Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Making a List, Checking it Twice

Yesterday, I recounted the 13 rail systems I added to my "list" this year.

Over the past few years, I've been trying to ride each rail transit system in the United States. And I've made quite a bit of headway, too.

Below is the list of American systems I've ridden (in bold). I've organized them by mode. Within each mode, the year I first rode the mode is in parentheses. Non-bolded, red entries are systems I have not yet ridden.

The list groups lines within the same modal category operated by the same transit operator together. For example, I consider the Staten Island Railroad to be a part of the New York City subway (heavy rail).

Altogether, I've ridden 12 of the 13 (92%) American heavy rail systems, 18 of 25 (72%) of light rail systems, and 19 of 23 (83%) of commuter rail systems. Additionally, I've ridden 5 people mover/miscellaneous systems, all 3 modern vehicle streetcar systems, and 5 heritage/original streetcar systems.

Heavy Rail
  1. Atlanta - MARTA (circa 1993)
  2. Washington - Metro (1994)
  3. Boston - "T" (2002)
  4. San Francisco - BART (2006)
  5. Chicago - "L" (2007)
  6. Baltimore - Metro Subway (2007)
  7. Philadelphia - BSS/MFSE (2007)
  8. Philadelphia - PATCO (2007)
  9. Miami - Metrorail (2007)
  10. NY/NJ - PATH (2008)
  11. New York - NYC Subway (2008)
  12. Los Angeles - Metro (2010)
  13. Cleveland - Rapid (not yet ridden)
Light Rail
  1. Pittsburgh - "T" (2002)
  2. Boston - "T" (2002)
  3. Dallas - DART (2005)
  4. Portland - MAX (2006)
  5. San Francisco - Muni Metro (2006)
  6. Baltimore - Light Rail (2007)
  7. Philadelphia - light rail (2007)
  8. Camden - River Line (2008)
  9. Newark - Light Rail/City Subway (2008)
  10. San Jose - Light Rail (2008)
  11. Sacramento - Light Rail (2008)
  12. Minneapolis - Hiawatha Line (2008)
  13. Charlotte - Lynx Light Rail (2008)
  14. Jersey City - Hudson/Bergen LRT (2009)
  15. Los Angeles - Metro (2010)
  16. Oceanside - Sprinter (2010)
  17. San Diego - Trolley (2010)
  18. Seattle - Link Light Rail (2010)
  19. Buffalo - Metrorail (not yet ridden)
  20. Cleveland - light rail (not yet ridden)
  21. Denver - TheRide (not yet ridden)
  22. Houston - MetroRail (not yet ridden)
  23. Phoenix - MetroRail (not yet ridden)
  24. Salt Lake City - TRAX (not yet ridden)
  25. St. Louis - MetroLink (not yet ridden)
  26. Norfolk - The Tide (opens 2011)
Commuter Rail
  1. Washington - MARC (1994)
  2. Dallas - Trinity Railway Express (2005)
  3. Chicago - Metra (2006)
  4. Philadelphia - SEPTA Regional Rail (2007)
  5. Miami - Tri-Rail (2007)
  6. Washington - Virginia Railway Express (2008)
  7. New Jersey - NJT commuter rail (2008)
  8. San Francisco - Caltrain (2008)
  9. San Jose - Altamont Commuter Express (2008)
  10. Nashville - Music City Star (2009)
  11. New York - Metro-North (2009)
  12. New York - Long Island Railroad (2009)
  13. New Haven - Shore Line East (2009)
  14. Boston - MBTA commuter rail (2009)
  15. Los Angeles - Metrolink (2010)
  16. San Diego - Coaster (2010)
  17. Seattle - Sounder (2010)
  18. Portland - Westside Express Service (2010)
  19. Chicago - NICTD South Shore Line (2010)
  20. Austin - Capital MetroRail (not yet ridden)
  21. Salt Lake City - Frontrunner (not yet ridden)
  22. Minneapolis - Northstar (not yet ridden)
  23. Albuquerque - Railrunner (not yet ridden)
  24. Dallas - A-Train (opens 2011)
As a general rule, I don't count fully self-contained people movers toward this list, although I do ride many of them. For instance, I've lost count of the times I've ridden the Atlanta Airport APM, but I don't count it, since it is entirely within the airport. This list is probably missing several which I have not ridden and am either unaware of or forgot to mention.
  1. Miami - Metromover (2oo7)
  2. Philadelphia - Norristown High-Speed Line (2008)
  3. New York - AirTrain JFK (2009)
  4. Morgantown - WVU PRT (2010)
  5. Seattle - Seattle Center Monorail (2010)
  6. AirTrain Newark (not yet ridden)
  7. Detroit - Peoplemover (not yet ridden)
  8. Las Colinas (Dallas) - PRT (not yet ridden)
  9. Las Vegas - Monorail (not yet ridden)
  10. Jacksonville - Skyway (not yet ridden) added, thanks IMGoph
I've further sub-categorized streetcars into modern, heritage, and original. Heritage includes lines that use faux-heritage cars, even ones built specifically for the line. Original lines refer to lines that never closed permanently but were not modernized into LRT.

I don't count trolley museums or seasonal/part-time services.
  1. Dallas - McKinney Ave. Trolley (2005) heritage
  2. Portland - Portland Streetcar (2006) modern
  3. San Francisco - Cable Cars (2006) cable car
  4. San Francisco - F Line (2006) heritage
  5. Charlotte - Charlotte Trolley (2009) heritage
  6. Boston - Mattapan High-Speed Line (2009) original
  7. Seattle - Seattle Streetcar (2010) modern
  8. Tacoma - Tacoma Link (2010) modern
  9. Kenosha - Kenosha Streetcars [heritage] (not yet ridden)
  10. Little Rock - River Rail Streetcar [heritage] (not yet ridden)
  11. Memphis - MATA Trolley [heritage] (not yet ridden)
  12. New Orleans - streetcars [original] (not yet ridden)
  13. Philadelphia - Girard Line [original] (not yet ridden)
  14. Savannah - River Street Streetcar [original] (not yet ridden)
  15. Tampa - TECO Line Streetcar [heritage] (not yet ridden)
I've made a lot of progress since I first boarded MARTA somewhere around age 8. I didn't really start trying to ride them all until about 2006, or so.

Anyway, if it's in red (or blue), I intend to ride it one day. I'm hoping to polish off Cleveland (and heavy rail) in 2011, along with a few others.

And of course, as I travel, I'll re-ride many of those I've already checked off. After all, it's the journey that matters, not the destination.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Riding New Rails

For the past several years, I have been working on a long-term goal: to ride every rail transit system in the United States. I've been doing much better than I ever could have anticipated when I first started this a few years ago, but there's still plenty left to do.

This year, I added 13 rail systems to my list.

In March, I traveled to Morgantown, WV to ride their Personal Rapid Transit system (also called "Group Rapid Transit). It was quite enlightening. And the PRT runs on rubber tires, so "rail" might not be technically correct, but I think it's appropriate, given the characteristics of the system.

I traveled to Southern California, in August. While there, I added several new systems:
Los Angeles light rail,

Los Angeles heavy rail,

Metrolink commuter rail,

Sprinter diesel light rail,

Coaster commuter rail,

San Diego light rail.

In October, I traveled to Railvolution (my 4th) in Portland. I spent the weekend beforehand in Seattle and Tacoma, where I rode quite a few new systems.

Seattle's Link light rail,

The Seattle Center Monorail,

The Seattle Streetcar,

Sounder commuter rail,

Tacoma Link streetcar.

I continued on to Portland, where I added 1 new system, the Westside Express Service, a commuter rail line.

After the conference, I took Amtrak's Empire Builder to Chicago, where I spent a few days. While there, I added one new rail system, Indiana's South Shore Line commuter rail.

Next time, I'll look at all the American rail systems I've ridden.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Monday Shot: Liberty Limited

Monday Shot isn't quite espresso, but hopefully this weekly transit picture will help get your week started.

Okay, so technically this picture is not of transit, but I didn't want to wait until Friday to post it. Besides, I did shoot it from a transit platform.

I went out early on Saturday to catch a glimpse of the Liberty Limited. The Liberty is a train made up of privately owned locomotives and railcars and is used to transport wounded veterans from Washington to Philadelphia for the Army-Navy game.

The two locomotives in the lead are owned by a man named Bennett Levin, who also owns the platform observation car at the rear of the train. Both locomotives are E8As, and are painted in the tuscan red of the Pennsylvania Railroad.

It was quite a thrill to see this train made up of cars from the golden age of railroading. And the streamlined diesels were quite a sight to see as well, roaring up the Northeast Corridor.

I was also very excited to see for the first time in my life PRR 120, the observation car at the rear of the train. It was one of the first privately owned railcars in the United States, and helped to start that trend. Private railcar ownership has helped to preserve many of these cars, which otherwise would have ended up in museums or the scrap heap.

Car 120 carried the body of Robert F. Kennedy from New York to Washington to be buried at Arlington in 1968, when tens of thousands lined the tracks to say their final goodbyes.

This trip of #120 was a bit quieter. At the Seabrook MARC station, where I took these photos, only a few railfans looked on. But the cold morning was well worth the excitement.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Photo Friday: Midnight Meeting

Photo Friday is a series showcasing a favorite photo of mine. Enjoy!

On my recent trip from Portland to Chicago, I
snapped this picture of the east- and westbound
Empire Builders meeting at Spokane, Washington.

My photostream

Monday, November 15, 2010

Monday Shot: Sun Flare

Monday Shot isn't quite espresso, but hopefully this weekly transit picture will help get your week started.

I haven't run a Monday Shot in a while, but I have a lot of new transit pictures, so I might just have to start it up again.

Sun Flare
The sun reflects off of a southbound Link light
rail train at Seattle's Columbia City station.

My photostream

Monday, October 11, 2010

Seattle, here I come

I'll be in Seattle this weekend, mainly to try out the new additions to the transit network: the Link LRT and the South Lake Union Trolley.

If I still have any readers in the area, I would not be opposed to grabbing a cup of coffee. And I'd also appreciate pointers on any must-sees in transit, cycling, or pedestrian design/infrastructure or good urban planning projects.

I have been to Seattle before. In fact, I strongly considered moving there back in 2007, but I ended up in DC instead. It's a great town, and I'm glad to have the opportunity to visit again.

The last time I was there, I missed out on a lot. The Bus Tunnel was closed for conversion to Link, the Monorail was closed because of the collision, and neither Link nor the Trolley were open. And I didn't have time to ride Sounder.

But I plan on taking care of all of those things on this trip. Anything else I should be sure not to miss?

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

See planning history in Greenbelt by bike

When it comes to the built environment, the Washington region has long been one of the proving grounds for Planning.

From the first-ever National Planning Conference in 1909 to the demonstration of New Urbanism at Kentlands, Washington has benefited from planning ideas that often seemed far-fetched at the time.

Greenbelt, Maryland is no exception. It’s the best-preserved example of New Deal-era utopian town planning in the United States, and has been named a National Planning Landmark. This Saturday, I’m leading a bike tour of the community (details below). I hope you can make it.

About Greenbelt:
Faced with housing shortages, a decimated economy, and deteriorating conditions in cities, the Roosevelt Administration, as a part of the New Deal, set out to build 4 “greenbelt towns” as an example of how suburban development could and should move forward.

Partially inspired by England’s garden city movement, Greenbelt was intended to be a self-contained community surrounded by a green belt of parks, forests, and farms. Today, Greenbelt is not as isolated, but the historic center maintains its park-like setting.

Planning of the town was holistic, in keeping with the principles of the New Deal. In addition to housing, a commercial center was constructed. Civic buildings included an elementary school/community center and recreational buildings.

Perhaps most unique in the design was that residential buildings were turned “inside-out”. Residential structures have their main entrances on the “garden side.” The design of the community meant that pedestrian paths wound through superblocks, where buildings were turned inward toward parks, gardens, and social interaction. At the rear of the units is the street, the so-called “service side.”

Much of the architecture in the community is based on the International style with Art Deco elements. Some elements which are now becoming more common in urban design have been present in Greenbelt for over 7 decades. One example is the “shopping court” at the Roosevelt Center, where shops front on a pedestrian plaza, and parking is in the rear.

Greenbelt was designed with the automobile in mind, but it was not designed for the automobile. I think this is the largest and most crucial difference between Greenbelt and the prototypical post-war suburb. The community is walkable, traffic is calm, and despite being surrounded by sprawl, cars do not dominate the landscape.

The greenbelt towns were intended to be prototypes for suburban development. But the experiment didn’t become typical of suburbia. It did, however, help to inspire several planned communities, including Reston in Virginia, and Columbia and Montgomery Village in Maryland.

The Tour:
This Saturday, October 2, I’ll be leading a bike tour of the community. The tour will be approximately 4 miles in length and will include a tour of the Greenbelt Museum. It will cost $5.

The tour will begin and end at the Greenbelt Metro station. It starts at 1pm and will be complete by 5pm.

If you’re interested in attending or have questions, please email me at mcjohnson@ggwash.org.

Top photo by M.V. Jantzen on Flickr.

HSR could get you to Boston in 3 hours, but it's pricey

Yesterday, Amtrak announced plans to create a new, exclusive high-speed rail corridor in the Northeastern United States.

The proposal would cost upwards of $117 billion and could be complete by 2040. Trips from Washington to Boston would take only 3 hours.

Amtrak rightly points out that there is almost no better candidate for true, "next-gen" HSR than the Northeast Corridor. But the density in the corridor would also make this easily the most expensive rail project ever undertaken in this country.

The benefits, though, could be phenomenal. In fact, Amtrak expects that the new line could generate an annual surplus of $1 billion (2010 dollars) and could more than triple Amtrak ridership in the NEC from today's level.

Read More -->

Commenting disabled. Please comment in the thread at GGW.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Photo Friday: Looking Forward

I'm trying to bring more content to the blog, and what a better way to start than with another Friday Photo?

VRE 018
I've always loved this shot. I snapped it from the front car
of a VRE train on the Manassas Line headed northbound
into Washington. On the adjacent track, a northbound
Fredricksburg Line train is passing us.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Of Late

Posting here has been light, of late. And I apologize. But there is a very good reason.

Earlier this month, I was named Assistant Editor over at Greater Greater Washington. That has increased my responsibilities and time commitment there, and has decreased the amount of time I have to write at Track Twenty-Nine.

That said, I have no intention of abandoning T29. I plan to keep putting content here, but I doubt I'll be able to maintain the level of posting I had been doing in the past.

I am still writing, though. I generally write several posts a month for GGW. Many of those are specific to the Washington region. but some cover topics that are of interest to a wider group. If you want, you can subscribe to just my posts at GGW.

I would, of course, encourage you to subscribe to all GGW posts. David Alpert has put together an excellent team of writers, and I think you'll find many of their posts engaging and thought-provoking.

And speaking of GGW's influence, I am mentioned (and quoted) a few times in a great article in the Washington City Paper on how David Alpert is helping to shape Washington.

Thanks to all of you for reading! I'll continue to do my best to write about the issues that are important to me and to you.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Higher Ground

IMG_2786I recently had the week off, and I took the opportunity to travel to Southern California. It was my first trip there.

Generally when visiting a new place, one of the first things I try and do is find a high point to view the city I'm in. And in Los Angeles, one place stands out among the rest as a place to go: Griffith Observatory.

Standing high up on Mount Hollywood, the observatory offers extraordinary views across the Los Angeles Basin. I visited last Sunday evening, just as the sun began to get low in the sky, and stayed until well after dark.

And the views of the city were well worth the trip. The show at the planetarium was also superb. If you ever go to LA, make sure to visit the Griffith Observatory. LADOT offers a shuttle from the Vermont/Sunset Red Line station every 35 minutes or so on weekends. You can also hike, bike, or (if you must) drive there.

Anyway, more on my experiences and observations from Los Angeles and San Diego later. For now, I'll just show you some pictures from the Observatory.

Looking toward Century City

The Hollywood Hills (and Sign)


The Hollywood Sign framed by one of the arches outside the Observatory


The Basin

Downtown again

From the roof

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Park Police take the wrong approach to safety

Besides closing park bike paths at dark for the "safety" of cyclists, the Montgomery County Park Police have taken another interesting approach to promoting cyclist and pedestrian safety.

This mobile variable message display board has been placed directly on the Sligo Creek Trail near Silver Spring. It's message: "Drive Safely / Crosswalk Ahead / Share the Road." Well, we wouldn't have to share the road if Park Police didn't block the trail with a sign, now would we?

Of course, as a cyclist, I appreciate that the Park Police are encouraging drivers to be on their best behavior. Their hearts are in the right place, but their effort is a bit - ah - misplaced.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Streetcar Funding Restorted

It's been a crazy day here in Washington, with the sudden news of the stripping of funding for the H Street Streetcar. However, after a torrent of phone calls and emails, the DC Council has reversed their decision and found the $47 million needed for the line.

Black Wednesday

This morning, the DC Council voted to strip $49 million from the Streetcar program. This budget change was made by the Chariman, Vincent Gray, at 2:00 am the morning of the vote. There was no time for public or council discourse on the issue.

Despite the fact that streetcar rails have already been laid between Oklahoma Avenue and downtown, the DC Council has decided that H Street, devastated in the 1968 riots, does not deserve a second chance at life.

This move jeopardizes the H Street Streetcar and the rest of the streetcar program. The line on H Street was supposed to open in 2012 as a part of a 37-mile District-wide system. The Anacostia Line demonstration project, which was supposed to open in 2006, remains under construction.

The Council has restored funding to the H Street Streetcar. They were inundated with calls and emails.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Metro's terminal-based wayfinding confusing for visitors

For out-of-towners, navigating the Metro system can be a daunting task. Metro could make directions easier and improve wayfinding in the system by providing more information about train directions on signs.

The system's use of colored lines and destination station to identify train direction works fairly well for Metro, especially given the structure of the system, but it can be confusing to see one train going to Glenmont and another to Grosvenor when neither mean much to a visitor.

Where some trains don't go all the way to the terminal, like on the Red Line, the multiple terminals are even more confusing, especially when two Red Line terminals are two-word names starting with 'S' and the others one word starting with 'G', but one of each is on either end of the line. Other lines downtown also have two terminals in each direction since two colors share a track.

What could Metro do? Other transit systems approach this problem in several ways.


Wednesday, May 5, 2010

DC Puts Streetcar on Display

I just finished visiting the DC Streetcar brought down from Greenbelt yard. I've uploaded a few photos, with more to follow later. You can view my pics here:

If you're in the DC area, the streetcar will be on display at the Old Convention Center site (9th & H NW) from 11-7 though Saturday, except that it closes at 5p on Saturday.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

7000-Series Hiccups and Missed Opportunities

In case you missed it, I published two new posts about the 7000-series on Greater Greater Washington this week.

The first looks at some hiccups in the process, including MWAA's dispute with Metro over costs (which could delay or derail the contract) and Maryland's delinquency, which seems to be nixing the testing/commissioning facility necessary for the new cars.

And the second post looks at significant missed opportunities with the 7000-series, including not adding more doors, failure to transition to articulated trainsets, and a loss of design element uniformity.

Monday, April 26, 2010

The 7000 series: Not your father's railcar

Metro will soon place an order for a new series of railcars. The new cars, the 7000 series, will be quite different from Metro's current fleet of cars.

One notable difference with the cars is that they will be quad-sets. They will still be married pairs, like WMATA's current rolling stock, but instead of having a cab at each end of the pair, a cab will only be present at one end.

A second married pair facing the opposite direction will give the set of four a cab at each end. By eliminating cabs in half the cars, this configuration will give the cars more passenger capacity. A control panel will be located at the other end of each pair to facilitate movement in yards.


Image from WMATA

You Don't Auto-Complete Me

A few minutes ago, I went to Google Maps to find the location of the Chevy Chase Library relative to the Capital Crescent Trail.

With the address in hand, I began typing. It's located at 8005 Connecticut Avenue. On the map below, that's at the intersection of Connecticut and Dunlop.

When I started typing, Google tried to be helpful. "Bulgaria, is that where you're looking? No? Italy? Japan, maybe?"

I mean, my map is already hovering over the area where the library is! I just wanted an exactish location. None of the top 10 suggestions are even in the Western Hemisphere!

Come on Google, you can do better than that, can't you? Ever consider that someone might be typing an address into a maps application?

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Read This

I know my posting's been down lately. I'm working on trying to improve. I have been writing a lot more for Greater Greater Washington and not crossposting here, so if you aren't subscribed to me there, consider signing up for GGW's RSS feed or just the RSS for my posts.

Anyway, I know that I've done a terrible job keeping my sidebar links up to date, and unfortunately, I don't have time for an update at the moment. However, I think all of you interested in transit or planning (or policymaking) should take a moment right now and visit Human Transit.

Human Transit is one of the best blogs I've come across about general transit planning commentary. It's one of the most valuable entries in my RSS feed. And at about a post a day, the information is quality but which does not overwhelm with volume, which can be a problem on other sites.

Here are a few of the posts that I really enjoyed (in order by date of posting, newest first):

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Prince George's residents speak out against bus cuts

Crossposted at Greater Greater Washington

Riders filled the Prince George's County WMATA budget hearing on Monday despite a suburban and relatively transit-inaccessible location, and made heart-wrenching please to retain their vital lifelines, bus service.

At least 100 riders attended and over 40 people gave testimony. Board Member Elizabeth Hewlett and General Manager John Catoe were both present to listen to the riders.

Many of the commenters called on elected officials to pitch Maryland's contribution in. Many audience members wore "O'Malley: Stop Bus Cuts" pins created by the Transit Riders United of Greenbelt, and said that if bus service is cut, they won't vote for O'Malley again.

Almost all of the speakers were strongly opposed to any cuts in bus service. Two blind Greenbelt residents, Laura and Shawn O'Neil, testified about the hardships cuts would bring them. Currently, they have two buses which serve both Greenbelt Metro and New Carrollton Metro. Under Metro's proposal, they will lose their service to New Carrollton, where one of them works, on both routes. His only option will be to switch from fixed route service to paratransit, at a cost of approximately $19,000 per year to Metro.

I overheard a Metro planner speaking with Ms. O'Neil in the audience prior to the hearing. Instead of offering her alternatives or even attempting to understand her condition, he blithely told her that she could find a way to cope with the changes. He completely blew off her concerns that transferring between buses in a strange place with poor pedestrian accommodations would be difficult for a blind person, and left her in tears. With representatives like this, it's no wonder the community doesn't have a lot of faith that WMATA actually listens to customers.

One speaker asked the WMATA panel if they ever wondered if paratransit (MetroAccess) costs were so high in Prince George's because the fixed route service was so abysmal. That comment got quite a few nods through the room.

A few citizens came forward to speak out against the elimination of the R3 bus, which serves the National Archives facility in Adelphi. Some riders in the area will be left without service at all times, others would lose service on weekends and off-peak. They spoke of the importance of continuing to have good access for visitors, researchers, and employees at the National Archives, and also of the general importance that transit plays in keeping livable communities accessible.

Other riders spoke out against fare increases. Some talked of the hardship of the additional cost of their commute, others were opposed to giving more money to an agency in which they have little faith. Some spoke of the waste they think exists in the agency, while others criticized what they characterized as the overpayment of workers and lack of oversight of Metro.

The meeting was at times boisterous, with applause and the occasional 'amen' from those in the audience. It was at all times civil. Most speakers stayed within the 3 minutes alloted for testimony.

Metro provided a shuttle from New Carrollton station to the hearing, which ran continuously during the proceedings. Additionally, the city of Greenbelt organized a bus to take residents to the hearing.

However, citizens who didn't know about the shuttles, might have been discouraged by the lack of regular service by the hearing site. Only one bus route, the F13, serves the church where the meeting was held, but the last return trip to New Carrollton passes by the church at 6:35 — 25 minutes before the hearing started.

Additionally, as several commenters at the hearing noted, even with shuttle service back to New Carrollton, the lack of decent bus service would make it difficult or impossible to return to their homes. One blind citizen criticized Metro for the location of the hearing, saying that they should be "ashamed" that there were no hearings held in southern Prince George's.

In fact, of the 6 budget hearings held in the region, the only one south of Route 50 is the one in Southeast Washington. The same commenter said that cross-county bus service was a "joke" and that was why the hearing didn't have even more citizens there to testify.

Many Greenbelters turned out, which is to be expected since Metro has proposed restructuring all bus service in the city, including the elimination of one route (the R3), the truncation of another (the C2), and the restructuring of the R12 and T16/17. And while no official notice has been given, some feel that Metro's restructuring makes it more likely that Prince George's County Transit will discontinue at least one route, the 15.

Many of the Greenbelters were members of Transit Riders United, which for over 6 months has been working with Metro and Prince George's County planners to improve bus service in Greenbelt. In December, members tell me, they were informed that Metro had a proposal, but couldn't release it until it was okayed by Prince George's. The plan was finally released late last week, less than a week before the hearing, and with little time to consider the implications or find alternatives.

After the meeting, I spoke with one WMATA representative, who was surprised that there were not more positive comments, especially about some of the changes in the Greenbelt area. I told him that with only three minutes each, most citizens were bound to focus first on the changes most harmful to them, and then if there was time left over, they would get around to positive comments.

Above photo by thisisbossi on Flickr

Note: Commenting has been disabled. Please continue the conversation at Greater Greater Washington.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Highways After People

On Sunday, I had the opportunity to travel to Breezewood, Pennsylvania to bike on a portion of the Abandoned Pennsylvania Turnpike. Check out my photos below.

This stretch of the abandoned turnpike is 13 miles long, and was abandoned in 1968. It includes two tunnels, Rays Hill and Sideling Hill. I had hoped to bike the whole segment, but rain set in, and the trip had to be cut short.

So, the trip only included a ride through the Sideling Hill Tunnel, 1.3 miles of inky darkness.

This section of the Turnpike opened in 1940, and was bypassed in 1968 because it was cheaper than twinning the two tunnels. It's an eerie site. It's out in the middle of nowhere, and seems some remnant of a post-apocalyptic world. The whole time we spent on the old turnpike, we saw only two other people, local teens by the look, emerging from the darkness on foot.

The tunnels actually date back to 1881 and the construction of the South Penn Railroad, which went bust before completion. In the late 1930s, the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission completed and expanded the tunnels.

However, most of the railroad line follows a different alignment from the Turnpike. In places, you can see traces. Several photos in my set show the railroad grade (and a culvert) just west of the western portal of the Sideling Hill Tunnel.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Downtown bike lane proposal needs fixes at the ends

Crossposted at Greater Greater Washington

NYC Bike SignalLast week, DDOT announced a plan for a set of cutting-edge bike facilities downtown, but the plan does raise some issues. The plan will dramatically improve cycling conditions downtown, but some of the constraints on the plan may call for even more innovative solutions.

One of the concerns voiced at Thursday's meeting was about what happens to the bike lanes on I (Eye) and L Streets when they end at the diagonal avenues (Pennsylvania Avenue at the west end of I, Massachusetts Avenue at the east end of L).

Because the bike lanes run on the left side of the east-west streets, cyclists will either be expected to turn into the left lanes of Pennsylvania and Massachusetts Avenues or find some other way of crossing several lanes of traffic to get to the right curb.


*Note: Commenting has been disabled. Please continue the discussion at Greater Greater Washington.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

A Trip to Morgantown

I know I've been absent from Track Twenty-Nine for a while, and I apologize. I've been busy of late, and got out of the habit of writing here.

Yesterday, I took a day trip out to Morgantown, West Virginia, home to America's first Personal Rapid Transit (PRT) System. The line was built as a demonstration project, and opened in 1975.

There are about 3 miles of linear dual-track guideway and 5 stations. The system is linear in nature, with all five stations lying along the course of the main guideway. However, the three intermediate stations are set up so that through trains can bypass them.

When the fare is paid, a set of options on the faregate lights up which allows the passenger to select his or her destination. This sends a signal to the computer, which dispatches a vehicle to the station. The stations themselves are pretty simple. End-of-line stations (Walnut, Health Sciences) are the smallest, and are set up as loop stations. Intermediate stations are much larger, and have station tracks, loop tracks, and bypass tracks. They also have more than one platform, for handling different directions of travel.

Each track at a station has 2 or 3 unloading bays and one loading bay. A vehicle arriving discharges passengers before proceeding to the loading bay. There are 8 seats per car and room for 12 standees. The vehicles are capable of running up to 30 mph.

I was impressed with the system. It works well in this campus setting. Some cars were running empty (shuttling to other stops), others had standing passengers. Wait times were fairly short. I never had to wait more than 5 minutes.

In Downtown Morgantown, I didn't find the guideway too intrusive, but there was plenty of other visual clutter on the landscape to distract from it. It helps that it does not run over streets (except for Walnut Street near that station). It crosses several streets, but just briefly. On the campus it is largely at grade.

The intermediate stations do take up significant space. I think they could probably be made much smaller, perhaps on the scale of the end-of-line stations. I also think that a linear automated guideway system like Miami's Metromover could be a decent substitute in other campus settings.

My visit was an interesting experience. I'm glad I had the opportunity to do it. And I would encourage you to stop by if you find yourself in Morgantown. For $0.50 per ride, it's a pretty good deal.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Monday Shot: MP36PH

Monday Shot isn't quite espresso, but hopefully this weekly transit picture will help get your week started.

Good morning. Monday Shot is running on Tuesday this week because I was snowed out in the blizzard.

MP36 at Silver Spring
One of MTA's new MP36 Locomotives
looks sleek pulling a Brunswick Line
train through the snow at Silver Spring

My photostream

Metro Offering Reduced Rail Service

UPDATE: Metro has announced that the Red Line will operate full service on Tuesday. Trains will operate every 20 minutes on each line.

Because the of the storm, Metro is still recovering. On Tuesday, February 9, trains will not operate over all segments of the Red and Blue lines. Full service is expected on the Orange, Yellow, and Green Lines.

On all lines, trains will operate every 30 20 minutes.


Monday, February 8, 2010

Snowpacalypse Redux

Those of you in the Washington area are probably still digging out from under all the snow we got this weekend. I spent the weekend snowed "out", which is why there was no Monday shot this morning. I intended to spend Friday and Saturday with a friend on U Street, but with no Metro service aboveground on Sunday and today, it was difficult to get back to Greenbelt. I managed to take the MARC train to New Carrollton this afternoon and a taxi the rest of the way.

Anyway, I've included my photos from one of the region's worst-ever storms. It was a blast!

Friday, February 5, 2010

Four O'Clock Factoid: Faster than a Speeding Bullet

Four O'Clock Factoid is a daily feature on Track Twenty-Nine helping to get you through the workday with a bit of useless knowledge.

On October 1, 1964, the first modern high speed rail line in the world opened, Japan's Tokaido Shinkansen. The line, which connects Tokyo to Osaka, a distance of 320 miles, in 2h25. It is the most heavily traveled high-speed rail line in the world, having carried over 4.5 billion passengers since its opening.

Photo Friday: Evening Ripples

Photo Friday is a series showcasing a photo of mine each week. Enjoy!

Piedmont Park's Lake Clara Meer acts as a perfect mirror
for an Atlanta sunset. Compare this photo to last week's:
same location and date at different times of day.

My photostream

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Four O'Clock Factoid: Supremely Continental

Four O'Clock Factoid is a daily feature on Track Twenty-Nine helping to get you through the workday with a bit of useless knowledge.

In 1978, when Via Rail Canada took over operations of CN and CP passenger rail services in Canada, they operated two transcontinental routes, the Canadian and the Super Continental. The Super Continental had been Canadian National's transcontinental route, operating on the northern route from Montreal to Vancouver through Edmonton. The Canadian was CP's flagship train, operating over the original transcontinental route through Calgary. It started from both Montreal and Toronto, with the trains being joined (or split, eastbound) at Sudbury for the journey to Vancouver. Over the years, the Canadian became the premiere train on the Via network, and during the cuts of 1990, Via cancelled the Super Continental. The Canadian, along with the stainless steel rolling stock inherited from CP, began traveling over the route of it's former rival, the Super Continental. This arrangement continues today, leaving Calgary the largest Canadian city without Via rail service.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Four O'Clock Factoid: Genesis

Four O'Clock Factoid is a daily feature on Track Twenty-Nine helping to get you through the workday with a bit of useless knowledge.

The GE Genesis is currently the workhorse of the Amtrak locomotive fleet. Units are also in use on Via Rail Canada, Metro-North, and NJ Transit. The Genesis locomotives were built between 1992 and 2001 and are more efficient than their predecessor the F40PH, using 22% less fuel and producing 25% more power. The first variant of the locomotive, the P40DC is capable of traveling at 103 mph, while the newer variants, the P42DC and the P32AC-DM can make it up to 110 mph. The P32 is used on routes operating out of New York-Penn Station and on Metro-North (out of Grand Central) because it is also able to pull power from a third rail in tunnels around New York City.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Four O'Clock Factoid: Interbau

Four O'Clock Factoid is a daily feature on Track Twenty-Nine helping to get you through the workday with a bit of useless knowledge.

Berlin's Hansaviertel is an example of modernist planning principles. The neighborhood was mostly destroyed during the Second World War and planners sought to recapture the Stadt-Wesen, the city essence, lost during the industrial revolution. The development follows the principles of Le Corbusier and the Athens Charter, and is composed of buildings in a parklike setting. The buildings were designed by many well-known architects and constructed for the 1957 building exhibition Interbau.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Four O'Clock Factoid: Deep

Four O'Clock Factoid is a daily feature on Track Twenty-Nine helping to get you through the workday with a bit of useless knowledge.

The world's deepest subway station is Kiev's Arsenalna station. It is located 102 meters (335 feet) below the surface. An escalator ride to the platform takes close to 5 minutes. It opened November 6, 1960.

Monday Shot: Green Dresden

Monday Shot isn't quite espresso, but hopefully this weekly transit picture will help get your week started.

Dresden 018
Dresden's Stadtbahn cruises along green tracks north of the Elbe

My photostream

Friday, January 29, 2010

Four O'Clock Factoid: Nonstop

Four O'Clock Factoid is a daily feature on Track Twenty-Nine helping to get you through the workday with a bit of useless knowledge.

Geisterbahnhöfe (German: Ghost Stations) originally referred to closed subway stations in Berlin, through which trains passed without stopping due to the division of the city by the Berlin Wall. Some U-bahn or S-bahn lines ran for the most part in West Berlin, but passed through the Soviet Sector in the center of the city. Patrons could ride along these lines through East Berlin, but trains did not stop. The Geisterbahnhöfe were dimly lit and patrolled by East German border guards. Trains did stop at Friedrichstraße, which was a transfer point between Western lines and also a border crossing into East Berlin. The Western lines with Ghost Stations were today's U6 and U8 and the Nord-Süd Bahn of the S-bahn.

Here is a 1984 map of the U- and S-bahn networks produced by the Western operator, BVG. Geisterbahnhöfe are labeled as Bahnhöfe auf denen die Züge nicht halten (stations at which trains do not stop). On Eastern U- and S-bahn maps, West Berlin is depicted as having no infrastructure, and the Western lines passing through East Berlin are not shown. Here is an Eastern 1984 map.

Photo Friday: Morning Skies

Photo Friday is a series showcasing a photo of mine each week. Enjoy!

A view of Midtown Atlanta from one of my favorite spots:
the eastern shore of Lake Clara Meer in Piedmont Park

My photostream

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Four O'Clock Factoid: The Nearest Doorway to Heaven

Four O'Clock Factoid is a daily feature on Track Twenty-Nine helping to get you through the workday with a bit of useless knowledge.

The Qingzang Railway holds the title of world's highest railroad. It passes through the Tanggula Pass near Wenquan, Tibet, at an elevation of 17,162 feet (5,231 meters) above sea level. The line, which opened in 2006, has the nickname 'the nearest door to the heaven.'

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Four O'Clock Factoid: The Really Fast Mail

Four O'Clock Factoid is a daily feature on Track Twenty-Nine helping to get you through the workday with a bit of useless knowledge.

The Wreck of the Old 97 was a train crash that occurred September 23, 1903. Southern Railway's Fast Mail was a train bound for Spencer, North Carolina. It was already late when it left Washington, and at Monroe, Virginia the engineer was instructed not to be late arriving in Spencer. The typical average speed taken between Monroe and Spencer was 39 mph, but in order to be on time, the train would have to average at least 51 miles per hour. At Danville, Virginia, the train left the tracks on the trestle over Cherrystone Creek, traveling at over 50 mph. Nine people were killed in the wreck, which inspired a well-known ballad of the same name.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Four O'Clock Factoid: Precursor

Four O'Clock Factoid is a daily feature on Track Twenty-Nine helping to get you through the workday with a bit of useless knowledge.

Levittown, New York was the first mass-produced, planned suburb of the post-war era. It is largely considered to have set the archetype for most suburban development in the United States from the 1940s on. The first Levittown was on Long Island, but others were built in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Puerto Rico.

Transit Tuesday: The Name Game

SmartCards*Please see below for a correction

Transit Tuesday is a weekly feature or profile on transit.

In recent years, many transit agencies in the United States and abroad have converted to contactless RFID cards. And many have used this opportunity to rebrand their fare system, perhaps even the transit system as a whole.

Let's take a look at what rail operators have named their RFID cards:
  • Atlanta - MARTA - "Breeze Card"
  • Boston - T - "CharlieCard"
  • Chicago - L - "Chicago Card"
  • Miami - Metro - "EASY Card"
  • New York - PATH - "SmartLink"
  • Philadelphia - PATCO - "Freedom Card"
  • San Diego - Coaster, Trolley, Sprinter - "Compass Card"
  • San Francisco - BART, Caltrain, Muni - "TransLink"
  • Seattle - Link, Sounder - "ORCA Card"
  • Washington - Metro - "SmarTrip"
Most of these smart cards are used region-wide. For instance, in the Atlanta area, the Breeze Card can be used on MARTA rail and bus, C-Tran , Cobb Community Transit, Gwinnett County Transit, and XpressGA buses. Washington's SmarTrip can be used on all transit systems in the region, except for MARC and VRE, the commuter rail operators.

Names often reflect the history of the region or the system. Boston's CharlieCard, for instance, is a reference to the protest song "Charlie on the MTA", which was written in 1948 to oppose fare increases. The Charm Card references to Baltimore's nickname, Charm City. Seattle's ORCA is actually an acronym, short for One Regional Card for All.
Some are still in the roll out phases and will eventually be accepted in more places. Other places are planning to have the technology soon, including Baltimore's "Charm Card," expected later this year.

Last week's Transit Tuesday included an error, for which I apologize.

In my analysis of fares, I used the longest-distance trip on BART to calculate the highest fare, because BART does not list the highest fare on their website. The trip I used for the calculation was between Millbrae and Pittsburg/Bay Point. That trip, which passes through San Francisco Airport station costs $7.05. However, a trip from San Francisco Airport to Pittburg/Bay Point costs $10.90. This is due to a surcharge added to trips to/from SFO Airport Station. Again, I apologize for the bad data. Thanks to DavidJ for the tip.

Again, I apologize for the bad data. I do my best to provide accurate and informative data, and will continue to do so. If you see something you think is an error, please notify me.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Four O'Clock Factoid: Spanish Solution

Four O'Clock Factoid is a daily feature on Track Twenty-Nine helping to get you through the workday with a bit of useless knowledge.

Park Street UnderThe term Spanish Solution refers to a transit station design principle whereupon platforms are located on both sides of a track. This is used at high-volume stations to make it easier for patrons to board and alight. Sometimes one platform is reserved for boarding and the other for alighting, in other instances either platform can be used for either purpose. Examples include Atlanta's Five Points station, Munich's Marienplatz (S-bahn), and Charles de Gaulle - Etoile on Line 6 in Paris. It takes its name from early implementation on Barcelona's Metro, although the earliest instance occurred at Park Street Under (Red Line) in Boston in 1912.

Monday Shot: Sonderzug

Monday Shot isn't quite espresso, but hopefully this weekly transit picture will help get your week started.

Berlin 099
I happened across this Sonderzug (special train) at Warschauer
Straße U-Bahn Station when I visited Berlin in 2005

My photostream

Friday, January 22, 2010

Four O'Clock Factoid: Bulwark becomes Boulevard

Four O'Clock Factoid is a daily feature on Track Twenty-Nine helping to get you through the workday with a bit of useless knowledge.

Baron Georges-Eugène Haussmann is largely credited with creating the modern Paris. His plan of avenues created large open spaces by cutting through the medieval city. Planning and construction of the Haussmann proposal occurred in the mid-1800s under Napoleon III. It was Haussmann's plan that brought the word "Boulevard" into common usage and which also contributed strongly to the City Beautiful Movement.

Photo Friday: Winter Sunset

Photo Friday is a series showcasing a photo of mine each week. Enjoy!

Winter Sunset
I loved the color contrast of the sunset with the darkness of
the bare trees in this shot from Silver Spring's Woodside Park

My photostream

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Four O'Clock: Nationalizing

Four O'Clock Factoid is a daily feature on Track Twenty-Nine helping to get you through the workday with a bit of useless knowledge.

Railpax was the intended brand name for the National Railroad Passenger Corporation. At the last minute, the name was changed to Amtrak. The NRPC was formed in 1970 and service began in May 1971.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Four O'Clock Factoid: Dense Stop Spacing

Four O'Clock Factoid is a daily feature on Track Twenty-Nine helping to get you through the workday with a bit of useless knowledge.

Paris has one of the highest densities of transit stations anywhere. In the 41 square mile city, there are 245 Metro stations - roughly one for every 0.17 (one-fifth) of a mile. And that figure doesn't count the RER stations also in the city limits.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Four O'Clock Factoid: Christmas Present

Four O'Clock Factoid is a daily feature on Track Twenty-Nine helping to get you through the workday with a bit of useless knowledge.

Savannah, Georgia was the original capital of the colony and, later, the state of Georgia. It is an early example of town planning in the United States, with a rectilinear street grid intersecting a set of squares. The squares had space reserved for public and religious buildings on their edges. In December 1864, after capturing the city in his March to the Sea, General William Sherman gave Savannah to President Lincoln as a 'Christmas present.'

George Takei: Transit Geek

George Takei is well known for his iconic role as Captian Sulu on the Star Trek television series and films. What is less well known is his role as a member of the board of directors of the Southern California Rapid Transit District for 11 years. In fact, in 1978, he was called away from the set of Star Trek: The Motion Picture to cast the tie-breaking vote to approve the pursuit of a subway system for Los Angeles.

He was recently interviewed on NPR's Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me!, a weekly news quiz show, in the segment known as "Not My Job."

I'm a huge fan of Wait Wait, and this is my favorite episode. Ever.

Takei talks about Star Trek, gay marriage, and, surprisingly, transit. You really should listen to the whole segment (here, 11:36), but I've transcribed a small excerpt below:

Mo Rocca: Can I just add...? I feel a little left out, because I'm actually not a Star Trek geek.
George Takei: You're not?
MR: I'm not, but I am a rapid transit geek.
GT: You sound like one.
MR: I'm not a Star Trek geek, I just get mistaken for one constantly. But I am a rapid transit geek, and I just wanted to know, is there any future in the monorail?
GT: Here in Los Angeles?
MR: Just anywhere. I love them.
GT: You do? (laughter) Um, no. What we're doing here in Los Angeles is building a network of light rail because that's less costly. And putting the focus on extending the stub-ended Wilshire Line. And we want to extend that to--
Peter Sagal: Is this what other people feel like when we're talking about Star Trek? (laughter)
Adam Felber: Yeah.
MR: I love it.
PS: I'm like 'blah-de-blah-de-blah.'
GT: Sorry about that.
PS: It's all right.
MR: You just don't get it. We have conventions. This is awesome!
PS: You all dress up as conductors...
AF: If the Purple Line is going to be powered by dilithium, then...(laughter)
GT: Dilithium crystals, yes.

I particularly love Peter Sagal's response. I'm an unabashed transit geek, and I certainly know the reaction - when peoples' eyes start to glaze over - but it's totally worth it to meet another transit geek.

Anyway, this episode of Wait Wait totally made my day. I just had to share.

Transit Tuesday: Fare Enough

*Please see below for a correction.

Transit Tuesday is a weekly feature or profile on transit.

The recent economic hardship in the United States has created major budget problems for most, if not all, transit agencies in the country. As a result, many have raised fares in the past few months or are considering such a move. This week, Transit Tuesday takes a look at heavy and light rail transit fares around the nation.

Systems have been divided into three categories: Those operating heavy rail, those operating light rail, and those operating both. Because commuter rail operators typically have different fare policies, they were not considered in this analysis.

Note: This chart contains an error. The highest fare on BART is actually $10.90.

Among heavy rail (only) operators, the lowest fare is found on Philadelphia's PATCO Speedline, which has a graduated fare system based on distance traveled. The shortest trips cost $1.25, however, longer trips can cost as much as $2.70. The highest flat fares are found in New York and Chicago, where access to the Subway and the L costs $2.25. The honor of highest fare goes to BART in the San Francisco Bay Area. The longest trip results in a fare of $7.05 $10.90, however shorter trips can cost as little as $1.75.

Among operators of mixed systems, the lowest fare can be found in Los Angeles, where Metro charges a $1.25 flat fare. The highest flat fare is found in Cleveland, where it costs $2.25. Boston charges a flat fare, but charges different rates for customers using their RFID Charlie Card: $1.75 with the card, $2.00 cash or magstripe card.

Light rail (only) operators also see quite a range. Sound Transit's Tacoma (Washington) Link is a free service, so it holds the title of cheapest light rail. Portland and Pittsburgh both have fare-free areas downtown, but do charge for trips outside of that area - in Pittsburgh, as much as $3.50 during rush hours. Denver's RTD has the highest possible fare at $4.50, but it ranges as low as $2.00 for shorter trips. The highest flat fares are found in San Diego and Sacramento, where each ride costs $2.50.


The amount of access to the transportation system per cost is probably the best measure of value. This (brief) analysis does not consider how far one can travel per actual unit of fare, but the above chart does show the total rail system length in miles. Compare Washington's Metro with BART. The DC Metro is actually slightly longer (by about a mile). For $4.50, you can travel from end to end on the Metro, but the same trip on BART costs $7.05.

New York and Chicago have the same flat fare, but the New York Subway has more that twice as much mileage as the L. Among light rail operators, Portland and Pittsburgh offer contrast. With less than half the mileage of Portland's MAX, the Pittsburgh T has a maximum fare over 50% higher than the one found in Oregon. In addition, all of Pittsburgh's light rail lines are in the same general area of the region (south), whereas Portland's 52 miles of light rail are spread more evenly through the metropolitan area.

Of course, this is just a (very) simple analysis. Many other factors play into the cost of transit fares. Still, it's an interesting look at what everybody else has to pay for a ride on the train.

**Correction: This article initially included an error, for which I apologize.
In my analysis of fares, I used the longest-distance trip on BART to calculate the highest fare, because BART does not list the highest fare on their website. The trip I used for the calculation was between Millbrae and Pittsburg/Bay Point. That trip, which passes through San Francisco Airport station costs $7.05. However, a trip from San Francisco Airport to Pittburg/Bay Point costs $10.90. This is due to a surcharge added to trips to/from SFO Airport Station. I have not updated the charts. Thanks to DavidJ for the tip.
Again, I apologize for the bad data. I do my best to provide accurate and informative data, and will continue to do so. If you see something you think is an error, please notify me.