Welcome to European Tribune. It's gone a bit quiet around here these days, but it's still going.

Local Rail - An Overview

by DoDo Mon Jul 2nd, 2007 at 04:27:33 AM EST

BruceMcF introduced us to various local transport modes as potential 'recruiters' for high-speed rail. Pursuing most of these is worth on its own, for local traffic. This diary expands on one of these: local rail. As the Recruiters diary indicated, local rail is just one alternative, but it should be the backbone of any decent public transport system.

Public transport near Budapest's Keleti pályaudvar (East Terminal): express and local rail (black), subway (thick red), light rail (thinner red), trolley bus (dashed red), bus (blue) all linked up. Blaha L. t. to the west is again a hub

Below, I first want to chart distinct categories of local rail: describe their specialities, their differing best uses, and some newer developments. In the real world, however, the boundaries of those categories are rather blurred, what's more, different locales use a bewildering array of rail terminology. But there are also some ingenious ideas mixing the 'basic categories', some of them will be described below, too.

This diary can also be viewed as a general guide as to what kind of projects local initiatives could aim for, and tries to give examples around the world that can be used as model for supporters and argument against opponents.

From the diaries with an edit - afew

Stopping train/local service

A 'normal' railway line runs between two transport hubs (or radiates from one), and has stations in wayside towns. Running passenger transport on such a line is aimed for the outer commuter belt, it is the longest-distance (and potentially fastest) form of commuter service. It is typically also the most 'concentrated': it functions best if stations are transport hubs themselves (for buses etc.), it doesn't run too frequently, but can have high capacity.

In North America, an example could be the services around New York City still maintained by Metro-North.

'Normal' stopping trains often share tracks with freight trains. This can be both a blessing and a curse: a blessing if with passenger alone the line would make too high losses, a curse if passenger has no priority and has to face delays.

It is generally a good idea to strive for lines that don't end out in the nowhere, but in another major hub. This increases utility for passengers dramatically, and even if most passengers would almost always go to one of the hubs, the possibility of occasional trips into much more directions could draw new passengers overall: people who keep to cars for those occasional trips.

Systems centred on a city usually branch out. An old idea to rationalise such service is running 'wing-trains': two trains run together until the junction station, and then continue separately. However, such attempts were often abandoned due to technical difficulties causing delays and extra costs. But lately, this idea finds increased application in Europe, with the spread of modern multiple units in place of locomotive-pulled trains: state-of-the-art electronics and automatic couplers make the option more viable.

Värmlandstrafik's X53-2 No. 3286, a wide-body electric multiple unit from Bombardier's Regina family, stops as local service in Arvika, May 2004. Photo by Jan Lindahl from SJK

Both prior paragraphs imply a need for a good timeplan, and traffic control able to keep trains on-time. In Switzerland, the latter aim led to a reversal of the normal order of things: instead of setting up a timeplan according to the characteristics of the line, some line upgrades are built where they help the timeplan best. That is, for example along the single-track line from the capital Berne to Langnau, a couple of double-track sections (e.g. over-long passing loops) have been built, so that a small delay of one train won't cascade to the trains in opposite direction.

A novelty that sounds simple but was difficult to implement, yet brought so positive results in passenger numbers that it now spreads around the world, is the regular interval timeplan (or sometimes named by the German word Taktfahrplan): the idea to run trains at the same minute each hour (or two hours or half an hour). On one hand, this way passengers can remember times easily, on the other hand, introducing such a timeplan usually means a higher frequency, which again has a higher utility for passengers (e.g., even if some midday or late night trains run less profitably, new passengers drawn make the other trains even better earners).

On the rolling stock front, beyond multiple units, bi-level or double-deck trains also live a renaissance, also in North America. The lower floor of bi-level cars is also ideal for what has now became standard on European local trains: bike transport.

Modern railbuses gave new life to many European non-electrified branchlines. These are one- or two-car trains with compact engine packs, easier-to-board low floors, and a lighter chassis, in cases demanding special rules of traffic alongside/in normal trains. These kinds of trains don't spread fast in the USA, because AAR doesn't want to create a special category for them. Thus, either something similar but heavy (and expensive) has to be built (see Colorado Railcar's Aero DMU), or imported European trains are run as "light rail". An example is New Jersey Transit's River LINE, running GTW 2/6 railbuses of Swiss maker Stadler on a track also used by Conrail by night.

Though ridership grew healthily, constantly (from 4,200/weekday in spring 2004 to 7,350/weekday in 2006) and beyond projections(5,900/weekday), economically, the River LINE is also a truly bad example of re-starting service on an existing line. I just can't explain what cost $1.1 billion on a mere upgrade of an existing single-track 34-mile line without any major superstructures. But, since opponents of public rail transport projects like to cite it as example, I give an example of how restarting passenger service is done right.

The Schönbuchbahn was a 17 km (11 mi) branchline near Stuttgart, Germany. With no maintenance and a busy main road built in parallel, daily ridership dropped to one or two hundred, so the national railways ended passenger service in 1966. Local initiatives kept demanding a re-start, but the national railways projected only 1,250 trips daily even with full renovation, which is too little.

Then the locals pursued the takeover of the line by a regional railway, which projected twice as many daily rides: 2,500. Ambitious, given that buses carried 2,000/weekday in a region of 24,000 inhabitants. But the concept they hatched was ambitious, too:

  1. full renovation of the since disused track
  2. stations should be built where passengers can be expected
  3. new railbuses must be bought & locally maintained
  4. 30-minute regular interval timeplan
  5. bus companies should re-arrange their services from parallel to feeder routes
  6. adjustment between the timeplans of this railway, the Stuttgart rapid transit it feeds into at one end, and buses that feed it
  7. businesses and public institutions should adjust their work hours for the railway, above all schools
  8. local communities should raise a reserve pool of €0.6 mio/year for operating costs

Schönbuchbahn before and after: track at kilometre point 7.4 in October 1994 (above) and August 1996 (below). Photos by Aschpalt from PROBAHN

After spending €14.6 million on construction and purchase, the line opened in December 1996. On the very first workday, 3740 were carried. By spring 2003, 6,800/weekday was achieved, over two thirds left their cars, and bus ridership doubled, too. About the same sum as the original investment was spent on enhancements for the unexpected traffic load.

Rapid transit/commuter rail/S-Bahn

The dense inner parts of a city's commuter belt can bring very heavy traffic, say 10–50,000 trips a day. To manage it, railways often added extra tracks, built more frequent stops, built elevated platforms to ease and accelerate boarding, and purchased rolling stock with high acceleration and many doors. Such service could even spin off as a separate network. Thus rapid transit formed, already in the steam era.

A North American example could be the Long Island Railroad.

Recognition as separate category was the clearest in late 19th century Germany, where it was called Stadtschnellbahn ( = city fast rail). Today the short form S-Bahn is a household name. By the 21st century, all major German, Swiss and Austrian cities got S-Bahn networks as the backbone of their transport system, with other networks from subways down to buses tightly integrated at stations. Most S-Bahns use electric multiple units (EMUs) with high acceleration or locomotive-pulled double-deck trains. As opposed to normal local service, the ideal is not connecting two hubs, but connecting two commuter lines: e.g., trains crossing the city, so less passengers have to transfer. Often, multiple lines share the same central section in the city, which functions as an artery.

These S-Bahn networks carry the bulk of local rail passengers, and demand sustains a high level of further investments even if elected leaders aren't progressives, a level comparable to that spent on high-speed rail.

As an example, the Swiss canton and city of Zurich (the former has 1.27 million, the latter 370,000 inhabitants) voted in a referendum to build an S-Bahn network instead of further road construction. The plan included some new lines (mainly in tunnel under the city), new tracks and stations along existing lines, and 115 new purpose-built four-car double-deck EMUs, which should enable a timeplan that on some relations is faster than for express trains. The system started in 1990, and evolved into a monster since.

Currently, 26 lines along 380 line-kilometres serve 171 stations, carrying more than 320,000 daily passengers. Traffic growth called for several enhancements. A few years ago, a two-track line was 'doubled' by adding another two tracks for express trains in a 10 km tunnel. 120 new-generation double-deck EMUs are in delivery, while the old ones remain in service. The $1.2 billion project of adding a second central artery in a 6 km tunnel is under-way. (Compare to the incredible $8.7 billion cost estimate for the 3 mile long North–South Rail Link tunnel for Boston.)

One of Zurich S-Bahn's second-generation bi-level EMUs on a test run: RABe 514 004 on the Winterthur–Etzwilen line, March 22, 2006. Photo by Reinhard Reiss, from RailFanEurope.net

A rapid transit system doesn't need to be bound to a single large city. Near the source of the Danube, lines connecting half a dozen major towns form a circle. This circumstance inspired the Ringzug concept: the integration of all local services into an S-Bahn-type service, with lines 'bending around' the ring in horseshoe shape, platforms rebuilt, new stops and some extra track. A not yet complete ring is in service since 2003, and brought significant growth. For US conditions, I note that this system uses diesel railcars.

Heavy metro/subway/elevated

For traffic corridors within a major city, for acceptable speeds (and curve radii), you have to leave street level. There are two ways to go: up and down.

At the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, both were tried. But elevated railways, while somewhat cheaper to build, still take away building space, emit noise all around, and are exposed to weather. So, while New York's system has a lot of elevated sections, the even more subway sections gave it its name, and Chicago's 'L' is rather unique in still being dominated by elevated sections. Of the few modern examples, I note Vancouver's SkyTrain, and the first lines of Taipei's system in Taiwan and Bangkok's in Thailand.

Urban rail in major cities (say half a million or more) also means corridors with the heaviest traffic (say upwards from 100,000 trips a day). You need something even more high-capacity than a normal rapid transit. Two possibilities remained for that: running trains more frequently, and providing more space to standing passengers. The first demands dedicated lines, both demand purpose-built trains. The dedicated lines can, however, extend out from the densest part, and run on the surface, much like a normal rapid transit service. New York, San Francisco has such lines, and Washington D.C.'s was built so very purposefully.

In North America, heavy-load urban rail service is commonly not even separated from 'rapid transit'. Elsewhere however, using the name of the fifth subway system in the world, Paris's, 'metro' is the generic name, and is considered a separate category, especially as many cities have both systems overlaid.

Impressions from the busiest and most beautiful subway in the world: Moscow's Metro, with its rich 'Stalin-baroque' interieur. By Andron3

I stressed the importance of connection with other modes of public transport at stations. This doesn't just mean location. It's already good to have with normal rapid transit, but essential for metros to have common ticketing with buses and light rail, so that travellers don't have to buy a separate ticket or monthly card for each leg of their journey/commute. In an American context, also worth to point out: such tickets take away the stigma of a bus ride ("I'm just hopping on to the train station" will be the initial excuse).

France is also the origin of a new development: VAL type metros. The steel-on-steel roll of classic railways has the problem of low adhesion relative to rubber-tyres-on-pretty-much-everything-else. On the other hand, rubber tyres on rail don't bear too high loads, and there is the issue of interoperability with existing lines. These problems matter least for metros, with their dedicated passenger-only lines, especially in cities still only about to build their first line.

Metro systems are still growing all around the world. I give some examples of recent fast growth.

The subway system of South Korean capital Seoul started only in 1971, the system was more than doubled in the nineties, and this year it will grow to the world's third longest (after London & NYC) with around 320 km (200 mi) line length.

The Chinese boom didn't just brought an explosion of cars. A dozen major cities, above all Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou, construct subway systems at breakneck speed for about a decade now. All but one are totally new, yet the aim for the three mentioned is systems the size of New York's or Seoul's in another decade.

In Europe, Spain was most wise in using EU Structural Funds, and that with support from both political sides. Only Madrid and Barcelona had subways before the Civil War, not much happened under Franco's dictatorship. But today, half a dozen cities are busy boring tunnels, and Madrid's system quadrupled. For a developed Western country, Madrid should be the example to follow in how to build subways.

Urban rail system of Madrid (click for full-size version). Pink is Cercanías (suburban rapid transit), red-bordered yellow is in-construction light rail, the rest subway. Dashed: built in the 2003–2007 period (note that the rapid transit central artery is doubled, too – includes a 7.5 km tunnel). Map from The Subway Page

Metro Madrid added more than 40 km (25 mi) in a four-year period to 2003, and another 56 km (35 mi) heavy metro this year – to a total of 283 km (176 mi) – note that Madrid is a city of just 3.2 million. The showcase project of the previous four years was Line 12 (yellowish green on the map), nicknamed MetroSur. This ring line doesn't circle the city, but serves a couple of suburban towns by distributing traffic from radial subway and rapid transit lines. Planning, tendering, boring, fitting out with concrete lining and tracks and electronics of this 40.5 km all-tunnel line; station construction; and purchase, testing and commissioning of subway trains was all done within four years and on a budget of only €1.1 billion! On time and budget in the extreme! Compare that to the time and cost earmarked for New York's 8.5-mile Second Avenue Subway project.

Light rail/Tram/Trolley/Streetcar

In a city, one may also opt for street-level transport, gaining easier access at the price of lower speed: you have to wait at cross-streets. This idea was first tried in the USA: in New York in 1832. But it really took off in the last two decades of the 19th century, after Werner von Siemens invented electric trains: lack of air pollution and good acceleration were the decisive factors.

The new transport mode, variously called tram, streetcar, and trolley. had some specialities forced on it by streets: rolling gear and body made so that tight curves can be negotiated, cars are narrow, entrances are for practically rail-level boarding, not too high speeds allow catenary on the cheap, and special rails are sunk in the pavements. Also, with no need to be strong enough for long trains, cars could be built lighter, hence the modern name light rail.

Trams evolved for half a century (which I documented with examples from my hometown Budapest/Hungary), but then got stuck. In the USA, the PCC made the revolutionary switch from single axle rolling gear to bogies (which give a smoother ride) in the thirties, but still from the next decade, nothing held up the clear-cutting of streetcar lines to make way for buses and cars. Funnily, starting from a PCC license, Czech maker ČKD became the world's biggest tram supplier during the time of the more public transport friendly East Bloc, Tatra tram parts were then even used in New Orleans. Western Europe got as far as articulated trams in the fifties, but then the big cull started there, too, and the surviving systems seemed struck in that age.

All-weather service: a type T5C5K at Moszkva tér in Budapest, a Tatra built in the eighties. February 13, 2004. Photo by Ákos Varga from from RailFanEurope.net

That there is now an on-going light rail revival had reasons in technology. The following appeared in trams from the seventies, many of which later found their way into normal trains:

  • AC motors: beyond being lighter and stronger than DC motors, they provide continuous acceleration (thus no jerks due to switching between speeds), and by using the as generators, they can function as brakes;
  • disc brakes;
  • rubber and air springs, dampers: smooth ride instead of the classic rumbling;
  • air conditioning;
  • new automated door mechanisms: you can make entrances that can adapt to platforms of different height.

All these technologies were successfully merged for the vehicles of the Stadtbahn systems in West Germany (covered in the next section), and also in Japan. There was an attempt in the Oil-Crises-era US too, but, unfortunately, the Boeing-Vetrol-developed US Standard Light Rail Vehicle was plagued by construction problems, so light rail systems now rely on imports.

The light rail revival really took off in the nineties, thanks to another innovation spurt in France:

  • size reduction made low-floor trams possible, with most of the electric equipment on the roof;
  • lightweight alloys could be used for lighter carbodies (though some manufacturers had big problems with these);
  • departing from bland industrial designs, trams with more stylish and aerodynamic fronts made trams hip (for example Straßbourg's Tram from 1994).

Sometimes politicians treat light rail as if it were an alternative to subways or rapid transit, a cheaper alternative, but that is a bad idea to have. The busiest light rail line in the world, the one along the Grand Boulevard in my hometown Budapest, has a weekday ridership in excess of 200,000, but it is constantly crowded and relatively slow despite extra-long trams every 2–4 minutes.

Light rail is the right choice for ten to hundred thousand daily trips, not higher (or lower). With that, it could serve as the backbone of public transport in cities between 100,000 and 3–500,000 inhabitants. Above that, it's best used as feeder/distributor for heavier rail systems. For example, should the METRORail in multi-million city Houston expand into a real city-wide system and induce a large proportion of inhabitants to switch to public transport, I'm certain the addition of a proper subway or express railway would become unavoidable.

In major cities, light rail can be especially useful as further-from-the-centre orbital service: traffic volume is usually much less than on radial lines, but most people would need to travel that way at least sometimes. London, Paris, Madrid have/are building such lines. One has been proposed for the US capital too, the Purple Line, to alleviate the one big problem of the fine DC Metro.

I close this with another technology innovation from France: light rail without catenary (overhead wire). Bordeaux's new light rail line has a segmented third rail in the middle, whose segments are put on voltage with a radio signal only when a tram is above. Attempts at ground-level power supply have a 120-year history, but after heavy teething problems, this one seems to work.

High-tech, style, low-floor comfort in one: a Bordeaux tram (an Alstom type Citadis302) on a catenary-free section at Quai Richelieu, August 16, 2004. Photo by P.Chapar from RailFanEurope.net

Light metro/Stadtbahn

Adding tunnel sections, grade-separated inner-city and perhaps out-of-city high-platform stations, light rail gains the characteristics of metros and suburban rapid transit. Capacity can be increased somewhat by running multiple articulated trams coupled together on the grade-separated sections. This is often referred to as 'light metro'. A good North American example is what became of most of San Francisco's streetcars in 1978: the Muni Metro.

As often is the case, the idea is not new, only its application as a concept. The pioneer may be the streetcar line banished into a tunnel 110 years ago in Boston, which became the core of the Green Line [so-called although it's not a single line].

An impetus for light metro development was the reconstruction and development of bombed-out West German cities after WWII, when people saw an opportunity for reinvention rather than just re-instalment, and that relatively cheaply. Also the well-developed S-Bahn systems reduced the need for the high capacity and rapidity of heavy metro. From the sixties, a dozen medium-sized cities converted some classic tram routes into light metro networks, for example Frankfurt (see a very good map of its overlaid S-Bahn and (light) metro [U-Bahn] systems at JohoMaps). Systems with little or no subway got yet another new name, Stadtbahn.

With light metro, I shall again emphasize that notwithstanding some policymakers' claims, it is no substitute for heavy metro. The same capacity limits apply as for normal light rail.

The Karlsruhe Model (tram-train)

Meeting in the freshly renovated Forbach–Gausbach station on May 18, 2002: left a push-pull stopping train in limited-stops service, right dual-system tram No. 824 of Karlsruhe's Stadtbahn. Photo by Der Eisenbahnfotograf

This isn't an entirely new idea either. There used to be a category of railways that ran tram-like vehicles, but on lines that go out in the countryside and then enter other towns: the overland tramway or interurban (see for example the Electroliner). Most were torn up, or converted into normal local rail, or normal light rail (if sprawl ate up the area).

Karlsruhe is a city of 286,000 in south-western Germany. While the city had urban trams, one private narrow-gauge overland tram led to a nearby town. Then in 1957, it came that the city got control of the overland tram. They decided to re-gauge and connect it to the system of the city proper. This took nine years, but then proved a success, and another nine years later, an expansion into a Stadtbahn network began, also absorbing former normal rail lines.

Once they wanted to get an electrified line. Then they got a bright idea: instead of buying and converting it, why not just build a connection, and buy two-system trams? Sounds simple, but a lot of technical and regulatory stumbling bocks had to be cleared, from collision prevention to train controls. But, in 1992, traffic started.

Thus the Karlsruhe model was born: trams leaving cities on normal rail lines, and leaving normal rail lines in cities. Yes, plural: once you have a bi-modal tram, nothing stops you from building tramway branches for downtown access in smaller cities of the agglomeration!

By today, Karlsruhe's Stadtbahn expanded into a 423 km (263 mi) network spawning as far as 80 km (50 mi) away from the core city, with tramway sections in half a dozen other towns, while traffic grew heavily (1960: 6 million, 1990: 19 million, 2005: 63 million rides).

So far the model was copied in a number of other German cities and in the Netherlands. Two East German cities applied the idea in reverse: in Zwickau and Chemnitz, the railbuses of normal rail lines enter town on tramway tracks.

Rail bus VT 42 of regional railway Vogtlandbahn next to a normal tram at Zwickau Zentrum on February 10, 2002. The tram is narrow-gauge, so joint sections are 3-rail, but stations are separate. Photo by Marco van Uden from RailFanEurope.net


Réseau Express Régional (=Regional Express Network) is essentially nothing but rapid transit resp. S-Bahn in another language, French. Indeed one system called so, that of the Belgian (and EU) capital Brussels, is indistinguishable. (As I mentioned above the fold, local rail terminology is totally chaotic.)

But the reason for a separate treatment based on the first RER, that of Paris, has to do with long city tunnels.

This again is not entirely new. There is the through line formed by the tunnels into New York's Penn Station (1910). There is the north–south central artery of Berlin's S-Bahn, which has six stations along a 5.9 km (3.7 mi) tunnel (1936/1939). The latter is an example of cities with (multiple) terminal stations pursuing underground connection of commuter lines. Younger examples are the rapid transit central arteries of Madrid, Frankfurt, Munich, Zurich; and Seoul's metro line 1 is co-used by suburban trains.

In Paris, the connection of the suburban lines going into the eight (now six) terminals was pursued from 1969 as a network concept. While suburbanites 'see' commuter rails bundled together into five rapid transit line families, for city-dwellers, the inner sections function as an express subway: today RER trains traverse four long tunnels (altogether 60 km/ mi underground). The in-the-city part of RER line A is the busiest non-Japanese 'proper' railway in the world (273 million trips a year).

Extreme capacity: lots of wide doors and two levels of an SNCF MI2N (series Z 22500) EMU at Haussmann - St-Lazare station, on the underground part of line E, January 1, 2000. On line A, two five-car units form a train. Photo by Jörg Kuntz from RailFanEurope.net

What I described is something for the largest cities. Similar systems are planned in London (Crossrail) and Shanghai.


I emphasize again that the presented good examples from around the world are meant for use as argument of how well things could be done, and named bad examples from the US to stress that it doesn't have to be that bad. Of course, all is not well elsewhere too, there are plenty of projects over budget due to corruption and/or incompetence, and existing systems not in the best shape.

Subtitled trailer of genre-mixing movie Kontroll, whose anti-heroes are loser ticket controllers on a nameless ex-East-Bloc subway (filmed in its entirety on lines 2, 3 of the Budapest subway).

But the good news is that today, if you achieve a halfway decent ridership gain on an urban rail project, even on a scandal-ridden one, you gain a supportive subpopulation. People who may complain and growl, but will put enough pressure on local leaders to maintain the line, what's more, will demand extensions.

One thing is sure: even without overpriced projects, fitting all the car-dependent US cities with local rail systems would cost a helluva' lot of money. But so what. If you get the ball rolling, you can get the critical mass to support it. As the Zurich example shows, people may even vote in a referendum for rather expensive projects calling for their tax money.

Don't go for flashy futuristic projects, or follow those claiming a super-cheap alternative. Look at what best suits local conditions, focus above all on potential ridership.

Always think in networks, even if a line built will be part of one only in decades. And coordination with other modes of transport, or even work hour schedules, is essential. This involves road traffic: say, you need new traffic lights and information campaigns for car drivers who lack life experience that a even a streetcar can't brake for them, but is so much stronger it can crush your signal-ignoring car – to avoid frequent incidents like on Houston's METRORail. But just in public transport, you can have several levels, all for differing kinds of travel, superimposed and linked up, say these seven levels:

  1. high-speed rail (to get to major cities up to 800 km/500 miles away under three hours),
  2. express rail (to get fast to smaller cities in a few hundred km/miles, or from those to the next two major cities),
  3. normal stopping trains (to get to towns and exurbs around a major city, or from those to the next two cities),
  4. rapid transit (for rapid commute in the dense inner parts),
  5. metro (for travel in the city unhindered by street traffic),
  6. light rail (for travel on major streets to get to your neighbourhood/near your workplace/shop),
  7. buses (for travel within a neighbourhood to within a minute or two of your destination).

This diary is a draft for a dKos diary I promised to BruceMcF.

:: :: :: :: ::

Check the Train Blogging index page for a (hopefully) complete list of ET diaries and stories related to railways and trains.

Maybe this should be posted in orange as mini-series?...

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Sat Jun 30th, 2007 at 12:35:52 PM EST
Wow. Even here it could be done in two or three parts..!
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Sat Jun 30th, 2007 at 12:51:27 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I didn't check the word count until I posted...

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Sat Jun 30th, 2007 at 01:24:22 PM EST
[ Parent ]
... the ending, "always think in networks" and the list as the common intro, and "this is chapter 3, ..."

Great stuff ... much I had seen before when learning about rail for the fight to keep the rail line in Newcastle, NSW, and much new.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Sat Jun 30th, 2007 at 03:38:47 PM EST
[ Parent ]
If this is gonna be a multi-parter, I'll need more pictures, and forward hints (e.g. say hint at RER in the second chapter).

Hm-mmm... or maybe drop the mixed systems after 'basic' systems order. What about this division:

  1. General intro, stopping trains (c. 1500 words)
  2. Common ntro, rapid transit, heavy metro, RER (c. 2100 words)
  3. Common intro, light rail, light metro, tram-train, conclusion (c. 2200 words)

The current diary is about 5000 words. Would part length maximum of 2200 words + 2-3 more image captions be right or still too long?

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Sat Jun 30th, 2007 at 05:18:14 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I'd say 1,000 to 1,500 is better for dKos ... which makes maybe 5 chapters:
  1. General intro, stopping trains (c. 1500 words)
  2. Common intro, rapid transit
  3. Common intro, heavy metro, RER
  4. Common intro, light rail
  5. Common intro, light metro, tram-train, conclusion

I can get online pictures of some Aussie trains for stopping trains, one of rapid transit or RER when I figure out which one the main Sydney system is, and light rail from Melbourne.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.
by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Sat Jun 30th, 2007 at 05:36:48 PM EST
[ Parent ]
OK, I'll do that, the rest in email.

Regarding Sydney CityRail, I'd vote for rapid transit, if for no better reason than that AFAIK there is no subway network it could relate to as express metro -- but indeed it's difficult to get clever of the terminology...

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Sun Jul 1st, 2007 at 06:37:30 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The City Circle is underground, in a loop entering at Central Station and running around Town Hall, Wynyard, becoming an EL at Circular Quay, then going underground again to St. James and Museum, and all of the main suburban lines in the city either run through the City Circle, or part of it. The Airport line also runs underground for four stations, including two suburban stations and the two airport stations (domestic and international terminals).

So while its mostly at ground level with the occasional dive or overpass, it is only the interurban and country trains terminating at Central that avoid going underground altogether.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Sun Jul 1st, 2007 at 10:37:19 AM EST
[ Parent ]
When I am clear of current commitments I will have to post some info (even pictures) on Finnish metropolitan transport.

The Metro is to be extended. We have new trams. The taxis are (almost) all computerized and are mostly equipped with navigation systems. We have some buses running on natural gas. The trains run on time, and in Helsinki you can pay for all sorts of transport with your mobile. Good grief, you can even pay for that wash for your evil car with your mobile.

You can't be me, I'm taken

by Sven Triloqvist on Sat Jun 30th, 2007 at 01:47:15 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I would say it makes a great mini series.

I honestly think that you have 4-8 diaries here.

And overview diary, plus followups explaining 1-2 of the seven layers in detail.

Madrid has a pretty good example of layered transportation.  

I took a bus from Pamplona to Madrid to see a friend.  It really sort of freaked me out when the bus started going down this ramp in the middle of the street, and then we go through through this catacomb of cercanias (regional trains), metro, and outright bus station.  So I end my bus trip at the Avenida de America bus station, something like 20 meters underground.  It was like nothing I had ever seen before.

Trains, subways, and buses all coming in to this station at different levels.  

I have to say that I was far more fond of Barcelona than Madrid.  In Madrid I could never tell where the hell I was.  My friend showed me around.  One moment, we're in Sol, down to the metro, Atocha, down to the metro, Nuevos Ministerios.

And Madrid just seemed to lack the organic feeling of a city that Barcelona has. The architecture felt like something out of the Planet of the Apes.

And I'll give my consent to any government that does not deny a man a living wage-Billy Bragg

by ManfromMiddletown (manfrommiddletown at lycos dot com) on Sat Jun 30th, 2007 at 03:02:28 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Tangara (a phrase from an Aboriginal nation for "to go"), for a long time the backbone of the Sydney rapid transit fleet:

The M-set, or "Millenium train" .. often called Millenium bug online, in honor of early teething problems.

C-class Melbourne Tram:

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Sun Jul 1st, 2007 at 08:48:12 PM EST
[ Parent ]
This is really great.  Very interesting.  Makes me want to get big handfuls of tickets and go roaming.

"I said, 'Wait a minute, Chester, You know I'm a peaceful man...'" Robbie Robertson
by NearlyNormal on Mon Jul 2nd, 2007 at 05:21:21 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Some fun with the Moscow Metro:

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Sat Jun 30th, 2007 at 01:25:07 PM EST
I had not seen but a few pictures of the Moscow Metro and I am stunned at the beauty of the architecture. It can almost lift me off my seat.  It is palacial, museum like, although, as I relearned the Franco years, I had to think of the labor conditions when it was built.

Even more stunning:  
Is it really that clean and well maintained?  
Is it really publicity-free?

Our knowledge has surpassed our wisdom. -Charu Saxena.

by metavision on Sat Jun 30th, 2007 at 04:43:44 PM EST
[ Parent ]
From a recent NY Times story:
The No. 4 and 5 trains share the express track on the Lexington Avenue line in Manhattan. The track is at full capacity, with a total of 27 trains an hour running during the morning peak. In addition, peak ridership on both lines exceeds the guidelines, with more people jamming onto cars than the cars are meant to hold.

And a humorous follow up article (behind firewall):

The meat institute allots six square feet for each hog in a truck on its way to baconville. Aboard a boat, federal export law requires that a 150-pound sheep be given five square feet. On the E train, human commuters are supposed to get three square feet, and they don't. We have aimed low and missed.

The lack of new subway construction in the NYC region has to be rooted in some sort of behind the scenes graft, there is no other possible explanation. Autos leaving Manhattan for NJ in the evening frequently encounter 30-45 minute delays.

New Jersey has been taking the lead, with a proposal for new tunnels under the Hudson River as well as their new light rail system Hudson-Bergen Light Rail

It has been following this development which inspired me to wonder about the use of electric buses instead of such an expensive project.

Policies not Politics
---- Daily Landscape

by rdf (robert.feinman@gmail.com) on Sat Jun 30th, 2007 at 02:15:44 PM EST
Roads and airports infrastructure are treated as public goods with some tollways as exceptions ... rail is treated as tollways with the partly government owned Northeast Corridor as a political football exception.

This comes from the days when interurban rail was formally self-funding because it was the only game in town (and often associated with paying bribes to officials for competitive advantages over rivals), and federal support for rail consisted of land grants along rail lines connecting the east of the Mississipi to the west and west coast.

And yes, its egregiously bad policy that the US administration has been short-changing "fixed guideway" project spending so that massively high ratios of benefits to cost attract 20% to 30% support from the Federal Government ... but that does not necessarily mean graft. You do not always have to pay to get that kind of backward looking, total failure of imagination bad policy from the Bush regime, they are often willing to give it away for free.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Sat Jun 30th, 2007 at 04:12:08 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Perhaps graft isn't the principle factor. The city managed to build a monorail to Kennedy airport rather quickly. This, of course, serves the business and travel class rather than local residents.

Similarly Bloomberg has proposed extending the #7 line westward to the Javits convention center rather than spending the money on extending it eastward through Queens to the city border.

His idea, once again, benefits the business interests while ignoring the needs of residents. I think it a type of cultural blindness that only sees the concerns of one's own class as being important.

For both projects there is an underlying type of trickle-down mentality at work. Making things easier for the business class will (eventually) lead to more prosperity and jobs for the working class. This itself is a culturally blind argument.

Policies not Politics
---- Daily Landscape

by rdf (robert.feinman@gmail.com) on Sat Jun 30th, 2007 at 04:25:02 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Note that the FAA funding for public transport improvements will only, under what seems to me to be a gross misinterpretation of the intent of the original law (*Note), support a "fixed guideway" terminating at the airport. Adding an airport station to a through line is not funded.

(*Note: I aint a lawyer, but the head of the FAA does not appear to be much of a civil servant either, so I reckon that makes us about even)

That is not graft, its just normal industry capture of its Federal funding and oversight agency. Through rail connections at airports will make regional commuter airlines less attractive, even though it makes perfect as an integrated transport solution.

And extending a line to a traffic destination rather than a traffic origin is implied by "commercial" criteria for judging public transport lines rather than a public service orientation ... go out to get more passengers, and you have to provide for capacity expansion all down the line. Provide a traffic driver against the normal flow of peak hour patronage, and you have that capacity almost for free, in seats that are empty heading out to make another morning run in ... or empty heading in to make another evening run out.

Now, heading out to provide a public transport trunk in a heavily built up urban and inner suburban region may well be more effective in terms of getting cars off the roads, but the way we organize funding in the US, providing more public service at the cost of more infrastructure spending throughout the system is not very attractive.

Indeed, the integrated transport solution is probably to head the rail line out to extend the reach of the regular commuter flow of travel, and to run some form of light rail system from the convention center to integrate with the rail system. As heavily built up as much of NYC is, an Aerobus system may have an appealing balance of costs and benefits:

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.
by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Sat Jun 30th, 2007 at 05:07:51 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Wow, that's very impressive. And now I shall go away and grumble about our terrible local train network and lament the fact that they removed the trams years ago.
by In Wales (inwales aaat eurotrib.com) on Sat Jun 30th, 2007 at 03:23:21 PM EST
by zoe on Sat Jun 30th, 2007 at 03:42:00 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Brilliant, DoDo, a tour de force.

Could you come over and work as a consultant in Edinburgh, please?


We have got our knickers totally in a twist re the Tram and transport generally.


"The future is already here -- it's just not very evenly distributed" William Gibson

by ChrisCook (cojockathotmaildotcom) on Sat Jun 30th, 2007 at 03:42:38 PM EST
Wow!  That's a draft?  It´s more like a doctorate in urban planning.  Fantastic, DoDo.

Our knowledge has surpassed our wisdom. -Charu Saxena.
by metavision on Sat Jun 30th, 2007 at 04:25:04 PM EST
As you've noted, this could be broken up ... but this is an amazing product, thank you. Learned quite a bit.

A question / thought:  Impression:  US infrastructure programs (rail/highway) cost more than European (substantially).  Is this true? If true, why?

Anyone seen studies / such on this?

And, by the way, European programs seem of higher quality as well.

Blogging regularly at Get Energy Smart. NOW!!!

by a siegel (siegeadATgmailIGNORETHISdotPLEASEcom) on Sun Jul 1st, 2007 at 01:00:58 AM EST
The extreme cost of US projects is a mystery to me, here I hope BruceMcF could shed deeper insights. I can only speculate that the reasons are more extreme versions of what make some projects drawn-out and too expensive here:

  • corrupt relationship between construction companies and city politicians
  • local construction company protectionism (the local firm may not know efficient methods of construction)
  • no experience with commanding big projects
  • boosterism (too much care for flashy appearance, which may be expensive on itself and may require lots of legal work for permits or disputes)

It may be that wages are also a factor (European construction is full of low-wage immigrant workers, including illegal; though maybe that's less so in specialised rail construction). But what I noticed is that even the initial stages of major projects -- e.g. feasibility study, environmental impact and other preliminary studies, detailed planning -- are tendered for much higher sums in the US (up to an order of magnitude difference). I can't fully explain that even with all of the above listed reasons.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Sun Jul 1st, 2007 at 06:14:41 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I haven't listed what I see as the single biggest cost-overrun cause: delays. Delays for whatever reason, including political decision. Delays mean more spending on workers' pay, rent, interests, paperwork [repeated tenders etc.]; while there is inflation, and potential customers are lost. Also, if politicians might opt to pay less annually, the end result will be a higher total. And also, projects opened unfinished, with parts delayed, often lead to an initial customer dissatisfaction that results in lasting bad publicity. But I'm not sure there is that much of a US-EU/Japan difference in this.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Sun Jul 1st, 2007 at 06:22:41 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The undisputed king of urban rail, Tokyo's Yamanote line, runs a 34.5 km route in a roughly teardrop shape around the edges of central Tokyo.  It has 29 stations, 11-car wide trains with minimal seating, and service on average every 2 minutes.  It's daily ridership is between 3 and 5 million.

The Yamanote line runs on an elevated track for most of its course.  Some other trains share adjacent right of ways for short runs, such as between Ikebukuro and Shinjuku on the NW edge, but I believe the Yamanote has it's own dedicated track throughout.

Most stations connect to Tokyo's subway system, which mostly serves the area inside the Yamanote, although a few lines do run outwards as well.  Several larger hub stations link up with other Japan Rail lines and the lines of two private rail companies.  Only one surface rail line runs inside the Yamanote line's ring, the JR Chuo line, which runs East-West across the middle of the line.  Monster stations like Shinjuku, Ikebukuro, Ueno, and Tokyo link up with 5 to 10 other rail lines, and two or three separate subway lines.

Some cars have four doors on each side, some have six.     Except for rare occasions midday and in the dawn hours, most passengers stand.  It takes about 45 minutes to make a full loop, but most stops are between 3 and 5 minutes apart from each other.

Yamanote line stations are significant hubs for retail and commercial developments, perhaps none so much as Ikebukuro.  Ikebukuro station has both JR connections to the Yamanote and three or four other lines, the Seibu Ikebukuro line, and the Tobu Tojo line.  Seibu and Tobu are both rail/retail/amusement comglomerates which build train lines, built department stores at the stations, and build amusement destinations to draw people onto the trains.  Ikebukuro has their flagship department stores, which at some point not too long ago ranked as the second and third largest department stores in the world.

Interestingly, inter-line ticketing has only really started this year.  The JR lines introduced their Suica electronic ticket/debit card several years ago, good both for tickets and for purchases in the area around the station - this is a major innovation for Japan, which is still primarily a cash society.  However,  the Suica cards were not good for the subways, buses, or the private lines.  This just changed in April.  

by Zwackus on Sun Jul 1st, 2007 at 01:48:02 AM EST
Excellent comment! Railways in Japan is a world unto itself, it's why I wrote that RER line A is the busiest non-Japanese line.

Once I post the second episode on dKos (rapid transit), would you repost this as comment there, then maybe with pictures?

Also, for a later episode, do you know something about Japanese trams and their development? I know woefully little, I know more about trams exported to the USA than those running in the home country...

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Sun Jul 1st, 2007 at 06:02:22 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm perfectly willing to believe that the RER A line is one of the busiest lines in the world, but I'm surprised that no Moscow line (especially the circle line) makes it in the busiest lines (Japanese included).

I've always been amazed by the efficiency of the Moscow metro - there are trains every 2 minutes most of the day (which means that you never wait) - and they're pretty much always full. And it's stunningly beautiful and clean too.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Sun Jul 1st, 2007 at 11:01:41 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Could be I was wrong, I have to check this again, but off the top of my head, 1) no proper metro runs 200+m long double-deck trains, though with people standing it is more dense 2) Moscow Metro is 2-3 billion/year and a dozen lines, so it seems similar capacity.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Sun Jul 1st, 2007 at 02:13:39 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Luzhkov has created a good city for the rich. The poor haven't been so lucky so far... Metropoliten (in Moscow) vividly reminds of Wells's War of the Worlds where the gloomy evil morlocks are fighting for their survival while the pretty citizens of the upper world are entertaining themselves on presentations and parties
by Andrei Baranov

Moskovskie Novosti #25/2007
(my translation)

by lana on Sun Jul 1st, 2007 at 03:34:29 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The Morlocks lure the nice people down below to eat them. When comes the metro revolution? ;-)

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Sun Jul 1st, 2007 at 04:22:02 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Ah, Russian Wiki for help. A bit difficult to compare weekday ridership and yearly ridership, but the 272.8 million for the RATP section of RER A converts to an average 747,400/day, so RER A probably beats Moscow Metro lines 5 (832,862/weekday) and 3 (800,504/weekday), but not lines 1, 2, 6, 7 (most busy with 1,449,222/weekday), and 9. Based on numbers I have, there are six Japanese railway lines busier than Moscow Metro line 7.

I'll modify the text to exclude subways.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Sun Jul 1st, 2007 at 04:19:44 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I'd be happy to, providing the timing works out.  As far as photos go . . . erm . . . I've STILL never figured out how to post photos properly

Aside from surface rail like the Yamanote (which I'm gathering would be called Heavy Metro - I think the cars and track are more or less JR standard), and the subway, there is one monorail line in Tokyo (which makes a short run from a Yamanote line station to Haneda airport, Tokyo's domestic hub), and there are several streetcar lines.

Streetcars are a holdover from the days of yore, and are enjoying something of a revival recently.  In fact, an old line was just re-opened last year.  The cars are really quite small, no longer than your average bus, and some of them are REALLY old - warped wooden floors and railing in places attest to the age.  I've ridden these a few times in Tokyo, and they seemed quite popular - standing room only every time, which admittedly was not hard given the small car size.  I've also ridden streetcars in Kagoshima and Kumamoto, both of which also continue to operate legacy lines from the early or mid 20th century.  

by Zwackus on Sun Jul 1st, 2007 at 06:59:07 PM EST
[ Parent ]
providing the timing works out

As things stand, the first diary will be up probably on Tuesday, so the rapid transit one on thirsday or Friday.

I've STILL never figured out how to post photos properly

Do you need any help beyond the New User Guide?

Yamanote (which I'm gathering would be called Heavy Metro

Well, categories are blurred... With lots of standing space and an elevated line, it really looks more like a (heavy) metro, but being JR standard and being part of JR East, and not being considered part of the subway network (which is heavy metro), I'd say let's stay with 'rapid transit'. By the way, here is a 2004 list of Japanese (or just Tokyo?) rail lines with weekday ridership over one million, you see that suburban rapid transit beats subways:

  1. JR East Tokaido 3,727,115
  2. JR East Yamanote 3,545,764
  3. JR East Utsunomiya 3,274,279
  4. JR East Chuo 3,144,205
  5. Odakyu Odawara/Enoshima 1,814,000
  6. JR East Sobu 1,712,764
  7. Keio Hon 1,286,966
  8. JR East Joban 1,231,707
  9. Tokyo Metro Tozai 1,211,718
  10. JR East Sobu rapid 1,122,271
  11. Tokyu Denentoshi 1,107,570
  12. Keikyu Hon 1,103,308
  13. Tokyu Toyoko 1,069,856
  14. Tokyo Metro Marunouchi 1,064,464
  15. Tokyo Metro Hibiya 1,054,272
  16. Tokyo Metro Chiyoda line 1,050,804
  17. Tokyo Metro Ginza line 1,002,932

Streetcars are a holdover from the days of yore, and are enjoying something of a revival recently.

So not many late-seventies-to-present modern trams in Tokyo, then? Maybe in other Japanese cities?

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Mon Jul 2nd, 2007 at 03:23:35 AM EST
[ Parent ]
suburban rapid transit beats subways

A note here. The ridership of a line is a rather loose measure of traffic density. traffic volume (in passenger-kilometres) per line length would be more like it if you want averages, or numbers for individual stations to get the maximum. But the picture with those measures is not that different when comparing similar type lines.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Mon Jul 2nd, 2007 at 03:28:13 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I think one important feature of Tokyo's transportation network is that many of the subway trains keep going out of the Tokyo Metro system as suburban commuter lines run and owned by various private firms, not the metro companies. This is very convenient if you live close to one of those lines way out in the 'burbs (say out in west Tokyo in Tama or way north in Saitama) since you can basically just get on a metro line and keep going.
by R343L (reverse qw/ten.cinos@l343r/) on Mon Jul 2nd, 2007 at 04:12:31 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Capital work DoDo, many thanks for this post.

In the last 10 years I assisted to the development of the train network around Lisbon, which has had splendid results: the upgrade of existing lines, a new express system to the south and a new rapid transit system where I live (also in the south). This has been an immense task within a highly car-centric culture; popular opposition is very strong and in some cases managed to delay projects by more than 2 years. But once the systems are in place they become rapidly popular.

These rail networks will indeed help Europe fare through the next oil crisis. I personally feel a good amount of hope reading this stuff.

But commuting is just on aspect of our transport systems' dependence on oil, another, perhaps more important, is freight. In Europe freight, especially in long distances, is made by semi-trailer diesel trucks that cram highways and speedways on weekdays. Can we change from that to rail? How?

So here's a request for you to take on freight rail one of these days. If you had already written about it, just leave a link. Thanks.


by Luis de Sousa (luis[dot]de[dot]sousa[at]protonmail[dot]ch) on Mon Jul 2nd, 2007 at 04:30:14 AM EST
I assisted to the development of the train network around Lisbon

I hope you'll write us a diary about that one day!

So here's a request for you to take on freight rail one of these days. If you had already written about it, just leave a link.

You'll find a full list of train diaries on ET at the bottom of my previous. The most relevant may be A Sound Transport Policy (Not in The EU) by me and The glorious comeback of the freight train by bastiaan, while the comments of High Speed Trains by richardk contain a discussion of issues of interoperability which are highly relevant to European long-distance freight too. There is Heavy Haul by me too, but that's not about policy, just some technology.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Mon Jul 2nd, 2007 at 09:49:33 AM EST
[ Parent ]
By the way, is the photographer related to you?

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Tue Jul 3rd, 2007 at 01:45:55 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Sorry for such a belated response. Sousa is a very ancient name, older than the country itself, so there a few of them out there.

When I find the time I'll write story on it, it will be a pleasure.


by Luis de Sousa (luis[dot]de[dot]sousa[at]protonmail[dot]ch) on Fri Jul 6th, 2007 at 09:42:55 AM EST
[ Parent ]
<sheesh> And this is written DoDo's 5th language, or something... <embarrassed and still struggling with the 2nd one...>

"Once in awhile we get shown the light, in the strangest of places, if we look at it right" - Hunter/Garcia
by whataboutbob on Mon Jul 2nd, 2007 at 09:55:42 AM EST
When sehr interessant comes off your tongue automatically, you deserve a little more self-confidence :-)

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Mon Jul 2nd, 2007 at 10:40:22 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I happen to know DoDo is, in reality, an international consortium of railroad propagandists.  

Photographic Evidence

Their nefarious goal is to shift the transportation emphasis from the automobile solely to further their dastardly plans for Global Domination.


She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre

by ATinNM on Thu Jul 5th, 2007 at 11:09:50 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Not sure this entirely belongs here, but a few excerpts from a WaPo article about changing the "ambiance" of the DC Metro system.

Metro's new general manager wants to get rid of the carpet in trains, brighten the lighting in stations and increase advertising in stations, trains and buses.

In many places, such mundane changes would be met with a shrug.

But this is the Washington area Metro, which has long prided itself on a dignified ambiance that is supposed to make it better than the average commuter system.

The changes are intended to help make the nation's second-busiest subway more modern and functional. As the system struggles to keep pace with growing demand, Metro's new top executive, John B. Catoe Jr., wants to focus the agency's limited resources toward moving people to and from work and away from some costly features that gave the subway a distinctive, first-class feel when it opened 31 years ago.

Huh?  I've been riding the DC Metro for, on-and-off, 20+ years, and it never occurred to me that it was supposed to be particularly "dignified" or "first-class."  It's less utilitarian than most other subway systems I can think of, but dignified?  Someone quoted later uses the word "majesty" to describe the stations, which also strikes me as a rather bizarre term.  I actually like the station designs, but I think "coldly futuristic" is a far more apt term than "majestic."  But that's just me.  I had no idea that people took the aesthetics of the Metro so seriously.

Anyway, they want to save some money:

Change, Catoe says, is inevitable, and he describes these as cosmetic. Dim stations need brighter, energy-efficient lighting. More advertising could generate much-needed revenue. Eliminating carpet would save money and allow mechanics to fix train wheels and brakes. High-quality art at station entrances and on walls would give passengers an experience beyond the ride itself. Dan Tangherlini, formerly Metro's interim general manager, started the push for brighter lights and no carpet last year.

OK, energy-efficient lighting would be good.  More light also wouldn't hurt, some of those stations are a little murky.  Getting rid of the carpet would save them money and make cleaning easier; I'm not sure what carpeting has to do with fixing brakes and wheels, though.  The art I'd enjoy immensely, unless it was really ugly, and I guess art is subjective so somebody's bound to hate it.

Such stewards worry that adjustments, however minor, have the potential to alter Metro's identity. Unlike commercial transit systems that cashed in on every square foot of rentable space, or utilitarian ones that gave "passing notice to amenities," the Washington Metro was built as something different, wrote Metro architect Harry Weese.

As part of that approach, "a certain dignity and even elegance is sought after" to raise the image of mass transit, he noted. "In Washington, since this is the system owned by all the people of the United States, it is particularly important that no stigma of cheapness or of the bargain basement be attached to it. With this in mind, the designers of the system are working to capitalize on the best practice and produce something that is the highest state of the art."

Good lord, it sounds like the most classist subway system on the planet, doesn't it?  (No big surprise, that, given that it's Washington, a terribly classist town....)

Many riders, while appreciative of Metro's unique architecture, say their priority is reliability. "It's a Cadillac system, and that's part of the problem," said Fred Marinucci, a Red Line commuter for 20 years. "It's hard to maintain a Cadillac system."

Still, the more time riders have spent on the New York subway, the more they appreciate everything that makes the Washington Metro different.

In New York, "it's not a question of red lights or white lights at the platform," Schrag said. "It's a question of how much gum you're standing in."

In Washington, carpet was a luxurious touch designed to lure suburbanites out of their cars. Carpet was supposed to signal to people that better behavior was expected, that "this is a nice train and don't mess it up," Schrag said.

But over time, the carpet itself has gotten messed up. In the winter, people track in salt and mud; in the summer, the humidity breeds mold "and little things grow in there, and it doesn't smell so good," Catoe said.

by the stormy present (stormypresent aaaaaaat gmail etc) on Mon Jul 2nd, 2007 at 02:27:12 PM EST
I wish I could confirm the nice presentation about the Madrid rail system, but I can only say that it is well integrated and, combined with the bus system, it gives very good coverage.  

The Metro system is run by the region of Madrid (I think the agency is called Mitra) and it covers the metropolitan area at large, with about 6 million people.  The new extensions are plain nice, but the older parts are below tacky and poorly maintained.

The rapid transit, Cercanias, is part of national railways, Renfe, and has dedicated tunnels within the city and runs above ground from the outskirts.  

I can´t argue about the new work being on schedule, but it´s hard to believe because we have not had a new national holiday...  A few days ago I read that the Madrid region had accumulated debt of over €10 billion, about 70% from the last four years and most of it from the Metro construction.

The light rail lines that were supposed to open well before the May elections, may be about to start.

Wish your version was true, but corrupt rightwing politics and capitalism are in full swing here.

Our knowledge has surpassed our wisdom. -Charu Saxena.

by metavision on Mon Jul 2nd, 2007 at 07:08:21 PM EST
This warrants a longer reply.

First I emphasize what I also wrote in the diary conclusion: I collected positive examples to follow, and didn't want to claim that everything is rosy anywhere. It was only MetroSur I brought up as example for on time and budget, and the entire subway system only for speed of growth, not even for general good state of being.

But to talk about the problems of the Madrid system is a bit difficult, because on one hand, some accusations (like deficit spending) sound like accusations usually levelled at left-wing governments, on the other hand, everything is relative. E.h., you meantion a few months delay in opening light rail projects, but I only smile given that what I see as 'normal' elsewhere is something like four years of delays at the planning and permits stage, then construction taking two years longer than planned and the opened stuff is only half-finished...

Let's follow the money theme. The cost-effectiveness of the MetroSur project is without parallel worldwide, so if direct corruption was involved, either there s much more corrupton elsewhere, or corruption was masked by even more impressive efficiency.

What does seem probably however is a second level of sleaze, that of getting orders for friendly business, sleaze even if that business does its job fine. Still, in Madrid's case, what was built for mass transit at least made sense (though it could be that lines projected benefitted richer neighbourhoods more, but I don't know Madrid Region's socioeconomy) -- it can't be compared for example with the Italian practice of things, where new lines are often built in the most expensive way possible (say miles upon miles of elevated sections) and with overcapacity. Also, in my memory the combined sum of 12 years of metro construction doesn't add up to €10 billion.

You mention old lines in bad shape; renovating those is certainly a more difficult work than building a new line, though IIRC in the 1999-2003 period, the circle line closing also involved major renovation.

But before you think I'd absolve the PP, let's dig deeper.

Politically, I'd connect the big metro expansion to the previous Madrid region governor and present city major, Gallardón. That the current extension exceeds the previous and didn't go under into too spectacular right-wing corruption may only be due to  the heiress's ambition to measure up to Gallardón.

Meanwhile, as Migu repeatedly told me, while Gallardón was busy with the subway, his predecessor was busy building roads, which may explain one less nice thing about the metro: from the last figures I saw, its ridership only grew with the transport market, that is the share of the metro didn't increase.

Going further, am aware of a certain strand of corrupt rightwing politics in Spanish transport projects: a practice of pushing though projects with little preparation and extreme cost-cutting. The Madrid-Barcelona high-speed line as pushed by Aznar is a prime example, with ignored geotechical warnings resulting in expensive stabilising works in tunnels whose mountain simply began to slip, or betting on a non-functional signal system. But there are also Spanish road tunnels which have a bad fame of lacking basic safery systems.

I don't know whether Gallardón was lucky to not hit any big problems or if he (or the people he appointed) was truly a better manager.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Tue Jul 3rd, 2007 at 05:43:36 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Still, in Madrid's case, what was built for mass transit at least made sense (though it could be that lines projected benefitted richer neighbourhoods more, but I don't know Madrid Region's socioeconomy)
Actually, Gallardón extended the metro lines into mostly left-leaning areas. Metrosur serves what used to be called the "Red Belt", the posh areas being to the Northwest such as Pozuelo de Alarcón. The extension of line #7, line #8 to the airport, line #9 out to Rivas and Arganda, and line #1 into Vallecas, all serve poorer areas. This must be one important factor to explain the electoral debacle of the left in the recent regional elections. However, as Major Gallardón has turned to building roads, under and overpasses, all for the private car.
You mention old lines in bad shape; renovating those is certainly a more difficult work than building a new line, though IIRC in the 1999-2003 period, the circle line closing also involved major renovation.
There is one big problem with the Metro expansion, and that is that apparently the frequency/capacity of the trains hasn't increased in those lines that have been extended, which leads to overcrowding. For instance, the extension of line #9 to Rivas and Arganda in the Southeast means that a lot of people now use the Metro instead of the car, bus or train to commute into the city. You would need to increase the frequency of service in order to avoid overcrowding (I have seen reports of passenger mutinies: something unheard of before Aguirre). This may be one of the was in which Aguirre is a worse manager of the Metro than Gallardón was. Also, the unions have claimed maintenance is being neglected. The sad part is that opposition to the right-wing government is carried out mostly by the unions, not by the left political parties.

Can the last politician to go out the revolving door please turn the lights off?
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Jul 3rd, 2007 at 06:03:28 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Thanks for this background, very interesting.

In the meantime, I remembered something from the time of the Gallardón-Aguirre change: when plans for 2003-2007 were first discussed, focus was just on renewal and broadening of some old lines with narrow tunnels, but then the more ambitious extension plans came up.

What is the present frequency of service on the overcrowded lines?

Finally, what's up with the Left in Madrid? Do they even control district councils?

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Wed Jul 4th, 2007 at 06:33:52 AM EST
[ Parent ]
What is a district council?

The left is in disarray. But more seriously there is this idea that day-to-day opposition on issues during the entire 4-year term is not as important as parachuting the right face into the candidacy a couple of months before the election, with disastrous consequences.

Not having been in Madrid for a long time, I cannot really answer you with hard data about frequency of service, just hearsay. here you can see the "average interval between trains", broken down by line and time/weekday within each line.

Can the last politician to go out the revolving door please turn the lights off?

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Jul 4th, 2007 at 06:48:36 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Do Madrid's districts lack a lower-level elected body of their own, or did I use the wrong word for a subdivision of a city?

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Wed Jul 4th, 2007 at 08:07:07 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Madrid is divided into 21 districts, each with a Junta Municipal de Distrito (District Municipal Board) of which I know very little. It doesn't have locally elected representatives, but acts as a point of contact between the City administration and the citizens. There is (I think) one Concejal de Distrito but this is akin to a centrally appointed governor.

Administration is all top-down. I touched briefly on that here.

I really should investigate this more. The Spanish wikipedia claims the function of District Municipal Boards is to organize citizens' participation, but I have never seen this happen. Granted, I may not have been paying attention.

Can the last politician to go out the revolving door please turn the lights off?

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Jul 4th, 2007 at 08:21:33 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Got delayed with adding: good link, in all the detail needed! In Budapest, peak hour is officially 2-4 minutes, though my impression is that on the busiest (but not longest) line, in practice they can do it at 1.5-3 minutes too (and still it is crowded, but that has several other reasons); I see a couple of Madrid's lines get close to this, but 4-5 minutes seems more typical (say for the line 9 you mentioned: 3½ - 5½). So they could very well do it more frequently, with modern signalling, even twice as frequent as here. (Tho' that depends on line length, too.)

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Wed Jul 4th, 2007 at 09:27:35 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I don't think upgrading the signaling system is as sexy as boring tunnels.

What can you say about the accident in the Valencia Metro last year? The local and regional governments were not too keen on a public investigation, and the unions claimed they had complained about problems around the stretch of track where the accident happened.

Can the last politician to go out the revolving door please turn the lights off?

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Jul 4th, 2007 at 09:32:44 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I don't have deeper insights beyond the theory that the driver had a heart attack or something and then the train speeded with the double of the speed permitted at the derailment site. If this is true, this is indeed a case where not a modern, but a 60-year-old train safety system should have braked down the train. (Note however that on networks with such systems, accidents during signalling system or track repair are common... when people rely too much on it.)

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Wed Jul 4th, 2007 at 12:59:58 PM EST
[ Parent ]
After some searching, I found that Metro Valencia is fitted with Siemens Switzerland's ZSI-27 train control system, which is prety modern and fit for vehicles with high acceleration, though it is a point-form system (e.g. sents permitted speed signals at fixed points). But according to one anonymous note in a Swiss rail forum, apparently the system was sometimes shut down on the Valencia metros, because in great heat, there felse false signals leading to brakings. I see if I can find something definite on how the system fared during the big accident.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Wed Jul 4th, 2007 at 01:24:05 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Found something. Migeru or another Spanish reader, could you decrypt and translate the third paragraph of this Google-cached article? It sounds like something even for my professional interest.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Wed Jul 4th, 2007 at 01:28:39 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Forget it. I could Babelfish this. Apparently, the system's precision was questioned for working before the speed limit tolerance was reached, but the real problem seems to have been the lack of a speed-limiting signal point before the critical curve. Now that's really stupid.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Wed Jul 4th, 2007 at 01:36:01 PM EST
[ Parent ]
That's a really tendentious and angry article in Valencian [Catalan] with a quoted paragraph in Spanish:
According to the scientific police [forensics] in the automatic train control system of the Siemens ZSI-27 unit involved in the accident, from June 20 to July 3 of 2004 "one can repeatedly read the activation of the emergency braking because of excess speed". Most often this happens for "exceeding the established speed by 9 to 10 Km/h", but in others this happens "without reaching this limit". Therefore, the General Directorate of the POlice concludes that "this emergency braking has been activated on occasion without exceeding the limiting speed, which might lead to questioning the system's precision". The report continues by explaining that "it will be possible to discard the fainting of the driver", because the automatic mechanism of the train, denominated "dead man", hasn't been activated as can be gleaned from the data obtained from the Event Recording Box Teloc 2200, also known as black box.

Can the last politician to go out the revolving door please turn the lights off?
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Jul 4th, 2007 at 02:05:49 PM EST
[ Parent ]
So, if running trains every 2 minutes doesn't eliminate overcrowding, what's the solution? Laying out another track?

Can the last politician to go out the revolving door please turn the lights off?
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Jul 4th, 2007 at 04:07:17 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Firstly, lengthen trains (expensive to do in a subway as you have to dig the enlarged platforms ; it has been done on the Ligne 1 in Paris). Then, make a new, somehow parallel line, which is much more expensive but allows better service (as the line only has to double the most heavily trafficked part, and part ways later on : in Paris, see Ligne 1, Ligne 14 and RER A which are partly parallel between Gare de Lyon and Chatelet)

Un roi sans divertissement est un homme plein de misères
by linca (antonin POINT lucas AROBASE gmail.com) on Wed Jul 4th, 2007 at 05:06:54 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I believe at least some of the lines in the Madrid metro would allow a 50% increase in train length at peak times.

Can the last politician to go out the revolving door please turn the lights off?
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Jul 4th, 2007 at 05:14:20 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Exactly what linca said. Madrid couid also go for a Paris RER-type development of the Cercanías lines: there are already the two North-South lines, if one or more are added along other axes, a metro-relieving express metro network could emerge.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Thu Jul 5th, 2007 at 01:27:28 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Looking at the Cercanias map, I don't see how that's possible. All lines already end at Atocha or Nuevos Ministerios and have stops within the city limits (the map is here, clich "plano" for a javascript window).

Can the last politician to go out the revolving door please turn the lights off?
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Jul 5th, 2007 at 05:02:14 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm not quite sure what your objection is. The point is just that instead of all lines touching Atocha, and Cercanías access in the core of the city being constrained to the North-South line, some lines would be redirected to (or doubled with a new line going along) new city-crossing lines.


  1. C-7 and C-8 (or new C-17 and C-18 llines) would get a new East-to-Northwest tunnel loosely parallel to the corridor of metro line 7,
  2. both ends of C-5 (becoming new lines C-15 and C-25) would be connected to a new Southwest-to-Northeast tunnel loosely parallel to the corridor of metro line 5,
  3. maybe a ring line in the East beyond metro line 6 would make sense.

If metro line 9 is the most crowded, the first project would make most sense first. (Then maybe even the outer section could be converted back to Cercanías, and metro line 9 continued along a slightly different path instead.)

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Thu Jul 5th, 2007 at 07:06:32 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I thought the idea of RER was to take two commutar rail lines with terminus on different sides of the city and join then through the city. What I'm saying is that all that seems to have been done already.

On the other hand, Madrid used to have more train stations. "Norte" (in the West of the town) is now a shopping centre at Principe Pio. That could have been used for a triangular tunnel linking it to Nuevos Ministerios and Atocha.

Can the last politician to go out the revolving door please turn the lights off?

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Jul 5th, 2007 at 07:13:51 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Besides the shopping center, Principe Pio is still a Cercanias station combined with a Metro station one level below.  Only long distance trains don´t go through there anymore.

Our knowledge has surpassed our wisdom. -Charu Saxena.
by metavision on Thu Jul 5th, 2007 at 09:12:13 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, uh. I first wrote about connecting commuter lines in the rapid transit section, then mentioned it again in the 'not entirely new idea' part on RER, and tried to paint the RER's express subway quality as the speciality. On the other hand, indeed Madrid is not a city of ten million with half a dozen termini, so main station connections don't make a network alone. Again on the other hand, even though all Paris RER lines go underground at terminal stations, lines A, C and (in the future) E do so only at one end, and connect back to old commuter lines well beyond terminals.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Thu Jul 5th, 2007 at 10:12:59 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The Cercanias map is not a geographic one, but I see it as circular versus north-south.

Our knowledge has surpassed our wisdom. -Charu Saxena.
by metavision on Thu Jul 5th, 2007 at 09:05:03 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, there are two lines around the loop with no true circular line, and six lines go from Atocha to Nuevos Ministerios.

Can the last politician to go out the revolving door please turn the lights off?
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Jul 5th, 2007 at 09:12:38 AM EST
[ Parent ]
as Mayor not 'Major'.

Can the last politician to go out the revolving door please turn the lights off?
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Jul 4th, 2007 at 06:36:40 AM EST
[ Parent ]

Go to: [ European Tribune Homepage : Top of page : Top of comments ]

Top Diaries