A Summary of Current US Passenger Rail Plans

The last few days have been pretty extensive in coverage of rail related passenger services in the United States. A lot of the same repeated diatribe has followed, but some has been new and some has started to create some forward momentum. While reading through all of the material one of the pieces that stood out is an article at The Urbanist. It’s an article that covers numerous pieces of information about the current state of affairs of US rail projects including; The Sorry Case of Wisconsin, Brightline, Dallas’ Dire Need for Quality Transit, among others. The Urbanist, a good one to keep a check on regularly or just go ahead and subscribe, is a solid and reliable medium to keep up to date with transportation and urban news in Seattle and the state of Washington.

In other news, not that it takes an entire study at this point, but Microsoft backed one that tells us we really ought to have some high speed rail in the Cascadian Corridor! The WSDOT one here also has lots of good information about options beyond just high speed rail and other related options. The Governor is also bullish on the idea.

But I digress, that’s some good information if you want to catch up. The summary statement is, and history would show us, if the US would actually put forth just a little effort to modernize the infrastructure and systems we have (Air Traffic Control, High Speed Rail, Highways, Interstates, etc) we’d have a massive return on investment based on the build out of those systems. But alas, just like before Lincoln kicked off the rail boom to build the intercontinental railroads, the US sits laggardly in the dust of the world around us racing ahead into the future.

I hope to see these things take off soon. In the meantime, back to some urban-centric issues here in Portland and Seattle. Cheers!

Post Wreck Thoughts on 501, PTC, US Liability, and America’s Failing Transportation

I’m already looking forward to healing, obviously, and getting back on the bike. I look forward to riding back to King Street Station, getting on the train and handing off my bike for a station hand to rack on the train. Then rolling, minus a derailment, onward toward Portland to spend time with family and friends biking around town and enjoying one of the greatest, more human, pedestrian friendly, and foodie cities in this great nation. I don’t fear, fate has its hand in what it will hand me, but I can’t live with fear and worry, uncertainty, and doubt. I look forward and am beyond just thankful that I will live to ride this trip again.

In the meantime; Amtrak, Sound TransitWashington Department of Transportation (WSDOT), and Oregon Department of Transportation get y’alls asses in gear and get that PTC working, ensure those engineers really, truly, 100% know that line and please get this service running back at 100%! It’s too important to thousands of people to let falter!

New Information, Thoughts on PTC

As I should have expected, BNSF actually has the PTC up and running on their lines. Amtrak trains don’t have PTC on in cabs as far as I’ve learned. If anybody has more information about this please let me know, I’d love to get more details on the matter. I’ve started researching more about PTC too and trying to determine what exactly is the issue and complexity of the system beyond merely the cost. I know that’s as much a red herring as it is a legitimate excuse. PTC is in place in so many places on so many lines that there’s not a lot of functional excuse, except I bet there’s a lot of bullshit regulation and related bureaucratic mess in the way of the railroads getting this implemented.

The money, also something put totally on the backs of the railroads, hasn’t exactly been easy to invest in as they do have to stay sustainable (the freight railroads). Meanwhile, Amtrak which like all modes of transportation (cars, buses, places, etc) is entirely not sustainable from its current state of legislative ecosystem (meaning the way it must account for costs, revenue, systemic matters of stations, debt, etc).

Health Insurance, America Fails Americans Miserably

Another major issue here, that slams all transportation modes, is in insurance claim scenarios like this an incident is liable to entirely destroy a company that operates passenger service. In European countries people that are injured are covered under national health care policies and plans, and lawsuits and liability insurance help to rebuild and make the railroad (or airline, ship, or roadway) better after an incident. Instead in the United States, except for the cap placed by Congress in 1997, Amtrak has its budget wrecked by lawsuits and the need to cover people’s medical costs. Airlines suffer a similar fate if not careful. The problem is, there’s always accidents, but a passenger system shouldn’t be destroyed by lawsuits because of a singular accident, it should be fixed and rebuilt better, safer, and stronger.

In America, we simply do not do this anymore. Our actions instead tend toward destroying a large singular entity with litigation; such as Amtrak, an airline, or bus carrier, while with distributed incidents like the almost 40,000 deaths per year in automobiles, we simple push the cost back onto insurance and individual owners and purchasers. The latter works to perpetuate the most deadly of transportation modes (automobiles) while it defers, damages, and arguably makes the safer modes (buses, trains, planes, shits, etc) harder to operate, manage, and make safe. It’s a perverse and backwards effect that we get, but something that could be remedied with a simple fix.

Instate some form of national health insurance that would easily handle this versus a company or organization be decimated that is trying to build good, reliable, and safe way to travel. The fact we don’t have something in place for just basic, simple, and honest health and welfare in this nation is disheartening and decrease entrepreneurial activities of all sorts. The data shows this too, in tight correlation with actions in developed nations. We do better, have better business, able to build better systems (transportation and otherwise), and more if we had just the most basic of fundamental elements to fall back on in society. Simple single payer and a minor unemployment or injury welfare system would work seamlessly for this. Our current system however is 2x the cost and doesn’t do the job, but we have examples (Sweden, Norway, Finland, Switzerland, Netherlands, France, Germany, Japan, and many others) of how to do these two specific things at 1/2 the cost we currently do and actually having them be functional. Maybe we’ll get there one day, but unfortunately I’ve no hope of us succeeding in my lifetime.

On The Topic of Amtrak Safety

Amtrak has been notorious for unsafe activities along its lines. Much of that is conflict between Amtrak non-union and union employees. There has been cases where the union has even, or well individuals of the union, have even attacked prospective contractors that were going to provide service. There has been situations where the leadership has completely screwed over people in the union. I’ve studied the history and kept up with so many actions within the organization, that it’s hard to see which side would be the higher integrity side.

This of course conflicts with my own experience, as I know people in union and not in union at Amtrak that are top notch people. They work hard, they’re studious and have attention to detail. They’re safe and they work safe. But I also realize I have the viewpoint of operations in the northwest, which are very different than back east, and also different then down in California or the southeastern United States. Amtrak isn’t merely one big organization of singular work cultures. It is instead a giant Governmental quasi-corporation run around a faux demand for profits while working as a Government mandated transportation service that is built of what was many different corporate cultures. Why you may ask? It’s easier than one might at first see, but if we look at the history we know Amtrak came from the many railroads that used to run America’s massive, extensive, world class, and top tier passenger services around the country. Those cultures still eek through just a little in each geographic area and for respective trains along the lines.

How does one fix this? The NTSB issued some reports and Amtrak is slowly but steadily working on implementation. It’s important to note, like all transportation modes in America Amtrak is underfunded heavily for what it actually must do and how it must operate. Whatever the specific fixes are, the overall fix is that the non-union and union Amtrak staff must start working together to better focus on safety and ensure it’s actually part of the day to day operations. Instead, it’s currently something that is disregarded or ignored and this leads to these incidents. Nobody wants to incidents to happen, but they happen when this is how operations work. It must change.

America is Failing

We used to have the fastest trains, the best passenger service, at some reasonably good prices, in nice expedited fashion, that was routinely right on time.

Now, Amtrak barely putter along half the time. They’ve improved dramatically, but by comparison to European systems, even the one’s that aren’t top tier, like England’s or Italy’s rail systems, Amtrak trails far behind them in safety, quality of service, equipment, timeliness and related metrics. This comes from chronic under-funding from Congress and a blatant discrimination against rail service from mostly Republicans while Democrats fumble through managing Amtrak and fumbling through reasoning why Amtrak should have right of refusal over almost all of passenger service in America.

In Close…

That’s it for thoughts on the matter at the moment. In a future post I’ll talk a bit about the slim chance America has for improved service in the next 10-20 years. For now, I’m off to get some other things done, enjoy some Christmas time festivities, and simply be thankful that I’m alive today. Cheers, and merry Christmas, or happy holidays, to all.

If you’d like to learn more about Amtrak, and the convoluted insanity that is Government manipulated transportation in America, here’s a few starting points.

Passenger and Related Transportation Law, History & Info in America

The Story on Amtrak Cascades Train 501 Derailment

First off, yes, I was aboard the Amtrak Train 501 in car 2, seat 4c. I had just sat down after having a breakfast burrito and speaking with several people in the bistro car. I spoke with the bistro attendant and her trainee that was with her. We talked about how great train travel is, how much better it is than flying, and we spoke with a passenger named Scott Claggett.

It was the first time Scott was taking the train on this route, which was also the first time for everybody at this hour! He usually had to fly and he was euphoric (as were most of us) at how easy and how much more comfortable it is. We discussed what I was up to, how I had my bike aboard and was bound for Portland to meet up with some friends, ride around the city, enjoy some tasty food and eventually head back on the late train that day.

I sat down and looked out the window. We whizzed by traffic over on the Interstate. We were easily doing full track speed limit of 79 mph. I could tell just from the rate we were passing the traffic on the road, but also how fast we zipped through Lakewood Sounder Station. The new tracks along this route are super smooth, solid, and stable. Then… well, back to this in a moment. First more of the events before.

First Observations, Rewinding Just a Bit

A few observations I made when boarding the train in Seattle. The train had a lead engine and a trailing engine. So no cab car. The trailing engine was one of the older engines, a Genesis, while the lead engine was one of the brand new engines that WSDOT just bought to put into service along this line. The train set itself was the standard Talgo equipment that Amtrak has used for service in the Amtrak Cascades corridor between Vancouver, British Columbia and Eugene, Oregon for decades. It was older, but still perfectly reliable set equipment. As things go, most of these train sets and cars are perfectly usable for well past 40-50 years if maintained well.

Just before boarding we were even given these inaugural trip placards. A nice little souvenir I thought. I put it on for the moment, before heading out to board the train.

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Fancy. It’s always nice to have a souvenir!

We departed out of Seattle King Street Station 9 minutes late because of an issue, which it appeared was starting the lead engine. That’s the new engine. When they pulled the train out of the yard (the area just south of the train station) for boarding I suspect the Genesis engine was used and then the engineers/drivers went to the other end to start it. I shortly walked a little past my car 2 toward the new engine when I realized the train had both attached. I was curious and also excited to see how the new engine would handle the train set.

There were two Amtrak Staff, a man and a woman, talking happily near the power car (the car that manages electricity and such to the train set between the engine and the actual train set where passengers ride). I spoke to them for a minute, asking why the new engine was off, and jokingly I said, “are we just going to push the new one to Portland?” With a smile the woman responded that they were going to get it started in just a minute.

I boarded, found my seat and began unpacking my normal kit of stuff I use while on the train; laptop, cell phone for headphone use, and such. As any regular readers would know, this wasn’t my first train Amtrak Cascades trip by any means. I think it’s more around the thousandth trip or so at this point. I got my laptop, phone, headphones, etc all out and did a little web surfing. At 9 minutes after the train pulled out of the station.

Everything was very smooth, and the lead engine pulled really well and evenly. I was easily pleased with its performance from a passenger perspective. We made great time pulling into Tukwila Station, and then easily rolled up to 79mph or so on our way to Tacoma. On the way we flew by several Sounder Commuter Trains heading into Seattle. They travelling at 79mph and we traveling at 79mph gave us a fast closing speed of 158mph, which provides a slight whoosh whenever we pass.

The train slowed for the turns leading into and pulling into Tacoma. It was a smooth deceleration and we pulled into the new Tacoma Station. I had just minutes before this near Sumner grabbed a burrito and talked with the people in the Bistro, as I started this story. We’d stopped just before entering Tacoma, likely so a train could depart from our arrival track in Tacoma Station. We pulled in and waited for passenger to detrain and board.

Then we departed Tacoma. The last station this train would ever stop at.

We pulled and smoothly snaked through the turns leaving Tacoma Station and getting over onto the new Point Defiance Bypass. The tracks were super smooth, as I mentioned before. The train got up to running speed of 79mph very quickly and smoothly.

Time passed in a surreal way at this hour. With the sun just barely risen and an easy, relaxing glow along the horizon. I relaxed, snuggled in my chair and began to check email and a few other things before diving into some code I was going to work on.

Then in a matter of seconds as I looked out of the window waiting for the laptop to bring up something, I reached forward out of reaction to grab onto the seat back tray as the train lifted hard, catapulting me upward toward the luggage rack above. I hit my head hard against the luggage rack. In those milliseconds I realized we were derailing and I’d hoped we didn’t have a ravine or hill to fall down, it’d be no problem then. But the drop came and it was hard, I was tossed upwards into the luggage rack and then thrown across the seat row into the seat’s side across from me. The impact broke 4 of my transverse process pieces on my lower lumbar vertebrae. Of course, at this point I closed my eyes for a split second as I then was thrown against the floor of the car, slightly under the seats.

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Here is a good photo of the vertebrae and the transverse process, which is what is broken on me in four places on my right side now! Argh!

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These are the lumbar vertebrae, four of which now have my broken transverse process bones.

I held on for dear life. I got a lot of dust and dirt in my face, I spit, and closed my eyes for a moment while the car thudded, slid, banged, then dropped, slid, thudded, veered slight to an angle. I squinted just a bit to see as the car made these jarring movements. The power was off, and we hit again, but it was a complete stop this time.

WTF!?

First thought. I was hurt. But how bad. I thought, alright, what do I know. I’m hurt, but intact I think, I blew air upward trying to ensure dust wasn’t near my eyes and I reached around to clear my face. I felt blood. There was a fair amount of it on my forehead. I turned my head to both sides and pushed myself up from the floor a bit. The car seemed stable. I looked to my left and realized the ceiling was caved in and there was water that had poured in. I sniffed, I could smell just the once dormant dust, no fuel, no burning. For the immediate moment I seemed safe. I looked to my right and saw another passenger picking himself up. I heard a call for assistance from that direction, someone was hurt. I picked myself up more from the ground and could feel pain, but couldn’t determine how bad it was.

I looked myself over real quick. I wasn’t impaled, nothing seemed broken, at least at this point. I did know I was mostly suffering from blunt force trauma. I just wasn’t sure how bad. But I was up. I looked around to see where my phone was. I needed to get out, help others, and call if emergency wasn’t already called. There was another passenger to my left I realized as he came forward, stumbling just a bit, but upright. I saw they’d turned on their cell phone lights, I asked if they could “look for a white iPhone.” and I checked on the man calling for help. He’d fallen, or more likely been catapulted into the cargo racks by the floor near the front of the car. I leaned down, excruciating pain shot through my side. But I reached out and put my hand on his leg to reassure him and asked if he felt hurt (obviously, but wanted to say something to reassure). He said he was hurt. I told him, “yeah, you took a pretty hard thrashing, sit tight for a minute and we’re going to get coordinated to get out ok”.

I could see in his eyes the shock. He wasn’t entirely lucid just yet but he was starting to collect what was happening just like the rest of us. I stood, painfully, again shooting through my right side. I thought, “well, gotta ignore it, gotta get out and get people out of this. I know I’m in good shape compared to what some will be.”

For a split second I pondered what a rigid trainset (a good thing) like the Talgo would do falling. Where we all split apart in cars? I didn’t know. We could see toward the other cars, so our car 2 seemed split apart from the others. We had fallen too. The car seemed to be in a ditch or ravine of some sort. I looked out and of the window with clarity for the first time and saw the rail bridge a 30 feet or so above, which is where we should have traversed. That made sense why I’d been slammed onto the floor so many times on the way down the hill. I saw tree splinters and fragments of a few other things as I looked out.

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One of the fellow passengers found my phone and handed it to me. It was intact. I wiped it off and checked that it worked still. That was good. For now though, priority, get us out and help the others get out. We were able, we needed to get to safer ground. I turned to the emergency window and pulled the release seal off of it. Pain was evident, but I got it off the window. I started to pop the window out and remembered these windows are about 60 lbs, maybe 90, whatever it is they’re heavy and awkward. I asked, “hey, the window is heavy, help me out a bit?” and one of the passengers helped me get it to the floor of the rail car and slide it between some seats. As we gathered, I grabbed my back pack and stowed my laptop, which I’d seen right on a seat. It was filthy, but looked intact.

Information Backtrack

As I’ve read articles and seen pictures of the incident, I saw some pictures of car 2! Chris Scholls, who I assume was one of the passengers I was working with to help us all get out. Here’s one of his photos he took, which happens to be I believe my seat and the wrecked seat behind me. The caved in roof there, which I realize later after looking at aerial photos is from one of the other cars (I suspect one of the bistro/table cars) that came to rest against our car’s roof, crushing it in like this.

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The Railcar I was Inside of.

NOTE to Chris: Hey, thanks for helping me out and the others, and for finding my phone and handing it to me. Hope it’s ok I’ve posted your pictures here, if not, lemme know and I’ll fix. Again, thanks! Also, more on Chris’s observations here, he also helped the man tossed into the corner baggage. He’d gone over as I tried to get the emergency window off.

I slung the backpack on. All of us including the man who’d been thrown to the floor into the baggage compartment in the front of the car, were standing, mostly. The man who’d been thrown in the corner had immediately started to climb out the window but couldn’t get footing. The other passengers were helping him but it was awkward. I told him, “come back in just for a moment. Let me climb out and I can spot you.” I looked to the other passengers, somewhat to verify they would look at me and seem confident in the idea. In these situations I always try to look at others to also verify I’m not more injured than I actually think I am. It’s hard to tell when you’ve been impacted like this.

They looked back at me, and I could tell as they nodded that they agreed. We weren’t really saying much, verbal communication being a bit exhausting at the moment. So the man came back in for a moment and I leaned out of the window, putting one leg over as I looked down to verify I had something, anything firm to stand on. It was mostly soft dirt and splintered and broken trees and tree limbs. Obviously, looking back, it was disturbed ground as the engine had tore through this area before the car came to a stop here and tilled the dirt thoroughly.

I was able to get a slight step on a tree branch or trunk or sorts. I looked around a bit more before putting full weight on it to ensure I was going to lose it and stumble further downward. We were after all still about 10 feet above where ever the next car was in front of us. In those few second I observed that a pickup truck had the front right fascia smashed in front of us in the ditch too, and car 1 of the train had crushed into it. I couldn’t even imagine how that had occurred, we were all clearly off the highway in this ditch area.

Once I got stable I released my grip on the train car and let myself down enough to step from the tree trunks to the ground. The pain was very evident during this, my side feeling like I had stabs coming from inside my body outward. But I stood for a moment, saying, “one more second, let me get stable”. My cohort waited a second and then I looked back up to the car. The bottom of the window was now about where my head was. I reached up, left hand stabilized on the window edge. Right hand ready to help, and I reduced weight on myself where I was standing so I could stabilize more.

First the older man came down. I chuckled, as he accidentally kicked me in the chin, but it was a moment I realized if I’d noticed that I’m definitely lucid and coherent. I also finally started thinking about next steps as I helped him down. I helped the others and we all got down. I’m not sure who said anything or what, but we all seemed to decide to head up the hill, which meant going under one of the rail cars, but it seemed solidly placed. So up we went under and around the derailed mess to get to safer ground.

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Pic 1: We walked up the hill, and at the top of the hill I turned and took this picture. Market my position on west side of the tracks, then displaced to take a shot from the east side.

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Pic 2: I then, walked across the tracks in front of Genesis Engine 181 and took this picture. Relative same position but east side of tracks.

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Another of Chris Scholls’ Pictures, of where we walk up and through to get out. Good job on thinking of snapping some photos Chris.

More of Chris’ photos and interview on the news is available here.

On the way up I also saw one of the fatalities. He was familiar and I stopped to check his pulse, but as I painfully bent down realized it was to late. He was gone. I found out why he seemed familiar later, as we had met a number of times at rail advocacy group dinners. RIP Jim Hamre! We’ll miss you good sir.

I continued walking with others from my car, while we heard screams for help elsewhere, but none of us were really in the condition to help. So we continued up the hill to see if we could find others to assist by directing to the screams. We made it to the top of the hill and I took the two quick pictures above (pic 1, pic 2). I saw another severely injured person, I went to help, but another person that wasn’t as beat up came up and started helping him. I looked around and decided I couldn’t take any immediate actions to help, so quickly called my wife, father, and mother. I wanted to them to know I was ok before the TV News bombardment and all that began.

After that I walked among others who had gathered, checking if anyone needed help. After about a minute MPs (Military Police) from the nearby based arrived and I approached immediately to give what SITREP I could. Reporting the screaming from the flipped car near our car 2, the severely injured and others. They immediately leaped into action and linked up with the emergency response down the hill putting together a triage area and starting to coordinate command.

Everybody getting there onsite, and as I’ve learned, even more from the traffic in the street leaped into action almost immediately, until more emergency response could arrive. I also met Beverly and Charlie Heebner then, and assisted them down, then back around to appropriate positions to be taken away via emergency response. Beverly was a real trooper, in spite of her injuries, she’d taken two sticks and fashioned them as temporary canes to walk about. Charlie, stood with her and assisted. I really merely was there as extra assistance for a bit. They’re real troopers, and I saw them interviewed later on TV (at 1:19 in the video in this article/video on ABC News).

At this time I walked the track, from the Genesis engine (parts of it are seen in the pictures above, it was the trailing engine, number 181). I walked about 200 feet, maybe a bit further. I was looking for damage, anything that I could discern and report that may have been the cause or reason for this derailment. Mainly I was curious, but if anything popped up or I could help I wanted to make sure I could. I was also just exhausted, but with my injuries, I couldn’t really sit down.

Eventually I, per suggestion from fire response, headed down to triage myself. I could do no more and it was of no use for me to stay where I or others were on the hill. Only severely injured should stay so they could wait for ambulances to come to them. Otherwise it was better to displace to triage where we could organize and be taken to a more appropriate location.

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Looking back at the train from the triage area. Emergency responders clearly working and handling the tactical logistics of getting people out of the train, and keeping people safe in the situation unfolding.

When I walked up I immediately saw Scott Claggett. We started talking about the incident and our personal experiences of this horror show. Albeit our exhaustion, and the horror of it, we discussed how we would indeed be back on the train again. It beats flying, and is – in spite of this incident – still safer than taking a bus or driving.

I spoke to a number of people, many of who, if you’ve been watching the news, have been all over the news. I spoke to some reporters but I was honestly done. I knew I needed to get checked out. I was standing upright, I’d been helping, but I was in some serious pain and knew I’d gotten beaten up pretty bad by being thrown around.

I stood and waited with the conductor of the train. The conductor is the person, if you aren’t aware of how Amtrak passenger trains work, the person that generally is in charge of the overall train. Not who drives, but sits among the bistro usually and helps organize passengers on and off, makes sure tickets are collected and insures people don’t miss their stops. All of that kind of thing.

On this day the conductor made the first emergency call to dispatch, and got emergency on its way. When I talked to him, he was coordinating with the rest of the team on the train to coordinate injured with the emergency staff. He was also a bit beat up, but in spite of that doing his job and getting information out and coordinating as needed. Eventually we both took an ambulance ride, once the higher priority injured were taken away, off to St Peter in Olympia.

Upon arrival to the hospital, I registered in the ER but requested they put me back of the queue. I suppose they did, but even then, they got everybody in and cared for quickly. I got a temporary bed to get checked out and be brought in for x-ray and CT scan. One that was done I waited.

Eventually a nurse and then the doctor came to report the news. Which was bad news but mostly good news. The x-ray showed nothing but the CT scan showed I had broken what I’d mentioned before, the transverse process. It hurt like hell too and I had swelling and bruising. The good news, simply was, eventually I’d recover fully.

For the most part, my ordeal and hellish adventure was over.

Here are some links to other information related to the tracks & train that derailed.

Debunking and Verifying Reality vs. Trash Media and Idiot Twitterers

Let’s talk about a few other things related to this wreck and some of the news coverage. For the most part, the MSM or outlets like ABC News, NBC, and, others have been excellent a mostly been accurate. There’s a few specifics and nuances that are a little distracting, but the bulk of their coverage has been spot on. Fox has even done an ok job, but then there are the tertiary media, whatever one would call them. The mud slingers, trash, scum of humanity, who have purposely tried to push the wrong narrative, a broken and deceitful narrative out to misinform and rile up political agitators. I hate saying this but even one of Trump’s tweets, about the tax bill and infrastructure was horribly off base. He spoke of this infrastructure as old, when in reality it is new and extremely high quality. He misguided millions prospectively as well as the other horrible individuals out there trying to hurt, agitate, and push a political agenda while people are hurt, trying to help each other, or dying.

1st thing. The train was moving at 81.3 mph according to a speed recorder and last recorded GPS reading. This wasn’t extraordinarily fast for the 79mph segment of track, but where we had entered and the curve we derailed on was rated for 30mph. Which means that for a mere few seconds, maybe 10-20 seconds, braking was not applied for the 30mph turn. The track we had been on is indeed 79mph, so the idea or suggestion some might have that this was a runaway train and actually “speeding” as in, breaking the law, could be disingenuous. The train, for whatever reason, failed to brake. That is, from a perspective of physics, the culminating issue that arose.

2nd thing. The drivers on the highway that thought we were going fast would have because 79 mph trains had not particular run on this track in its history. It was effectively new track for these trains that would go this fast. So the idea they thought we were speeding, wouldn’t have been an accurate observation, except on the point leading up to where the train didn’t brake. That area however is in a valley, and the people on the road actually can’t really even see the train there. So this perception, albeit prescient of what was about to happen, was particularly an accurate perception considering it wasn’t something they’d likely be informed about anyway. No problem with their observation, but possibly a little inappropriate to take that perspective as it doesn’t add to the accuracy of what did or was happening. In a few weeks or months they’ll see 79mph trains on that corridor again, so hopefully it doesn’t trigger fear or worse, erratic behavior or actions on part of motorists trying to travel on the highway there.

3rd thing. I personally walked the track (as mentioned above) from which we came for almost 200 feet so I could personally look and see what was there. Nothing, absolutely nothing was there. No signs of track damage, structural issues, blockages, or even derailment occurring before the curve. So for the assholes out there blaming Antifa and trying to turn this into a political circus seriously just shut up and have some respect. You’re adding exactly zero and hurting many people in the process by your spurious lies, fear mongering, and trash talk – Most of the shit scum associated with the likes of Jack Proboseic, Mike Cernovich, Alex Jones, and other individuals that are routinely riling up people for pro-Trump agitation (and you could be pro-Trump, but these guys add a new realm of insanity to things) and hostile aggression toward a host of Americans (not just Antifa). I can’t warn people enough about these individuals, they are the scum that would initiate a “beer hall putsch” in a second against the American populace in favor for Trump or some similar fiat leader. They’re dangerous, uninformed (or they love the lies they spread), and generally a threat to those they agitate against and sometimes even for those they agitate for. Do note, I’m not even making this statement to be anti-Trump, just anti- these fear mongering, hate spreading, disgusting individuals that act to divide Americans with lies, misinformation, and other trash. Absolutely horrible actions they’re taking and disrespect they’re acting on.

4th Thing. Whoever misreported and didn’t confirm the false report of 6 deaths did a horrible job of spreading misinformation. There were 3 fatalities, not 6. Seriously, get your reports straight before going live with this type of information. Ugh.

5th Thing. This is one incident, keep sane and smart and don’t let the scariness of this incident make you fear train travel. It is still dramatically safer than automobile travel, safer than bus travel, and generally safer than most modes. The only mode option that beats it out is flying. So don’t gimme some mess about how scary it is, suck up those fears, and try to make smart decisions that are actually based in legitimate data for yourself instead of trigger happy FUD racketing.

6th Thing. In a knock on Trump’s hypocrisy. He’s a liar, simple as that, his budget will cut Amtrak, cut infrastructure, cut infrastructure not just for passenger service but for all modes (i.e. expect those highways to keep decaying too). Don’t believe the nonsense in his tweets. Just know that this is completely unrelated to his budget, will only be hurt, and will only cause more collapse of America to maintain, modernize, and improve transportation infrastructure in the United States.

7th Thing. Seat belts would have likely dramatically reduced actual injuries. Albeit trains should have them, they don’t. Also, even though it is perfectly safe to move around on a train, in wrecks like this people thrown from the train are usually the people who are killed. In this case I can attest to the fact that the people who did die, were in motion or transition while the train tore apart, and got thrown from the train. Resulting in their unfortunate deaths. If we want to basically eliminate these causes, minimize standing in between cars and maximize the time passenger spend in seat, safely seated and preferably belted. Again, I’d even have had no injuries but maybe being shaken strongly about if I’d been able to actually stay in my seat, but instead was thrown and thrashed harshly around. Maybe for future trips I’ll be bringing my own seat belt?

8th Thing. The nonsense the Lakewood mayor was complaining about in wasn’t even related to this incident. He was complaining that people wouldn’t obey the crossing gates and related things. Which seriously, people need to pay attention to crossing gates PERIOD, what is the deal with being idiots around crossing gates? Just chill out and don’t go blowing through them. They’re dropped on BOTH sides when a train is coming and there are NOT many crossings anyway. The entire line has sections like this, Lakewood isn’t a special snowflake. Anyway, this is something again, that has been offered by some news sources and a foreshadowing but is really more of an ill-placed anti-passenger rail complaint by the mayor. I could go on, but just suffice it to say, this is inappropriately related to this incident and negligent reporting at best, and outright dangerous in other ways.

Transit Header Images

I’ve just cut up a bunch of header images and just thought I’d post them. Any favorites? The next round I’ll aim for a few buses since this primarily came out of my MAX photos from the last 8 years.

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Portland Transportation Political Contemplations

I’m sitting in San Francisco right now. Thankful that Portland doesn’t have these political problems or transportation nightmares to deal with. However we have other things that are just as important and dear to our Portland hearts as any of San Francisco’s great political issues.

Warning: There is a free use of language and there are sections that quote data, which may ruffle your features and the safe place you feel you may be in society. I do not apologize at all for that, get over yourself instead. Cheers!

Biking

Biking in Portland has run into a number of issues. From losing its mojo, to losing our bike capital status (or just the sign), to things just generally going wrong. For me, I feel like enough Portlanders have travelled and seen real bicycle cities, and as the news and stories of these great worldly cities comes back it makes any US city look like a transportation catastrophe. It only takes a trip to Amsterdam, Copenhagen, even Krakow (Pt 1, Pt 2), or one of hundreds of European cities to see a system that truly works in comparison to any of the cluster-fucks we call cities in America. San Francisco is a joke, New York putters along, Boston is piddly, and even great Portland seems like biking is merely an afterthought. Everything is focused on the mighty automobile everywhere, fuck anybody and everybody else the moment they step from their iron cage of plastic comfort.

However, amidst and in spite of all this, biking in Portland is still basically as good as it gets in the United States for any major city (there is still Davis, but that’s another story for another time). Seattle is quickly closing the gap, San Francisco – if its mayor would get a spine – would and could likely close the gap, and other places like New York City and even relatively unknown cities like Indianapolis are also closing the gap. Simply put, making bicycling a distant second class citizen to the automobile is hot in America. That’s what I want to talk about here, about Portland, and about making it a truly first class mode in America. How do we do this?

First step isn’t to make driving harder, the first step is to make cycling easy for the 8-90 audience. Grandma that just rocked her 90th birthday should be perfectly safe biking, and not just be safe but feel safe. The same goes for a mother or father letting their 8 year old child go barreling down the street on a bike. Right now, we aren’t even close yet on the “feel” part. Sure, statistically the city of Portland is one of the safest places in America to cycle. It is after all safer to cycle than it is to be in that iron and plastic cage called an automobile. (In turn, note for idiots claiming it’s dangerous to bike a child to school, it is in fact MORE dangerous to drive a child to school in an automobile, matter of fact you endanger your own child AND others even more – so parents don’t even get on that bullshit high horse – those bikey parents are kicking your ass on responsibility and such. If anything ALL parents should give those parents driving their children around a stern eyeing for selling us all short and doing us all a disfavor while endangering everyone, but I digress… another topic for another day)

To make biking this safe, there needs to be real cycle-tracks and protected bike routes (NOT paint PBOT, come on, this is NOT fooling anybody into feeling safe, the uptick is barely a 10% difference on the numbers (just bike commuters), we need a 10% uptick on ALL the numbers (i.e. all commuters)). When I talk about cycle-tracks and bike routes I mean things like this.

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Bike lane, seperated from the road, and the bus doesn’t merge onto the cyclists… note it is boarding passengers at this moment.

There is no need for the bus & cyclists conflict that Trimet forces on us all. It forces us to play the leapfrog nonsense all over the place, when in reality the city and Trimet should work toward better bus stops that allow cyclists to go inside the stop and remove the conflict altogether. Our city and transit officials do us all a disservice by not useing KNOWN SOLUTIONS to resolve this issue. Here’s a prime example of how to build a bike lane & bus stop together that prevents conflicts.

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There are many articles on the matter as it’s as easy to implement as a bus stop with a sign!  Here in Holland (Amsterdam), the British get iteven Seattle gets it (it’s an article about St Paul with a picture of a Seattle bus stop), and of course we actually understand this in Portland too, here’s two of the bus stops that do it right (out of the thousands of stops we have about 3 that I know of that get it right, get it safe, and remove the conflict)

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The SW Gaines and Moody Streetcar Stop. Done right.

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Aerial via of the Hawthorne Bridge (Madison St side) stop that was recently redone to be designed correctly. Conflicts massively reduced now.

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Google Streetview of the same bridge stop. It’s simple, crude, but very fucntional.

Other examples of what cycle tracks and related infrastructure should look like if we intend for the 8-80 (or 8-90) crowd to actually partake. If we want to see 30-40 or even 50% of trips in the city taken by bike, here’s what we need to see for infrastructure.

This shows bike routes, cycle-tracks, and other infrastructure mixing in suburban environments, urban environments, and amidst transit, pedestrians, and more. Below are a few more of seperated infrastructure, clear paths, and related bicycling options as seen in Amsterdam.

It’s easy to do, it is not a complicated thing. We, in Portland as Portlanders, can do this but we have to actually do the work. We have to fight for and get this put into the standard way we build infrastructure. Bicycle infrastructre needs to stop being some secondary modal option and be a priority premier choice that it is.

Transit

The second thing we need to get straight in Portland is a double edged sword. Transit is expensive (often as expensive as buying everybody private automobiles) but for an urban environment is generally worth the expenditure in every way. It pollutes the air less, doesn’t require thousands upon thousands of square feet for parking or multi-story parking garages wasting space in the urban core, and the list of benefits continues. There are however a list of benefits that US transit doesn’t benefit from that it should, that much of our European counterpart cities do benefit from. Let’s talk about how to remedy that for Portland. I won’t talk about how Europeans do it, just how we can fix it up spiffy in Portland. These are a few, and the most high priority, of the items Trimet and the city of Portlland need to work on.

Transit Priority & Reliability

This is a huge issue I have and I know about every single other rider in the system has right now. Buses and trains simply do not show up on time, or simply do not show up. On top of that they’re often randomly delayed throughout the day. Buses of course have little that can be done to fix their timeliness, as they’re held to the whim of the automobile and the selfish single occupant vehicle being operated by the single motorist. The trains are often delayed these days because of reasons ranging from “it broke down” to “something flooded because the drain wasn’t cleared” to “ugh, we’ve no idea what’s going on”.

The later excuses are unacceptable, but also giving priority to automobiles over transit is also just as unacceptable. Honestly, giving priority to automobiles over transit isn’t just unacceptable, it’s downright ignorant and stupid. We can do better and should do better. So this boils down to two major solutions that need implemented.

  1. The MAX infrastructure needs brought up to a good state of repair. Once it is brought up to a good state of repair, the MAX System should be held to at least a 95% of better on time arrival.
  2. The bus system should have more lanes and light priority to circumvent the cluster-fuck called automobile dependence. Transit users (and anybody else) not in a car shouldn’t suffer because of the massive number of selfish SOV motorists out there clogging up the roadway. We can’t continue to build or prioritize these people.

Frequency and Connectivity

Currently the frequent service routes in Portland run every 15 minutes, and some routes during a very narrow band of time (re: rush hours) run at a greater frequency than 15 minutes. We need to fund better frequency than that if we want to actually provide a real alternate and realistic option for people to stop being SOV motorists. Currently, I can’t even blame about half of them, selfish or not it is there only choice because transit simply isn’t frequent or reliable enough to utilize right now. This absolutely must change if people are to be expected to change their horrible auto-dependent habits.

We can and should do this, it’ll take some funding, albeit a very small amount, espeically if Trimet will ever get it’s coordination and funding straightened out. A small 0.001% or 0.002% addition to what they currently collect on the income tax would likely be enough to bump up almost every single major route that is currently at 15 minute frequencies to 7-10 minute headways instead. This would be huge for ridership and efficiency. However I will admit, before this can be done we have to do something about the reliability of vehicles arriving on time based on the current scheduling. Currently it does no good to add frequencies if everything will just get bunched up.

The later part of increasing frequency and connectivity is getting that connectivity done right. This is something that should and could be improved dramatically by insuring better transfers and in some cases, reducing transfers by extending, enabling more coverage in routes that already exist. Transfers decrease ridership in a huge way, nobody likes to transfer, especially with our current transfers which are usually ridiculously bad. Especially from routes that are not frequent. If need be some routes should hold, to insure that the connectivity with freuencies 20 minutes or more don’t get disconnected. Those are the transfers, that when they fail to meet, end up making another SOV motorist instead of a transit rider. We need these to complete, every single time they need to complete.

Connecting Towns & Neighborhood Cores

Discover_the_Southwest_Corridor_Plan_comment_map___MetroTigard, Beaverton, Gresham, Hillsboro, and other town cores are connected (some of this is in the works for the southwest and the Powell & Division Corridor). However many neighborhood cores are not connected yet. We still need these core areas to have reasonable transfer points and criss-crossed transit service connecting them.

 

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Take for example Alberta, it has great service from the 72, that connects in a somewhat reasonable way to the 8, 17, 75, and some others. However Alberta Street is under threat of losing the 72 and the 72 instead going down Killingsworth. Compounding this horrible idea is that the bus stops for the 72 are enhanced, beautiful, and artfully rebuilt transit stops. This would be a horrible loss for Alberta Street. The 72 should stay in place and if anything, Killingsworth should just get some of it’s own service.

Some of the many other things are covered pretty well on Trimet’s Website. Most are not resolving the major issues listed above, but instead great ideas for what they can do with what they have. That’s great, but we need to push for better transit solutions if we’re really expecting to clean up Portland, provide a better future for the children of today, or if we’re just fine with shit standards and just above sub-par baselines that US Cities tend to have. I think we can do better, dramatically better, and I’m going to pushing for such in any and every way that I can. I hope to meet and see you all out there pushing for a better future for Portland (and its surrounding metro area – re: Hillsboro, Gresham, Beaverton, Tigard, Vancouver, etc)

In closing, if we want to really improve our city and decreases our auto-dependency and increase our standard of living, the options are simple:

  1. Make biking a top tier modal option. No more second class citizen nonsense.
  2. Improve transit priority to top tier mode, and give priority to it over other modes – let it move more people in a timely way.
  3. Make transit reliable and frequent with reasonable and numerous connections.

That’s it, three major changes.  Cheers!

…and of course, I’d love to know if you’ve any other ideas of what should be fixed. Also anything about what can be fixed with what we have at our disposal today, how can we push Trimet and Portland to have better transit and biking service and infrastructure?

MAX Line Skateboarding Adventures!

Today on the way home I rode my bike down to the Tilikum and across to the eastern shore of the river. There I boarded the Orange Line MAX north. The next MAX pulled into the station shortly after my arrival and I racked my bike. I threw the lock on it since I planned to sit on the raised floor section away from my bike.

Once up on the raised floor section I sat down and pulled the laptop out to get some work done while riding. Tons of people boarded at the PSU stop and each subsequent stop, it was after 16:00 so a lot of people were heading home.

As the train approached Burnside and began to cross the driver rang the bell rapidly and started to apply brakes a bit harder than one might expect. However the driver let up quickly and a guy stood on the north street corner of Burnside with a defeated look.

I wasn’t sure what, but he was looking at the MAX intently as we continued onward past where he was standing. We missed our light into the Davis Street Station Stop so we stopped just short at Couch Street. There this same individual came quickly up to the side of the MAX and looked undernearth. He looked relieved but unsure.

The driver popped the side window and asked, “Can you safely get it?” He confirmed with a nod of his head and a verbal yes at the same time. The driver then said, “go ahead and get it.” The guy leaned down in front of the MAX.

To the side I could look over and see where he was leaning down in from the MAX. He was definitely in a position that if the MAX lurched forward he’d easily be caught, crushed, and killed. It would easily be a very painful way to die. But the driver of course held the train steady. In the mirror I could see him working something out from under the train.

Then he stood up and I saw what he had retrieved. His skateboard had slid out from under his feet and managed to land under the MAX as it had passed by on Burnside. So here he was, relieved, that it had stayed entirely intact, and just been pushed along by the lower bar in front of the wheels of the MAX.

All emergencies diverted! Onward we rolled, skateboard destruction averted!

Boarding Behavior, Bonkers, and How-to for Transit Usage in Cascadia

I was riding the Yellow Line as it changed to an Orange Line one morning. It reminded me of something. One of the thigns in Portland, and largely the Cascadia region peoples, among transit systems is the poor boarding behavior of bus and light rail riders. Here’s a quick sitrep of the dumb stuff we Portanders, Seattleits, Vancouverites, Vantuckians (Vancouver USA).

Boarding

The first problem is boarding. We Cascadians seem to forget, almost entirely, that mass needs to be displaced from a space before other mass can take that space. So what do we do that shows are complete obliviousness to this reality? We all clump around the entrances of the bus or the light rail vehicles as they arrive for boarding and deboarding. It doesn’t matter if there is one door, four or six doors.

The way this happens is people walk up and surround the door. You might ask, “Why is this a problem, they have to board?” Well yeah, they do need to board, but first people should exit – or displace themselves from the vehicle – before more people board that vehicle. It’s simple physics people, and we often fail miserably. Don’t block people from exiting, we are good at it, but stop doing this dear Cascadians. In the end, it’ll help us all.

Ride Clumping

The next thing that the Cascadian people do is board and them clump by the door they board. I don’t understand this effect, except I do, but I don’t understand why we humans can’t resolve it more easily or resolve it through experience. Most of us Cascadians riding transit are experienced riders. We know how the system or systems work but we still clump near the doors. We often just stand instead of sitting, then we look around confused and dazed while we’re all stuck near the doors shoulder to shoulder while the mid-section of the bus or the light rail vehicles have plenty of space. Even worse, we’re all clumped while there are available seats to sit in.

So let me lay this one out bluntly. Here’s what you do when you board a transit vehicle.

  1. Shutup and sit the down. This should be the easiest thing ever, but just work on it, because obviously it is hard for some reason.
  2. If you can’t sit down, then move away from the doors and stand there. Also shutup.
  3. If people are clumped, move through them to the open area and stand (or sit if they’ve neglected the seats). Then shutup.

If we Cascadians can pull this off we will all do dramatically better when riding transit. We’ll have more space, easier flows and easier movement on and off vehicles. If we get good enough we might even have faster service! Shockers!!!

Cheers,
Transit Sleuth