Monday, June 29, 2009

Goals of H.R. 2724

This is what that "Transportation for America" banner to the right is about. Notice that electric rail transit would accomplish all of these goals (except increasing freight transport)

From the Federation of state Public Interest Research Groups

The following goals, which are enumerated in the National Transportation Objectives Act of 2009, are critical benchmarks for future transportation policy:

1. Reduce per capita vehicle miles traveled by 16 percent.
2. Triple walking, biking, and public transportation usage.
3. Reduce transportation‐generated carbon dioxide level by 40 percent.
4. Reduce delay per capita by 10 percent.
5. Increase proportion of freight transportation provided by railroad and inter modal
services by 20 percent.
6. Achieve 0 percent population exposure to at‐risk levels of air pollution.
7. Improve public safety and lower congestion costs by reducing traffic crashes by 50
8. Increase share of major highways, regional transit fleets and facilities, and
bicycling/pedestrian infrastructure in good state of repair condition by 20 percent.
9. Reduce average household combined housing plus transportation costs by 25
percent, using 2000 as a base year.
10. Increase by 50 percent the number of essential destinations (work and non‐work)
accessible within 30 minutes by public transportation or 15 minutes by walking, for
low‐income, senior, and disabled populations.

America needs a new transportation future based on national priorities that enhances our economy, environment, and quality of life. We respectfully ask you to co‐sponsor the National Transportation Objectives Act of 2009.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

United Streetcar 10T specs

The new variant of United Streetcar's 10 T series is the T4 model for hot climates. "The new model offers an increased cooling capacity, improved air distribution and a new and more efficient HVAC system. "

Among the vehicle options:

An improved appearance provides your city a modern looking vehicle and will give your community its own "signature streetcar".

We offer an increased insulation package to be used in cities with hot climate conditions. This package provides solar reflective glass, additional/improved insulation, higher capacity HVAC systems with improved air distribution systems and additional cooling capacity.

Check out all the specs at United Streetcar's site

Norfolk's light rail costs

This story is from December 2008 when the price of the project increased 25% to $288 million. The overpasses and stations they're building for this are probably what gave it such a big price tag.

For Richmond I envision a barebones system more like Portland's. No bridges and much simpler station platforms will keep the price down. A 12 inch deep track pad will prevent having to move utilities around and will be much quicker to build. I wonder if there will be cost savings in buying streetcars from the new company in Oregon as opposed to a European manufacture like HRT's Siemens vehicles. The S70 is designed with a max speed of 55mph which is obviously extreme overkill for the streets of Richmond. With a minimum turn radius of 25m I'm not sure it would work here either.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Eurotram operating in Milan

The Flexity Outlook series tram by Bombardier. I like the gigantic wraps they put on these things. There is one tram without wraps and you can see just how large the interior space is through the huge windows. It's amazing to see such a large vehicle operating easily in the cramped streets of such an old city.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Who killed the electric streetcar?

September 2008 editorial from

Who Killed the Electric Streetcar?

"In 1888 the electric streetcar or "trolley" came to Richmond as America's first large scale and successful use of electricity to run public transit. On January 9, Car #28 became the first revenue streetcar industry in America, operating on the Church Hill line at a fare of five cents."

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Seattle's South Lake Union Streetcar

Death toll rises to 7 in Metro Red Line crash

Experts Suspect Failure Of Signal System, Operator Error

Experts familiar with Metro's operations focused last night on a failure of the signal system and operator error as likely causes of yesterday's fatal Red Line crash.

Metro was designed with a fail-safe computerized signal system that is supposed to prevent trains from colliding. The agency's trains are run by onboard computers that control speed and braking. Another electronic system detects the position of trains to maintain a safe distance between them. If they get too close, the computers automatically apply the brakes, stopping the trains.

These systems were supposed to make yesterday's crash impossible.

Developing story at

Monday, June 22, 2009

Deadly collision on Metro's Red Line

Red Line Collision Kills at Least 2

"Two Red Line Metrorail trains collided this evening between the Fort Totten and Takoma stations, striking with such force that part of one train was left resting on top of the other, and killing at least two people, authorities said. "

Developing story at

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Bipartisan support for HSR in VA

So last night I was flipping channels and happened to see Mayor Dwight Jones speaking at a Main St. Station press conference. I saw Eric Cantor over his right shoulder, and Bobby Scott over his left shoulder. He was going on and on about this and that, and I gathered after a while the point was they were all there to pay lip service to high speed rail.

I didn't know about any press conference in recent days, so I googled it this morning and realized it was taped April 24th. I found this letter to Ray LaHood posted at Congressman Scott's website:


Letter to Secretary LaHood:

April 23, 2009

Ray LaHood, Secretary
U.S. Department of Transportation
1200 New Jersey Ave, SE
Washington, DC 20590

Secretary LaHood:

We write to you today to support the Federal Railroad Administration’s (FRA) inclusion of the Southeast Rail Corridor in the Department of Transportation’s (DOT) recent announcement of a High-Speed Rail Strategic Plan. As you may know, the existing rail between Washington, D.C. and Richmond, Virginia is of great economic importance throughout our region and we commend DOT’s prompt attention towards establishing final guidance for competitive grants to improve this corridor.

The Richmond area is a major economic hub in the Commonwealth of Virginia - home to seven Fortune 500 companies, over 20,000 small businesses, and rated 7th on the Forbes list of top 200 “Best Places for Business and Careers.” There is no doubt that proximity to our nation’s capital plays a major role in the success of our region. Each year, over 5.7 million people visit the Richmond area, generating $1.8 billion for our local economy. However, the transportation corridor between Washington, D.C. and Richmond is widely known as one of the most congested transportation corridors in the country.

High-speed rail provides a sensible and viable solution to our region’s transportation challenges. It is estimated that creating a high-speed railway through Virginia will generate as many as 185,500 jobs, as much as $21.2 billion in economic development, and pull nearly 6.5 million cars off the road annually. Providing a high-speed rail service from Washington, D.C. to Richmond will drive economic development throughout our region for many years to come.

Private industry has demonstrated an overwhelming interest to partake in high-speed rail, best gauged by a request for proposals, required by the Railroad Safety Enhancement Act of 2008 (P.L. 110-432), which required DOT to seek projects for the financing, design, construction, operation, and maintenance of a high-speed intercity passenger rail system operating within Federally designated high-speed rail corridors. We applaud FRA’s efforts to build on this recent undertaking.

As you continue to establish final guidance for a competitive bidding process for high-speed rail projects, we wish to call your attention to the importance of a Washington, D.C. to Richmond line. We believe it is truly an investment in our economic future.


Rep. Bobby Scott Rep. Eric Cantor
Members of Congress


So for once Eric Cantor does something that isn't shameless partisan political theater, but instead bipartisan political theater. Money talks, and frankly I will be stunned if Cantor actually supports HSR with real dollars in the coming years.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Winston-Salem council seeks federal cash for streetcar plan

from the Winston-Salem Journal:

Money needed for Winston-Salem streetcar project
Officials hoping for stimulus dollars to begin planning phase

Winston-Salem city transportation and planning officials are looking for stimulus money to jump-start a streetcar project.

The idea to bring back streetcars to the city has been floating around since 2003, when a preliminary study showed that streetcars were feasible in Winston-Salem from an engineering standpoint. A 2006 study showed a detailed route between Piedmont Triad Research Park and Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center.

Several months ago, the Winston-Salem City Council requested that the transportation and planning departments aggressively go after stimulus money to provide planning and engineering for the project. (continued)

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Richmond's GRTC somehow makes best darkhorse transit system list


Richmond, Va. Pop. 202,002
"The Capital of the South is served by a century-old non-profit that runs bike-rack-equipped buses, vans, and a carpooling and ride-matching service. Honored last year by the American Public Transportation Association for its deep commitment to the community, the Greater Richmond Transit Company has taken an active role in educating residents about the joys of carless living, with initiatives including a Lunch Time Express shuttle that makes downtown stops and even a transit TV show. A plan known as Mission 2015 envisions rapid transit and a downtown transfer center—big plans for a system dubbed by CEO John Lewis as “the little engine that could."


Well I can't knock GRTC's accomplishments. When you're severely underfunded, prohibited from entering certain parts of town, and hated by the majority of residents, you really have to make lemonade from lemons. And they did just that, by winning APTA's "Number 1 Transit System" award.

That being said, here's what I would do to improve GRTC:

-Install route maps at stops!
-Fare boxes that give change, what a revolution that would start!
-How about some protection from the elements at stops? A simple canopy and plexiglass wall would do, and they could sell ad space on the walls.
-Move forward with the downtown transfer center. It makes sense for a lot of reasons.
-Extend service to the suburbs
-Nix the bus rapid transit idea. It won't work in the city core!
-Add electric rail transit per the Downtown Master Plan!!!

Berlin tram line 61

Enjoy this nice mellow ride around the streets of Berlin! This movie was shot by the tram operator from the front of the car. Line 61 can be found in the southeast portion of the Berlin transit map between S Adlershof urban rail station and Rahnsdorf/Waldschänke.

Network map of Berlin tram lines

Friday, June 12, 2009

Historic Map of Richmond, VA

Look at this neat old map of Richmond. I can't find a date on it, but the oldest it could be is 1901, as the Main St. Station appears on the map. It's interesting that Oregon Hill is called "Clay Ward." Also interesting is the "Byrd St. Station" at the corner of 7th and Byrd, no longer there. On Byrd St. itself we can see "Byrd St. Tunnel" which is no longer there, however a carved stone marker remains, although obscured in brush next to the expressway.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

What the heck is the FRA doing to "High Speed" Rail??

From the RT-D:

High Speed Rail Line Would Include Ashland, Staples Mill

Well that kind of says it all, doesn't it? The FRA nixed a plan to create new right of way that would bypass these stops to the east, and stop at Richmond's Main St. station. It appears they intend to use the existing right of way and stop at a sleepy little station in Ashland. That doesn't sound like high speed rail to me!

It's great that regional trains stop there, and in other places like Fredericksburg. But a true high speed line would have a dedicated right of way, and would only call in the busiest cities, ie DC-Richmond-Raleigh and so forth. Can you imagine flying to New York and having the plan land at every small airfield in between? That would not be high speed travel, and neither is this.

Currently Amtrak averages about 30mph between Richmond and DC. Even with a fast train stopping at all these stations average speeds will max out at maybe 50mph, still making it a 2+ hour trip. That's not high speed!

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Defining rail technology; debunking BRT (again)

from the discussion on "36 Reasons Streetcars Are Better Than Buses" at The Infrastructurist

Rockfish @1005a: "This is an interesting post in how it reinforces an implied “hierarchy” in transit where every tier feels compelled to trash the one below it... I LOVE trolleys as an alternative to light rail (which suffers from its own mania) but there’s really no need to trash buses to advocate for it. In fact, BRT is a realtively quick, cheap and easy way to establish rights-of-way and infrastructure that can be upgraded to trolley over time. Tey are not mutually exclusive."
But there are technological differences between the systems you mention. Trams/trolleys/streetcars operate in mixed traffic on city streets. Light rail operates on separate right of way from vehicular traffic, often grade separated. Light rail standards call for more infrastructure at stations to facilitate quick boarding, as opposed to a simple shelter or even just a sign at a tram stop.

Streetcars, LRT, heavy passenger rail, and HSR all accomplish different transportation tasks so you can't really say that one system is preferable to the one below it. The hierarchical ordering has more to do with the distance traveled, not the level of comfort. It would be impractical to build HSR to go from one side of a city to the other, just as it would not make sense to build a coast-to-coast streetcar line with a stop every half mile.

As for BRT, they say it is "cheaper than light rail" when really it should be compared to the costs of streetcars. BRT systems operate on city streets and narrow separate rights of way like streetcars, and their capacity is similar to streetcars. So it isn't appropriate to compare the costs of that kind of system with LRT systems that are fully grade separated, often in tunnels or up on viaducts and have complete stations rather than simple stops, and can move many hundreds of people in one vehicle.

BRT systems by design have a much lower capacity than rail systems, principally because buses cannot be coupled together like streetcars can. The frequency of BRT reaches a maximum level and then bottlenecks as one bus waits for the preceding one to clear a stop. The roadway of BRT degrades at a rapid pace and needs to be resurfaced every 2-3 years. BRT vehicles are cheaper than LRT vehicles, but have a much shorter service life and much higher maintenance costs, and are at the mercy of changing fuel prices. People always say BRT can be upgraded to rail, but really it cannot. The two systems don't share any common technology so there is no upgrading, only total replacement.

All that being said, there will always be a need for a variety of transit modes, including buses. Look at NYC, with one of the busiest and most developed metros in the world, they still depend on buses to keep people moving. The problem is that right now all our eggs are in one basket with buses, we need multi-modal transit and that means rail.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Charlotte: Lynx ridership unaffected by economy

from the Charlotte Observer:

Recession hasn't slowed light rail traffic

The Lynx Blue Line averaged 15,121 weekday trips in April – surprisingly high ridership given the severe recession.

Charlotte's light-rail line had been averaging roughly 14,000 trips for much of the year, and the Charlotte Area Transit System expected it to decline because fewer people are working. But the Lynx carried 380,186 passengers for April, up more than 10 percent over the same time a year ago.

“I'm amazed that we aren't seeing bigger numbers in terms of losing ridership,” said CATS chief executive Keith Parker, who is leaving Charlotte to take the top transit job in San Antonio at the end of June. “Our customers are primarily people going to and from work.”

HRT Tide construction on schedule, under budget

from WAVY-TV:

Tide Construction Moves Along

The price tag for the project is over $280 million. HRT Commissioners unanimously agreed to take a $500,000 vehicle mover out of the budget. Commissioner Randy Wright says the project will keep moving along. "Anytime we can announce a savings its a good news day for us but I want to point out that we are running millions of dollars less than any project in the country for the cost per mile," Wright told Wright says Norfolk is $10 million less per mile than Charlotte, North Carolina and $30 million less per mile than Phoenix, Arizona."