Madison BRT, also known as RapidRide G, is running into problems with bus procurement. Although the Trump Administration’s foot-dragging isn’t good for any transit project, it is these procurement delays that threaten to delay opening. At the moment, is unclear if these problems will actually delay the planned 2021 delivery.

RapidRide G will use special buses with doors on both the left and right side of the vehicle. The initial plan selected trolleybuses that may have off-wire capability.

According to a source at SDOT, the vehicles intended for the corridor—60 foot, BRT-optimized Xcelsior trolleybuses from New Flyer—can’t handle the steep grades of Madison Street. The source added that New Flyer intends to discontinue trolleybus manufacturing after an ongoing order for San Francisco is finished. Neither SFMTA nor New Flyer responded to requests for comment. Metro spokesperson Jeff Switzer referred STB to SDOT for comment on the trolleybus grade issue.

SDOT spokesperson Mafara Hobson:

The FTA requires specific details on the project design and bus fleet specification as part of its award process. While SDOT is working closely with the local FTA office to advance the city’s grant agreement, King County Metro, who leads fleet procurement for the project, is working to identify fleet options that can meet Madison’s unique route grade requirements and be procured in time for the planned 2021 opening. Both SDOT and Metro will meet with FTA in late September to review the project fleet strategy.

[Update: Now that Metro has elected to comment on this story, sources at SDOT and Metro have provided differing explanations of the problem. One narrative says that Metro identified a problem with the grade; the other says that there is no grade issue and the manufacturer is simply unwilling to retool their production line for such a small run. We’re looking into the discrepancy.]

Whatever the cause of the vehicle impasse, it’s a significant problem. It blocks federal funding since a Federal Transit Administration grant requires specification of the bus fleet. All the while, the Federal funding environment gets worse.

The Trump administration is not releasing FTA funding for other projects, which has frustrated local capital projects like the Center City Connector and Lynnwood Link. However, since it has not reached the grant stage, Madison BRT has not encountered that problem.

Still, the vehicle problem is part of a growing pattern of SDOT procurement struggles. The agency struggled to meet its delivery target for the First Hill Streetcar due to vehicle vendor issues. A senior city official with technical knowledge of the CCC project said that SDOT shares worries about CCC vehicles’ compatibility with base facilities expressed by Mayor Jenny Durkan and Councilmember Lisa Herbold. Transit advocates (including STB) were skeptical of Durkan and Herbold’s technical concerns. In any case, all signs suggest that Durkan is using the CCC problems—which the city official said could be resolved—as a pretext to cancel the project.

93 Replies to “Procurement Woes for Madison BRT”

  1. Metro wants a 60-foot low-floor trolleybus that can handle Madison’s 19 percent grades and is built in America (to comply with federal funding rules).

    That bus does not exist today and the problem is in the propulsion.

    This should not be a surprise to Metro, in fact the agency knew about the problem in early 2016 when this SF Chronicle headline broke: “Muni’s brand new buses struggle with SF’s hills”

    The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, Metro’s trolleybus purchasing partner, purchased 93 of the 60-foot low-floor trolleybuses and started using them on the system’s hilly routes and realized that they were much slower than the older trolleybuses. In fact, it took the buses twice as long as intended to accelerate on 5 and 10 percent grades. New Flyer has issued warnings about running the buses on any hill steeper than a 10 percent grade.

    At the time, a Metro spokeswoman told the SF Chronicle that New Flyer made that limitation, “Clear to King County Metro.”

    Using a 60-foot trolleybus on a route with steep hills is not an impossible challenge, but to make it work it needs to have traction motors at both the rear *and* center axles. That was exactly how all of SF’s older 60-foot trolleybuses were built.

    The new 60-foot trolleybuses built for Seattle and SF only have a powered rear axle.

    So why don’t these coaches have a powered center axle? I believe it comes down to two reasons:

    First, King County Metro was the agency that created the specs for the original trolleybus order back in 2013 and Seattle traditionally has used the 40-foot and 60-foot trolleybuses in very different ways: 40-foot trolleybuses are used for very steep routes and 60-foot trolleybuses are used for busy, flat routes (like the 7 or 44). It was never considered to use a 60-foot trolleybuses on a steep route. That thinking burned SF back in 2016 and it is burning Metro today. That said, I suspect that the idea to a 60-foot low-floor trolleybus on Madison use came from SDOT, but the execution was left to Metro.

    The other, more challenging problem is that on a low-floor bus there is a “tunnel” through the center axle that allows passengers step-free access from the front section of the coach to the rear. That tunnel does not leave a lot of room for motors. To my knowledge, only one company makes electric motors that can be used on a center axle of a low-floor bus, and that motor has never been used in a bus built for the US/Canada market.

    New Flyer may have been willing to engineer a way to power the center axle in 2013, when SF MUNI and Metro were looking to purchase over 100 60-foot trolleybuses. That is a large order, and possibly enough to justify the engineering time and cost. The 13 buses needed for Madison simply aren’t enough.

  2. This is all so very odd.

    It ought to be simple, as in a matter of swapping standard parts, for New Flyer to give its articulated trolleybuses shorter axle gearing to improve their performance on steep grades. That would lower their top speed, but this is Madison we’re talking about; there’s no reason for a bus to exceed 25 mph anywhere along the route.

    Metro itself raised this possibility in its trolleybus replacement study a few years ago, which led to the procurement of the current trolleybus fleet:

    1. David, in the mid 1980’s, when we were procuring the original DSTT dual-powered fleet, we only had three bidders. MAN- by reputation excellent bus, but high bid. Breda- miserable reputation which remained undamaged by its service to us.

      Low bid and best bus: Neoplan. Mechanics loved it. But best feature was power package. Poles under wire. But off-wire, same as diesel locomotive. The engine powered a generator that fed electricity to the motor that powered the bus. And most pertinent here:

      A little silver push-button on the dash engaged what I think was called a “2-speed axle.” One push and it would take a load of passengers up the Counterbalance. Though truth to tell- if it was ever tested, I can’t recall. Think Neoplan is out of business too. Still- worth some research.

      Reason Neoplan didn’t get the contract was that they flat refused to give us the stipulated performance bond. Not sure why- they’d done enough international business to know better. Best guess- whole idea was advertising. Or- (video of fingers rubbing like “you know, Performance is in the eye of the beholder…”)

      Curious about what the Russians and the Chinese are building. But I really think we could do this completely local, vehicles and transitway both. Dispatch and run our standard 40′ trolleybuses in “platoons”- like original plan for the DSTT.

      And “counterflow” the whole center-platform part of the line. Like Bellevue and Federal Way transit centers. Enter and depart trackway diagonally across entering and exiting intersections. Putting right-hand doors to the platform. Paying whatever it costs to keep those crossovers safe- 24-7-365 eyes-on-sight human signal-controller worth it.

      Another nochoiceabouter: wheelchair securements designed for speed, and attendants on duty every station. Traffic lane barriers? 18″ high six in thick concrete linear planter boxes between buses and traffic. Passenger safety measure:

      DSTT not a mold, but a very good example of creating in stages a system that circumstances won’t let be created whole. Good practice for however many “next-times” there are in forever. Also – badly-needed indicator to funding sources that however sad, unfair, and FAKE the news we generate, we’re not jello and we don’t SHAKE.

      But Peter, what are you seeing, or hearing, that makes you think that the Mayor is using procurement problems as an excuse to end Seattle’s whole streetcar program- starting with a highly-visible, critically useful, and very likely business-supported connection between two existing car-lines?

      New vehicles in the world’s most experienced streetcar systems- including Helsinki, Finland- are into similar problems right now. Trains whose roadbeds date back four hundred years- or here, maybe 150-operating in undesignable traffic under higher loads than foreseeable- bullet trains are probably easier to procure and build.

      One point that yesterday’s posting on the new King County should’ve paid more attention. On transit most especially…do Down Constantine and Jennie Durkan ever talk at all? Any answer but “yes” means trouble that dwarfs streetcar specs. This country’s already got one disastrous taxpayer financed Reality Show too many.

      Mark Dublin

      1. Boston ended up with 30 of those dual-power, parallel hybrid Neoplan buses (but without any trick two-speed axle) for the tunneled portion of the Silver Line. They work OK, and have proven more reliable than the Bredas, but have some of the same issues as the Bredas: they are road-killingly heavy, limited to 50 mph, and quite expensive to maintain.

    2. Mark, I think that safety folks killed the contra-flow idea because pedestrians and cyclists are not used to looking to their left half way across the street. With enough flashing lights and perhaps an audible alert, it could probably be made safe, but it’s not looking good for its adoption.


        Richard, my own close quarters in last video confirmed this: Problems with both speed and pedestrian safety on what’s proposed for Madison Street won’t stem from either speed or direction. They’ll come from using a bus to do a streetcar’s work. As somebody else mentions.

        It’s not a completely conscious thing. But the fact that the outer edge of a moving streetcar can’t wander laterally gives the machine a very different, and legitimate feel of safety. The paving of City Hall Plaza plaza at gives an emphatic assist.

        As long as the edge of your shoe-sole is against the side of the raised stone, the car will miss you- at least as long as you’re life-long used to what it means. Including give it more space if you’re drunk. Doubt many Vikings would walk that close on the way to work.

        Here’s my main point. For the sake of passengers’ safety and Transit Safety’s comfort, we’re going to end up with a normal or below speed bus with a very expensive extra set of doors. Reserved lanes and signal preempt of course. But still slower than steel rail.

        I’m not completely kidding about that blue and white on and off cable car in Trieste. Cable First and Marion to Boren, trailing into the First Hill line on Broadway. Little grip-car out of date. But really, for load and distance traveled, money better saved for the First Hill LINK option.

        And meantime, I think there’s an easy way to get something really worthwhile on the surface. Don’t think “Rapid.” Madison between the Bay and Broadway aren’t either freight or motoring arterials.

        Both Madison and Third Avenue deserve to become the same style of city transit neighborhood where electric transit runs in Europe. Leave word “mall” where they’re still welcome. Lanes mainly for buses- but usable for deliveries. Reserved lanes,friendly signals, much sidewalk life. Perfect for correct “Option” on LINK.

        And good way to keep it affordable too. Pay the people who build, drive, supervise and maintain transit, and as many of their passengers as possible, enough to afford rent or purchase price.

        Mark Dublin

  3. It’s really stunning that Madison BRT has gotten this far without verifying that an ETB would be the technology used. Going diesel or CNG affects street design, shelter layout and signal priority engineering.

    It makes me really doubt those managers and leaders involved in transit at SDOT.

    When was the public going to be told about this? Shouldn’t this have been discussed last year or the year before? Why is FTA having to be the ‘reality check’ here, and not local transit advocates (including certain Council members)?

    1. Indeed. Why wasn’t there some form of binding agreement made with New Flyer at the time of the main trolleybus order? It appears that they have left Seattle high and dry.

      1. Because “Madison BRT” was neither envisioned nor planned at the time that Metro bought its 60′ fleet.

    2. This is only SDOT’s like 15th major blunder in the last couple years, seriously everything they touch is a fiasco at best.

  4. If New Flyer is exiting the Trolleybus market soon, will there be any suppliers left?

    I feel like the transit bus manufacturing universe is pretty small to begin with. Even smaller when limited to US-based builders.

  5. Why not just get a diesel bus and make another route electrified instead to offset the impact? It is ok if not every route is suited for trolleybuses.

    1. Diesel will be crawling up the hill at slow speeds. That’s why trolley buses were selected to begin with for this route.

      1. Not making fun of Portland’s really wonderful aerial tramway, Glenn. Hope you didn’t get the last of its kind from Airstream, though.

        But might run this idea past Portland Streetcar and MAX. Could be our breakthrough on Madison:

        Best thing about it is that if utilities are causing a problem with CCC at the Pioneer Square end of First, we could at least track SLU line First southward from the Market down to Madison, where it’ll grip the cable and head for Downtown First Hill and the Broadway District.

        Incidentally, understated amount of time a certain two officials need to meet. Present circumstances, once an hour could be on the long side for preventing a refugee crisis.


      2. Since we are sharing ideas, Here’s mine — A video of Luxembourg’s new double funicular that connects a rail station with a tram station:

        Notice that there are two cars that pass in the middle on each of two tracks. It would be possible to have half of this — two cars on a single track above Jefferson St between Harborview and Pioneer Square Station. A car could leave about every 3-5 minutes. It could easily carry bicycles, wheelchairs, strollers and luggage too (something Madison Rapdride G won’t do).

    2. The slow speed of getting a non-electric bus up the hill could make the route slower than the Route 12 is today — in mixed traffic.

      With a bus full of people, it may not even make the climb. I’ve even heard stories of some diesel buses in other cities having such a tough time climbing a hill that the drivers made passengers get off and walk up a hill to lighten the load.

      1. Gee, I hope not.
        I ride the 12 from 2nd to Boren several times a month just so I do not have to climb that hill.
        It is slow, but it seems like it’s because of lots of traffic, and lights at the cross streets.
        Still beats blowing out one of my valves hiking up that hill.

      2. “It is slow, but it seems like it’s because of lots of traffic, and lights at the cross streets.”

        That’s the issue. The transit lanes and getting away from the left turn at 6th & Marion near a freeway entrance will speed it up, But if the bus is not capable of going up the hill at full speed then we may lose some of it. I’d rather go with non-articulated buses even if it takes twice as many to ensure a good travel time. The reason we need this in the first place is to bring the overhead of getting to First Hill on every trip down to a reasonable level. If it doesn’t do that then it will be one more ineffective project.,

  6. We could always bring the cable cars back. The cable is probably still buried in the roadway and the electric plant was was in the basement of the SU Madison building, or so I was told. It would be much more useful than the CCC or the FHSC.

  7. First Hill just can’t get a win.

    First they lose ST1’s Link station.

    Then they get a flawed street car.

    The better connected streetcar they were hoping to get will be gone once the mayor screws up her courage to announce she is cancelling it.

    Sound Transit never seriously considered an ST3 station east of I-5

    And now the transit centerpiece of the area is in doubt!

    Maybe in 30 years they can hope for a subway line…

    1. It’s a logic problem.

      Rather than study what First Hill transit needs and deserves first, Seattle keeps inventing projects and applying them to First Hill. Because the hill is so steep and the area is so dense with housing and medical facilities, First Hill is a special case.

      A clean-slate transit needs and multiple alternatives study is needed.

      1. There have been countless studies of what to do on first hill going back decades. We lack political courage and transit leadership.

      2. Show me a transit needs study specifically for First Hill since the light rail station got cancelled in 2005. That’s when the FHSC was thrown into the mix as the quick “solution” without a study.

        Studies that don’t sincerely look at multiple modes as well as multiple needs are just project ideas being applied to First Hill and not the other way around. FHSC never questioned technology. Madison BRT in the 2012 Seattle Transit Master Plan (or subsequently) never questioned technology. Even proposed Link connections to First Hill assumed light rail or nothing — and other technologies have not been examined.

    2. It’s almost like we should being back cable cars….?

      This sounds like a good reason to stick with streetcar rather than replacing it with RR-G like busses. At least the streetcar gets up the hill at a reasonable speed. Even in last winter’s snow, which I saw a #10 bus having a tough time pulling out of the 3rd-4th Ave stop. It’s main limitations are frequency and lack of priority over car traffic (mostly frequency, IMO)–not that the streetcar *in and of itself* is flawed.

      In the end, though, Madison “BRT” is not really focused on First Hill.

      1. “In the end, though, Madison “BRT” is not really focused on First Hill.”

        What’s it focused on then? The Madison corridor is the central corridor in First Hill, and the primary thing the G does is get people from the top of the hill to downtown in the central corridor faster and more frequently than the 12 does. The extensions to 23rd and MLK are secondary. So it seems to me to be focused on First Hill, and it certainly isn’t focused on the Pine-Madison corridor which it will break up..

      2. What? Isn’t Madison the “Main Street” of FH? With Madison BRT, you effectively have (had?) transit through the heart of the neighborhood.

  8. I’d rather have RapidRide G delayed than have slow buses. I noticed long ago that articulated diesel buses accelerate slow on hills so I’m always happy when i get an unusual short bus on a hilly route. If that’s happening with the selected Madison buses than we should slow down and look for a better alternative.

    1. The article is inconsistent, as some other articles on this have been. The first paragraph seems to contradict the sixth. Would an efficient FTA and a non-transit-hostile administration be more willing to overlook the lack of qualification in the application? The grant environment getting worse is more of a general issue in the background, like an approaching hurricane.

    2. Did you read the article? The feds aren’t currently delaying Madison BRT. They are delaying other projects that will work just fine. Furthermore, there is also reasonable fear that once the bus procurement issue is solved, the feds will delay Madison BRT as well.

  9. What about the elephant in the room? Why do we need a 4 mile long BRT? I believe routes 11 and 12 already serve that corridor.

    1. Because the 12 takes half an hour tp get from 3rd Avenue to Broadway in afternoon traffic. Whether you call it BRT or upgrading the 12’s right of way, it’s clearly necessary. Madison is the densest part of the city outside downtown, it has hospitals with tens of thousands of patients and staff coming 24 hours, it has old highrises and recent highrises and upcoming highrises, and to think the 12 has the capacity for all of that is absurd. The 12 also has a flaw in not reaching 23rd, which means it misses a transfer with the 48, and instead runs on little-used 19th.

      The 11 is a more complex issue. The 11 serves a different corridor, Pine-Madison to Madison Park. The overlap is only 2 blocks (currently), 11 blocks (with RR G), or 6 blocks (when the 11 and 8 are replaced by a Denny-Madison route). Actually the 11-block overlap will never occur because the 8, 11, and 12 will all be restructured simultaneously.

      There are arguments on both sides of whether the G should be extended to Madison Park or the 11 should be retained, but those won’t be happening so it’s an academic argument.

      1. Upgrade the 12 and run the 11 on down Madison to Boren and then over to :Pike/Pine. It’s a little longer but preserves the separation from “ordinary” Pine Street corridor riders than Madison Parkees so prize.

      2. Fix the downtown loop issue for both the 11 and 12 and you’ve solved a lot of the problems with both buses. I’ve seen the 12 take 4 light cycles more than once to get from 1st across 2nd due to the traffic on 2nd often blocking the box and cars turning right from Marion to 2nd (hopefully the removal of the 99 on-ramp at Columbia will help with this; I’ve long since given up hope that there will be any sort of traffic cop presence anywhere in this city since they are all apparently needed to get people and their cars out of garages).

        The 11 is probably second only to the 8 on how horribly late it runs in the afternoon rush; almost all of the delays are in the loop. Once the eastbound bus reaches 9th traffic is rarely an issue save occasionally down the hill east of 23rd; I know this well as I have walked the route many, many times after just having missed an 11 and seeing the next one was 20+ minutes late – often walking the three miles before that bus ever caught me. One of the major problems in the 11’s loop was the decision to narrow Pike with a bike lane on the same block that there is a bus layover; effectively narrowing the street to one through lane for both buses and cars. Again, I’ve seen the 11 (and 49, etc.) miss more than one light cycle trying to travel eastbound through here. Either no bike lane should have been provided or the layover should have been moved.

        And Richard, if “Madison Parkees” so prize the separation from Pine, why did a vocal group led by a neighborhood gadfly force Metro to change their planned routing of the 11 from serving the Link station directly via Thomas/John/Olive back to the Pine routing? It made the bus less useful for a lot of us as in order to access Link you have to stay on all the way to Westlake. I no longer live in that neighborhood (it’s dull), but the only neighborhood outcry at the time of the Capitol Hill re-routing was to actually keep the 11 on Pine.

      3. This isn’t about imaginary Madison Park elites, and I don’t even know what you mean because the 11 goes to Pike/Pine right now. Madison Park was told that if it didn’t upzone it wouldn’t have priority for transit upgrades. The idea of extending the G to Madison Park was based on simplifying the transit network, not on getting an upgrade to Madison Park.

      4. “The 11 is probably second only to the 8 on how horribly late it runs in the afternoon rush”

        The 26/28/131/132 take second place to the 8. The 11 is way below that.

        “why did a vocal group led by a neighborhood gadfly force Metro to change their planned routing of the 11”

        I had reservations about it too. The Pine-Madison corridor matches people’s trips well, and it serves that mid-Madison area that’s lost with moving the 11, that we should think twice before breaking that corridor, especially when we didn’t really know how people’s trip patterns would react to Link. The 11 is the fullest bus in the AM peak and later in the day (I don’t remember exactly when), and a significant number seem to be those between Broadway and 16th who switched when the 10 was rerouted. I also supported rerouting the 10 to replace the 43 on Olive/John, so keeping the 11 was a corollary of that.

        There were also issues with the 12. Two of Metro’s proposals were an all-Madison route and a Broadway-Madison route, both of which would delete the 12. The public response was lukewarm to all three of those. The 12’s activists clamored to keep service on 19th, the Pine-Madison fans were afraid an all-Madison route would hurt more people than it helped, and a Broadway-Madison route seemed too unknown and risky since it wouldn’t serve downtown-12th to downtown-17th trips. So the net result was restoring the 11 and 12. Partly based on the idea that it’s the devil we know and are used to.

        The plan for the 2 is to move it to Pine-12th-Union to serve both the 2, 11, and 49’s market. That would make it easier to restructure the 11 without leaving a hole.

      5. “The 26/28/131/132 take second place to the 8. The 11 is way below that.”

        I’ll take your word for that, Mike, as I don’t ride those routes. However, the 11 was/is consistently 20-25 minutes late at peak – or some buses are, leading to bunching – I walked from Westlake nearly to Madison Park on average of twice per week for three years either with no bus catching up to me or with it catching me close enough that it wasn’t worth it. Just to switch things up I’d sometimes catch the train and transfer to the 8 (late as it is, it’s frequent enough that there’s usually one close) and then just walk the last mile home. The 11 sucks in the afternoon rush.

        The failure to move the 11 was only a real problem for people east of MLK as the 8 serves Madison Valley to Link, so in the greater scheme of things it wasn’t a huge issue for most 11 riders.

      6. You apparently don’t remember the hue and cry when the proposal to move the 11 to Pine from Pike. It was pretty clear that folks in MP greatly valued the fact that their bus went east on Union so short-riders were not attracted.

        They eventually lost and the bus is on Pine today.

      7. No. It went east on Pike and west on Union, like the 4. Maybe it was when the 43 was electrified that the 11 was moved to Pine.

      8. The 11 has always been on Pine-Madison in my memory. If you’re referring to something before 1980, I don’t know about it. But that’s so long ago that the people in Madison Park now weren’t part of it or were forty years younger. I did hear that Madison Parkites opposed electrifyijng the 11, which bodes ill for extending RapidRide G to Madison Park. But who knows whether they’d do the same thing now, now that the climate is a more critical issue and other things have changed.

      9. Yes, Richard – whenever that happened it was a long time before I moved into the area 7 years ago. I concur with Mike’s statement, as well as hearing about the anti-electrification stance after I moved there. Hopefully not being able to use RapidRide G because it stops short of them will help to change their minds – but a better way to get things done there is to realize that per the last census nearly 50% of area residents were renters and try to reach them when discussing transit, not the folks who don’t ride anyway. There were always a decent amount of riders on the buses I rode past Madison Valley (at rush anyway) – even a handful of Broadmoor folks rode the bus.

    2. George, I think the elephant is actually a giant weaponized mole, bred in the labs during the Cold War at Los Alamos to see to it that a Russian attack would leave Party officials without a single golf course from the Berlin Wall to Vladivostok.

      Anyhow, good analogy. If ST-3 can’t handle the proposed Madison/Boren option for LINK, maybe some of the BRT funding could go toward an ST-3 and a half. While short-term do busway stations and platforms, and reserved lanes, and friendly signals.

      Hospital district needs that subway worse than it did in 1983 when LINK was first mapped out. 35 years’ selective mole-breeding ought to bring this one in three decades faster and more efficient. Only one danger:

      As the TVM went into the ground at Jackson Street, Chief Engineer Vladimir Khazak gave a single-sentence order to his crew: “You don’t find ONE BONE!!!!!

      So hope the legendary graveyard where a million years’ worth of mastodons went to die is only to scare middle-school age elephants. Bad enough their Dads tell them if their grades stay that bad they’ll only get hired as a set of four wastebaskets and a piano.


  10. We all know that trolleybuses are excellent hill climbers, so it is staggering to hear that the New Flyer XT60 has a poor hill climbing performance. For some reason New Flyer and Kiepe Electric specified the same Skoda Electric motor for both the 40ft and 60 ft. trolleybuses, i.e. a 240kW motor. This is ample for a 40 ft. trolley even on steep hills but I am a bit dubious that it is really inadequate for a 60 ft bus on the steep gradients of Madison BRT. There are higher powered single traction motors if Metro will make enquiries.

    Ignoring the Buy America Act for a moment, it would be quite easy to source a trolleybus with two powered axles and total power of say 360 kW or more. Leading European manufacturers include Van Hool of Belgium, Iveco of France and Solaris of Poland. There are plenty of companies that can provide traction packages for trolleybuses including Kiepe, Skoda, ABB, TSA, Medcom, Celegec.etc.

    An ideal solution for the middle axle is to use ZF’s AVE 130 electric portal axle. This has two hub motors with total of 250 kW power.

    This can work in combination with a traction motor of choice on the rear axle.

    So the problem isn’t technology, it’s trade barriers that day back decades. Whether a European manufacturer could work with a US partner on such a small order remains to be seen.

    1. Well, Martin, good thing there isn’t any danger of trade barriers on the horizon, isn’t it? Might be worth it all, though, if the US was finally forced to resurrect St. Louis Car Company, and take up the PCC streetcar where it got left off in the 1950’s.

      Pretty sure we made some good trolleybuses too. Could be it’s like riding a bike. Once you’ve gotten the hang of it, you never forget. Or even make people think you did.


      1. Mark, for such a small order it is probably best to get what you really need and if necessary forgo the usual FTA grants and pay any extra tariffs. I assume grants would still be available on the busway construction and any additional electrical installations.

      2. Yes, but changing the proposal may change how it ranks against competitors and may require going back to the beginning to rescore it. We don’t know whether that would put it in a better or worse position.

    2. Excellent information Martin. Thank you very much.

      Seattle, can you stump up the bucks for the European vehicles? Use the Federal Funds exclusively for right of way improvements and we’re good. A poke in the eye for the Orange-utan.

      1. Las Vegas got its double decker buses from Europe. Supposedly it was less expensive in the long run as they were better built, made from stainless steel, and thus lasted longer.

      2. Thanks. I forgot to mention the best of all: Hess of Switzerland. They build articulated and double articulated trolleybuses for Zürich and other Swiss cities. Their latest model is the Swiss Trolley Plus which is a battery-trolleybus with significant battery range and In motion charging from the overhead system. This gets the best features of both mains and battery power. In particular it avoids two weaknesses in all-battery buses: charging downtime and excessive deadweight of batteries. The electric traction is by ABB. It’s probably the most sophisticated electrically propelled bus in the world.

        Two videos, one is in German but you’ll get a general idea. The second is from the local engineering university “ETH” and shows some of the “smart features” of the Swiss TrolleyPlus. The bus learns the energy profile of each individual route and manages the use of both overhead and battery power to optimise energy consumption and battery charging.

      3. Seconded – thank you for the great info, Martin! (Also +1 for your comment, Richard – I concur completely.)


      I know I’ve seen this done. Just don’t recall where. Should not be that hard- with some firmly-reserved lanes and well-controlled signals. Ideally, center-platform stretch of the line should be long as possible, to buses have to “diagonal” seldom as possible.

      I don’t think I’d leave any of those diagonal signals unmanned. At least for a few years, ’til people get used to it. Eugene busway worth a fact-finding trip, easy ride on Amtrak Cascadians. You’ll see that Eugene lucked into some pretty boulevards, that probably remember streetcars. Wish we’d just re-boulevard Beacon past the VA Hospital, and reserve the median for trolleybuses.

      Again, personal judgment, but I think when a system needs two-side loading, better to take a busway to streetcars.


      1. It’s a laudable solution. I don’t think that contraflow only at stations would stand up to emergency vehicle (ladder fire trucks and EMT vehicles) access needs on Madison though.

    4. The ZF electric portal axle appears to be a great solution to the propulsion problem.

      Problem is, it has never been used by New Flyer before and it would require engineering time and cost to make it work with the Xcelsior.

      The 13 buses needed for Madison simply aren’t enough reason to expend that engineering time and cost.

  11. Is there a reason they cannot use 40ft trolley buses?

    Sure, they don’t have the capacity, but couldn’t they make up for that with more frequent buses – or perhaps two buses running at the same time, leapfrogging stops Label them RapidRide G-1 and RapidRide G-2)?

    1. Most of the Madison BRT stops west of 13th Ave E are being designed to be “left-handed” (median) stops. Buses normally built with only left doors.

    2. Skip-stopping doesn’t work with ETB’s. The trolley poles can’t pass.

      1. Right – they wouldn’t be able to leapfrog and alternate stops unless there were a double set of wires set up (which is how I assume trolleybuses pass each other elsewhere).

      2. It’s very rare to have “double track” overhead. The wires would have to be braided, with a special work 45° crossing between each pair of stops.

        It would be complicated to maintain and confusing to use. Better to have all buses make all stops. Remember that the stops will be less frequent than they are now.

        The best way to serve First Hill is with a diagonal lot pedestrian tunnel from the Midtown Station with escalators and moving sidewalks.

      3. Let me add a codicil. A few places there are “express wires” used by limited stop or “base run” buses to pass local all-stop buses. The overhead has a facing-point diverging switch into the express zone and a trailing-point merge at the end.

        That’s fine when there are two classes of service, but having repetitive turnouts in the overhead would slow all buses down significantly.

  12. Al, my idea is to create a bus-only contraflow transitway as long as possible, including lanes between stations. Would only want diagonal shift at beginning and end. Picturing Madison, I wonder if the fire department would approve anything but paint-striped curbside standard-door boarding at all.

    Normally suspicious of delays and re-thinks in Seattle. But, if we can’t lick ’em……our move is to start a consulting firm, underbid the rest of them (shouldn’t be hard) and while we’re ostensibly studying questions like these (like anybody could tell!) use the money for research of our own.

    Maybe fact finding flights to actual busways worldwide. Only reason the human race is still here is that for most of the world, wherever there’s a need, somebody thinks of a way to do it with a piece of something broken. Though shouldn’t need Icelandair to know what Seattle Fire and Rescue thinks.


    1. Honestly the whole system would probably work better if Madison and Spring were one-way couplets east all the way to Harvard Avenue. That would provide more room to build things correctly for cars and buses rather than to squeeze everything onto just one street. It would also make Madison safer as crossing pedestrians would only have to loook in one direction between Broadway and 6th.

  13. They could forget about center road boarding, and have it run in an exclusive right hand lane. It could then have its own traffic lights and not interfere with right hand turns. Think the 2nd Avenue bus lane. That would save the money of having to order custom buses.

    1. I’m guessing they thought Madison had too many driveways for that to work. That being said, Second Avenue has a few. I do think the idea should be studied again, assuming they can’t figure out how to get the new vehicles.

  14. What about having narrower platforms and/or consuming more road space and just moving the platforms to the opposite side of the traffic lane? Center platforms are nice where possible but sometimes in street running they aren’t possible. That’s why so many MAX stations east of 102nd don’t have center platforms: there wasn’t room for them plus both tracks given one lane each direction removed from Burnside.

    So you wind up with an eastbound platform and a westbound platform. It’s like RapidRide everywhere else.

    1. Because the resulting curb lane would be so narrow that emergency vehicles couldn’t get through. Drivers could not pull over to get out of the way.

      1. I don’t see how? You wind up with two side by side bus lanes that are less restricted because you don’t have a platform in the way. Pretty much anything could get into that.

    2. The platforms have to wide enough to handle a wheelchair. I doubt they are wider. In other words, the platforms meet federal guidelines for width, and nothing more.

      You could make the street wider, but that can be very expensive. They would have to shrink the sidewalk, which in many cases, simply won’t work. That means taking more private property, as well as moving the utilities. That can really add up.

      1. To cut down on width you’d wind up with the eastbound and westbound platforms offset so it doesn’t get any wider. It gets longer but not wider. It’s not ideal, but it is what they wound up doing on MAX along Burnside.

      2. It is possible that could work, but it would be tricky. The buses are long and the distance between each intersection is often small, because this is a diagonal street. It also adds to the cost a bit, as you are doubling the number of bus stops (more curbs). But the more expensive part is changing things up at this late a date (you would have to go through a lot of the planning all over again).

        It is also important to remember that this is only the first of several possible center running routes. It makes sense for us to buy a fleet or these and add to them over time.

  15. Still, the vehicle problem is part of a growing pattern of SDOT procurement struggles.

    Sure, but more importantly, it is a sign that the previous SDOT administration was incompetent. It goes way beyond procurement. How do you fail to communicate with Metro when it comes to the streetcars, when it is Metro who will operate them? Not just fail, but fail miserably, and not even bother to respond to their repeated concerns ( How do you do all the really hard work to get a nice BRT line operating (the first BRT line in the state) but not bother to make sure the vehicles can actually make it up the hill — again ignoring the biggest transit agency in the state (and the one that knows a lot about buses). How can you allocate a few hundred million to add important RapidRide+ corridors (improvements that everyone wanted and would be very exciting if pulled off properly — but estimate things so poorly that you are off by several orders of magnitude? Sheer incompetence.

    I’m afraid the mayor inherited a complete mess at SDOT, and is going to have to spend a lot of time cleaning it up. Unfortunately, many of the really stupid mistakes will be very difficult to fix. The same sort of incompetence and superficial improvement made to surface transit were also made with our light rail system. Instead of Seattle taking a good hard look at how to improve transit in the city, the people in charge simply rubber stamped the ridiculous West Seattle subway, ignoring far more productive projects like a new bus tunnel, a Ballard to UW subway or a Metro 8 subway.

    1. Which of “a Ballard to UW subway”, “a Metro 8 subway”, and “a new bus tunnel” was on the regional Long Range Plan?

    2. Ballard-UW is on ST’s long-range plan, and ST even studied it for ST3. The plan is so vague that a rail-bus tunnel or a bus tunnel could fall within the tunnel;s scope. SDOT could easily have gotten a Metro 8 subway into the plan if it asked. There was a similar issue with a West Seattle-Jackson-23rd-Denny-Ballard alternative. It got into the draft plan because one person suggested it in an open house, but ST didn’t know what to do with it or who would ride it and nobody stepped up to defend it so it didn’t make it to the final. (Or it may have been in the 2008 plan and deleted in 2014, I don’t remember exactly.) That was just one person’s idea and it made some headway. ST listens a lot more to the cities, so basically anything Seattle asked for would make it into the long-range plan. Part of the problem is ST not pushing the right things, but the other part is the cities not pushing the right things.

  16. Just keep using the existing brand new electric trolley buses and scrap the single center island platform design and instead use separate floating right door platforms (very similar to those on Dexter) so the regular fleet can use them (40 or 60′, diesel or electric). Its crazy to me to order a tiny fleet of custom buses just for this line and design a line that can only be operated by these few buses.

    Just like this:
    minus the tracks and parking lane.

    Build it like this and it could be a series of rather small spot improvements installing each stop individually (again much like Dexter), not a large full complex expensive project (which also now needs all new traffic signals for weird bus turn movements).

    1. This is good. If you have “farside” platforms at intersections, there can be left-turn bays on the “nearside” of the intersection occupying the same longitudinal space the platform does on the other side. MAX does this at several stops on Interstate Avenue, Overlook, Killingsworth, and Rosa Parks. All the stations in the Burnside Avenue envelope between Gateway and Ruby Junction are also built like this.

      A way to make it even more useful is to have the busway weave a bit as it crosses the street between the platforms. That allows the turn pockets to be a bit wider.

  17. There are so many problems with this Madison route but Metro was told to “Just make it work”. New Flyer busses were cracking above the doors on their older models. Now they are going to put 5 doors on a newer body. When Metro does something that almost nobody has ever done it usually takes about 3 years to make it semi reliable. That is about how long it took Bredas to work “ok”. It took about 2.5 years to fix electrical problems with the new trolley busses. Poles dropping or out of aervice for shock hazard. You cannot replace a 5 door dual traction motor bus with anything else in Metro’s fleet. When they are out of service you are just plain out of luck. Expect that to be the norm if this route actually takes place. At my company, when managers and road planners like SDOT make desicions like this, the mechanics get unlimited overtime and buy a house or a car. The Metro mechanics from what I hear are having a ball over this one. Nobody that I know there believes this will ever be a smooth rollout. But it will basically give mechanics a raise. Since I am a mechanic, it is amusing to see the decisions made and know that some bozo that has never ever been on a shop floor. Never worked on a car, truck, or bus. Never driven a truck or bus. That person gets feedback from the professional drivers and mechanics. That is why most heavy duty companies have procurement teams. But if advocates and politicians tell you you are wrong and ignore you, this is what happens.Then they say. “Go ahead, just make it work” Metro will make it work. But it will be costly. Very costly. I should go work there. That is similar to what happened with the CCC. Metro said the price was off and it needed some resdesign to make it work. SDOT said Blow it out your ear. Then problems mysteriously arose. I believe that those trains will fit in the garage and on the same track. I do not believe the will line up with some of the equipment in the shop. The Streetcar shops were made for those specific models to save money at the time. Now a completely different train will go in them. That means every job takes longer to do on the new trains. Not impossible, but not cheap. That means higher maintenance costs. Not to mention, every new fleet requires thousands of dollars of special tools. Then cost of factory training. Some of it done in Oregon. I just mentioned about 3 or 4 different points. I feel comfortable just watching how it unfolds now.

  18. Why do they need trolley buses? I thought battery powered electric buses were basically making trolley’s and the need for overhead wires a thing of the past?

    1. This is a widespread perception but it is too early to say that. Most battery powered buses are being introduced on relatively light routes. So far we don’t have any long term experience of battery buses on heavy duty routes, let alone ones combining heavy passenger loads with 20% gradients.

      There will probably be a future for both types depending on service load, topography etc.. For example in Prague, a bus route on which battery buses were being tested is now in fact going to be converted to a trolleybus route because of the steep hills. Trolleybuses with batteries will be used. 50% of the route will be wired and battery recharging is done under the wires. The rest of the route will be served under battery power.

      1. Thanks for the info, Martin. That sort of bus would be useful on something like RapidRide G where the route could continue – or at least some runs – all the way to Madison Park without adding wire past MLK.

    2. I don’t see how battery-powered buses can ever be superior than a trolleybus in terms of performance.

      Battery-powered buses bring the benefits of flexibility on operating on any roadway and not requiring the infrastructure investments of overhead electrification. That’s why many cities that don’t have the overhead electrification infrastructure are excited about the prospects of battery-powered buses and are buying them.

      But when it comes to performance, think of cordless drills versus corded drills or cordless vacuums versus corded vacuums.

      I know in Europe, many older trolleybuses had small diesel or gasoline engines, that could be fired up to provide limited power to the traction motors so they could operate at low-speeds off-wire.

      Trolleybuses today have limited off-wire capability with the addition of onboard batteries instead of small engines. Over the years, the range of this off-wire capabilities has increased with advancement in battery technology.

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