blend the new line more seamlessly into neighbourhoods along the alignment.”
The maximum length of a two-car, low-floor train is 90 m (295 ft), which is reflected in the length of the platforms on Valley Line Southeast stops. The platforms fit within a standard city block.
On the other hand, the five-car, high-floor train is 125 m (410 ft) long, which exceeds a standard city block. That means high-floor LRT needs to run in a segregated right-of-way and/or has greater restrictions on where stations can be placed.
Doing the work of making the two styles of LRT fit together is the Churchill Connector. The new facility, located near the Winspear Centre, is where passengers can transfer between the high-floor Capital Line and Metro Line and the low-floor Valley Line.
Sustainable Urban Integration
There is a fancy term for making LRT fit better into existing neighbourhoods: Sustainable Urban Integration, or SUI.
In real life out there on the Valley Line Southeast, SUI, which is built on extensive public engagement, means safe, attractive and connected spaces. It includes shared-use paths, sidewalks, trails and embedded crossings as part of a pedestrian and bike-friendly design.
LRT built this way means less noise and fewer disruptions. There are no crossing arms, gates, bells or flashing lights. LRT drivers operate the trains in their own lane alongside other traffic at community-posted speeds and conditions. (The speeds will range from 40 km/h to 60 km/h throughout communities along the route, and up to 80 km/h along the Tawatinâ Bridge and elevated portions where the trains are separated from traffic.)
All of this makes for a quieter system—and for the need to be vigilant. Automobile drivers will need to pay close attention as right turns are not allowed on red lights at some intersections. Everyone, no matter how they move, must always pay attention and follow the signs and signals.
During peak times, trains will run every five minutes. If you see tracks, expect a train—from either direction.
The inside story
Inside the Valley Line Southeast cars, the story of connecting to people continues.
The cars feature blue and green seats to mark priority seating. The green seats, located closer to the doors, are reserved for persons with disabilities and limited mobility, the elderly, pregnant individuals and passengers with small children. The blue seats are available for all passengers.
Each low-floor train car has two designated spaces for wheelchairs or other mobility aids (bottom left in photo above). There are also two bicycle spaces in each car for riders to lean while holding their bike (blue bike sign visible, bottom right, in photo). You can ride the LRT with a bicycle at any time of the day. The train also has open areas for strollers. Remember to apply brakes to all wheels.
“The new low-floor trains are definitely more modern and will feel more accessible to passengers who require additional space,” said Gentile. “Platforms also have convenient dedicated ramps to help passengers move comfortably, and security cameras to help them feel safe.”
“Also, the stop shelters have benches and room for wheelchairs and strollers, and they are all heated.”
Unlike the Capital Line and Metro Line trains, the low-floor trains have both single and double doors. Double doors help passengers with wheelchairs, mobility aids, strollers and bicycles get on and off comfortably. The doors are not automatic. Passengers need to push a conveniently located button to open them. A blue disability button inside keeps the double doors open longer. The train driver can also extend door-closing time when needed.
One low-floor train fits up to 275 passengers. Depending on the service level, the low-floor train will be made up of one or two cars, which means a two-car, low-floor train can transport more than 500 passengers at a time. The maximum capacity in a car on the high-floor system is 146 passengers. A single train on the Capital Line can travel with up to five cars.
The low-floor trains have various safety and emergency features. For persons with disabilities, on the inside of the car, the blue button is located between the designated wheelchair spaces and the double doors. Pressing the yellow button will activate the Passenger Emergency Intercom to talk directly to the train driver. There are five intercoms in each car.
For emergencies that require medical, police or fire, there are yellow emergency alarm strips beside the train windows. Pressing these will notify the train driver, who will be able to see what’s happening. There are red emergency buttons at all stops and at the Davies Station for immediate contact with ETS security staff. Each stop has closed-circuit TV cameras monitored by ETS security.
A tale of two GIFs
Some key differences between high-floor, suburban style LRT design (think Capital Line) and low-floor, urban-style LRT (picture Valley Line Southeast), along with the differences in infrastructure and train car design, are evident in these two GIFs.
A Capital Line train with its double doors, crossing arms, gates and bells near Century Park in March 2022:
A Valley Line Southeast train is being tested near 66 Street and 34 Avenue in February 2022:
For train lovers
On Edmonton’s existing high-floor system, there are two different models of trains: 37 Siemens U2s and 57 Siemens SD-160s, for a total of 94 train cars. The U2 is the older model from when LRT was introduced to Edmonton approximately 40 years ago. It weighs 35,000 kg (77,162 lbs). The SD-160, the newer model from the 2010 Capital Line extension to Century Park, weighs 41,500 kg (91,491 lbs).
By February 2021, all 26 of the new Bombardier Flexity trains for the Valley Line Southeast were parked cozily in their new home at Edmonton’s Gerry Wright Operations and Maintenance Facility (OMF). These trains weigh a whopping 64,576 kg (142,365 lbs) each.
Editor’s note: the pic at the top of the post shows a one-car, low-floor train during testing in summer 2021 on the Valley Line Southeast route. You can clearly see how the design includes both single and double doors.