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Metropolitan Transit System officials today unveiled car #4001, the first in a fleet of 57 new cars to hit the tracks starting Monday, October 3. MTS has already taken delivery of six of the new, low-floor design trolleys, and is expected to receive 2 more each week over the next several months from German manufacturer Siemens, which has supplied trains to San Diego since trolley service was revived in 1981.

The new cars feature a handful of innovations, including the first instance of complete LED lighting in North America. A system of 12 surveillance cameras (4 outside, 4 inside, 2 each in driver control booths at each end) is intended to increase passenger security and deter vandalism.

A major benefit, MTS says, is the new low-floor design, which alleviates the need for passengers to climb a set of stairs to board or disembark from the trains. Elimination of the stairs and implementation of short ramps that connect directly to boarding platforms should increase boarding speeds for everyone, particularly passengers in wheelchairs, who currently have to employ a lift system to enter or exit a train. Wheelchair seating available will also increase from two per car to six or eight — an additional 54-62 standard seats will be available, plus standing room.

“The new low-floor cars usher in a new era of accessibility for the trolley system,” said Harry Mathis, chairman of the MTS board of directors. “I am proud that our board has made a commitment and that our community has voted for the funding to keep our trolley system as one of the best in the nation.”

With the elimination of the stairs, MTS believes boarding times will decrease drastically. Faster boarding times will mean more on-time trains, which equals faster transit, which (transit officials hope) will lead to improved ridership.

“What we’re going to have is a brand-new system in its entirety,” said Ron Roberts, county supervisor and MTS board member at the trolley’s unveiling.

The cars will cost $233 million, part of a larger $620 million trolley renewal project that includes alteration of trolley stations to accommodate the raised boarding level of the new trains, improved shelters, and addition of electronic billboards advertising the next scheduled arrival. Monies for this will come from TransNet, the voter-approved half-cent sales tax, as well as state and federal funds, and fare increases are not on the agenda through the 2012 fiscal year.

There will be some difficulties facing riders in implementation of the new system. While the trains roll out Monday on the Green Line running from Old Town to Santee, the longer-established Blue and Orange Lines will require station upgrades before the new cars can be used. Most work is expected to occur on weekends, and special shuttle buses will operate to get passengers to their destinations. For up-to-date information on local closures, MTS is asking transit riders to text “STATIONS” to 46887 (GOMTS) or visit its website at sdmts.com.

As for the old cars being phased out? They’re not being retired, but instead sold to a light rail system in Argentina.

Pictured, L to R MTS Chief Executive Officer Paul Jablonski SANDAG Second Vice Chairman Jim Janney MTS Vice Chairman Ron Roberts MTS Board Chairman Harry Mathis (at podium)

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