Bad Reliability Metrics

"Link from Mt. Baker Station", by Zargoman

A few months ago there was some anecdotal evidence that Central Link wasn’t very reliable with respect to its schedule and scheduled headways for various reasons.  My subjective impression is that this has improved somewhat, but there’s no way you’d be able to tell from Sound Transit’s publicly available data.  More after the jump. Continue reading “Bad Reliability Metrics”

Metro’s February Service Change Now Online

Details on the changes in Metro bus service, effective February 6th, are available online. New red timetables and a special rider alert brochure will soon be available. The changes are now live on the Trip Planner and timetables will be posted online on February 5. This is a major service change, with over 80 bus routes affected. Highlights are:

  • New Route 156 to replace part of Route 140 service in McMicken Heights and will serve Southcenter, SeaTac/Airport Link, and Tukwila Sounder stations.
  • Route 194 replaced by Link light rail and expanded service on ST Express routes 574, 577, and 578.
  • Route 140 now serves Tukwila International Blvd station via Southcenter Blvd. It no longer serves McMicken Heights (use Route 156), the airport (use Link), and Air Cargo Rd (use Route 180).
  • ST 560 and 574 will be the only routes serving the Sea-Tac Airport terminal stops. All other routes will serve SeaTac/Airport Station (including ST 574)
  • Routes 76, 77, 216, 218, and 316 move to the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel
  • Long-term construction reroutes for 73, 77, and 316 373 in the Northgate area.
  • More frequent service on routes 8, 9, 36 and 60 to improve connections to Link
  • More trips on routes between West Seattle, SODO, and downtown Seattle as mitigation for Viaduct construction.
  • Trip reductions on approximately 40 Metro routes

Previously covered: Sound Transit service changes, also on Feb 6.

News Roundup: Sounder’s Back

'Which direction?' by Oran

New ST Schedule is out

The new Sound Transit schedule, effective February 6th, is out.  Highlights:

  • Routes 564 and 565 replaced by the 566, Auburn-Overlake.
  • Route 582 replaced by more service on the 578, which will now provide extensive “Sounder shadow” service and replace trips to Federal Way by the 194.
  • More trips on 554, 574, 577, 592.
  • Route changes on the 560.

News Roundup: Trains, Trains, Trains

Rail News Roundup!

An Amtrak Cascades train meets the Portland Rose steam special
An Amtrak Cascades train meets the Portland Rose steam special in Tacoma

Its that time of the month for another rail roundup;

Passenger News

Amtrak is planning, yet again, to purchase new locomotives and passenger cars to replace the aging fleet. The NEC still will not be a true HSR route, even with the planned “Acela II” with a maximum speed of 180mph, now the low end standard of HSR.

Due for replacement are 412 Amfleet I, 122 Amfleet II, 122 Superliner I, 184 Superliner II, 50 Viewliner, 92 Horizon cars, as well as Heritage baggage and dining cars. Among the locomotives are 20 AEM7 d.c. electric locomotives (the remaining 29 have been rebuilt with a.c. propulsion), and the railroad’s F59PH, P42, P40, and P32DM fleets. Currently, an RFP is out for 125 single-level coaches/baggage-dorm cars/diners and 20 electric locomotives.

Plenty more after the jump!

Continue reading “Rail News Roundup!”

TVMs Coming To A Few New Places

We’ve recently learned that Sound Transit is planning to put a handful of spare Ticket Vending Machines (TVMs) at major locations around the region to spare transit users a trip to a Sounder or Link station.

The only location that we’ve heard is sure right now is the Bellevue Transit Center, and that TVM should come in April. Sound Transit has up to four TVMs to spare, so they’ll be having a regional discussion about where to put the other three in the next couple of months.

Most regional trips do start, transfer or end near a TVM already, but commuters to places like Federal Way and Northgate have to order an ORCA online or by phone if their employer doesn’t provide one. This will make ORCA a little easier.

While we’d like to see more TVMs in the future, they’re apparently quite expensive – Community Transit CEO Joyce Eleanor informed us at the Swift opening that they were $700,000 – hence Swift’s use of $20,000 Parkeon ticket vending machines that can’t dispense ORCA.

I suspect that the $700,000 number includes administrative, back-end, and maintenance costs, but it hasn’t been examined deeply. TriMet in Portland and TransLink in Vancouver BC use nearly identical systems.

November Link Ridership Down

New lights in BHS, by Mike Bjork
"New lights in BHS", by Mike Bjork

As I’ve said consistently through both ups and downs, monthly ridership numbers suffer from significant sample size issues, seasonal variations, shifts in supporting bus service, and so on, and shouldn’t be taken too seriously.

Nonetheless, weekday ridership dropped about 10% from 16,192 to 14,399, bringing it to about the same plateau as August and September and October.  Weekend ridership dropped even more (9,838 for Saturday and 7,836 for Sundays and Thanksgiving), possibly hurt by a lack of special events.  These numbers put Link slightly above Metro’s highest ridership route, the 48.  I’m told by various sources that October is typically a peak ridership month for buses and Sounder, so the month-to-month drop isn’t surprising.

However, given widespread vacation time in December, it would be surprising if Link were to come near its year-end target 0f 21,000 weekday riders.  The end-of-2010 target is 26,000, at which point data would reflect a full year of the completed line running to Seatac with all planned Metro changes in place (except for RapidRide A) for almost 11 months.  The last word on Central Link’s success or failure will not come for decades, but that will be the first really informative data point.

SE King County Commuter Rail coming soon?

WES by Jason McHuff
WES by Jason McHuff

Imagine getting off Sounder or a bus at Auburn station and a few short minutes later, another sleek, quiet train pulls into the station. This could happen in a few short years for Maple Valley, Covington, and Black Diamond residences.

The cities of Maple Valley, Covington, and Black Diamond have joined together for a feasibility study to implement commuter rail service, running from the Auburn Sounder Station to  the Black Diamond/Ravensdale communities, in hopes to relieve congestion off Highway 18, Hwy 169, and create transit communities around the stations or TOD, much like Kent Station.  More after the jump…

Continue reading “SE King County Commuter Rail coming soon?”

Senator Murray Comes Through Again


[UPDATE below.]

According to Scott Gutierrez of the P-I, Sen. Patty Murray has included a provision in the transportation bill that reverses the Bush-era decision to effectively eliminate special event bus service to the Mariners and Seahawks.  It still has to get through a few votes and be signed by the President, but it sounds like more or less a done deal.  Press release here.

According to Metro spokeswoman Rochelle Ogershok, a lot depends on when the bill actually becomes law.  Since the event organizers (ie, sports teams) must pay the cost of the service beyond farebox recovery, it’s ultimately up to them when such service returns. Nevertheless, she assures me that “the actual process of negotiating a contract for special service can typically be concluded within weeks, once discussions get underway between Metro and the requesting organization.”  So it would appear that Seahawks fans are out of luck this year, but there’s reason to be optimistic about the Mariners’ Opening Day.

The bill also includes money for local transit agencies:

Murray also secured $110 million for Sound Transit’s next light rail link to the University of Washington, as well as $3.1 million for the Central Link project. The bill also will include $600,000 to [help] purchase 15 hybrid buses for Metro’s planned RapidRide bus line in West Seattle, as well as $600,000 $360,000* to study the possibility of commuter rail along existing BNSF rail lines from the Auburn Sounder Commuter Rail Station to Maple Valley, Covington and Black Diamond.

The press release also mentions money for the RapidRide A and B lines, not just C.

The News Tribune says there’s also money in there for the Tacoma Intermodal Transit Center, 6 new buses for Pierce Transit, and money to move along Puyallup’s EZRA BRT project.  I haven’t run down each of these funding items, but I believe that in general this is not “new” money but the fulfillment of previous FTA commitments that don’t revise the budgets of the respective programs.

Note also that the commuter rail study covers an area outside the Sound Transit district and is not a Sound Transit project.  I have a call in to Murray’s office to see who actually gets the money. According to the Senator’s office, the cities of Maple Valley, Covington, and Black Diamond are conducting the study with Maple Valley taking the lead.

* See correction.

12th Ave Streetcar, a Bad Idea

First Hill Streetcar Alignments
First Hill Streetcar Alignments

(full size image here, pdf here)

With SDOT kicking off its public outreach effort on the First Hill streetcar line next week, I wanted to outline why we believe that the 12th Ave couplet is a bad idea. The 12th Ave alignment has four major flaws, all of which indicate that the Broadway or Boren alignments (or some variation of these two) is the best option. I have heard many impassioned arguments for the 12th Ave alignment from people that have the same core beliefs as myself but the facts simply make too strong of a case.

Reduced Area with Quality Service

The first and most fundamental problem with the 12th Ave alignment is the couplet. While the couplet increases total coverage of the streetcar, it dramatically reduces the quality of that coverage. By separating the northbound and southbound travel by 3 blocks, the area that is close to both a northbound and southbound station is reduced significantly. To prove my point I spent the day working on ArcGIS to give you the graphics above. Rather than using a 5 minute euclidean circular walking buffer, I used a technique that shows the actual “walk shed” experienced in real life (i.e you can’t walk straight through a building, you have to walk around both sides). This creates a walking shed based on Manhattan distance (this could be a whole other post).

As you can see, I mapped the walking shed of each alternative for 3, 5 and 7 minutes. These are the areas where users have access to both directions. Looking closely at the 12th Ave couplet, you can see how the coverage of the three middle stations is much smaller and of lower quality compared to both of the other alternatives. As I said before, this is an fundamental and intractable flaw of the idea that can’t be overcome.

More after the jump

Continue reading “12th Ave Streetcar, a Bad Idea”

Long News Roundup (I)

Map by Oran, of course
Map by Oran, of course

Stories we didn’t have time to get to or didn’t have anything to say about are below.  There are so many that another installment is coming soon:

Point Defiance Bypass Simulation Shows Little Impact

Last week, the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) held a public meeting on the future of the Point Defiance Bypass project. This project, as we’ve discussed before, would cut 6 minutes from Amtrak Cascades travel time to points south, reduce delays caused by congestion with freight traffic, and allow for more service by getting passenger trains out of the single track Nelson Bennett tunnel under Ruston.

Unfortunately, WSDOT’s outreach attempts appear to have fallen flat. WSDOT mentioned that some of the funding for this project could come from a high speed rail stimulus grant – and media has already claimed that these trains move twice as fast as Sounder. These trains would run at 70-79mph, just like other passenger rail, this project would just allow for a later, unfunded, project to increase train speeds in the corridor. There’s also been little explanation of what a six minute improvement, or the other benefits, really mean, and residents came away concerned that loud, fast trains were going to block traffic and cause safety problems for little benefit.

In reality, because Amtrak Cascades is already close to time-competitive with car travel between Seattle or Tacoma and Portland, a six minute reduction in trip time and an improvement in reliability would do quite a bit to increase ridership, and it’s required to create the capacity we need for more round trips. 70-79mph service is exactly the same as what runs through Sumner, Puyallup, Kent and Auburn already without incident. And because this track would only have lightweight passenger trains, noise would be reduced significantly relative to often under-maintained and very heavy freight equipment.

Thankfully, WSDOT has posted three YouTube videos that help demonstrate the planning that’s going into the Point Defiance Bypass project, and help dispel the biggest concerns. Have a look after the jump. Continue reading “Point Defiance Bypass Simulation Shows Little Impact”

Sunday Open Thread: the Timeline

Photo by Martin
Photo by Martin

[UPDATE: A lot of these dates are in flux as we speak.]

[UPDATE: Oops, forgot a couple of things, fixed below.]

Here’s the transit opening timeline: Swift on November 29th, Seatac on December 19th, RapidRide A Line in June 2010, B in 2011, S. 200th St. (assuming the feds come through), RapidRide C, RapidRide D, and Sounder Lakewood in 2012, and First Hill Streetcar and RapidRide E in 2013.  Then, it’s U-Link in 2016.

in 2012, C and D RapidRide in 2013, and E in 2014.  Then, it’s U-Link in 2016.

Short Notice Dept.: First Hill Streetcar Brown Bag

The Great City Initiative is sponsoring a panel on First Hill Streetcar alignments, today:

Upcoming Brownbag: The First Hill Street Car Project
Thursday, November 12th
12:00 – 1:30 pm
GGLO Space at the Steps
1301 First Ave, Level A

Enter through door located about ¼ of the way down the Harbor Steps
Please join Great City this coming Thursday, November 12, for our next brownbag on the First Hill Streetcar and the different alignment proposals. The First Hill Streetcar project – a 2-mile streetcar connector serving Seattle’s Capitol Hill, First Hill and International District areas with connections to Link light rail and Sounder commuter rail — was included in the mass transit system expansion ballot that voters approved in November 2008. Since this time, different alignment proposals have been offered.
Matt Roewe, an architect at Via Architects and Streetcar Alliance member, will be moderating a discussion on the differing proposals for the First Hill Streetcar alignments. Joining Matt will be:
Ethan Melone is Rail Transit Manager for the City’s Department of Transportation. He is responsible for streetcar network development, restoration of King Street Station, and coordination with Sound Transit. He previously worked for City budget and planning offices and for a transportation engineering firm. He holds a Master of Public Policy degree from Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government.
Bill Zosel is a self-described “neighborhood guy”. He has been heavily involved with 12th Avenue Neighborhood Stewardship since that “urban village” was created during Seattle’s neighborhood plan effort ten+ years ago, and also with the Squire Park Community Council, the community organization for the larger neighborhood in which he’s lived for thirty years.
Josh Mahar is a member of the Capitol Hill Community Council.

Infill Stations

Vote is legally binding

Sound Transit doesn’t have a lot of extra cash lying around right now, but should that change, surplus subarea funds might be used to construct an infill station — that is, an additional station on an existing line.  There are 5 such stations that come up now and then.  What follows is a highly speculative review of each of these; note that all of these have the drawback of increasing travel times by a minute or two.  Click on each station name to see a Google map of the approximate location.

1. MLK & Graham St. – This station would plug the biggest gap in the Rainier Valley segment and place virtually everyone within a half mile of a station, potentially allowing cutbacks in Metro service in this corridor.  It would also serve a minor retail district, middle school, and in the long run probably allow MLK to become a solid line of dense development instead of islands around stations.

2. Boeing Access Road Long mentioned and long lamented, BAR station actually has fairly low ridership estimates, as there’s almost nothing to walk to.  Additionally, potential building heights are unimpressive because it’s at the foot of a runway.  However, BAR is the only place for an intermodal Sounder/Link/Bus transfer point aside from King St; the connection would facilitate connections from the Green River Valley to the airport, provide a bypass of the Rainier Valley for Link riders from Federal Way, and possibly allow the truncation of bus service along I-5.

3. S. 133rd St. A station here would also break up the huge stop-less stretch between Rainier Beach and TIB.  It provides a superior transfer point to get I-5 buses like the 150 off the freeway before they enter town.  However, there is no Sounder connection.  Since it’s in Tukwila, this station would have to be paid for by South King funds, which might otherwise be used to extend the line another stop.

4. Broad Street Sounder. A station on the Belltown end of downtown would improve anemic ridership on North Sounder by providing better connections to jobs in Seattle Center, SLU, and Belltown.  It’s not entirely clear that the logistics of terminating South Sounder here work out, but if they did that would be an additional bonus.  One drawback is that fixing the street grid could be messy and expensive.

5. Ballard Sounder would bring Sound Transit service to an otherwise ignored quadrant of the City.  It would provide a traffic-independent means downtown and boost ridership on North Sounder.  However, the tracks run well away from the population and business centers, hurting ridership.  Furthermore, this station would credibly require North King operating funds to contribute to North Sounder operations, which is a either a feature or a bug depending on what else is going on.

Passenger Rail Roundup (III): News Reports

The last Amtrak Pioneer on May 10, 1997, by WashARP
The last Amtrak Pioneer on May 10, 1997, by WashARP

New Studies: Amtrak has completed the studies to possibly return two long distance trains back in service. The North Coast Hiawatha (Trains 9 and 10), which would run from Seattle to Chicago via Stampede Pass, lower Montana, and North Dakota. The cost of the train would be steep at nearly $1.2 billion dollars but has a farebox recovery of 58% and serve nearly 380,000 passengers a year, putting it in Amtrak’s top 5 best performing trains.

The Amtrak Pioneer (Trains 25/26), which would has several different options. The first 2 options would serve Seattle to Denver or Salt Lake City via Portland, Oregon, Idaho, Utah, (Wyoming or Colorado, optional route) This however would be around $400-500 million dollar start up, 40% farebox recovery and serve between 107,000 to 111,000 passengers a year, putting it in tier with the lower performing trains. I will have more about this 2 trains in a 2 part series starting next week.

Washington State DOT: I was pleased to come across this report on an HSR workshop that WSDOT hosted but was displeased with some of the notes:

Shared corridors will only allow trains a maximum speed of 79mph, even after the installation of Positive Train Control. This means trains that run together, freight, Sounder, etc, will be restricted to only 79mph. My opinion is passenger trains and freight trains should increase speeds accordingly, meaning, where applicable, 90mph passenger trains, 70mph intermodal/container trains, and 60mph non-tonnage restricted freight trains.

I was pleased with the rest of the report as WSDOT is looking proactively at all manufactures for future tilting equipment. Requirements such as 8 inches of cant deficiency, 290 to 350 passengers a train, powered locomotives at both ends of the train and faster acceleration above 79mph. This still of course fits within the range of Talgo but it also allows bids from other manufactures, such as Alstom and Bombardier.

Gobble Gobble: Amtrak will be running the special “Turkey Trains” for the Thanksgiving week, November 25-29. These trains will use conventional Horizon or Amfleet (or a mix) with a journey time of 4 hours and 15 minutes. The extra trains will only run between Seattle and Portland. There will not be any extra Seattle – Vancouver BC service. Trains are now available for reservation but as I scanned through already, several trains are sold out or near sold out!

Passenger Rail Roundup (II): South of Seattle

Old Seattle train stations, unknown era - Vintage Seattle
Old Seattle train stations, unknown era - Vintage Seattle

Continuing yesterday’s article with projects South of Downtown.

Seattle: I may have been seeing things this morning but it appears the the King Street Station clock has stopped working. I’ll e-mail the City of Seattle on Monday if it appears that way.

Construction bids for the new Seattle Amtrak Maintenance Facility seem to be slow. So far, only McGraw-Hill Construction appears to be the only bidder Construction is estimated to take 36 to 40 months. This would provide about 382 jobs according to More below the jump.

Continue reading “Passenger Rail Roundup (II): South of Seattle”

Passenger Rail Roundup (I): North of Downtown

Seattle Schedule Board, Circa 1968, Ron Goodenow
Seattle Schedule Board, Circa 1968, Ron Goodenow

It’s time of the month again for the latest updates for BNSF trackwork around the Pacific Northwest. If you are new to this type of post, this covers news for Sounder, Amtrak, BNSF and Union Pacific Railroads and covers passenger rail throughout the Pacific Northwest.

In Part I I’ll discuss all the work North of Downtown Seattle.

Blaine: BNSF and WSDOT finished the new Blaine Customs Siding and related construction several months in advance. This project will allow for faster and more reliable Amtrak Cascades trains and less delays as freight trains are inspected.

More after the jump.

Continue reading “Passenger Rail Roundup (I): North of Downtown”