Metro Releases Trolley Analysis


In advance of next week’s trolley open house, Metro released the preliminary results of their study of trolleybus impacts last week.

The study was a comparison between diesel hybrids and electric trolleybuses with off-wire capability. All other technologies were dismissed as having either too much environmental impact or being insufficiently mature.

On environmental criteria, the trolleybuses came out ahead on every metric except visual impact. As Seattle City Light’s energy comes mostly from hydro, the Carbon footprint was much smaller. Importantly, overall energy consumption is over 30% lower. This is important because electric vehicle critics often point out that the marginal unit of energy consumed often is quite dirty, since SCL’s surplus is often sold to other jurisdictions, where the alternative might be coal.

One might argue that environmental impacts are nice, but really ought to be addressed in a budget that isn’t supposed to be used for getting people around. Fortunately, the study indicates that, barring a 70% cut in federal fixed guideway funding, a trolleybus system is actually cheaper to operate. This finding, illustrated above, contradicts last year’s audit result.


  1. Matt the Engineer says

    I still strongly questions those numbers. Capital costs should be almost identical (electrics are theoretically much cheaper to build, but hybrids currently benefit from an economy of scale), and maintenance for electric buses should be much lower (no dirty engine, complete with a wide array of moving parts).

    The previous audit had all kinds of bad data in it (I requested the source calculations), including assuming “engine overhauls” for electric trolley buses (that have no engines) with an identical frequency as the diesels. Seeing the vehicle maintenance numbers to again be identical makes me immediately question the results.

    That said, that fixed guideway funding seems to have overwhelmed any negative bias in the study. So it probably isn’t worth the effort to complain about.

    • Mike B says

      I would assume it’s a confusion between “motor” and “engine” since most people don’t know the difference. Train locomotives require an “engine overhaul” where both the diesel prime mover and the electric traction motors are overhauled. Their overhaul is mandated by the FRA, regardless of condition. Does anyone know if Metro is required to do traction overhauls at the same interval regardless of condition?

      Also, what does “Fixed Guideway Funding” mean? When I hear that term, it’s usually in reference to a rail system.

    • says

      I think Oran had the cost (in CAD) that TransLink/CMBC paid for their E40LFR/E60LFRs. I can’t find it though.

      If I recall correctly, DE60LFs configured to Metro spec were around $750k.

      The FTA gave Metro $13.8 million which bought 16 DE60LFAs, so those come in at $862,500 a piece.

      • says

        “$273 million Canadian in 2003 for 228 trolleys (188 standard and 40 articulated)” via (Thanks, Burce!)
        At today’s exchange rate, that’s $285,355,980 total, or around $1.2 million average per vehicle.

  2. Charles says

    I agree that the numbers seem dubious. Electric motors have few moving parts and no consumables. Nothing to repair really. Also, I doubt the fuel costs for diesel reflect current >$4/gal pricing that is likely to remain high and trend higher.

    Metro should be even more bold and not only simply be looking at replacing this fleet but EXPANDING the fleet by doubling the routes that are wired and look at other areas of the coverage to wire such as Bellevue.

    And lastly, how really urgent is it to “replace” the current fleet? The ETB’s I’ve been on seem to be in really good shape and I don’t see them broke down by the side of the road at all. Contrast to seeing that all the time for buses in Chicago. If we could keep much of the current fleet around while buying 200 new ones, we could operate a much expanded fleet.

      • Charles says

        Thanks for the video link. That was useful info.

        I’m going to step out on a limb so to speak and suggest some “crazy” ideas. Keeping in mind that I’m no electrical engineer by any means…

        1) I think the ETB coaches (frame not power plants) have at least 10 more years of viable life in them. Cracks and stress fractures can be repaired and are far less expensive to repair than to replace the coach in that time frame.

        2) I think a creative way Metro could approach the electronics challenge is to create an RFP for digitizing the design into a Floating Point Gate Array Logic chip, build a new controller housing and replace the analog system with the digital system. Or failing that, purchase new motor and control systems. Still a capital cost but less than a new bus.

        Of course, this may all boil down to how the federal funding system works and it may simply be opportune to purchase all new systems. But I’d like to see the fleet size doubled and Metro’s commitment to (near) zero emission transportation affirmed.

        And now thanks to this film, I know what happened to the Breda buses of yesteryear.

      • Bruce says

        Yeah, I’ve had similar ideas, although I’m going to give Metro the benefit of the doubt and assume they contemplated stuff like that until I see the final report. You’d also have to factor in the cost of a backup power system — I believe the absence of off-wire ability is an expense item for trolleys because if there’s a downed wire or a breakdown they need to get a wrecker out there to push the trolleys through until everything gets fixed.

        I believe the drivers will also be very pleased to have the Bredas replaced :-)

      • Mike B says

        I saw that video a couple days ago on the Metro site. Those old logic boards are terrifying.

        1) Structural cracks are pretty much fatal. A patch job is not very safe nor is it long lasting. The constant flexing and fatigue that caused the crack in the first place will continue on the patch with new additional forces. My 1988 Volvo is mechanically in good shape, but the frame at this point will determine how long it’ll last. A new engine in it would prolong the car’s life. Additionally, all the current ETB shells are high floor and not really ADA compliant.

        2) It seems that rigging those buses together anymore than necessary could lead to reliability problems. A fresh platform would be much better than dealing with a variety of different aged components. The word “creative” sounds like “expensive and proprietary”.

        It might not actually be all to much cheaper to keep a frame going another 5 or 10 years w/ brand new electronics that will last another 40 years. Then there is a whole other cost of transferring the electronics into a new frame. It would make more sense to get frames that last 20 years (which seems to be a typical bus life span), and do a mid-life replacement instead of at 10-20-10 year intervals. Also, the existing ETB’s can keep going until Metro is fully out of old parts. Maybe Metro should consider buying MORE than 159 ETBs…

      • Matt the Engineer says

        I second [Mike]’s point about low floors. The slow speed of our system is very expensive in drivers’ wages. Not having low-floor buses and the ability to go off-wire might be costing us a whole lot in wasted time.

        Of course what could really save money is having an ORCA reader on the back door and go with a proof-of-payment system (or maybe just a turnstyle that’s activated by an ORCA swipe). But I’ll try not let my expectations get too high.

      • Bruce says

        +1. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been sitting for nearly two minutes on a 2 behind a 3 who had to use the lift. Low floors will make this much better.

        I’ve noticed that drivers almost never use the passing wire on 3rd and Pike northbound. We could alleviate some of the platooning in Belltown if drivers who make the stop used the right-hand wire if there was no bus present and the left-hand wire if there was already a bus present (or they don’t make the stop, like the 7 on the tail of its daytime route). I don’t know how burdensome this would be to drivers, but it does have a capital cost of $0.

      • says

        #3 to what Mike said.

        The Gillig shells we have seem like they could last another five years–to 2020–but the frame is bent, the muffler went, well all that’s not OK.

        So if you’re going to overhaul the frame, replace the propulsion system, basically the only thing you’re saving is the shell. And the Breda shells should have been sent to the scrapper ten years ago.

      • K H says

        To Mike B –

        You’re assertion that high floor coaches are “not really ADA compliant” is totally false.

        They comply with the ADA requirements. They are accessible.

        Low floor vehicles may be the future and are faster to load, but they have their own set of disadvantages.

      • K H says

        Bruce –

        If you time it, lift deployment and ramp deployment for loading a wheelchair is very similar. The major delay is with the tie-down, which could be mitigated with a rear facing securement system similar to what Vancouver BC and CT’s Swift service use.

        The speed advantage of a LF coach is not when loading an actual wheelchair, but when loading an ambulatory person who cannot climb the stairs (walkers, shopping carts, etc).

      • K H says

        Re: The Bredas. While many operators, including a few who frequent this blog, complain endlessly about how awful the Bredas are to drive, keep in mind that many of the highest seniority trolley operators actually pick Bredas and enjoy driving them. These guys could pick any route in the system, and they choose to drove those vehicles.

      • says

        While many operators, including a few who frequent this blog, complain endlessly about how awful the Bredas are to drive

        What about us lowly passengers that are at the mercy of the hostler? We yearn for the days of a mis-assign that gives us a 2300.

      • Bruce says

        “an ambulatory person who cannot climb the stairs (walkers, shopping carts, etc).”

        Indeed, and we have a lot of those in Belltown, and at 3rd & Pike, too.

      • says

        Bruce Said:

        I’ve noticed that drivers almost never use the passing wire on 3rd and Pike northbound. We could alleviate some of the platooning in Belltown if drivers who make the stop used the right-hand wire if there was no bus present and the left-hand wire if there was already a bus present (or they don’t make the stop, like the 7 on the tail of its daytime route). I don’t know how burdensome this would be to drivers, but it does have a capital cost of $0.

        Um, so perhaps I have no clue how this stuff really works, but this is something drivers choose? I had for some reason thought it was automated with the route..

      • Bruce says

        Drivers choose; they use their turn signals. I don’t know exactly how it works, but I would assume it’s some sort of radio signal from the roof of the trolley to one of those little widgets with the horizontal loop you see perched on top of the wires.

      • says

        Interesting, thanks for the links guys. This does bring up the question why I see trolley drivers with an empty coach following another in service trolley? Is this people milking the clock or something else?

      • Bruce says

        What you’re most likely seeing is an effect called platooning, where busses that are supposed to be (say) ten minutes apart end up arriving at the same time. The earlier bus gets busy, falls behind its schedule and people start crowding on it and slowing the boarding process. Meanwhile the following bus now finds more of its stops mostly empty and keeps on schedule while the leading bus falls further behind schedule and so on.

        In my totally unscientific sampling (i.e. walking down 3rd Ave) this happens most often on the 7. This is one of the situations where trolleys do not perform as well as a diesel fleet, as the follower cannot overtake the lead except at a passing wire, of which there are only a handful in the system, and only one that’s really useful (3rd & Pike, I mention it further down the thread.) One of the major advantages of rail generally is that trains and streetcars tend to stay on schedule much better than busses when they’re very busy.

        The other thing you might be seeing is drivers deadheading back to base at the end of a shift. If the trolley’s headsign says “Alantic Base,” that’s what’s happening. Metro’s buses periodically transmit their location back to base (this is the information used by OneBusAway) and I believe drivers can get written up for leaving timepoints early, so I rather doubt that’s what’s going on.

      • says

        Bruce, when I used to ride the 36 in the morning it was a victim of bus bunching/platooning quite often. This was perhaps one of the single benefits of having it be mixed diesel/trolley.

        I intended ot refer to drivers deadheading back to base, sorry I wasn’t clear. I don’t get why metro would want drivers with an empty coach who are supposed to go back to base to take the fastest legal way to do that?

      • says

        Since yojunjxcbgm v4wbtgvngbtrem3thad no excuse for not being clear, you have no idea how irritated you just made me. Do you seriously use “empty coach” nigh-exclusively to refer to the less likely thing to come to most people’s minds?

        (Sorry, but any lack of clarity is a pet peeve of mine.)

      • says

        @Morgan. A few thoughts:
        1. I’m human, I make mistakes.
        2. It was late when I commented.
        3. If you really want to nitpic, it is possible to logically deduce from my comment that I was referring to out of service buses.
        4. If clarity is a concern of yours, could you please work on your website? I find it very unclear.

        N.B. Clarity is in the eye of the beholder.

      • says

        It was late, I was irritated.

        If my site is “unclear” I suspect a lot of the reason why is because I talk about relatively esoteric topics.

    • says

      Totally agree we need to expand the ETB network. If you’re on Facebook, join the Save Our Electric Trolley Buses group. My understanding is that it’s the city that’d have to pay to install new wires, while Metro would maintain the wire and run the trolleys, and obviously neither has the money right now. But I’m hoping for as huge a win as possible now to lay the groundwork for wiring more routes post-recession. We need a fleet insulated from high oil prices.

  3. Mike says

    Just a couple of points to add.
    If Metro is using historical costs for maintenance rather than expected costs, I could see where the propulsion system (motor, controller, gearing), could be equal to a hybrid, as the video shows the costs for keeping the electronic analog systems up and running on both Breda and Gillig are sky high.
    Another point is that Metro ‘banked’ a lot of capital dollars back in the early 2000’s by re-purposing the Breda buses to replace the MAN artics, and by shoving the old 900’s motor/controllers into a new Gillig body(even with rewinds and fixed circuit boards). It was a smart move back then, so IMHO, they need to tally those savings into the formula somehow, to reflect that robbing Peter to pay Paul at the time causes current day Paul to be a little more expensive – and expected.
    In either case, the trolleys are a clear winner, without a full accounting.
    Off wire capability makes the biggest drawback with trolleys ‘Go Away’ – that is disabled buses, off wire/off route.

    • Charles says

      But realistically, aren’t mechanics/technicians full time employees and are there whether they work on ETB’s or not? So this is really an allocation of a fixed cost. And $2Million would buy quite a number of technicians.

  4. Bruce says

    I hope this isn’t off-topic… has anyone seen a carbon footprint calculator that included trolleybuses? I just put those miles down as “Metro/subway.” It would be interesting to compare streetcars and light rail to trolleys.

    • Mike B says

      It’s very difficult to find ANY academic studies done on trolley buses. Most transit planning books I’ve read don’t even mention them.

      Trolley buses most likely would not be in the metro/subway category due to serious differences in system capacity and friction.

  5. John Bailo says

    How long is the life span of a bus?

    I want to compare it with the annualized costs of automobiles.

    (And it this just the capital costs…doesn’t include the labor of a driver…)

    • says

      Click the link and you’ll find tidbits such as

      the estimated life-span of the electric trolley bus (15-years) and diesel hybrid (12 years)

      • Nathanael says

        Seems a bit low for a good trolleybus. Of course, the whole problem with the previous study was that it was assuming BAD trolleybuses. I suppose you can’t always predict in advance whether you’re getting good or bad stuff….

      • Erik G. says

        Trolleybuses should last about 20 years actually.

        Vancouver, Philadelphia and Cambridge/Boston’s recently replaced trolleybuses did.

      • Zed says

        Valparaiso, Chile is running ex-Zurich trolleybuses that are now exceeding 50 years old. Of course they don’t build them like they used to.

  6. SR Das says

    Metro’s study suggests using diesel APU’s. Does that make the new ETB’s essentially dual-mode like the Bredas?

      • Bruce says

        In that pamphlet they say the study evaluated both diesel and battery APU’s, although they say nothing further on the subject.

        I’ve actually thought about it and I can’t think of many current routes where it makes sense to routinely use off-wire capability. There’s too little wire on the 8 or the 48 to be worth bothering with. It might make sense on the 11, and I kinda like Oran’s idea of extending the 13 to Fremont off-wire. But a big battery APU sounds a lot cheaper to buy and maintain, and I think it would serve us just as well.

      • K H says

        Bruce –

        Too many people make the same mistake you’re making when discussing off-wire capability; the idea that it can be used regularly to “extend” a route beyond the wire.

        For instance, the off-wire battery system that Vancouver has on their coaches cannot run the air compressor. As such, you get exactly one tank of air before you have to put the poles up again (presuming you wait until the tank is full before you drop the poles). One tank of air doesn’t get you very far, especially if are in any kind of traffic requiring multiple brake applications.

        Additionally, the Vancouver coaches have a restricted top speed in off-wire mode, and are limited in their acceleration rate. Their system is designed to be used to get around downed wire, construction projects that force the coach out from under the wire, etc.

        That being said, Rome has had a trolley route that ends at Termini Station in operation since about 2005. Those coaches operate on battery power for around a mile in each direction from the end of the wire to Termini station. Presumably, their system will run the air compressor.

      • Bruce says

        Right, and we could, presumably, spec our trolleys to do the same as Rome’s; an air compressor is not a massive burden on a system like this. In fact, when I assumed in a previous thread that we would get trolleys like Vancouver’s, you yelled at me for making that assumption.

        My point is that they wouldn’t do us much good in terms of allowing us to partially-electrify routes, given our current wire network.

      • says

        I don’t know if New Flyer does diesel EPUs. Of course, they could always add something new at the factory, and further, New Flyer isn’t the only company making ETBs. ETI is gone, and I don’t know of any other “American” makers. I suppose we could get something from Skoda since they’ve sent a few streetcars our way. I don’t think Van Hool’s North American factories are set up to build their trolleys.

      • K H says

        Bruce – I’ll give you that. Sorry.

        I’m glad you’ve come to the conclusion that partial electrification is most likely not workable.

      • Z says

        @Tim, if NFI or whoever wants the contract bad enough they will supply you with a product that meets your specification. for some of the more unique specifications i would expect NABI or the chineese to bid on it, but if its not too odd, the main bus builders (New Flyer, Orion, Gillig) wouuld probally submit a bid. New Flyer’s already built a coach with a diesel EPU, while the E40LFR with batteries or a diesel generator may not in the front pages of the catalog i’m sure they can still supply you with them. And as for the batteries, i’m sure if you wanted NIMh’s or even super capastors they’d supply that as well.

      • says

        Gillig probably won’t bid. They’ve never built an electric bus.

        Curious: what are our current DE60LFs running with? NiCads or NiMHs?

      • K H says

        Tim – what are our 4100s?

        Those were produced by a partnership between Gillig and Alstom. Alstom refurb’d the electronics from the old 900s and engineered their installation in the Gillig bodies.

        This is similar to the Kiepe / New Flyer partnership that built the current fleet of trolleys in Vancouver.

      • says

        My other comment is suck in moderation, but this is what I actually wanted to quote:

        Although Gillig has never built an electric trolley bus (ETB), in 2001-2002 the company supplied 100 body/chassis shells to Seattle’s King County Metro Transit for the latter to equip as trolley buses. Really more than just shells, these Phantom buses were shipped by Gillig complete in almost every way (including interior fittings such as seats) except lacking any propulsion equipment and other ETB-only features such as trolley poles. The Seattle transit agency, Metro, removed the propulsion packages from its old fleet of 1979-built AM General trolley coaches (G.E. traction motor, Randtronics chopper control, and electronic card cage), which the Gillig vehicle were purchased to replace, and shipped them to Alstom (in New York) for refurbishment. After receiving the refurbished propulsion equipment back from Alstom, Metro installed it in the new Gillig Phantom bodies, along with Vossloh-Kiepe pneumatically operated fiberglass trolley poles.

        For fear of this comment being stuck in moderation like my last one, I’ll just say the source is the Gillig article on Wikipedia.

      • Z says

        @Tim I remember them delivering them years ago at AB. They would roll them off the truck, and they were already pre-wired for the trolley componets, so much so you could actually turn on the coach and all the non propulsion systems would work. They came with trolley shroud and retrievers already installed from the factory. All Metro had to do was install the propulsion equipment, and poles and away they went. It was definatly a partnership, if you look on your copy of “Trolley Buses 1913-2001 Photo Archive By William H. Luke” you’ll see 4100 signed up for Asltom/Gillig (misspelt, with the proper Alstom/Gillig on the side sign). As an intresting side note, i recieved my copy of this book the first day the 4100s were in service, as I promptly went to Seattle to ride 4100 on the 3 i think it was… 1/22/02 was the date…

      • K H says

        They were delivered to Atlantic Base straight from the factory. My recollection of the delivery and assembly of those coaches is similar to Z’s.

        Someone did the engineering work to ensure that the powerpacks (which were installed by Metro) would work in the bus. Almost certainly this was Gillig and Alstom together. There are many systems in the Gillig trolleys that are different than in the diesels that had to be engineered specifically for this application.

      • Z says

        You’d tow them to/from south base, or if you were flatbedding you’d use a landoll trailer. nope, as i recall these came in on standard highway flatbed trailers, and they had a long portable ramp to offload them. the one i saw being delivered was offloaded infront of the AB electrical shops, than it was pushed around the yard by a tug to one of the tracks to await installation of its electrical equipment. I’m sorry to report the Wiki dosent quite give full and accurate details a lot of the time.

      • Z says

        Gillig and Alstom were definatly partners. The manual for the coach makes mention to a lot of features the Trolleys had (Fahslabend, kiepie, etc). Which, its also my understanding on paper they are technically called Trolley not Phantoms. I recall when they were first placed into service the heat dident work, and later on the electric power steering pump was real noisy and had to be replaced. Also i seem to recall the rear axle is one from a Gillig LF, something about how it accomodates the electronics or the traction motor better. Real unique vehicles, when they are replaced i hope one or two get preserved.

      • Nathanael says

        Regarding “partial electrification”, the greatest benefit of auxiliary batteries is being able to go around trouble spots, but it ALSO allows the avoidance of special work wiring at intersections between different trolleybus routes, or between trolleybus and streetcar routes. A single intersection is quite short enough for off-wire operation in any decent design.

        This could reduce the cost of route electrification.

  7. Leif says

    Glad to see we are moving in the direction of the trolleys. Does anybody know what price per gallon they used to estimate the longterm cost of the diesels?

    • Nathanael says

      Doesn’t seem to be in any of the public documents released so far. Someone will have to ask the people who did the study.

  8. K H says

    Philadelphia’s otherwise barely functional transit agency, SEPTA, ordered their New Flyer trolleys with a diesel auxiliary system. They have much better range than the Vancouver units, but incur the cost of maintaining the diesel engine. They are also speed limited when in auxiliary mode.

    In regards to the Vancouver trolley bus order, Kiepe teamed up with New Flyer for a bid, and Skoda teamed up with Neoplan (now defunct) for a bid. New Flyer won, even though there was much controversy at the time that Skoda/Neoplan would have put out a better product at a lower price.

    Potentially, any of the North American bus builders could team up with a European electric traction company (Siemens, Skoda, Keipe, etc etc) and bid on the Seattle order.

    However, only New Flyer and Nova currently make articulated coaches for North America. Whatever coach body we choose will have to be able to climb James and Madison and the other steep hills without incurring body damage, a problem for the current 40ft New Flyer low floors.

    • says

      Casey (a self-described busfan turned operator for Metro) says:

      Yes,they [E40LFR] can handle James/Marion/Madison/Seneca, just fine. They use 3600′s on the 3/4,10/12 sometimes and they don’t have a problem, unless you go pretty fast (3/Marion) And 3/MArion, you get buses scraping alot, because the operators such slow down so they don’t scrape, but need to go fast enough to clear the dead spot in the overhead. And in my opinion, the Gilligs do more scraping than the low floors. When I drive the 5, at the farside of the intersetion of 2/Seneca, the Gilligs, usually scrape even at walking speed. The other coach types don’t usually scrape at the same speed. And of course, they aren’t the exact same buses, but a diesel Gillig and trolley Gillig are the same body and wheelbase as well as the same wheelbase and frame as a 3600(D40LF) to the BC Trolley(E40LFR)

      • K H says

        A Metro mgr who would know these things indicated that one of the reasons for the move of the 3600 fleet from Central to North was because of undercarriage damage when subbing for trolleys on weekends. When Ryerson loans out 40ftrs on weekends, generally loan Gilligs now, instead of 3600s, for the same reason.

        The 3600s have also been pulled off of Vashon Island because of breakover angle issues getting on and off the ferry.

      • Z says

        Theres also a bit of variable too, the particular coaches ride hight have have been adjusted +/-, if the coach is a leaker it could be sitting down more in the front than in the rear (leveling valves leaking, kneeling solenoids leaking, airbags leaking), etc. Also, most times what scrapes in the front is the skid plates or the pan under the lift. if the pan has a bent corner or two, or the coach has a skid plate that will find ground first before anything else will. it will make a noise but you really wont be damaging anything as they are doing their job.

    • Bruce says

      @KH As you seem to be an authority on these matters, can you shed any light on the partial motorization of the 36 during the day? Do we not have enough 60′ trolleys or is it something else? If so, will Metro replacing the current trolley fleet at the same numbers allow us to fully-electrify that route?

      Also, there was discussion some time ago about Metro wanting to move the 3/4 from James to Yestler. Do you know anything about this, and if so do you know if/when it will happen?

      • K H says

        Continued diesel operation on the 36 is due to a shortage of wired terminal space downtown. The historic 36 diesel terminal is at 7th and Lenora – many blocks from the nearest wire.

        Metro did add a siding to the Virginia Street wire alongside the Westin Hotel. The siding is installed and most (but not quite all) trips on the 36 will be trolley next shakeup. It will mostly be 40ft equipment (the tie in with the 1 continues to dictate that, though artics have run on the 1 before, its not a good allocation of resources), but there will be at least one AM Breda tripper, one midday run, and a handful of PM Breda trippers coming this summer.

    • Transit Jeff says

      K H,
      The reason that Philly’s trackless trolleys are speed restricted is strictly an in-house policy of SEPTA, the transit agency. The speed is kept just a fraction below 25 mph for insurance purposes. Anything over 25 mph and they would have to pay the same insurance and license fees as a motor coach. That speed restriction has nothing at all to do with the technical capability of the Diesel EPU system.

      I highly recommend that Seattle go with the Diesel EPU. The range is greatly increased and can be used multiple times without waiting for the batteries to recharge. The pros offset the cons with a Diesel EPU. The batteries required would be just as heavy as the small Diesel engine and fuel tank, but they don’t have the great advantages of range that the Diesel EPU has.

      • Bruce says

        What advantage will that range give us? What routes make sense for mixed on-off wire use on a routine basis? Apparently Vancouver’s trolleys can go a couple of miles on one charge; how much more than that do we need?

      • Aleks says

        What routes make sense for mixed on-off wire use on a routine basis?

        What if I said, “all of them”?

        A huge majority of Metro routes travel under trolley wire for at least a few blocks.

        Imagine for a second that Metro standardized on a single type of bus propulsion, that being a “plug-in hybrid” — basically the same as the current hybrids, but with trolley poles and an all-electric mode.

        Now, suddenly, the maintenance and scheduling issues go away completely, since we have only one type of bus. And every bus that goes along an electrified corridor — i.e. almost all of them, for some part of their route — can use electric propulsion for that part, which saves Metro money.

        Also, the electrification question becomes much different. Rather than electrifying routes, we can simply electrify corridors, with a focus on steep hills and high-demand shared segments. And every route can get the benefit immediately. This means that electrification can be done much more incrementally. And it means that, once a neighborhood has trolley wires, it is almost completely exempt from diesel noises and fumes, as opposed to the current situation where half of the buses are still diesel (e.g. 8/43, 10/11…).

        I realize that on the face of it, this idea sounds ludicrous. But the more I think about it, the more it appeals to me. Electricity is way cheaper than diesel. We have all these wires everywhere. Why not use those wires as much as we can?

      • Bruce says

        What if I said, “all of them”?

        I’d say “Don’t be a plonker.”

        For a start, you can’t gear an electric motor for hill climbing and driving on the freeway at the same time. That forces you to partition your fleet to begin with, obviating the first supposed benefit. Moreover, serial hybrids (the class to which these trolleys would belong) don’t actually perform very well on freeways: diesel motors are at their best running at fairly high speed with a moderate load, and on a freeway, they’re more efficient being directly coupled to the tranny than via a genset and motor. I suspect you would actually end up using *more* fuel when you consider that a fair chunk of Metro’s VMT is on freeways or highish speeds on SR-99 etc.

        Getting back on trolley wires is not a trivial operation. Yes, in controlled environments like the tunnel, you can position the bus carefully and place those little plastic thingies on the wire and you’ll get the poles on the wire most of the time. That’s totally impractical in normal urban driving, particularly at rush hour; it would just force the bus to stop for several minutes while the driver stood behind the bus futzing with the poles. At rush hour, you’d have mobs of busses sitting around on Prefontaine and Stewart, waiting for a chance to get on the wire. This would cost Metro far more in wages than what they could save on diesel.

        So, yes, with all due respect, this idea is ludicrous and I don’t think it should go anywhere. The best use of trolleys is to run them in urban, low speed, stop-go, hill-climb scenarios where their advantages are the greatest vs diesels, and run diesels elsewhere. That’s Metro’s current plan. We should focus our efforts on practical proposals for expanding the trolley network where it makes sense (48, 11, 8) and not put forth quixotic schemes that attempt to extract every last amp-hour from the overhead.

  9. Z says

    A couple of comments; first Metro should replace the whole fleet. Articulated and standard. a contract for 159 coaches will help reduce the cost, plus keep common parts around for years to come. Secondly, they should look at finding grant money to expand service where possible (routes 8, 11, 15/18, etc, and making extensions to current routes as well) and combining new vehicle acquistions with the large order to help keep cost down. Finally, Had metro not had these stupid processes to go through, with the help of the federal grants of the past few years i’m sure they could have gotten 90+% of the coaches paid for by federal funds putting people back to work… You snooze you loose!

    • says

      Where are you seeing that they’d replace anything less than all of them? Everything I’ve seen said “The 159 buses are reaching the end of their useful lives”, not 59 or 100. IMHO, 59 of them reached the end of their useful life 10 years ago, but that’s just me.

      • Z says

        Ideas do get floated around, The bredas were converted because they were extremely low miles on their electric propulsion packages, even though before that when the idea got floated around i beilieve Westinghouse or Fuji said they were not designed for that, coulent be done, etc….

      • says

        I’m sure the propulsion systems work fine. But the suspension and other interior features leave much to be desired.

  10. EB Operator says

    Anyone have any idea what the $2 million+ per year cost for Diesel/Hybrid “INFRASTRUCTURE MODIFICATIONS” is on the graph?

    • Bruce says

      I wondered about that too. My guess is a one time $20-$24 million to rip down all the wire, divided by the 10-12 years they’re annualizing over.

      • Bruce says

        Actually, I that blog pingback below has more details. Apparently more diesel fueling stations would be required, too.

  11. says

    GOOD REPORT. I looked at federal records for 2008 + 2009 and found trolley buses cost $ 10 per hour less to maintain and operate than diesels but diesels would be even higher cost now with oil prices way up. A Transportation Research Board study several years ago found the trolley wires and faster, quieter, cleaner operation brought trolleys 4 % more riders than buses if used on the same line but with Seattle’s hills, trolleys have a much greater advantage. NO DOUBT ABOUT IT. Convert more bus bus lines to electric trolleys.


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