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.

Funny, The 2 Lanes Are Still There in the Plans, But Somebody Says They Aren’t… *Mynorthwest* Nonsense.

I’m re-publishing my comment here, that I recently posted on this hyperbolic piece about “Seattle sacrifices two lanes for…” which I’m unsure if they’ll post. It “seems polite” to me but doesn’t tow the line of thinking that the KIRO Radio comments usually tow.

“First off, totally inaccurate way to actually frame the situation. Two lanes aren’t disappearing. It’s not like they’re going to put housing or plant trees in two lanes and lot allow movement there.

Instead they’re using those lanes for things like streetcars, buses, and related vehicles that can actually move a LOT of Seattleites vs. a very few Seattleites. The project, the 170 mil isn’t exactly for the “streetcar” either if one looks at the actual cost breakouts. Most of it is actually for redesigning the street so it is more effectively used to move actual people, vs. have people move a few cars.

First, getting the details on modal options load capacity: https://www.thoughtco.com/passenger-capacity-of-transit-2798765

The streetcar would operate in this corridor most comparably like BRT or light rail. Easily reaching a load throughput capacity of 2000+ per hour. Being it will be mostly grade separated it could easily be used to achieve a capacity far in excess of 2000+ per hour and more around 3000-4000 and still be at half of peak capacity.

Meanwhile the throughput of the current lanes, even if configured with zero lights, zero parking, and zero stops couldn’t exceed 1200 per lane. At their current configuration it is unlikely they exceed even 600-800 per hour per lane. To note, there will still be a full lane that will be dedicated to single occupant motor vehicles like cars, which will still allow for closer to the theoretical range of 1200 per hour. With the two lane configuration as is, it’s unlikely it even reaches 1200 per hour with both lanes in use and limited to single occupant motor vehicles.

The new configuration will easily allow for about 800-1200 vehicles per hour (and possibly the respective ~1200 or so persons that will come along with those cars), with one lane, and also allow for 2000-4000 per hour with the streetcar and 2nd lane usage, street safety improvements, and related changes.

In the end, Seattle wins. Seattle gets higher throughput for the most people (much of Pike Place Market shoppers – to use as an example – are from ships; ferries, cruise ships, transit, and walking from areas within the city anyway, and few and fewer arrive by car while the number of total shoppers increases). Seattle will get more shoppers at Pike Place. Seattleites can enjoy a connection from the South Lake Union technology hub to the southern technology hub of companies in Pioneer Square. International District will now be connected to the central business district with a seamless ride, and the housing (30k+ persons) will be connected in Pioneer Square & Waterfront to Capital Hill & First Hill (Another 30k+).

With the numbers currently, that means about ~1500 people *might be* inconvenienced slightly – many of whom may not even be Seattleites, while over 60k Seattleites have a more convenient method of traveling throughout the downtown core of the city.

Also, to add. Even if this were BRT or some bus variant, to increase actual throughput (because buses and streetcars used to ply this street before) the street would need to be reconfigured to how it operated before, plus changes related to appropriate diversion and safety, would still require a huge lump some of cash near the streetcar cost. But it would come without the added benefit of pulling people to it, and thus to explore additional areas of the city, like a streetcar will. Over time the operational costs are also minimalistically different than buses using and providing the same throughput, without providing the same advantages.

I now digress, learn about it or ignore it and keep playing the oblivious hand… it’ll get built. Take advantage of it or keep complaining. The complainers won’t get any advantage out of the situation. In other news, I’ll see ya’ll out and about if you’re actually in the city. Cheers!”

Don’t Let the City Council Defund the Seattle Central City Connector!

I recently read x-council member’s public letter to the Seattle City Council about defunding the Central City Connector. My response is as follows. I hope you too will write and tell the council to NOT defund this connector. With this project completed the streetcar finally becomes a fully viable connector between disparate and often hard to travel to points within the city of Seattle. More information besides my letter below can be found here.

My letter:

Dear Seattle City Council,
I’m writing after hearing about and reading the alarming news about the possibility of the central city connector (streetcar extension to connect the two disparate lines) being defunded. As someone who just invested in becoming a full time and permanent Seattleite I do NOT want this defunded. This can and will be a frequent transportation connection that I used between Pioneer Square, South Lake Union, and Central City. Something that I and many other I work with in the startup community would use daily to connect with businesses in each of these areas.
I currently live in Ballard, and will be here for many years. I bike into the city everyday (I don’t pose more cost to our overburdened road network, it’s 17th street bike boulevard and then 15th street trail through the rail yards and into the city). With this being built it provides an easy, car-free way to deal with traveling between Amazon, Pike Place Market, Russell Investments Building, Pioneer Square, and even in some cases up to Capitol Hill. These are all places I do extensive business, and yes, there is *some* bus service, but this provides effective service through the area that is more convenient, more business friendly, and will work for our constituents where as current bus service does NOT work. Matter of fact, out of town visitors generally won’t use the bus service for a number of reasons.
So I ask you to please consider funding the central city connector fully and building this high quality piece of infrastructure that the city – and residents, new and old, will be able to make use of throughout the city.
Please write and tell the council they shouldn’t cancel the funding for this project. Email them at Council@seattle.gov!
More on US Streetcars in the future, but for now this one needs to be built!

Upcoming Sounder Sleuth Roundtrip to Lakewood

I’m planning a new transit trip, as I want to see what it’s like to take the Sounder from Seattle to Lakewood, and then back again. In the coming days, maybe as early as next week I’m going to ride this schedule and see how it works out.

  1. King County Metro Bus 15X departing from Ballard @ 7:00am from NW 70th & 15th to Seattle King Street Station.  ($2.50)
  2. Sound Transit Sounder Train #1505 departing from Seattle King Street Station @ 7:55am to Lakewood Station. ($6.00)
  3. Sound Transit Sounder Train #1518 departing from Lakewood @ 10:16am to Seattle King Street Station. ($6.00)
  4. Get to work, enjoy Seattle.

Ballard Light Rail!

…in 2035 LOL if that’ll even be useful for me or we even stave off mass destruction but HEY… let’s talk about this.

Light rail is coming to Ballard in 2035, so says Sound Transit. I read about it here, which you should too if you have any vested interest in Seattle, Ballard, or for that matter West Seattle! The build out, at least this initial idea, looks great. Here’s a simple little map of the plan (from the post I linked). Overall I’m super stoked for it to be done!

Sound-Transit-West-Seattle-Ballard-.pngWhich brings up another point, get registered and GO VOTE THIS UPCOMING ELECTION SEATTLE! You candidates are Cary Moon and Jenny Durkan. I’m going for Cary Moon, as she seems to have the most legit interest in this and the city. She’s also the only one of the two that wants to put forth a bond to push the scheduled start date for construction up by a gazillion decades. This would be huge, and would help and benefit us currently alive and breathing souls in a huge way.

The major points I see right off, which would add thousands and thousands of new LINK riders per day, would be South Lake Union to Westlake and Midtown. That connection alone would likely add more than most of the other connections, which will be great for overall ridership number. Throw that in with the added mobility to Alaska Junction, Ballard, and the respective commuter contingent that would happily opt for LINK over the Red Line Faux BRT routes! Anyway, I’m looking forward to it.

The other aside, as I ponder being 60 years old or some other older age when these routes are finished, is the increased bike-ability of the metro area. Right now, if I want to go anywhere outside of my current commute (Ballard to downtown Seattle) then things get treacherous really quick. Getting U-District and locations off of the Burke Gilman Trail are pretty easy, and very nice trips, but elsewhere; SODO, Alaska Junction, West Seattle anywhere, White Center, and elsewhere are a serious pain. They’re often fraught with dangerous intersections and areas where motorists are very unlikely to be paying attention or behaving and operating safely. This connections resolve and huge number of those points.

But I digress, not a lot to really say about it all until design and related efforts begin. I will be getting involved in those efforts, and hope to see more of my fellow Seattleites there. In the meantime, happy transiting.

14 Mount Baker

Back to Ballard. Win!

In 2011 I lived in Ballard. I rode my bike into the city sometimes and other times I rode the bus. At the time the bus I took was the 18. Sometime over the years King County Metro took the 18 and the 75, killed those local routes and rolled them into route 40. There is still the 18x, which is a morning and evening rush hour express bus, and follows the path of what was the 18 route in 2011. Life working in circles, I am now located in Ballard again! Yay!

Honestly, I’m stoked. After the torture of Redmond I’m euphoric at having legit amenities, breakfast, lunch, brunch, dinner, drinking, and related joints, plus a plethora of serious coffee joints all within a short walk or bike ride away. Instead of just QFC and a Whole Foods, I’ve now got bike, transit, and walking access to… ok, I was about to start writing this list inline, but let me actually bullet list this sucker, because wow.

Redmond Options Within 6 kilometers:

  • QFC #1
  • QFC #2
  • Whole Foods

Ballard Options Within 6 kilometers:

  • QFC #1
  • QFC #2
  • Safeway
  • PCC
  • Whole Foods
  • An actual local butcher (Better Meat)
  • Ficherman’s Docks
  • Market 1
  • Market 2
  • Ballard Market

Needless to say, I like the options and unique characteristics of many of these places. It’s why I love cities and am bored to brainless apathy when trying to deal with the lack of legitimately unique suburban options. They simply just don’t exist. But I digress.

The Smoky Hellfire Furnace of Cascadia! AGGGGHHH!!!!

Being back in Ballard I’m now biking to work every day. However on 3 days out of the two weeks of living in Ballard so far, I’ve taken the bus to and from. Today was one of those three days, because of this smoky low quality nasty air. It’s rough outside, and combined with the high temperatures, it’s a recipe for ailments if you go tearing through the air soup of smoke. Today, to resolve the issue as best as one can, I rolled into downtown Seattle on route 40.

Now, I’ve ridden route 40 a number of times before. I’ve also ridden it a number of times over the years on trips up to the area. I have in the past tended to swing out the Ballard even when not living in the area. So let’s talk transit sleuthing on the 40.

Route Description

On the south end, the route starts just across the street from King Street Station. That makes it an extremely convenient bus route to connect with Amtrak or Sounder at King Street Station. The bus then heads north through the city on 3rd Street, which is basically Seattle’s bus mall style street, which then cuts over to Westlake and goes through the South Lake Union area where Amazon and such is located. From there, it follows Westlake along the western edge of Lake Union. Then it’s across the Fremont Bridge into Fremont, past “the center of the universe” and then along Leary Way into Ballard. In Ballard it cuts from Leary onto Market Street heading westward, then a right onto 24th to head north.

Now this is where the old 18 route basically was done but the 40 continues onward. The 40 then head north and eventually turns on a street heading northeast, then east, and then onward to Northgate. Basically part of what used to be route 75. I’ve not ridden the 40 past 24th & 65th at this point, and today’s commute takes me along the same route.

Progress, Move Ya Damned SOV Motorists

One of the grand changes for this route over the 18 route is the dedicated lanes and light priority in the South Lake Union area. This are has become highly notorious since before it got popular with what was referred to as the Mercer Mess. After Seattle spent a gazillion bucks to fix it, they’ve made it exponentially worse and it’s still the Mercer Mess. The other difference however, is there are about 50k employees of Amazon and other companies in the area every day and about another 20k residents that live in the neighborhood now. This makes for what could be a completely inoperable route path for the bus during rush hour. However Westlake through to Mercer has bus/transit priority lanes and at Mercer has a dedicated light that let’s the buses leap from traffic to get across Mercer. These two tweaks to this corridor literally increase the throughput for buses by a massive degree. It slows motorists somewhat, but they were stuck there being the problems that they are already. Adding a minute or two to their commutes to enable thousands upon thousands to actually get through on transit is a huge payout in time and money for Seattleites. In the end, an absolutely huge win!

That’s it for today’s observations. The 40 route, at this point is a usable and pretty heavily ridden route. I’ll have to do some sleuth work and see what the ridership numbers actually are on the various segments. I’d be curious what the overall activity is over the course of the day. Until next time, happy riding.

Why I’m a “Transit Sleuth”

Recently I was asked, “Have you ever analyzed why you are so interested in trains, buses, transit, and the like? Why did it become such a big hobby of yours?” With that, I began an introspection of exactly that. Why did I become interested in transit? Why do I find it curiously interesting? Why do I find trains, buses, planes, and all the like interesting? There are a bit of odd origins, but here’s how I sort of fell into this as not just a hobby, but as a part time professional too.

Reason #1: Learning

The first thing, which provided a healthy top soil for my interest to sprout and grow from, is my natural tendency to learn. My tendency isn’t just rooted in taking classes and having people teach me things, but goes far beyond that into teaching myself, learning how to learn, how to learn more efficiently, and at the very root of all this is the insatiable desire to answer the question “why?”

The Origins of a Passion, or Answering “Why?”

When I was young, somewhere in the 4-5 year old range I was already adept at understanding how cars flowed into and out of roadways, and the simple basics that anyone would grasp merely by riding in and being around cars. I never really asked how cars got here, who invented them, they just simply were here and the family used them to do all sorts of things. We used them to go on bike rides, we used them to get to fast-food, we used them to park at the Sonic to eat, we used them for groceries and picking up stuff at Walmart, and a whole host of stuff. We even used our Chevy Astro Van to pick up a few hundred pounds of sand from the gravel pit once so we could use it for luminary candle lights. All sorts of things, arguably everything we did, involved being in a car.

However there were a few things that stand out that didn’t involve a car. We would fly to Wilmington, North Carolina or Portland, Oregon to visit relatives. Sometimes we’d take the train, the ole’ Amtrak Train, to Portland or to the east coast. One time we got in the Toyota Corolla station wagon and headed north toward Ohio to go visit relatives there. We’d setup the back of the station wagon with games so that my mom and I could keep me entertained. I was moderately entertained, but even as a child felt cramped in the back of the car.

On the way to Ohio, somewhere after a few hundred miles on the road, some questions I’d not asked before just appeared in my mind. As the curious young boy I was, I started asking my dad with the hope to attain some answers. My parents, thankfully for me, were super helpful, answered lots of questions, but even more importantly made me ask even more questions to get answers too. If they didn’t know, they wouldn’t just feed me some made up nonsense either, they’d say they didn’t know and we’d have to research it. The first question came out, I’d pondered the question for a number of minutes to be sure I asked it accurately, and it still sits in my mind today.

“Hey dad, so there are vehihicles, twains, pwanes, and they all go places. What’s the difference? Some seem faster like pwanes, but twains are slower but bigger and faster than vehihicles but I don’t know. But why do some people take a vehihicle instead of a pwane or a pwane instead of a vehihicle or twain?”

To note, this was before I’d learned how to pronounce these words, and it didn’t matter to me, I was gonna put the question together in spite of any speech issues my 4 year old self would have. The answer was concise, based entirely on why we as a family took one mode over another, “well, we take the train because it’s fun and you get to see lots of things, while the plane is faster, and we take the car for other trips.”

This wasn’t enough for me so I pushed, “but why the car over the train if the train is fun?” My dad, driving at that moment, was a bit focused on the road as one should be but a 4-5 year old kid has no real concept of paying attention to the road. I was fully of “why, why, but why” questions and I wanted answers! He answered a few more points, and started to dig into certain things like, “well the train is more than the plane, but it’s because we get a family room and get to eat and sleep. For a trip to Portland it’s to far to drive, so we always fly or take the train.” Slowly but surely I came to a realization about the complexity of picking a car, train, or plane to travel with.

It all depends on a vast number of criteria and not particularly on one single thing. For now, that seemed to work, I built a system in my mind that helped me understand why. The thinking about and questions of modal choice were put to rest for my young self. This thinking however, would grow exponentially in the future, but for now I had enough mapping to think things through.

Fast Forward to 1984 and OMG STEAM ENGINE!

I’d hit the ripe old age of 7 years old. I knew basic math, reading, and already had a reading comprehension well beyond my age. I’d also already realized the uniqueness of certain planes, trains, tanks, and a whole bunch of other machines. I was already, just these couple of years later, getting ravenously curious about how things really work.

The family loaded into our car and off to New Orleans for the World’s Fair. At the time I didn’t realize what I was about to see, or that this was the last World’s Fair that the world would see. Upon arrival we went and looked at a bunch of various things, but the one thing that truly caught my eye was a huge and powerful machine. There she sat, the UP 8444 Steam Engine. This engine was glorious. I remember thinking, that this seems strange since I’d been on a steam engine pulled train before, why was this huge machine leaving me so impressed? I was in awe.

This was the beginning of my love for serious machines. This was the beginning of one of the core reasons I am interested in transportation, transit and freight, from a perspective of the machines that do the work for us. From that moment forward I learned to respect the machines for the risk they pose, but also for the achievements that they enable for those that posses them.

Reasons #2: The Inspiration of Machines

During these years, between 3 years old on to about 9 or 10, my father and I took steam excursions when the chances presented themselves. Sometimes my brother would go with us too, or we’d adventure off for a train, bus, and plane trip. Sometimes we’d take the cheapest flight with the most transfers just to see what planes we could fly on, and check out different airports.

I learned extensively about a whole lot of different things, specifically machines, and started getting interested more and more in the war machines of the Cold War. During this time I became curious why we had this intense stand off with the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. At this time my interest in history rose to prominence in my mind. Obviously, the behaviors of modern humanity seemed insane, that we’d be on the precipice of nuclear holocaust at any moment over… just an idealistic notion of fake- Communism versus fake- Capitalism? That seemed odd. I started search, researching, and learning about the history of the United States.

After a few more years I stumbled into an odd observation, as I cut my first check to the IRS. I’m paying a lot of an extreme minimal in return. Out of the $15 bucks an hour I was making as a PC Tech, I’m losing over $6 dollars to forced purchasing of health insurance (this is pre-ACA, it was required by the company because of legislation for some reason), and the rest went to other budget items. I looked into the US Government’s budget and realized quickly that it’s a vast and wasteful plethora of monetary expenditures.

Again, I dove into the history of all this. All of a sudden I was studying tax code of the 40s, as WWII was the inception of our stand off with the Soviet Union. I started studying the intense growth of American military strength during and after WWII. This collided with determining the first dates of health care offered to workers at US Companies, when the Government piggy backed on that to encourage, and sometimes force those companies to provide health care, and in the process of learning all of this I realized that modal splits had only been so car focused since about the 50s, after WWII.

By researching almost unrelated things I realized that all of this is intensely related. Since my early 20s I’ve been studying this history, the progress (or devolution) of the United States with intensity. With the historical context of auto use, transit’s almost complete destruction in the 50s and 60s, the collapse of private passenger rail in the US, the rise of airlines, the multiple collapses and recovery of airlines, airport port funding, and all the related notions of what pays for what I found myself encapsulated in learning more and more about all of this.

Reason #3: History Came to Serve My Transit Interests

As I moved around and started to find a place to live in the United States I determined that most of the country worked to hard to achieve to little, paid to many taxes and gained to little from them, and worked subserviently to earn a meager living just to buy a TV, get a car, live in some boring suburban home, and turn into a lethargic moderately entertained bloke toiling around for no particular reason isolated form much of society. I didn’t want to live anywhere near any of these characteristics traits of most American suburbs. I wanted something different.

I had come to love the calm streets, albeit just a few remained, of Wilmington, North Carolina. I remember walking down the streets, some of which still had stone surfaces, into the old warehouses that had been renovated into candy and comic book stores. It was entertaining, unique, brought out an artistic feature of people involved. Those experiencing it shared a sort of community as they did so. It was fantastic.

Another experience was walking the streets of great cities; New York and Chicago to name two of the many I explored over the years. They were amazing, and like that first steam engine I found truly impressive in the ability to simply board a subway train, or walk to a location that then had dozens of things one might want. Pizza, groceries, and a gaming store on the corner, not much else I needed at the time.

Another experience involved walking down the pedestrian only Bourbon Street in New Orleans, or enjoying the streetcar rides of the Garden District. I wanted this, I wanted to walk to the store and pick up the things I needed and walk home. I wanted to walk to the nearest park and read a book or just watch the birds sing. I wanted to ride the streetcar down the street and hear music playing. I wanted to know, live, and be a part of the soul of the city. The question was which city?

I explored almost every major US City over the size of about 450k people by the time I was about 26. I’d determined I wanted to live in Portland, Oregon. It easily had the greatest amenities, walkable and transit friendly, and such a great feel and soul for a city. Relaxed yet fast paced enough that it was a technology hub.

Reason #4: Livability

I moved to Portland quickly tired of pretty much any other city in the US except for a few of the greats. Most were just a small core, surrounded by boring suburbs, that died everyday at 5pm. Most US Cities had no night life, and the night life they had involved almost solely a bunch of suburbanites getting drunk – some dying on a daily basis trying to get home – and that effectively summarized the situation.

I kept studying transit and transit related things more. I grew into a lifestyle that I have come to call a “Bike Lifestyle”. Bicycling, I’ve come to realize, is a fundamental part of progress for transit and for the future of transportation in the United States. Across the country it has become the inexpensive pairing to improved transit options, and in turn improved transportation overall. Slowly, the United States as a whole is coming to the realization that the car can’t serve all purposes, and serves very poorly in cities. Along with a whole host of conclusions that the US has to catch up to, that many other countries have long realized now, I keep studying the US transportation situation and worldwide, how we as people get around.

With that, I’ve summarized the core reasons I got into and have studied heavily, the whole systemic nature of transit and freight transportation. Until next time, happy rides!