Thursday, March 3, 2011

Low vs. High Floor LRT Stations

High Floor LRT Vehicle
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The vehicles on Edmonton's existing LRT line are high floor LRT vehicles, meaning that the majority of equipment such as the motor are placed underneath the passengers feet.  This as a result raises the vehicle doorways by several feet, and as a result of that you have to raise platform heights several feet. 

Minimal Low Floor LRT Station
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Edmonton's new west and south east LRT designs will use low floor LRT vehicles.  Instead of placing the majority of equipment that runs the vehicle underneath passengers, it is moved above onto the roof.  This dramatically lowers the vehicle doorway and the station platform heights.  The platform height is handily lowered to the height of your basic sidewalk, essentially allowing passengers to disembark anywhere a sidewalk is present, the same way a bus can.  Stations become nothing more than a glorified sidewalk.   Simply install a shelter, a few benches and you have a station.  This makes it much easier/cheaper to construct stations as opposed to high floor LRT stations.

Edmonton's McKernan-Belgravia Station
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With a high floor station you have to build stairs, and ramps just so that people can get onto your station.  You have to build railings so that people do not inadvertently fall off.  Since you raise your passengers up you increase their exposure to the cold and bitter wind.  With a high floor LRT line you have no chance of building quick, easy and cheap stations that easily blend in with the community.  High floor stations are prominent structures and will stand out if you try and incorporate it into a trendy neighbourhood.  High floor platforms also run the risk of creating a barren wall along one side, a great place for passerby to relieve themselves or their garbage.  The photo of Edmonton's McKernan-Belgravia station above is the most minimalist station that is probably possible with high floor LRT.  A low floor LRT station will not have much of a distinction or impact and you can integrate it into a neighbourhood.

Low Floor LRT Station Integration with Surrounding
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Low floor LRT vehicles have another benefit if you embed the tracks into the road.  When you embed the tracks into a road as opposed to using ballast, other non-rail vehicles can use the right-of-way.  Embedded tracks allow buses to use the car-free right of way.  High floor LRTs allow buses to do this as well, the difference comes with buses can utilize the low floor LRT platforms to load and unload passengers.  This bus-LRT compatibility is a gold mine for transit planners, as they suddenly can use buses for contingency service along the same route.  Instead of having a contingency bus service using a separate routing due to incompatible station heights, the replacement buses can reduce passenger stress/hassles by using the same right-of-way.  This compatibility is also great as a quick fix to increase service along the route.  If you do not have enough trains to increase service due to an event you can throw some buses onto the route to fill the void.

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