King County Metro Coach Tier List

What’s up everybody? It’s dǰ pišpiš. I haven’t done a blog post in a while. That’s on me. I just haven’t had a chance to write anything with all the civic events and job searching going on. Today, I want to do a rider tier list for King County Metro coaches that are currently in service. As a rider with 13 years of experience riding public transport in most areas of King County, I feel very qualified to rate coaches according to their comfort, ease of interior detailing, and cool/innovative features. I’ll rate coaches in order of model year. All photographs are linked from the CPTDB wiki, and are the property of their respective owners. Let’s do this s***.

New Flyer D40LF: ‘B’

  • Fleet: 3600-3699
  • Years: 2003

Kicking us off is the New Flyer D40LF. This is probably one of the best coaches for its time. The D40LF is Metro’s first low-floor coach with a wheelchair ramp (rather than a lift) for faster boarding by customers with disabilities. Its rugged Altro Transflor flooring sets it apart from its larger cousins (i.e. the DE60LF). You can hear one of these coaches from a mile away because of the Voith transmission’s smooth, characteristic whining. Disappointingly, this coach does not have a rear window, and there is little legroom between rows of seats. Overall, I’d give this coach a ‘B’ for its innovations in accessibility and a timeless, clean look.

New Flyer DE60LF (1st Generation): ‘B’

  • Fleet: 2600-2812
  • Years: 2003-2004

Like its cousins, the D40LF and the D60LF (non-hybrid), these DE60LF coaches are all-in for faster, easier boarding by customers with disabilities. Unlike its cousins, the DE60LF are also the nation’s first production hybrid articulated coaches. This novel innovation brings the DE60LF in line with ‘B’ rated coaches like the 2015 XDE35/40 and the 2018-19 Low Floor HEV—both of which I’ll discuss later. The Caterpillar engines were not exactly the best ones for the job (Metro wanted Cummins engines), and that also makes for sluggish rides on the motorway. The interior detailing also tends to be subpar compared to the D40LF.

New Flyer DE60LF (2nd Generation): ‘D’

  • Includes the DE60LFA RapidRide coaches
  • Fleet: 6813-6865, 6000-6019
  • Years: 2008-2009

These DE60LF are some the worst coaches in Metro’s fleet, and I don’t say that very lightly. The reason it’s not an ‘E’ is because these coaches come with Cummins engines, which is an improvement over the dreaded Caterpillar engines. But I just don’t like this coach. It smells musty during cold rainy days, and the interior environment is completely sealed off save for Transpec air vents and the driver’s window. The coaches are also notorious for the noticeable exhaust soot they give off when they pull away from zones. Not exactly friendly if the wind blows that stuff right into my face.

New Flyer DE60LFR (3rd Generation): ‘A’

  • Includes DE60LFR RapidRide coaches
  • Fleet: 6866-6999, 6800, 6020-6117
  • Years: 2010-2013

Our ‘Restyled’ articulated hybrid coaches take us into the new decade with big improvements over their predecessors. They’re the first to feature slimmer 4ONE Aries seats, which are more lightweight and compact than the fully upholstered seats of the previous decade (read: more legroom). The new seats also improve the interior environment since there are fewer VOCs to deal with, and they’re just all-around easier to clean.  The DE60LFR remains one of the greatest looking coaches of 2020. The reason it’s not an ‘S’ through is because of its lack of a middle rear door, as well as the continued inability to open windows.

Orion VII (Next Generation): ‘C’

  • Fleet: 7001-7199
  • Years: 2010-2012

The Orion VII coaches emerged because of the Great Recession, with government stimulus funding a little less than half of the fleet. They were novel innovations because of its use of the BAE Systems HybriDrive. However, these coaches quickly fell out of favor over the years because they literally kill people, and because in some cases they are even falling apart faster than expected. The overuse of cheap plastics on the window pillars also make the coaches seem less durable than their Gillig or New Flyer counterparts. Overall, the Orion VII is a solid ‘C’.

New Flyer XDE35/XDE40 (1st Generation): ‘B’

  • Fleet: 3700-3759, 7200-7259
  • Years: 2015

These XDE35 and XDE40 coaches (with no fundamental differences other than length) descend directly from the Orion VII lineage. They fail to disappoint. The coaches were the first New Flyer Xcelsiors, the first to feature BAE System’s start-stop engine idle, and the first to feature all-electric accessories. The seat vinyl has a refreshed look, but other than that, there are few interior differences that set these coaches apart from the Orion and LFR generation. I’d give this coach a ‘B’ rating. There’s nothing fundamentally wrong with the XDE35/40—just an average, solid coach.

Before we get into the next thing, I want to let you know that everyone is capable of being anti-Black. There’s no argument about it. Check out a roast I did about Indian Country Today.

New Flyer XT40 (1st / 2nd Generation*): ‘S’

  • Fleet: 4300-4409
  • Years: 2014-2016

The New Flyer XT40 is one banger of a coach! It has all the characteristics of a ‘S’ tier coach: powerful electric drivetrain for its size, easy-to-clean interior, large rear doors, and innovation. I first took one on the 3 to Madrona and 34 on the very first day of this coach’s launch. I loved every minute of that ride. It tackled James Street well and kept everyone cool during the hot weather. And yeah, I just love this coach.

New Flyer XT60 (1st / 2nd Generation*): ‘A’

  • Fleet: 4500-4563
  • Years: 2015-2016

Next up, we have the XT40’s larger counterpart: the XT60. It has all of the same features of the XT40—including the motor. The motor made the XT60 a controversial coach among both Seattle and San Francisco agencies, because the XT60 doesn’t perform as well on hills. Seattle and Metro made the decision not to use XT60s for the upcoming Madison BRT line, a decision that would later cost both agencies money and 4 years of delay. The more limited application of the XT60 downgrades it to a ‘A’ tier rating.

New Flyer XDE60 (1st / 2nd Generation*): ‘A’

  • Includes XDE60 RapidRide coaches
  • Fleet: 8000-8084, 8100-8199, 8200-8299, 6200-6219
  • Years: 2016, 2017-2018

The XDE60 were the first series hybrid articulated coaches. Like the LFR, these come with a clean interior and 4ONE Aries for easy cleaning. The majority of the coaches (but not all) have three doors instead of two, which is kind of disappointing given Metro’s routine rotation of coaches between urban and suburban routes. The number of forward-facing seats also make the interior slightly unnavigable. For these reasons, I’d give the first batch of XDE60s an ‘A’ rating.

Gillig Low Floor HEV: ‘A’

  • Fleet: 7300-7495
  • Years: 2017-2019

When I found out that Gillig was manufacturing Metro’s next batch of 40’ coaches, I was quite disappointed. Virtually all Gillig Low Floor coaches look exactly the same with no change whatsoever. You can retire one of these in exchange for another one that looks exactly the same. All that said, after Metro and Gillig engaged in a months-long test of a Gillig Low Floor pilot coach (which is a BAE Systems HybriDrive coupled to a larger Cummins L9), they unironically delivered. It has all the features you could hope for in a 40’ coach: powerful electric drive train, large rear door, a solid build, and a clean interior. Despite its use of a larger engine, insulation dampens much of the noise. All that said, I’d give the Gillig Low Floor a solid ‘A’.

Honorable Mentions

Before we get to our final thing, let’s give a shoutout to some honorable mentions. They range from today’s novel electric coaches, to the tried, true, and (re)tired fan favorites of the previous generation.

  • Proterra Catalyst (4601-4603, 4604-4611): New electric coaches currently performing in-service trials on Routes 226 and 241.
  • Breda ADPB 350 (4200-4258): Formerly dual-mode diesel and electric coaches and converted to trolley-only by 2007. The coaches served Metro for a total of 26 years.
  • Gillig Phantom: (1100-1194 [1195], 3185-3197, 3198-3199, 3200-3544): A former flagship coach of King County Metro, the Gillig Phantom is faithful even during hard times.
  • New Flyer D60 (2300-2573): Coupled with the Gillig Phantom, the D60 was also a faithful flagship coach.
  • New Flyer D60LF (1st Gen): 2870-2899: These cousins of the DE60LF were used to compare fuel efficiency and durability. They had the worst fuel economy among the Metro fleet.
  • StarTrans President LF: 1900-1934: These took the cake for the shortest-lived production coaches in the Metro fleet, having only served the county between 2007-2013.

And finally:

New Flyer XDE60 (3rd Generation): ‘S’

  • Includes XDE60 RapidRide coaches
  • Fleet: 6220-6241, 6242-6269
  • Years: 2018-2019

The latest XDE60 comes with one very important feature over its predecessors: BAE System’s infamous start-stop feature. This bumps what would otherwise be an ‘A’ rated coach to the ‘S’ tier—all day, every day. Nothing says powerful more than when the largest coach in the fleet stops the motor during periods of idle. Fewer seats also make this generation of XDE60 the most navigable it has been yet. I can’t wait to see more like this once we emerge from this pandemic.

So that’s my tier list for King County Metro coaches. That’s it. See you.

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