Friday, February 27, 2009

Photographic Freedom

Crossposted from my Dispatches Column on The New Gay

"Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it."

"The virtue of the camera is not the power it has to transform the photographer into an artist, but the impulse it gives him to keep on looking."--Brooks Atkinson
The photograph has played an integral role in the creation of our world. They decorate our homes, fill museums, and permeate the media. From our walls to our wallets, we have pictures of our loved ones, of our past, and of places we've been. They are sometimes a way to tell a story, sometimes a way to hold on to our memories, and they are sometimes a way to express ourselves. Photographs evoke emotion and trace the narrative of the human race.

Each moment is fleeting, and with an infinite number of images available only for a split second never again able to be captured by a camera, those of us who are shutterbugs are constantly in search of the shot. We search for something that will capture the power of emotion or frailty of humanity or the majesty of nature. We are hunters, oft on the trail of a picture that will capture what we see and what we want to show. We look through the lens of our eyes and see juxtaposition, we see a kaleidoscope of colors, we see the mixture of races and peoples; we see the amalgam of cultures.

But some are insistent on keeping our apertures closed. In this day and age, photography is becoming more and more taboo. And while property owners have always had the ability to bar picture taking on their land, the line between the public and private realms is seemingly becoming less clear. In the summer of 2007, an innocent photographer capturing the vibrant street life along Silver Spring's Ellsworth Drive, was accosted by security guards and ordered not to take pictures. As it happens, Ellsworth Drive, despite massive amounts of public funding for redevelopment, is in private hands. But protests and complaints from community leaders helped to change the mind of the property owners.

Similarly, a few stops away on the Metro, stands one of Washington's most ornate buildings. Designed as the grand foyer, the entryplace to Washington, Union Station is a breathtaking way to enter the Capital. Legally, it belongs to the federal government, but it's leased to a firm responsible for its day-to-day operations (this does not include the Amtrak-owned railroad terminal at the rear of the station). The federal government says that it's okay to take pictures in the station, but that hasn't stopped security guards from hassling tourists, travelers, and fans of truly great architecture. They even stopped a news crew from filming a story about the harassment of photographers in the station.

Believe it or not, when the Bill of Rights was signed, the camera already existed. It was not much of a device back then, but it was a technology that would soon change the world. Still, the Founding Fathers probably had no idea about the existence of this invention. They set out to ensure that the rights of Americans would not be infringed on by the government. Among the rights which they elaborated was freedom of expression. But you'd better not get caught with a camera in the subway station steps away from where the document was signed. That's because Philadelphia's transit operator, SEPTA, is one of many systems that has made using a camera illegal, even on semi-public property, like a train platform.

These bans on photography presume that there are no images worth capturing in these places where we live our lives. For some of us, the subway or the shopping mall are daily parts of our lives. Things happen there worthy of film. Whether only the act of commuting or children visiting Santa Claus, sometimes seemingly innocuous scenes can capture the mundane in a way which touches and inspires us.

The sun rising over the Capitol, a clear blue sky behind the snow-capped Rockies, a herd of bison sweeping majestically across the amber tinted prairie, these are all images we can accept as moving. But to photograph the sunset as a backdrop to the sweeping architectural masterpiece of the terminal at Dulles is to become the definition of suspicious. To see through the lens the Empire Builder winding through Glacier National Park casts unwanted doubt upon the best of intentions.

Some places are more accepting than others. Washington's subway operator does not restrict photography and when New York's MTA tried to in 2004, the outcry was loud and swift. As the zeitgeist surrounding September 11 begins to fade, clearer heads are beginning to prevail. Sacramento's transit operator advises customers to report suspicious activity: photographers taking pictures of areas not of general interest to the public, for instance. This is certainly a good approach. Instead of a blanket indictment of shutterbugs, people who are merely getting a shot of a train in front of the State House are no longer as suspect.

When I was living in Atlanta, MARTA decided to ban all photography from the system. I have seen customers hassled by staff just for taking pictures of friends while on trains or in stations. Not only does this do little to increase security on the system - indeed, it wastes resources chasing teenagers with camera phones - it also antagonizes customers who see no reason for the attention. Perhaps understanding this some MARTA leaders are moving to overturn or at least lessen the ban.

But, as I elaborated before, these bans extend beyond transit agencies. As an urban planning student, I constantly look for good examples of urbanism. When I see one, I like to take a picture or two (or three). They're particularly helpful when you blog. Instead of typing at length, I can just insert a picture and voilĂ . But many instances of good urbanism are, like the aforementioned Ellsworth Drive, opposed to photography. Atlantic Station is a mix of public and private spaces, but the private spaces are not well-delineated. Private streets look just like public ones, but despite the public funding for the project, the developer reserves the right to regulate seemingly harmless behavior - like photography. So when I visit the sprawling metropolis of Atlanta, I'm barred from taking pictures of this new quarter, nationally renown for its good design.

Recently an ironic event took place to demonstrate the extremes our paranoia has reached. A railfan taking pictures at New York's Penn Station was taking pictures when he was arrested by Amtrak's police. The interesting part is that he was taking pictures for Amtrak's photo contest. And since he was a ticketed passenger on a train platform, he wasn't engaging in anything illegal. Except taking pictures, apparently. But an Amtrak spokesperson says that Amtrak does not have a photo ban. This story is so convoluted that even Steven Colbert picked it up.

The pendulum of security is beginning to swing back toward freedom. One of our Framers, Benjamin Franklin, tells us that "those who sacrifice liberty for security deserve neither." While Franklin probably couldn't have imagined photography in its current form, but he was certainly able to imagine freedom. I suspect that were he alive today, he would have lodged an objection with SEPTA by now. Or perhaps not. It's impossible to determine what the Founding Fathers would have done if confronted with a world of constant electronic communication and global terrorism. But I'd like to think that they'd stand by their beliefs - their unalienable truths.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Envisioning a New Rail Hub for Atlanta: Part III

This is the final entry in a series looking at conflict between Amtrak and Atlanta's proposed Beltline. Part I looked at the context. Yesterday, I considered the conflict. Today, I look at solutions that will result in a win for everyone.

Part III: Solutions
The Gulch & The MMPT
As I pointed out yesterday, there are some issues that must be resolved between the different parties, however solutions are possible that will result in a win for everyone. The situation is difficult because of the shape of Atlanta's rail network. The map below shows the location of the currently proposed Multimodal Passenger Terminal (MMPT) in relation to Atlanta's former railway terminals. Despite having a Union Station, Atlanta never actually had all of its trains under one roof. The stations were several blocks apart. With a multitude of railways serving the city, it was difficult to locate a station convenient to all.

Both of the stations were demolished in 1972 after their passenger services ceased. The larger of the two was The Terminal. It was one of the flagship stations of the Southern Railway. Constructed in 1905 and served the Southern, Seaboard Airline, Atlanta and West Point, and the Central of Georgia. The tracks at the station were oriented in a north-south manner.

Several blocks north, was Union Station. This station's tracks were located east-west, parallel to Marietta Street. Although it's name suggested a larger operation, the station only served 3 of Atlanta's 7 railroads. Trains from the Georgia Railroad, the Atlantic Coast Line, and the Louisville and Nashville called at Union Station.

Since the mid-1990s, the Georgia Department of Transportation has proposed building a facility in Downtown Atlanta to handle all of Atlanta's ground transportation needs. Located along Forsyth Street, the proposed Multimodal Passenger Terminal (MMPT) is directly across the street from Five Points, the hub of the MARTA subway system. This MMPT would handle all Amtrak services, any commuter rail services that come about, and all regional and intercity bus services.

Dealing with the Conflict
In relation to the Beltline, the design of the MMPT is very important. With east-west platforms, which are all that is currently proposed, the Crescent can only serve the station two ways, assuming it continue to run on a New Orleans-Birmingham-Atlanta-Charlotte-New York routing. Amtrak's preferred method is for the train to diverge from its current routing at Armour Yard, traverse the Decatur Belt (Northeast segment of the Beltline), pass through the MMPT, and then return to its current routing along the western trunk.

An alternative approach for the Crescent would have it arrive from and depart to the north. It could follow its current routing to the wye near the waterworks, turn south along the trunk line and pull into the MMPT from the northwest. To depart, the train would back toward the south before switching to a northbound track. Returning the same way it came, it would return to its present route at the wye next to the waterworks.

I pointed out yesterday; Amtrak has an aversion to backing trains. Many cities’ grand terminals and convenient downtown stations have faced the axe because their location would require trains to reverse out of them. This policy is what has created the fight over the Beltline. I’m not sure if this conflict would be solved by having a switcher engine in Atlanta to pull the Crescent out of the station and around the wye.

Another alternative approach, which I suggested yesterday, would be to reroute the Crescent to New Orleans over its original routing through Montgomery. For this route, the MMPT would require north-south platforms, but that’s probably a necessity anyway if Atlanta is ever going to have a decent commuter rail network.

In order to maintain service to Birmingham and Meridian, I propose reinstating the Southerner, merged with the Crescent in 1970, to run from Atlanta to New Orleans over the current route of the Crescent. It makes sense to extend this route through Augusta to Columbia, where it could follow the Silver Star to New York. This route would use the east-west platforms at the MMPT.

Another gap in the Amtrak network could easily be filled by way of Atlanta. Also using the north-south platforms I propose adding at the MMPT, could be a new service linking Chicago to Miami. I've shown these three potential Amtrak routes/reroutes on the map below.

Commuter and Intrastate Rail
In addition to these routes, Atlanta's new MMPT could become the hub of rail lines serving Metropolitan Atlanta and other areas in Georgia. Rail travel, especially if it were able to be upgraded to higher speeds, would serve as an excellent link between Georgia's smaller metropolitan areas. Rail lines linking Chattanooga, Macon, Savannah, and other cities would help to make Georgia's transportation infrastructure more robust and would offer an alternative to intraregional air travel which can be very expensive and inefficient.
Atlanta, with its history as a rail hub, is an excellent place for a commuter rail network. There are 11 radial rail lines with Atlanta at their center. Commuter rail is a cheap way for Metro Atlanta to create a regional rail system. A basic system has been being pursued by GDOT for over a decade, but so far funding has not been able to be organized.

I intend to do an in-depth post on this topic later, but for now, I'll stop with this teaser. The map below shows a potential Metro Atlanta and State rail network centered on the Atlanta MMPT.

Rethinking the MMPT
I've sketched out a conceptual plan for a rail terminal in Downtown Atlanta. The station's headhouse would stand across Forsyth Street from the Five Points MARTA station. The starter platforms provided for the proposed Griffin commuter rail line and other services from the south are shown in red. Eventually, the station would need to expand to increase capacity, including adding platforms to serve trains from the east (blue, purple) and from the north (green, blue, yellow).

The concourse from the main building to the north-south tracks could continue to the Dome MARTA station and Phillips Arena/CNN Center. The entire gulch could be redeveloped, as is proposed, with air rights development over the tracks.

Station Details
Under my proposal, the station would be used as follows.

Section A: 6 tracks, 3 platforms
  • Georgia Inter-City Trains
    • Atlanta-Macon-Savannah
    • Atlanta-Macon-Valdosta
    • Atlanta-Macon-Albany
    • Atlanta-Newnan-Columbus
  • Atlanta Commuter Trains
    • McDonough Line
    • Griffin Line
    • Senoia Line
    • Newnan Line
Section B: 3 tracks, 2 platforms
  • Any commuter or Georgia trains from sections A or C
Section C: 3 tracks, 2 platforms
  • Amtrak
    • Southerner: New Orleans-Birmingham-Columbia-New York
  • Georgia Inter-City Trains
    • Atlanta-Augusta
    • Atlanta-Cartersville-Chattanooga
  • Atlanta Commuter Trains
    • Madison Line
    • Athens Line
    • Gainesville Line
    • Canton Line
    • Cartersville Line
    • Rome Line
    • Bremen Line
Section D: 4 tracks, 2 platforms
  • Amtrak
    • Crescent: New Orleans-Montgomery-Charlotte-New York
    • Comet: Chicago-Nashville-Savannah-Miami
  • Overflow from Section E
Section E: 4 tracks, 2 platforms (Optional, added as capacity dictates)
  • Atlanta Commuter Trains
    • Athens Line
    • Gainesville Line
    • Canton Line
    • Cartersville Line
    • Rome Line
    • Bremen Line
Regardless of how this situation is solved, an amicable solution must be reached. Amtrak should not be against local transit. Indeed, Amtrak will benefit from a more urban and pedestrian friendly Atlanta. And MARTA and the Beltline will benefit from improved Amtrak service. This debate shows how much we need to have a discussion in this country between different levels of government. It also shows how much we need to create a uniform transportation policy in this country--one which looks at all modes as complementary components of one transportation system.

I encourage all parties involved to work toward a win-win situation. Everyone needs to be willing to make compromises, but we should not have to sacrifice one great transit project for another great transportation investment.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Envisioning a New Rail Hub for Atlanta: Part II

This is the second part of a three-part series looking at Amtrak's fight against Atlanta's Beltline and potential solutions that will make everyone happy. Today, I look at the conflict. Yesterday, I featured Part I: Context.

Part II: Conflict
The Decatur Belt
The current conflict between inter-city rail and the Beltline revolves around the Decatur Belt. This rail line was constructed in the early 1900s to facilitate the transfer of railcars between railroads. Along with the other Beltlines, a ring was formed around the core. These lines were always fairly lightly used and are often today surrounded by quiet streetcar suburbs and parkland.
The Decatur Belt ran from the Southern Railway's (now NS) small Armour Yard (not the same as the MARTA rail facility of the same name) to the Hulsey Yard on the Georgia Railroad (now CSX). It predates most of the development that now surrounds it, and forms a boundary between neighborhoods. It also demarcates the eastern boundary of Piedmont Park, one of Atlanta's most popular recreation spots. The line passes adjacent to upscale neighborhoods like Ansley Park, Virginia-Highland, and Midtown; it also passes by the gentrifying neighborhoods of the Old Fourth Ward and the area around the former City Hall East.

In the late 1970s, as a part of the construction of MARTA's East Line, DeKalb Avenue was raised, severing the Decatur Belt's connection to the Georgia Railroad at the Hulsey Yard. With little industry along the line, freight traffic slowly dwindled to nothing. Today, in many places rails and ties are missing, and any restored service, whether conventional rail or transit, would need all-new tracks. Additionally, any new freight or passenger service along the Belt would have to be reconnected to the Hulsey Yard, which would require an at-grade crossing of DeKalb Avenue.

In the years since trains have become scarce on the Decatur Belt, this former barrier between neighborhoods has become more permeable. With park goers at Piedmont Park relaxing just feet away from the former tracks and citizens strolling across and along them in order to get around the city, a new understanding of the Belt has come into being. People no longer view it as an insurmountable wall, but as a potential greenspace and transit corridor. The Beltline will build paths and parks on either side of the transit line and will knit the urban fabric back together.

With this vision in mind, developers have already started to flock to the neighborhoods around potential station locations. Condos and apartments now loom over the right-of-way in many places. New development is springing up in expectation of the increased mobility that the Beltline will bring. This project truly has the potential to redefine one of the Sunbelt's most sprawling cities.

Most pundits agree that the most feasible section of the Beltline is the Northeast segment--the Decatur Belt. Not only has some development already occurred, but in November 2007, a joint venture between organizations promoting the Beltline and a real-estate development company was able to purchase the Northeast segment for $66 million. With the land in hand for what is likely to be the first segment of the transitway and ring of parks, the project is closer to reality than ever before.

Rerouting the Crescent
But things are not always so simple. Transit projects in the United States have long faced an uphill battle. Today, the Beltline project is under attack from the most unlikely of sources, Amtrak. The Georgia Department of Transportation has long objected to putting light rail on the Decatur Belt, or northeast quadrant of the Beltline. They had hoped to use that segment of the line to route commuter trains from Gainesville into the proposed Multimodal Passenger Terminal (MMPT).

With the purchase of property in Atlantic Station on the same route for a commuter rail stop, it looked like trains might be routed down the trunk line on the west side of the city instead of via the Decatur Belt. However, recent talk of the Southeast High Speed Rail Initiative and planning for the MMPT has created a conflict over the Decatur Belt.

The decision to relocate the Atlanta Amtrak station is based on several factors, and in my opinion is a generally good thing. The problem, however, is that Amtrak and GDOT see the only feasible way for trains on the "Norcross District" to access the MMPT downtown is via the Decatur Belt. Since there is not room for both the Beltline and conventional trains, last month, Amtrak and GDOT filed a claim to stop the official abandonment--a step necessary for the Beltline to move forward.

This dispute has left many Atlantans unhappy. Not only do they see GDOT, which has a reputation for building roads to solve all problems, taking a stand against urban issues which will kill a project that has been moving forward for several years, they also object to the proposed use of the Belt. Not only does Amtrak plan to reroute the Crescent along the Decatur Belt. There are also plans for the Southeast High-Speed Rail Initiative to route trains into Atlanta along the same route. As mentioned above, GDOT is also considering routing Gainesville Line trains through these neighborhoods as well.

The main objection from these neighborhoods--besides the loss of the Beltline--is that the Decatur Belt is not appropriate for frequent high-speed trains. While most can see light rail trains sharing the right of way with parks, almost no one, including GDOT and Amtrak, can see people sharing the ROW with passenger service. Like the Northeast Corridor in the mid-Atlantic and Northeast US, the tracks would likely be fenced off, sealing this barrier between neighborhoods. Residents also object to the noise and other negative externalities that these trains will bring to their tree-lined streets.

These tracks have long laid dormant and rerouting trains over the Belt will not only create negatives for the people who live nearby, it will fail to give them any direct positives. With the Beltline, while trains will be present, at least people living in the area can use them to get to shopping and work.

It seems obvious that light rail and inter-city rail interests would usually find themselves on the same side of most issues. In my experience, most transit advocates, myself included, support Amtrak in addition to improvements to local transit. But despite the seeming relationship between a transit-friendly city and inter-city rail ridership, the conflict over the Decatur Belt has revealed that DOTs and Amtrak often have far different priorities than urban interests.

Thinking Outside the Coach
The main obstacle in this case is the Decatur Belt. As I mentioned above, Amtrak views this route as the only feasible alternative to routing trains to Downtown Atlanta. However, if some compromises can be made, I think it is possible for all parties to agree on a win-win situation. However, in order to get to this solution, we have to address some hurdles.

The reason that Amtrak will not use the CSX/NS trunk on the west side of downtown is because they have a policy against backing trains with passengers aboard. This rule has sealed the fate of many urban stations. To be clear, this does not refer to the orientation of passengers within the train, it refers to the position of the locomotive. If trains approached from the north and then left the city to the north along the trunk, trains would have to back out of the terminal around a wye (a 3-point turn, essentially) and then proceed. Since this movement would not have a locomotive at the forward end of the motion, Amtrak won't do it.

There are other downsides to refusing to back trains, even just to the nearest wye. Most notably, the Atlantic Coast Services (Silver Star, Silver Meteor, Palmetto) all stop at Amshacks in rail yards on the periphery of several major cities. In Charleston, Savannah, and Jacksonville, for instance, passengers find themselves miles from their destinations in areas with little in the way of amenities (links go to map location). These cities all had terminal stations, which Amtrak does not serve because trains would have to back out.

An alternative approach would involve moving the Crescent back to its original routing (Charlotte-Atlanta-Montgomery-New Orleans), it could pass through the MMPT on north-south tracks using the Atlanta trunk. To continue service to Birmingham, Meridian, and New Orleans over the current route of the Crescent Amtrak could reinstate the Southerner at least from Atlanta to New Orleans. This approach would require a redesign of the MMPT as currently envisioned.

I'll look more at these hurdles and some other potential solutions tomorrow in Part III: Solutions.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Envisioning a New Rail Hub for Atlanta: Part I

This is the first of a three-part series looking at Amtrak's fight against Atlanta's Beltline and potential solutions that will make everyone happy. Today, I look at the context.

Part I: Context
Rail Network
Atlanta has long been one of America's most important rail hubs. Since the Civil War, the rail lines that radiate from the city have supported the South's economy. Today, Atlanta has the world's busiest airport. In fact, the local joke is that when you die, no matter what your religion, you'll have to change planes in Atlanta on your way to the afterlife. But before the age of air travel, Atlanta was one of America's superhubs for passenger rail.

The city is now only served by a meager two passenger trains a day. Each morning, the Amtrak Crescent leaves for New Orleans via Birmingham and is followed each evening by the northbound Crescent to Charlotte, Washington, and New York. The Crescent stops at Brookwood Station, several miles north of Downtown, a former commuter station on the Southern Railway.

As rail traffic fell across the country, railroad companies began to disuse portions of their network. Many merged or were absorbed by larger companies. Today, Atlanta is served by only two major railroad companies, CSX and Norfolk Southern (NS). A ring of railroad bypasses around the city center has been left disused or very lightly used over the years. In a few places, they've been made discontinuous. Because of this consolidation rail routes within the city are less duplicative, but that also means that there's less flexibility in the system.

The Beltline
But Atlanta is a growing city despite its loss in rail traffic. As it has become more urban, the city has invested in its transportation infrastructure. Beginning in 1979, the MARTA subway system started transporting passengers. Today, MARTA stretches 48 miles and includes 38 stations. Centered on the Five Points station in the center of downtown, the subway has four lines.

Several years ago, a graduate student at Georgia Tech proposed using a set of disused railroad bypasses around the city center to create a ring of transit, parks, and redevelopment through some of the city's old streetcar suburbs. This proposal is called the Beltline, and for the past few years, the city and MARTA have been working toward realizing the vision.
The transit line would be a light rail or streetcar link, connecting to the MARTA lines and allowing better connectivity and alternate routes for transit passengers. Surrounded by parks, apartments, and condos, the Beltline would help to redefine neighborhoods like the Old Fourth Ward and Capitol View while bringing new life to places like Ormewood Park and Reynoldstown.

The Crescent
Amtrak's home in Atlanta is Brookwood Station. The station serves as a through station with two tracks on either side of a center platform. It has some severe limitations, notably the small building limits capacity. The narrow platform includes a holdout rule, which means that no trains can pass through the station while the Crescent is present. Furthermore, the station is located far from the central business district in a mostly residential area.

In order to solve these issues, the Georgia Department of Transportation wants to construct a new station in the center city. This facility, called the Multimodal Passenger Terminal (MMPT), would eventually grow to become the hub for commuter and inter-city trains. As currently proposed, this concept calls for the rerouting of the Amtrak Crescent through the east side of Midtown. This unfortunately creates conflict with the Beltline Proposal.

This rerouting will send trains over the tracks planned to be used for the northeast segment of the Beltline. Late last month, GDOT and Amtrak asked the Federal Government to stop the light rail line in order to preserve the corridor for inter-city rail.

Tune in tomorrow for Part II: Conflict.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Shovel Ready Metro

This afternoon, the Transportation Planning Board approved unanimously the stimulus request from WMATA. These federal dollars should soon be boosting our transit system and economy. The repairs are badly needed, and while there are still unfunded needs, the $230 Million from the feds will go a long way to supporting Metro.

I understand that the local NBC affiliate, WRC, will be running a story on this tonight. You may want to be sure to tune in at 5PM to catch the report by Derrick Ward.

Here's how the money breaks down.

  • Vehicles and Vehicle Parts: $41.6 Million
    • Replacement of 50 oldest buses: $24.0M
    • Metro Access fleet expansion: $8.8M
    • Service Vehicle replacement: $6.0M
    • Bus replacement components: $2.8M
  • Maintenance Facilities: $85.6 Million
    • Railcar Inspection/Test Facility: $48.0M
    • Bus body and paint shop: $30.0M
    • Bus Garage restroom rehab: $7.6M
  • Passenger Facilities: $43.7M
    • Energy Efficient station lighting: $24.2M
    • Replacement of crumbling platforms: $16.0M
    • Updated next train signs: $2.5M
    • Metro Center sales office replacement: $1.0M
  • Safety and Security: $13 Million
  • Maintenance and Repair Equipment: $17.4 Million
  • Operations Systems: $19.8 Million
    • Red Line Rehab: $12.0M
    • Farecard Machine upgrades: $3.5M
    • Other operations upgrades: $4.3M
  • Information Technology: $6.9 Million
I've glossed over some areas of the stimulus, grouping them into larger categories. Among these miscellaneous items, are things like a track welding program, a 60-ton crane for trackwork, and upgrades to operation computer systems.

Some projects, however, warrant a little more explanation. They are referenced below.

  • Railcar Inspection and Test Facility: $48.0 Million
    This facility is necessary for the implementation of the 7000 series railcars. These railcars are, in turn, necessary for the opening of the Silver Line in addition to general fleet expansion, includng the retirement of the 1000 series cars.

    Currently, as new railcars and rehabilitated railcars are brought into service, they must undergo extensive testing prior to carrying passengers. Most of this testing is currently done at the Greenbelt Yard, but trains need to have a long stretch of track in order to be tested at speed. This currently results in single-tracking between College Park and Greenbelt. At the same time, due to space constraints, only a few trains can be accepted at at a time.

    The proposed facility will allow 16-20 railcars per month to be accepted. It will include its own structures separate from the Greenbelt maintenance facility and a test track extending from the rail yard to Paint Branch Creek on the west side of the tracks (creating a three track line essentially from College Park to Greenbelt). No new land is needed for this project, and it will dramatically increase Metro's ability to expand its fleet. Additionally, it will eliminate the need to single-track on the Green Line during testing.

    The stimulus has given Metro $48.0 Million for the project. Last year, cost estimates for the facility were around $60.0 Million. I'm not sure if any sacrifices are required or if the accelerated time frame is responsible for the lower cost. It's possible that Metro will chip in the balance, as well. Original estimates called for this facility to be open by FY 2012, however according to the stimulus approval today, completion is estimated in FY 2011.
  • Energy Efficient Station Lighting: $24.2 Million
    This project will implement energy efficient lighting in all underground stations. It will result in energy cost savings and better lighting quality.
  • Replacement of Crumbling Platforms: $16.0 Million
    The stimulus will fund the repair of some stations with decaying platforms. This has been a major issue for Metro for a while. The documents do not specify stations, except that they're on the Red and Orange Lines. If I had to guess, I would suggest that the repairs will be on the Rhode Island Avenue-Silver Spring section of the Red Line and the Minnesota Avenue-New Carrollton section of the Orange Line because of the age of these segments. I have also heard that Shady Grove's platform is in rough shape.
  • Red Line Rehabilitation: $12.0 Million
    This project involves the complete rehabilitation of the oldest segment of Metro. The Red Line between Judiciary Square and Silver Spring will undergo major repair and replacement. This segment of track opened in 1976 and 1978 and desperately needs this project.
  • Farecard Machine Upgrades: $3.5 Million
    The money here will go to upgrade kits to convert traditional farecard machines to accept SmarTrip and credit card, debit card, and Smartbenefit transactions.
  • Upgraded Next Train Signs: $2.5 Million
    The current PIDS system (the red/yellow signs on platforms) is near the end of its effective life. Metro will use this stimulus money to replace them with newer and more flexible technology. This new technology will support the "Metro Channel," and according to Dr. Gridlock these are the flat screen TVs that one can see in some stations (like Silver Spring south entrance and Gallery Place arena entrance).
  • Replacement of the Metro Center Sales Office: $1.0 Million
    The sales office at Metro Center would be expanded to include more space for workers, more sales windows, and a more customer-friendly design.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Metro Advisory: MAJOR Disruptions 2/13 - 2/16

If you're traveling by Metro in Northern Virginia this weekend (Feb 13-16), be advised that major track work at Pentagon will cause disruptions. Passengers are advised to add 30 minutes to their travel time.

WMATA is replacing a switch at Pentagon and undertaking preventative maintenance on the Fenwick (Yellow Line) Bridge over the Potomac. As a result NO RAIL SERVICE will be provided between Pentagon City and L'Enfant Plaza on the Yellow Line and between Pentagon City and Arlington Cemetery on the Blue Line.

A free shuttle bus will connect passengers between Pentagon City, Pentagon, and L'Enfant Plaza stations. It will run every 5 minutes. Passengers can catch this bus:
  • At Pentagon City: Southbound Hayes at 12th, in front of Macy's
  • At Pentagon: Bus Bay U7
  • At L'Enfant Plaza: Northbound 7th Street at Maryland Avenue NW
Blue Line Trains will operate
  • From Largo Town Center to Arlington Cemetery (except after 7PM, when trains will be off-loaded at Rosslyn) and
  • From Franconia-Springfield to Pentagon City
  • NO BLUE LINE SERVICE will operate between Pentagon City and Arlington Cemetery
Yellow Line Trains will operate
  • From Huntington to Pentagon City ONLY
  • NO YELLOW LINE SERVICE will operate between Pentagon City and L'Enfant Plaza
  • NO YELLOW LINE SERVICE will operate north of L'Enfant Plaza
All Pentagon bus service will be relocated to Pentagon City station on Saturday and Sunday.

For more information, please visit:

[Update: 2/12, 16:30]
Metro has clarified that "Midnight Monday" refers to 12AM Tuesday--or closing Monday. Therefore, Pentagon Station (and the tracks between Pentagon City, Pentagon, L'Enfant Plaza, and Arlington Cemetery) will be closed:
  • Friday, Feb 13: 10PM until closing
  • Saturday, Feb 14: All Day
  • Sunday, Feb 15: All Day
  • Monday, Feb 16: All Day
Pentagon Station will re-open and regular rail service will resume at opening on Tuesday, February 17.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Quote of the Day: Share the Good News!

I just saw this on Transportation for America, and I wanted to share it!

Here's today's Quote of the Day:

No. Strike that. Let's make it Quote of the Week.

It’s imagining new transportation systems. I’d like to see high speed rail where it can be constructed. I would like for us to invest in mass transit because potentially that’s energy efficient. And I think people are a lot more open now to thinking regionally…

The days where we’re just building sprawl forever, those days are over. I think that Republicans, Democrats, everybody… recognizes that’s not a smart way to design communities. So we should be using this money to help spur this sort of innovative thinking when it comes to transportation.

That will make a big difference.

The quotee?
That would be President Barack Obama.

This quote came from a Town Hall forum in Fort Meyers, Florida this morning. See the President say it yourself around the 55 minute mark in this C-Span video.

Withdrawl + Open Thread

Well, I've been gone from the blogosphere for a while. I apologize for my absence, and I assure you I've been working on some material which I think you'll like. I've been very busy at work lately, and haven't had a lot of time to write other than for my weekly column on The New Gay.

I hope to resume regular posting this week, and I appreciate your patience. In the mean time, I've created an open thread. Let's discuss the potential for major Metro service cuts, the outcome of the Stimulus, and anything else you have on your mind.

If there's anything you'd like to see me talk about here, let us know in the thread. Thanks for reading!