King County Metro
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This is an open thread.

60 Replies to “News roundup: it’s just talk”

  1. Anyone else noticing an increase in bus delays for routes originating in Downtown Seattle during the PM rush hour? I’ve had a lot more 10+ minute delays and it is now rare for the bus to arrive on time. All-door boarding seemed to be off to a good start and 3rd Avenue seemed to be absorbing the extra buses without too much trouble. Now it seems to be going all wrong.

    Granted the bus might be coming from another run prior, but at the beginning of rush hour (~4:15pm) I would guess that the peak service buses would be originating from base rather than coming off of a prior trip.

    1. Is there some trend on 3rd Avenue slowing down bus boarding (like lack of ORCA Boarding Assistants if all operators are used up just covering the routes, cars in the bus lane, box blocked, too many buses, etc), or are the paths into and out of downtown becoming even worse slogs?

    2. Actually, on all-day 3rd Avenue routes, about half or more of the coaches operating during the 3-6PM peak were actually running before 3PM. I believe that the only such routes with more than half post-3PM-start coaches in the 3-6PM peak are the #E, the #5/21, and the #40 (none by more than a couple of coaches). Of course, the buses running on peak-only routes like the #15 or #56 consist almost entirely of peak-only coaches.

    3. I have noticed. I don’t think 3rd is the issue, it’s the after – the fight with cars on every other street that the bus has to do battle with to get to I-5 or Aurora or Mercer or Western.

  2. STB has discussed at length the idea of induced demand, where widening roads actually increases congestion, because once the road is widened, people in aggregate think “there’s a wider road over there, I should drive on it!”

    It makes sense to me, but I’ve always found it kind of weird. People don’t generally drive on roads because they want to drive on the cool new road. Obviously that has a huge impact for things like the first trip on the new SR 99 tunnel or the last trip on the old viaduct, but I’ve had my doubts that the effect is huge.

    I think a good case study for this is I-405 south of Bellevue. Many people say that adding a lane to a freeway will worsen congestion (implicitly, compared to before adding the lane). This seems hard to compare, because there are other effects over time, such as population growth and development of job centers, which could look like induced demand if you add a lane at the same time.

    A good case study for this seems to be I-405 from Bellevue to Renton, compared to I-5 from Tukwila to Seattle, and I-405 from Bellevue to Bothell. I don’t know off the top of my head whether I-5 to Seattle was expanded after it was built, but I suspect so since that’s usually how we add an HOV lane (we’re doing this through Tacoma now). I suspect that I-405 south of Bellevue was not expanded even for the HOV lane, because the entire freeway is 3 lanes each direction, and freeways constructed with less than that are generally rural freeways. I-405 north of Bellevue was expanded to convert the HOV lane to a two-lane express toll system.

    My impression is that induced demand as presented would suggest that I-405 south of Bellevue would be the best commute of the three, since it was not expanded yet, and therefore doesn’t have induced demand. But the opposite is true. I-405 south of Bellevue is by far the worst of the three, especially southbound in the PM commute. This is even considering that I-405 has induced anti-demand, meaning that it has a reputation of being a horrible freeway that you don’t want to rely on. I-5 south of Seattle, though pretty bad, is much preferable to I-405 south of Bellevue. I-405 north of Bellevue is the best, at least for transit and carpools. 405 north is probably better for SOVs than 5 south also. Frustratingly, though there are days when 405 south HOV lanes are much faster than SOV lanes, usually it takes only one of rain, accident, unlucky day, or weekend to make 405 S HOV lanes as slow or slower than SOV lanes.

    This suggest that induced demand effects may be small compared to other effects around population growth and commute patterns, and that adding a lane may be “better” (by “better” here I don’t mean for long term climate impacts or shifting people over to transit, but better for the status quo of SOV-loving locals who want to drive faster, which isn’t my priority but seems to be WSDOT’s). And that adding a lane certainly doesn’t make congestion worse, it will worsen on its own, and waiting to add a lane gets you into the I-405 S mess, where everyone gets stuck including buses for 5 more years until the ETL opens.

    Thoughts?

    1. I think there are several contributors to induced demand. One is people simply switching from other roads. This is not a bad thing. It suggests that the other road isn’t as crowded, and people are still saving time.

      Another is that people move to an area that they see as “close”. If you read real estate ads for houses, they will often write things like “only ten minutes away from downtown”. But a lot of people, knowing the area, will laugh and think “Yeah, at 3 in the morning”. But if the road adds extra lanes, you can make the claim with a straight face. I think this is what happened with I-90. After they added the lanes (and got rid of the deadly reversible lanes) traffic was a breeze across the bridge. But a few years later, and it was back to where it was. It is possible the new growth would have happened either way, but I think the new lanes encouraged people to live on the other side and drive.

      Another factor (similar to the first one) is people switching from transit. There are a lot of people who have awkward transit trips. They take a bus, then the train, then another bus. It is still better than getting stuck in traffic, but it isn’t great. If the road was widened, then the drive would be faster. But eventually that simply fills up, as more people switch to driving.

      It is obviously complicated — there are lots of issues involved — but my guess is those are three main things going on.

    2. The key is the distinction between the short run and long run. In the *short* run, adding a lane may, in fact, reduce congestion, as more lanes are spread among the save number of drivers. But, in the long run, traffic will increase until congestion gets back up to its previous level.

      How this happens is a combination of several factors. People that used to leave for work early or late to avoid rush hour stop bothering and commute during peak times. People that used to ride the bus – or carpool – stop bothering when they see that traffic has improved and, in the time it takes just to wait for the bus, they could be halfway to work already by driving. Longer-term a wider freeway to any given suburb encourages more people to live there, which encourages the construction of more sprawl, and when they move in, the eventual result will be more traffic. For instance, the value of homes in Maple Valley wouldn’t be nearly as much if SR-169 were still just a two-lane road, all the way to 405. Maybe the economics of building some of those homes in Maple Valley wouldn’t have penciled out if that were the case.

      And, of course, less congestion also encourages more discretionary car trips that have dubious value. Like driving 15 miles to Costco to save $10 on groceries, rather than just shopping at the QFC in your own neighborhood. Or, moving 20 miles to a different neighborhood, but continuing to drive to your old gym, dentist, and doctor, simply out of habit.

      In the long run, congestion will keep increasing, until eventually, the new capacity gets filled up and traffic congestion returns to its previous level.

      And, of course, sometimes, adding new capacity doesn’t reduce congestion, even in the short term, rather just shifting the inevitable backup, where three lanes merge down to two, a few miles down the road.

    3. The southern part of I-5 has been widened several times since it was originally built. Most recently an extra lane was added on the Southcenter hill part and the part between Boeing Field and the collector/distributor lanes was widened to add the HOV lanes in (I think) the 1980s. Since the 1980s most freeway expansions have focused on adding HOV lanes. Has that induced more HOV usage? I don’t have a quantitative answer to that question, but I think the answer is “yes”. Metro and ST have also added a tremendous amount of transit service between south King and Pierce counties since the 1980s. That additional service has probably induced more transit usage than the extra lanes on I-5.

      The planned expansion of 405 between Renton and Bellevue should be the last piece of freeway expansion in the region. We added capacity on all of the roads that feed into 405 between Renton and Bellevue: 405 was expanded north of Bellevue, we added capacity on I-5 from Kent to Southcenter and we’ve added capacity on 167 feeding into 405.

    4. “My impression is that induced demand as presented would suggest that I-405 south of Bellevue would be the best commute of the three, since it was not expanded yet, and therefore doesn’t have induced demand.”

      This shows the fundamental problem with highway widening. It induces demand on the widened portion of the highway, sure, but it also induces demand on adjacent sections that haven’t been widened. After all, basic logic dictates that a good portion of the cars in Bellevue also pass through Renton. You induce traffic in Bellevue, you induce it in Renton as well, which is why the Renton S-curves are the worst part – induced traffic but without the widening.

      This becomes even worse when you consider local streets. A wider 405 means more cars on 405, and also more cars on downtown Bellevue streets, and these streets can not possibly be widened to accommodate more cars. In Seattle, this situation is even worse.

      1. Are you saying that the expansion of 405 north (adding the express toll lanes, etc) induced demand in I-405 south as well? That’s in interesting take. Though I think (as with Seattle) taking I-405 *to* Bellevue is much more common than taking I-405 *through* Bellevue. And I don’t think people think the congestion is similar between 405 north and 405 south. Though I could see someone having that misconception, that person would only have to drive on 405 south once to be set straight on that. I would guess that most people north of Bellevue who use I-405 are happy to be on the north side, because the commute from the south is so much worse, and they have the option of paying to use the express toll lanes.

        The big exception though to the point above is people driving through Bellevue from the north to get to I-90. Lots of people do this to avoid the tolls on SR 520. But taking a look at how this actually works out, when you approach I-90, 3 of the 6 lanes (HOV on the left) continues as I-405, and the remaining 3 (HOV on the right) exit to I-90. Pretty consistently, the I-405 side on the left is at a standstill in the afternoon, while the I-90 exit lanes on the right usually move at least moderately well, suggesting that the I-405 congestion here is still caused primarily by I-405 south drivers, rather than I-90 west drivers.

        Note that I cannot speak to how this works in the morning commute, where traffic to Seattle is higher. The effect I described might be reversed in the morning, since southbound 405 from downtown Bellevue to I-90 is the reverse peak for Bellevue but forward peak for Seattle, a very fortunate reality in my opinion!

        So I think that widening the north part of 405 may induce demand in the south part, but primarily in the peak Seattle direction. In the peak Bellevue direction, that effect doesn’t seem to be significant enough to notice.

        On your point about side roads, this is most apparent on 118th Ave SE from Bellevue to Coal Creek Pkwy. That gets backed up like crazy, and almost entirely from induced demand (probably more than 99%). I started trying to take it on days when I need to drive from Bellevue, but I find that it doesn’t really save any time. Even worse, it’s so isolated that there is nowhere to exit the road until you get to Coal Creek Pkwy.

      2. There are many commuters from Kent, Auburn, Burien, Renton and Tukwila who work in Kirkland, Redmond or Bothell who don’t have much choice about how to get to work–they have to drive 405 or sit on several buses for a long time. Extending the 405 toll and HOV lanes south to Renton may induce more transit ridership or carpooling by attracting some 405 SOV users.

        When Sounder trains first started running, ST was surprised to see the number of riders who commuted from Kent and Auburn to King Street Station and then took a bus to Bellevue and Kirkland. ST hadn’t anticipated those riders in their planning documents but they showed up as soon as the trains started running. Convenience and speed seems to induce demand.

    5. So Sound Transit should never have three and four car trains. Always keep it at one car, to prevent induced demand, so the trips don’t become overcrowded.

      Some say more lanes = more congestion is fake news created to brainwash sheeple.

      1. When someone tells me widening a 2 lane freeway into a 20 lane freeway will make traffic on that freeway slower, I propose the person telling me that is either a liar or stupid.

      2. That’s not exactly true RossB. A crowded train takes longer at each station.to let riders get on and off. For that matter, untrained Seattlites have a bad habit of standing in opening doorways for several stops — ignoring other riders and often playing with their phones — making it even harder and longer to get on or off a crowded train. They won’t step into the train or temporarily onto the platform when they block other riders.

        Finally, overcrowded demand can result in riders getting left at platforms. That means a longer trip for the rider even if a train keeps moving fine.

      3. More lanes = more congestion is true under most real-world conditions. You can certainly hypothesize about the effect of going from 2-lanes to 20 in some small or shrinking metropolis, and you’d probably be right that it would reduce congestion. But in a crowded and growing urban environment like Greater Seattle, going from a 4-lane road to 6, or 6-lanes to 8, or 6-lanes to 8 for two miles, and then back down to 6 does not improve congestion. The mechanism of induced demand is well-understand, and it has been empirically demonstrated repeatedly.

        That said, the complexity is that – after expansion – more people are getting places, albeit at the same speeds as before. And that increased mobility is an economic good. But its value is finite, and needs to be weighed against the cost of the expansion project, the loss of green spaces, houses, etc, and the opportunity cost. Once you expand a road with general purpose lanes, it is very difficult to reclaim those lanes for anything else. In many cases, it would have been better to invest in transit infrastructure – rail, HOV/transit lanes, buses, etc.

      4. @Sam
        “With 26 lanes at its widest point, the Katy Freeway in the Houston metro is the Mississippi River of car infrastructure. Its current girth, which by some measures makes it the widest freeway in North America…” After the latest widening “…Houston’s official traffic monitoring agency to find that travel times increased by 30 percent during the morning commute and 55 percent during the evening commute between 2011 and 2014”

        Reasons cited:
        Latent demand, ie, people discouraged by previous congestion found new lanes more appealing and decided to quit riding bikes, or using sister-in-law to cut hair because a good barber down the corridor and etc.
        Relocation because of better access.
        And etc.

        https://www.citylab.com/transportation/2018/09/citylab-university-induced-demand/569455/

      5. “So Sound Transit should never have three and four car trains.”

        Providing mobility is a basic responsibility of government, so that people can get to work, shopping, cultural activities, medical appointments, and recreation. It should do it in the most efficient way, which means mass transit (trains and buses). We’ve tried car-only cities (or with minimal coverage transit and peak expresses to downtown). it doesn’t scale; it pushes things further apart which destroys walkability; and it requires a lot of energy inputs and generates gigantic environmental externalities. Trains require energy inputs too but only a quarter that of cars. So we should make transit available to at least the 90% of the population that lives in denser areas and the widest cross-section of demographics/trip patterns. And we should treat driving as a luxury that we won’t have unlimited road widenings for. A certain amount of car capacity is needed for emergency vehicles, deliveries, people transporting bulky things, gardeners carrying their tools, the disabled, etc, and we can have an extra bit beyond that for choice trips, but we shouldn’t just build “as much as drivers want”. But conversely we should build “as much transit as riders want”. And that means 4-car Link trains and Sounder, among other things.

      6. “When someone tells me widening a 2 lane freeway into a 20 lane freeway will make traffic on that freeway slower, I propose the person telling me that is either a liar or stupid.”

        Nobody tells you that. That’s a strawman argument. Roads are never widened from 2 lanes to 20 lanes in one step. They’re first widened to 4 lanes, then a decade or more later 6 lanes, then after another decade or more 8 lanes. The only 16-lane or 20-lane roads are a tiny handful in the entire country: the Bay Bridge, some interchange in LA, some interchange in Texas (which includes the frontage roads on the side that aren’t really part of the freeway), and a few more like that. Obviously, going from 2 lanes to 20 lanes is such an overwhelming increase in capacity that drivers wouldn’t be able to think up enough trips to fill it up. But it doesn’t matter because there are no concrete proposals for it anyway, just stawman arguments by trolls.

      7. Then why aren’t SOV freeway commuters anti-bigger freeways, if increasing lanes would harm them the most? Why do they wan’t something that would allegedly dramatically slow their commute, namely, a bigger freeway?

        This whole the-bigger-the-freeway-the-slower-the-commute is fake news/fake science that transit advocates use to force more people onto transit. The “Another ridership record!” Link posts couldn’t happen without limiting the competition by limiting the size of freeways.

      8. It’s not fake news – as I said above, the mechanism is well-understood and the empirical evidence is plentiful. Much has been pointed out in this thread.

        However, it’s not widely-understood among the public. Hence, many SOV commuters, like you, erroneously believe that real-world freeway widenings improve traffic.

      9. That’s not exactly true RossB.

        I know Al. I’m just trying to counter his ridiculous argument in as few words as possible. I’ve gotten quite good at it, despite the fact that details (like the one you describe) are left out. For Seattle (which never experiences much crowding) adding train cars will not change demand. No one has decided to avoid the train because it is too crowded. For the freeways (which are crowded) the situation is different. There are plenty of people (myself included) who avoid them because they are too crowded. Or, as adf2 mentioned, we avoid them at certain hours. Add lanes, and folks start using them more, until they reach the same level we find tolerable as before.

      10. Transportation facilités do not usually explicitly create much induced demand. Instead, they change the real estate market and those changes create induced demand.

        New transportation facilities can shift demand — maybe from one road to another or from SOV to rail transit. They can also shift the destination choice as some places become easier to reach relative to others.

        I’m reminded of how Southern Marin County quit voting for water expansion bonds as a growth limitation strategy. Water and sewer projects can affect growth in ways that are more proactive than transportation projects can because most transportation projects affect the built environment where water and sewer affect the planned environment.

        Honestly, our highly regulated and subsidized land use regulations and undiscussed water/sewer projects are so subtly yet systemically impactful in so many ways that it boggles the mind.

      11. The 405 widening project from Bellevue to Renton is budgeted at $1.22 billion. Once the work is done there will be one more HOV/toll lane in each direction for about 11 miles. At the going rate of about $55 million per mile, would anyone like to suggest widening 405 to 20 lanes in order to reduce congestion?

      12. “When people say “induced demand” what they really mean is latent demand.”

        It starts with latent demand but it goes beyond it. When U-Link opened, ridership spiked because people had long wanted a faster and more reliable way to get to UW. That’s the latent demand. But then people started finding new uses for it that they hadn’t thought of before: Broadway to UW trips, and asdf2’s “I’ll just pop over to Capitol Hill for dinner now that it’s much easier to get to.” That’s not really latent demand because people didn’t perceive a need for it before or they thought it was forever impossible. Then on top of that are people who ride it just for the hell of it because they can. This is harder to illustrate until U-District station opens, but you can foresee people popping over to the U-District for a few minutes when they don’t need to, just because they can. That adds to system load of course. And it’s not latent demand because it didn’t exist before the line opened, or even in the first few months when people hadn’t yet created the idea of doing these trips yet.

        The same phenomenon occurs when you expand a highway. It starts with latent demand, then people find new uses for it, and then they begin overusing it for silly things. The difference is that, as I said above, the government should provide as much transit as people want to use (the same as an electric utility does), but it should not do the same for highways and roads because they have major negative externalities on everything else, so we should treat roads as a limited resource that won’t be expanded much.

      13. “This whole the-bigger-the-freeway-the-slower-the-commute is fake news/fake science”

        Now you’re throwing out a second strawman. Nobody is saying a wide road will be slower than a narrow road. They’re saying it may become as slow as the narrow road was, not slower. And it may not too. It may remain slightly faster than the narrow road. Because it all comes down to a million people’s daily decisions, and we can’t predict that 100% or know what future factors will influence them. But we can say that if there’s congestion, there’s probably latent demand, and people will find new uses for an increase in capacity, so it’s certain that the number of trips will increase somewhat. And that usually over time it leads to congestion just as bad as the previous narrow road had. That’s “just as bad”, not “worse”.

        Saying that widening roads will make congestion worse is as silly as saying a city would consider widening a 2 lane road to 20 lanes. If it does get to 20 lanes eventually, it will be over multiple generations, and the people who make the later decisions won’t be the same ones as those who made the earlier decisions. So you can’t put the responsibility on the earlier people who just widened it to 4 lanes. They did not plan for or approve a 20-lane road.

    6. Adding lanes affects people’s perception of the road and thus their decisions. Immediately after it opens the trip goes from being “I’ll be stuck in horrible traffic for twenty minutes so I won’t go” to “The traffic is not that bad now so I will go.” Those are the increased trips that gradually fill up the new capacity and make traffic as bad as before. So all you’ve done is make car trips more convenient at a cost of billions of dollars and environmental damage.

    7. You cannot really separate development and growth from infrastructure investments. If the highway is widened, over time, it will tend to intensify development relative to keeping things the way it is. After all, the first highways weren’t filled up with cars who were waiting to take those trips, they were filled up with cars because the infrastructure allowed sprawl development to occur en masse. Some might argue that it is a necessary evil, which is a legitimate argument, but in the end it is an example of induced demand. Of course, the more “classic” induced demand is people for whom that road is the most direct route, but they either use an alternate route or time their trips to avoid congested hours, because the road is just so congested. In many cases, you could add the same capacity by putting in rapid transit, without all the negative externalities of having so many more cars on the highway. And in neighboring residential streets–which may not have been widened, and if they were, might encroach on people’s houses/businesses affecting the quality of life. Living along a moderately busy two lane road feeding in to a four lane highway is way different than a busy four lane road feeding in to the expanded 6-8 lane highway!

    8. 405 was two lanes south of Bellevue to Renton. The third HOV lane was added maybe about 1990 or so.

  3. I attempted to load a regional day pass onto my ORCA card by buying the pass and then tapping at a RapidRide reader about 4 hours later. It failed to load the pass, so the RapidRide stops must be slow to update, just like the bus readers are.

    1. RapidRide stops are supposed to be wired to the internet just like the readers at Link stations are.

      Did you buy the pass online? Buying it from a TVM should load the pass instantly.

      1. There aren’t any TVMs in that area (Aurora Village TC) so I had to do it online. Closest one is Edmonds Sounder station, I think.

  4. “The city council could impose a tax on the largest employers — per employee per month, or a percentage of payroll monthly — and give the revenues to Sound Transit for it to design, build and operate improvements shown on Seattle Subway’s “ST4″ map. No public vote would be needed.”

    Discuss.

    1. I’m finding some aspects of this article hard to follow. Is Metro expected to have 625 (or possibly 636 including the current ones) electric buses in its fleet by 2040? How many diesel buses will it have at that point? And it sounds like they’ll have space for 250 of those in Kent or Auburn? The other 375 will go in Tukwila?

      1. What I want to know is why does Metro and the passengers like battery-powered buses, but the drivers dislike them?

  5. What boggles my mind is that Seattle doesn’t charge any impact fees (transportation, parks, schools, fire, etc). Impact fees are controversial, but I think Seattle should put it’s money where it’s “green” mouth is and parking garages like this should be charged high transportation impact fees, like really high fees.

    Traffic is horrible on 15th/Elliot and this is only going to make it worse. The one positive that may come out of this is a push for 24/7 bus lanes along 15th/Elliot.

    1. The bus lanes aren’t that great today, especially in the PM commute. Often the general traffic actually moves faster, which is ridiculous.

      The lanes are hobbled by turning traffic, stopped emergency vehicles, illegally-parked cars and delivery trucks, slow-moving cyclists, and the dangerous SB merge with Magnolia Bridge traffic. All that disruption makes Metro drivers understandably timid, such that most rarely reach the speed limit during the PM commute.

    2. I’ve long argued that the second Downtown/SLU tunnel should half be paid by development impact fees. The only way that dozens and dozens of 20+-story new office buildings can get occupied is if transportation capacity is increased and that increase is supposed to be due to transit.

      I’m willing to pay my fair share of tax increases, but the windfall to Downtown building owners/ developers is way out of proportion to their benefit. Had a suburban office park with these tens of thousands of jobs had been planned 20 years ago, they would be oaying for a massive number of road improvements.

      At the very least, every tall building within two blocks of any current or future ST station should have a guaranteed pedestrian easement available from the sidewalk to underground, available if the station circulation design ultimately wants to use it. I shudder at what us taxpayers will end up paying (noting that ST3 didn’t provide much contingency) for new Downtown station entrances.

    3. The new buildings benefit everybody. They mean more housing for more people and more economic activity. The city has a responsibility to arrange for enough housing for everybody and to build infrastructure for everybody, and everybody should pay for it. Otherwise you’re giving existing residents an extraordinary discount, which is exactly the problem we have with these single-family areas that don’t want any of the burden of accommodating an increasing population. So I’m not concerned about developers’ profits, and I am concerned about driving up the price of just those buildings (the only additional buildings we’re building); it’s an unfair burden on new residents, newly-moved residents, and children who have grown up and are now looking for a place for their own.

    4. I agree, “parking garages like this should be charged high transportation impact fees, like really high fees.” It’s absurd. The investment should be in more transit, not wasting land.

  6. There has to be at least one BN trainman reading this. So can you tell me how any single driver or conductor in your “shop” could’ve taken the controls of a train not knowing in their sleep exactly how to handle the curve that killed those people? And if you can’t sign your name, could we have the name, and title, and agency of the superior who silenced you?

    Also disinclined to hear “should’ve been automated.” It wasn’t, and Train 501 left anyway. From the union: where were the picket line blocking the tracks, and the press release calling public attention to the danger and the neglected training? Right now, reflexes of that order are first things that need to become automatic.

    Mark Dublin

    1. The NTSB lays out the timeline just before the crash. This trip was the engineer’s first trip at the controls of a Charger locomotive and also his first revenue trip on the Bypass route. He noted the warning sign 2 miles before the curve but the sign located 1 mile before the curve was too inconspicuous and he missed it. An engineer running a heavy coal train would begin to slow down at the 2 mile mark, but a light weight passenger train doesn’t need to start slowing 2 miles out. So, the Amtrak engineer was planning to begin slowing at the 1 mile marker, which he somehow missed. Then, about 30 seconds before the train arrived at the curve, the train hit 82 mph and an overspeed alarm sounded. Because this was the engineer’s first trip in the Charger locomotive, he wasn’t sure how the locomotive would react to the alarm (would it automatically apply the brakes or would he have to apply brakes?). Until about 3 seconds before the derailment the engineer was distracted by the overspeed alarm and by then it was too late to slow the train down.

      1. Guy, a piece of work that tricky on a stretch of track that unusually (and unforgivably) dangerous should have gone to a special team of drivers whose whole job was to learn it and run it. And leave a detailed manual to their every successor.

        Given the conditions the crew was handed, answer I’m really looking for right now is why the driver’s own union didn’t literally weld the locomotive’s wheels to the track in the yard….with all your superiors and the world’s whole media watching.

        “See Something Say Something” isn’t just for misplaced backpacks.

        Mark Dublin

      2. Operating a train through a 30 mph curve within a 79 mph right-of-way doesn’t require special skills. Engineers do it ever day all around the world. It does require special attention in the form of appropriate advance warning signs and PTC would be really helpful.

        The NTSB concludes that the engineer was set up to fail because of inadequate signage, insufficient training and woeful safety system oversight. Sound Transit correctly identified the risk of the curve as “Unacceptable” but failed to adequately mitigate the risk of the curve. Then Amtrak failed to adequately train the operating crews while WSDOT blindly signed off on the project.

        The T&E crews should have been included as stakeholders during the planning and engineering phases of the project. I’m sure the engineers and conductors would have made valuable contributions to how the curve was designed and built. Unfortunately that doesn’t seem to be how WSDOT, Amtrak and Sound Transit work.

    2. “…could’ve taken the controls of a train not knowing in their sleep exactly how…”

      This is what adequate training and proper qualifying would have helped mitigate.

      1. Guy has just been proven obviously right on this point:

        “The T&E crews should have been included as stakeholders during the planning and engineering phases of the project. I’m sure the engineers and conductors would have made valuable contributions to how the curve was designed and built. Unfortunately that doesn’t seem to be how WSDOT, Amtrak and Sound Transit work.”

        Begging the question of what we the passenger electorate do about that. I wonder how much Freedom of Information it would take to unearth (literally), the amount of warning those agencies you mention had been receiving from their own train crews as to the dangers which their policies were creating.

        Fortune’s got nothing to do with this. Changes of this order are what State’s Evidence is for.

        Mark Dublin

      2. The NTSB Accident Report contains part of ST’s hazard analysis for the curve and explains the technical requirements for the mitigation of the hazard. It’s pretty full of Project Management jargon, but here’s the gist of how the process evolved. ST analyzed the curve and rated it “1C-Unacceptable” meaning that the probability of occurrence is considered “Occasional” and the result would be “Catastrophic”. On the 25 point rating scale of risk analysis, 1C is only exceeded by 1B and 1A. This curve was correctly recognized by ST as very dangerous and required a mitigation plan that required executive level approval before operations could begin. An essential part of the mitigation plan was implementation of PTC, which was not operational on 12.17.2017, but the mitigation plan was signed off by ST and handed over to WSDOT and Amtrak as complete.

        And then the overspeed alarm went off.

      3. Adding to GuyOnBeaconHill’s comments above….

        Let’s not overlook Sound Transit’s culpability here as a result of their decision to designate their risk mitigation plan as “completed”. From page 12 of the report:

        “….Using the hazard risk indices, Sound Transit assigned risks to the hazard as shown above. The initial risk for the curve hazards was “1C – Unacceptable” and the residual risk was “1D – Undesirable.” In either case, before trains were operated, Sound Transit’s system safety
        program required “Safety certification verification during integrated testing, commissioning, and operational phases.” As previously noted, Sound Transit’s SSMP references “procedures and
        training” as the lowest protective mitigation. On the day of the accident, the status of this hazard was marked as “Completed Accepted,” even though PTC had not been implemented, which was
        the mitigating measure to eliminate the hazard.”

  7. Taking the train up to Seattle on Saturday, and I’m trying to figure out where I would buy and load up an ORCA card. The King County office sells them near King St. Station, but aren’t open on Saturdays, according to the website. Where can I buy one on Saturday at noon?

    1. Use a ticket vending machine at International District Station or Pioneer Square Station–both are a quick walk from King Street Station.

    2. I may be wrong, but I am pretty sure that the vending machines at every Link station will sell you a new Orca card. I know I can reload mine at any Link station.

    3. Every Link station has a ticket machine that will sell you a new ORCA card for $5 (plus a minimum e-purse/pass amount which I think is $5). The problem is Link doesn’t go everywhere like some other cities’ subways. But it is good at providing new ORCA cards at stations, something many other cities don’t do. You can also get one at the airport station if anyone is flying in.

  8. Here’s a direct link to the NTSB’s final report on the Dupont derailment, should you wish to download it without a scribd.com subscription:

    https://www.ntsb.gov/news/press-releases/Pages/NR20190624.aspx

    Setting aside the OP’s as well as the linked news source’s editorializing, this was the bottom line spelled out in the report’s executive summary:

    “The National Transportation Safety Board determines that the probable cause of the Amtrak 501 derailment was Central Puget Sound Regional Transit Authority’s failure to provide
    an effective mitigation for the hazardous curve without positive train control in place, which allowed the Amtrak engineer to enter the 30-mph curve at too high of a speed due to his inadequate training on the territory and inadequate training on the newer equipment. Contributing to the accident was the Washington State Department of Transportation’s decision to start revenue service without being assured that safety certification and verification had been completed to the level determined in the preliminary hazard assessment. Contributing to the severity of the accident was the Federal Railroad Administration’s decision to permit railcars that did not meet regulatory
    strength requirements to be used in revenue passenger service, resulting in (1) the loss of survivable space and (2) the failed articulated railcar-to-railcar connections that enabled secondary collisions with the surrounding environment causing severe damage to railcar-body structures which then failed to provide occupant protection resulting in passenger ejections, injuries, and fatalities.”

  9. Last week I discovered the Pollinator Pathway on Columbia Street between 29th and 12th. it’s a row of houses, several of which volunteered to change their front yard and sidewalk strip into pollinator-friendly native plants to save the butterfly and bee population. A Citylab article listed a handful of cities that have done this. Walking down the street you see many yards with flowers, heather, succulents, etc. There are some more on 31st between Columbia and Union Streets. And at 29th & Columbia is Nora’s Woods, a small forest covering two house lots. Nora bought these vacant lots in the 1980s to convert them into a permanent forest, and the neighbors helped clean it up. So it’s worth seeing this corridor, especially the eastern part. As I walked down the street I met a woman who was pruning her yard and I asked how this all came about and thanked her for contributing to the environment.

    The article says the monarch butterfly is an indicator species, so if we provide habitat for it it will help a lot of other species. The butterflies and bees spread pollination between the plants which is necessary for them to reproduce, and animals depend on the plants for food, and humans depend on both the plants and animals for food.

    This project gave me hope that single-family houses could be part of the solution rather than always part of the problem, if homeowners replace most of their blank lawns with more productive plants.

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