“There’s a 15-minute station stop in Moncton,” Nobert says. “We just cut off the piece of equipment there and leave it on the station track. And CN comes with a switcher and picks it up because the shop is literally about six miles from the station.”
The IRSI shop has room for 24 cars. It’s designed with two through tracks and 16 stub tracks. Once brought to the shop the coaches are stripped to their shell, grit-blasted and cleaned through high-pressure washing. A full visual inspection is done for cracks or other repairs.
After structural work is completed the cars are repainted and then interior rebuilding starts. This includes new wiring, reinstalling overhauled components, all new electrical cabinets, interior trim, carpeting and seats.
“From the passenger point of view there are some major improvements,” Nobert said.
For example, new technology replacing the former solid-state electrical relays means the passenger experience will be much better. The cars will be better insulated and climate control sensors are designed to adjust depending on the temperature on either side of the coach.
“If you were sitting on one side of the car and the sun was shining on that side you’d be too hot whereas on the other side you might be too cold,” he said. “Now they actually have sensors on each side of the car to control the heat and AC more to one side vs. the other.”
Restrooms have also been reconfigured. “They’re better laid out,” Nobert said. They remain the same size but give a greater feeling of space and have new vanities. “The colors are brighter, the lighting is better,” he said.
New wheelchair-accessible restrooms have been built into a new type of car that is being created as part of the overhaul. These are the “combi” or combination cars which will have 20 premium class seats and 38 coach seats with the all-new restroom. But the car will have just one restroom unlike the others which will continue to have two restrooms.
“This washroom will be much bigger than what is in there today — a 1,500 millimetre turning radius for the wheelchairs,” Nobert said.
Altogether the overhaul will result in a reconfigured fleet complement of 46 coaches, 26 club cars and 26 combi cars.
So far it is taking 10 to 12 months to refurbish each car. “The target is to get production down to about six months,” Nobert said.
Have there been any challenges?
Nobert says it’s the first time the 30-year-old cars have been rewired and upgraded to current technology.
“So with some of the new technology, there’s software issues, there’s interface issues,” he said. “To get all of the kinks out, the interfaces between the different computers, and the different systems that have to talk to each other, that’s been a challenge.”
As far as aesthetics are concerned, the seats have been refurbished in new fabric that has also been developed and made by another of IRSI owner Carpenter’s firms, Heritage Textiles. Both IRSI and Heritage operate under the umbrella of Heritage Associates, Inc. The company operates in a 75,000-square-foot site in what had been a 120-year-old textile mill.
Heritage Textiles is vertically integrated, including raw fibre processing, yarn making, dyeing, weaving and finishing, and specializes in materials for the transportation industry. It produces Trevira CS flame-retardant textiles.
The LRC interior color scheme was formerly green, including seats and trim. This has been changed to a brighter look with warmer hues of beige and brown, and multicolored seats interweaving gold and grey with alternate blue, gold and red headrests.
“So as you’re looking down the car visually you’ll see the various different colors being picked up out of the seat upholstery itself,” VIA media relations officer Catherine Kaloutsky said. She calls the look “urban contemporary.”
The fleet’s physical overhaul will correspond to new passenger service classes.
With the combi cars, a new service and pricing level eventually will be introduced — premium economy — which will be a level between business and economy classes. This category will have more spacious seating and upgraded service compared to the economy class.