It’s time for a #TransitAdventure! I will soon embark on a trip to Washington, DC, to attend the 2015 Spring Council Meeting of the National Association of Railroad Passengers. Since I have recently become addicted to NYC, I decided to fly into JFK, get my NYC fix for the year, and then enjoy the many transit systems and modes that connect NYC and DC. Below is my itinerary for Saturday, April 18, 2015, which is subject to change throughout my #TransitAdventure journey. Feel free to follow me live as I broadcast my travels on my Twitter account @MRC_SLC.

(And yes I know that I have unnecessary legs in my trip. 😉 If I were in a hurry, I would have replaced legs 3 through 14 with a 3-hour trip on Amtrak’s Acela Express.)

AirTrainLeg 1: AirTrain$5.00
From: JFK Terminal 4, Queens, NY
To: Howard Beach, Queens, NY
Depart: 6:22 – Arrive: 6:44
Duration: 0:22 – Frequency: 0:07
Click to view in Google Maps



Layover: 0:06

A-TrainLeg 2: NYCTA A$2.50
From: Howard Beach – JFK, Queens, NY
To: Fulton Street, Manhattan, NY
Depart: 6:50 – Arrive: 7:24
Duration: 0:34 – Frequency: 0:20
Click to view in Google Maps


Layover: 0:21

CitibikeLeg 3: Citibike$9.95
From: South End Ave & Liberty St, Manhattan, NY
To: 12 Ave & W 40 St, Manhattan, NY
Depart: 7:45 – Arrive: 8:30
Duration: 0:45 – Frequency: N/A
Click to view in Google Maps


Layover: 0:20

NY Waterway FerryLeg 4: NY Waterway Ferry$9.00
From: Midtown / W 39th Street, Manhattan, NY
To: Port Imperial / Weehawken, Weehawken, NJ
Depart: 8:50 – Arrive: 8:58
Duration: 0:08 – Frequency: 0:20
Click to view in Google Maps

Layover: 0:22

NJT Hudson-Bergen Light RailLeg 5: NJT Hudson-Bergen Light Rail$2.10
From: Port Imperial, Weehawken, NJ
To: Exchange Place, Jersey City, NJ
Depart: 9:20 – Arrive: 9:39
Duration: 0:19 – Frequency: 0:20
Click to view in Google Maps



Layover: 0:12

From: Exchange Place, Jersey City, NJ
To: Newark, Newark, NJ
Depart: 9:51 – Arrive: 10:09
Duration: 0:18 – Frequency: 0:20
Click to view in Google Maps



Layover: 0:23

NJT 7833 Northeast CorridorLeg 7: NJT 7833 Northeast Corridor$11.50
From: NWK, Newark, NJ
To: TRE, Trenton, NJ
Depart: 10:32 – Arrive: 11:45
Duration: 1:13 – Frequency: 1:00
Click to view in Google Maps


Layover: 0:29

NJT River LineLeg 8: NJT River Line$1.50
From: Trenton Transit Center, Trenton, NJ
To: Walter Rand Transit Center, Camden, NJ
Depart: 12:14 – Arrive: 13:13
Duration: 0:59 – Frequency: 0:30
Click to view in Google Maps



Layover: 0:32

PATCOLeg 9: PATCO$1.40
From: Broadway, Camden, NJ
To: 8th & Market St, Philadelphia, PA
Depart: 13:45 – Arrive: 13:52
Duration: 0:07 – Frequency: 0:30
Click to view in Google Maps



Layover: 0:41

SEPTA Market-Frankford LineLeg 10: SEPTA Market-Frankford Line $2.25
From: 8th Street, Philadelphia, PA
To: 13th Street, Philadelphia, PA
Depart: 14:33 – Arrive: 14:35
Duration: 0:02 – Frequency: 0:10
Click to view in Google Maps



Layover: 0:22

SEPTA Trolley 36Leg 11: SEPTA Trolley $2.25
From: 15th St & Market St, Philadelphia, PA
To: 30th St & Market St, Philadelphia, PA
Depart: 14:57 – Arrive: 15:01
Duration: 0:04 – Frequency: 0:07
Click to view in Google Maps



Layover: 0:37

SEPTA 221 Wilmington-Newark LineLeg 12: SEPTA 221 Wilmington/Newark Line$6.50
From: PHL, Philadelphia, PA
To: WIL, Wilmington, DE
Depart: 15:38 – Arrive: 16:21
Duration: 0:43 – Frequency: 2:00
Click to view in Google Maps


Layover: 0:34

Amtrak 71 Northeast RegionalLeg 13: Amtrak 71 Northeast Regional$31.00
From: WIL, Wilmington, DE
To: BAL, Baltimore, MD
Depart: 16:55 – Arrive: 17:46
Duration: 0:51 – Frequency: 1:00
Click to view in Google Maps


Layover: 0:34

MARC 495 Penn LineLeg 14: MARC 495 Penn Line$7.00
From: BAL, Baltimore, MD
To: WAS, Washington, DC
Depart: 18:20 – Arrive: 19:20
Duration: 1:00 – Frequency: 1:25
Click to view in Google Maps



Layover: 0:29

From: Union Station, Washington, DC
To: Silver Spring, Silver Spring, MD
Depart: 19:49 – Arrive: 20:03
Duration: 0:14 – Frequency: 0:08
Click to view in Google Maps



Layover: 0:10

Capital BikeshareLeg 16: Capital Bikeshare$7.00
From: Ripley & Bonifant St, Silver Spring, MD
To: 13th St & Eastern Ave, Silver Spring, MD
Depart: 20:13 – Arrive: 20:23
Duration: 0:10 – Frequency: N/A
Click to view in Google Maps





Russel Crowe said it best in Gladiator! 😉


Stuck on a Railroad Crossing? Call the Grade Crossing Hotline!

Recently there have been two passenger train derailments that could have been entirely avoided. Tuesday, February 24, 2015, a truck and trailer loaded with welding equipment became stuck at a grade crossing in Oxnard, California. The truck was struck by a Metrolink commuter train en route from East Ventura to Los Angeles, which derailed, injuring thirty passengers and killing the train’s engineer.

Don Kelsen/Los Angeles Times

Don Kelsen/Los Angeles Times

Monday, March 10, 2015, an oversize load being hauled by a tractor-trailer and escorted by the highway patrol became stuck at a grade crossing in Halifax, North Carolina. The trailer was struck by the Amtrak Carolinian en route from Charlotte to New York City, which derailed, injuring more than fifty passengers.

AP Photo/WTVD-11

AP Photo/WTVD-11

The collision was caught on video by a passerby.

In both crashes there was plenty of time to warn the oncoming train, but apparently the drivers and even the North Carolina Highway Patrol were unaware of how to do so. If you become stuck at a grade crossing, do the following:

  1. Get everyone out of the vehicle and away from the tracks. DUH!
  2. CALL THE GRADE CROSSING HOTLINE! (More information below.)
  3. Call 911.
  4. If a train approaches, walk toward the train and away from the tracks at a 45-degree angle. If your vehicle is hit, debris will spread out from the tracks in the same direction the train is moving.

At every grade crossing, the railroad’s grade crossing hotline and the crossing number is posted. At crossings with signals, it is on the side of the shack that shelters the electronics for the lights:


Crossings without signals will have the information listed on the stop sign:


Once you’ve called the grade crossing hotline, the railroad dispatchers will contact any approaching trains and hopefully get them stopped in time. Following these simple instructions could not just save your car, but potentially save lives too!

Are Recent UTA Incidents Cause for Concern?

The Utah Transit Authority has suffered from a rash of collisions and derailments in the last 18 months. These incidents differ in nature from the more common incidents—collisions with vehicles and people at intersections and grade crossings, people trespassing on the right-of-way, individuals attempting suicide, etc.—in that they represent a possible failure of UTA’s equipment and/or safety protocols.


Photo: KSL TV

Photo: KSL TV

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Out of service Blue Line cars were northbound from Draper on their way back to the yard, when somehow the last car became uncoupled. Upon coming uncoupled the car’s brakes automatically engaged bringing the car to a stop as it approached the 8000 South grade crossing in Midvale. Assuming that it had been parked, the car’s controls shut off its exterior and interior lights.

A few minutes later, the next northbound Blue Line headed from Draper to Salt Lake Central approaches the stopped, unoccupied, dark car. Prior to encountering the car, the operator of the northbound Blue Line train first passes a yellow signal—warning that the next signal will be red—and then stops just before the red signal. The train’s operator radioed the dispatcher for permission to proceed past the red signal and was granted that permission. Moments later, the train’s operator spots the stopped car on the tracks ahead, activates the emergency brake, and collides with the stopped car at 31 mph. Two passengers are taken to the hospital with minor injuries. The operator and remaining passengers are examined at the scene. Despite the collision, neither the stopped car nor the two cars of the northbound train derail. The damage caused by the collision was report to the FRA as $3 million.

As reported by KSL, UTA issued a statement on November 13, which focuses on an investigation of the failure of the coupler. Absent is any attention paid to the procedures that allowed the northbound Blue Line train to proceed past the red signal, while assuming that the red signal was simply reporting a “false occupancy” of the tracks ahead. While it is disconcerting for a car to decouple from a train, it is irresponsible to override a safety mechanism based simply on the assumption of a glitch!

Sources: Deseret NewsFox 13KSLFRA Report


Photo: Michelle Tessier, Deseret News

Photo: Michelle Tessier, Deseret News

Thursday, June 26, 2014

A northbound Blue Line train headed to Salt Lake Central had just left Arena Station and headed towards the junction near the intersection of 400 West and South Temple, where Blue Line trains head to Salt Lake Central while Green Line trains head to the Airport. As the two-car train proceeded through the switch, somehow the switch changed directions just after the first set of wheels of the first car passed over it. This literally created a situation, where part of the first car was headed to Salt Lake Central and part of it was headed to the Airport. Both cars remained coupled, and the first car became derailed, while the second car remained on the tracks. One passenger was taken to the hospital with minor injuries. It is still unclear what caused the switch to malfunction while the train was passing through it. Since the derailment occurred in a street right-of-way rather than a traditional railroad right-of-way, no FRA (Federal Railroad Administration) accident report was required to be filed.

Sources: Deseret News4 UtahFox 13


Photo: Jay Dortzbach/KSL TV

Photo: Jay Dortzbach/KSL TV

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Just south of Central Pointe Station, two trains collided at the junction, where the Green Line converges with the Red and Blue Lines. A northbound Blue Line train headed to Salt Lake Central collided with a Green Line train headed to the Airport. Photos appear to show that the Green Line train was one car ahead of the Blue Line train, which caused the second car of the Green Line train to derail. There are two possible causes of the collision: 1. Human error—the operator of one of the trains passed a red signal and continued through the junction. 2. A failure of the interlocking system, which gave both trains a signal to proceed through the junction. This collision will require that an accident report be filed with the FRA.

Sources: Deseret NewsKSLFox 13


Despite these recent incidents, traveling by public transportation is still considerably safer than driving. However, the nature of these incidents question whether UTA needs to perform an evaluation of its systems and protocols.

Five Things I Hope to Hear Less Often in 2015

“High speed rail won’t work in the US, because our density is too low.”
Density definitely matters when deciding which transit mode is appropriate (40-foot bus on an hourly headway vs. a ten-car subway train on 5-minute headways), especially for local trips. However, the longer the journey, the less density surrounding the stations will ridership levels. If this density fallacy were true, only the people living around airports would fly!7S5_Hangars

“Spending taxpayer funds to support transit is a wasteful luxury, because we already have a system of cars and highways.”
This is one of the typical arguments put forth by Randal O’Toole and others at the Cato Institute. It makes several false assumptions. Chief among them are that the system of cars and highways: 1. works well, 2. pays for itself, 3. exerts no negative externalities on society, 4. is accessible to all, and 5. is what people want.BYf4J7CCUAAM0Wg

“People are too in love with their cars.”
We are? Really???lead_large

“People don’t want to walk and ride bikes.”
Every year people pay a lot of money to visit highly walkable places like Disneyland. These places tend to be visited more by those Americans living in the less walkable suburbs. When it comes to biking, all I have are two words: Amsterdam and Copenhagen.Disneyland_Main_Street

“If transit comes to my neighborhood, crime will increase.”
This one especially bothers me, since I’ve seen transit proposals die because of it. It shows how wild people will allow their imaginations to run, while at the same time denying themselves the benefits that should be blatantly obvious to them. Somehow I just can’t imagine someone breaking in to a home, stealing a TV, and then riding away on a train!doggie-door

So I was in a sour mood when I wrote this.  It was originally titled “Bullshit,” but I changed the title, since I didn’t want to scare away potential readers.  I figured that I should start 2015 off right and do some ranting. 😉 LOL


Streetcars and Salt Lake City’s S-Line

Just as the debate over whether Pluto qualifies as a planet continues to rage, so rages the debate over whether Salt Lake City’s S-Line qualifies as a streetcar or as light rail.  Yesterday Matt Johnson of Greater Greater Washington published an article titled “See America’s streetcar systems at the same scale” which featured the following beautiful diagram.

Noticeably missing from the list is Salt Lake City.  Matt was nice enough to include the following explanation for its absence.

The Sugar House “Streetcar” in Salt Lake City is really a light rail service, though it’s branded as a streetcar by the agency. Since it runs in an exclusive right-of-way and uses the same vehicles as the rest of Salt Lake’s light rail system, I did not include it in the map.

Well, I still wanted to see how the S-Line compares to the other systems, so I made the following “slight” modification to Matt’s diagram. 😉


Less than an hour after I published this post, Matt tweeted the following:

So here’s what the updated diagram looks like:


Thanks Matt. :)

Malls and Walk Scores

This afternoon I discovered an article titled “The 10 highest sales-generating malls in the U.S.” on Fortune.  I instantly became curious what these malls’ relationship was with walkability.  Almost as instantly I realized that Walk Score could allow me to quickly quantify the malls’ relative walkabilities.

Summary of findings: with the exception of the Woodbury Common Premium Outlets, the malls all had a walk score exceeding 50!  Here is a table of the 10 malls sorted by walk score:

Walk Score Transit Score Bike Score Fortune Rank Mall
98 96 97 3 Pioneer Place
92 62 57 2 The Grove
82 75 59 9 Ala Moana Center
78 63  – 6 Aventura Mall
62  –  – 1 Bal Harbour Shops
57 27 34 7 The Mall at Millenia
55 42 62 8 Orlando Premium Outlets
51 53 53 5 Forum Shops at Caesars
51  –  – 10 The Mall At Short Hills
27  –  – 4 Woodbury Common Premium Outlets

So then I became curious what the various walk scores for Utah’s malls would be.  Below is the table sorted by walk score:

Walk Score Transit Score Bike Score Fortune Rank Name
93 70 85  – City Creek Center
85 52 96 Trolley Square
80 70 90  – The Gateway Mall
78 50  –  – The Junction
72 36  –  – Newgate Mall
72  –  –  – Cache Valley Mall
69  –  –  – University Mall
69  –  –  – Layton Hills Mall
65 54  –  – Valley Fair Mall
64  –  –  – Fashion Place Mall
62 43  –  – Provo Towne Center
56  –  –  – South Towne Center
51  –  –  – Red Cliffs Mall
48 23  –  – The District
38  –  –  – Station Park

Obviously Walk Score is not a perfect system for evaluating walkability.  I feel that it is too heavily weighted towards nearby amenities and doesn’t pay enough attention to the quality of the walk.  However, it does provide quick results and makes it simple and easy to compare locations.

The Evolution of UTA’s Rail System [DRAFT]

The Utah Transit Authority will celebrate the 15th anniversary of the opening of its first light rail line in December 2014, which started with a 15-mile segment and quickly expanded to the beautiful 135-mile system that we have today.  Since no one has taken the time to actually put together a document to chronicle the system’s expansion, I decided to take on the task and am now releasing the draft that I put together in August.

The resulting “atlas” is 14 pages (25 mb) and can be downloaded here:
http://countingpantographs.org/files/UTA_Atlas_DRAFT.pdf  It can also be viewed and downloaded using Scribd, although viewing on Scribd greatly reduces its quality:
https://www.scribd.com/doc/237967265/The-Evolution-of-UTA-s-Rail-System-DRAFT  You can check out the first and last pages below:


Page 1


Page 14

I’m still wanting to make some tweaks on the map and would appreciate feedback.  Even though my creation isn’t the typical transit map since it’s been created to scale, I’m also hoping to get some feedback from Cameron Booth of Transit Maps.  I chose a scale map rather than a schematic diagram, since I wanted to give viewers an idea of the actual distances being connected by the rail system.  For those who are interested, I created it using ArcGIS with data from Utah’s AGRC combined with my own knowledge and a few details clarified using Wikipedia.