Wednesdays Videos & Photos

Here’s a few video passes from Wednesday. As yesterday’s, this one has a few blank seconds between each clip.

Here’s a few photos from the day.

Ballard, Sound Transit Sounder, and Recovery Day

Monday was a whirlwind of an adventure. Tuesday then needed to be a recovery day. I’d planned to start out and pick up the other bike (Pop Rocket I rode to Kent, this was Blue that needs picked up). But I didn’t even get around to that. It really did turn into a mostly chill day of relaxation.

A little bit of logistical fun playing the game Transport Fever. But then later in the day I did get down to some of the tracks where the Sound Transit Sounder route comes through Ballard. Here’s a few shots of the 5:35pm departure from Seattle heading to Edmonds on its way to Everett.

Here’s some of the video. There are three segments, so hold on when the screen goes black for a few seconds in between.

That’s it for the moment. Off to more explorations today.

Seattle to Portland High Speed Rail

One of China's High Speed Rail Stations

One of China’s High Speed Rail Stations

Currently travel times between the heart of Portland and the heart of Seattle look something like this. Google maps reports driving is 2 hours and 44 minutes. That’s with no traffic congestion. Flying theoretically takes 45 minutes, but that isn’t really to Seattle, it’s to SEATAC, which is nowhere near downtown Seattle. Taking the train takes a mind boggling 4 hours.

But seriously, those times are all a bit deceiving. Because of the unreliable nature of American transportation infrastructure and systems we end up with dramatically different averages. Driving is sometimes as low as 2 hours and 15 minutes, but regularly more than 3 hours if either end has traffic congestion. The train, if you take the Amtrak Cascades takes about 3 hours and 30 minutes, but on some rare occasions it actually makes the trip in 2 hours and 55 minutes when there’s no freight congestion. Flying is a joke if you need to get to the downtown core of Seattle or Portland. Getting to either airport from the city core takes somewhere between 20 minutes to an hour or more for each city. Again, it depends on the traffic and the mode. Using light rail on either end is a 30-35 minute trip to get downtown. So in the best case scenario, with arrival at the airport at least 1 hour before take off we’re talking about a 3 hour trip minimum, if not more. Putting air travel head to head with riding the train. There’s also the bus, which can take a variable amount of time but often similar to driving.

Vision for American High Speed Rail (Click for a great article on American high speed rail)

Vision for American High Speed Rail (Click for a great article on American high speed rail)

Now imagine for a moment if we had real high speed rail service from Union Station to King Street Station in Seattle. At a top speed of 200 mph, with the same stops that are currently in place, the travel time between stations would easily be covered in about an hour an 15 minutes. Maybe plus or minus 10 or 15 minutes. But either way, it would clearly be the fastest way to travel between the cities.

Just think about that type of travel between these cities. Think about what would be possible…

Portland Living, Seattle Jobs

All of a sudden, with a system like that in place it would open up the Seattle job market to thousands of more people in Portland and even introduce the possibility of living in Portland and working in Seattle. That’s a pretty crazy thought when one stops to think about it. A commute from Portland to Seattle would be no more than what a current commute from Tacoma to Seattle is via the Sounder Commuter rail, or some of the express buses from Everett or far eastern Bellevue or Redmond.

Suddenly, Portland would have the possibility of dramatically more business with Seattle, and obviously vice versa. It leaves one with a question of…

Why don’t we have high speed rail between these two cities?

It’s really kind of insane, and is representative of our ongoing paralysis in intelligent economic development between key cities in this country. Portland and Seattle are a prime example of this exact paralysis. The public sector can’t get it done. The private sector isn’t even allowed to touch the notion. It’s pure idiocy all the way down the decision flow.

As I see many people who live in Seattle, who would rather live in Portland, but are stuck living in Seattle because of the better work & career options this high speed rail thought always comes to mind. Also I imagine there are some people that might want to live in Seattle and work in Portland, but probably not. The general crux between these two cities is that Seattle has the good jobs, and Portland has the good life.

Now while you’re thinking that through, just imagine if we really managed to get our act together and include British Columbia and connect Vancouver. We’d effectively move into the realm of a serious powerhouse world class economic region of the world. Livability, jobs, and career options that exceed the rest of North America by many degrees.

I’d wrap up on these thoughts with a simple notion. Let’s kick some serious regional ass and get some high speed rail built. There’s no region we shouldn’t move into the next level in a serious way! It could start with the cities’ mayors getting together to start applying some real pressure on the respective states and nations to get their act together. It’s well past the time we should start building up the Cascadian Region in some serious ways, let’s stop piddling around and make this happen!

Cuz’ The Northwest is Rocking the Cycling and Seattle is Starting to Lead the Pack!

Recently Seattle stepped up its game even more. Not only is a streetcar line soon to open between King Street Station, First Hill and Capital Hill but also a cycle track is going in on Broadway. I knew all about the streetcar line going in but holy moly I’d no idea they were getting a cycle track too. A trip will be scheduled and I’ll be aiming to bring some of the cycle track and streetcar action to you via Transit Sleuth TV once they’re both open! Here’s a sneak peek via Streetsblog.

The streetcar system is connecting three major points in Seattle, this is going to be a pretty big deal. Here’s a summary of the four places. For more official information about the streetcar service, check out Seattle Streetcar.

King Street Station @ Pioneer Square area to Chinatown then thru First Hill & Capital Hill

King Street Station is the Amtrak Station that has recently been returned to it’s proper magnificent glory of yesteryear. In some ways it is also the northern terminus for Sounder commuter rail service from Tacoma and the southern terminus for Sounder service to Everett. It’s a gorgeous station, worth a trip by itself. There are a number of other things in the Pioneer Square area of downtown Seattle that are worth checking out. This area along with King Street Station is basically the southern terminus of the line. The line then traverses part of the International District (or still commonly referred to as Chinatown in Seattle) and then turns in the First Hill area. It continues through the First Hill area and into Capital Hill, which is one of the dense urban areas of the city where music, art and livability thrive. It also is partly rooted to the future Link Light Rail Station for Capital Hill. This connection point is poised to be one of the busiest areas of the city in the coming years, easily transforming the very vibrancy and life of Seattle.

The Broadway Cycletrack

If there is a sure fire way to avoid streetcar tracks on a bike, it’s to have a cycle track right next to them! Seattle has planned for this and the Broadway Street segment is going to have just that. Here’s a cross cut view of the cycle track next to the streetcar and road traffic on Broadway.

Seattle Transportation Department also has more information about cycletracks going in around Seattle along with some information about ones elsewhere.

Onward to Los Angeles, Santa Ana & Newport Beach

I’m heading down to check out some biking, beaches and a rail trip. Feel free to join me at any point of the trip. I’m aiming to record it, blog it and generally provide a thorough write up of the whole adventure. To start it off, here’s the logistics plans.

Portland Union Station at Night

Portland Union Station at Night

On September 4th I’ll be departing, with bicycle packed and recording gear on hand from Portland Union Station. I’ll be boarding the Coast Starlight south bound to Los Angeles. From Los Angeles I’ll make a transfer to the Pacific Surfliner down to Santa Ana.

Once I arrive in Santa Ana I’l detrain and unpack my bike. Somehow I’ll carry the storing container and other material and roll on from Santa Ana Station down to Newport Beach via the Santa Ana River Trail.

From Santa Ana Rail Station to Newport Beach via the Santa Ana River Trail.

From Santa Ana Rail Station to Newport Beach via the Santa Ana River Trail.

Coast Starlight arriving in Portland.

Coast Starlight arriving in Portland.

Once I arrive I intend to take a few bike trips here and there, which I’ll record some and write about others. I’m working to line up meeting some riders, coders & transit crew while I’m down. So if you’re anywhere in the Los Angeles metro area between the 6th and 10th of September, let me know and we’ll have some grub with a beer, coffee or other beverage of our choice. If you’re up for riding and interested in showing me trails, routes or other crazy cycling bits, definitely ping me about that too, I’m curious where the routes & runs are for the LA, OC and metro area local riders are. If you’re up for a tour about, hit me at @transitsleuth on twitter.

Surlac

Surlac

Upon the return trip I’ll bike back out to the station, whip out the tools and re-pack the bike at the Santa Ana Station and then board an early morning Pacific Surfliner back into Los Angeles. From there back aboard to the north bound Coast Starlight, feet up and kicked back, and the following day I’ll arrive back in Portland, Oregon rested and relaxed.

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.  :-/

 

Does Amtrak Come Thru?

Before reading this entry you may want to read the first part, where things get entirely messed up in the first place. This part of the story is the ongoing story of my travel woes…

With the whole mess already framed, I awoke on Thursday with intent to travel on Friday. My original travel date, back when I scheduled this trip over a month ago was to be on Saturday. I’d changed it once, and that change went through the Amtrak computer system just fine.

Context of How I Interact and Operate With Amtrak

Generally Amtrak always has my tickets correct. The ticket clerks, at least in the Pacific Northwest are always nice and at worst, respectful in their interactions with me. For me, this is my baseline of interaction with Amtrak. Generally good people that are respectful to me and to other passengers. Overall Amtrak, in the northwest does a good job of performing their jobs too!

Because Amtrak personnel in the northwest are competent, respectful and generally good people. I’ve never had to get frustrated, never been insulted and problems have always been resolved almost immediately. So I operate, obviously conserving my time and energy, by assuming they’re doing these things. In the end, even with the debacle I was fighting earlier this week, I come out on top with time saved, not stressing over travel arrangements, ticket problems or otherwise. Never have I had any remotely significant problem or been insulted by poor customer interactions.

Earlier in the week that all changed. Should I blame myself and consider it my own incompetence that I got messed up tickets? A comment in the previous entry portrayed that I should blame myself. This is a serious victims mentality. If one accepts this mentality they will end up always being the victim, and I have too many things to do in life for myself and for those I care about to suck up my life acting like a victim. It”s vastly less time consumed and I come out less stressed, have more time for myself and those I love, and actually end up being “lucky” and respected by people assuming that they’ll merely do their jobs as best they can. I could go on for hours why this is a superior attribute and better for everybody involved.

Blaming one self first is ridiculous, the first thing to do is to try and determine what the problem is. The second thing is to resolve the problem in a logical and respectful way. That second part is where Amtrak screwed up last time. Not particular Amtrak as a whole, but one single phone operator that doesn’t understand basic customer relations very well. The last thing you ever do when someone is merely explaining the problem on the phone is start blaming them.

So now that I’ve put down some clarification of all this nonsense and why I got so perturbed by the whole scenario, I’ve got more to the story now.

Failing Software?

Amtrak clearly has a software synchronization problem. With a physical ticket being printed out that is for one date, the same reservation being displayed online for a completely different date, we already had one glaring software issue. The consistency between these two mediums was incorrect. When I had called originally these tickets remained incorrect, and the clerk had even reported a different time again. Then the whole explosion of absolutely unacceptable costumer service behavior occurred.

Well on Thursday I called customer relations, or more accurately I went through the phone menu to get to the customer relations line. The first person I talked to, I explained the problem to them, patiently as I do. She seemed a bit confused, but as she is supposed DID NOT IMMEDIATELY BLAME ME. Matter of fact, she didn’t even blame me. She confirmed that the reservation showed the 22nd. I told her that I had the ticket in my had which was not supposed to be for the day, but it showed the 21st. So we both were confused. So before having it become too complicated I explained my original intent, when rescheduling on Monday, was to have the departure date be Friday the 25th departing on the Coast Starlight for Portland, Oregon.

She then noted that the ticket for the 22nd had shown lifted too, so she’d have to send me to customer relations. I confirmed with her, that when she says “lifted” that this means a conductor marked me as on the train?

She said “yes”.

To which I asked her, “so they marked me on the train even though I’m in San Francisco?”

She responded, “it looks that way.”

I merely said, “weird” and she then forwarded me on to customer relations.

I got to customer relations and a lady answered the phone. She asked how she could help and I commenced to explain the situation again, starting from the original purchase on to the Monday when all this chaos started. She then looked at the reservation that she could see. I suppose she has an actual log she could see because the conversation then went like this.

While looking at the ticket and reservation log she asks, “so just to clarify, you’re in San Francisco and left from Denver, completing the first part of the trip right?”

“Yes.”

She continued, “ok, this reservation is completely messed up, it shows a travel time, a printed ticket dispersed for a different date, somehow that then got changed from and to the original travel date of the 26th to the 25th and then to the 22nd, printed the 21st, then back to the 25th and finally shows lifted on the 22nd.”

I responded, somewhat even more confused, “what? I mean, the 25th was listed at some point?”

She says, sounding confused too, “yeah, but it was lifted the 22nd and then just shows as a ticket for the 22nd.”

At this point my mind is completely blown. What the…   there’s nothing really that can explain this, beyond just simply absurd.

She continued, “well let me see, oh forget it. I’m going to cancel this entire trip reservation and get you setup with a completely new one.”

Happily I respond, “that sounds great.”

Meanwhile, I get put on hold a few and she works diligently to fix the tickets and reservation. Finally after about 45 minutes of fighting the battle with the Amtrak ticketing system, she returns to the phone with, “Alright Mr Adron I have you scheduled to depart on the Coast Starlight Friday the 25th from Oakland heading to Portland, Oregon.”

“Perfect!” I say. I’m relieved, and confident that the way I handle these things is fine. My confidence in Amtrak’s intent to keep things on the up and up is restored. I knew they would see this silly mess and fix it.

Now the computer systems and software however, there is still some serious concern there. What exactly is happening. The reason I ask is because this story isn’t over yet.

It Continues

I head off to work and get some things done with the team. It’s a good day, and I return home and check the reservation again via my mobile device.

It shows nothing. NOTHING!

I’m a bit freaked out, Amtrak’s accuracy in ticketing is plummeting fast at this rate. I then click on the mobile app button where it says there are no reservations and it pulls up another screen. What do I see? I see a reservation, but what’s this? Emeryville. I gotta go to Emeryville to board the train? What happened to Oakland? Oh well, whatever, that’s still acceptable. The reason I decide to just go with it is that Emeryville is about 10 kilometers north of Oakland, so no big deal. I’ll just take the BART and do the transfer I generally don’t like to do to get there. Perfectly doable, I don’t want to call service again.

On Friday, I depart for the station in Emeryville. Upon arriving I go to get my ticket. The ticket machine reports I must go to the ticket clerks in Emeryville. Then I notice some things while waiting in line listening to the clerks.

1. The clerks are working, while a third employee sits behind them bitching and whining about how she got a customer complaint from someone. She is doing this so loud that the entire waiting area can hear her babbling on about how it was the lady’s fault and not her fault. At this point, just from how she was whining about it, declaring for anyone that grasps the concept, that she was playing the victims card and is in fact a whiney brat about these situations. She displayed the exact emotions that would make her the person who would behave in such an inappropriate way and then say she was the victim. If I were running this station I’d probably have to fire this person. She was going on with such dispassionate and disrespectful word usage that she actually had waiting passengers go out to the platform because they felt uncomfortable listening to this lade endlessly bitch. The other two clerks continued working but kept nodding and letting her go on and on while trying to work.

2. I pulled up foursquare on my phone and multiple comments about the Emeryville Station came up. A huge number of the comments all revolved around “customer service here sucks” and “if you get the girl with the fake hair she’s a psycho” and “the old guy mopping the floor is the only nice person here” and the list just goes on and on. Usually I’m not one to just follow along with comments and agree. But in this situation, and considering it isn’t always common for people to comment on locations, these had more impact that most would. Maybe the Emeryville Station does have a significant customer service issue?

3. This was the station I received the messed up tickets in the first place. Matter of fact the lady who gave me the tickets was one of the working clerks now, letting this other employee just carry on endless and create a hostile, negative and uncomfortable working environment for everybody and a similar environment for the waiting passengers. She was also, when I changed my tickets, griping about something at the time too.

Emeryville, I give an F for customer service. I had not dealt with this type of crappy behavior since I’d lived in the south, where I was used to this type of attitude problem, hostile and uncomfortable situations, and unnecessary victim mentality. I generally don’t find it in California, and I really don’t experience it in Portland or Seattle or even in downtown San Francisco.

So I walk up and provide ID and state that I’m here to pick up my ticket. The clerk, while conferring and griping with the loud individual, prints it out and hands it to me. What’s on the ticket? Freaking Oakland.

What the hell. I come to Emeryville, which apparently is not a good station experience, and then get a ticket for Oakland. Oh dear the insanity of this. Whatever, I’m downline from Oakland toward the destination. Amtrak has never not accepted a passenger that gets on for a shorter distance than the one originally purchased. I’ve done this a few times matter of fact. Fortunately, this was no exception.

The clerk also reported the train 20 minutes late. The website did not show the train 20 minutes late. I was plenty early so it really didn’t matter. I sat down and started waiting. Sure enough, the train arrived not on time, but 3 minutes early. That works for me.

The Ride Begins

Myself and a few dozen other passengers all jump up throw on our packs and head out for the train. For this particular train (and the California Zephyr) they actually pull past the front of the station. Why, I am not entirely sure, as there is plenty of platform to just be in front of the station. I head out and walk the entire length of the train (which for context, is longer than a whole Talgo train, the Starlight is one of the longest trains in the Amtrak Fleet). I get to sleeping car 1430 and am greeted with a friendly hello and a, “hey, were you originally boarding in Oakland?”

I respond with a smile and a “yes, but online I got Emeryville listed, so ended up here instead, figured it was alright…”

To which the attendant smiled back, laughed, and said, “no worries boss, your room is right to the right of the entrance there. Just was wondering, thought we’d might have missed ya…”

I turned and there was my roomette, bed made up, ready for me to collapse. I stowed my stuff away and plunked down for some sleep. Outside my window was a beautifully clear sky, the train began to roll along at a steady 79mph. I checked a few things and rolled on my side, gazing out of the giant window at the sky, with sparse clouds. It had a grey and white glow against a blue and black back drop. The moon sat high above clearly outlining the detail of everything. The moon, being very full tonight, smiled upon me and I wavered and passed into slumber.

Albeit all this nonsense, it felt really good rolling along at 79mph heading back home with a beautiful view, with everything finally straightened out. Patience, do right by people, and things get settled. Cheers!