Link’s “N minutes to next train” displays are off again. An ST email announcement says:

“The most recent update to the Passenger Information Management System (PIMS) increased uncertainty for train arrival times. To avoid giving passengers incorrect information, they have been temporarily turned off in stations until the issue is resolved. The 2-minute proximity alert and “now arriving” announcements will continue to inform passengers when their train will arrive. Passengers who use trip planner apps to view real time information should also be aware that the information being provided is not accurate at this time. The most reliable source of information about 1 Line arrival times is the 1 Line schedule. Sound Transit is working diligently with our contractor to address and resolve this issue as soon as possible.”

This summer ST turned the next-arrival displays on for several weeks to quantify the errors and trace where they’re coming from. Then they went off, and about a month ago they went on again. This last time they’ve been accurate for all my trips, better than before. So I’m sad to see them gone. Have you used the apps or map services recently? Have you found them accurate?

Why aren’t buses timed to meet trains? (Human Transit)

Portland’s “BRT-lite” on Division Street is a success. (Human Transit)

Portland’s southwestbus restructure last August. (Human Transit)

How to read zoning regulations, and what numbers to change to make cities more walkable. (City Beautiful video)

House sizes are getting absurd. (Stewart Hicks video)

(Do you pronounce the “s” in absurd as an s or a z? I use s, but I’ve been hearing z more recently, so maybe it’s standard in some areas?)

This is an open thread.

66 Replies to “Open Thread 23”

  1. So, amazingly odd things now travel away from a “zurd” rather than a “surd”? What exactly is the difference between a zurd and a surd? Is it a smooth transition, or are there intermediate states like “yurd” or “xurd” — very like a zurd, but an xcellent version — a “wurd”, a “vurd”, or a “turd” [oopsie]?

    Surely there would be no “uurd”…..

  2. As riders we wre probably better off having the system turned off…if the trains are running at all!

    1. What year is it? I remember real time arrival in Portland for the streetcar in 2001. Why is it so hard to get accurate arrival times for Link? This is absolutely ridiculous, ST needs to get their sht together.

      1. TriMet has (or at least had) a whole group of in-house software developers tasked with getting real time arrival working. I met a couple in the late 1990s.

        Even now, the system doesn’t work if the bus wanders too far off its timetable, goes off route, or MAX is in the West Hills tunnel.

      2. “Why is it so hard to get accurate arrival times for Link?”

        We’ve said a thousand times, the data feed has noise or errors in it. It’s not just Link’s data feed, it’s Metro buses too, even though they’re on a different system. As to why it’s taking so long to eliminate the errors, we don’t know.

  3. West Coast courts prohibit removing homeless people if there aren’t enough shelter beds for them. A Phoenix court orders the city to dismantle a homeless encampment it calls a “public nuisance ($)“. The city responds with hotel rooms and shelter beds — and also a 300-person tent city.

    What, there are homeless encampments in Phoenix? I thought they only occurred in blue coastal states. Or at least that’s what the news told me.

    1. Arizona is bluer than you think. A majority of Arizonans voted for Biden in 2020. Phoenix’s Mayor is a Democrat. Arizona’s Governor is a Democrat. And Arizona’s two US Senators are Democrats.

  4. In other Portland transit news the Max line to the airport has reopened after several months of a bus bridge.

    1. In that several months, they completely rebuilt the airport station to have 3 tracks, and converted the 1 track section along the south edge of the airport terminal to two tracks (which required moving part of concourse A).

      They also replaced rail in a bunch of places.

      No word yet on needing to replace the tactile tiles though.

      1. The section through the West Hills tunnel has become too crowded, but they don’t need to run trains all the way to Hillsboro and Gresham to meet the need. They don’t need that much capacity at the extreme ends any more (aka, the blue line).

        So, they are increasing frequency on the red line instead. The airport doesn’t need it, but it’s cheaper to run that line more frequently than the longer blue line. It will be frequent enough they want three tracks at the station. They probably won’t need the third track very often, but in the case of the orange line, they operate every 15 minutes except a few trips (maybe one now, post pandemic?) operates 2 minutes behind the other. So, they might need to do something like that sometimes, or do 7 minute headways or something.

        In addition, they are building a layover facility at Washington County Fairgrounds so the red line will run 10 more stations west.

        I’ll leave it to others to draw connections between this plan and ways SoundTransit could deal with their apparent shortage of light rail cars estimated to occur in a few years.

    1. I’m trying to think how a bus could end up on the sidewalk there. I’m wondering if a car in the through-lane to the left of the bus lane tried to make an illegal right turn onto southbound 5th in front of the bus, forcing the bus to the right, or causing the bus driver to make an overreaction to the right.

      1. I think it would be best to wait until the police gets done with their investigation before we will know how the accident happened.

        The person who died was a pedestrian who was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Very sad.

    2. Seattle Times report ($).

      “Witnesses said the driver of a Saturn was going south on Fifth Avenue and the Metro bus was heading east on Battery Street around 3:30 p.m. when the two collided, according to a Seattle Police Department news release…. The crash occurred next to a red bus lane, a low speed area used primarily by the RapidRide E Line while traveling between the Aurora Avenue corridor and Third Avenue.”

      It doesn’t seem to say why the vehicles collided. Or why the bus was next to the transit lane rather than in it. Those may still be unknowns.

      1. One of my neighbors is a supervisor with Metro and he said this morning that the car involved in the accident was stolen several days before and that the driver who they believe was under the influence ran a red light.

        No charges have been filed as of noon today but the driver has been put under arrest and will be placed in the King County Jail when he is released from the hospital.

  5. Massive Link service reduction planned for January to replace rails in the NB tunnel between University St and Westlake. Sounds like trains every 30 minutes for 4 weeks straight in the downtown core, nearly useless without a schedule (which ST didn’t have for the tile replacement situation).

    1. I haven’t gotten any email announcement about this. If it happens, ST should just close the downtown tunnel and use a bus shuttle. There’s no point in having Link pretend to be in service when it effectively isn’t. 30-minute service without next-arrival displays was what Link had in 2020 weekends. So you could stand at the Westlake entrance and decide whether to spend two minutes going down to the platform and (A) maybe just miss a train, (B) stand on the platform not knowing how long you’d wait, (C) skip Link and walk one block and take a bus 7, 36, 10, 49, 62, 70, or E. These all run every 15 minutes at least weekdays and Saturdays, and some have other routes that overlap them. If you’re going to TIB or SeaTac, the 124 runs every 15 minutes weekdays, and I think it used to do Saturdays although it doesn’t now.

      1. They should be able to operate from Northgate to Westlake and from Angle Lake to CID. There’s crossovers just before each.

        The 30 minute plan makes 0 sense for this section.

      2. Just the fact we can’t rule it out is troubling. Link has run Northgate-Capitol Hill and Stadium-Angle Lake several times, at normal 10-15 minute frequency, and with a 10-15 minute bus shuttle. The problem is ST’s judgment. It wants to keep the tunnel open if it possibly can. But when Link can’t maintain 10-15 minute service due to something downtown, it’s time to close the tunnel. 20-30 minute service has rapidly diminishing returns and becomes unusable.

        If the 41, 512, and 174 were still running, we could take those to bypass infrequent Link, but they’re not. That puts everyone in a pickle. ESPECIALLY if the next-arrival signs are off. And even when they were on last month, they only displayed on the platforms, not at the entrances like they used to. That makes it impossible to know whether to go down to the platform or not. So I would just skip Link in that condition, rather than risk waiting 30 minutes, or going down and then coming back up to catch a bus. I’d just go to a bus in the first place.

      3. We need to ask ST why they can’t run trains all the way to the last crossover stations before the work location; even assuming somewhat reduced frequency due to not being the normal terminals it is vastly better than the current plan.

        Hello ST – anyone reading this blog?

      4. The scope of work includes repairing signal boxes “damaged by joint bus-rail operation” and complete replacement of worn rail on the northbound track. I assume they need to single-track because the electricians need to be able to drive the length of the track at-will, including getting in and out of the tunnel, without encountering a train. Hard to do that if trains are turning around at Westlake and CID every 10 minutes.

        I’d be curious if this is another “reasonable worst case” closure timeline, where they’re allotting a lot of extra time in the beginning because it’s better PR to re-open early rather than to extend a high-impact closure.

        They really should provide shuttle buses to at least supplement the reduced capacity of 30-40 minute headways downtown. It took me a few reads of Slide 7 to parse that the “13-20 min headways” north and south of the closure are the combined headways, with “every other trip” continuing through. Somehow “every other trip” of “13-20 min” headways gives a “26-30 min” headway, when it would really be 26-40 minutes.

      5. Page 7 also says, “Every other trip will require a transfer at UW or Stadium Station to continue through single-track operation”, whatever that means. Previous transfers have been everyone at a single station. So we won’t know until we get on the train whether we’ll transfer at UW or Stadium?

        Is this better or worse than having everyone transfer at Pioneer Square? It sounds worse because you won’t know whether to add 10-20 minutes to the normal travel time. With Pioneer Square there was certainty: don’t cross it if you can avoid it, or add time. And if your destination is downtown, you can walk from Pioneer Square, or transfer to north-south buses running every couple minutes.

      6. @Mike Orr,

        I remember the last time when every other train went the full route from Northgate to Angle Lake and every other train only to Stadium. This was about a year ago and I can’t remember which project it was.

        The signs on the trains said either Angle Lake or Stadium so you could tell which train to take if you needed to go further then Stadium. This was for SB trains as all NB trains ran the full route but only about every 20 to 24 minutes between Angle Lake and Stadium. From there NB it was about every 10 to 12 minutes as the trains turned back as Stadium went back to Northgate.

        I also have a question. Are they working on this replacement project only during the day or around the clock. If it is the former that is ridiculous. This is a major interruption in service and should be done ASAP.

      1. In Soviet Union customer is nuisance.

        The first time I went to Russia in 1995, we had a joke at my hostel. “There are only three Russian words you need to know: nyet, zakrit, and zaprescheno. “No”, “we’re closed”, and “it’s prohibited”.

        But the metro ran every 3-5 minutes. Only after 9pm did it fall to a low of 10 minutes.

        By the way, the fine print at the bottom says the photo is by Oran.

      1. If ST is going to be working on the signal system in the existing tunnel, I surely hope that they’ll be replacing the electronics to be more current, flexible and durable.

    2. By my count this will be the third set of rails on that strech:
      1. When it was built
      2. When they closed the whole tunnel for 2 years because st said they wouldn’t work with the train.
      3. Worn out rail replacement from number 2.its a rough ride nb right now so it definitely needs work but the whole thing is comical.

      This week we had a complete link suspension Thursday afternoon due to power issues and then sat afternoon single tracking at chs for no disclosed reason. The operational ineptitude of st is borderline criminal.

      1. It’s depressing to think that we either continue expanding Link with its many outages and single-tracking continuing probably forever, or fall back to ST Express that drops to half-hourly and gets caught in congestion.

      2. “1. When it was built”
        Wait, do you mean when the original Bus Tunnel was built?
        Everyone knows that was for show.
        Seriously, the project manager’s previous experience was building Wash DC’s Metro, so they knew how to lay rail correctly. I personally think he had the perfect read on Seattle politics, and imbedded the rails as cheaply as they could have been.

        “2. When they closed the whole tunnel for 2 years because st said they wouldn’t work with the train.”
        See #1. However, the original idea behind the Bus Tunnel being made convertible to rail was based on older LR vehicles, and they were figuring on raising all the station platforms for level boarding of high-floor vehicles. Over the years, when they were ready to convert, that’s why it was simpler to re-lay the rails properly, with the proper electrical insulation.
        “3. Worn out rail replacement from number 2.”
        It would be interesting to see where exactly this rail replacement is. Rail replacement should be relatively straightforward, unless it’s imbedded in concrete.

        Need more detail on #3.

      3. Can someone find any information about this January Link reduction online? I can’t find any mention of it.

      4. Welcome to the world of rail transit. Th we kids of disruptions happen routinely in other cities including New York and Washington D.C. Buses deal with the equivalent of highway work, but it’s not as bad because freeways have several lanes which are usually not all closed at once, and because when something impacts car drivers, not just transit riders, people are more motivated to go that extra mile to keep the disruption as brief as possible.

    3. All of these service disruptions are unsettling at the very least, and seem to point to a senior operations team that are either being summarily ignored by top management or there is a systemic culture of allowing service disruptions as acceptable at ST.

      One or two multi-week service disruptions can be unexpected and situational. However this seems to be #4 or #5 in the past 2 years for what appears to be needed for routine renovations.

      ST needs to be slapped in the face and hear, “Snap out of it! Link is not just a flower on the tree of transit service! It’s the tree trunk upon what all transit is designed around! Frequent service is more than merely nice; it’s essential!!”

      One action is that the staff needs to be instructed that any disruptions need to be minimized by things like 24/7 work crews and work plans that shrink the disruption window. Another is for ST to prepare track closure contingency plans including minor capital projects proposed and funded to minimize these disruptions when they are going to happen.

      In this case, it’s really clear to me that if ST simply installed scissor tracks inside the University St station when the tracks were replaced before a link opened this disruption would not be needed (with the station simply being closed).

      And why aren’t installing these special case scissor tracks inside University Street not part of this project causing this new service disruption? Can anyone at ST think ahead?

    4. isn’t the point of shutting down the system in the wee hours _every night_ so that they can perform this kind of work with minimal disruption regular operation?

    5. It’s almost like having two downtown Link tunnels would improve the resiliency of regional transit, as the network would be more capable of handling the inevitable planned and unplanned shutdowns of one tunnel or the other, rather than routing 100% of Seattle’s high capacity transit lines into a single bottleneck.

      1. That assumes both tunnels would be easily accessible.

        The proposed second tunnel would not be able to serve the important core corridor from Northgate to Westlake.

        The failure here is artificially restricting everything to a single track, rather than operate what can be operated at higher frequency and use a bus bridge, like everyone else does.

      2. Given how going to the second tunnel would require two transfers for a through rider — with up to 7 minutes to negotiate long walks and multiple escalators or elevators (possibly one out of service) for each transfer, it wouldn’t be worth the time and effort. A bus bridge would be faster.

  6. The trouble with the real-time information continues to astound me. The amount of time required for a train to go from Station A to Station B is relatively predictable. Given a data feed of which station each train stopped at last and when they stopped there, calculating estimated times to each future station should be a very straightforward computation. So does Sound Transit not know where its trains are, or what in the world is the difficulty here?

    1. There is some sort of “Traffic Control System” — the modern version of the “Centralized Traffic Control” whose invention in the mid-30’s made it possible for US railroads to serve the war effort — embedded in ST’s “SCADA” system. They know exactly which “block” a given train occupies all the time.

      The difficulty appears to be the the SCADA software supplier believes the data to be “theirs” and that ST should pay them for the feed.

      Yeah, a bunch of corporate fundaments.

    2. It’s probably an issue with the train control system they have where it doesn’t want to communicate well with the Real-Time Information System and probably relates to a programming issue. We know that Vancouver doesn’t have this issue alongside they did an overhaul of their RTI system a few years ago to improve it alongside modernizing it’s UI.

    3. “Given a data feed of which station each train stopped at last and when they stopped there”

      That’s the missing piece. The data feed misses trains and hallucinates nonexistent trains.

    4. “The difficulty appears to be the the SCADA software supplier believes the data to be “theirs” and that ST should pay them for the feed.”

      In that case you’d think there’d be no data getting through at all instead of half-right, half-wrong data. “You want accuracy? That will cost extra.” Um, the whole point of data is that it’s accurate. And if the problem is a defective SCADA upgrade, can’t ST just roll back to the previous version?

  7. Incredible how Sound Transit is inept at simple functions like real-time data. A Taco Bell burrito can easily be tracked better than Sound Transit’s train.

    Does the Sounder have same issues?

    [Ed: Corrected typos.]

    1. I find the Sounder extremely punctual. I was puzzled when someone was comparing express service and Sounder South and suggested tacking 10 minutes on to the Sounder trip because you needed to get there much earlier than you would with an express bus. I’ve cut my Sounder arrival to a minute before departure and still felt perfectly comfortable.

      The exact opposite occurs when I’m taking the 594. I have literally no idea whether it will arrive in 1 minute or 1 hour. I recently spent almost an hour in downtown Seattle watching ghost 594s go by in the fog, when I could have been enjoying a bevie someplace warm and dry. Night and day.

  8. According to the Seattle Times the driver of the car that was involved in the accident on Saturday with the Metro bus has been arrested by the Seattle Police and will be placed in the King County jail when cleared by Harborview Hospital. He has been upgraded to satisfactory from critical and has had blood drawn for testing on substance in his system. No results so far from those tests.

    1. (The text below, since it will probably drop off the Amtrak Cascades website by tomorrow)
      “Landslide interrupts train service between Seattle and Portland until 9:15 a.m. on 11/8/23:
      Buses will be provided for all trains between Seattle and Portland through Tuesday.
      If you have questions, consult your online reservation or call 1-800-USA-RAIL for details on alternative travel options.
      All trains are running normally between Seattle and Vancouver, BC, and Portland and Eugene, OR.”

    2. Just a follow up, since I found out some more detail. (and the reason behind my cryptic description).
      The slide apparently happened near Vancouver, WA in what was described as between Ridgefield and Felida.
      Felida? I’ve never heard of that? I mean, we’ve all known about Humptulips, and Puyallup, and even Cusick,WA.

      The history of how that “census-designated place” and post office got its name is entertaining.

      I’m always one to get on Google Maps to see what the topography of a given area is. Of course, in this case, there is no ‘Street View’ from the RR tracks. However, I noticed one interesting thing. There is new development in the area on top of the bluff, and it’s new enough that the Street View car hasn’t accessed it yet.

      Shades of the North End, where the state had to spend somewhere around $40 million to stop the disruptions between Seattle and Everett.

      1. Yeah, up until about 10 years ago it was basically an abandoned general store at a 3 way stop sign in the middle of a bunch of farm fields. It’s basically a bunch of unappealing suburban sprawl now.

      2. Crappy zoning in Seattle is now causing sprawl in Felida, which is causing slides, which is degrading transit service in between Seattle and Portland. Did I get that right? We are going backwards.

      3. I’m interested in what local building codes allow the drainage characteristics to be modified and not mitigated.

        These mudslides have started occurring more frequently recently.

        I’ve only guessed it’s at Felida from looking at Google’s topography map.

        The actual location information was too vague.

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