King County Metro XT40

If you’ve been on the streets of Seattle lately, you may have noticed one of Metro’s prototype 40 foot trolleys cruising the streets. Identical twins 4300 and 4301–officially New Flyer XT40 trolleys–are out simulating service on a 90 day test run. This allows Metro to identify any minor adjustments that might be needed prior to New Flyer’s production run beginning in early 2015. The remaining 84 vehicles will start arriving in June and will hit the streets after they’ve been tested and had various accessories installed (farebox, bike rack, radios, etc). The 60 foot prototype will arrive around March 2015, with production of the remaining 54 beginning in late 2015 or early 2016.

Metro has taken these trolleys up Queen Anne, James and most of the other substantial grades that the trolleys currently run on. About 85% of all the current trolley wire has been tested. Metro has also run the coaches with barrels filled with water to simulate a 130% load–both on and off wire. A 150% test will take place in January. 1.8 miles of Friday’s 2.2 mile media ride was solely on battery power and used just 10% of the battery’s capacity.

KCM XT40 Interior Looking Back

The interior retains a 2×2 layout, save for two seats opposite the rear door. Seat colors are noticeably different from the rest of the fleet and 1970’s wood paneling has made a return, albeit in a light birch color. Forward-facing seat lovers can rejoice since only two of the 19 seats in the rear of the vehicle face inwards. The interior as a whole is very similar to that of the Orions. A plethora of cameras connected to a DVR are scattered about inside and out. Metro opted for forward-facing wheelchair restraints but is using the Q’UBE 3-Point Securement System where a sliding bumper takes place of the fourth securement strap. Passengers with upper body strength will be able to secure themselves.

Metro’s contract stipulated the vehicles need to be able to travel a minimum of 3 miles off wire, and during testing they’ve been able to reach that goal. Metro plans to keep battery runs to a mile or less during revenue service. Currently, Metro motorizes whenever construction work takes place within 10 feet of the trolley overhead. Often, only a half block is de-energized. The new trolleys will be able continue through de-energized wire without needing to drop the poles. Further, the new trolleys will allow the operator to raise and lower the poles from their seat. This video shows unracking at the beginning and racking at the end. Pans would be installed wherever re-racking is common. But since the vehicles can travel along dead wire with the EPU providing propulsion, the majority of the time it will not be necessary to raise or lower the poles.

Photo by Neil Hodges

During our test run, we turned from S Jackson St on to 8th Ave S and attempted to drive on what turned out to be dead wire. The driver–who is not normally a transit operator–didn’t specify whether or not he took the necessary steps to throw the switch (this switch is probably radio controlled and would be activated by the vehicle’s right turn signal). Regardless, the poles wanted to continue going straight even though the vehicle turned white. The poles came off the wire which is exactly what Metro’s line crew wants. They lowered so they wouldn’t get caught on the overhead wires (a costly repair). The operator had to exit the vehicle to rewire since we weren’t completely lined up with the overhead.

Save for the air brakes and suspension, everything on the vehicle is powered by electricity–even the doors. All vehicles will have electric heating and air conditioning. The top speed is governed to 39 MPH. On battery, the top speed is around 15-20 MPH. In either mode, heating, air conditioning, and other ancillary services may be powered down automatically to ensure the continued performance of the motor (such as when climbing a steep incline). Similar to that of many hybrid or electric automobiles, regenerative braking will add power back to the batteries or overhead down to about 6 MPH when regenerative braking becomes less effective. Due to the regenerative braking and other efficiencies (such as weight) Metro expects the New Flyer trolleys to be about 20% more efficient than the current fleet. Coupling this with weekend diesel savings, and reduced maintenance costs of the overworked Bredas, Metro is set to operate a lean trolley fleet.

Rear Compartment
Rear compartment, photo by Gordon Werner

Metro is currently deciding whether or not it can electrify other routes, such as the 48S. If it’s feasible and Metro isn’t subject to future service cuts there will be another procurement using additional options specified in the previous contract. The current order is only enough vehicles to run the current trolley network (plus a few spares).

Metro is also excited about the two fully electric 40′ Proterra vehicles that will be arriving around the same time as the 60 foot trolleys. These vehicles will spend a great deal of time in the R&D phase as Metro evaluates them in a wide variety of applications–including freeway routes. Metro will install two fast recharging stations: one at Bellevue Base and a second at a yet-to-be-determined location (Eastgate TC is the current frontrunner).

Photos from nearly every angle can be found by the author, Gordon Werner, and Neil Hodges.

37 Replies to “Metro Test-Driving Off-Wire Trolleys”

  1. It seems like it would be kinda nice if the Proterra came with a trolley pole option, since Seattle already has so much wire overhead. It would then become a more extended battery version of these.

    1. I don’t know where to find these numbers, but the Proterra buses have to be much more expensive than these ones. The batteries and surrounding electrical systems have to be a lot more robust to handle fast charging and discharging, and more deep discharging. Until they’re cheap and reliable enough for wide deployment we can’t really build partially-wired service patterns around them, and they’d be overkill for operation on today’s trolley routes.

      1. The Proterras have the ability to get up to freeway speeds, so I’d say they’re pretty robust.

        Regardless, since they can fully recharge in 15 minutes I don’t see much point in having them hooked up to the OCS for a trickle charge.

      2. Yeah, exactly — that robustness comes at a price. Also, supposedly a previous round of Proterra buses wasn’t very reliable. Before buying a lot of them it would be wise to wait until the cost of these battery systems comes down, and the buses have a strong record of reliability.

        Once that happens there could be significant benefits to having a fleet of buses capable of trickle-charging when on-wire and running with full performance when off-wire. For one thing, trickle-charging is usually easier on batteries than fast charging. And we could finally update service patterns and terminals on trolley routes without moving all the wire first. There are a bunch of things that would become easier if we had trolleys that could operate at urban speeds on batteries for several miles.

      3. Perhaps it will finally be possible to extend the 13 to Fremont, rather than have it dead-end a frustrating half-mile away.

  2. Great post – as a regular trolley rider I’m looking forward to these!

    I was wondering about seat count and effective capacity. The fact sheet in the photo links says 36 seats + 36 standees (estimated). That is a reduction in seats vs. the existing 40′ trolley fleet (is it 42 seats currently?), but how in any way would 36 standees fit under normal operating conditions?

    The crush load on the current 40-footers is ~55-60 people (every seat taken + ~15-20 standees). At that load, aisle movement is impossible and passengers must get off to allow others to exit.

    1. It would really be great to see a 2+1 seating configuration in the front of the coach. The trolley busses are on urban routes with a frequent turnover at stops. Interior circulation is key to keeping them on schedule and it would be great to see KCM go all out with this configuration, or at least order a subset with 2+1 to collect data on potential reliability improvements from the improved circulation.

  3. You mention running with poles connected to dead wire through work zones. Most of the time I’ve seen dead wire in work zones, it is grounded with a cable clamped to the overhead wire. It would seem that this would preclude the trolley shoe from riding on the wire through that zone.

    1. In that case they’d have to drop poles and rewire. So long as the vehicle is properly lined up upon rewiring, this could all be done from the driver’s seat.

      1. It is not possible, under any circumstance, for the poles to rewire, from the driver’s seat, without a pan (similar to what are still in place at CPS from Breda operations) in place over the wire.

      2. Has Seattle tested an intersection design with no wires — pans at every exit? It would be very much worth testing whether trolleybuses could reliably rewire en-route. The elimination of specialwork would vastly reduce the costs of wiring up additional streets, and of maintaining the existing wire.

    2. You shouldn’t typically encounter any wire that is dead WITHOUT the jumpers in place.

      About the only time this would happen is if a whole substation is out… which is pretty rare.

  4. “The driver–who is not normally a transit operator–didn’t specify whether or not he took the necessary steps to throw the switch (this switch is probably radio controlled and would be activated by the vehicle’s right turn signal). Regardless, the poles wanted to continue going straight even though the vehicle turned white.”

    1. I’m surprised Risk Management allowed anybody but a transit operator qualified on trolleys to drive that bus down even a lane in the yard with wire over it.

    2. Also bet that above division would suffer some stroke, cardiac, and conniption fits on its own staff upon discovering that a line crew wanted a moving trolley coach to de-wire under special work anywhere.

    3. If I ever told my base chief, or worse, Instructor the late Sergeant Roland McVay that my poles really wanted to go straight so bad they were meowing and crying- by dark I’d be working in a petting zoo for electric hardware.

    4. Which would have only been the beginning if I’d followed up with the declaration that since I’d used my right turn signal, nobody could blame me for the tons of live metal piled in the intersection behind me. Or the helicopter lift of Risk to Harborview.

    5. Which begs the dead-serious question: How exactly do the Vancouver drivers keep track of what the poles and shoes are really doing? Fact that a single intersection VCR is still in the air shows this is possible. Just curious re: details.

    6. Much interested in pole-raising mechanism that can take the wire by coach position alone, without “pans” as we had in Tunnel staging. Good if we could.

    7. But at least the incident did one thing that made all possible damage and destruction worth it: the huge flash from the de-wirement corrected a paint scheme in which the only color uglier than each was the combination. Hope it also got the seats. Just put a decal from the Beatles’ album on the side.

    8. Quit laughing, Roland, everybody in Risk Management are already PTSD.

    Mark Dublin

    1. Mark –

      1) They let a Vancouver Supervisor drive their demonstrator coach around the block a few years ago. I was pretty surprised by that, given Vancouver has a totally different overhead switch set up.

      2) Agreed.

      5) Vancouver’s coaches have a rear window. They don’t have air conditioning. Not sure how often the drivers can see out said rear window, though, given the regularity of 150% crush loads.

      Also, note that Vancouver’s overhead is predominantly power on – power off switches. These were replaced in Seattle in the 1979 rebuilding by Fahslaband radio induction switches. With power on – power off switches, the “draw” of the coach through the overhead triggers the switch. Very few operators still use the actual power pedal to trigger these switches, instead they have a toggle on the dash for “power-coast.” To use this switch they have to let off the accelerator (in either situation) and then select whether they need to power the switch or coast through it. Note that this is outlined by signs in the overhead. Thus, their drivers have a pretty good idea if they get the switch or not… if it was a “power” switch and they got the no-con alarm, their poles went the wrong way. The overhead is set up so that if the contactors are for power, that direction is the powered direction through the overhead (so you’re not trying to power the switch at the contactors, then having to immediately back off the power pedal for an insulator).

      I suspect with the power on – power off switches the operators up there have much more association of whether or not their switch direction will have an insulator or not than in Seattle … where seemingly many operators just coast through all special work rather than figure out if they have power or not.

      6) Can’t. Need a pan. No pan, get out and put them up. Never seen poles go up without a pan or driver involvement, anywhere in the world.

      1. Thanks, KH.

        Also apologies to the poor writer- no way to treat a guest. Well, in Chicago, maybe, but everybody from back there, except maybe President Obama, knows how to give as good as he gets.

        I drove trolley buses for Metro, starting with AMG forty-footers in 1982. Went on to MAN sixty foot trolleys when they came in. Last run in service was a Breda on a Tunnel route in 1995.

        Pretty sure Roland McVay himself explained a power switch to me: “That’s the one where you have to know how to choose whether to hit a car or get stuck on dead wire!”

        I chiefly loved the trolleys precisely because of the exercise of the exact combination of mechanical knowledge and skill you’re describing. Moving machinery in your own hands!

        Reason I wish SolidWorks had input tools for manufacturing design other than mouse and keyboard.

        Had uniformly excellent instructors, who themselves loved the machines. Without any names, let’s hear some current assessments on that score. Otherwise, might be good to put beginning classes on the train to Vancouver.

        Also without ratting anybody out, does anybody else watch standard special work approach and wonder why every wired intersection is not a sparking Brillo pad on top of a brand new wrecking yard?

        Also, though: Those of us who value electric driving for itself also think that if the extra skill should result in well-earned extra pay, more people would choose to stay with it until they learn it well enough to love it.

        BTW: Also rethinking the purple- seems to be a transparent grape-wine shade rather than usual Easter egg. But Basic Bulldozer yellow has got to go. Maybe a reflectorized cedar?

        Mark Dublin

    2. 2. Barely moving–turning is a more accurate description. The alternative is having the poles stay up and rip down the wires

      4. Again irrelevant since this wire is not normally used.

      6. I imagine it’s the same, but without the pans you’re much more likely to miss the wire and have to get out

      1. 2) Don’t drink so much kool-aid. The introduction of Kiepe poles over a decade ago led to increased overhead damage. This is because the poles are so securely attached to the bus that a snagged pole usually will yank the wire down. Previously, with Ohio Brass poles, the pole would come out of the bus and generally just hang from the overhead, broken, until someone yanked it down. Maintenance will get up on the roof of the bus and install a new pole, and the bus would finish the day in service. On the other hand, the Kiepe retrieval system works much better, so there are fewer instances of poles snagged in the overhead.

        6) I’d argue that without pans you have a 100% chance of missing the wire. There is too much variability for unguided poles going straight up, including, the angle of the shoe on its swivel at the end of the pole.

  5. I notice that the Transit tunnel had rails in 1990… What was the deal? Were they put there when it was built and converting the tunnel to link was simply a matter of changing the overhead?

      1. Yes purely for show. I don’t remember the exact history but there was a call for the bus tunnel to be ready for light rail. Metro bowing to political pressure hurriedly slapped some rails in the tunnel without really putting a lot of thought into them.

        You can still see the decorative rails at CPS and the tunnel segment between there and where the Link tunnel joins.

    1. They were aspirational, a hope that they would make it more likely for rail to be approved in the future. But in the following decade low-floor trains appeared and became the dominant kind due to wheelchair accessibility and faster boarding. Low-floor trains required a lower floor, so the tunnel was closed for a year to sink the floor. The rails were too shoddy quality to be used so they were scrapped and replaced. If trains had been imminent originally they would have paid more attention to the rails, but since they didn’t know when/if/what kind of trains would ever run there they apparently skimped on that part.

      1. Yep, if we built a new bus/transit tunnel at some point, we would know what kind of rails to put in this time.

      2. Not only did the roadway in the stations need to be lowered, but the rails throughout the whole tunnel were installed incorrectly when the tunnel was built. They weren’t insulated within the concrete properly, so they would’ve had to have ripped out even in the roadway was the right height.

    2. I’d like to ask a question worthy of Sam. Did the presence of unused rails in the tunnel affect anybody’s decision to support Link?

  6. Truth in all the above, but real lesson is that there really is no such thing as knowing what to do next time. Skill is being able to learn quickly by experience, and then be ready to act upon the discovery. To me, tracked pavement from the get-go was a perfect example- approach and result.

    Whatever the reason was for putting in the unusable rail, as a driver who really did- and still do- believe in joint rail and bus operations where warranted, I thought the rails provided long, valuable experiences in running rubber tires on tracked curves and grades. For this project, and ones to follow.

    With the DSTT, what most affected the long-planned conversion to rail was the development of both low-floor trains and buses capable of sixty miles a hour. Which did not exist in the early 1980’s, when the Tunnel was conceived.

    Stairs-free boarding has long been the Holy Grail of buses and street rail. Early in the design process, there was intense discussion of possibly creating buses with stairless doors for floor-level boarding until trains came in with same.

    But bus fleet that therefore couldn’t use sidewalk stops outside the Tunnel- non-starter. So the project resigned itself either to fit light-rail trains with lifts like buses- or raise the platforms when buses were removed.

    First- permanent damage to operations. Second- horrendously expensive. Since each is a custom job, every elevator and escalator in the Tunnel would have had to be replaced.

    But onset of low-floor freeway speed buses and interurban speed light rail reduced station modification to a basic jackhammer and skill-saw job to take the trackway down at every station. Enabling straight boarding without touching platforms.

    So even the best rail would have had to come out anyway. Since the track sat in a four foot thick slab of reinforced concrete with square Tunnel-length grooves already poured and cut into the slab, replacing bad track with good was not very hard.

    I really wish we could have gotten a new dual power fleet with trolley motors- still hate diesels underground. Especially when they’re all one door short. Sharing positive wire between trains and buses has been done in lower-voltage systems, like Market Street in San Francisco.

    But 1200 volt trains and 700 volt buses would require three wires- and chance of 1200 volts finding a tank full of diesel fuel blocking its way to be grounded.

    And final main unknown to think about: Just as there were no fast low floor vehicles when work started, I really doubt that anybody thought that it would take nineteen years to get rail into the Tunnel.

    So plan ahead, for sure. But keep your eyes open and your reflexes quick. Difference between us and field mice is that, like other monkeys, quick change of circumstances doesn’t kill us and often reveals new things to steal.

    Mark Dublin

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