Bombardier BiLevel

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Bombardier BiLevel
GO Transit 304-a.jpg
Cab car
GO Transit 2558-a.jpg

The Bombardier BiLevel (also known as Bilevel) is a passenger railcar with two main levels and an intermediate level at both ends. It has grown to be a symbol of GO Transit who helped design the car for their needs originally.


The BiLevel design was arrived at expressly at GO Transit's behest. In the early 1970s, GO quickly found out that the single-level cars being used were simply not able to provide the capacity required within the track time that they were been allotted by CN. Nor were they within the performance parameters necessary for the type of service GO was running - lengthening the trains beyond 10 to 12 cars was simply not an option. After tests with leased "Gallery-style" equipment from C&NW and later CPR, it was decided that an entirely new car style would be the best way to attack the problem.

GO Transit, along with Hawker Siddeley Canada, who had been their rolling stock supplier since GO's inception, decided that if the trains could not be built longer or wider, the only way to go was up. Not happy with the high-floor, open-interior design of the "Gallery-style" cars from Chicago and Montréal, they decided that the best solution to their problem was to have a car with two full-width floors, the lower of which being just above the height of a 12-inch tall low platform.


It was also decided early on that the ends of the cars would have a standard-height floor for a variety of reasons, not the least of which was that a more-or-less standard truck could then be used. It would allow for two different points from which to reach the upper level, and it would allow for the car to be coupled to standard rolling stock and for passengers to travel from one car to another.

The interiors are essentially large empty spaces and thus a variety of different seating and interior configurations are possible, ranging from 126 (or fewer) to 162 seats. Quite often a lavatory is a specified option on the lower level, although West Coast Express specified a number of their cars to be fitted with a small coffee shop where it is normally located.

One of the most popular options is to have some cars equipped with a cab. This allows a trainset to be controlled from either end, eliminating the need for turning loops or runaround sidings.

Other options are available as well, such as the location of doorway control, larger doorway windows, powered end doors, Canadian dual-bus HEP system, etc.

GO Transit found great success with the design - so much so that not only was all other equipment quickly replaced with BiLevels, but that the "octagon"-shaped cars (the cars are actually 12-sided if viewed from the side), with their green and white paint, have become ubiquitous and iconic in Toronto. The design became popular elsewhere as well - there are now in excess of 1000 cars in service across North America.

Bombardier introduced an updated design that incorporated Crash Energy Management (CEM) features at the 2014 APTA Expo. These features include an enhanced structure, pushback couplers, and crumple zones at either end. The front end of the cab car is designed to withstand and absorb a greater load. In addition, the operators' cab, which is now positioned 29 inches higher, features improved ergonomics.[1]

Development of these CEM features was carried out in partnership with various industry working groups. One of these groups was formed following a serious collision in January 2005 involving two Metrolink trains and an abandoned automobile. This lead to the development of Metrolink's "Guardian" fleet; the contract for which was awarded to Hyundai Rotem in February 2006.[2]

The first order for Bombardier's CEM BiLevel design was placed by GO Transit in March 2012 for 60 cab cars. This has been followed by an order for Seattle's Sounder.


The BiLevel is constructed in three sections. The style in which they cars are constructed allows for a physically large car - 15 feet 11 inches tall, 9 feet 10 inches wide and 85 feet long - to weigh a little over 50 tonnes. The original design used a steel underframe and a riveted aluminum body, while later cars had a welded body. Cars are currently constructed from stainless steel. The BiLevel is designed to withstand all current FRA crashworthiness requirements.


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  1. Bombardier Transportation. BiLevel Datasheet. St-Bruno: Bombardier Transportation, 2014.
  2. "Metrolink 20th Anniversary Report". Southern California Regional Rail Authority. 26 October 2012. Retrieved on 24 August 2013.