“Trolleybuses…a dying race gradually being pushed from our roads by the deadly diesel.”

31 Replies to “Sunday Open Thread: Busman’s Holiday”

  1. Wonderful, though it should be noted that at the time the trolley was killed by the deadly diesel, most of the electricity was coal-generated so it was probably a net-positive for the air in the UK.

    1. True, Saffy. But the pollution generated to fuel streetcars and trolleybuses didn’t have every single vehicle on the street for a source. Only thing worse was horses. Time also for a conspiracy-free assessment of what materials do modern transit electronics leave us to eat, drink, breathe, and die of? Anybody whose link is https://www.panbo.com/marineelectronicsforum/activity/saffythepook/ should be an expert!


      1. I don’t disagree that the overall higher air pollution from coal-generated electricity is offset somewhat by the fact that the coal plant wasn’t sitting smack in the middle of the city. Context is everything and these days, even modern diesels are probably no match for a natural gas-fired electricity source, not to mention renewable power.

        I’m not quite sure where you’re going with the link to my profile on Panbo or the reference to a conspiracy.

    1. Canada had a lot of trolley systems late into the 20th century, now its just Vancouver.

    2. “at least 20 in Europe” – there were over 20 trolleybus systems in the UK alone! There were a similar number of systems in Italy, so taking western Europe as a whole, there over 100 systems. The biggest users were the USSR with over 20,000. Even now Russia probably has around 10,000 trolleybuses in use.

    1. It depends on the third phase of the 23rd-24th Avenue renovations which is just starting now, the rebuild of the 520 interchange, and Move Seattle’s budget gap. The city will probably announce a scaling back of the RapidRide lines but there’s been no indication of what it might do or how that affects 23rd. But given that Madison, Roosevelt, and Delridge are already in design, they will probably be finished first.

      The earlier plans for the 48 were a 23rd-Rainier line (i.e., to Rainier Beach) but later maps have had a 48 clone (i.e., to preserve the 7 as a single line), so it looks like they’re leaning toward that now.

  2. I’m really excited at the thought of more electric battery buses joining Puget Sound transits. It’s desperately needed and will:

    *Reduce greatly the fuel cost
    *Reduce maintenance needs
    *Reduce most unpleasant odors
    *Reduce air pollution

    Happy to hear Everett Transit is getting some this summer. Expect a launch event in August I’m told.

    One last thing: There is absolutely nothing a streetcar does that an electric trolley bus can do for less capital investment & faster. Heck you could even build more nicer bus stops w/ shelters and real-time announcements with the same amount of money.

    1. Joe, I wish I could afford to send you to Portland for a week, where you can ride streetcars and buses same rush hour in crush loads. What a streetcar can deliver to compacted passengers is a ride with very little side-to-side motion.

      For the lateral motion called “passing”, because buses are able to do it, they’re assigned to do a lot of it. Especially in places where stalled traffic to both sides leaves them glued in lane bad as trains.

      One question I’d like to ask anybody here who knows about track-bed maintenance. Rail or rubber, which is less expensive to keep at maximum ride-quality? Because sense I’ve got is that because buses can run anything from opening-day reinforced concreted to gravel- they usually have to run on worst of them all, combined.

      Honest, the stop sign that renders my A-line streetcar a stationary transit monument at 10th and Howard will cease to be a service obstacle the next time I have to crawl two blocks to Lovejoy Bakery, hoping to get my espresso before the buzzards get me. And also wish SF would return to the violent 1960’s long enough for every stop sign in the way of a 180′ K, L, or M car to meet the same fate.

      Streetcars, buses, hack-saws- a good transit kit needs every tool.


    2. “There is absolutely nothing a streetcar does that an electric trolley bus can do for less capital investment & faster.”

      That’s why a trolleybus would have been a better choice for the First Hill streetcar. But there are a couple things a streetcar is more efficient at: the rails last longer than asphalt, and it gives a smoother ride.

      1. Or have just built a well-designed streetcar for FHSC with dedicated center lanes and a more commonsense route

      2. The ride comfort is much better on the streetcar. Plus, always flat boarding makes it much easier and quicker for disabled folks…and the process doesn’t distract from the primary purpose of driving for the conductor.

    3. *Reduce maintenance needs

      What really killed the trolleys is the expensive maintenance on the catenary system. You can add to that the huge capital expense and maintenance of the pantograph system which today is virtually a “one off” system every time a new order is placed.

      A trolley has one major advantage over a streetcar; it doesn’t get stuck because of any minor intrusion of it’s ROW. With the off wire capability being enhanced they are even better today. Which starts to beg the question, why not replace the wires completely with fast charging stations?

      1. Sorry I don’t understand what you mean by “the pantograph system”. You have already mentioned the catenary system, so what is the “the pantograph system”.

        In any event it’s a classic question of fixed costs vs variable costs. Trolleybus systems are only worthwhile on heavy duty routes. But if that situation exists, the consideration goes something like this. The equipment lasts 30 years so the daily amortisation cost is low. Divide that by the number of trolleybus miles run. Given that were are talking about a frequent heavy duty service, the individual cost per mile of trolleybuses run could be cents. Put simply if by spending 10 cents per mile on trolleybus catenary you can save 20 or 30 cents per mile on diesel fuel costs, then it’s worthwhile.

        In practice the appeal has been in cities that already have an existing streetcar or trolleybus system. plus cities that are either hilly, aware of green issues or both.

      2. already mentioned the catenary system, so what is the “the pantograph

        The distinctions is the fixed system carrying the electricity vs the system on the bus. The pantograph probably isn’t the technically correct term for a trolley but the systems, similar to a rail car, are extremely heavy and expensive. They may be kept in service for 30 years but that’s not without maintenance costs which are unique to a relatively few vehicles. The big expense is maintaining the wire. When originally built the wire was part of the electrical grid so transit got a “free ride” or at least shared cost. If you’re going to invest in zero point of emission technology then fast charge full electric would seem to be the wave of the future.

  3. https://www.flickr.com/photos/43315334@N07/28151901956/in/dateposted-public/

    Rubber tired electric vehicles go back to the days before flat tires became a danger. Good PhD thesis in machine design: The harder the working conditions, the stronger and simpler your machine needs to be.
    First day driving a Breda taught a friend of mine: “It’s got a dozen computers between my pedal and the tires, and every one of them is in my way.”

    Considering what the damned things weighed, if St. Louis Car Company had built them, Metro would’ve saved enough in operating time to handle every Boeing slowdown with mass jobs lacing the whole coast and every peak in the Olympics with wind turbines. First of the breed, on “Grandpa’s Knob” in New England….well, lucky the Army Air Force checked for wings before it took off.


    Have also read that last forty years of steering-assists leave drivers with back, wrist, and excess-weight damage than the 1955 GMC that started my driving days would have. Same with air-cushion seats. My spring-loaded one was much more comfortable. Really think both mechanisms could’ve been brought within average drivers’ ability to driver’s benefit.

    Excellent argument that there’s nothing stronger and simpler than a machine with no moving parts. Tesla salesman told me that last week. Sixteen of them, I think. One cheap problem-solver: a chip that would start screeching and smelling almost as bad as legal weed two hours before it suddenly quits.

    Forty years ago, though, a Boston “T” mechanic told me that Boeing Vertol cars would work just fine if operating altitude was 30,000 feet. “Would’ve worked better if the Brill car company had built a helicopter!” Wink.


    Tragic that as gasoline tricked America into preferring invisible pollution to distant coal-smoke and skies-full of electric wire.


    Because Ballard Locks safety buckle just couldn’t handle a buried cable. And even sadder:


    American Locomotive had just figured out how to get the tail rotor on the first Bullet Train!



  4. Anyone know what the rapidly-cycling displays in the Beacon Hill tunnel are for? The ones that flash playing cards at high rates of speed.

    I’ve been trying to remember to ask this for months, lol

    1. That’s art. You couldn’t tell? :) The other direction says “Welcome to Beacon Hill”.

    2. In the early 1980’s when the Downtown Seattle Transit Project was gearing up, I was appointed to two advisory committees. One on Tunnel operations. The other one, to the Arts Project. Whose purpose was largely technical, and deadly serious:

      Putting people in a frame of mind that’ll let them voluntarily set foot in a subway, let alone wait and ride in one. Anybody else doubt that even 1% of our 1990 ridership had ever been in a subway before? Let alone go into one at gunpoint. Classic Wastewater Treatment Basic would’ve proved (name your favorite critic’s) case that nobody would ride it.

      Tunnel or surface, long time- like never- since anybody told me they’re scared to ride the DSTT, and/or wish they didn’t have to. Though many are mad we obviously spent ninety percent of our budget on art. Also, hear a lot more vocal praise than complaint about individual art-pieces. Especially from visitors, who all wish their own subway also had buses in it.

      But to me, our public arts program has two glaring failures, one operationally serious and possibly dangerous. And the other plain theologically Damnable, which is inadvisable in earthquake country.

      First one, our elevators and escalators. The polished stone, the glass walls, the chrome- users see the station’s art from inside part of it. We’re years overdue for some plain-English explanation for the mechanical miseries of a critically important part of the art program. Maybe we can get some State money for trade-school education for learning and teaching the answers.

      Second one: The expensive lovely things nobody budgeted to fix, or even clean. Three beautiful clocks- one at Westlake, two at Pioneer Square, left filthy and nonfunctional for years before finally being restored. But special place in Hell’s own CPS station for the waterfall fountain along the south wall of the outbound platform.

      Substandard pump gave out after what, two months? For an agency with a Water Quality department, 28 years isn’t exactly a rush delivery for a pump. Though maybe the taxpayers got a break all the years the basin was being used as a garbage dump. Putrefactively shameful waste of public money here. Too bad State Senator Steve O’ban isn’t a pro-subway conservative tyrant like Stalin or New Electric Railway Journal publisher the late Paul Weyrich.

      But Ness, pretty sure there’s material online listing and explaining all the artwork. The playing cards have always been a big favorite. And couple days ago watched a two year old girl demanding to watch the water creatures in the wall at Beacon Hill no matter how bad her folks had to get upstairs.

      Remember, she’ll not only vote but also be eligible to become a State Legislator in 16 years. Every ride, count number of kids pointing at sea creatures, lions, and cards-out-the window. You’ll see the real purpose, and value, of that 1% investment.

      Mark Dublin

  5. On the way home from hiking Tiger Mountain, I observed something I didn’t think would ever happen – a completely full Trailhead Direct bus which had to turn people away for lack of space. I don’t think this ever came close to happening last year. Anybody else had a similar experience, or is it just today, being so warm and sunny?

    1. I do have to say I felt it would be popular and I said it in the STB post a few months back. It just seems like a clear direct well-organized route with abundant departures from the core of Seattle right to the best hiking trails (with parking issues at trailheads anyway). One of the main reasons given for people owning a car living in the city but rarely using it, is to go hiking. Even if people have a car, this is so well suited to larger groups of friends wanting to go for a hike. Plus many have ORCA passports so its no added cost. Wait until the Capitol Hill route starts where its direct from the heart of the all urban action, car-free households, and good brunch places.

      I almost went today, good thing I didnt.

    2. It’s no surprise that most of the people eager to take transit live in Seattle. What killed the first year and is still killing the 208 is no timed transfer from the 554. If the route starts at a Seattle light rail station, then it’s so convenient that even people who wouldn’t take it otherwise will take it. Hopefully as the Eastside gets more of a frequent transit network, people will get more used to riding it and thus riding it to the trails.

      If it does get full I hope they can put a bigger bus on it or schedule more runs.

      1. The issue of schedule timing with the 208 is actually a bit subtle. On paper, there’s about a 10-minute gap between the 554 and the 208 at Issaquah Transit Center. However, the 554 takes a quicker routing through Issaquah, so the logical place to make the transfer is not the transit center, but around Ranier and Sunset, so you can go through Issaquah on the faster bus, and have access to actual shops and amenities between buses, rather than a deserted parking garage in the middle of nowhere.

        But, when you make the transfer there, the 10-minute gap becomes a 15-minute gap (since the schedule means the saved time on the bus just translates to a longer wait). And, the 208 makes a crazy two-block detour in downtown Issaquah, so transferring there requires walking a couple blocks, whereas, if the 208 just turned onto Sunset, both buses could be stopping at the same stop.

        Of course, however you slice and dice the schedule, the biggest problem with the 208, by far, its abysmal frequency, with trips just every two hours. Come next week, the Trailhead Direct will offer all-day weekend frequency to the town of North Bend at a level that currently exists only during rush hour.

    3. The bus driver indicated that they do have different bus sizes available, and they used the smaller one for this trip because demand was light in the past. The driver radio’d the supervisor that he was passing people, so hopefully, this mistake won’t happen again.

      Overall, based on the experience, I would offer three suggestions to the operation of the route:
      1) Look at the weather forecast when deciding which size buses to use, and expect *much* larger crowds when the weather is sunny. (Smaller buses should be ok for cloudy/rainy days).

      2) Post signs at the High School and Sunset Way trailheads explaining how to walk to the 554 for alternate service, so if somebody does get left behind, they aren’t stuck for half an hour. Both of these trailheads are within a 10-15 minute walk of the 554, and are the last stops of the Trailhead Direct bus, so greatest chance of being left behind. The people we passed seemed completely unaware that walking to the 554 was even an option; one group started immediately taking out their phones, presumably to order an Uber or Lyft to carry them home. In addition, information about the 554 would be very useful to anybody who misses the last Trailhead Direct bus, as the 554 runs much later in the evening. (The way the schedules happen to line up, if you start walking immediately after a full Trailhead Direct bus passes you by, maintaining a 3.5 mph pace on flat sidewalk, you’ll arrive at the 554 stop just a couple minutes before the bus).

      3) Make the westbound stop at Issaquah Transit Center by-request only. This stop adds several minutes of looping around and waiting at stoplights, and is most of the time unused, as the dominant source of demand is people going to Seattle. It would be very easy for the bus driver, upon leaving the East Sunset Way trailhead, to ask if anybody needs the stop at Issaquah Transit Center – if yes, stop there, if not, skip it and stay on the freeway. My expectation is that the large majority of trips, the stop would be skipped.

  6. Any trackless trolley fans that find themselves in the United Kingdom this summer should check out The Trolleybus Museum at Sandtoft where you can see and ride vintage trolleybusses from all over the world.


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