29 Replies to “Sunday Open Thread: Catenary Free Trams”

  1. It might be useful for some streetcar lines, as the spec sheet shows 25mph max running speeds on induction power, which BTW is nowhere near as efficient transferring power as overhead wires or 3rd rail shoes. Keeping the overhead catenary is important for a variety of reasons.
    Here’s a good summary of links on the subject and lots of well thought out comments from the folks in DC.
    Link has already selected a running mode, and two streetcars are designed, so no real chance of using it around here, but maybe Ben is interested.

    1. I personally despise all the overhead wires. I think I’d rather see bums sleeping in the streets than wires – there’s nothing uglier and Seattle has a lot of them. As much as I am about saving the planet and providing clean power I also think that there’s value in saving old buildings even if newer bland ones would be cheaper and putting non-revenue generating parks throughout a city. At the end of the day these things change a persons feel about a city and not only does it increase pride but improves tourism.

      Take a photo of Jackson and 4th then photoshop the wires out and be amazed at the difference. The wires are really really ugly.

      Yes, having catenary free trains will be more expensive but the speed limit of 25 mph is not an issue. It’s not like the SLUT has ever broke 10 mph anyway.

      1. Those wires keep neighborhoods quiet. They aren’t ugly, either, to me they are a reminder of a transportation mode that doesn’t burn oil. Last night I was having dinner on 15th and was quite sad the 10 was running as a diesel as it does most weekends.

    2. Well, my tooth brush uses the inductive charging trick and for that application it’s great. From what I’ve been told the trick is “perfect” alignment. That makes it better for a charge and go arrangement where a streetcar gets charged while at a stop or better yet at a layover point. I do think the wires are ugly and they are most certainly a major expense to maintain and cause system delays and limit mobility. I don’t see inductive charging “on the go” being feasible but then again advances in electronics might just make it viable. Even if it doesn’t work the research might lead to an answer nobody’s thought of yet.

  2. The Seattle First Hill Streetcar will be catenary free in the SB (downhill) direction with help from onboard batteries. This is to reduce conflicts with trolleybus wires and SDOT says they’ll save electricity costs longterm.

    1. That pretty much kills using the downhill track for extended uphill operations when one track goes down for any number of reasons (accident blockage, faulty sensors, downed wire, power outage). I don’t think the onboard batteries will get from a crossover at 4th to the next one at the top of the hill fully loaded. Maybe though? Anybody know the range on Batt under full load going uphill?

      1. true … though I don’t think the whole downhill portion will be catenary free … most likely just Broadway (I might be wrong though) … at least Catenary can be added later if it really is an issue.

    2. I wonder if there couldn’t be a mix of the two. Have underground catenary free areas and batteries on the trains that power the train when the underground wires don’t exist. I’ve always wondered about buses like this. We know EXACTLY where they’re going to be, let them burst charge at each bus stop. I haven’t done the math but it would be interesting to see if you could keep an electric bus with batteries going without overhead wires.

  3. Before we decide definitely to go with catenary-free streetcar operations, we should investigate carefully. We’d be getting into untried equipment to serve some very steep grades. Also very likely the cars would cost more than standard.

    I’d like to see some knowledgeable technical discussion in this blog as to why this approach is necessary. If it has to do with close proximity to trolleybus overhead, there may be a better approach. San Francisco Muni has for decades had streetcars and trolleybuses share the same positive wire, using poles and shoes on the streetcars instead of pantographs.

    This morning, though, I’d like to remind readers of something else with streetcar implications. The Central Waterfront Committee, charged with the redesign of our waterfront after the viaduct is gone, will have a design oversight meeting. Topic of discussion: for the first time, transportation.

    Central Waterfront Committee (CWC) Design Oversight Subcommittee Meeting
    December 15, 2011
    11:30am – 1:30pm
    Seattle Municipal Tower, (Fifth and Columbia)16th Floor,
    Room #1600

    I think it’s important that anyone interested in the critical question of public transit of any kind on the new waterfront attend. And another really key point about this meeting:

    Up to now, meetings of this agency have included no time for spoken public comment whatever- a subject for debate in itself. I’ve put in a request to Seattle City Councilman Tom Rasmussen, the chair of the requisite Council committee, for one public minute per person at this meeting- good public speaking training. Think of it like sharpening a razor.

    I’ve received no negative response- but no promises either. I think chances are better the more people contact Councilman Rasmussen: tom.rasmussen@seattle.gov. Agree to be brief. But presence by itself will be a very strong comment on matter at hand.

    Connection with streetcar propulsion: the Waterfront might make an excellent test track for new streetcars.

    Mark Dublin

    1. Mark …

      The FHS line will have to cross three major ETB junctions … at Broadway & Jefferson, Broadway & Madison, and Broadway & Pine. While it is not a problem in general for a streetcar to cross ETB lines (the SLUT does this in at least 2 places) the problem is that the ETB junctions on Broadway are rather complex and above very busy intersections. Keeping the ETB and Streetcar from shorting out each other requires a lot of engineering and doing this over large junctions with numerous divergent routes only complicates the process.

      As for using a shared positive wire with the ETBs this will still potentially cause trouble where there are divergent routes (short circuiting problem) … which again would require major reengineering of the OCS system at the junctions … another alternative would be twin trolley poles … but like buses this creates the issue of de-wiring and I think the inertia of the LRV might be enough to potentially take down the wires if the poles snagged

      Now it was my understanding that the FHS was only going to go off wire when passing said junctions (perhaps from Denny to Terrace … not the whole SB leg of the line … but like I said before that may have changed.

      now of course the REAL SOLUTION would be to move the OCS from Broadway through Pine St. from Broadway to 12th ave. Since the wire north of Pine is really only used to move buses to/from the 3/4/10/12/43/49 and Atlantic Base (although they will usually pick up/drop off people on the Rt 9 stops) … they could feasibly run along 12th and connect to their normal routes there. Metro would only have to deal with the rt. 49 wire (and cross junctions) which as proven on the SLUT and rt. 70 is not a big deal.

      as for the technology … we aren’t talking about any of the induction systems from Bombardier or Alstom … we are simply talking about having batteries on board the LRV that will most likely be recharged through regenerative braking as well as the OCS … the system really is no different than what Metro will be adding to the new ETBs so they can go off wire when necessary.

      As for the added cost of this ability … well that was part of the RFP … so that cost has already been factored into the winning bid from Inekon/Pacific Marine.

      Personally … I think it is unwise to do the off-wire thing at all … it will only add complexity to the operation … but like I said in an earlier post … you can always add/re-engineer OCS at a later date

  4. Another solution is what China built:

    China Launches New Fuel Cell Powered Light Rail Train

    China recently launched its first hydrogen-powered fuel cell light-rail train, which was jointly developed by the China North Vehicle Yongji Electric Motor Corporation and the Southwest Jiaotong University. China’s first new energy fuel cell light rail locomotive adopts hydrogen as the energy for the fuel cells as well as uses world advanced permanent-magnet synchronous motor and frequency converter.


  5. Are fuel-cell big rigs the future of trucking?

    But now, a couple of upstart, green companies in the South Bay say they are testing a new kind of technology never-before used on big-rig trucks that will satisfy SCAG’s emission-free requirement, while enabling truckers to reach their destinations without a single drop of pollution entering the atmosphere. If they are successful, they say an East-West Freight Corridor could be built much cheaper and without any electrified roadway. Most important, the impact to Puente Valley residents would be minimal.

    “We have the solution now,” said Rudy Tapia, president of Vision Motors in El Segundo, developer of the Tyrano big rig which runs on an onboard fuel cell that powers a battery pack. It produces zero emissions, only water vapor.

    A fleet of his Tyranos could be hauling everything from computers to cucumbers on the 710 and 60 freeways by the end of next year, he said.

    “We don’t have to do some futuristic thing where we electrify the road or have electric wires overhead. Just give us some incentive and we could put this in by next year,” said Tapia, a Southern California native.


  6. The control system looks really interesting, especially how it only activates the current loops that are directly underneath the train. That seems like a good safety improvement. I’m curious as to whether it could be applied to third-rail systems.

    That said, the wireless energy transfer adds complexity and reduces efficiency. If you don’t like overhead wires, use a third rail. If you’re worried about safety, you should probably invest in dedicated ROW anyway.

    The real benefit of a fixed guideway vehicle is that storing energy is unnecessary. By constraining operations to a fixed route, you avoid the weight, cost, lifespan and range limitations of batteries, while still operating a zero-emission vehicle. Sure, battery-based APUs would make our ETBs more flexible, and yeah, maybe Link would look prettier without overhead wires.

    However, I feel like Bombardier’s system is targeted towards low-speed streetcars operating in shared ROW with mixed traffic, and with batteries filling in the holes in the transmission system. That seems like a system making a lot of compromises.

    I like Bombardier’s Advanced Rapid Transit system a lot better.


  7. I like the overhead wires because of their symbolic nature. They tell you, like rail lines, that an investment has been made in transit in that area.

    1. Unlike overhead wires tracks in the street are deadly to bikes. That hazard is more important to me than some sort of religious believe that “rail is permanent” or if you can see the rails you don’t need a map.

      1. The funny thing is tracks in the street don’t cause problems for cyclists elsewhere. Particularly in places with much higher bicycle use than Seattle.

        I admit SLUT was a particularly bad design WRT cyclists but streetcars and bicycles don’t have to be mutually exclusive.

        Better design is one component, but bicyclists could help themselves by riding bikes with wider tires. Unfortunately too many think they need super-narrow tires more suited to a velodrome than the street.

  8. Beauty of traction power overhead is somewhat in the eye of the beholder. Growing up I Chicago in the early ‘fifties, trolley wire had too many positive associations ever to lose. I’ve also seen much expensive public art and architecture that cost a lot more money and to me, looked a lot worse.

    As a trolleybus driver, developed an additional perspective: what’s beautiful is wire you can drive over at street speed and not lose poles- flexible-hanger wire eastbound from the Ballard Locks on the 44- or just after the westbound turn on the 43 just west of 23rd.

    Compared to busy parts of San Francisco, Seattle’s most intensive special work looks like the sky is empty. But main thing to remember: our wire is probably decades obsolete. When we spec out our new trolleybus fleet, we should also get to work on bringing our overhead contact system into present century.

    For starters, of course, we could move the substation breaker off present location one block up the Counterbalance. Next wiring plan, one actual trolleydriver on the wiring design team is mandatory.

    Mark Dublin

  9. Think of all the electricity that could be saved if the streetcar didn’t have to sit in line with SOVs or stop at every light.

  10. Inductive charging is an interesting technology, but I don’t think that it’s ready for the lime light. The efficiency of transferring the power is too low at this point and if part of the argument for light rail and ETB is energy efficiency, then I don’t think we should be using that efficiency to fuel cosmetic changes. It’s a little car manufacturers tuning their engines for power instead of efficiency: Sub-optimal results, but short term happy customers. I fully support more research into it, but I don’t think I could recommend going for it.

    The technology I am curious about is super capacitors. I’ve seen these in operation in Shanghai and they seem like a great mix of no-wires and all electric operation. There’s an overview here (not by me): http://www.slideshare.net/ResearchIndia/super-capacitor-buses-in-shanghai-5156990

    There’s bumps there too, but it looks pretty promising to me.

  11. Atheists put ads on Seattle buses for holiday season:

    The group says the goal of the campaign is to encourage believers to realize they know more non-believers than they are aware of, and to be willing to get to know them better. The group also hopes to encourage closeted non-believers to express themselves.

    Clearly not as controversial as “buy American”. Is there really an intelligent life form in charge at Metro?

    1. Clearly if the “I am a Mormon” ads are okay, so are these. They might even be protected speech. In the photo of the four hikers at the MSNBC article, they all looked like atheists to me.

      1. But if Metro is going to sell ads and has a policy for denying some ads, does the Constitution come into play?

  12. Peer-to-peer car sharing starts in Portland; Seattle next?

    Using an iPhone app, renters and owners can coordinate the entire transaction, from finding a car and making reservations to transferring the keys and payment. Owners can install a transponder in the car to hold the key and allow the doors to be unlocked, or transactions can be made in person. Getaround holds an insurance policy through Berkshire Hathaway to cover rented vehicles, and owners pay 40 percent of rental revenue to cover insurance and administrative costs.


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