Friday, December 24, 2010

This Week in Amtrak

Southwest Chief at Raton PassImage via Wikipedia

We are privileged to present the following commentary by Russ Jackson. Russ is a decades-long URPA vice president. He is also a founding member and Secretary of the Rail Passenger Association of California (RailPAC); the largest, most active rail passenger advocacy group in that state. Russ regularly attends and reports on state rail meetings of the San Joaquin, Coast Rail, and Capitol Corridors.

The passenger trains operated by the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway between Chicago and the West Coast are the stuff of legend. Their post-war fleets of stainless steel trains were, and are, considered the gold standard for American passenger railroading. Everybody knows the Super Chief ran over Raton Pass. They forget that the El Capitan was a separate train for most of its existence, but they vaguely remember that there was a different train called the Chief that also ran over Raton Pass. They remember that the San Francisco Chief ran through Amarillo, but they forget that the line through Amarillo also saw half of a train called the Grand Canyon; the other half of the Grand Canyon ran over Raton Pass!

Something else that apparently few people remember is that right up until Amtrak, the Santa Fe served Denver directly, with service between Denver and La Junta. In fact, there were two round trips per day until 1967. There were two trains a day through Amarillo before the Postal cuts in 1967, and there was one train daily right up until Amtrak.

It has been proposed that the one remnant of this once-proud lineage, Amtrak’s Southwest Chief, be rerouted some 790 miles off its current route through Raton Pass to the prominent BNSF Railway transcontinental mainline through Amarillo. This week, Mr. Jackson examines this proposition.

What Happens if the Southwest Chief is Rerouted?

Commentary by Russ Jackson, RailPAC

Every once in a while, the rerouting of Amtrak Trains 3 and 4, the Southwest Chief, off the traditional line from Albuquerque, New Mexico to Hutchinson, Kansas arises, because the line has virtually no BNSF freight traffic in Colorado and New Mexico any longer. That is a true statement. The railroad no longer uses the Chief, and has diverted through freights to the soon-to-be fully double-tracked "Transcon" line, farther south. This was the historic route of Santa Fe's San Francisco Chief prior to Amtrak. In recent months, Amtrak has been forced to add 40 minutes to the Chief's schedule due to a BNSF lowering of the speed limit on the very rough trackage in western Kansas and Colorado, such that Train 4 now departs Los Angeles at 6:15 PM. The BNSF has offered to move the train to the Transcon line, which as we will see, is more populated. The State of New Mexico now owns the line within its borders and runs the very successful Railrunner trains on the portion south of Santa Fe to Albuquerque. The BNSF still owns the rest.

Well then, what would happen if Amtrak had to abandon the line?

Would New Mexico pay to maintain the line through Raton Pass? Would Colorado step up and pay to maintain their portion of the line? Would Kansas pay? Would a "short line" purchase it, knowing there are almost no freight customers? Would Amtrak pay a higher share of the maintenance? Would anyone pay to rebuild it? Would the BNSF pay for a portion of an abandoned line? The answers to these questions are likely to be "No."

All right, then what would be lost in a reroute?

Certainly, there is the loss of the "absolutely spectacular and incomparable" scenic route through Raton Pass, as stated by URPA's Bruce Richardson, "but how many millions of dollars a year in track maintenance is that scenery worth?" In this case economics will eventually govern the results, even though Amtrak CEO Joseph Boardman has said he is "not interested in" moving the train.

Here are the FY ‘09 Amtrak ridership and revenue statistics for the abandoned towns; but not including Albuquerque, as that ridership could be largely retained by having the Railrunner act as a shuttle to Belen, thereby avoiding Amtrak’s having to back up into Albuquerque.

Station FY09 Riders FY09 Revenue
Lamy, NM 13,012 $1,623,108
Las Vegas, NM 4,456 335,144
Raton, NM 15,066 1,572,789
La Junta, CO 6,809 658,928
Lamar, CO 1,722 162,363
Trinidad, CO 3,923 388,961
Dodge City, KS 4,248 429,647
Garden City, KS 6,930 712,501
Hutchinson, KS 4,045 396,749
Totals 60,211 $6,280,190

(Statistics found on Great American Stations)

To Amtrak Accounting, that might be "chump change," but to the people who live in those towns and use the train it can be a matter of life and death, just as was the case for the Empire Builder across North Dakota and Montana.

Yes, there is also a human cost. On my October trip to northern New Mexico, I stopped for a visit at the Las Vegas, NM, Amtrak station, which is not staffed by Amtrak but is the city's nicely-restored Intermodal Facility in the Historic Railroad District. Employees handle questions about Amtrak travel, and there is a Quik-Trak ticket machine.

Transportation Facility Manager Debra Trujillo was aware there was talk of a potential loss of the train, and expressed concern for her town's people, many of whom are senior citizens who would have no transportation alternative. Greyhound does not serve the town. She said many people ride the train to Albuquerque for medical appointments, or into Colorado to visit relatives. While dealing with Amtrak can be difficult, she is looking forward to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) stimulus-money-funded new, ADA-compliant platform; although as of the date of my visit, construction had not yet begun. I urged Manager Trujillo to let Amtrak and the political establishment know how important the train is to her city, and to muster the other cities on the route to do the same.

What would Amtrak gain by rerouting the train?

Many observers felt Amtrak should have also retained the San Francisco Chief when it began in 1971. To go into these towns now would mean they would be starting over, selling rail passenger service after 40 years of absence. Here are the current populations of the new station cities, not their metro areas. It is not a prediction of ridership, but one can certainly see the temptation to reach out to new customers. The towns listed below are not all the stations that were served by the Santa Fe's train, but are the most likely stops:

Station Population
Vaughn, NM (flag stop?) 463
Clovis-Portales, NM 45,124
Hereford, TX 14,455
Amarillo-Canyon, TX 200,183
(major university at Canyon)
Pampa, TX 17,204
Alva, OK 4,738
Woodward, OK 12,206
Wellington, KS 7,812
Wichita, KS 361,420

(Statistics from Rand McNally map book)

Eventually, the decision may be out of the hands of the cities, the railroad or Amtrak. That would be unfortunate and would probably be a big black eye for all. The BNSF's Joseph Faust told the Amarillo Globe-News on October 8 that Amtrak is free to use the freight tracks in Amarillo, but that option "would require a great deal of study." The historic passenger station is used by an auction house, but is still standing; as is the brick platform. Amtrak's Marc Magliari told the newspaper, "Right now (the delays) are not significant. Our intention is to stay on the current route."

This writer urges all parties to work to preserve this service area and work to restore the San Francisco Chief into the Amtrak long-distance system; yes, to San Francisco from Barstow, up the San Joaquin Valley. That would be a bonanza for Amtrak ridership and revenue. Years ago, the Amtrak agent in Stockton told me that he could fill a sleeping car on the train every day, in the old days. Think future, Amtrak!
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Monday, December 13, 2010

This Week in Amtrak

Siemens Velaro China (Velaro CN / CRH3Image via Wikipedia
With this edition, we conclude the coverage of this year’s Passenger Trains on Freight Railroads conference presented by Railway Age magazine.

How does one brake a high-speed rail?

By Daniel Carleton

For many years, two prominent gentlemen have always been a presence at these soirĂ©es to act as guiding lights and voices of reason: Gene Skoropowski of California’s Capitol Corridor Joint Powers Authority, and Thomas Mulligan of Union Pacific. Today, both have retired from their long, distinguished careers; therefore, it was a real treat when they took the stage, engaging in a simulated freight/passenger negotiation session with a twist -- reversed roles. Skoropowski represented the railroad, and Mulligan the local municipality seeking to start a commuter rail service. Assisted by Kevin Sheys (Partner, K&L Gates LLP) and his two hats, the hour-long simulation was both humorous and sobering.

Many times railroads learn about plans of starting passenger service by reading about it in the newspaper. By the time they are invited to discuss the plan, the governing municipality has garnered numerous ideas about the railroad and its operations, most of which are completely erroneous. The railroad is left to quell these preconceived notions before the real discussion may begin. Any excess capacity on the railroad is owned by the shareholders. Liability costs must be borne by the new commuter entity.

The current Amtrak rates for track access to preexisting routes do not apply, and actual access fees will be some $7-10/train mile. Non-railroad capacity studies are “not worth the paper they’re printed on.” Railroads are receptive to incentive payments for service, but not penalties. Ultimately, the right business deal is needed to make such service a reality.

Martin Schroeder of American Public Train Association (APTA) addressed the gathering on safety standards development. Currently, APTA has over 200 standards in publication, and they are recognized by numerous professional and government agencies. The result of this proactive effort has been minimization of government regulation and an educated influence on the final outcome of said regulation. Fixed standards equal reduced liability for those adhering to them.

Alan Zarembski, President of Zeta-Tech Associates, spoke to us about engineering hurdles required for higher-speed corridors. Anyone looking to build or upgrade track for high- or higher-speed trains needs to enlist Zarembski’s expertise. Through numerous charts and graphs, he illustrated requirements for making a higher-speed corridor, as well as conflicts between the needs of freight and passenger trains.

Simply put, passenger track is expensive. For instance, a #20 turnout (a broad track switch) costs about $100-120K. A #30 turnout (an even broader switch) costs over $250K. In the U.S., track maintenance dollars are spent on rails and ties; in Europe, the resources go into right-of-way surfacing. When asked about the failures of concrete ties in the U.S., he stated that since the 1970s over 300 million concrete ties have been installed, and about 5-10% of these have suffered chemical degradation.

Rodney Case presented an outsider’s view of European freight and passenger operations. Europe does, indeed, have a mixed-operation network, and private investors are showing up in the European Union. He concluded by asking aloud if projects such as Access to the Region’s Core and East Side Access would not be fundamentally more attractive if jointly constructed to accommodate freight across Manhattan. He also asked, Why does the U.S. rail industry approach the government and stakeholders in such a fragmented approach?

Thomas Mulligan graciously received this year’s Graham Claytor Award for Distinguished Service to Passenger Transportation. A self-effacing man, he humbly summarized his railroad carrier. Early on, one of his superiors once declared him ambidextrous; he could not take shorthand with either hand! The ovation Mulligan received was well deserved, and we wish him the best that retirement can offer.

Over lunch, casual conversation turned to some quite shocking and virtually unmentioned facts about Positive Train Control (PTC). Overall PTC will make transit times longer. How can this be? Was not one of the touted benefits of PTC higher speeds? It was explained this way: Suppose a train is entering a 40 mph curve. Currently, the engineer may enter the curve at 41-42 mph with no discernable difference in train operation. This will not be possible with PTC. The train will have to be at 40 mph (or less) entering the curve, or there will be a penalty. That conversation ended with, “We’re still working on the algorithms.” It would appear Casey Jones truly is dead.

There was a panel discussion on U.S. high-speed rail initiatives. The panel Chair was Al Swift, former Representative from Washington State, who started the discussion with the admonition, “Advisory committees are there to be ignored.” He later made the salient point that we use the term “High-Speed Rail” indiscriminately, and we need to make some agreement on what it means. Art Guzzetti of APTA made the point that ARRA was a “jobs bill” and not a rail program. Currently, most intercity rail work is building back to a state of good repair and capacity expansion. Of note, one of the scheduled panelists, Drew Galloway of Amtrak, could not attend (as he was attempting to save the ARC program).

During the question/answer period, this author inadvertently kicked the hornet’s nest. The point was made that all true High-Speed Rail programs around the world began as augmentations or replacements of existing conventional rail systems. The two true HSR programs proposed in this country, Florida and California, are not replacing existing conventional corridors. Without a pre-existing rider base to naturally migrate from an existing service to an improved service, any new-start HSR service may not meet preconceived notions for ridership.

Would not such a failure on the national stage have long-lasting negative impact on operation/expansion of passenger rail in the U.S.?

There was a pregnant pause. A stunned backlash followed. One of the panelists responded, “I’m just a consultant.” The sternly-worded formal answer, from someone actively working on the Florida project, defended his efforts with the standard line, pointing to existing state-owned right-of-way and choice of station location as being surrounded by nothing but parking lots. The existing renovated station in downtown Tampa is purportedly unsuitable, as there is currently nothing near it.

The final presentation was an update on the higher-speed initiatives in Illinois. This primarily focused on the upgrade between Chicago and St. Louis, where speeds of 110 mph will be recognized. By that time, the majority of attendees had vacated, starting their way back from whence they came. How many traveled by train?


It has been less than two months since the conference, and yet it seems everything has changed. In the elections of last month many candidates ran, at least in part, on a platform of ‘stopping the train.’ Higher-speed plans in Wisconsin and Ohio may be cancelled. Even the true HSR project in Florida is in question. It would appear at least at this early date that passenger railroading in America has had yet another false start.

The first exposure this author experienced with passenger rail and politics was the High-Speed Ground Transportation Association convention of 1996. The crowd was huge. The air was electric. We were going to set the world on fire. Amtrak had officially signed to buy the American Flyer (later Acela) trainsets for the Northeast, and Florida was to get the Florida Overland eXpress (FOX). Before the end of the decade, the FOX was cancelled and Acela suffered setback after infamous setback.

Yet it is the same people from back in 1996 who have been coming again and again to Washington, and to similar meetings around the country. Now, with a probable payout for the first time in 14 years, they were practically tripping over one another to sell their wares. After 14 years, their angst is entirely understandable; so when the long-awaited call for “shovel ready” HSR projects came, about the best Florida could come up with was a dust-covered plan for the FOX.

But this is not 1996. The paradigm has most definitely changed. Is this really the best idea for denizens of the Sunshine State? The new anti-rail sentiment now threatens the future of SunRail, the Orlando area commuter rail system. Is the audacity of HSR such that it may endanger all potential rail projects in Florida? Instead of asking these and other questions, those would-be builders of HSR are running ahead full throttle. Their actions border on malicious compliance. High-Speed Rail is not the devil incarnate, as some politicians would contend; however, all successful HSR programs follow successful conventional passenger rail programs. This is something this country has not enjoyed for almost a half century.

Just as a baby learns to crawl before walking, we the people must learn (or re-learn) the basics of passenger railroading before contemplating moving forward. It is a generational arrogance that believes elementary steps may be skipped, yet viable results still be achieved. Seldom does arrogance go without receiving its due reward.

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Thursday, December 09, 2010

Transit Service, Transit Service Area and Equality

Boring, OregonImage by shoseph via Flickr
Does a transit system provide service to the largest coverage area possible, or does it provide the most possible service to its highest ridership areas? In an perfect world a transit system would have the funding to do both. However, 75 years of government induced pro automotive growth has made it impossible for a transit system to do both.

At one time, most transit systems tried to provide service to the largest service area possible. While this allowed more people to use transit, the question had to be asked whether the transit system was loosing more passengers due to the lack of frequent service on its most important lines.

Over the last couple of decades transit systems have gone away from the philosophy of providing the maximum coverage to a system of maximum efficiency by providing more service and busy corridors and cutting service to outlining areas. The problem is that you leave some areas with only limited service and sometimes they do not feel they are getting their money's worth from their tax dollars.

This is a situation currently happening in Portland, Oregon. The city of Boring (yes, the town is called Boring), is not happy with the amount of transit service it is receiving from the local agency Tri-Met. The city of Boring contributes about $2 million a year in tax dollars to Tri-Met but only gets limited service primarily during rush hour.

It is easy to understand where the city of Boring is coming from. A large amount of tax money leaves the city and they do not see a lot of return from their investment. While it would be nice if they could see the big picture cities only look to their own self interest and over the next few years that may only get worse.

It is difficult for Tri-Met to justify increase spending to areas such as Boring. If you look at a map of the Boring area you would see that it is largely semi-rural exurb that is difficult to service with transit. One alternative Tri-Met could use for Boring would be to provide a cutaway van flex route that agencies such as the Utah Transit Authority and Denver RTD have implemented.

A few of Boring's Neighbors have chosen to leave Tri-Met and start their own transit systems. With the investment they are making in Tri-Met they could provide better service than they currently receive from the bigger agency which is what happened when Wilsonville, Oregon started its own transit agency.

The problem would be for the citizens that have to travel out of the Boring area into Portland proper. Wilsonville's SMART transit agency and Tri-Met do not accept the other agencies transfers which means riders have to pay twice to make a one way ride (however SMART is fare free so if you are using Tri-Met's WES commuter rail line you would only have to pay once but it runs during rush hours only).

Portland is not unique when it comes to having battles over the amount of transit service being received. Ultimately the area in question needs to decide for itself whether going on its own will out way the pitfalls of not having a single integrated transit system with the most service being provided where ridership is the highest.

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Friday, December 03, 2010

The Balancing Act of Paratransit Service

This is a sample of all services provided unde...Image via Wikipedia
I have commented many times on the difficulties presented to transit agencies with the passing of the Americans with Disabilities Act. One of the biggest difficulties is the bill created an unfunded mandate that transit agencies need to provide services to those with disabilities but provided no money to actually provide the service.

Notice, I am NOT saying that people with disabilities should not have transportation however, what we have to recognize the the service is costly and the funding has to come out of a transit agencies operating budget which means that route service has to be cut to provide paratransit service.

Depending on the transit agency, the average cost to provide service is anywhere from $25.00 to $35.00 per rider which is several times higher than providing regular bus service or even more times higher per passenger for most light rail services.

However, the ADA did not just require transit agencies to provide a totally separate transit system. It also required transit agencies to make their regular bus service accessible. At first this included adding wheel chair lifts. For some agencies such as RTD in Los Angeles this was not a big deal since they started ordering buses with wheelchair lifts back in 1977 with the 200 buses they received from American Motors General.

Gradually transit bus manufacturers and transit agencies transitioned from high floor buses with wheelchair lifts to low floor buses. While the wheelchair lifts were expensive to maintain the low floor buses have their own disadvantages including lower passenger capacity and other design issues.

To reduce the cost of Paratransit service transit service has a couple of alternatives to make it more efficient.

Once solution that many transit agencies have done is contracting out Paratransit service to private operators. Of course transit agencies are ripped to shreds over the service provided by the contractors and how they do not care about the disabled. The question has to be asked, since the service is essentially a glorified taxi service and not true transit service, are transit agencies doing the right thing by contracting out the service.

Another way to reduce the price of Paratransit service is for agencies to limit those who ride paratransit service to those most in need. Those who do not meet the standards for Paratransit service then have to ride regular bus service. While that reduces cost it is also fodder for activist and also slows down regular transit service since it takes longer to get those people on and off the bus service.

A third way that transit agencies are reducing the cost of Paratransit service is to only provide service to the 3/4 of a mile limit from a regular bus routes that is mandated federally. Once again this is extremely controversial and is blasted by those located outside that service area.

Finally you have the Flex and Call N Ride routes that Denver and Salt Lake have implemented that provides both regular route and off route service with small vans that substitute for regular paratransit service.

Whichever route a transit agency decides to take to reduce the cost of Paratransit service, they will be criticized for the decisions they will make. However, transit systems have a fine balancing act of providing transit service to the maximum number of people possible with limited funds (that are even more limited during these economic times).

Of course the ultimate solution would be to build livable cities that someone with limited mobility can get the services they need without long trips. One of the often overlooked aspects of livable development is that if people with disabilities are able to live with easy reach of businesses and services they use frequently, they fewer trips they will need on Paratransit service.

Until then transit agencies will have to continue to do the balancing act will continue between cost and needs.

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Saturday, November 27, 2010

Stardards and Livable Communities

Brickell Avenue is home to the largest concent...Image via Wikipedia
In my last posting I referred to this article:

Confessions of a recovering engineer

One of the things you get out of the article is the problem with standards. Now standards are needed but there is many times that so called standards get in the way of providing livable, pedestrian and bicycle friendly communities.

A example of an organization sticking to its 'standards' and not paying attention to the big picture is down in Miami with FloridaDot and Brickell Avenue.

FDOT Continues to Play Pedestrian Russian Roulette on Brickell Avenue

Pedestrian Hit Near Brickell Avenue, Mayor Regalado and Commisioner Gimenez Support Ped-Friendly Streets; FDOT Still Says No

Brickell in the area in question is home to several high rises both office and residential but FDOT standards dictate that the street is designed to speed cars through the area thus putting pedestrians in danger by high speed automobiles in the area. A bus stop with a shelter has been taken out by speeding drivers on more than one occasion.

Brickell Avenue Bus Stop Gets Taken Out Again

It was pointed out a couple of times while I a was at Railvolution that the "black book" for traffic engineers goes against making streets more pedestrian and bicycle friendly.

We saw one example of that in the Portland suburb of Hillsboro. The Transit Oriented Development of Orenco is bisected by Cornell Road. While the road is essential at the present time to make the retail component of the complex successful, there was much controversy surrounding the road.

The traffic engineers wanted to make the road three lanes which of course equates to a very pedestrian hostile environment. After all, there is a direct correlation to the number lanes and the speeds along that stretch of road. After going back and forth the traffic engineers finally accepted two lanes in each direction with a center turn lane.

However, the speed limit is still 35mph (which few drivers observe), making it hostile for residents to get from the apartment, condo and MAX station across Cornell to the main retail component of the complex. In fact Cornell has become a barrier just like a freeway between to the two sides of the development.

The standards of traffic engineers are not the only ones that become a barrier to more effective transit development. While not written in law, the 'standards' fire departments become a hindrance to effective livable communities. There standards say that they should be able to turn around one of their fire trucks in the street.

At one time most fired departments had a variety of vehicles but due to escalating cost and limited tax income, fire departments have the most part standardized on one size of fire truck (although fire departments often times still have some specialized equipment). Standardization has lead to the standard truck being the largest size necessary so they have a large turn radius. This results in fire departments fighting more pedestrian friendly streets in order to have plenty of room to turn their large fire trucks.

There are more examples such as school districts and other government agencies that have policies that keep us from building more livable cities. We need to start changing these standards if we are going to have a chance at more livable communities.

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Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Traffic Engineers

The Fast and the FuriousImage by Storm Crypt via Flickr
I was going to do a posting about traffic engineers today and how we need to "reprogram" them to look at things differently. However, Streetsblog has an article today that includes a referenced article that includes the insights of a traffic engineer.

A Former Traffic Engineer on the Industry’s Perverse Standards

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Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Mortgage Deduction

Half million dollar house in Salinas, Californ...Image via Wikipedia
Not too long ago I posted about how the government since the days of FDR has been artificially inducing demand for real estate. Over the years owning a how has gone from being a privilege to the point it is now an entitlement.

Now from the Inside Real Estate News out of Denver comes an article that promotes keeping another one of the long standing government enhancements to the real estate market: the mortgage deduction on taxes.

Anyone who carries a mortgage on their home may deduct the interest from their taxes and so could have a tax deduction up to $2500.00. One of the reasons that the justifications for keeping the mortgage deduction is that it will increase foreclosures. Now if a $2500 tax deduction is the only thing keeping people out of foreclosure, I would have to say that those people could not afford the home in the first place and should not count on a government enhancement to keep them in their homes.

In fact, as I mention in my previous post, more than 50% of the people buying homes could not buy them without some type of government enhancement and that number probably went substantially up in the last few years before the bubble burst.

I could go on forever about the social-economic impacts that the enhancements have created in our society. After all, when FDR started these programs only 2% of homeowners had a mortgage and today it hovers somewhere around the 65 to 75% range.

What you should not expect is any changes. The Reality lobby is one of the more powerful lobbying groups in many state legislatures and probably in DC too. They have too much to loose if the government stopped inducing demand for real estate.

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Friday, November 12, 2010

This Week in Amtrak

Amtrak Coast Starlight (Train 14) northbound a...Image via Wikipedia
As with all journeys, this one begins with an itinerary. There are points of interest. There are schedules to be met. And, there is, of course, the occasional missed connection. As the new editors of this on-line publication, we shall attempt to keep this interesting and do so in a timely manner. We do not bring an agenda with us, but do believe in the free flow of news and ideas to that which unites us all together: the realistic belief in and rational expansion of passenger railroading in the United States. Therefore, without further ado, we would like to take a moment to introduce ourselves.

David Carleton has been in the engineering field for over thirty years; more than twenty of those years with an ENR top 500 civil engineering firm in Central Florida. Along the way, he has worked in railroad civil engineering and railroad electrification, as well as landmark preservation and intelligent mixed-use land development. He also has an extensive background in publishing railroad books for historians and enthusiasts, alike, by virtue of the fact that his family founded and operated the publishing house of D. Carleton Rail Books. David has made himself available here in the role of researcher and historian, so that all the lessons learned along the way can be put to their best use.

Daniel Carleton is a twenty-year veteran of the electrical power industry, with eighteen of those years spent in the nuclear field. He is now semi-retired, having attained the position of Supervisor of Mechanical Maintenance. Like his brother, he grew up around and in the world of railroading, and continues to draw parallels between these two branches of industry: railroads and power generation. Combining the context of railroading’s nearly two-century-old history with the strict attention to detail necessary in today’s environment, Daniel intends to be the vigilant eye on the ever-shifting landscape of passenger railroading.

We would also like to thank Jean Sopko, of Black Bear Wordsmiths (, for graciously accepting the task of proofreading our musings and ramblings. Jean has a B.A. in English. She has been a newspaper proofreader, newspaper archivist, and medical transcriptionist. She has also held several highly-technical positions in the electronics industry.

Many have been convinced, looking at the “modern” high speed trains of faraway lands, that history has nothing to teach us regarding the future of passenger railroading; however, as the old saying goes, “He who fails to learn his history is destined to repeat the seventh grade.” Sadly there are more seventh graders who are more prescient about the future of transportation than most adults. Another wise man once said, “Good ideas never go bad, they just sometimes are put on a shelf.” Shall we return to the days of steam, steel, and limiteds? No, that is not our vision; however, unless rational decisions based on proven formulas are made, the future of transportation, all transportation, is in jeopardy.

Our journey has just begun. When and where it will end is still unknown. So for now let us sit back, relax, and gaze out the large window as the scenery whisks by.

Waiter, there’s a High Speed Rail in my soup.

By Daniel Carleton

You know the party has only started when Charles “Wick“ Moorman, Chairman, President, and CEO of Norfolk Southern Corporation, begins his statements in regard to passenger trains with, “Get the damn things off my railroad.”

After the roar of laughter settled down, day one of this year‘s Passenger Trains on Freight Railroads conference, presented by Railway Age magazine, was underway. Afterward, Moorman acknowledged his appreciation for passenger trains, having ridden them to school every day in Great Britain. Hardly a stuffy or stodgy individual, Moorman proved to be quite congenial and self-effacing. He sees his company’s relationship with Amtrak as “strong,” a position this gathering of railroad professionals would not deny. He made one fact quite clear: passenger trains on his freight railroad means 79 mph, maybe 90 mph in certain circumstances, but definitely not “High Speed Rail.” He also made it very clear that the increased track maintenance will not be borne by his railroad or stockholders.

Moorman was quite concise that every corridor and potential corridor for passenger trains is different; they are “not all the same.” He pointed to three areas where current and future services are welcome: (1) Virginia — the increase of service by extension of a Richmond train to Lynchburg is seen as a success. Norfolk to Petersburg makes a lot of sense, but a connection will have to be built between the former N&W and SCL at Petersburg, after which one would “bounce your way to Washington” (a good-natured jab at his primary competition, CSX). The Commonwealth of Virginia is shouldering the cost of these services and upgrades. (2) Chicago — the grade separation at Englewood, which will raise a Metra commuter line over a busy NS freight line (also shared by numerous Amtrak trains), is one of many great projects in that area, improving freight and passenger service. (3) North Carolina — work continues in this state to continuously improve passenger service, and NS is committed to this work.

Then Moorman addressed two areas that have caused great concern to the industry, those being the now reconsidered Federal guidelines for high-speed rail, and Positive Train Control. He described the Federal guidelines as “surprising to us” and “frightening to us.” The reward of passenger trains is slight, to the freight railroads. Then a call to any seeking to run a new passenger service: “Keep the word `risk’ in mind.” Whereas many may see the benefits of running passenger trains, it is the freight railroads who weigh the risk. As for PTC, it is a well-intentioned but bad piece of legislation, with an estimated price tag of $10 billion for the industry. This is going to be a big distraction to the railroads for the next five years. NS has estimated two-thirds to three-quarters of its track will require PTC.

Following that was a panel discussion on the National Rail Plan, chaired by Al Engel on his first day as Amtrak’s new Vice President for High Speed Rail. The Plan is a project by the FRA. As it is limited to 120 pages, the Plan is a strategic vision for the future, and an answer to Congress when it asks, “Show us your High Speed Rail plan?” FRA replies, “We don’t have an HSR plan, we have a National Rail Plan.” Even so, there were many useful tidbits of information brought out in this two-hour segment. The freight hauling system in the United States currently moves 40 tons of freight per person, per year. The goal of the Plan is to realize an increase of intermodal (trailers or containers moving greater than 500 miles) on the railroads from about 23% today, to 50%. The largest roadblock to building new intermodal terminals is not NIMBYs, but the environmental permitting process; this is a critical issue for the Plan. The expected cost of applying PTC to a single locomotive is $60,000-70,000.

Don Itzkoff, who will be moving to GE Transportation, then gave us an update on how things stand in Washington, DC. Simply put, HSR is now a higher political target. Everyone is feeling his way around this new scheme of transportation with the mindset of “play the game, then write the rules.” Of the more than $10 billion (soon to be over $11 billion) set aside for HSR, only $1 billion has been spent; however, rail is now very visible on Capitol Hill. Rail is now very much part of the surface transportation discussion, and rail is now speaking with one voice.

Our luncheon speaker was none other than Joseph Boardman, President and CEO of Amtrak. He started off by joking that his education in Agriculture Management at Cornell qualified him for Amtrak’s top spot. Despite his wit and spry manner, he looked tired and concerned, as though the weight of the whole world was on his shoulders. Even so, he did attend the entire morning, and most of the afternoon sessions. He was quick to point out that despite the conference title of Passenger Trains on Freight Railroads, talk of High Speed Rail kept “sneaking” in. Unlike most of the participants who stuck to the ‘where and when’, Boardman seemed compelled to answer ‘how and why’ he is, where he is, and what he intends to do about it. His appreciation for public transit came with the gas lines of 1973 and a national lack of desire to fix the problem. Even now it is already too late to provide balanced transportation for the nation. Amtrak needs a fundamental change in its culture — it has visibly lost support due to its arrogance – and to this end, Boardman seeks to instill the three parts of humility into those in his charge: inclusion of all, being collegial, and pursuing continuity. He said later on that he wants the people in key positions to be able to make those decisions on their own with the proper input. Is this perhaps a move away from the micromanagement so prevalent in state agencies? Time will tell.

Boardman acknowledged that his work is cut out for him. He noted that in the 1930s the number of passenger cars in the United States was around 65,000. By the late 1940s the number was down to about 30,000. Today, Amtrak stables less than 1400 passenger cars. As regards the latest order for rolling stock from CAF USA, everything except the stainless steel will be domestic, since they could not find a domestic source.

After lunch, representatives from Veolia Transportation delivered an interesting discussion on Cognitive Distraction and Attentional Error, which included actual cab video of a commuter Railroad Engineer verbally acknowledging a restrictive signal, yet still throttling up his train as though it was clear. Fortunately, he and the oncoming train did stop prior to an impact. Much research has been done to study the mind and mental health of those operating our trains nationwide, and there is still much to learn. It should be noted that the Chatsworth wreck was not discussed outright due to the ongoing investigation in which the panel is involved.

Next, a representative discussed what has been done and what is proposed in the Pacific Northwest. Like NS, Burlington Northern Santa Fe has been a cooperative partner in passenger rail, but has also made it clear that the maximum speed it will allow on its railroad will be 90 mph.

Then Al Fazio of Bombardier Transportation North America, who has overseen the build and start-up of NJ Transit’s River Line interurban in southern New Jersey, spoke on Extended Temporal Separation. For years, the River Line has been running non-compliant (crash standard) vehicles on the same tracks used by heavy freight trains protected by positive separation and lockout of one service or the other. He pointed out that the FRA defines systems as either `rail transit systems’ or ‘short haul passenger railways’. The decision is based on the `purpose of the trip’. If it is a rail transit system, then they may use non- or near-compliant equipment with temporal separation. If it is a short haul passenger railway, then the equipment must be compliant. This will be important going forward, as Fazio pointed out there are no more abandoned rail lines left to convert to light rail. The next step will be shared use.

The day closed with a sobering panel discussion, “Safety and Security: the Basics of Counterterrorism.” The panelists were quite dismayed over the cancellation of the second set of tunnels under the Hudson River; not because of the money lost in contracts, but due to lack of redundancy that presently exists in a heightened security environment. After a review of worldwide terrorist actions prior to 9-11, it was obvious that threats and sabotage against railroads is nothing new. Even so, the ‘Homeland Security Model’ developed and adopted after 9-11 does not fit all. There are five steps for counterterrorism on the railroad: (1) integrate thoroughly, ( 2) evaluate constantly, (3) know the threat, (4) foster vigilance — employees and rail fans, and (5) shift the balance.
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Thursday, November 11, 2010

Perils for Pedestrians Video

Since I was in Portland last month for Railvolution, I thought this Perils for Pedestrian video was appropriate since it covers the Portland area.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

High Speed Rail

Map showing US high speed rail corridors as of...Image via Wikipedia
Over the last two years since the election of President Obama, the big rage has been high speed rail. The administration has been very supportive of rail and has been pushing special funding for projects including ones in Florida and California. Even Utah Transit Authority joined a coalition that supports high speed rail in several western states.

However, after the recent elections several states that were on the fast track for rail improvements now have governors that are putting the breaks on those systems including Wisconsin and Ohio. In addition the ARC tunnel from New Jersey into Manhattan has been canceled by the new governor of New Jersey.

The question we have to ask is if these high speed rail projects are the best way to spend our money.

I am going to say that some of these projects just do not make that much sense. A perfect example is the project between Tampa and Orlando. As was mentioned in a previous issue of This Week In Amtrak, this route is only 81 miles. While the current Amtrak service is not that fast, you also have to take into consideration that the some of the current Amtrak route has severe speed restrictions.

It would cost substantially less to upgrade the existing rail line and provide additional trains in the market. Not only would the construction cost be substantially less but the cost to operate the system would be substantially less.

What many people do not take into consideration is the cost of maintaining the high speed network. While cost increases the higher the speed, the cost goes up exponentially once you reach the 110mph mark.

Wisconsin is another example of spending money for the sake of so called high speed rail. The proposal was to spend $800 millions dollars to build a line that would run at a maximum speed of 110mph. While some upgrade of tracks are needed especially near Madison where most of the tracks are relatively slow speed freight racks.

However, the question needs to be asked, would you see that much more ridership with the train operating at 79mph than you will at 110mph? For the relatively short distance of the route would the increase speed have enough increase in ridership to justify the increased cost of the speed increase?

Let me make it clear, I believe that rail service is and will be successful. California and Washington are two examples showing that rail passenger service can be a success. What I question is spending huge sums of money in areas that probably do not call for that kind of investment.

Look at the investment that California is looking to make in high speed rail. Could the money be more effectively used by upgrading the existing rail networks, getting rid of slow spots, fixing bottlenecks, removing dangerous grade crossings than investing in all new infrastructure?

However, I do see one spot where investment is needed in a new rail line and that is between the Los Angeles area and Bakersfield. Currently there is no viable rail route between the two cities. A new route would could not only benefit rail passenger service but could also benefit Union Pacific and BNSF by giving them an alternative to the only rail route south of Bakersfield through the Tehachapi area

I support an effective rail passenger system in the United States which we do not have right now. However, we need to walk before we can run and when it comes to rail passenger service we are not even crawling in the United States yet.
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Friday, November 05, 2010

Boosting Bus Service with Streetcar

The prototype streetcar (tram) built by United...Image via Wikipedia
Whenever a new light rail system opens, we often see bus routes being modified to service the light rail stations. While some complain about the loss of a one seat ride, others complain that preferential treatment is given to light rail.

Meanwhile Portland will soon be in a different situation as its streetcar system continues to expand.

The starter Portland Streetcar which has become famous for many reasons does not duplicate any existing bus service except for the northwest section where the existing 77 travels along a portion of the streetcar line.

However, as the streetcar system expands as it is doing right now, it will soon start to duplicate existing transit lines. The new eastside loop will follow a portion of Tri-Met's existing route 6 which itself was modified from parts of old route 5 with the opening of the Yellow Line several years ago. Whatever Tri-Met decides to do with route 6 when the streetcar line opens in 2012, it would not have a dramatic effect on transit service in that area. My observations from riding the 6 line while at Railvolution is that most of the ridership tends to be from the Convention Center north (although my observations where limited so if someone from Portland wants to correct me on that...).

What will have the ability to dramatically change transit service in the region is the next set of route proposals for the street. Specifically one of the top candidates to get another streetcar line is Sandy Blvd and Burnside which currently hosts one of Tri-Mets longest if not the longest line Route 12.

Not only is the 12 route a very long bus route it is also a very busy route specially in its spine territory from Parkrose/Sumner Transit Station to Tigard. While many buses shortline in King City and Parkrose/Sumner, a bus traveling the full route from Gresham to Sherwood takes more than two hours to complete the journey.

However once the Sandy/Burnside trolley line is built there will be new opportunities to change the 12 for the better doing the opposite of what is normally done when a new light rail line opens.

If this was a light rail line opening the natural inclination would be terminate buses at the end of the line in the Hollywood section of Portland and in downtown for buses coming from the Sherwood area. The main reason for this is if you continue running the bus route that parallels the light rail line the light rail line doesn't perform up to its potential and the bus becomes a major drain on resources with little ridership.

Instead of terminating the 12 at the end points, you can instead have the 12 become a limited stop route along the portion that will duplicate the streetcar line. As I have already said the 12 is a very, very long route. While it currently takes only 20 minutes to get from 42nd street to downtown currently by making the 12 a limited you can shave off about 5 to 7 minutes by making the 12 a limited. One good place to drop the number of stops is on Burnside where there is currently multiple bus stops within a few lock area.

Also to improve the route even more Tri-Met should look at making the 12 a limited all the way through downtown and down Barbur to Beaverton-Hillsdale Road since that portion of the route is also has the 44, 54 and the 56 in the corridor. With these improvements you could shave off 10 minutes off the route.

While 10 minutes is not anything earth shattering in speed increase, you would be saving 20 minutes over a round trip which could save you bus or two on the route. Those hours could either be used to increase service on the 12 or provide additional service on other routes that could use additional service.

As the Portland Streetcar expands to new markets in the future, it will create new opportunities to make the existing bus service more efficient. This will create new marketing opportunities as streetcars provide the close to downtown urban service and buses providing faster regional service in areas that do not have light rail service.
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Tuesday, November 02, 2010

NIMBYism and Unintended Consequences

Two Siemens LRV and a Bombardier bi-level coachImage by boltzr via Flickr
Any time a NIMBY wins a battle, there is often unintended consequences of that win. Sometimes the NIMBY's can end up with something worse than they were fighting against. Sometimes the consequence is a loss of something that could really helped the community in the long run.

In Salt Lake City, the west side of the city suffers from the victim mentality of NIMBY. They see things as a threat to their community because everyone likes to pick on the west side. While the west side did get screwed with the building of I-15 and I-80 that effectively cut them off from the rest of the city and the rebuilding that did not do the right thing and lower the freeway, the will often become their worst enemies by fighting projects that will ultimately help their neighborhood.

A perfect example of this is the Airport TRAX line. One of the plans for the line was to run it down 600 West and service Central Station in west Salt Lake. However, the west side fought against the project because it would have created a viaduct over the existing Union Pacific and Front Runner railroad tracks.

However, the section of the west side that would have been effected by this viaduct is minor. In fact it is actually cut off from the rest of the west side by I-15. In fact we are only talking about a few homes along the street along with a fairly new apartment complex at the corner of 600 West and North Temple.

Now instead of the viaduct, TRAX trains on the Airport will not serve the Intermodal Station at all and instead will continue to travel on North Temple, turn on 400 West and connect up with the existing TRAX lines at South Temple.

Now comes the unintended consequences.

Because there will no longer be a direct connection from the airport to Central Station, the two proposed hotels for the station area will not be built. While they would have not provide a huge amount of jobs, but they would have created new opportunities for economic development in a part of town that desperately needs it. With the addition of the hotels it would have been more likely that Central Station and Gateway could be connected through redevelopment.

However, all is not lost in the Central Station district. The city of Salt Lake does have plans on the books that would redevelop the area between Central Station and the old Rio Grande Station that would also connect those areas to downtown area.

While the west side NIMBY's may have won a battle in their area, in the long run their actions may have actually set back their area a decade or more.
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Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Safeway Store

Here is a photo I took while in Portland last week.

This is one of three stores that Safeway has opened that service the urban area.

While some stores have a difficult with the concept of a pedestrian friendly store, it is nice to see that one chain has been making them work.

I shopped at this one and the one in the Pearl District along with checking out some locally owned competition.

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Monday, October 25, 2010

Airport Cul-de-sac's

Jarrett over at the Human Transit blog talks about Cul-de-sac's and the difficulty in trying to serve these with transit. In his presentation at Railvolution he also showed how hard it is to service points off the main route.

Airports can often be a form of Cul-de-sac's that can be difficult to service with transit. If you look at most of the airports currently served by or to soon be served by rail transit such as Salt Lake City or Denver, you will see a design that is basically a Cul-de-Sac: you have travel to it from one direction but you have to turn around to get out of the complex.

Last week I flew into Portland and took their excellent light rail service from the airport however, Portland is a perfect example of this principal. The Red Line ends at the airport and without a major reconstruction of the airport and/or the line itself, the line can never reach beyond the airport terminal itself.

This is true of many of the cities that currently have rail service to their airports including Philadelphia, Portland, Chicago (O'Hare), the new line to Denver, the future extension of the Washington Metro system to Washington Dulles, Baltimore and St. Louis. The Airport TRAX line in Salt Lake City will also be a dead end line.

There is a couple exceptions to this rule which includes the SeaTac in Seattle and Chicago-Midway (although both currently end at the airport stations there is planned extensions of both routes). However both of these stations are located at the far end of the parking lot and customers face a long walk to the actual airport terminals. I rode to SeaTac yesterday and despite the fact I walk a couple of hours a day, walking with luggage from the Link station to the airport terminal then to the respective gates can be a grueling experience.

The one exception to the above is Ronald Reagan Airport in Washington where the Washington Metro system is able to service the airport terminals and then continue on.

One of the worst example of providing service to an airport is the San Francisco BART line. First have the line to the airport plus a line that serves the vitally important connection to Caltrain at Millbrae. However, neither station has performed to potential due to the way the lines were designed.

As Jarrett pointed out, trains can either serve the airport, then reverse direction and head to Millbrae, or they can split with one train serving Millbrae and another the airport, or you can have option 2 with a shuttle between the two stations. Every time the schedules change at BART they seem to try something new and nothing seems to work.

Airport lines can provide a important multi-model connection to major airports. However, transit systems must also take into consideration if they are serving a cul-de-sac and whether those precious dollars could be better used for a line that can be expand to more areas in the future.

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Sunday, October 24, 2010

Portland Day 6 and Day 7 to Seattle

Today was the final day at Railvolution and the my final day in Portland.

There was two workshops today and I attended the one discussing employment centers near TOD and an introduction to complete streets. The first session had some good information from Los Angeles on the concentration of employment on the subway the sea which was followed by a presentation from a Bellevue, Washington planner discussing how that city is planning to develop two station areas beyond the downtown alignment controversy.

The session on complete streets showed what states have passed legislation mandating complete streets (which also points out how little is being done about it). The session also talked about some of the difficulties being experienced getting road engineers on the program because it isn't part of their "little black book".

Finally I went on my final mobile workshop of Railvolution which discussed some successes and difficulties of developing suburban TOD in the Portland area. We had the opportunity to check out several TOD projects and I will be discussing what was talked about on those tours and some of the things that was not talked about.

That finishes up my time at Railvolution and Portland. On Friday I head up to Seattle on Cascade Talgo operated by Amtrak. For anyone who has not had the opportunity to ride the Talgos in service in the northwest I highly recommned it.

Upon arrival in Seattle I had the opportunity to take my first ride on Link light rail but it was only through the downtown tunnel. From there I picked up a rental car since I will be heading to areas with poor transit service during the week and non-existant service on the weekends.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Portland Day 5

The day at railvolution started off with the Community Streetcar Coalition meeting. The big news coming out this meeting was that Utah will receive a $26 million tiger II grant for construction of the Sugarhouse Trolley. So not only will we have four TRAX lines and another commuter rail line opening by 2015, we should have our first modern streetcar in the next couple of years.

In addition $200 million in new start money will be freed up with the cancellation of the ARC tunnel project that would link New Jersey and New York. The tunnel has been very controversial with even rail advocates on opposing sides of the issues.

I went to several outstanding sessions including the Impacts of Streetcars on Neighborhoods and Development, Biketopia which had some great information on how biking can effect development, Partnerships and Streetcars plus Blogging for rail.

Finally the head of the American Public Transit Association gave a speech on the status of transit today.

Portland Day 4

Today was the first full day of workshops at Railvolution.

It opened up with a meeting of the National Assoiciation of Public Transit Advocates meeting which seemed to focus on what the Arizona Transit Association is doing with a grand they recieved from APTA.

Next up was the opening Plenary which featured Gordon Price who is a professor at Simon Fraser University in Vancounver, BC on why we need Portland. He did a presentation on what Vancouver has learned from the Portland and what it could do better. Then Congressman Earl Blumenauer who is one of the biggest advocates of livable cities.

On the workshop side I attended the Workforce Housing: The Missing TOD Link, Introduction to Station Area Planning and Livable Communties + Commuter Rail: Can We have both. One of the problems sometimes with these workshops is that you look at the discription in the program and what is being talked about is different than what the program seems to indicate. This happened the last time I was at Railvolution in Miami at the only workshop I could attend after doing my own presentation.

One of the best events of the day was the Networking Event and I attended the one put on by Jarrett Walker who writes the excellent Human Transit Blog. After the session I had a much better idea of where Jarrett is coming from and he has also given me some great ideas for future posts.

Finally there was a filmfest held at the Bagdad Theater in the Hawthorne district of Portland. The Hawthorne district is an ecletic streetcar era shopping district. The theater is an old time theater that is now not only a theater but sports a pub in what was the lobby of the classic theater. Many of the films came from Street Films out of New York which does many excellent presentations.

The first full day of Railvolution was outstanding and I look forward to going to more excellent workshops today.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Portland Day 3

Day 3 in Portland was a very busy one. I was hoping to attend one of the morning mobile workshops but they where all filled up but as it turned out I would have some personal business to take care of so it all worked out.

I started off by getting up very early and catching the first route 20 bus to the Beaverton Transit Center. My purpose in this early morning jaunt was to ride WES which is Tri-Mets new commuter rail system from Beaverton to Wilsonville which is the first true suburban to suburban commuter rail system (unless you want to count some of the Conneticut DOT shuttles such as Danbury but thier primary purspose is to connect up with the New Haven to New York commuter trains).

I could have caught the first train after my bus arrived but I wanted to get some OJ but despite the early morning time (6:00AM) there was a good crowd getting off the train and a few people getting back on.

I caught the train that left at 6:28AM. There was a fully seated load getting off and a few people getting on. There is only 3 mid route stations but most of the passengers would board at the last two of those stations which suprised me. By the time we arrived in Wilsonville there was a full seated load. The Wilsonville station is kind of isolated but it does have connecting bus service to the state capital of Salem so many may have been state workers.

WES operates with DMU's (Diesel Multiple Unit) cars made by the late Colorado Railcar. These are the only DMU's that meet the current Federal Guidlines to operate on regular rail lines and fortunately despite the demise of Colorado Railcar another company US Railcar is taking over production.

The WES maintenance facility is located next to the Wilsonville station and I could only see one spare DMU car along with two RDC cars which are 50+ year old DMU's that the private railroads used extensively with the decline of passenger rail service in the 50's and 60's.

Leaving Wilsonville for the trip back we had a half a car load seated which comprised mostly of women which is unusual for commuter rail. However, the numbers evened up by the next stop at which time we had standing room only conditions. There was one lady talking loudly to a couple of friends who took up two seats so no one else could sit down next to her and a guy behind me who I saw later at Railvolution who made it clear no one was going to sit next to him. Some people are just down right rude and very inconsiderate.

The train remained SRO until we arrived Beaverton. I will discuss in more detail WES once I am done traveling.

My first Mobile Workship of Railvolution was in the afternoon and was "Portland's Maturing Streetcar Neighborhood's" which discussed how the Pearl District and its surronding neighborhoods came to be and we had question and answer sessions with one of the architects, devolopers and business owners that made the streetcar and the neighborhood successful.

One of the biggest surprises was the developer responsible for making the Pearl District what is is today was actually a suburban developer originally that is now solely focused on urban development.

Once will do several articles in the coming weeks going into more detail of what I learn at Railvolution and how it can apply to other cities across the nation.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Portland Day 2

Today was spent more time on foot than on transit taking time to check out near the downtown area. I had the opportunity to check out south, west and north of downtown including the Pearl District. However, I did make some trips on MAX and bus service.

Yesterday I missed riding the new Siemens S70 cars (or are they S90's?). These are the newest cars in the Tri-Met system and will soon be in service in Utah. However, today I finally was able to ride them not once but twice.

Riding both the older Siemens low floor cars that Tri-Met purchased for the opening of the westside line back in the mid-1990's and these new cars are better than comparable low floor buses and don't seem to suffer from the same downsides as on the bus side except for lower capacity.

One interesting aspect of the Portland cars is that only one side of the car has a operator cab. Since Tri-Met runs nothing but two car trains due to how short their blocks are, it made since to save the money and increase capacity by doing away with the second cab controls.

Tri-Met is able to save money by not requiring all the controls and electronics that are required in a cab and increases capacity in the car. UTA does not have this option since they can run up to 4 cars in rush hour but at other times can run anywhere from one to three cars. It is interesting to ride in an area that would be a operator cab if it was operated by any other light rail system.

Tomorrow I hope to have the opportunity to ride Tri-Mets WES commuter rail line in addition to going to my first Railvolution event which is a mobile workshop on Portland's maturing streetcar neighborhoods. It ought to be very interesting.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Portland Day 1

This blog is being made from the city of Portland, Oregon as I spend a couple of days in the city before attending Railvolution which starts on Monday.

The entire time I am in Portland I will be using Tri-Met bus and rail service to get along. I wish I could say that the trip started on transit but I needed to be at the Salt Lake airport at 6:30am and that is an hour before the first UTA route 550 gets to the airport so I had to use the Express shuttle to reach the airport. Hopefully once TRAX is operating they will have earlier service for those taking those first flights of the morning.

After arriving in Portland I made the short walk over the the MAX station which is located near the baggage claim area of the airport terminal. It has been 6 years since I was last on the Red Line from the airport and there has been many changes. Back then the train didn't allow passengers off at the Mt Hood station, but today there has been a large amount of development along the line, sadly much of it auto centric such as IKEA and Target but there is also some hotels locating along the line and promoting their access to MAX.

At the Gateway Transit Center I transferred to the Green Line since it is the only MAX line I have not ridden. The train I caught from Gateway came from the Ruby Junction carhouse on the far end of Blue Line in Gresham so there was not many passengers.

The Green Line epitomizes why freeway transit lines don't work well. Except for the SE Main station which serves Mall 205 which is also an auto centric shopping center, most of the stations are difficult to reach and have difficult access from street level. The one exception is the SE Flavel station which is at street level and has bus service directly in front of it. However, the most of the high density residential development in the area is actually located on the opposite side of the freeway from MAX with the freeway creating its usual wall between neighborhoods.

The final station is at the Clackamas Town Center Mall. However, to reach the mall you have to pass a multi story parking garage which also houses the bus stops of the transit center and then the main mall parking. Once again the transit center is on the mall property but does not integrate with the mall. Hopefully over time mall management will see the opportunity of blending the mall with the transit station.

I then headed into downtown Portland on the Green Line while I had been down the transit mall in a bus a few years ago, today I rode light rail down the famous transit mall. I was hoping to ride the new Siemens S series cars that Portland has and will soon be in service for UTA but every train I rode had the older Siemens low floor cars.

I also had the opportunity to ride the Portland streetcar on the short stretch that I have not previously rode from Riverplace to the current end of the line at SW Lowell. I was hoping to ride the Willamette Shore Trolley along the proposed route of the Lake Oswego Rapid Streetcar but their website said they have mechanical problems that will have it out of service until sometime in December.

I also shopped at the Safeway Store at Jefferson and 10th which is on the streetcar line. This store is actually a pedestrian friendly store. Despite what Kroger says, a pedestrian friendly store can be built and be successful.

Portland is an outstanding town to explore by transit and by foot and I will be doing more of that tomorrow.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Heading to Railvolution

A two-car train of Siemens S70 light rail cars...Image via Wikipedia
On Saturday I will be heading up to Portland to attend Railvolution. The entire time I am in Portland I will be using Tri-Met or walking.

I will try to blog on a daily basis on my experiences riding the system, some thoughts on the Portland area and the different sessions I will be attending.

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Thursday, September 30, 2010

August 7, 2011 - Save the Date!!

A TRAX train passing the Frank E. Moss Federal...Image via Wikipedia
Today I attended the press conference held at the UTA's TRAX maintenance facility which is the former ZCMI warehouse at 2100 South and 900 East.

Not only is the Frontlines program 50% finished, but it was also announced that both the West Valley and Mid Jordan TRAX lines will open on the same day August 7, 2011. I am surprised that UTA would try to open two extensions on the same day. I know of no transit agency that has pulled that off at least in last 30 years (correct me if I am wrong).

The day will be a great day in the region for improving our transportation options throughout the area.
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Monday, September 27, 2010

Los Angeles to cut Metro Rapid Lines

Metro Local/Rapid bus stop for lines 4 and 704...Image via Wikipedia
When you talk about BRT in the United States, Los Angeles and their Metro Rapid program is often brought up as a success story for the operation of BRT. This despite the fact that it is not true BRT and Los Angeles already had examples of BRT: The El Monte Busway, the poor performing Harbor Freeway Transitway, and now the Orange Line.

Metro Rapid started with two lines in June of 2000, the 720 and the 750 that traveled along two of LA's busy corridors Wilshire Blvd and Ventura Blvd. Since then 26 other Rapid lines have been implemented that covers most of Metro's operating area. In addition, Santa Monica Municipal bus lines has its own Rapid Line that runs from Santa Monica to the LAX bus station. Just a couple of months ago Metro introduced its most recent rapid line the 733 between Los Angeles and Santa Monica via Venice Blvd and the Venice area.

When Metro Rapid started there was promises of special bus stops including next bus indicators but only the first two stops received these special bus stops. In addition Metro only had an agreement with the city of Los Angeles for signal priority, so other routes were still stopped by traffic lights although Metro was working on agreements with other cities.

One thing that Metro in Los Angeles did get right is branding. They created a separate brand that differentiated Rapid from other bus routes in the area. In fact Metro created several different brands that each featured its own colors: Orange for every day local routes, Red for Metro Rapid, Blue for express routes (only a couple of these are left), and Silver for Rail services, the Orange Line busway and the new Silver Line connecting the Harbor Freeway and El Monte transitways.

Like every other transit system across the nation that depends on sales tax revenue, Los Angeles is facing making cuts to bus service because of declining sales tax revenue. In addition, Los Angeles is also facing cuts from the state as the Govenator continues to raid transit funds to put into his own pet projects and to shore up California's horrible fiscal situation. Therefore Metro is being forced to cut 4% of its bus service. What is interesting is that several Rapid Lines will be among the casualties.

Even one of the original Rapid lines the 750 will loose weekend service with the cuts. In addition the areas south of downtown Los Angeles will loose several of their Rapid routes outright.

So why, if Metro Rapid is so successful would several routes be on the chopping block?

First of all if you look at the Metro Rapid maps you will notice that except for a couple of exceptions, all Metro Rapid routes follow the same route as the local routes. So in other words the Rapid lines did not create any new markets for bus service. Instead of taking a blank slate and saying where would be the most effective markets to create new markets, they either replaced already existing limited stop service or routed the rapid lines down the same streets as the local lines.

The one route that truly created new markets plus serving existing markets is the 720. This route overlapped two bus corridors creating new opportunities for riders for a through ride.

The other problem with following existing bus service when creating these Metro Rapid routes is that local bus service was cut to provide the Rapid service. This assumes that a majority of the market is looking for the faster ride and the bus stops in between are of no importance. The problem with using is philosophy is not understanding your market. How many of your customers need the local service as opposed to the new Rapid line.

The Utah Transit Authority found this out when they implemented their MAX service. UTA severally cut route 35 that parallels the new MAX route down to hourly service during the day. However, after only a short time UTA increased service to every 30-minutes due to demand for the existing 35.

In fact Metro in Los Angeles is planning to beef up local service when the rapids are cut.

While the Rapid service made since with the length of many Metro routes travel, it is important to determine the market the line is going to go after and not just follow your existing bus routes. When you create a new service clean the slate and look for new markets.

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Sunday, September 26, 2010

Front Runner Construction Update

UTA TRAX and FrontRunner at Night 2Image via Wikipedia

Construction is progressing on UTA’s FrontRunner South Provo to Salt Lake Commuter Rail line.

Below is the FrontRunner South construction update for September 25 – October 1. Please note that construction information is subject to change.

FrontRunner South construction began in 2008 and is more than 50 percent complete. The FrontRunner South line will be complete and operational by 2015. Please visit UTA’s FrontRunner South Webpage to learn more about the project. To view more FrontRunner South construction photos, please visit

UTA would like to remind Utah County express bus riders that service from the 2100 N. Lehi park and ride lot has been discontinued. Express bus service is now available from the Lehi FrontRunner park and ride lot at 2821 W. Executive Parkway, as well as the American Fork FrontRunner park and ride lot at 782 W. 200 S. Because the Lehi park and ride lot will be opened in phases, more stalls are currently available at the American Fork park and ride lot. Street parking is available near the Lehi park and ride lot.

Area 16 — Downtown Salt Lake City to 4500 South (Murray)

Construction Activity:

Crews will relocate power poles at 1300 South and clear and grub the corridor and continue waterline work between 1700 South and Mill Creek. North of 3900 South crews will be excavating for a retaining wall and south of 3900 South crews will be constructing a wall. At the Central Avenue bridge, crews will pour concrete for the bridge’s back and wing walls and finish shear keys. They will also install signal power service in the area. Between Central Avenue and 4500 South crews will continue track way embankment and at the 4500 South bridge crews will continue retaining wall construction for the bridge’s south abutment and clean up and grade the slopes at the bridge.

Traffic Impacts:

There will be truck traffic on Central Avenue Monday through Friday.

The eastbound right lane will be closed on 4500 South Monday through Friday.

Salt Lake Central Station:

Station complete.

Area 15 — 4500 South (Murray) to Wasatch Street/8000 South (Midvale)

Construction Activity:

Between 4500 South and 4800 South crews will restore street light power and install signal power service. At the 5300 South bridge crews will install deck plates and at Vine Street crews will excavate for a crash wall. Between 5300 South and 5900 South, crews will embank the track way and install storm drain, and between 5900 South and I-215, crews will continue waterline work and also clear and grub the corridor. At the 7200 South bridge, crews will place surcharge.

Traffic Impacts:

The 4500 South Frontage Road is currently closed at the tracks for bridge work through September.

There will be the following impacts on 5300 South this week:

· Westbound left lane closure, Monday

· Eastbound right lane closure, Tuesday through Thursday

There will be truck traffic at 5900 South all week.

Murray Station:

There are no construction activities to report.

Area 14 — Wasatch Street/8000 South (Midvale) to 14600 South (Bluffdale)

General Information:

Considerable progress has been made on the flyover structure west of Salt Lake Community College’s Miller Campus at 9800 South. The 642-foot flyover bridge features a 40-foot-high bridge deck that will allow FrontRunner to travel from the east to the west side of Union Pacific Railroad’s track way. The flyover structure’s approaches consist of keystone block MSE walls filled entirely with lightweight fill to minimize settlement.

Construction Activity:

Crews continue wall excavation north of 9000 South and soil nail installation south of 9000 South. Crews will be installing fencing on top of the retaining wall between 9120 South and 9400 South and at the 9120 South bridge crews will build forms and pour concrete for the south abutment. At the 10600 South bridge crews will install shoring at the south abutment and continue work on the north abutment walls. Crews will continue mass excavation between South Jordan Gateway and 11400 South and sheet pile shoring installation south of 11400 South. At the Bangerter Highway bridge, crews will continue work on the shear keys.

Traffic Impacts:

The eastbound right lane will be closed on 9120 South Monday through Thursday.

There will be a northbound lane closure on South Jordan Gateway at approximately 10300 South for truck traffic.

There will be a full closure of all eastbound lanes on 10600 South between Saturday, October 2 at 10:00 p.m. and Monday, October 4 at 5:00 a.m.

There will be the following impacts on Bangerter Highway this week:

· Westbound right lane closure, Tuesday

· Westbound left lane closure, Wednesday

There will be truck traffic with flaggers on 14600 South Monday through Friday.

South Jordan Station:

Lightweight fill for the job is being stored at the station site. There are no construction activities to report.

Draper Future Station:

There are no construction activities to report.

Area 13 — 14600 South (Bluffdale) to Thanksgiving Point (Lehi)

Construction Activity:

Crews will be repairing a wall near 14600 South and continuing canal realignment work south of 14600 South. Now that Union Pacific traffic has been shifted onto the new bridge constructed at the Jordan River, crews are retrofitting the old UP bridge for UTA’s use. This week, crews will place girders and build deck forms. Crews will be installing permanent fencing north of Thanksgiving Point and along the Golf Course.

Traffic Impacts:

There are currently no impacts to motorists in this area.

Area 12 — Thanksgiving Point (Lehi) to Main Street (American Fork)

General Information:

Crews are currently constructing two major bridges in Lehi at 2300 West and 2100 North. The 2300 West bridge will allow FrontRunner to travel over Lehi City’s future 2300 West road project and the 2100 North bridge will span UDOT’s future Mountain View Corridor, 2100 North roadway. The 2100 North bridge will feature abutments on each end of the bridge and five center piers.

Construction Activity:

In the Cranberry Farms area, crews will be working on a retaining wall at approximately 2400 North, staging ties and distributing rail and installing duct for fiber at the 2300 West and 2100 North bridges. Crews will also install deck plates at the 2300 West bridge and grout and patch and install bolsters at the 2100 North bridge. Between 2100 North and 1500 North crews will stage ties and distribute rail, and between 1220 North and 900 North crews will clear and grub the corridor, build slopes and ditches, prepare the sub grade and install signal power.

Crews will construct crossing upgrades this week at the Main Street crossing in downtown Lehi. This work will include signal and track work, the installation of concrete medians and signs, road striping, and asphalt replacement. Crews will be working 24 hours a day at this crossing in order to reopen it as soon as possible to the travelling public.

On Center Street, crews will be installing concrete medians near the crossing, and southeast of 300 East in Lehi, crews will finish prepping the sub grade prep and place sub ballast.

Traffic Impacts:

There will be truck traffic on 500 West in Lehi near the tracks all week.

The Main Street crossing in Lehi will be closed for crossing upgrade work Monday, September 27 through Sunday, October 3. Traffic will be detoured on 300 West, 500 North and 500 West.

There will be lane restrictions on Center Street in Lehi on Monday.

Lehi Station:

A portion of the Lehi Station Park and Ride Lot is now open for public use.

At the pedestrian tunnel, crews will continue work on the tunnel floor and will also trench for a drain connection. At the Park and Ride Lot, crews continue preparing a new section of the parking lot for paving.

Area 11 — Main Street (American Fork) to University Parkway (Orem)

Construction Activity:

Crews will be installing fiber between 7350 West in American Fork and University Parkway in Orem. In American Fork, crews will continue work to relocate a power pole and phone pedestal at 1500 South. Between 400 North in Vineyard and Geneva Road in Orem, crews will install permanent fencing.

Traffic Impacts:

There will be lane restrictions on 1500 South in American Fork Monday through Wednesday.

American Fork Station:

A portion of the American Fork Station Park and Ride Lot is now open for public use.

There are no construction activities to report.

Vineyard Future Station:

There are no construction activities to report.

Orem Station:

There are no construction activities to report.

Area 10 — University Parkway (Orem) to Center Street (Provo)

General Information:

Significant progress has been made in Area 10 along the Union Pacific Railroad corridor between University Parkway in Orem and Freedom Boulevard in Provo. Crews have prepared a path for FrontRunner by grading and clearing the right-of-way and relocating water lines. Drainage and irrigation installations are generally complete in this area, and main line earthwork has been finalized from University Parkway to 2000 South in Orem and from the Provo River bridge to 500 West in Provo. At-grade crossing improvements have also been completed in Provo at 2000 North, 2800 West, 1680 North, 820 North, Draper Lane, 900 West, 700 West, 500 West and Freedom Boulevard.

Construction Activity:

Crews will surface, line and dress the track between University Parkway in Orem and 2000 North in Provo and install fiber between University Parkway and 1680 North. North of 820 North in Provo, crews will be re-grading ditches, and between 700 West and 900 South crews will de-stress track and remove poles.

Traffic Impacts:

There are currently no impacts to motorists in this area.

Provo Station:

Crews will install vapor barrier and tie rebar for the low deck at the Provo Station.

Thanks again for your interest in the FrontRunner South project. If you have construction-related questions,
please call our 24-hour construction hotline at 1-888-800-8854.

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