Monday, June 23, 2008

Ride the Rocket

So, readers, I'm sure you've been wondering when I'd update you on my Canada trip. Unfortunately, I have been extremely busy trying to catch back up to speed on errands and find housing. Both of these objectives have now been completed, so hopefully my blogging will be more regular.

Anyway, many of you know from reading posts on the blog or through personal interaction that my goal is to ride every rail transit system in America. This trip did not further that goal whatsoever. It did, however, mark the first instance in which I had ridden every rail system in an entire country.

Prochain Station: Montreal.

The world's second largest French-speaking city has a subway system worthy of praise. When Montreal decided to build one back in the 1960s, they brought subway designers from (where else?) Paris to work on the system and the result is a quiet, rubber-tired ride which is entirely underground. In 1966, in time for the Montreal Expo, the Metro was opened. The system has just over 40 miles of trackage on four lines, with 68 stations. It carries some 835,000 per day on average. In comparison, the Washington Metro has 106 miles of track, 86 stations, and of late has been breaking the 800,000 mark frequently. Incidentally, the Washington Metro has only broken the 835,000 threshold once--June 9, 2004 for the state funeral of President Ronald Reagan.

Montreal also operates commuter rail trains under the guise of AMT. I rode one from Lucien-L'Allier to De La Concorde. The ride was smooth and quick, offering good views of Montreal, which the average tourist would not see. In comparison with the American commuter rail services I have ridden, the insides of the train was rather spartan, but as long as one can get from point A to point B, it's all good.

Ottawa has made a name for itself by building busways. I typically hear Ottawa and Pittsburgh held up as examples of why bus rapid transit would work in the United States. And I think it will, if it's built like it is in Ottawa and not like it's proposed in Atlanta--but that's another argument for another time. At any rate, Ottawa has a series of bus-only roadways which make up "the Transitway."

A new part of their transit infrastructure, however, is the prototype O-Train. This service was built on the cheap to demonstrate light rail to Ottawans. It is one of only two instances of diesel light rail in North America, with the other being the River Line in the Camden-Trenton corridor of New Jersey. The vehicles were built for German Railways and some German can be seen in the car (for instance, "drücken" is on the door-open buttons).

The line is single-tracked, except for one passing track in the middle. Only three trainsets are needed to operate the line, which sees frequencies of 15 minutes. Unfortunately, the line does not yet make it downtown, but one can transfer to the Transitway at either end.

Toronto has Canada's oldest and most-developed rail-transit system. The subway opened in 1954 and has expanded constantly since. The system is great for an FRN like myself because of the so-called railfan seat. Unlike the Washington Metro, the operator's booth only takes up the right half of the front, so one can sit directly left of the operator (like on PATH and SEPTA's MFSE) and have an unobstructed view out of the cab. This is especially exciting on these older systems because one can watch the signals change and so on. Contrastingly, WMATA only has signals at interlockings, and they only show three aspects (Stop, Proceed, and Proceed Diverging).

The Toronto Subway is complemented with streetcar/light rail service on the surface. These cute little cars can be seen dashing around Toronto with gusto. They seemed to come quite frequently and certainly offered service I'd love to have in the District. Imagine trolleys every 5-6 minutes running from Farragut Square to Silver Spring on 16th. It would be awesome!
Toronto also has very distinctive commuter rail cars. Operated by GO Transit, these bright green, bi-level cars carry 160,000 commuters each weekday. The Bombardier-built cars were made for GO back in the 1970s, but are now used widely around North America on commuter systems.
And rounding out Toronto's transit system, the trusty Scarborough RT. These short vehicles are fully grade-separated and connect Scarborough to the Bloor-Danforth Subway line. They are the same type of vehicle I would be seeing later on my trip on the Vancouver SkyTrain, although the Scarborough RT is not automated.

It would be almost 2,000 miles to my next transit adventure: Edmonton. Here, the LRT, as it is simply called, operates a short one-line segment totaling 8 miles. Of the nice aspects of the system, in my opinion, is the downtown subway section. In Calgary (and other places, Baltimore and Portland come to mind) the light rail trains operate at grade, competing with cross traffic. Edmonton, chose to bury a five station segment downtown, with one additional subway station at the University of Alberta also underground.
Calgary's C-Train uses the same rolling stock as the Edmonton system (although they also have some newer vehicles), and the operation is similar. Of course, as mentioned above, there is no downtown subway, and stations are located on a transit mall (which is a fare-free zone). There are two lines adding up to almost 28 miles.

With only two rail transit systems left, I find myself in Vancouver. Here, the world's largest automated guideway system provides 220,000 average daily trips. The SkyTrain opened in 1985. My first sighting of the system was of the Fraser River bridge, the world's longest transit-only bridge. Vancouver's system currently has 2 lines, but the Canada Line will soon link the Airport with Waterfront Station. Since the new line will use a different technology for its vehicle (still automated, though), I'll have to plan a return trip in late 2009.
West Coast Express is the commuter rail service running along the Burrard Inlet and the Canadian Pacific mainline. One really great asset to Vancouver, I think, is Waterfront Station. The station has a barrier-free transfer between Commuter Rail, SkyTrain, and SeaBus, and the Canada Line will soon be calling there as well. Unfortunately, VIA and Amtrak services stop at Pacific Central Station, originally home to rival Canadian National Railways.
It was quite a trip, visiting all of these transit systems. I still have a long way to go before I finish off the States, but I'm confident that I'll get it done soon enough. Thanks for your patience will I catch up on things. And thanks for reading!


CherryBlossomMJ said...

Daniel suggested that you write out some articles, much like what you're blogging about your Canadian train rides, and sell them to tourist magazines. Because how many people can say that they've ridden it all?

Matt Fisher said...

I'm from Ottawa, but I'm originally from Newfoundland and Labrador. We are looking to convert the Transitway to LRT (it was designed to allow a conversion, but such an endeavour would be disruptive, not to mention that it would bear costs).

Ideally, I would prefer to see the Transitway converted to what I call an electrified, expanded O-Train. You can see my vision (and I love seeing those when other people do it) here, compared to this map of the Washington Metro I made, which includes your suggestion for an LRT line (what I call "full LRT") between Farragut Square and Silver Spring, a suggestion I like, as you mentioned (it's on the second page of results, which includes the Silver Line and the Purple Line).

But we're not the only place mentioned by what I call "bus boosters" when they're talking about BRT. There is also Curitiba, Brazil, long mentioned as a model, but now they are planning to replace the busways with a subway. And there is, of late, Bogota, Colombia, with what is called "TransMilenio", but they are now starting planning on a metro. I don't see BRT as a logical substitute for rail, like on Independence Blvd. in Charlotte, for instance.

As to all my rail rides, I have ridden the Montreal Metro, the Toronto subway (and streetcars), Calgary's C-Train, and Edmonton's one lone LRT line (they are planning lines to the west and the southeast that would run on the surface downtown). Likewise, Toronto is planning full LRT too.

I've also ridden commuter rail in Montreal and Toronto, and Montreal has the only electrified line of its kind in Canada, the Deux-Montagnes Line. For me, this is my first train ride. It really sucks that they closed down the Newfoundland Railway.

Excellent read, being that I'm Canadian myself. :)

Matt Fisher said...

Actually, my map of the Washington Metro is to be under renovation soon. I'll try to make a separate map of what Metrorail would look like in the future. But at the moment, I've got work in university and am gonna be doing a lot. Sorry. :(

However, I will say that the Transitway, while an excellent improvement over nothing here in Ottawa, is not a cheap substitute for rail. This is just the same whenever they bring up Curitiba or Pittsburgh.