Bilevel rail car

Bilevel rail car
Double-deck rail car operated by GO Transit, Ontario, Canada
Bombardier double-deck rail cars in Germany, used extensively on suburban trains (here: S-Bahn Rostock)

The bilevel car (North American English) or double-decker coach (British English) is a type of rail car that has two levels of passenger accommodation, as opposed to one, increasing passenger capacity (in example cases of up to 57% per car).[1]

The use of double-decker carriages, where feasible, can resolve capacity problems on a rail line via rolling stock improvements - rather than via the other options of longer trains (which require longer stations), more trains per hour (which the signalling / safety requirements may not allow) or adding extra tracks besides the existing line (which is very expensive).

Bilevel trains have also been argued as improving the (ecologic) sustainability of rail transport, due to their higher efficiency,[2] and some have even gone so far as to laud them as having saved some American transcontinental lines which would otherwise have been shut down for lack of (financial) efficiency.[3]

However, the great height of the cars can limit their use, especially in countries with low loading gauges. Some countries like the United Kingdom are therefore intentionally constructing future lines (or upgrading existing lines) to higher gauge standards to enable double-decker trains.[4] An other disadvantage that has sometimes been cited are issues that may be created at train stations when much larger numbers of passengers try to board or disembark at the same time.[1]


Typical design

The double-deck design usually includes lowering the bottom floor to below the top level of the wheels, closer to the rails, and then adding an upper floor above. Such a design will fit under more bridges, tunnels and power wires (structure gauge). For cost and safety, this design also minimizes car height (loading gauge) and lowers the centre of gravity.

Depending on train station platform heights, three designs can be used for entry - high platforms require use of a "split level" car design, where the doors are located on a middle level, with access into the upper or lower level branching off - with stairs or ramps going both up and down (sometimes this configuration includes a section of seating at the middle level in the entry section, with double levels only in part of the lengths of the car).[1] For low train station platforms, a "two floor" design with level entry onto the lower floor is used. Occasionally a third, very tall "two floors over-wheel" design is used. This is a traditional single floor car "with a second story" design with, when using low platform, requires steps up to a traditional floor height and then internal stairs up to the upper floor.

Platform height and floor height issues

There are four important height measurements above the railhead: platform height, traditional floor height, downstairs floor height and upstairs floor height. Platform height determines the level entry height for wheeled objects, such as luggage, strollers, wheelchairs and bicycles. Platform height is ideally standardized across all stations the train serves. Traditional rail car floor height matters for end doors connecting to existing single floor rail cars. Downstairs or lowest floor height is primarily determined by the thickness of the beams connecting the span between the wheels and bogies (trucks) of a rail car. The upstairs floor or highest floor height is above the lowest floor and must fit under bridges and tunnels. Level entry floor height must match the platform height. Hopefully either the traditional or downstairs floor height already matches the platform height. Despite the name "bilevel" or "double-decker", for maximum compatibility the rail car will have up to four different floor heights. Using outside steps to avoid having a level entry from the platform is troublesome.

Common High Platform Design

Most high platform trains have level entry over the bogie with stairs inside the car for the upstairs and downstairs double-decker floors. These cars are designed for high platform rail line, such as all the existing stations with a standardized high platform and the rolling stock end doors that connect to any traditional single floor car and even roof line aerodynamics. There are three floor heights (upstairs, downstairs, and platform levels) in these "split level" cars. The entry level floor area has to be big enough to hold wheel chairs, children push-carts, and even wheeled luggage. This high platform "split level" double-decker design is the preferred design in urban and commuter applications, and can be designed to matched to any rail platform height. Car roof lines lengthwise are sloped at each end (not flat) for aerodynamic connection to single level cars and the space is unused. Bombardier commuter cars are 15 ft 11 in (4,850 mm) high.

Common Low Platform Design

Most low platform double-decker trains have level entry onto the lower level of the car, allowing wheelchair access. There are two floor heights (upstairs and downstairs) in these "bilevel" cars. There is a staircase between floors inside the car. Connecting doors between cars are either at the (higher) upper floor or at an intermediate level over the bogies. In the former case, connecting directly to a single level car causes drag and connecting door problems.

In the western USA, cars are of the upper-level-connection type. They use low platform stations, because the traditional single floor trains all had exterior entry steps to maximize flexibility (emergency and temporary stops) and minimize infrastructure costs. There are no examples of two floor platforms, so there are no platform doors on the upper floor. Car roof lines lengthwise are flat for connecting doors to the upstairs of bi-level cars. A Bombardier Amtrak Superliner car is 16 feet 2 inches (4,930 mm) tall.

Uncommon Very Tall Design

There are several very tall bilevel cars (e.g. Colorado Rail has 19 feet 9.5 inches (6.033 m) or 6033 mm). They typically are described as a traditional rail car with a second story. Most of these cars serve low platforms so they have exterior steps up to the traditional "over-wheel" floor height e.g. US 51 in (1,300 mm). End doors connect at the traditional height of existing rolling stock. Some cars have upstairs end doors as well. Upstairs and downstairs connect by interior stairs. These cars can fit the most able people, but lack level entry. Some cars are self-propelled Multiple Units so using traditional floor heights appears fixed. In towed cars it is possible to lower the downstairs floor between the wheels/bogies so that level entry is possible with more than 500 mm (19.7 in) of added headroom and interior steps from that floor to the traditional floor.


The alternatives to double-decker cars are usually explored first, before going double-decker.

  • Add cars to existing trains: this works until platform and siding capacity has been used. Until that occurs, lengthening trains is preferable to changing the loading gauge and structure gauge of the rail line. Longer cars (without changing structure gauge) does not add much, because cars are often required to be narrower to negotiate curves. In countries with larger structure gauges for freight traffic (such as the United States) this is often less of a concern.
  • More trains: increase the frequency of trains scheduled. This added flexibility compared to the same capacity via bilevel cars is generally very popular with passengers. However, it may cause congestion on the rail line, eventually preventing more capacity from being added in this way.
  • Changing seating: fitting more (smaller) seats into the same space and/or decreasing the pitch (distance between seats) or removing seats completely on existing vehicles.
  • Track amplification: building additional rail lines and platforms is expensive and often requires land acquisition and service disruptions.

If freight service has increased the structure gauge, and the rail line needs to minimize "per car" maintenance and staffing costs, double-deckers can pay for themselves more quickly than buying single-floor cars of equal capacity. Wheelchair accessibility laws encourage level entry solutions frequently provided by double-decker rail cars. Profitability is encouraging double-decker rail car adaptation before many alternatives.



Interior of a CityRail Waratah carriage in Sydney

In 1964, Tulloch Limited built the first double-decker trailer cars for use in Sydney. They ran with single deck electric motor cars. After the success of the trailers, Tulloch made eight experiment double decker multiple units in 1968. These were the first fully double deck Electric Multiple Unit passenger trains in the world. From 1972, more double decker multiple units were constructed by Comeng and Goninan. These are now know as the S sets and are the most frequently seen trains on the network. All CityRail electric commuter trains in Sydney are now double deck. They all have two doors per side per carriage, with a vestibule at each end at platform height. The Sydney double deck commuter trains are 14 ft 4.5 in (4,382 mm) high.

The Public Transport Corporation in Melbourne ordered a prototype Double Deck Development and Demonstration train in 1991, a modification of the successful T & G sets (Tangara) design. It suffered frequent breakdowns and spent long periods out of use. It was finally withdrawn in 2002 and scrapped in 2006.


A Rocky Mountaineer bi-level car

Several regional commuter rail operators used bi-level cars in their fleet. GO Transit's passenger fleet are all Bombardier Transportation Bi-level cars. Others include:

Tour operator Rocky Mountaineer also uses bi-level cars.

Ontario Northland's Polar Bear Express operates a domed car that has two levels, but it is not technically a bi-level car.

AMT also operated Canadian Vickers bi-level cars and currently ordering Bombardier Transportation Tri-level cars.

While all cars used are not low floor, the new bi-level cars (namely Bombardier Transportation Bi-Level) are wheelchair accessible and offer spaces for wheelchair patrons.

VIA Rail, the national passenger ailway operator does not have bi-level cars in their fleet. Canadian Pacific Railway used the Canadian Vickers bi-level cab cars from the 1969 for Town Car service in Montreal until passenger service was transferred to VIA Rail in 1978. All of CPR's bi-level cars where sold to AMT and remains in service in the Montreal area.


In Finland, VR began operating double-decker day cars in 1998. The cars are Finnish design, and have been manufactured by Transtech in Kajaani. VR introduced the first double-decker sleeping cars on 1 February 2006. The two-bed cabins on the upper deck have toilets and showers while cabins on the lower deck use shared ones.

The double-decker cars are designed for higher speeds than ordinary passenger wagons - up to 200 km/h. They are usually operated as all-double-decker InterCity trains with at seat power supplies for laptops and wireless LAN internet connection.


French suburban double-deck train

The Chemin de Fer de l'État in France ran voitures à 2 étages double-deck suburban coaches from 1933. Its successor, the SNCF, has been running VB2N double-decker coaches since 1975; VB2N were introduced from 1975 as a replacement of the État cars.

Since the late 1980s, SNCF has been running double-deck RER trains. SNCF runs double-deck TGV cars on heavily used high-speed services, such as on the Paris-Lyon-Marseille line. Many suburban, regional and high-speed services are operated by double-deck DMUs, EMU, coaches and TGV. The French loading gauge dictates that the double-deck cars have a maximum height of 4.20 m (13 ft 9.4 in).[? clarification needed as TGV Duplex are 4.32 m (14 ft 2.1 in) high]

Hong Kong

MTR and formerly KCRC operates double-decker carriages with the KTT train sets. These cars were manufactured in Japan by Kinki Sharyo T1 (T1C), T2 (T2A, T2B).


In India, the Flying Ranee, a passenger Train between Surat and Mumbai Central on the Western Railway Track uses double-deck cars, since 1970. With the Railways flagging off[5] its first air-conditioned (AC) double-decker chair-car train between Howrah(Kolkata) and Dhanbad on Saturday, it has moved into a technological upgrade.


Kintetsu 30000 series Vista Car introduced in 1978

In Japan, double-decker trains are used either to show better scenery, or to increase seat capacity.

For scenery viewing

The first Japanese double-decker train appeared in 1904. It was Type 5 train of Osaka City Tram, once operated by Osaka Municipal Transportation Bureau. The tram car, however, soon took away its second floor, due to the complaints by residents along the line, concerning their privacies.

The first double-decker heavy rail train, the Kintetsu 10000 series, appeared in 1958. The series, nicknamed "Vista Car", became popular trains used for limited express services. Its successors are still used by Kintetsu. The idea of Vista Car is said to come from Vista Dome Car in United States. The first double-decker high-speed rail in the world was JNR 100 Series Shinkansen used from 1986. The train was purely introduced to improve its luxury. The upper floor of the train was used for Green car accommodation and a dining car.

Other double-decker sightseeing trains include the JR Shikoku 5000 series, JR Hokkaido KiHa 183 series, Keihan 8000 series, JR Central 371 series, and Odakyū 20000 series RSE.

A similar kind of trains are largely single-decker trains with vehicle cockpit domes on the "second floor", to allow the better front view. This kind of trains include Panorama Cars by Meitetsu, Romancecars by Odakyū, and Mount Fuji Limited Express by Fujikyū.

For increased capacity

E4 series Shinkansen

The first Japanese double-decker trains built to increase its capacity were 211 series and 113 series, both by JR East, 1989. These trains were Green Cars (Japanese for first class cars), needing more seats than standing spaces. JR East also introduced an experimental 415 series double-decker car with normal class seats on the Jōban Line in 1991, and the 215 series EMUs for Home Liner services in 1992. JR East continues to use double-deckers, including E217 series for Sōbu Line (Rapid) and Yokosuka Line, E231 series for Tōkaidō Main Line, Utsunomiya Line (Tōhoku Main Line), Takasaki Line, and Shōnan-Shinjuku Line, and E531 series for the Jōban Line.

In Japan, however, double-decker commuter trains are relatively fewer than those used in Europe or North America. This is because Japanese commuter trains can be much more crowded than Western counterparts. Therefore, they generally need more standing spaces than seats. Also, Japanese train cars are 20 m long or less, and it is technologically difficult or inefficient to have more than 2 doors on each side of double-deckers that size. Japanese crowded trains, however, generally need 4, 5, or 6 doors on each side to make smooth boarding and alighting.

JR East also introduced E1 Series and E4 Series for its Shinkansen Lines. Unlike 100 Series in the past, these trains, nicknamed "Max", all consist of double-decker cars, and are purely made to increase their capacities. In that sense, these trains are similar to TGV Duplex in France. There are also some double-decker sleeping cars made to increase their beds or compartments, like CityNightLine trains in Europe. This includes JR West 285 series EMUs for Sunrise Izumo/Sunrise Seto and JR East E26 series cars for Cassiopeia services.


X40 arriving in Eskilstuna

SJ AB operates 43 double-decker EMUs built by Alstom and designated class X40. The EMU comes in a two-coach version and a three-coach version. The trains are mainly used in regional trains in the areas around lake Mälaren and in the trains between Gävle and Linköping. It has a maximum speed of 200 km/h (125 mph) and are equipped with wireless internet.

Between 1966 and 1990 SJ used DMUs of class Y3 with double-decker end cars and normal cars in between. Due to the to distinct humps on the endcars it was nicknamed "the camel".


IC 2000 between Zürich and Luzern with the control car leading the train

Double-decker commuter trains are used by the Zürich S-Bahn. Two types of trains are used, an older type consisting of an electric locomotive with double-decker cars, and Electric Multiple Units (DMU or EMU) where the motors are on board the car. From 2010 onwards, a third type – the Stadler DOSTO – is scheduled to enter service.

The Swiss Federal Railways also operate the IC 2000 double-decker passenger coaches in most of Switzerland.

United Kingdom

In the United Kingdom, and countries with a similarly small loading gauge, the railway system cannot accommodate double-deck trains. A modest attempt at double decking was made in 1948 on the Southern Railway with the two trains of the Bulleid 4DD class. Although innovative, with stepped compartments, where the bottoms of the upper seats are above the heads of the people on the lower level, but the feet of the people above are not, see,[6] the loading gauge severely restricted their use and they were removed from service in 1971. However, the Channel Tunnel Rail Link (High Speed 1) was built to European loading gauge standards and is therefore capable of taking double-decker trains. However, nobody has yet expressed an interest in running double-decker trains along this line.

Double-decker trams were common in British cities prior to the dismantling of the networks between the 1930s and 1960s.

USA and Canada

Bi-level New Jersey Transit train with quarter-point and end doors
Nippon Sharyo bi-level car used on Caltrain service

Passenger cars are manufactured by Bombardier, Kawasaki, Colorado Railcar, IC2000, and several others, with the former two having produced the majority of the High platform "split level" commuter rail cars in use in the Northeast US.

Colorado Railcar make DMUs and IC2000, of Switzerland, make EMUs, where the Multiple Units are self-propelled cars, much like subway cars. Colorado Railcar cars are very tall (19 ft 9.5 in or 6,033 mm) cars for low platforms with steps entry to a normal (51 in or 1,300 mm) floor and an upstairs. The IC2000 cars are strictly low platform design.

Other designs, including rolling stock made by Colorado Railcar Manufacturing, Budd, Pullman-Standard, Bombardier and others, have the entrance on the lower deck rather than an intermediate level. Amtrak Superliners are double-decker cars of this variety, with the entrance a step or so up from the lowest station platform level, or at the level of slightly higher platforms, and allow passage from car to car at upper-deck level.

The northeastern US can accommodate the loading gauge of split level (double deck) cars only if they are no higher than 14 ft 6 in (4,420 mm) due to structure gauge restrictions (i.e. bridges, tunnels, etc. are too low). Bi-level cars that run on the Long Island Rail Road [7] and on New Jersey Transit [8] were built by Bombardier Transportation [9] to clear these height restrictions. The designs found on these two railroads are based on a 1930s Pullman Sleeping Car design for the Pennsylvania Railroad called a Duplex Sleeper. This design provided 24 Roomettes on two levels with the lower level depressed between the trucks. This idea was copied in 1947 for the Long Island Rail Road, making use of a standard P-70 that was electrified. Current bi-level cars have the entire center sill lowered to the minimum level between the trucks, providing a depressed floor on that level. The upper level is stacked on top between the trucks. At each end, a common floor is located at normal height over the trucks. While Long Island Rail Road's cars have only two quarter-point doors on each side for high level platforms, New Jersey Transit's cars have four doors on each side, two quarter-point doors at low level platform height and two in the normal 51 in (1,300 mm) vestibular position, with stairs to reach low level platforms. Similarly the structure gauge of the Mount Royal Tunnel limits the height to 14 ft 6 in or 4,420 mm.[10] The Massachusetts Bay Commuter Rail is the only operator on the Northeast Corridor who operates bi-level cars that exceed the 14 ft 6 in (4,420 mm) loading gauge restriction. The bi-level cars in use by the MBCR were produced by Kawasaki Rail Car, Inc.[11] and have a similar configuration to those used by the LIRR and NJ Transit, but differ in that they only have 51 in (1,300 mm) vestibular side-loading doors.

The double deck cars operated by Chicago's Metra regional rail service are known as "gallery cars" as there is an open space between the two sides of the upper deck, allowing ticket collectors to check tickets on both levels from the bottom level. Chicago does not have the loading gauge problems that affect most eastern US cities (although ex-Metra cars operate on MARC in Baltimore, Maryland), so all Chicago's commuter rail rolling stock is full size bi-level, and many of Amtrak's Superliner trains to the western USA originate from Chicago.

The first bi-level gallery cars were introduced by the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy railroad in 1950.

Other countries

Dutch bilevel train at station Amsterdam Bijlmer ArenA

In the Netherlands, there are three types of double-deck trains, the DDM, DD-AR and the DD-IRM, also called Regiorunner: see Trains in the Netherlands. The DD-IRM, is an example from the Netherlands, of High platform (split level) double-decker cars. It is one step up from the station platform to the entrance, and from there seven steps upstairs or four steps downstairs.

In Spain several lines of Cercanías (Renfe's commuter rail service) use double-deck trains. Bombardier's double-deck rail cars in Germany are also used extensively on suburban trains by the DB. The same rail cars serve some of the routes on the Israel Railways network, hauled by diesel locomotives and include electric generators housed in the control car.

In Iran, the Tehran-Hashtgerd suburban commuter line is served with electric push-pull hauled trainsets with double-decker carriages manufactured by Wagon Pars in Iran.

In Hong Kong, the Kowloon-Canton Railway Corporation uses double-deck cars, named "Ktt", on its cross-boundary route between Kowloon and Guangzhou. In January to May 1998 the "Ktt" cars were used to serve between the Hung Hom and Lo Wu stations. The "Ktt" cars have lower bottom floor than the ordinary single-deck cars serving on the same pair of tracks.

In China, Changchun Railway Vehicles offers a double deck coach, Type SYZ25B, that is similar to Superliner (railcar). The "S" stands for "Shuang" (pinyin, means "double" in Chinese). There are many types in S25 seires: SYZ25B, SYZ25K, SYZ25DT, SRZ25B, SRZ25K, SRZ1-25Z, SRZ2-25Z, SRZ25DT, SYW25B, SYW25K, SRW25K. Among them, SYW's and SRW's are sleepers.

In India, the Flying Ranee, a passenger Train between Surat and Mumbai Central on the Western Railway Track uses double-deck cars.

Russian Railways plan to start using double-deckers in 2011 manufactured by Transmashholding in cooperation with Alstom.

Gallery cars

A Nippon Sharyo bi-level passenger car operated by Caltrain

Because of the two levels being separate on most cars, there is a physical limitation on the conductor, as it is difficult for him to verify, collect payment and sell tickets to such a large concentration of passengers in one car on each level, owing to the sometimes short distance between stops.

A solution came in the form of the design of the "gallery" car, which features upper levels, which are "mezzanines" or "balconies" running along both sides of the car, with an open area between them.[12] Some gallery cars have up to four separate galleries (one on each side, times two for access from each end).[12]

This enables the conductor(s) walking along on the lower level to easily reach up and punch or validate tickets of the passengers seated on the mezzanine level. Passengers can place their tickets in clips along a lengthwise panel, located slightly above the conductor's head and within easy reach. The conductor can then quickly check tickets and move to the next car.

Another advantage of bilevel gallery cars is the relatively low first step of the vestibule entrance to the car, which is 14+58 inches (371 mm) above the head of the rail. The advantage of this is that commuter rail operators do not have to spend funds on building high-level platforms; a low-level platform is all that is necessary, at a far lower cost. This can be a major disadvantage as well, as many commuter rail systems prefer high-level platforms as they can decrease loading and unloading times substantially, and greatly improve access to trains for the disabled.

Such cars are used by Metra in and around Chicago, by Caltrain along the west side of San Francisco Bay, by Montreal's Agence métropolitaine de transport, by Virginia Railway Express (VRE) in Northern Virginia, by Nashville's Music City Star and by MARC Train in Maryland. They provide high capacity (155 to 169 passengers each). Chicago's commuter rail system is currently receiving new versions of these cars. Caltrain, the San Francisco peninsula commuter rail service, has recently overhauled its fleet. Some of these gallery cars are ex-Metra cars. Canadian Vickers manufactured a batch of Gallery Cars (7 coaches and 2 cab control cars) for Canadian Pacific Railway for use in Montreal that later were acquired by Agence métropolitaine de transport.

Downsides of gallery cars are the often narrow and difficult access to the seats.[12]

In container transport

Similar to passenger cars, one may also have bilevel cargo cars. In intermodal freight transport, many modern types of container well cars cars are designed to accommodate "double-stacking." Where passengers and freight rail use the same lines, containers may have required increasing the lines' structure gauge. Passengers and freight are usually separated. Containers are 8 feet (2.44 m) wide and 8 feet 6 inches (2.59 m) tall or sometimes 9 feet 6 inches (2.9 m) tall. Therefore double stack freight is 17 feet (5.18 m), 18 feet (5.49 m) or 19 feet (5.79 m) above well car floor height. When the double stack is 19 feet (5.79 m) above floor the over all height is 20 ft 2 in (6.15 m) above top of rail.


An autorack

In North America autoracks are bilevel or trilevel.

See also


  1. ^ a b c "L.I.R.R. May Add Double-Decker Coaches". The New York Times. 21 September 1988. Retrieved 11 January 2011. 
  2. ^ "How green are our trains? We don't know, AMT says". The Montreal Gazette. 10 January 2011. Retrieved 11 January 2011. 
  3. ^ "VIA Rail begins experiment with Amtrak bi-level train". The Phoenix. 21 September 1984.,1291356&dq=bi-level+train&hl=en. Retrieved 11 January 2011. 
  4. ^ "Double-decker trains may ease overcrowding". The Telegraph. 30 December 2005. Retrieved 11 January 2011. 
  5. ^
  6. ^ "Bulleid Double Decker Society". Retrieved 2010-07-07. 
  7. ^ LIRR
  8. ^ NJT
  9. ^ "Inc. - Bombardier - Home". Bombardier. 2010-07-02. Retrieved 2010-07-07. 
  10. ^
  11. ^ "Kawasaki MBCR Bi-Level Cars". Retrieved 2010-07-08. 
  12. ^ a b c "More renovated gallery cars in service on Fredericksburg Line". The Free Lance-Star. 22 February 2004.,5703656&dq=gallery-car+train&hl=en. Retrieved 11 January 2011. 

External links

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