153 Replies to “Sunday Open Thread: Text from Anna”

  1. Anyone who travels back and forth across the Atlantic has to be impressed with the difference between European cities and ours, which make it appear as though World War Two actually took place in Detroit and Washington rather than Berlin and Rotterdam.

    -James Howard Kunstler, “Home From Nowhere”

    1. Why the hell is John checking his schedule and confirming his ticket en route to the train station? Shouldn’t he be paying attention to his driving? Also, on such a nice day, why isn’t this guy riding a bike to the station? Don’t want to sweat? Use an electric bike.


  2. In the video, the only development the anticipate around the transit stations are urban gardens? Oh yeah, it’s Detroit.

  3. There are so many problems with this video, it’s hard to know where to begin. So I’ll start with the claim that high-speed rail is about 1/3 more energy efficient than cars or planes.

    That might be true of planes, although the 787 is supposed to be more energy-efficient than current planes.

    But comparing rail to cars — what cars are they comparing rail to? Current cars on roads now? The electric cars that “John” drove in this video? A current hybrid, like a Prius, which might get 50 mpg? And how many passengers/vehicle are in each mode?

    And how are the high-speed trains which might come to our area going to be powered? With electric motors using overhead wires? Or with diesel locomotives?

    1. First,
      the TGV uses 1/3rd the amount of power to transport someone as a car in France.

      Second, even if a car is electric, it is not much more energy efficient. You are still putting everyone in their own giant metal box on a giant cement superstructure.

      1. Wrong, electric cars are about 3 times more efficient because a gas engine is around %10-20 efficient while electric motors are around %70-90 efficient

      2. Hmm, did you factor into the equation the production efficiency of first creating the electricity, and then the power loss of transmission? How efficient at the batteries?

      3. I posted about electric cars some time ago – they’re unaffordable, even for the well off, and those batteries stop holding a charge after just a few years.

      4. Well, this video says that trains are 1/3 more energy-efficient than planes or cars — not three times as energy efficient.

        For all modes it depends greatly on how many people/vehicle there are in a train, plane or car.

      5. That video’s pretty wrong.

        It does depend on how many people there are! In higher density development, for instance, you can get a lot more efficient with transit – but cars stay at the relatively constant 1.2 people per vehicle average.

    2. Norman asked:
      “And how are the high-speed trains which might come to our area going to be powered? With electric motors using overhead wires? Or with diesel locomotives?”

      The fastest diesel locos in service in the US today operate at a top speed of 110mph in Upstate New York between Schenectady and Hudson (and perhaps also in the Chicago-Detroit corridor, I’m not sure if they’ve upgraded that line over 100mph by this point). Amtrak’s gas-turbine powered rebuilt RTL-III Turboliners were permitted to run at 125mph between Albany-Rensselaer and Hudson, but these trainsets have been withdrawn from service for a variety of reasons (including operating costs, reliability and a funding dispute with NYS).

      Thus, it has been demonstrated in this country* that to run faster than 125mph (not to mention achieve that speed on a consistent, cost-effective basis) the rail lines in question will need to be electrified… which is exactly what has been done in Europe and SE Asia.

      (* – I’m not familiar with diesel-powered operations beyond our borders, and we do things differently in the US anyway.)

      1. Follow-up: Illinois has been working on a 110mph program in the Chicago-Springfield-St. Louis corridor for some time, but I’m not sure what at what speed they’re running these days.

  4. This video must be assuming that future car-sharing services allow you to pick up a car from one place and drop it off at another, otherwise you’ll be paying nearly $100 to have the car sitting in a park and ride all day. I’m a very satisfied Zipcar member, but would never use the service this way. Where’s the bus/streetcar getting this guy to the train station?

  5. But the main argument I have with this video is that it completely ignores buses, which, according to studies I have read, are much more energy-efficient than trains on inter-city routes. And that is just regular diesel buses, not even taking into account new hybrid buses which are more energy-efficient than older diesel buses.

    And inter-city buses are becoming more and more popular, particularly on the east coast. Read this article in AARP Magazine:


    Unfortunately, this online version leaves out a lot of details which are in the paper magazine which I have. So, I will post here some of the price comparisons which the paper magazine includes:

    New York – Boston
    Greyhound: $42
    American Airlines: $225
    Amtrak: $124

    St. Louis – Chicago
    Megabus: $28.50
    American Airlines: $159.20
    Amtrak: $46

    Dallas – Houston
    Greyhound: $75
    Continental Airlines: $158
    Amtrak: $217

    Los Angeles – Phoenix
    Greyhound: $39.95
    Southwest Airlines: $139.20
    Amtrak: $217

    Some features of the newer inter-city bus service:

    Immediate boarding (no predeparture terminal-arrival requirements)
    Clear cell-phone reception
    Power outlets at seats
    Wireless internet access
    Onboard attendant serves snacks and beverages
    Video entertainment
    Leather seats that recline and have leg rests

    1. Norman:
      “But the main argument I have with this video is that it completely ignores buses, which, according to studies I have read, are much more energy-efficient than trains on inter-city routes.”


      Regarding the various modes of transport between city pairs: Sure, buses are less expensive, but what value do you place on your time? A business traveler, given the option of a minimum 4:20 journey by Greyhound from New York to Boston (6:00pm 02/21, $23, greyhound.com) versus a minimum 3:33 trip by Acela for 6.7 times the price (6:05pm 02/21, $155, amtrak.com), may value the speed and comfort of the train ride over taking the bus… which, in the congested I-95 corridor, is far more likely to incur delays than the train. (Assumptions: No weather delays, equal transport times from origin and destination points to/from transport terminals.)

      1. Buses that drive on tax-payer-subsidized roads and streets – and create wear and tear and congestion. Buses have their place, but they don’t create new capacity, they don’t guide development, and they won’t appeal to many people who will consider taking the train.

        European trains are far more energy-efficient than buses – it does take a certain ridership level. Amtrak’s electric trains are substantially more energy efficient than diesel buses. The studies Norman references almost always calculate theoretical efficiency of a fully loaded (55 passengers) only while en-route, which isn’t a reflection of reality.

        “Immediate boarding (no predeparture terminal-arrival requirements)”

        Wait for the bus on the street, exposed to the weather, with no information or services

        “Clear cell-phone reception”

        The bus does what to provide this?

        “Onboard attendant serves snacks and beverages”

        Greyhound, Bolt and Megabus do not provide this

        “Power outlets at seats”
        “Wireless internet access”

        The Greyhound I took a couple of weeks ago had neither of these

        “Leather seats that recline and have leg rests”

        The bus seat is 16 inches wide, less than airplane economy and much less than the train, and your knees are hard up against the seat in front.

      2. All of these features are right from the article in AARP Magazine. Unfortunately, these details are not in the webpage version of the article. As the article says, these features are available mainly on the east coast and in the midwest at this time. These are new features of the newest bus service.

        You don’t wait for these buses on the street. They use bus stations.

        Buses don’t create new capacity? What do you mean? Every additional bus creates additional capacity. If you double the number of buses on a route, you double the capacity.

      3. ah no, the Washington to New York service operated by Mega Bus or Bolt Bus do not use stations. In DC you wait in a parking lot that happens to have a breezway that you might theoretically keep out of the rain while waiting. But, it is a city lot next to a park. In New York it dumps you out on a busy street in Manhattan.

      4. But on the positive side, the buses were clean, quiet and comfortable and the free wifi was a very nice bonus. The capper was the $16 I paid to go one way.

      5. No, Greyhound can’t do that. It just isn’t the same without the abuse from surly Greyhound employees, the smelly chemical toilet, and the drunk next to you puking in your lap.

      6. If you read the article on new inter-city bus service, I think you might find that the new bus service might actually be more “comfortable” than a train.

      7. And those features come with listening to a diesel engine, getting stuck in traffic, and having less legroom.

    2. We subsidize roads and gas, we don’t subsidize rail nearly as much. When you ride Amtrak, you are also paying for rail maintenance. When you ride Greyhound bus, Uncle Sam foots a large part of the road maintenance bill.

      It’s possible that buses are still cheaper, I am not expert, but the following data makes me think otherwise.

      Cost to build 13 mile Central Link: Around $2.2 billion including cost overruns

      Cost to build 1.3 mile viaduct tunnel: Around $4.24 billion not including cost overruns

      Average life of a rail system: 100 years

      Average life of a road bride/tunnel: 50 years

      Average life of a bus: 12-15 years

      Average life of a train 50-60 years

      If someone sees something wrong with my conclusion, please write. As I said, I am no expert.

      1. Dave Honan wrote:


        Norman, it doesn’t contribute to the discussion if you make blanket statements without providing backup data to prove your point.

      2. The bored tunnel is estimated to cost about $1.9 billion — not $4.24 billion, which includes a new seawall, taking down the viaduct, added buses during construction, etc. etc.

        Why would a railroad tunnel last twice as long as a highway tunnel? Even the rails themselves need to be replaced more often than every 100 years.

        Trains don’t last 50-60 years. Would you ride on a 50-year-old train?

      3. Railcar life looks a little on the long side. IIRC 40-50 years is the max a freight railcar can be in interchange service in the US. A passenger car tends to get more milage on it because its in a more set schedule. Of course Amtrak still has a handful of Santa Fe Highlevels in use on the Coast Starlight, plus some Heritage baggage cars so…

        Transit bus life looks right on the money, the FTA’s lifespan is 12 years, and most of the time you can get about 15 years out of a coach. Nothing like a old look or Fishbowl where a 25-30 year service life was common.

        It would be hard to put a life on a rail system, becasue if you think about it its constently getting upgraded. Some of the bridges and tunnels in use today are over 100 years old, but the rail, signalling, etc are constenatly being repaired, upgraded, and replaced.

    3. Norman stop being delusional. Have you actually ever travelled on a bus because I have. I took Megabus (it’s in your link) and it was the worst traveling experience I have ever had in Europe. I booked the overnight bus which supposedly had “extra legroom and AC” but it certainly didn’t feel that way. I could barely move, my knees were crammed against the seat in front of me, I couldn’t recline my seat and I was sweating the whole way there. Not to mention that the bus driver and some passengers were cursing each-other out and the man next to me was drinking the whole time.

      I took nicer, brand new buses in Spain and they are nothing like what you’re suggesting. If you had all of those amenities you’ll pay for them. Also it might be good to note that me and my friends were the ONLY people on the bus there and back, while the train that I wanted to take to Barcelona was completely booked for two weeks. I ended going through Madrid and taking the high-speed train to Barcelona. It was an amazing trip. This is the reality on the ground.

      1. The swiss in particular. 2 volumes of bus timetables and 1 for rail in their intergrated intercity system.

        I have a collection of Russell’s guides (consolidated US bus timetables. Pretty complete but they dont have everything), and my 1960s issues are 900 pages, my 1979 and 1988 issues are 700, my 2009 is 260… The Amount of white space increases every decade as well. the 2009 is the worst.

      2. Yes you have. The link you provided talked about Megabus which is based in the UK.

        And besides. I don’t see why Europe should be any different. They have buses just like in the US. If anything buses in Europe are nicer than anything you will ever get in the US.

      3. Here is a better article on the newer bus service in the U.S.:


        “Megabus.com, a Chicago-based unit of British-owned Stagecoach Group PLC, offers similar features. The line was launched three years ago with seven city destinations — where ridership has since tripled — and now services 30 cities in the Northeast and Midwest.”

        Megabus is in the U.S., and the only bus service I am speaking about is in the U.S. I never once mentioned Europe, and have absolutely no interest what is happening over there. I live in the U.S.

      4. So Norman, did you really have to post the same link three times?

        I guess you read over the part that said “a Chicago-based unit of British-owned Stagecoach Group PLC”. Why limit your world view to just the US? What happens in Europe is usually brought over here. Better buses, BRT, light rail, high speed rail, etc. all from Europe or outside the US.

      5. I posted the same link three times because it is a better article than the one I linked to yesterday, and I would like as many people as possible to read it.

        I did read the part about Megabus being owned by Stagecoach Group, but Megabus operates buses in the U.S., which is what I was writing about — not buses being operated in Europe.

      6. Speaking of Megabus. Two of my friends tried to take the Megabus from Madison, WI back to Minneapolis after a Hold Steady show. It was a nightmarish experience as the bus basically just ran by Madison on I-94 without stopping to pick them up at the bus station (the exit on the Interstate), and the customer service folks kept telling them that they hadn’t been at the right place and that the bus driver had looked for them. It’s a pretty hilarious story to hear them tell it.

      7. Yeah that is why it is so cheap. I took the “Chinatown” bus from NYC to Baltimore. They picked us up on some random curve, and then picked some other people at another location, the while 10 minutes of which they were blocking a bus only lane. Talk about how ironic that is. A discount bus company blocking bus only lanes for MTA.

      8. I took the Megabus from Kansas City through St. Louis to Chicago once. It was like $30. Sure, the seats are not the most comfortable and they just pick you up on a random street and it was a boring trip that took only interstates… But it was $30 for a 536 mi trip. That’s less than $0.06/mi.

      9. Read this article in the Wall Street Journal:


        “In April, Greyhound Lines Inc., which is based in Dallas, launched 102 new “motorcoaches” in the Northeast featuring leather seats, additional legroom, Wi-Fi access and power outlets in every row.”

        “When Rachel Snyder, 25, moved to New York from Washington, D.C., four years ago, she took Amtrak for weekend visits to her family the first year, but grew tired of paying more than $100 round-trip. Then she discovered the Chinatown buses — which lowered her round-trip fare to $35 — but stopped using them after several midtrip breakdowns. Then, about a year ago, she came across BoltBus.

        “It’s always clean, always on time,” says Ms. Snyder, who works in artist relations at an entertainment company. She says she particularly likes being able to check email and the Web on her laptop if she’s traveling on a workday. The most she has ever paid for a one-way ticket is $22. But she has also bought tickets for as little as a dollar, when ordered far enough in advance. “I don’t do Amtrak anymore,” she says.”

    4. “And that is just regular diesel buses, not even taking into account new hybrid buses which are more energy-efficient than older diesel buses.”

      What long-distance inter-city bus company in the United States uses hybrid buses?

      1. Hybrid buses are most efficient in operating environments with lots of starting and stopping, not inter-city routes. Metro didn’t actually save as much fuel as they were initially expecting since many of the Hybrids were used on long freeway routes. (Still, they needed the buses to operate in the tunnel and they *do* save on wear and tear quite a bit)

        Once you get a bus up to highway speeds, the hybrid drive isn’t going to really going to be used much. At most, you’ll save on some weight since the bus would need a smaller engine.

      2. Good point. Most inter-city buses are probably not hybrids, for the most part. But they do have more fuel-efficient engines now than they used to. Fuel efficiency is improving for buses, as it is for cars. Vancouver B.C. has a fleet of hydrogen fuel-cell buses which they are using for the Olympics. Buses will continue to get cleaner and more energy-efficient, just as cars will.

      3. Hydrogen fuel cells aren’t efficient at all, unless you have a cheap, clean source of hydrogen (which doesn’t exist).

      4. Also the fact the smaller ISL engine wasent EPA certified hurt metro as well, and they had to choose the larger Cat C9 which even with the hybrid drive consumes about as much fuel as the standard transmission version of coach.

      5. Thanks for the enlightening response. I wasn’t seriously suggesting that long-haul bus companies ought to use hybrids, but since Norman brought up the hybrid issue in his claim that buses are more efficient than trains on inter-city routes, I wanted to see why he mentioned it. If Norman’s mention of hybrids was a red herring, I’m sorry I went for it.

    5. Immediate boarding (no predeparture terminal-arrival requirements)
      Clear cell-phone reception
      Power outlets at seats
      Wireless internet access
      Onboard attendant serves snacks and beverages
      Video entertainment
      Leather seats that recline and have leg rests

      It really depends on the bus service as to if you have these features on your bus ride. MegaBus maybe, Greyhound not so much. Also many trains have some of these features such as Acela and Cascades. Though the cell-phone reception issue mostly depends on where you are traveling and the carrier. As for power outlets and seats that recline with leg rests, the superliner cars are getting power outlets as they are rebuilt and every Amtrak car I’ve been on has had reclining seats with leg rests.

      1. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB124528126290225307.html

        “In April, Greyhound Lines Inc., which is based in Dallas, launched 102 new “motorcoaches” in the Northeast featuring leather seats, additional legroom, Wi-Fi access and power outlets in every row. It took a page from BoltBus, an East Coast joint venture it launched with Peter Pan Bus Lines Inc., based in Springfield, Mass., last year. BoltBus boasts similar perks, giving its buses a more “luxurious feel,” says Greyhound spokeswoman Kim Plaskett — and fares that run as little as $1 each way if you book far enough in advance.”

    6. The quoted Amtrak fares are screwy. I just found much cheaper fares from BOS-NYP ($64) and STL-CHI ($23) for departures tomorrow. Amtrak doesn’t operate a direct train between Dallas and Houston, but a connection in San Antonio costs $63. There also isn’t a train that runs from Los Angeles to Phoenix, but the Sunset Limited runs 3 days a week from Los Angeles to Maricopa and there are seats available on the next departure for $38. Your results may vary.

      1. Additionally, travellers 62+ receive a 15% discount on Amtrak, so the Amtrak quotes are worse than screwy!

      2. “The quoted Amtrak fares are screwy.”

        Their pricing is set up the same as airline pricing. Different fares based on the start and end points, popularity of the route, and availability of the seats. If the train is empty, the seats are cheap, book at the last minute and they are high. Just the way you’d buy an airline ticket.

    7. Some more features of intercity bus service:

      barf in the bathroom on top of the spilled excrement
      smelly winos in the next seat
      buses that still smell of cigarette smoke six years after the cigs were banned
      back aches
      leg twitches
      the fat person overflowing the seat next to yours

      1. Even with the fancy stuff they put on the bus I’ll still prefer the train just because I can leave my seat and walk around, go sit in the bistro car and have a snack, plus the toilet is less claustrophobic than the one on the bus.

      2. Blanket statements are meaningless. Which train and which trip?

        People will choose what they want. Go ahead and take the bus. I’ll take my train. Just don’t try to limit my choices.

      3. If I am being taxed to give you more “choices”, I have every right to try to limit those choices. Don’t tell me I can’t have any input on what my taxes are spent on.

      4. “Go ahead and take the bus. I’ll take my train. Just don’t try to limit my choices.”

        And what was eliminating the 194 bus route? I can’t “go ahead and take the bus” to the airport any more, now can I? Would you call that “limiting peoples’ choices”? You feel bad about limiting peoples’ choices between downtown and the airport? Or, you feel like that’s ok because you know better than people who would prefer the 194 to Link? You can make our transportation choices for us, because you know better than we do?

        In other words, it’s not ok for anyone to limit your transportation choices, but it’s ok for ST to limit other peoples’ transportation choices?

        Is that your position?

      5. No, the 194 is a red herring because you still can take the bus to the airport from downtown Seattle. It’s just no longer a one-seat ride on Metro. If you want that, you can take the privately run Airporters.

        Eliminating the 194 was King County Metro’s decision, not Sound Transit’s. The County saw that ST is now providing similar or better service, therefore it decided to reallocate its limited resources to other routes or save itself some money.

        Given that Link to the Airport is now operating, is it a wise use of tax money to run duplicative service?

        I know you wish Link was never built but it’s there and the money spent. Not taking full advantage of it would be even a bigger waste.

    8. Norman,

      That all depends on whether or not you take into account the external costs of bus transportation and building/maintaining road infrastructure. It’s much more costly in terms of health-impacts (healthcare costs)of air-quality in urban areas buses pollute more. This negatively impacts the urban poor, who will invariably rely more on emergency systems because of high costs in medical insurance…the state picks up this cost, which means that it’s an additional cost to the taxpayer. It’s also much much more expensive to maintain and constantly pave and repave highways and roads for all of the bus/car travel rather than maintain a handful of rail lines (rails last longer). Additionally, consider:

      “the contact area between each wheel and the rail is a strip no more than a few millimetres wide, which minimizes friction. The track distributes the weight of the train evenly, allowing significantly greater loads per axle and wheel than in road transport, leading to less wear and tear on the permanent way. This can save energy compared with other forms of transportation, such as road transport, which depends on the friction between rubber tires and the road. Trains have a small frontal area in relation to the load they are carrying, which reduces air resistance and thus energy usage, although this does not reduce the effects of side winds.”

      the real problem with all inter-city bus and train transportation today in the United States, is that because most cities are built to suit the demands of automobile travel, once you get off the bus or train and find yourself in another city without a car, you’re basically up the creek without a paddle in terms of getting around. who wants that?

  6. I’ll try to find the citation, but my “filing system” is so bad, it may take a while.

    Here is one link: http://michaelbluejay.com/electricity/carboncalculator.html

    Under “Flying is worse than driving”

    “The most efficient way to travel in the U.S. is by bus. Inter-city buses get a whopping 125 pMPG. By contrtast, Amtrak trains get only 45 pMPG (though that could be due to U.S. trains often running very empty). (sources)”

    I have seen similar numbers from the U.S. Dept of Energy, or some source like that, but can’t find that link at the moment.

    Obviously, some people will pay an extra $100 to save an hour. Just like most business travelers arriving at SeaTac and going to downtown Seattle will pay more to take a taxi rather than taking Link, since a taxi will save them at least 30 minutes, and be far less hassle than taking light rail.

      1. A cab picks you up at the terminal and leaves right when you get to the cab. To get to the SeaTAc station is a 5-minute walk from the terminal, then, on average, about a 4-minute wait for the Link train. 9 minutes saved before you even leave the airport on a Link train.

        Trip from the terminal to downtown in a taxi: less than 20 minutes. Trip from SeaTac station to Westlake on Link: 40 minutes. 20 minutes saved on travel time.

        Trip from Westlake Station to wherever you actually want to go in downtown: who knows? But a couple of minutes just to get from the train to a street. In a taxi, you get dropped off right at your destination — not in the bottom of the Westlake station. Then, using Link, you have to hail a cap, or walk to wherever you actually want to go, while a cab will have dropped you off right at the door of your hotel or office. Many more minutes saved using a cab.

        Thirty minutes less in a taxi than on Link is very conservative. Depending on where you actually want to go in downtown Seattle, it may be a five, ten, fifteen-minute or longer walk from the Westlake station. A taxi will take you right there. And you won’t have to drag your bag(s) behind you.

      2. Don’t forget the walk time to the cab in the garage. If I recall, you have to use a skybridge and then go down one level. What is the average wait time for the elevator?

      3. Figured I need to change my Mike to Cyclist Mike as there are too many Mikes… Anyway…

        You’re also forgetting that it costs $30+ for your taxi ride versus the $2.75 to ride the link.

      4. I did not forget that. That was mentioned in the main point — many business people will gladly pay an extra $30 to save 30 minutes or more by taking a taxi instead of Link between SeaTac and downtown.

      5. At least one large employer near the International District Station is strongly encouraging its “business people” to cut costs by taking Link in favor of a taxi to the airport.

      6. $2.75? That would be Metro’s 2-zone peak fare. To be $3.00 next year.

        Link is $2.50 from Downtown and up to 50¢ less from SODO, Beacon Hill, and the Rainier Valley. That’s the benefit of distance based pricing.

      7. Trip from the terminal to downtown in a taxi: less than 20 minutes. Trip from SeaTac station to Westlake on Link: 40 minutes. 20 minutes saved on travel time.

        Travel time for the taxi really depends on what the traffic is like, but I haven’t seen 20 minutes between Westlake and the airport terminal except early in the morning or late at night. In bad traffic that taxi is going to be crawling along with the rest of the other cars. Also if you are going from the terminal to someplace else remember the taxi stand is actually on the 2nd level of the garage and requires a bit of a walk from the baggage claim as well.

      8. Depends on which way you are traveling. In one direction, the scheduled trip time on Link between downtown and Westlake is 38 minutes. But, the actual real-life time in either direction is about 40 minutes, on average.

        Between Westlake and SeaTac it is easy to travel by car or taxi in 20 minutes, or less. Depending on traffic, the fastest way is usually on the viaduct, then 509 and 518 to the airport. Depending on time of day, and your final destination in Seattle, from SeaTac to Seattle, I-5 might be best.

        Of course, most business travelers are not going to or from the Westlake Mall. And a taxi will take you directly to or from your destination in downtown Seattle — not to the Westlake Transit Tunnel station, like Link, from where you will have to make your way to wherever it is you actually want to go.

      9. Between Westlake and SeaTac it is easy to travel by car or taxi in 20 minutes, or less. Depending on traffic, the fastest way is usually on the viaduct, then 509 and 518 to the airport. Depending on time of day, and your final destination in Seattle, from SeaTac to Seattle, I-5 might be best.

        I’d say 20 minutes via taxi is overly optimistic for much of the day.

        Of course, most business travelers are not going to or from the Westlake Mall. And a taxi will take you directly to or from your destination in downtown Seattle — not to the Westlake Transit Tunnel station, like Link, from where you will have to make your way to wherever it is you actually want to go.

        You are aware that business travelers aren’t the only people who fly? You are aware that there are a number of travelers who can’t just expense their taxi fares? If I’m a UW student about to go backpack through Europe, I’m probably going to want to get to the airport as cheaply as I can.

        That said there are at least 6 hotels within 2 blocks of a Westlake Station tunnel entrance, 6 within 2 blocks of University Station, and another 2 within 2 blocks of Pioneer Square. In addition most of the downtown office core and most downtown government offices are within two blocks of one of the 4 downtown Link stations. So I’m sure there are at least a few people using Link to and from the airport who are traveling on business, probably more than were taking the 194.

      10. The walk from the Sea-Tac terminal to the Link station is four minutes, plus average of four minutes wait, plus 36, not 40, minutes to Westlake. That equals 44 minutes. The taxi stand is a two or three minute walk to the terminal, plus a 20-25 minute ride into downtown, if there is no traffic. So Link is more like 15-20 minutes slower than a taxi, and 15-20 minutes saved for 18 times the cost is not nearly worth it.

      11. Link between SeaTac and Westlake averages about 40 minutes. Trains often stop at a (or several) red light(s). They stop to change operators. They are delayed in the downtown tunnel. The scheduled trip time on Link is either 37 or 38 minutes, depending on direction. When you average in the many trips with delays, 40 minutes is about the actual average trip time.

        The SeaTac Link station is only one minute further to walk from the terminal than the taxi stand? Really? That is what you wrote.

        One poster said that many people will gladly pay an extra $100-plus to save an hour or so on a train compared to a bus. But you don’t think many travelers would pay an extra $30 to save half an hour or more taking a taxi instead of Link? If there are two people traveling together, the cost is only $15 more per person.

        As I have written before, taxi drivers in Seattle have reported that when the SeaTac station first opened it seemed to hurt tax business quite a bit, but after a few weeks, taxi business between SeaTac and Downtown Seattle is back to where it was before the SeaTac Link station opened.

        What are the ridership numbers for Link since the SeaTac station opened? How many boardings are there are the SeaTac station per day? I think ST predicted about 3,000 boardings per day at the SeaTac station. How many airline passengers per day arrive at SeaTac?

      12. “Link between SeaTac and Westlake averages about 40 minutes.”

        BS. I’ve occasionally had trips that took close to 40 minutes, but I’ve had far more that were faster than the scheduled time. Just last week when I flew to San Diego Link took just over 30 minutes from Westlake.

        The 37 minute scheduled travel time includes almost 4 minutes of padding to account for delays in the tunnel and on MLK. If there are no delays in the tunnel or on MLK the travel time from Westlake to the airport is only 33 minutes.

      13. “taxi drivers in Seattle have reported that when the SeaTac station first opened it seemed to hurt tax business quite a bit, but after a few weeks, taxi business between SeaTac and Downtown Seattle is back to where it was before the SeaTac Link station opened.”

        Again with the anecdotal, unverifiable claims.

      14. There is also the Grayline Downtown Airporter… for more than two decades it continues to depart from 8 hotels in downtown Seattle. If you hop on at the Westin or the Warwick, your trip is usually less than 30 minutes to the front door of Sea Tac Departures. They generally avoid the back ups by alternating between 5 and 99/509. No lugging luggage down the bus eisle, or dealing with stops along the way and the on off issues as passengers attempt to walk around you to their seats, etc. Adults: One Way $11.00 Roundtrip $18.00

      15. Your taxi however could very easily get stuck in traffic, and stopped at every red-light causing your arrival time to be either very early or an hour late. Whereas light-rail is always the same time, same departure, same arrival. Light-rail is always on time, and very reliable.

        Taxis and buses both get stuck in traffic. Why take the risk of traffic?

      16. Oh Whoops. Andrew already said that. Haha

        Norman… you’re making excuses for your [ad-hominem] laziness. Are you too shy to take public transit? Are your legs not working properly?

      17. Norman,

        They stop at a (or several) red light(s) because [ad-hominem] like you would scream if the Link trains got absolute advance and retard signal priority as they should.

        You already complain about the pulse system.

    1. I have to wonder how much of the supposed efficiency of buses is due to load factor. Amtrak trains don’t have that high of a load factor, while Greyhound likes to run their buses quite full, at times selling 120 tickets for a 55 seat bus (I have personally seen this happen). If you’re lucky, they’ll run another bus, if not, they’ll just make you wait for the next one in 4 hour. So, traveling by bus is great, so long as you don’t mind occasionally being delayed by a day or two in a bus station.

      1. A friend from rural Alaska claimed that most people there believe Alaska Airlines ran that way. It’s pretty easy to cancel because of weather up there, and it seemed like the planes were about a third booked and two thirds canceled. Made for full planes each time. Of course such cancellations aren’t allowed, so it was always weather.

      2. No, it means inconveniencing customers for the sake of profit (and cooking the books) is a bad thing. How does overselling tickets and forcing people to wait for next bus benefit the customer?

      3. How does running mostly empty trains or buses benefit anyone except the few people who are on them? Are you really trying to defend operating trains or buses which are mostly empty?

      4. I am not defending the practice of overselling seats. I am supporting operating buses and trains which are full.

        Of course, all we have to go on to believe that these practices are actually taking place are some “unsupported anecdotes”. Can you do better than that? You have some documentation? Or just anecdotes?

      5. That’s a very pretty chart, velo, but I don’t believe the national average for riders per intercity train car is anywhere near 50, which is what that chart uses. Can you show us where that 50 riders per train car comes from?

        According to the Transportation Energy Data Book, in 2007 the average “load factor” of Amtrak intercity trains was 21.7. Not even close to 50.

        This makes your chart basically meaningless, unless you can find somewhere that validates using 50 passengers/vehicles on Amtrak intercity trains.

      6. However, even using 50 riders per train car, intercity buses still put out less CO2 per passenger mile than “rail transit”, according to that chart.

      7. Ok. I apologize, velo. I just looked at your chart again, and it does indeed include “amtrak” separately from “rail transit.” So, it does probably use about 22 riders per amtrak car.

        Sorry about not studying that chart fully before posting my comments on it.

        Your chart does agree with the link that I posted that intercity buses are a lot more fuel efficient than amtrak trains.

        I’m trying to watch the Olympics while reading and posting here, and I really misread that chart the first time I looked at it.

      8. Norman, my rail transit doesn’t output CO2, because it’s powered by hydroelectricity.

      9. energy efficiency != CO2 emissions, it depends on energy source

        see anonymouse’s comment about load factor above for context when comparing Amtrak vs intercity bus figures.

      10. “Norman, my rail transit doesn’t output CO2, because it’s powered by hydroelectricity.”


        “Sightline researchers recently took a close look at where the area’s “marginal power” — the extra power above and beyond what is already used — comes from.

        A study by the Northwest Power and Conservation Council showed that almost all “marginal power” in the Pacific Northwest is generated from natural gas, Williams-Derry said. Using natural gas to generate electricity for electric cars creates fewer greenhouse gases than using gasoline to power an internal-combustion engine.”

        The extra electricity needed to power Link trains meant more electricity had to be generated. This additional electricity was almost certainly generated by burning natural gas.

        So, whether Link trains use hydropower, or not, the additional electricity generation they made necessary, was generated by burning natural gas, which does output CO2.

        If Link uses hydropower that was being used by someone else before Link started operating, than that previous user of that hydro power had to get electricity from somewhere else to replace the electricity that Link took, and that additional electricity was almost certinaly generated by burning natural gas.

        Whenever more eclectricity is used, more coal or natural gas is burned. Can’t get around that, I’m afraid. So, Link is, indeed, responsible for greenhouse gase creation, just like everything else that consumes electricity.

      11. Norman, where your marginal power comes from really depends. Seattle City Light often has surplus hydro generating capacity, which means depending on overall power demand, either City Light spills a little more water over the turbines or doesn’t sell surplus power to another utility.

        Now things are a bit more complex because all of the utilities, generating stations, and transmission lines in the Western power grid are all ultimately interconnected and the electrons tend to find the path of least resistance. So except in the case where City Light spills a little more water through the turbines, ultimately somewhere using electricity for transportation causes a little more natural gas or coal to be burned somewhere else.

        Though do note that even the coal fired powerplant->electric grid->charger->battery->electric motor cycle generally causes less carbon output than burning gasoline or diesel directly in an ICE.

  7. Long distance Amtrak trains are quite empty, and vary poorly run. That is something to think about.

    Do you have figures in better corridors, like Seattle-Portland or New York-Boston?

    1. I don’t know about all the long-distance Amtrak routes, but I know the Seattle-Chicago and Seattle-Los Angeles routes are rather full in the summer season.

      1. This goes along with my thinking… For the time being we need to pull back on long haul service and concentrate on the lines that in the near term can pay their own way. Not only would this provide better service for the most amount of people, but it could help dispel the image of rail/Amtrak as just political pork. The more lines that pay their own way, the better rap trains get, and the more money to then turn around and apply to other in demand services. Success will build on success.

      2. The thing is those long-haul routes are important feeders for the regional trains and for future HSR. Like anything else the whole mass transit network is important.

        Better for Amtrak would be to actually meed demand on the more popular long-haul routes (Empire Builder, Coast Starlight). Bring most of the 3 train a week routes up to 7 day a week service. Furthermore bring the level of service and comfort on sleepers up to European standards or at least what VIA does in its sleeper service. Decent food in all of the dining cars. Make the offerings in the snack bar more like the bistro car on Cascades and less like what you can get in a gas station.

        There are a number of other things that Amtrak could do to bring the revenue up on the long-haul routes.

        As to the bigger picture there is considerable debate over regional vs. long-haul service and which is really bleeding the company.

      3. Hey, I didn’t mean move out of long haul out of spite or anything, sure keep and even expand the ones that can sustain it (I’d be interested in seeing the stats for the ones you mention), but just hat having to run heavily subsidized long haul that isn’t being that utilized is a waste of resources, especially when we have routes that could actually put the money to good use.

      4. having to run heavily subsidized long haul that isn’t being that utilized is a waste of resources

        A lot of long-haul advocates would say the lightly utilized routes are a result of Amtrak actively running customers off rather than a sign that there isn’t any demand for long-haul. The three most obvious examples I can think of for say the Sunset Limited are 3 train a week services, not serving Phoenix, and not restoring service East of New Orleans once the track and stations had been repaired. Even the long-haul advocates would say there are some routes that should be dropped entirely or substantially re-worked and re-thought.

        Again there is some debate over where the real subsidy is within Amtrak. Depending on how you look at it Acela and the NEC have sucked down a tremendous amount of capital and operating funds over the years at the expense of the rest of the network and fleet. Depending on which set of figures you look at Amtrak has a bad habit of dumping a lot of the legacy costs (such as pensions) on the long-haul network. You can get the real costs and revenue for each component of Amtrak but you are advised to make sure you read all the footnotes to be sure of what is and isn’t included.

        Even when the long-haul and the regional advocates agree on the underlying numbers there is considerable disagreement over what conclusions one should draw from them.

      5. Where are you getting your stats from? I’d be interesting in delving into some of those numbers when I get a chance.

    2. Chetan, take a ride on the Empire Builder, the Capitol Limited, or the Lake Shore Limited. I rode those in the fall for the last two years. Full, standing room only out of Chicago. Getting a sleeper usually means scheduling four months in advance. The Northeast Corridor is jammed, they could easily use half again as many trains. Even trains like Chicago to downstate Illinois are full. Look at the station in Champaign, Illinois. Packed, waiting for the train. Service is generally decent, especially given the condition of the capital-starved equipment. Thank the gods John McCain didn’t get elected after Bushie, we would all be traveling by oxcart. Get out of your government subsidized car and stop whining about the rails.

      1. From anecdotal observations, at least on the northern NEC, the trains are near capacity during peak periods (fridays and sundays mostly), and about 50% full at most other times.

      2. I’ve rode Amtrak NEC once and it was the trip arriving in Providence, RI at 7:04 AM on a weekday. As I was getting off the train, hordes of Boston-bound commuters were getting on (and this is in addition to the MBTA commuter train operating out of the same station at a cheaper rate*)

        *the routing is similar in idea to taking Sounder between Everett and Seattle vs. taking Amtrak (except there’s no RailPlus type promotion).

    3. The reason Amtrak has routes that do not carry many passengers is very simple- after the buses were deregulated, they canceled services to most of the nation. So much for all those awesome buses Norman would rather ride!

      Amtrak is anational passenger rail network. It was not formed to make a profit, but to provide rail passenger service, and to relieve what are now the freight railroads of all the obligations and liabilities they had incurred in the years they wanted to carry passengers.

      Among those obligations and liabilities were labor agreements and retirement funding, which for many years have been a heavy expense to the corporation. There were also legal obligations to provide service, dating from the many years during which the railroads had no effective competition and had to be heavily regulated to prevent the destruction of our economy.

      In many small rural communities across the country, Amtrak is the only way you can leave town, if you don’t own a car and can’t afford several hundred dollars for a cab ride. Typically, people like Norman will rant and rave endlessly about this “subsidy”, but they don’t have a word to say about the Bush tax cuts for the very wealthy that cost us several hundred billion a year. It’s all a question of values.

      1. serial catowner wrote:
        “[Amtrak] was not formed to make a profit”

        Unfortunately, that is a clause in its charter:
        “Amtrak is a rail carrier ‘operated and managed as a for-profit corporation.’
        (my emphasis; citation)

      2. And I can well imagine that it is a clause in its charter. Still, to think that anyone believed the passenger trains, which were moved to Amtrak because every railroad running them was going broke, would become a profitable corporation, is a bit of a stretch.

      3. There is even Common Stock for the corporation too

        From the Wikipedia article on Amtrak:
        Common stock was issued in 1971 to railroads that contributed capital and equipment; these shares convey almost no benefits[3] but their current holders[4] declined a 2002 buy-out offer by Amtrak.

      4. Also, roads and buses are subsidized. The government builds and maintains the roads. Rail companies have to maintain the rails and the vehicles.

      5. Bus companies don’t have to maintain their own buses?

        Do private bus companies like Greyhound pay gax tax on their diesel fuel? Do they pay licenses and other fees? Do they pay the federal tire tax (or is that only on trucks)? Or, are private bus companies not taxed at all?

      6. Yes, but when business is down, they can park the buses or even un=register them. Rail can’t do that.

      7. Rail companies pay for 100% of rail maintenance costs, and pay taxes on those rails, as they are a company asset. When a new road project is built, money comes from the general fund and tolls, as well as other road vehicle taxes.

    4. Chetan,

      Try to get a seat on the Builder between Seattle and Chicago any time between April 1 and November 1 less than two weeks before you travel.

      Ditto the Coast Starlight.

      Yes, there are “political trains” back east that don’t do as well, but the western cruise trains are all very well patronized.

      1. But mid November is a great time to ride the Empire Builder because it’s between the fall crowd and the Thanksgiving crowd.

        There are few alternatives to the “western cruise trains”. The only other way to get to Chicago without flying or taking your own car is Greyhound. No BoltBus or Chinatown bus around here, unfortunately.

        And if you’re traveling from the middle of the run (Montana or North Dakota), the choices are even fewer. No east-west bus. Commuter planes are $500 minimum. The only choice is a north-south bus to the nearest east-west bus.

    5. My train to Chicago was VERY packed on a Thursday evening departure out of Seattle a month ago and the 100 or so people that got on in Minot, ND sure were glad there was a train running since the Airport closed…..Not to mention that we were 95% on-time (and would have been early if it wasn’t for the late Metra train…)

  8. Stop picking on Norman. It’s a nice day but he can’t go outside to play, so just let him say what he wants!

  9. Changing the subject, but do we have a start up date for the phase II restoration of King Street Station. I have heard the Spring, but in local government parlance, that can stretch from now (especially with this weather) until July so can we pin point the time frame more accurately yet?

    Good news that the Mercer Mess may finally get worked on. Senator Murray got us another $30m last week for the project, allowing SDOT to launch some demolition work within weeks now.

    1. Well, the news from January was that the seismic upgrades got ARRA HRS funds, so that would mean “before 2012”.

  10. Not to agree with Mr. Bates, but my experiences with Amtrak have been consistently disappointing. Every time I have taken Amtrak, it has been several hours behind schedule (because freight has priority on the same tracks). The top speed is usually 40 mph, giving it the nickname the Slooooow Train.

    I recall one of the food car workers saying about all the food that gets thrown out: “We’ve got it like that. We’re Amtrak.”

    But Greyhound was even worse. Going through the Central Valley (CA), the bus would go for an hour, and then stop for at least a half hour at the station in every town. The buses right before Christmas were packed, with extra buses pulled into service. I got stuck behind a real stinker all the way from Los Angeles to Phoenix. Oy! There are no minimum sanitary requirements to get onto a Greyhound bus.

    The only trip worse is having to drive oneself cross country.

    Even with the carbon footprint arguments, my cross country trips are now almost exclusively on Southwest Airlines. For most trips I’ve checked, Greyhound and Amtrak both cost at least half as much as Southwest, and are not far apart from each other.

    1. No wonder most people fly or drive.

      I really haven’t been out of the Pacific NW region much in the past 5 years, not even the west side of the Cascades. A trip to San Antonio (via air) for a conference last year was pretty much it.

  11. I saw in a document about the Westlake Streetcar Plaza that there is a long-term plan to have more entrances to Westlake Station! It looks like they want a new one on Fifth under the monorail station, one at the SW corner of Fifth & Pine, and one at the NW corner of Third & Pine. It shows that the last one would require an extension of the mezzanine. Has anyone heard of this before?

    1. That was a given after a few of the videos I saw there. Its amazing, the only crossing and people still are like “UHHH, train?!”

      There is a “cab ride” video of the streetcar that shows a near miss…

  12. Anyone else notice Orange Cab has started advertising service to and from Link stations on NPR?

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