68 Replies to “Sunday Open Thread: Tower 18”

  1. Somewhere in the world there is a category of people who like movies based on transit systems (like “The Money Train”) and I might be in that set.

    Freddie Prinze, Sr, made “The Million Dollar Rip-Off” (1976) where he plays an electronics whiz, a kind of Captain Crunch, on the edge of the law, who devises a plot to steal the CTA’s fares and use an elevated train as his getaway vehicle! He does this by faking out the switching system with his own black box gizmos. The CTA system and its people are the co-star of this movie!

    (Hulu hosts TMDRO for free:


    1. I always loved the car chase in Chicago from “Running Scared.” When that movie came out in the mid-80’s, I sure hadn’t seen anything like that!

      1. Two scenes in first “Blues Brothers” even better. First one, Elliott showing qualities of surplus ’70’s police car by jumping an opening drawbrige, of which Chicago has many. Other is largest crash scene in world history, involving several hundred police cars and a Ford Pinto full of Illinois Nazis plunging two miles to their death from an unfinished freeway.

        Everybody who ever lived in Chicago know more energetic things happen every day. Sort of the anti-Seattle.

        Mark Dublin

    1. Well done – I found it interesting hearing the public speakers at the Link opening talking about how “after 40 years we now have rail transit” when of course it had been 98 years since the Bogue Plan!

      The lines are very strange in several cases but many of them would be useful today. Alas….

  2. Chicago Transit Authority was main reason for lifelong attitude toward public transit. Howard Street line, Morse Avenue station. Took “El”- for “elevated”, though trip also involved subway- down the the Art Institute for charcoal drawing lessons every Saturday morning.

    In 1953, nobody had any problem with an 8-year-old riding the El in Chicago. Likely because anybody who messed with a child would have had real problem, like being kicked off a moving train straight into the Third Rail.

    On a beautiful sunny spring morning in ’53, got onto the first brand new PCC elevated car. Wish modern systems would revive the beautiful light green color on the walls, and the dark green leather seats. PCC streetcars were also just on the rails, replacing the enormous old Peter Witt cars that everybody said were dark red because they got painted with cattle blood every time they passed the stockyard.

    Somehow the transit part “took” lifelong, though the drawing part went away after high school. Even though the beautiful woman teaching the class showed us a great drawing she’d done of a ’53 Renault, a car I’d never seen, probably because they were always on the other side of giant Hudsons. However, the real mummy down by the cafeteria was memorable.

    Contributing addictive factor was the Chicago and North Shore interurban. Like the old cars that looked like huge red and green Benson cars, I loved the Electroliner, and still wish LINK could do a restaurant section with real food and white tablecloths.

    Unfortunately, family income didn’t permit more than one Electroliner ride per lifetime.

    History’s 1960’s destruction of its own transit at the very time I was looking forward to a career in it did more to turn me into a savage antisocial malcontent than either the Vietnam War or anything else since.
    Hence really out of line fighting habits over my own 1.3 mile part of it.

    So if you want your children to be happy and normal- don’t let them go anywhere except in a car, preferably a n1953 Hudson Hornet. Otherwise ingested carbon and copper will cause incurable electrolyte addiction. Maybe cure can be found it you give now…..


      1. Good news: DC Metro has stopped charging its infamous peak-of-peak surcharge to get off the train during peak-of-peak. Charlie is free! SmarTrip still costs $2 after added value, though.

      2. Meanwhile, Singapore began offering free pre-AM peak train rides to downtown stations to spread demand and it has been a success.

      3. MTA is really Boston’s transit authority. Very likely train Charlie couldn’t get off of was a Green Line PCC. Doughnut shop on the platform at Park Street subway station was probably still in business.

        CTA was known for great diners and soda fountains around its stations, and coin operated pistachio and peanut machines on its platforms. Huge Alfred Hitchcock clouds of pigeons changed platforms on hearing the “click” of machines.

        Possible fund-raiser for ST, especially at Tukwila International, whose giant canopy is Pigeon culture’s legendary place to die.


    1. They may be slow as they are on museum track, but at least one electro liner was saved and got sent to the Illinois Railway Museum. Those were sure nice cars – happy trundling down streetcar track at 15 mph, or blasting between towns at 90 mph. I wish someone were offering that speed gearing today on light rail cars.

      At least four of those PCC based L cars survive under the floor of the Portland Vintage Trolley cars.

  3. And BTW: comment about the steel not being new is an understatement that slights the overdue recognition of the properties of century-old metal- and also wood. Last time I rode the El about twenty years ago, remember being able to recognize individual plates and timbers.

    Will admit that same strength and endurance can be achieved with far less material. But have to say that the ability of this country to build enduring structures with enduring material created a spirit that would be good if the USA would get it back.

    And also the employment possibilities it created for well-paid work without a lifetime of school and the three lifetimes of debt that come with it.


  4. If Chicago can operate a train junction with vehicles going through every 45 seconds, switching tracks to multiple different directions, why can’t we find a way to have our train stop at the platform while the bus ahead of it is still picking up or dropping off passengers?

    1. because one is a bus and one is a train and that scares the folks in government for some reason.

    2. Because the Chicago has a dispatcher at the tower that overlooks the junction. They operate the signals and switches in real time based on traffic and delays.

      On the other hand, Metro and Sound Transit refuse to even staff the towers that were built at CPL and IDS. Maybe if those were staffed they could be sending 4 buses or so down the tubes, in the proper order before dispatching a link train every 6 minutes.

    3. The unfortunate thing about this question is that light rail cars have some of the most reliable brakes of any vehicle. The last ditch emergency brake is a set of electric magnets by the wheels that, when activated, will cause the car to become attached to the track. Sure, some passengers not holding on will be injured, but no collision will happen.

      So, with all these different safety systems, it isn’t as if there is a danger of a vast deadly collision even if the primary brakes completely fail.

  5. Does anyone know how the I90 interface testing has gone at the DOT testing facility in Colorado? Last I hears they had built the prototype floating bridge junction and we had shipped one of our LRVs out there for testing … but has anyone heard anything since?

      1. In the Google Earth view, all the closed loops of the test facility, and the little “town” of maintenance shops, offices, etc. make it look like a rather grand model railroad layout that’s just missing the landscape.

      2. anyone found the I90 interface test rig on Google Earth? looks like there are a number of light rail vehicles there but I can’t pick out ours

  6. I’ve noticed that a few of the Central Link LRV’s have lightning bolts near their unit numbers above the cabs.

    Anyone know what this signifies? Is Sound Transit experimenting with any new power or propulsion systems?

    1. The lightning bolt trains are a test using a capacitor bank to smooth traction power consumption flattening the peak acceleration demand with recovered braking energy – as far as I know. I believe the project is grant funded.

      1. Jeff-
        Thanks! With your info, I was able to found some information on Sound Transit’s website:

        Light rail vehicle regenerative braking. Initiated in 2011, this $1.6 million federal grant (Transit Investments for Greenhouse Gas and Energy Reduction) will enable the agency to capture and reuse energy from the existing regenerative braking systems on three light rail vehicles.
        Initial estimates indicate that the regenerative braking system may reduce electricity use by 25 percent per car.

  7. In the category of wild ideas: I sometimes wonder if the DSTT + second Downtown subway could operate as a Chocago-style “loop” with trains mainly on one side and buses on the other.

  8. What a cool transportation system Chicago has! I’ve been taught that a great transportation system solves a lot of city’s problems, so Chicago must be a cool place to live. Great public schools, low crime, etc. Right?

    1. You know, Sam, I was just thinking about connections like this. LA has huge freeway system comparable in size to Chicago subways. Also unbelievable number of arterials, streets, and driveways. But truth is, all Los Angeles’ problems like the ones you mentioned are doubtless attributable to the Blue Line light rail between LA and Long Beach.

      True, the riots happened before the Blue Line was even built. But latest particle physics indicates that it is now somehow possible for present events to result from events in the future. So get packed and head for the University of Chicago to pick up your combined Nobel for math, science, and World History. Because you deserve credit fora huge number of History’s most destructively ridiculous events. Bet there’s a WWI statue with name “Sam” under a pigeon somewhere in Flanders.


      1. You know,
        L.A. is a great big freeway.
        Put a hundred down and buy a car.
        In a week, maybe two, they’ll make you a star
        Weeks turn into years. How quick they pass
        And all the stars that never were
        Are parking cars and pumping gas

    2. Chicago is indeed a great place to live. To understand some of the troubles on the South and West Sides you would do better to focus on redlining than the Red Line.

    3. The things Chicago has in common with Detroit do not include its great public transportation or vibrant economy.

  9. It’s a bit of old news but I kinda sorta think the save the route 61 people have a point. If the magnolia restructure from a couple years ago had gone through (with route 24 serving sunset hill via 34th ave in magnolia) they’d almost certainly still have service. And that would have almost certainly been a better outcome on aggregate. Especially because viewmont way ridership on the 24 will probably be even smaller when the 19 is eliminated in September.

    1. If they want bus service, they need to convince Metro to come up with a service pattern for their neighborhood that meets the Service Guidelines.

      Making exemptions to the Service Guidelines constitutes theft from the rest of the county.

      Since Metro wants to split the 48 anyway, I think the Save the 61 people should really be pushing for an extension of the 48N to Ballard/Market or 15th/Leary. Their goal needs to be “Save Our Service”, not “Save This Specific Route”.

      1. IANA Real Transit Planner, but… wouldn’t extending the 48 to connect with RR at Leary or Market be more expensive than running the 61, because it comes so much more often?

      2. It would actually cut twelve minutes off each round trip, because buses wouldn’t need to go around the Loyal Heights loop. But upgrading to fifteen-minute frequency would still be a net loss.

      3. I didn’t intend to comment on the specific politics of the save the 61 folks, as I haven’t researched it two iotas. What I meant to suggest was that there was a process failure here. Because vocal magnolia residents nixed the route 24 restructure, another totally unrelated neighborhood is going to lose service. Now that may not be what actually would have happened but the restructured route 24 could have plausibly met service guidelines in a way the route 61 never could.

        If a trade off between w. Magnolia and sunset hill was explicitly made to both parties I think w. Magnolia would lose. And that’s before considering the upside of developing a new ridership corridor. But that trade off is not on the table as far as I can tell.

      4. @Alex Bailey: Though I understand the impulse of the #24-to-Loyal-Heights idea, I can’t help but think it would just be the western version of route #25, and perform no better (IIRC the 25 will get the axe completely in the second round of cuts but I could be wrong).

  10. I think the Overlake Transit Center Station name is going to have to be changed when East Link comes online in ten years. There is going to be way too much confusion, because there will be an Overlake Village Station. Plus, there’s an eastside hospital called Overlake. And an Overlake church, and an Overlake school. People trying to go to the hospital will end up at the transit center, and vice versa. Since I’ve learned that Rainier Station will be too confusing for people, and should be renamed to some historic neighborhood name, or some nearby local neighborhood park, I would like to propose that Overlake Transit Center Station be named after a chicken farm that existed nearby 70 years ago. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the …. Morelli Chicken Farm Station! Historical. Unique. Respecting the neighborhood’s heritage and culture. And nobody will be confused, since it’s a one-of-a-kind name, right?

    1. Just name it Microsoft Station. They are helping fund it and it’s the largest destination at the station.

  11. It’s a bit ironic, but when I first checked out this site a few weeks a go one of the commenters suggested that Metro bus routes opperate within Seattle city limits while the intercity & suburban bus rutes were turned over to Sound Transit. In Chicago that is more or less how the bus routes are set up. The CTA opperates routes 1 – 205 & Pace the suburban provider has lines 208 & up.

  12. Due to several ferries being out of service, the washington state dot is moving the sanpoli which serves eastern washington and placing it into service on the pt defiance tahlequah run. This will free them to use the chetzemoka on another route in the system to cope with record demand. It is not known how the system will retrofit the sanpoli for service in the puget sound but interim ferries chief cappaci says the necessary work should be done in two weeks. Because until the Tacoma gets fixed, we will be in need of all the help we can get. The hiyu will serve on the vashon line on a new four boat schedule to help relieve demand. Detours are provided to help drivers in eastern washington cope with the loss of their ferry.

    Everything above is false. Just a parody of the loss of the mv Tacoma.

    1. I discussed the ferry problem with a WSF Captain friend of mine last night. He said it basically boils down to management choices over the past decade or more after one of Tim Eyeman’s initiatives cut the funding for roads and ferries. The system has been operating without a capital budget ever since and important upgrades have been deferred. He mentioned that the control system that “fried” on the MV Tacoma is not directly replaceable because the company that made it went out of business. They also are apparently putting a boat that had been decommissioned back in service because the system didn’t have any boats in reserve.

      Despite being as liberal as I am, I think the correct thing for the Governor(s) and WSDOT officials to have done in the face of this is to shut the ferry system down (after fair warning). The public must understand the consequences of not supporting THEIR government by paying taxes. And they need to have said, you don’t like the potholes or shitty roads? Too bad…

      1. To everyone who claims their tax dollars are paying for their ferries they are mistaken.

        How do they like their cheap car tabs now, eh?

      2. No, I think the ferries should charge users what it costs to operate them. The goal is farebox recovery of 80%, a difficult but necessary goal.

        Voters were warned before approving and vehemently demanding $30 tabs what would happen. A loud supermajority has demanded those $30 tabs.

        It is nice that finally after the Steel Electrics went belly-up and had to be chopped up in Mexico – pictures at http://maritimematters.com/2012/01/vanishing-vintage-ferries-of-washington-state/ – that the state legislature started to get serious about replacing the fleet.

    2. Wowza, I knew the ferry system was short boats ever since the Steel Electrics got pulled but I didn’t realize it was this bad.

      The legislature created fertile ground for I-695 by refusing to reform the MVET especially the depreciation tables. They should have switched either to the IRS depreciation schedule or the Kelley Blue Book value.

    3. Is the Steilacoom any larger than the Hiyu? They borrowed it for a while for use at Port Townsend a few years back. Maybe put the Steilacoom at Fauntleroy, and the Hiyu at Anderson Island?

      1. The steilacoom would really only be useful at tahlequah if anything. It would not work on the north vashon because it lacks the capacity to handle the ever increasing traffic up there. The current plan before the Tacoma went bust was to retire the e state and the klahowya and use their sister boat the tillikum as the relief boat. The hiyu doesn’t have much shelf life remaining. And she only carries 34 cars.

      2. That’s why I was thinking the Hiyu would make a more appropriate vessel to use at Anderson island. The Steilacoom II, used temporarily at Port Townsend, is closer to 50 cars.

  13. Just returned last week from a few days in Panamá City (not the one in Florida) – we decided to use the transit system as much as possible despite the ubiquitousness of very inexpensive cabs. They just opened their first Metro line earlier this year, which is very pleasant and extremely cheap ($0.35/ride). The Metro is level-board but with power through an overhead rail and pantographs. Our hotel was between two stations, which was convenient; not so much was the fact that the line does not really go to places of interest to a first-time visitor. (It’s not meant for that, of course.) There was a station reasonably close to the old quarter but the Panamanians seem to have a proclivity for building overhead crossings of busy highways to their median, then letting you have at it from there…our walk over was a very interesting experience!

    Panamá City has also replaced the infamous Diablos Rojos (red devils); independently owned buses that had, shall we say, a bad reputation even among Panamanians. These buses–basically brightly painted school buses–still travel to places in the suburbs, but in-city lines have been created and new transit authority-owned buses now operate on them. They are also $0.35 but do not have route numbers; they show destination and a major street that they travel on. There is no schedule or route map information that we found, so some knowledge of the city is more than useful when trying to ride them. That being said, they run frequently on several routes and we found them helpful once we figured them out a bit. Routes to the airport or farther out of the city levy a surcharge–I don’t recall what it was as we did not travel that far by bus.

    Both bus and Metro require a payment card–no cash whatsoever. Cards are hard to find; you can’t buy them in the airport (!) for example, and you’d have to leave the airport and cross a busy highway to even find a bus anyway. Metro stations sell them at machines like the Orca machines, instructions both in Spanish and English, and station security was helpful in explaining them to anyone needing a little assistance. They found my putting $10 on the card hysterical as the rides are so cheap, but as all fares are the same you can tap on and pass the card back to be used again, and the same when you tap off. We used transit enough to spend most of the $10! On buses, tap on at the front, tap off at the rear. Like Singapore, you only go in the front and out the back. The buses have turnstiles…which on a couple of seriously crowded buses were quite inconveniently located. ;-)

    All in all, a good transit experience and I would not hesitate to use the system again. There is a major transit center at Albrook, which is at the end of the Metro and adjacent to a large mall and the regional airport. The transit center is enclosed, has shops and restaurants, serves local, regional and national routes, was completely jam-packed with Friday evening commuters in very orderly queues–and the place was spotless.

    1. Thanks for the report! Always interested to hear about experiences with transit systems throughout the world.

      1. My pleasure–didn’t take any photos or anything, but thought it was an interesting system in a place many of us may have not yet visited (though well worth while, in my opinion).

        The line seemed to get a good deal of use, though not crush-loaded often. It has “next train arriving” boards but–when they were working–always showed two trains that had passed some minutes ago, and not necessarily the last two! I never saw a train listed that had actually not arrived and departed yet. Headways seemed to be no more than 5 minutes every time we rode, even in the later evenings. Never waited long for a train at all. The line does close at about 10pm on weekdays though, at least for now.

        The Panamanians I mentioned traveling by bus/train to were very happy that we had done so. They seemed proud of their new metro.

    2. also … the metro’s power system … that is known as “rigid catenary” and as its name implies, uses a metal rail/beam instead of the normal catenary wire. Works the same way but is more reliable/less prone to failure as it isn’t a wire hanging in the air.

      Closest place to view it here is in Portland where their streetcar uses it to cross one of their bridges.

      Madrid, which has many subway lines that use overhead catenary power collection, have retrofitted many of their tunnels to use it instead

      photo of it in a tunnel: http://www.semi.es/ftp/transporte/ferroviario/98-1204_2979x1982.jpg

      1. Thanks, Gordon – I wasn’t sure if there was a different name for it than just catenary. Great info on other systems as well!

  14. I’ve lived along Taylor Ave. for about 2 years and this weekend is the first time I remember seeing 3 & 4 running electric buses on the weekend. Did something change that they can do this now but couldn’t before?

    1. Metro always operates trolleys on trolley routes unless they need to be motorized due to construction, maintenance, or special events. For some routes, like the 3/4, this ends up being almost every weekend.

      Metro actually publishes which routes will be motorized for the coming weekend here.

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