Category Archives: Transportation

Amtrak Adventure

One great thing about Amtrak is their rewards program. One great thing about Amtrak’s rewards program is the Amtrak Rewards Credit Card, which earns you points on your purchases that can be redeemed for travel on Amtrak. I have redeemed a bunch of points and have put together a 31-night, 11,453-mile trip the second half of April and first half of May. Click on the maps to enlarge them.

Leg 1:
Train 6 – California Zephyr
Saturday, April 15 – 3:30 am – Salt Lake City, Utah
Half a night, breakfast, lunch, dinner, night 1, and breakfast on the California Zephyr.
Sunday, April 16 – 11:41 am – Galesburg, Illinois
1,446 miles
31 hours, 11 minutes

Night 2 will be in Galesburg, Illinois. I’ve passed through Galesburg several times on the California Zephyr and have always wanted to take a look around. Staying a night here also allows me to take a ride on the Illinois Zephyr and experience another state-sponsored Amtrak route.

Leg 2:
Train 380 – Illinois Zephyr
Monday, April 17 – 7:38 am – Galesburg, Illinois
Breakfast on the Illinois Zephyr.
Monday, April 17 – 10:35 am – Chicago, Illinois
162 miles
2 hours, 57 minutes

5-hour layover in Chicago. Amtrak layovers are the exact opposite of airport layovers, since you’re downtown. Unless the weather is bad, I’ll go for a ride on Divvy along the river and along the lake.

Leg 3:
Train 850 – Hoosier State
Monday, April 17 – 5:45 pm – Chicago, Illinois
Dinner on the Hoosier State.
Monday, April 17 – 11:50 pm – Indianapolis, Indiana
196 miles
5 hours, 5 minutes

Night 3 will be in Indianapolis, Indiana. I enjoyed Indianapolis when I visited there in October 2015. On that trip, I arrived on the Hoosier State operated with equipment provided by Iowa Pacific. It will change back to equipment provided by Amtrak in March, and I wanted to see how the change works out. Also, the Indianapolis Cultural Trail is one of the best urban ped/bike trails in the nation and is great to explore on Indiana Pacers Bikeshare.

Leg 4:
Train 50 – Cardinal
Tuesday, April 18 – 11:59 pm – Indianapolis, Indiana
Night 4, breakfast, lunch, and dinner on the Cardinal. Kentucky will be state #28.
Wednesday, April 19 – 9:58 pm – New York City, New York
951 miles
21 hours, 59 minutes

Nights 6, 7, and 8 will be spent in the Big Apple. I’ll have two full days to enjoy it. 🙂 I’m still trying to figure out whether the subway or CitiBike is my favorite way to experience it.

Leg 5:
Train 2203 – Acela Express
Saturday, April 22 – 8:00 am – New York City, New York
Breakfast on the Acela Express.
Saturday, April 22 – 10:57 am – Washington, DC
225 miles
2 hours, 57 minutes

Nights 8, 9, and 10 will be spent in the nation’s capital. I will hopefully arrive in time to participate in the March for Science. I will also be attending the Spring Council Meeting of the National Association of Railroad Passengers. I also love riding around on Capital Bikeshare.

Leg 6:
Train 29 – Capitol Limited
Tuesday, April 25 – 4:05 pm – Washington, DC
Dinner, night 11, and breakfast on the Capitol Limited.
Wednesday, April 26 – 8:45 am – Chicago, Illinois
780 miles
17 hours, 40 minutes

6-hour layover in Chicago. More Divvy rides.

Leg 7:
Train 3 – Southwest Chief
Wednesday, April 26 – 3:00 pm – Chicago, Illinois
Dinner, night 12, breakfast, lunch, dinner, night 13, and breakfast on the Southwest Chief. Missouri, Kansas, and New Mexico will be states #29, #30, and #31.
Friday, April 28 – 8:15 am – Los Angeles, California
2,265 miles
43 hours, 15 minutes

Night 14 in LA. I plan to ride Metro out to Santa Monica and finally experience the Santa Monica pier. I’ll also give Metro Bike Share a try.

Leg 8:
Train 14 – Coast Starlight
Saturday, April 29 – 10:10 am – Los Angeles, California
Lunch, dinner, night 15, breakfast, lunch, and dinner on the Coast Starlight.
Sunday, April 30 – 8:12 pm – Seattle, Washington
1,377 miles
34 hours, 2 minutes

Nights 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, and 22 in Seattle. I’m in town to attend the 25th Congress for the New Urbanism. Saturday I’m doing the ferry ride and tour of Victoria, British Columbia.

Leg 9:
Train 507 – Amtrak Cascades
Sunday, May 7 – 2:10 pm – Seattle, Washington
Snacks on the Amtrak Cascades.
Sunday, May 7 – 2:53 pm – Tacoma, Washington
39 miles
43 minutes

Night 23 visiting my uncle in Tacoma.

Leg 10:
Train 11 – Coast Starlight
Monday, May 8 – 10:21 am – Tacoma, Washington
Snacks on the Coast Starlight.
Monday, May 8 – 12:19 am – Kelso, Washington
98 miles
1 hour, 58 minutes

Nights 24, 25, and 26 visiting my mom and stepdad in Longview, Washington.

Leg 11:
Train 501 – Amtrak Cascades
Thursday, May 11 – 9:47 am – Kelso, Washington
Snacks on the Amtrak Cascades.
Thursday, May 11 – 11:05 am – Portland, Oregon
50 miles
1 hour, 18 minutes

5-hour layover in Portland. “The dream of the ‘90s is alive in Portland.” I’ll be sure to ride Biketown.

Leg 12:
Train 28 – Empire Builder
Thursday, May 11 – 4:45 pm – Portland, Oregon
Dinner, night 27, breakfast, lunch, dinner, night 28, breakfast, and lunch on the Empire Builder. North Dakota will be state #32.
Saturday, May 13 – 2:07 pm – Milwaukee, Wisconsin
2,170 miles
43 hours, 22 minutes

Night 29 in Milwaukee. I made a brief visit in October 2015, and I plan to see more of the city on Bublr.

Leg 13:
Train 334 – Hiawatha
Sunday, May 14 – 11:00 am – Milwaukee, Wisconsin
No snack bar on the Hiawatha. 🙁
Sunday, May 14 – 12:29 pm – Chicago, Illinois
86 miles
1 hour, 29 minutes

1-hour layover in Chicago. Just enough time for lunch.

Leg 14:
Train 5 – California Zephyr
Sunday, May 14 – 2:00 pm – Chicago, Illinois
Dinner on the California Zephyr.
Sunday, May 14 – 10:55 pm – Omaha, Nebraska
500 miles
8 hours, 55 minutes

Night 30 in Omaha. My main reason for stopping in Omaha is to make a visit to South Dakota. Early in the morning, I’ll hop on Greyhound and north ride to Sioux City, Iowa, where I’ll rent a bike and ride up the Missouri and Sioux Big Sioux Rivers to North Sioux City, South Dakota, so I can get state #33. In the afternoon, I’ll ride Greyhound back to Omaha and explore on Heartland Bcycle.

Leg 15:
Train 5 – California Zephyr
Monday, May 15 – 11:05 pm – Omaha, Nebraska
Night 31, breakfast, lunch, and dinner on the California Zephyr.
Tuesday, May 16 – 11:05 pm – Salt Lake City, Utah
1,108 miles
25 hours

After my Amtrak Adventure, I will have visited 33 out of 50 states (or two-thirds). In the map above, the states I’ve been to are in yellow, while the states that I haven’t are in grey. Additionally, I still have yet to visit Alaska and Hawaii.

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:

DSC06176

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

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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.
090058

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. 😉
S-Line

Update:

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

So here’s what the updated diagram looks like:

112233

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:

237967265-The-Evolution-of-UTA-s-Rail-System-DRAFT_Page_01

Page 1

237967265-The-Evolution-of-UTA-s-Rail-System-DRAFT_Page_14

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.