A video explaining the advantages of a Communications-based Train Control (CBTC) system, which is being adopted by metro systems around the world. The case studies in their report their website is worth reading.

93 Replies to “Sunday Open Thread: How CBTC Works”

  1. Oran: This begs the question as to what ST has been installing from day 1.
    Shorter headways under the original DSTT tunnels 90 seconds would probably negate the need for a second tunnel under Seattle costing several extra billion.
    If ST has not embraced this technology, available since the ’90s, then why not?

    1. This technology does not work for surface Light Rail because fixed block is needed for integration with the traffic network control apparatus.

      1. That is irrelevant. The trains have limited headways on the surface anyway (six minutes on Rainier Valley because of traffic concerns). If the trains could run every 90 seconds in the tunnel, they would simply end at SoDo.

      2. Or continue to Bellevue, or some other place that can take additional train traffic.

      3. If the money to rebuild the entire line becomes available it would probably be better to instead build a new line down Rainier Avenue and then on one of several other streets to Renton.

        The car collision issue could be prevented by trenching the cross streets.

    2. This technology does not work for surface Light Rail because fixed block is needed for integration with the traffic network control apparatus.

      1. So how many signal boxes are we talking about here? Maybe 10 along MLK and a few more in the Spring District on E-Link.
        Seems better and cheaper all around to use CBTC systemwide, and upgrade those signal boxes to accept wireless inputs that mimic the block signal on/off relay switch.
        Just sayin’

      2. You can still overlay CBTC in the grade separated sections like MUNI did in the Market St subway and Twin Peaks tunnel, so yes on Link north of IDS and the future Westside line.

      3. The MTA in NYC has been installing CBTC. Its been slow going & quite costly considering they have only completed the L line so far. They are nearly done on the 7, but they have been stuck on the E, F, M & R lines along Queens Boulevard for quite a while.

    3. So, um, could we use it in the tunnel and just hold trains at Intl Dist when there’s a discrepency between random surface arrivals and the signal blocks? It should only have to wait one block maximum, or less than a minute, like it already does when there’s bus congestion.

      1. Any background info, including YouTube videos, showing what these world-wide lines looked like just before they got the new signaling? Especially how much anyplace on Earth has ever resembled Seattle transit-wise.


      2. I believe they do just that in San Francisco. Got family that lives out the N-Judah’s route, and every time we head into the city, it holds in the mouth of the downtown tunnel, presumably to switch to automatic operation of some sort.

    4. Mic, does any transit system with signal system you’re referring to have a single grade crossing? Not even going to ask about buses. So suggestion: let’s have a few years under our belts with at least parts of Central, North, and East-LINKs running together, then make the decision.

      Also having everything that isn’t a boring machine ready for the second tunnel when we need it. Plans, construction drawings, soils, geology, underground rivers. And projected budget in the bank. Drawing interest. Meaning that if we don’t need it this decade, less prep time whenever we inevitably do need it.


      1. When the Link is complete through ST3 it will be over 90% fully grade separated with only a few at-grade crossings which as Glenn points out are easily adapted to CBTC. Why wouldn’t a better, safer, lower headway, better location of vehicles, better rider information, lower cost system NOT be installed from day 1?
        I’ve still not gotten an answer from anyone on:
        What the fuck are we installing NOW?

      2. That’s a good question but it still doesn’t fully address the second tunnel issue. We’re very lucky that the DSTT was installed in the 1980s because it lowered Link’s capital costs and may have made the difference in getting it approved. Plus it was 1980s dollars so $200 million with fewer regulations and a tax-friendly legislature. Now we have the choice whether to do the same thing and make a down payment on additional lines (Aurora, Georgetown) or have only one tunnel that may get overcrowded or 98% full or or break down, and building a second tunnel will again be an argument against building additional lines.

  2. When DSTT buses had trolley-poles, while every station had passing wire, every now and then a driver would forget which wire their poles were on, and knock somebody else’s poles off the line. As happened on the street too.

    But aside from that, has there ever been a rear-end collision in the Tunnel? Or any other kind? I don’t recall any. Couple things I do remember, though.

    The Breda fleet had strobe lights under the center of the rear window, to be used any time a bus had to stop outside a station. Drivers soon learned to shut them off when another bus came up behind them.

    But the concrete walls of the tubes are still smooth enough to reflect brake lights. Even at the (relatively) sharp curve NB Third to EB Pine entering Westlake, don’t ever remember being caught unaware by a stopped bus.

    Our training and rules were strict re: following distance, both sides of the ground. Doubt it’s even mentioned in motorist driving schools or classes now. Hate being frequently tail-gated ten miles an hour over the limit. Transit drivers have always created their own CBTC’s.

    Reason every heavy-hauling line using buses will eventually need conversion to rail. The most flexible “block” can’t carry any passengers.

    I can see the reason for ironclad distance where trains follow buses. Especially underground ones with fuel tanks. But really wonder why a bus has to hold in the tunnel until a train ahead is out of sight. Is that imposed by rule, or our signal system?

    But for 25 years, my main problem has been Metro’s stubborn refusal to take any measures whatever to speed up and smooth out DSTT operations at all. Running the Tunnel exact same as the street above it. As taxpayer and transit supporter, wish the Feds could take back their money for something wasted besides streetcars.

    Mark Dublin

    1. As I recall tunnel operations in the early days, the supervisor in the towers at IDS and CPS were originally supposed to give green lights to staging lanes, thereby ‘platooning’ several buses through the tunnel stopping at the right platforms. That grand plan lasted about a month.
      The culprit was the Breda bus with 7 on-board computers that had to agree with one another before allowing transition from diesel to electric mode and back. Supervisors would head down the lanes helping drivers reset things in the proper sequence. Older hands could drop their poles on the fly, and by the end of the lane exiting the tunnel be starting the diesel for the next leg. It was fun to watch how flummoxed the system could get over technical glitches like these.
      In short, may the last Breda ‘RIP”

      1. Mic, always hate the way current zombie movies blame the victim. Because it wasn’t the Bredas’ fault that while one supervisor was poking the mechanism with a broom to change modes, another one couldn’t be waving other buses in to the tunnel with a flag.

        Same still true today, except what broom can’t do for a hybrid, instructing drivers how to restart a bus at rear SB bay at Westlake can. Same with any measure at all to physically control the order in which buses leave staging.

        Starting with rule that run-cards go into the driver’s pocket before arriving in staging. And definition of “Headway” posted over every toilet on Metro property. Regardless of gender.

        But also, Mic, while not sure of contract language for night shift in the sugar-cane fields. But that by Haitian Past Practice, “repose en paix – reposer en paix – paix à son âme – Qu’il repose en paix” translates to “Keep swinging that machete ’til your arm falls off.”

        Too bad however much they smell like zombies, even when shredded for scrap, Bredas come out of the electric furnace like “Christine.” Though Steven King won’t touch this one. Horror has its limits.


      2. So the high-tech solution requires two human components? One supervisor to reset the temperamental computers and another to wave buses through. Were those salaries included in the cost of the system?

      3. I always thought the best way to clear the lanes was to have a ‘Grand Prix’ start, with all drivers assembled at the base of the control tower. At the drop of the flag, each would sprint to their vehicle, start it up and proceed into the tube, whereupon the destination headsign would show the first route needed. Drivers would then flip to the right page in the book and off they go.
        What could go wrong?

    1. There are deadhead runs on the 43 between ~1130pm – 230am every night. If the delay persisted, the 43 would have been the best option to Capitol Hill.

      1. Haha, yeah, it said to transfer from Westlake station to the 43, when there are 0 trips from downtown on weekends. They really need someone knowledgeable about routes to do those announcements. It looks to me like they just looked at a map and picked the route that goes closest to the stations. They could have just suggested the 49 and it would have been fine, although they should have also thrown in the 70 as a suggestion for people not going to Capitol Hill.

      2. I just wrote to ST about that and was about to post it. My email alert said in part, “Stadium Station to Capital Hill and UW Stations: Take King County Metro routes 101, 106 or 150 to Westlake Station.
        Transfer to King County Metro’s route 43 from 4th Ave and Pike St to Broadway E and E John Street for Capital Hill Station or NE Pacific Pl and NE Pacific St for UW Station.”

        My feedback: “I received this alert about a Link interruption between Intl Dist and UW. It says to take the 43. Did you have Metro run extra 43 runs? Because the 43 is now unidirectional peak only and certain other random runs, so it’s useless as a general bidirectional replacement.”

        Why no route 97 backup?

      3. A better recommendation evenings is the 49 because hardly anyone is going to the Husky Stadium area. The 49 goes right to the U-District, and transfers at Campus Parkway to most of the northeast Seattle routes (75, 372, 65). Of course if it went north to 65th it could transfer to the 62, but it doesn’t. (65th should really be considered the northern end of the U-District urban village.)

      4. I think a U-Link replacement route, if there is any, for when it is out of service should be a shuttle bus from UW station to the tunnel if it’s open, 2nd/4th avenues if it’s not, and should take I-5 to UW station. Maybe go to 45th then down 15th, to catch people who would normally have to walk a long way or take a bus to UW station to help save time (although it would be confusing because you would have to move to the other side of the street). For Capitol Hill, the 49 (and yes, the 43 when it operates) is good for going both downtown and to UW, so I wouldn’t have the shuttle bus go to Capitol Hill unless it’s more than just downtown to UW that’s closed.

        But in this case where the tunnel is closed relatively briefly, it wouldn’t have made sense to send new buses for that. Finding the drivers and sending them to the terminals would have taken too much time.

      5. Got a reply from John Highland, ST Customer Service: “Thank you for catching that error. King County was not running additional service. We were looking at older information that obviously in need of an update. We will have our team look at finding new bus options for this.”

    2. Somebody else, like thousands of passengers, tell the County Council to put the 43 back. I already did. Also to move information center back to Earth, no matter how low labor costs are on Remulak.

      Which, as Jane Curtin and Dan Ackroyd used to remind Saturday Night Live viewers, is in France.
      And as Jane Curtin the lady Conehead would say regarding communications: “Meps! Meps!”

      Au Revoir.


      1. Mark,

        Your best comment ever. I love The Coneheads, even the 1993 movie despite it being somewhat cheesy.

        Paramus NJ was the home of the Coneheads on earth FYI.

      2. Yeah, I think it makes sense to move the 49 from every 15 minutes to every 30 minutes now that U-Link is running, and move those in-between trips to a half-hourly running 43. It would disappoint frequent transit purists, but I feel like having someone leave a little later or earlier from their house in exchange for much better coverage is worth it. Plus, many fewer people ride the 49 now (I never take the 49 anymore, all of my usage of route 49 has been entirely replaced by Link), and I know some route 43 riders who were screwed by the change.

      3. One of the restructure alternatives did have a half-hourly 43. The loss of all-day service is what’s paying for the splits of the 48/45 and 8/38, and more frequency on the 8 and 49. If you restore the 43 you lose those unless you have more service hours. Also, the service is being propped up by Prop 1, so in 2020 some of those revert to half-hourly unless it’s renewed. Again, not enough hours for a frequent 43 and all the other things.

        Also, remember that nobody knew how U-Link would affect bus ridership because it depends on people’s individual decisions how far they’d walk to the station and many of the people didn’t know themselves. So I advocated for keeping a frequent route on both Pine and John to Broadway until we see how people vote with their feet, to avoid accidentally undermining one of the highest non-driving parts of the city. If we want to spread non-driving mode share we need to not fuck up the areas that are successful.

        Does Metro have ridership reports for April and May yet? That would confirm whether the alleged ridership plummet on the 49 and 10 is really happening. I enjoy the 10’s frequency because I live in 10/47 land; the 43 dropped to half-hourly evenings but the 10 is 15 minutes minimum. But I feel for those living near 20th & John and 23rd & Aloha.

        The fundamental problem on Capitol Hill/Madison Valley is geography. It’s a small area with barriers north, east, and west, so buses can’t travel far in a straight line. The dense areas are in a stick-shift pattern like an H (Summit, Broadway, 15th, John/Pine/Madison), and people in all the dense branches want to go to all the other branches, and there are slopes in between so it’s not an easy walk. A logical route that doesn’t bypass dense areas would be Pine-Madison to Madison Park then up to UW, but there’s water between Madison Park and UW and no road. So instead you have the 43 which bypasses Madison Valley, and the 11 which doesn’t go to UW, and the 48 which bypasses Broadway. 15th and Broadway parallel downtown so there’s no way to serve the majority of trips without turning, and sending them straight south goes to less-dense areas that most people don’t want to go to. It’s problems like that that make an ideal Capitol Hill network so elusive. Any route that serves some people excludes others, so they all have about equal tradeoffs. Whereas in north Seattle it’s obvious that frequent routes on 25th, Roosevelt, and 65th would serve most people best, because they can go a longer distance in a straight line and not bypass activity centers.

      4. I have experimented with both the 49 and Link from Capitol Hill to the U-district, and I have eventually concluded (somewhat to my surprise) that if the 49 is coming soon (e.g. wait time for the 49 <= wait time for Link) and it isn't rush hour, it is usually faster to ride the 49 than to ride Link and transfer to a bus at the Montlake Triangle. While the 49 is no longer bursting at the seams, it is hardly empty. It definitely has enough riders that I would argue against reducing service on it.

        The 49 also provides unique coverage to north Capitol Hill, along 10th Ave., which no other route serves. This is not the case for the 43, where every single bus stop along the route is also served by something else (8, 10, or 48). The 43 also takes longer than the 49 to go between Capitol Hill and the U-district, and is more likely to get stuck in traffic along the way (due to freeway queuing for SR-520). Pretty much the entirely of route 43 is within a 1/4 mile walk of either Capitol Hill Station or somewhere along route 48.

  3. It doesn’t say NE Redmond Way on any street sign. It doesn’t say NE Redmond Way on maps. Nobody calls it Northeast Redmond Way. The street is officially called Redmond Way.

    Metro: “Let’s add the word Northeast to Redmond Way in our automated bus announcements. Everyone else must be wrong.”


    1. The street signs are not authoritative. In the 80s and 90s the named streets in Bellevue and the UW campus did not ever have directionals on their signs but now some of them do. Everything in the northeast sector is NE; e.g., Northup Way to NE Northup Way. (It also dropped an “r”; it was Northrup in the 80s because the street planners spelled the family’s name wrong.)

      The most unclear one is Main Street because it divides NE and SE. The other sector dividers are clearly on one side or the other: Queen Anne Ave N, 1st Ave S, 100th Ave SE. I’ve seen it called “E Main Street” on maps, but it’s nowhere near the near east or far east sectors. The sign doesn’t give a clue because it always says “Main Street”. But that also is far away from where any other nondirectioned streets are, downtown and the near north and near east. So none of the explanations of Main Street is really satisfactory. It’s also odd that it’s not really the “main” street: the functional main street is NE 8th. It can only claim to be a plausable main street in Old Bellevue. But east of there City Hall has moved away from it and it doesn’t go through beyond that.

    2. There’s also Link’s “East Main Station”. And when Empire Way was renamed to MLK the sign said “Martin Luther King Jr” without a directional or a street type. In Seattle the little signs on posts have directionals, but the high automobile-scaled signs at intersections usually didn’t; e.g., “Queen Anne”. Now some of them do but not all of them. That used to drive me up the wall because sometimes a sign without a directional misleadingly implies a street in another sector. People have such a hard time finding Seattle addresses because they don’t understand the sector structure. I only learned it because some maps explain it clearly. But many people don’t have those maps or don’t read the legends, and it’s especially a problem on Capitol Hill where 1501 15th Ave is a mile away from 1501 15th Ave E, and at 1800 or so in the middle of the densest area it resets to 100, or on Queen Anne it goes down to 0 and then goes up. Many times I meet people walking and they’re looking for some address and I ask if it’s east or not, or NE vs N vs NW and they don’t know, and the person who gave them the address didn’t specify, so I have to guess based on the type of establishment, and hope I don’t send them a mile away from where they want to be, or even three miles away. And then I hope that if they end up in the wrong place, they won’t have to wait half an hour for a bus to take them back.

    3. Rather than getting annoyed at Metro, how about we get annoyed at cities that ignore the county street grid and leave off the directionals, like Redmond in this case and Bellevue in the case of Main St. Sammamish at least does E Main St. right.

      Or how about the cities that renumber the streets, like Renton. Also infuriating are those that have avenues running east-west and streets running north-south.

      1. Numbered streets in Renton (and Kirkland, and the others) probably predate the county system, which means people and businesses would have had established addresses before the county grid was established.

        None of that stopped Chicago from renumbering all their addresses back in the day. So maybe today we’re just too set in our ways.

      2. Addresses can change reasonably easily, especially when you’re just changing a street name.

        Back in must own an automobile land (suburban Ohio), they once changed our post office and mailing address completely (from Spring Valley, OH 45370 to Dayton, OH 45458) That was completely the post office’s doing and they automatically “filed” change of address forms for every address. Its was non-event for us.

        In another instance they renamed streets to make things easier for the fire department so a road wasn’t in four separate parts spread throughout the city.

      3. They renamed a street on top of Somerset Hill. It had several different numbers as it curved into different grid lines, and with that and all the cul-de-sacs emergency vehicles had trouble finding the houses that had called them, so they renamed the continuous segment to Highland Drive.

  4. Good morning! Joe here. Happy for an open thread! A few thoughts that just don’t conform themselves anywhere else:

    #1. Gotta say there was once this time I was in Target Burlington, looking for a bus to give to my former friend who was a transit planner at the time. Kept going around oh about 8-10 aisles of toys – dolls, guns, Star Wars, toy cars but no bus. Sad commentary on the culture wars, the bus isn’t cool. No wonder we need million dollar launch parties – and we all know the Sound Transit Board, staff & consultants deserve one!

    #2. I’m told I gave a great speech Thursday. You can watch at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JubD32eHqbs . Let’s just say I spoke from true belief, and I got inspiration from Paul Keating, Claudia Balduicci’s “care very loudly” statement, the Seattle Seahawks, and also some Seattle Transit Blog posts. It helps when I’ve had about enough for some time of the unofficial Sound Transit Public Comment Troll, I believe the math for transit is incredibly convincing, and I believe some spunk is necessary if we’re going to get a win for the true believers.

    1. Here’s an idea – if you need to buy a model bus, check out the NYC transit museum store http://www.mta.info. If you’ll be in NYC, you can visit there main location in downtown Brooklyn or at Grand Central next to the station masters office (upper level.)

      1. Thanks Sean :-).

        Sound Transit needs its own pro shop. Jerseys & posters of the best of the staff, model trains, model buses, bobbleheads of the board, some of the public comment stars (e.g. me) & asteroids (e.g. Zimmermann), and a book & DVD section for that hard core transit geek in your life.

        Hell I’d even go so far as to have an airplane model section so you can have a model Light Rail to Everett via Paine Field!!! Complete with fans in “Light Rail to Everett” and “travel light” t-shirts!

    2. Here are some suggestions:

      Contact the Bellingham real rude museum and see where they get their models. Any store that sells model trains should have access to model cars as well, for use on model railroad layouts.

      I found a hot wheels bus in a secondhand store. There should be opportunities to get something like that in an antique or secondhand store somewhere in that area.

      1. Um, Glenn…?… I don’t know about any museum like that, and when I Google “Bellingham Real Rude”… well… That’s definitely o/t ! ;-)

      2. Of course. Everyone knows the Real Rude Museum is in New Jersey, not Bellingham.

        Apologies. Not sure what I hit, but autocorrect did some interesting stuff with that one. It actually showed it as railroad for a while before I submitted it. Must have touched something while submitting it or something.

      3. Driverless cars – indeed.
        Computers, they make our lives easier !!

        Autocorrect keeps us humble.

      4. I gotta say try using a smartphone with autocorrect on a jumpy RapidRide bus in Seattle inbound to a bouquet pickup for the world’s best transit planning department – good luck with using the phone!

        Or using a smartphone on a Skagit Transit bus with a bad suspension… forgetaboutit!

      5. One of the things I like about PDXbus is that most of the buttons are fairly large.

        It’s also sort of a perfect transit geek app. You can look at trip details and it tells you things like the trip number. That comes in useful if you want to know which train leaves next. I used that for retrieving an umbrella I left on the bus, as it let me get back on the exact same bus I’d left it on.

        It also runs on the iPhone 3GS, so you don’t need the absolute latest thing to use it.

  5. I was wondering if anyone knew why King County Metro hasn’t been updating their monthly ridership figures? They used to updated them monthly I thought and they haven’t added a single month in 2016 as we’re approaching the halfway mark.

    1. I noticed the same thing, as I track both Metro and ST ridership on the same graph, hoping to see TOTAL transit usage outpace population gains. So far, not so much.

      1. I was curious how much U-Link dug into Metro’s ridership, if the 30K new ST riders are just 30K metro riders who switched or what. if its like 15/15, that’s a huge instantaneous gain.

      2. Ideally we’d expect a short-term drop and then a long-term recovery and surpassing it, as adding a new level of service makes both transit corridors more viable. That’s what happened when the original Aurora route was split into Swift and the 101. Swift didn’t take over everything, but at the same time the 101 didn’t either because of the in-between stops. Instead both routes grew and are the highest-ridership CT routes. Achieving this requires both a good restructure and luck. It’s unclear how good the Capitol Hill restructure was, and there are wide disagreements even over what values to evaluate it by. But this is where Metro’s ridership numbers for April and May would shed some preliminary (short-term) clarity. And as the shampoo commercial says, that’s what transit fans want to know. (I want to know.)

      3. It will be interesting to see individual route ridership numbers pre and post restructure, though we might have to wait for the next Metro Service Guidelines Report for that.

        I’ve started using Route 65 a lot more after the restructure and it feels like it has noticeably more riders off-peak than it used to. Now that it connects to Link (albeit with a too-long walk when transferring to the train) and has 15 minutes headways, it’s become a much more useful route for me, and I’m guessing the same is true for a lot of other people.

      4. This makes me wonder how transit ridership is counted. If I take the 41, then the 7, I assume that counts as a bus ride on both buses. But does that count as two trips on Metro, or one? It seems like they should be considered just one transit trip. A transfer from Link to a bus (or the opposite) should be counted the same way (one trip on each, but one system wide trip).

        Given all that, I am curious about system wide ridership. But I am also curious about certain bus routes (especially the restructured ones). At the same time, we have a lot of added service in Seattle, and I wonder if that has lead to big jumps in ridership as well. I’m sure there is a lot of data that could take a while to sort through before we get a rough idea of what people have started doing (e. g. is there an increase in transit ridership, and if so, where?).

      5. Each count as a separate boarding, or ‘Unlinked” trip. Transit also reports ‘Linked Trips’ and a ratio between the two to get at how many people are actually riding transit.
        IIRC, when the system is built out in ST3, about 2/3 of all trips will involve a transfer between vehicles (bus or train) to complete a journey.

    2. Yeah, I’d kick their a** about that. What is so bloody hard about sharing ridership statistics?

      Skagit Transit only does it when some Joe makes them do it kicking and screaming. Then only via e-mail.

      Whatcom Transportation Authority on the other hand… http://www.ridewta.com/business/reports/performance

      Sound Transit – the Seattle Seahawks of mass transit – too: http://www.soundtransit.org/ridership

      So yeah, put King County Metro on notice. I’d reach out to their public affairs person and file a public records request, saying you wouldn’t file one if the website was kept updated.

  6. Here’s a question that’s surprisingly hard to just google: what are the actual technical differences between light rail and heavy rail, other than the ability to travel in mixed traffic? Why does it cost less to build a light rail subway as opposed to a traditional one?

    1. My understanding is that it has to do with the vehicles and equipment used (track, voltage, etc). A light rail subway has cheaper trains, tracks, stations, and electrical equipment generally because the trains are smaller and go slower than heavy rail vehicles.

    2. Traditionally and technically, the difference is capacity.

      Light rail trains are meant for surface routes in city centers and their adjoining neighborhoods, nimbly operating around corners and through intersections. In densely populated areas, they may even be tunneled, trenched, or have dedicated rights-of-way, but generally their saving grace is cost-effectiveness by sharing surface corridors.

      The street running, while maximizing coverage at a lower cost, inhibits capacity because the speeds are generally slower. This is a trade-off that cities around the world make, from Amsterdam and Antwerp, to Lyon and Hong Kong.

      Seattle, however, has chosen this street-running technology and opted to employ it for metro-lite operations. The cost-effectiveness of light rail has disappeared, while capacity has been strongly improved. However, limitations in Link’s technology and infrastructure will never permit it to have the capacity of, say, the New York City subway or the Paris Metro, despite the fact that its construction has been very pricey.

      To answer your question: keeping the infrastructure investment apples-to-apples, it does not cost less to build tunnels for light rail systems versus heavy rail metro systems.


      One Link car is 95ft long, with a 190-200 person maximum capacity. Four cars maximum, ever, for a maximum of 800 people when crush-loaded.

      One R160 subway car of the NYC subway is only 60ft long, with a 282 person capacity. At Link’s platform length, that is a six car train of 1700 people when crush-loaded, a dramatically higher capacity due solely to the type of technology we used for our trains.

      That’s pretty damning, I say.

      1. That’s a matter of floor layout too. Give Link trains huge floor space with fewer seats and you could come close. You wouldn’t want to for the long distance segments though.

        Might actually beat the R160 with the right seat layout due to the required coupling spaces between shorter cars.

      2. Just got off an R160. Much of the space in one is for standing and the car is over a foot wider. Like Glenn said you could close the gap by eliminating seats.

      3. Glenn, Link’s cars will never compete with the R160’s inherent capacity, not even close.

        Still, Link capacity sure can be improved, certainly. Sadly, as you pointed out, metro style layouts would be bad for Link’s commuter rail-lite segments.

      4. Oran, yes, other arrangements could produce a greater overall car capacity, but nowhere near as much as the R160, even without the extra 60 square feet.

        A six car set of R160B’s will always have more carrying capacity than 4 Link vehicles, whether-or-not the set has longitudinal seating.

      5. Another thing I saw in Portland, some MAX cars have more sideways seats, single seats, and a wider aisle, much like NYC subway cars. That probably gives them greater capacity. Plus, some inner car ends have U-shaped seating instead of a driver’s compartment, which adds some ten seats and ten more standing positions. These car ends also have windows all around so it’s light and high visibility. We should do these.

      6. A little perspective, Troy. Like comparative size and populations of Seattle and New York. The whole Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel would be a single NYC station, tracks, platforms, elevators, escalators and all.

        And our whole CBD would be cute historic Old Seattle- sort of the Pioneer Square Station of, say, Brooklyn.

        My own working definition of “Light Rail”- in Northern Europe, anything that can run street track down an alley before entering a hundred miles of mainline track is a streetcar- is that on any given run. the train can run however fast it can get away with.

        An excellent mode for starting early as possible a railroad that can keep expanding in speed, distance, and capacity for however many years there are.

        Remember why Seattle’s original name was “New York Alki”- effort to comfort wailing women immigrants who were desperately trying to find oars long enough to personally get the ship out of a harbor where you’d drown faster on deck than falling overboard.

        And back to New York, where they wouldn’t be the only ones who said “Oh YEAAHHH?” to all future claims about Seattle. In First Nations’ tongue, “Alki” was “In a little while.”

        On station clocks Roman numeral “IX” is nine. But archeologists- and transit-builders around Seattle- are still trying to figure out how long “ALKI” really is.


      7. However, this is where Link’s longer distance comes in. People don’t want to stand for an hour. They’ll stand for ten or twenty minutes but after that they get grumpy. So Metro, ST Express, and Sounder have mostly double seats because many trips are long distance (or take long because of congestion), and since Link is being positioned for Lynnwood-SeaTac and Everett-Seatte and Lynnwood-Bellevue, it has lots of double seats too.

      8. It’s not just a capacity issue. It’s also a number of doors issue. Large number of passengers with frequent passenger exchange is going to require more doors. The best you can do with the light rail car is something like the Alstom 100% low floor car for Ottawa. You get more doors as you can put them at the ends as well as the middle. Interior radio becomes an issue because of the location of the wheels inside the car. It does give better passenger access the new door at all though.

      9. It is true, Mr. Dublin, that NYC and Seattle have major differences of scale. Still, Seattle’s core is just as deserving of a metro as any other similarly large and dense city, as I know you agree.

        The question to ask, I feel, as we embark on constructing a Seattle metro system, is: why are we not maximizing capacity in both infrastructure and mode technology, especially as infrastructure costs will remain exorbitantly pricey no matter the mode?

      10. Seat layout like that could work well for shorter distance routes, like Ballard UW or the Metro 8.

        At longer distances I don’t see the need or desirability for that kind of seat layout.

      11. A few numbers:

        Length: 60.21 ft
        Width: 9.77 ft
        Total Square Feet: 588.25
        Rated Capacity: 44 seated, 202 standing (B type, which has no cabs)
        Passengers per Square Foot: 0.418

        Link Kinki-Sharyo Car:
        Length: 95 ft
        Width: 8.7 ft
        Total Square Feet: 826.5
        Rated Capacity: 200, 74 seated
        Passengers per Square Foot: 0.242

        So, the basic capacity issues really does seem to be the floor plan and how much crowding they expect to see on these cars. Total people per square feet is about half on Link. No matter what technology you use, consuming floor space with seats means fewer passengers.

        Some of this is also driven by the experience of the transit agency involved and the experience of the ridership. New York riders know how to pack into trains, while agencies in the northwest assume somewhat more generous space between passengers when rating their equipment.
        MAX Type 4 cars have the same dimensions as Link cars (95 x 8.7 ft).
        TriMet only rates them as 172 total capacity, though they have more open floor space than Link cars do. I’m pretty sure they get closer to 250 onto each car after a Blazers game or other extreme peak load, but generally TriMet doesn’t like to do that. Among other things it increases the dwell time at the stations.

        If Link wanted to increase the capacity of its cars, the first thing to do would be to create a B type car that has no cab at all at either end. You gain another 15 square feet or so of passenger capacity doing this, and it is one of the reasons why the B type R160 car has so much capacity: it is only used mid-train and therefore has no cab.

        However, Link has to get to the point where it needs something like that first. When the need arises, there are all sorts of things that can be done.

    3. There isn’t a good definition for good reason.

      Most of the light rail car designs used in North America are legal on European main lines. So, are they commuter rail or light rail?

      Chicago North Shore & Milwaukee used to operate its trains between those two cities, and switch to the elevated lines to get into Chicago. In Milwaukee they operated over the streetcar line. Light rail? Heavy rail? Intercity train?

      Docklands Light Railway has the name, but was built to standards equivalent to Chicago elevated but definitely lighter than full scale London Underground.

      At one time not long ago Chicago’s entire subway fleet was made up of cars that from the floor down were PCC streetcars. Obviously, they are streetcars and not heavy rail!

      At one time there was a concentration about the platform height, since light rail typically meant stairs at the door and thus slow boarding. Low floor light rail cars, a growing number of which are available with 100% low floors and speeds and acceleration rates as high as subway cars, blur this difference.

      1. In Sweden, one block of grooved rail on an otherwise hundred mile an hour run makes it a Spore-Vang (my set won’t put the circle over the “a” in Sparvagn.) Track-using wheeled vehicle.

        Nobody but us says “Light Rail”, and we only started doing it because in the 1960’s the North Shore only called itself a railroad.

        Like the Chicago and Northwestern that probably still ran steam locomotives on Kirkland Trail equivalents. When highway supremacists, at their evil peak, wanted to keep that image in voters’ minds.

        Since Photo Shop hadn’t been invented, they had to glue in pictures of rolling linear volcanoes with twenty driving wheels. Considering digital stuff, they must not mean business if they can’t create a moving hologram of one.

        If I mention that four-section green and red imitation Burlington Zephyr that ran street track in Milwaukee, high speed right of way to Howard Street, and around the Chicago “loop” after switching from catenary to third rail, one more time, STB will add [EL] to [OT] and [AH].

        But we could also paint it blue and white. And put an espresso machine in the cafe..And after 80 years, since nobody even remembers the old name unless I tell them, let’s let passengers about five years old give it a new name.


    4. The cutoff is arbitrary and different cities have different definitions. “Light rail” fed a niche need for a term that was less than traditional subways and mainline trains but more than traditional street-running streetcars. Because if they just called it streetcars/trams, that would have the connotation of slow and stuck in traffic. But if they called it subway/metro, that would oversell its speed and capacity and disappoint people. So “light rail” is generally used for streetcar-like vehicles that are larger and coupled, and in the US mostly run on the surface in their own lane outside city centers and on regular streets inside city centers, and in Europe (Germany) they run on the surface outside city centers and underground in city centers. If they have unusually more grade separation like Seattle’s they’re sometimes called “light metros” and are ostensibly convertable to “metro” (heavy rail), but in many cases the conversion has been abandoned because light metro is meeting the long-term need.

      1. Mike, wish I’d gotten a slot to answer you sooner on a point of history.The supervisor personally getting the mode changed by hand, meaning broom handle, fortunately didn’t have to deal with anything digital.

        In early 1980’s buses didn’t have hybrid drive- if it had even been invented. In staging before entering, driver pulled up to red reflecting markers on pavement, putting collector “shoes” at ends of poles under transparent fiberglass plates like little peaked-roof houses. Called “pans”.”

        Compressed air piston raised the poles, shoes slid up pans to a groove that set their contactors on onto the wire. Leaving the tunnel, driver simply dropped poles into cradles.
        But the mechanism itself should have been ruled “non-responsive”, meaning talk to our lawyers. Or in the buses’ own native land…..well, probably more just and humane than contract law on procurement.

        Sensible way to handle dual power is to substitute a generator or alternator for a transmission. The electric motor always propels the bus. Neither knowing nor caring if power comes from wire or diesel.

        Breda coupled two separate buses. Trolley-bus in front, with motor just ahead of center axle, and diesel for trailer. Engine (could barely power a golf cart) and transmission, standard mounting across rear of trailer.

        Mode change mechanism: separate compressed air-air operated piston on each differential. Switch to trolley mode simultaneously disengaged gears in rear differential and engaged the ones in center differential.. Audible “clank”- as befit mechanism that added the weight of a Ford.

        But shifting into electric, gear teeth a couple of degrees off each other would not mesh. Possibly folk remedy in Sicily where every shop really needs a witch to make its machines work, but poking the piston with a broom handle made the gears engage.

        Having no respect for folk traditions, we fit the buses with an electric mechanism to turn the shaft ’til it seated. Which doubtless brought down the curse that has followed those monsters beyond death.

        Two problems with dispatch by flag- I think it’s called “sight.” One, we didn’t try it before we bought the one with even more computers. And two, stopped using both systems instead of sending one to sleep with the fishes. Uh, I mean make a salmon reef out of it.

        Operating time and PR, would have paid wages, benefits, and by now pensions to everybody with a flag. Black ink from restoring the flags it would supply La Medusa in Columbia City (right on the 7, five minute walk from Columbia City LINK station) would let squid-ink pasta be a lunch special ’til 2019.

        Some pics on poles:





        (Mode change mechanism blue-white-yellow toggle upper right. Pole controls under red switch lids at lower left.)


        (Purpose of “retriever” mechanism is to get poles away from the wire. Mechanism on roof now drops poles automatically. No ropes, no separated shoulders. For starters. But at least pin to lock the reel while you’re using the rope to re-wire gave driver a snowball’s chance.)


        Designers saw “Tower at Sea-Tac.” Metro saw “Closet space for brooms, mops, and museum-grade disused dispatch boards.


        Dispatcher can now wave flag from here.


        Hold off ’til after November 2020 to let Democratic Party, shown here, do last Convention.
        Party’s last one or Center’s…..that’s up to the Democrats.


    5. I’m not so sure that a heavy rail subway is more expensive. The tube of heavy rail can be smaller because there is no caternary on top of the train. The spacing of substations depends on lots of factors, and subway station costs are mostly variable because of platform length more than technology.

  7. Random observation, made while driving westbound on Denny, Saturday around 5:30 p.m.

    — SLU Streetcar heading northbound, 0 riders

    — Monorail, heading toward downtown, looked like most of the seats were filled.

    1. Put grooved rail on pilllars between Westlake and Seattle Centers and people on SLU streetcars won’t be so lonesome, eleanor. Same mistake as thinking Monorail we used to have to have on our license plates would be Jumping Jack Flash!

      But, still need to know what the difference is between a stuck-up girl having to get her kicks in Knightsbridge instead of Stepney.

      And what the London fire department’s keep-matches-away-from girls campaign got to do with this? We need a posting on this. Where’s Bruce Nourish?


    2. I ride the streetcar sometimes between 5th & Jackson or 12th & Jackson and Pine Street off-peak, and there are usually some ten people on the train. It may be that everybody is getting off at Pine Street.

  8. Just heard Lyft is doing a sweetheart deal this week for us transit geeks:

    20% OFF
    a ride when Light Rail is not in service

    Valid for rides taken from 1 AM to 5 AM

    Only 1,000 redemptions available.

    lyft.com/iet14/EMXPSEAAFTERLR to share with folks.

    I’d just feel like a bad friend of yours if I didn’t share. After all, I subject all of you to my weirdness!

  9. OK Troy. Downtown Seattle Transit is 1.3 miles long. Manhattan Island is 13. You wouldn’t brush off size comparison with a pair of shoes or a suit, would you? Well maybe in Seattle where sweats are formal-ware. But Detroit restaurant would insist I rent a jacket my right size, let alone New York.

    And for transit, population numbers aren’t statistics but same force that powers a diesel. No transit system in history, especially the New York Subways, have ever been pulled into being by a Vision. They’re blasted into operation by compressive fury of Broadway (not ours) pedestrians who can’t see any farther than they can move walk up the boulevard

    Over the last 30 years, we’ve developed a transit system designed to get as far and fast we can with what we have and can get. Regional rail transit demanded a subway through Downtown Seattle. Which would need Seattle-averse suburbanites to pay for.

    Surprises me that Bellevue, Kirkland, Renton, and Bothell passengers have settled for three decades of Tunnel rides in bus seats. And nobody on the East side has ever ridden rail across I-90. Hate to rub it in, but time and again on LINK to the Airport New Yorkers rave about the Tunnel. The bus part even more than the clean part.

    The 25 years of ST-3, which will really amount to just getting started, might see us buy Alfred Ely Beach’s fan-powered patent. But we’ll definitely spec out a 400′ train you can walk through cab to cab. Curious, incidentally, about Downtown speed of that R160 train in wikipedia. And stopping distance.

    But Philadelphia’s already had the answer for years. If voters demand max speed and stations both:


    Norristown Light Rail Line passengers love acceler- and decelerations no roller coaster inspector would allow. Should be a ride in and out of Graham Street better than Coney Island. But doubt anybody from Philly ever argues about whether it’s Light.

    Meantime, for the last 30 years, from behind steering wheels, keyboards, editorials and public comment podiums, “maximizing capacity in both infrastructure and mode technology, especially as infrastructure costs will remain exorbitantly pricey no matter the mode” is exactly what some of us have been doing.

    What were you maximizing in August 1981?


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