I-5 Bridge Collapse, Update From Amtrak Cascades #516 North Bound

UPDATES 10:24pm

We’ve left our spot and are pulling into the station of Mount Vernon.
There has been a report of no fatalities!  Yaaa!
The Amtrak Crew has been absolutely great, they’ve even brought us extra snacks to tide us over.
ETA into Vancouver is now about 12:30… but being the railroad is practically shut down we’ll see.

UPDATES 1:02am

We finally arrived at Pacific Union Station in Vancouver. That was a trip and a half!  o_O

As it stands now the I-5 Bridge over the Skagit River has collapsed with vehicles, people and the bridge plunging into the river. No news or anything on fatalities, injuries or the like. However one thing is very clear for this train riding individual.

Amtrak Cascades #516 is sitting about a mile south of Mount Vernon with about 200 passengers that can’t get on or off the train (because of laws & such) and can’t get off at Mount Vernon. From what I gather and have been informed of by the Amtrak staff (they’ve been great) is that the railroad bridge is being inspected. Through other means, passengers calling other connected people and via contacts of my own I’ve collected this much information.

  • The Governor is en route (Why I have no idea, it’s not like he’ll hold the bridge up – i.e. that’s a waste of his time)
  • The NTSB I have been informed is on the way.
  • BNSF Dispatch (that thing in Texas) has held us here while the railroad bridge is inspected.
  • Nobody seems to know who is actually inspecting the railroad bridge.
  • WSDOT thinks a truck – oversized load (probably something that should have been on the railroad) hit the bridge and caused it to collapse. However this is not entirely confirmed.
  • No reported fatalities.
  • People & cars are in the river.
  • Boats & rescue is underway.

Here’s how far away from the railroad bridge the Interstate Bridge is…

Distance between I-5 Collapsed Bridge and BNSF Railroad Bridge

Distance between I-5 Collapsed Bridge and BNSF Railroad Bridge

…and here’s where they (BNSF/WSDOT??) forced the train to stop.

Where Amtrak Cascades 516 has been forced to stop.

Where Amtrak Cascades 516 has been forced to stop.

Love how the passenger rail, as always gets creamed while they’re re-routing cars onto redundant infrastructure. It’s a good thing they provide all those massive hand outs to auto drivers and stop the trains so nobody gets confused about where the US’s priorities are. ¬†:-/

 

What Do I Think About The TriMet Performance?

A number of days ago I posted a poll (which if you’d like, I’m still taking feedback and collecting it together). In it I asked a few questions about Trimet, how it is doing as an agency, and a few other simple questions. I’m going to produce a shiny report in the near future with the results, but for now, as previously promised here are my answers.

Name:

Transit Sleuth

Do I think that things could be better in transit for the city of Portland?

Yes

Do I think TriMet is doing a good job as a whole with the revenue they take in and from taxes?

Compared to other transit agencies around the United States, they’re doing one of the best jobs in the United States. Compared to the Canadian cities or even to the United States of the past? I think Trimet is making the exact same mistakes that are forced upon every major US city today. Transit agencies are setup to beg for funding while roadways are setup for automatic subsidies. There’s an obvious and outright discrimination to any mode or thought that a United States Citizen would do anything besides drive. This is reflected in the regulatory and nightmarish transit policies and monopolistic practices that transit agencies are setup with throughout the United States, which also pushes their costs up to often absurd levels. Throw in a heavy dose of monopoly Union control over the agencies, a lack of any clear¬†competitiveness¬†except to beg for money, and transit in the United States is ripe for inefficiencies on a grand scale. Overall though, I find that it could safely be said, that under Government monopoly operations transit is about 20-40% more expensive than private operations. To summarize, do I think we could get more for our tax dollars? No. Do I think we could get more as consumers of a service? History would say yes and I side with history.

Who do I think is responsible for the problems (if you think they have issues) at TriMet?

Let me create a list:

  • The Federal Government and many of the absurd standards and regulations they’ve set on transit. The vast subsidies that control the transportation industry in the United States (which also in many ways has almost destroyed the transit aspect of it) and give little freedom to cities, businesses or individuals to truly setup and operate transit agencies in general.

  • The State has poor management over most of the roadways it controls in Portland. Namely 82nd and Powell are a mess and there is little Portland – even though these are obviously Portland roadways now – have almost zero control over what to do with or how to remedy these massive traffic problems. Trimet, or anyone in the city for that matter, can’t run BRT, light rail, or for that matter many more buses than already run on the street. For this, ODOT shares a large part of responsibility in our transit mess. If they build the monstrous CRC then ODOT will¬†absolutely¬†be responsible for creating one of the largest nightmares in Portland’s history.

  • Portland Leadership (Mayor, etc) is not even attempting to make Trimet run lean. Not that the leadership should, it isn’t technically their¬†responsibility.¬†It is however in their best interest to make Trimet and leaner, cleaner transit machine to improve the livability of citizens in the city. Overall, I blame the leadership at this level only a small bit.

  • PDC, the Portland Development Commission and let’s include the Metro Committee or whatever they’re called¬†has a huge say in how things are developed, what will be developed and how it will be developed in Portland. This inherently bleeds over to Trimet in a large way. I however, happen to agree with the PDC in most cases and actually support it’s existence. I support it for one reason, I’ve seen the opposite of it in other cities and it causes absolute havoc. It is why Portland can act and act quickly, with a clear mission, toward improving livability and other things throughout the city. Many cities in America cannot do this and it shows in ¬†the fact they’ve allowed their downtown cores to be decimated, their suburbs to sprawl for hundreds of square miles, their tax bases to¬†disappear¬†and the cities to almost falter except for the existence of some tall buildings. It is indeed sad. So do I blame the PDC? Yes, but I generally blame them for much of the positive focus and clarity around Trimet’s actions and work with the city to build roads, stops and other amenities that benefit cyclists, pedestrians and dramatically increase safety for both of these peoples. Almost¬†inadvertently¬†auto safety has increased through a byproduct of a lot of these designs.

  • Trimet, we now get to the people that are responsible for the agency itself. At least, responsible for a 90% of everything about the agency. The other part is of course the Union. The union provides Trimet the workforce that drives the buses, MAXs and because they forced¬†the¬†city to use the ATU (Amalgamated Transit Union) labor, the streetcar. The WES is however serviced by the freight railroad that actually owns the track and trackway, the Portland & Western Railroad. Trimet is also largely responsible for many of the issues, and I’ll even admit that they could stand to replace many of the buses that have been neglected over the years. Some of those buses really shouldn’t be on the road anymore, it’s time to recycle them. I also think it is a problem, however it is somewhat small, that Trimet actually manages capital projects, which seems smart and not. The reason it is smart, there is no closer entity to the problems the capital projects will solve than Trimet and why it is not smart, is because Trimet’s main onus of operandi is to run transit services. The operational needs of services provisions should one up the project management of these projects. Fortunately, this is again a small overall problem. In the end, it’s a boost to the overall local economy for the duration of any capital projects, whether roadway, rail or otherwise.

  • ATU Trimet Union is another huge candidate in the overal scheme of things. They have poor leadership (DUIs and other absurd dishonorable actions on their member’s part are more frequent than one would like to admit, I personally have even received, albeit forgave, a death threat from ATU Members). Do I support unions? These days not particularly. Have I supported and are there situations I might support Unions? Yes. Do I support the ATU right now? Not really, they’ve screwed up far more than Trimet has, overreached their bounds, and battled to get the drivers so much that it makes the labor cost for basic transit service fairly unreasonable – but NOT something the drivers shouldn’t deserve and expect – the Union has just gone about it in a horribly¬†inefficient¬†way and setup Trimet so that the only real option is to start fighting them over costs. This is bad for EVERYBODY involved. The Union, its members, the customers of Trimet and the citizens of Portland.

Do you know about, what they’re for, and how the PDC (Portland Development Commission), City of Portland Mayor, Commissioners, City Council, etc work?

Yes. See above. I often get involved when I can and when I find the issue is truly important.

What would be the #1 thing that TriMet – or any entity – in Portland should do to help improve transit in the city?

This list is huge. The biggest win for the United States and especially Trimet could receive is a dramatic and immediate reduction in road subsidies from the Federal Government and a removal of the arbitrary regulations around road building and Interstates. Setting up where money is allocated to cities based on density, number of people and prospective service while reducing the subsidies and zoning encouragement for large sprawl and allow local cities and states dictate how they will build out their infrastructure, systems and related networks. The only large scale infrastructure the Feds have ever accomplished was the Interstate System, which displaced hundreds of thousands of minorities through¬†eminent¬†domain destroying vibrant downtown cores of once majestic cities and then in turn lumping the costs of almost the entire system on the states even though capital outlay was primarily funded through central planning and implemented in an authoritarian way (yes, those of you that are confused, the Interstate System is indeed an example of how Communism and Socialism can work, if that’s what you consider a success).

Simply put, getting the Feds out of our pockets and out of the decision making in Portland would be the greatest boon for cycling, transit and general livability this city could imagine.

The second best thing, which is probably more reasonable, is to expect a more balanced approach to city building. Even though Beaverton, Hillsboro and Gresham don’t pay in remotely close to the amount that Portland proper pays into the transit budget, they should however be built up further around core city center concepts. For the next 5 years, I’d say the metropolitan area should allocate 80% of all funds for transit, livability improvements, bikeways and related funding to the outer city centers (those stated) and the micro-town centers throughout the metropolitan area. I also agree, that bus line amenities and capital outlay and improvements should continue and be a larger part of the city budget. Trimet should focus more on operations around Light Rail and Buses, connecting and getting the frequencies more closely spaced to make the system easier and easier to use. I do NOT think we should lose focus on building out a core backbone in the system with light rail, if anything we should INCREASE spending to get core backbone with LRT and also BRT, but not wimpy piece meal BRT. If we’re going to do BRT half way, I say skip it and sink the capital for light rail now. BRT that isn’t dedicate ROW is a joke. Seattle is proving that for us right now, as I type this, at how poorly and catastrophically bad it can go for a city. Fortunately they’ve spent almost nothing for it (except they’ve had to further cut core services to make sure they could meet their Federal match for it).

Overall, do I think Trimet is doing a bad job? Considering their regulatory, legal and budgetary restrictions, no. Do I think their doing the best job or even close to the best job they could? no.

So there you have it. My two cents, the Transit Sleuth

Yes transit could improve in Portland. Trimet, PDC, the ATU, Portland Leadership, and especially the Federal Government all play a part in the issues that exist with getting better service. Do I blame any single entity entirely, no.

Do I think things will improve over the next 3-5 years? No, primarily because I don’t think the economy will dramatically improve for 3-5 years. However, until the Feds straighten their nonsense out, this 3-5 years could drag on much longer. But time will tell and there is no point on dwelling.

In the end, I hope for improvement. But in the meantime I’ll keep on contributing, being involved and living as best as I can.

Happy riding, cycling and walking! Cheers

Chinese Railroads Aren’t the Advertised Achievement We’re Sold

I got another email from a train & transit buddy of mine recently. Talking about how the United States has fallen behind in the race to have high speed rail. Now before I leap into what I’m going to say, I want to make it abundantly clear that what we are¬†achieving¬†today, what we’re doing today as a nation is pathetic. I’m talking about 3rd world nation pathetic. While we ride on the backs of technology to carry the country along and any hope of growth, the real industry leaders of railroads,¬†construction¬†and manufacturing have fallen into dormancy. In large part because of the disgraceful behavior of the Government and the¬†politicians¬†pretending they can run and economy and build cities.

Simply, they will not and can never¬†achieve¬†what the US did and the titans of industry accomplished with the help of the American people between 1865 and 1915. I’m not saying everything is hunky dory and lovely from that era, I’m just saying we’ve become absurdly pathetic as a nation. We can’t¬†achieve¬†what we did then, we can’t innovate nor have we proven that we have the insight or drive to create, innovate, build and bring about a better future for everyone. Simply, the United States is absolutely a shadow of what it once was and there is no light at the end of the tunnel. We’re in for an extremely rude awakening that we have taken what our forefathers provided us, and rested heavily on our laurels to our¬†children’s¬†detriment. They are now the one’s, completely ill-prepared, to rebuild that level of¬†achievement¬†and growth. Something that the Chinese or some other country, that is actually less prepared to handle these things, will have to take the reigns anyway.

So let’s talk about a few comparisons, since everyone is so wowed by the Chinese and their railroad. Let’s get a better perspective about what the Chinese are¬†achieving¬†compared with the United States of 1865-1915.

The Chinese, in 50 years have built approximately 65,545 miles of railroad. This has been done with tooling and equipment that they’ve built using designs and technology created by the United States, Europe and other nations. It is technology that we used between 1865-1915, also a 50 year span, to build 129,774 miles of railroad by 1890, with a total of 250,000 miles by 1915. So really, the Chinese have accomplished a mere portion of what the United States did with technology that had to be developed when the US Railroads were being built. Many Chinese Americans also helped to¬†achieve¬†that, because here they innovate and create in ways that just wouldn’t happen in China itself (at least, there has been no evidence to the contrary, new ideas are extremely slow to take hold in mainland China, however a change of Governmental systems seems to do the trick, as Taiwan and Hong Kong have shown without doubt). To put it simply, the freer the market, the greater the¬†achievements¬† The same can be seen for “free-market” Britain as well as “market driven” TGV,¬†Shinkansen¬† etc. I could go on about this even more, but suffice it to say at 250,000 miles of railroad, no country on Earth has even come close to the¬†achievements¬†of American¬†entrepreneurs¬†and industrialists during 1865-1915. NOWHERE EVEN CLOSE.

For another comparison, let’s take speeds¬†achieved¬†by the Chinese on their high speed rail. The trains generally, now after several accidents causing dozens of deaths, travel at a safer 187 mph. Which is now, in 2012 the general speed of high speed rail. No real¬†achievement¬†has been made here. The TGV holds the highest speed at record and has areas that operate at higher speeds.

In the US, and I know this isn’t in the 1865-1915 range, but just stay with me for a minute. The New York Central in 1966¬†achieved¬†196 mph¬†with the M-497. In the 1940’s the Milwaukee Road ran rail service over 100mph, hitting up to 120 mph for part of the trip. Note, that was the 1940’s. In 1934 the Milwaukee Road had a line running a peak of 103.6 mph, in 1934!

Ok, so those speeds are all great right, but let’s step back again to the years we’re really comparing. In 1905 the¬†Pennsylvania¬†Railroad ran a speed record at 127.2 mph near Crestline, Ohio with an E7sa 4-4-2 Atlantic. This same train was running rail service at 88-90 mph daily at the time. Something that makes the current Chinese rail operations seem not so spectacular, and the modern US rail operations a complete embarrassment. When we look at the averages, things look even better for our forefathers in the 1865-1915 period too, as our modern averages drop horribly low. But let’s not dig into how poorly we do today compared to our forefathers.

Another great thing the Chines have built is this fantastic sprawling train station shown below.

Again, don’t get me wrong. They’ve created an amazing station here. But let’s step back to that 1865-1915 America again just for a second and take a look at Cornelius Vanderbilt’s Grand Central Terminal. ¬†Here are the upper tracks:

The suburban (as in sub-urban) level of the station. (Click for full size image)

The suburban (as in sub-urban) level of the station. (Click for full size image)

Oh yeah, and here’s the OTHER LEVEL of tracks.

The express level. (Again, click on for full size image)

The express level. (Again, click on for full size image)

That’s two decks of train tracks, built in 1913. All underground so it doesn’t block up massive sprawling space like the station shown in China. It was built that way to better service New York at its very core. But wait, that’s not all. Guess what else is under the station. If you said the 42nd street subway you’d be correct! The subway was running as of 1904, with the station finally open for business in 1915.

Summary

So what am I really saying by doing this comparison? It’s simple, I’m saying we’re not and should not be trying to compete with the modern Chinese. We should be competing with ourselves. Our own nation has languished and become weaker by the year. Our peak, militarily can be said to have happened in WWII, however our economic powerhouse was created in the span of 1865-1915. What was built then was what enabled us to power our way through WWII, out producing every nation on Earth. It was these years of economic strength that set us up to be able to create the greatest middle class to the world had known. But now we’re too busy fussing and begging the Government to build us out of our debt and misfortune. We’ve become a nation not of doers but of¬†beggars¬†and people subsisting on others. We’re in debt beyond our wildest dreams while we continue to out consume and further plunge into debt. We act like we own houses while we make massive mortgage payments, also known when translated as “death payments”. What we have¬†achieved¬†was basically set into motion in those years, 1865-1915, and we’ve done little to truly progress past that, except to increase our dependence on an unreliable and faulty Government.

What the Chinese have built is commendable, but it isn’t anything that the United States had not already accomplished almost a hundred years ago. It’s just we’ve fallen so far from our peak, our¬†achievements¬†have withered and we’ve forgotten and cared not what we once were as a nation.

The good thing is, the United States may find itself yet. We may find that maybe, just maybe there is another type of grand success and great life to be had. Maybe we don’t have to acheive these things. Maybe the Chinese are merely chasing our own failures while we’re finding our way to different things. I think we’ll still need to build our way out of the current doldrums, but we could still do it. It just won’t be anything like what we¬†achieved¬†in the past.

Simply, our forefathers have seriously kicked our ass, and there’s no way the modern generation, or next few generations are going to reclaim that¬†pedestal. We’re too busy figuring out how to create “social media” empires of¬†pettiness.

…and also, the next entry will be much more positive. I just had to get this written out as I’m tired of how the “Chinese are beating us”, when in reality we’re not being beaten by anyone but ourselves.

Every Time I Feel Bummy About Trimet…

I seem to stumble into the poor plight of King County Metro in Seattle. Recently they started running their BRT routes, or “faux BRT” routes I should say. The D line has run into the gamut of problems, including ridership it just can’t handle. I wish em’ the best, cheers.

Amid what appears to be poor planning and being forced to push the BRT into service while severely cutting other routes in the area, King County is making improvement along the route slowly and steadily. Light priorities are definitely a start, but not the ultimate solution. The ideal, which in traditional Seattle fashion, is 15-20 years away.

Light Rail

This ideal scenario is to build out the Link Light Rail out to West Seattle. However West Seattle is at the bottom of the priority list right now, and Seattle can’t multi-track (not that any city in the US can anymore). The other lines that will complete well before anything even gets legitimately planned for West Seattle include Bellevue, Redmond (maybe), north Seattle (maybe), south of the airport (maybe) and of course the currently being built University District line.

The University District line, which I’m highly confident will change the way Seattle exists in a huge way, connecting three of the core areas of Seattle; downtown, University District, and Capital Hill. This line, part of which exists out to the airport now, should become a huge success at that point. Versus the current situation, in which the light rail is of moderate success and arguable becoming rapidly more successful year over year. They’re seeing much more rapid growth in ridership than originally expected. With double digit percentages year over year. This last month, the Link Light Rail has caught up to the other typical ridership numbers of lines here in the north west.

  • Trimet Blue Line: 54,200
  • Trimet Red Line: 21,700
  • Trimet Green Line: 23,300
  • Trimet Yellow Line: 16,400 < poor poor Yellow Line. ūüė¶
  • Link Light Rail: >= 27,000

References:

As I Wrote This Entry…

I read a few blog entries over on Seattle Transit Blog and oh boy that just reminds me of one big reason why I high tailed it back to Portland after 2 years in Seattle. They’re completely FUBARing their entire transit system slowly but steadily at King County Metro. They’re taking examples time and time again from Portland and implementing them horribly. The only project that looks to be going really well, and it isn’t actually King County Metro, is the Link Light Rail extension to U-District (as I mentioned above). The BRT, the streetcar expansion, and other things all look doomed to be complete catastrophes. Just read that blog entry and comments on Human Transit’s Blog. Seattle is just heading the complete opposite direction of getting itself put together well. It is completely neglecting the core elements of the city that SHOULD have major transit corridors, dedicated lane miles, ¬†and other associated enhancements and pushing in traffic bus service and in traffic streetcar service that is destined to be stuck. Seattle traffic is the only city in the North West (excluding San Francisco if you count it as NW) that has truly bad traffic. With this type of attitude, of not giving dedicated ROW to transit services, that traffic will remain horrible and get worse without a single alternative to it all.

If they keep up, I can imagine in 20-30 years you might see Tacoma, Vancouver BC, and even Portland start to take a lead in growth and population over Seattle. Seattle could literally, stymie its population growth in a significant way if they don’t figure out how to manage their city properly.

…and don’t even get me started on the other city amenities… ¬† :-/

Average American Lifestyle, What’s Your Excuse?

I’ve left the rat race of the car driving, fast food eating, sprawl living, Nintendo/Xbox/Playstation playing, boob tube watching day to day – or what millions in America call life – and even though there shouldn’t be excuses for living so poorly, I’m collecting what people have heard. So, what have YOU heard people say as an excuse for not living better? For not taking transit or riding a bike to take care of more things in their life? What about for eating fast food, what’s the excuse there?

Please leave comments and such!  Cheers!

Yup... rat race racing...

Yup… rat race racing…