Shots of 4500, Metro’s first low-floor articulated electric trolleybus (New Flyer XT60), in action. You can see it rolling up Rainier, up Pike, then lowering the poles and using battery power, and pulling a U-turn at the Route 14 terminus in Mount Baker. I’m glad we decided to invest in more and better trolleybuses. More are on the way and I can’t wait to ride one!

72 Replies to “Sunday Open Thread: Our Next Generation of Trolleys”

  1. How long can these buses operate without being connected to the catenary?

    1. I was wondering the same thing. Also, how long does it take to raise and lower the poles, and, if it’s quick enough, could this be done during normal operation?

      This opens up all sorts of interesting possibilities. For example, electrifying the southern part of the 48 with just the existing wire? Or extending the 13 another mile or so to connect upper Queen Anne to Fremont (perhaps, turn around at the parking lot of the Woodland Park Zoo)?

      1. Last I heard, Metro will policy is to not use battery power for regular scheduled service. Batteries are a backup, to get around blockages due to construction or traffic accidents.

      2. Metro’s battery policy sounds sensible. Running scheduled service on batteries could get very ugly very fast, unless they could get a really high capacity battery. What I would really like in next gen trolleybuses is more speed, since trolleybuses are excruciatingly slow, but that may not be physically possible without rail.

      3. The reason why buses are slow and go ~10 MPH is that at least in the city they have to stop every two blocks for passengers to alight. It is one of the reasons that stops are consolidated and some stops eliminated. Unless you make all buses express buses you will never have buses that get up to speed greater than 10 MPH. It has nothing to do with the bus propulsion system whether the bus is pure electric power or diesel.

      4. Many supposedly local routes have low-ridership sections where, in practice, the bus is able to breeze through most of the stops most hours of the day. I like call these routes a “hidden express” – as they’re great when they actually get you where you want to go. Sometimes, the time savings from bus stops alone actually makes routes like these worth waiting for, or walking an extra couple of blocks, even if it only runs every half hour, while a nearby more popular route is running every 10-15 minutes.

        For instance, compare the speed of the 27 down Yesler and the 7 or 14 down Jackson.

      5. It’s unfortunate about the 27 that only runs in the mornings and evenings and not at all during most of the day. I’m guessing that it’s this way because of low ridership.

      6. No, Kven is right. Seattle’s existing trolley infrastructure is slow enough than many routes will run 5+ minutes faster (and sometimes more) when dieselized.

        It’s because our wire is old and degrading, and because many of our switches are located precisely where they will guarantee a missed light.

        The solution is simple yet significant maintenance and streamlining. Trolleybuses in Boston and Vancouver do not run nearly as slow.

      7. I remember taking the 10 from 15th & Aloha at 5:10pm hoping to get to Pike Place in time to pick up produce before it closed at 6. It was a light traffic day and the bus booked it to downtown by 5:25.

      8. The 27 is all day, half-hourly weekdays and hourly evenings/weekends. When I lived near Harborview I used to celebrate whenever a 27 eastbound was coming because it was and less stressful than the 3/4.

        It got caught in the first round of cuts in 2012 and was reduced to peak only. Then I can’t remember if it was restored but on a different route (east Yesler to Seneca Street) or if that was just a proposal. Then a month ago it was restored with its original route. I’m not sure if the weekend frequency was always hourly or it’s less than it used to be.

    2. They have batteries on board that alow them to travel a small distance (I don’t remember exactly how far) without the overhead wires.

      1. I’m not sure to what extent the batteries power some of the accessories as well. Vancouver’s E901/902 trolleys from 81/82 had batteries for off wire as well, but as memory serves the batteries only powered the propulsion, not the heat or even the air compressor.

      2. Standard and short wheel-base trolleybus are the best hillclimbers.
        Metro’s new low-floor 60′ articulated models ARE NOT the best for hillclimbing.
        Conclusion: Metro buys articulated models to serve commuter rush hour wage-slaves,
        rather than new models to run downtown hills, reduce worst air pollution, make transit simpler.
        Transit advocates wearing rose-colored glasses remain ignorant of an opportunity lost.

      3. Standard and short wheel-base trolleybus are the best hillclimbers. Metro’s new low-floor 60′ articulated models ARE NOT the best for hillclimbing. Conclusion: Metro buys articulated models to serve commuter rush hour wage-slaves, rather than new models to run downtown hills, reduce worst air pollution, make transit simpler. Transit advocates wearing rose-colored glasses remain ignorant of an opportunity lost.

    3. Three miles is the right answer. But again depends. Most obstacles here are less than that of course so we will be back on wire before them.

    4. Trolley buses get their power from the “overhead wire” not “catenary”. Link has catenary.

      1. Depends. Some sections in Moscow, at least when I was there last, had some full catenary.

      2. Glenn – Would love to see pictures / videos of the “full catenary” in Moscow.

        I am not aware of any catenary system for trolley buses, anywhere in the world.

        I suspect what you were seeing was a K&M type overhead system, which is very different than the Ohio Brass system typically seen in North America.

      3. It was full catenary in the sense there was a contact wire and suspension wire. I’m guessing it wasn’t constant tension as per new rail lines are.

      4. Catenary: “the cable, running above the track, from which the trolley wire is suspended.” (from

      5. Hi Glenn –

        I did take a look at some images online of the Moscow system. It appears that they are running trolley wire that looks like railroad catenary there… They are using the suspension wire as a substitute for additional traction poles and span wire. Rather than suspend the trolley wire perpendicularly, as we would, they did it parallel. Very different.

        Joseph Singer –

        Despite your definition, it is inappropriate and non-standard to refer to Seattle’s trolley overhead as catenary. The term catenary comes from the shape suspended wire takes. As all of our trolley overhead, including the span wires, are kept pretty tight, the catenary shape is not frequently seen. Indeed, in areas where the trolley wire or overhead is held up by crossarms, it is totally inappropriate. There’s actually a pretty good wikipedia piece on trolley wire, catenary and definitions.

        Suffice it to say that other than in the comments on this blog from yourself and a few others (including Gordon Werner who frequently refers to it as “OCS”) referring to our trolleybus overhead and trolley wire as catenary is incorrect. I have never, in all the reading about electric traction system I’ve done over the years, seen straight trolley wire, hung in a traditional manner, referred to as catenary, anywhere.

      6. They use that in some places, but not others. It seems like the overhead there has a lot of motion to it as well. I’m not sure if that helps prevent dewirement as the overhead can move a little bit when necessary or if it is just a system characteristic. The whole thing seems like it is constantly in motion by up to a foot or so one direction or the other.

  2. Looks really nice, especially in comparison to the 1978 AMn General I rode on the MEHVA tour yesterday.

    1. Important question after KCM’s “experiences” with the 4000 series MANs…

    1. The demo looks not so great, but I’m impressed that the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles are at least asking for some alternative technologies to heavy diesel trucking

      Wish Port of Seattle was working on anything similar.

  3. You can get rid of all that ugly catenary and not have to waste energy carrying heavy batteries around if you switched to hydrogen buses.

    1. Hydrogen, the solution to all of our problems. If it only were that easy.

      1. Hey speaking of that.

        Shout out to STB’s request for funding.

        I will give you $50 if you write one post about Hydrogen.

        It would be about it’s use in transit and transportation, and opportunities for Seattle, King County and other agencies to utilize it.

        The requirements is that it be about the opportunities related to hydrogen, not batteries and no quotes or comments from Elon Musk or anything related to Tesla. And no pictures of Hindenburgs and none of the paid troll tag lines disparaging it.

      2. The Hydrogen powered buses in Vancouver and Chicago were less than successful (capable of half a days work at best, and no standing loads), although that was fifteen years ago. I’d hope the technology has improved since than.

      3. If I remember correctly, it takes more energy to produce a unit of hydrogen than the amount of energy contained within that hydrogen.

        If only we could power our buses with a perpetual motion machine…

      4. It’s like Mystery Science Theater 3000 when you three guys show up.

        H2 Aberdeen

        H2 Aberdeen is an initiative working to bring about a hydrogen economy in the Aberdeen City Region. It will help to reinforce the area’s position as an energy city, now and in the future.

        Hydrogen, as an energy storage medium, offers an opportunity to maximize the capacity of renewable energy.

        With the transferable oil and gas expertise in the North East of Scotland, as well as a capacity for renewable energy generation, there is an to further enhance our economic competitiveness by being at the forefront of a hydrogen economy.

        The H2 Aberdeen initiative has to date delivered:

        a hydrogen strategy outlining the key actions required by the City Region over the next 10 years;

        a state-of-the-art hydrogen production and bus refuelling station;

        10 hydrogen fuel cell buses, the Europe’s largest fleet;

        the HyTrEc project (Hydrogen Transport Economy for the North Sea Region) which includes the trial of fleet vehicles – hydrogen hybrid vans and plug in range extended vans.
        The final conference for the HyTrEc project, which finishes in June;

        And we will continue to further develop the supply chain in Aberdeen and Scotland.

      5. Frankly, Bailo’s been a hydrogen nut for a while. Hydrogen was debunked a LONG time ago, and debunked repeatedly since then. It’s not efficient, and it’s not practical.

        I’ve ridden some *very* nice all-battery-electrics — from New Flyer! In Chicago. They ARE practical. Being used in Winnipeg as well.

        There are several other companies making full battery-electric buses in addition to New Flyer.

    2. @John Bailo Hydrogen fuel cell buses may be fashionable but in fact they are nowhere as energy efficient as either battery buses or trolleybuses.

      The latest edition of Eisenbahn Review gives a paper from a Swiss university. Here are the relative energy efficiency figures for various power sources for buses. Diesel bus 33%; hydrogen fuel cell 44%; battery bus 73%; trolleybus 81%. Don’t forget that hydrogen is simply a means of carrying energy and the processes involved e.g. electrolysis of water etc. etc. are complicated, with energy losses at every stage.

      Of course the media never give you numbers, just PR spin. people promoting fuel cell buses don’t make money commercially, they make money out of huge taxpayer subsidised “research grants”.

  4. This. We should never lay another foot of non grade separated rail in the city. How many more of these could we have had instead of the SLUT and the disaster on capital hill?

    Off board payment and signal priority for all!

    1. What is the “disaster” on Capital Hill? And where is this “Capital Hill” that you speak of?

      1. Sorry, Capitol Hill. I just drove down broadway The only positive thing we will get from it is what not to do in the future. Also, 1130 on a beautiful synday morning and i counted ZERO bicycles in the cycle track. Such a mess. Truely the “Seattle Process” at its worst.

      2. The 2nd ave Cycle Track, and the Broadway Cycle Track are both disasters IMO. They both lack good visual cues to separate them from traffic, the 2nd Ave signal head Christmas tree effect is a disaster. On-Street parking should have been removed on 2nd as the narrowing of the street has turned it into a disaster as well. The one time I was there at rush hour I have never heard so much horn honking in the city.

      3. While not perfect, the new bike paths are still much better than what was there before. They would be ever better if they continued on further north, so you don’t have to switch over between the right side and left side of the street when the separated path begins and ends.

      1. Absolutely. Right hand running in heavily pedestrianized neighborhoods is a catastrophe because of the right-turning cars having to wait for crossing pedestrians.

      2. This is absolutely the correct design. Streetcars, trolleybuses, buses in the CENTER lanes, with island platforms.

  5. Do you know what Seattle needs from STB?

    A photographer’s guide.

    I’m trying to think where are good places to photograph transit that are relatively safe in the evenings. As you know, I generally am one of those pesky Seafair jet-noise-loving tourists that give you a legitimate excuse to flee to the San Juans or the North Cascades or the Olympics!

    1. Photo Locations Trolley Routes
      Route 1
      Northbound/Southbound 3rd Av Between Virginia St to Broad St
      1 Av N Denny Wy to Mercer St
      Queen Anne Av N Roy St to Denny Way
      W Olympic 2nd Av to Olympic Way W

      Route 2
      4th Av Spring/4th Seneca/3rd Union/3rd Pike
      Boren Av/Seneca – Broadway/E Union
      18th/E Union – 23rd E Union – 34th E Union
      Lake Washington Blvd/Madrona Drive (Terminal)
      7th W W Raye (Terminal)
      6th W W McGraw
      6th W from W Galer to W Raye
      W Galer 6th W to Queen Anne Av N
      Queen Anne Av N/Highland Dr
      Queen Anne Av N/Mercer
      Denny Way Queen Anne Av N to 3rd Av
      Route 3
      3rd Av Virginia St to Cedar St – 5th Av N Broad St – Taylor Av N/Valley St
      Taylor Av N/Galer – 5th N/Newton – 5th N/Boston – Queen Anne N/Boston
      1 W/W Raye (Terminal)
      4th James – 9th/Jefferson – Broadway/E Jefferson – 14th E Jefferson – 21 E Jefferson
      23rd E Jefferson – MLK Wy E Cherry – 34th/E Cherry – 34th E Union (Terminal)
      Route 4
      Note interlined with Route 3
      Queen Anne N/Blaine – Nobhill N/Galer
      Too be continued…..

  6. I’ve seen some of the new trolleys out for test runs many times weekdays at lunchtime 12-1pm on Jackson around the Int’l District though have never been able to get my smartphone camera out in time, but if anyone is hoping to see them in action that seems like a good sighting location and time.

    Can we please string some more overhead wires to expand the network with new trolleys (and the ability to buy more while they are still in production) plus changes to the network including trolley routes this would be a good time to say wire up Denny Way between Seattle Center and Cap Hill and also out to Madison Park? What are other good routes for electrification besides the upcoming 48 electrification on 23rd?

    1. Well, the proposal to electrify the remainder of the south half of the 48 (John to Jefferson and Rainier to Dearborn) is something to look forward to. Also there’s the Madison BRT (can you say “RapidRide M Line?”).

      1. I said this recently and I will say it again – Swift is what RapidRide should be.

        There are certain design standards (that make transit advocates for Mukilteo sad) that are upheld… and I’ve rode RapidRide a couple of times. It’s nice and slightly better than standard Metro, but it’s not Swift. Frankly Route 124 should be a RapidRide.

    2. Operator Training has started … more testing.
      Coach will need Radios Installed, Ad Racks,Farebox and Burn in Time for Traction Equipment
      Each will have to have at least 100 miles of Burn in Time i.e.
      No Passengers,
      Unknown how many coaches will be ready for service 08/15/2015
      Get your Gillig Photographs now it is the beginning of the end of the Gillig Era
      End of the Gillig Era……Early 2016

      1. Speaking of Gillig why do the converted (de-dieseled) Bredas have Gillig steering wheels?

  7. Idea for a STB blogpost… a Seattle-centric view of the Translink tax defeat in Vancouver particularly as it relates to ST3? I’ve been looking at Price Tags blog and the coverage is detailed and overwhelming when I don’t know the basics and context. Trying to make sense of it but it sounds like the defeat was very devastating.

    1. Hmm… Interesting blog “price tags.”

      Just read Jarrett Walker’s critique of the vote.

      I think he’s off base (sidebar – I think he does good work, but do not worship every word he says like some who read and write on this blog) regarding Translink’s competence. They have a very difficult mandate, muddied by the sometimes unclear jurisdictional boundaries prevalent throughout B.C..

      Like many agencies, their greatest fault is an inability to admit when something is wrong, and make a course correction. Not unique to Translink, this problem is amplified in a system with ridership at the level seen in Vancouver. They have serious issues with service delivery, and haven’t been innovative at any level. You can have the greatest planning department in the world, but if you can’t execute, it doesn’t mean a thing.

      Translink has a serious problem with service execution and operational excellence.

  8. Someone should probably ask some of these suitcase wielding passengers walking on the pier 91 bike trail how they sound up having to haul their luggage all the way out here. I’ve seen a few more people at the 33 / 24 stop on the Magnolia Bridge than previous years, but people still seem to wind up lost and walking out here to Magnolia.

    Granted, a few nut jobs like me walk to Seattle from Magnolia because we’re too cheap to even take transit, but I’ve got a small backpack, not a wardrobe on wheels size suitcase.

    1. It remains one of the great mysteries of tourism in Seattle: Why people will spend Thousands of US$ on a air travel to SEA and on a cruise to AK, bu are too cheap to take a cab to pier 91.

    2. @Glenn

      Walking far doesn’t make you a nutcase, it just makes you an unusual American.

      I’ve walked from ID to Northgate via Capitol Hill several times myself.

      It does wear your shoes out a bit faster than normal…

  9. Thanks for pulling the bredas on Sunday. In spite of the notice saying trolleys would be in force. Too warm for non ac coaches to be in service.

    1. It doesn’t matter if the bus is A/C or not. Many unintelligent riders don’t know or don’t care if the bus has A/C or not, and will open the windows anyway. Short of the driver detaining the bus until passengers cooperate (“This bus is not moving until all the windows are closed!”), there is nothing that can be done about this, unless Metro orders all future A/C buses with perma-sealed windows like the 6800’s.

      1. I remember a rapid ride being halted because the temp got over 80. Windows were open all over the place.

      2. You evidently have a very low opinion on the intelligence of bus riders. As far as windows being open sometimes the operator just does not switch on the A/C unless asked and sometimes even then the operator will not do it.

      3. The buses with bolted shut windows should be used to transport prisoners not the public.

  10. I for one cannot wait for them to join the fleet. They will have air conditioning meaning summers of hellish suffering on hot, crowded, stuffy trolly’s in Seattle will be no more!

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