Posts Tagged 'light rail'

The French: masters of the train

Cable Car at Doha International Airport (planned)Switching Modes has launched a new website that explores how each era of the railway began in France, not as a new technology, but as a movement. This new website looks at the history of steam engines, the creation of the Paris Métro and the subsequent creation of the RER. Then the website looks into the introduction of the TGV and the next-generation of high-speed rail, the AGV. For each of these technologies the website discusses who made it, and why. Then it refers to the historical context of the trains in France. Finally, the website reveals how each era of the railway in France has become a model for other rail systems around the world.

The French history of rail is explicative of more than a chronological history – it shows that these projects take a national commitment. I encourage anyone who feels that the rail system in America is lacking to read on about French rail as a model for the world >>>.

© Brian A. Tyler and Switching Modes, 2009.
Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this website’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Brian Tyler and SwitchingModes.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

New BART cars: demo model by 2014

New BART carsBART is moving forward with its’ fleet replacement. The full roll out is expected to take 20 years and cost $3.2 billion. The new trains will feature more doors, smaller seats, and more standing area. BART board members will meet this Thursday to discuss how to begin moving forward with the plan.

Demo units are should be rolling by 2014 if BART plans go to plan (they very often don’t). A fleet of 20 cars could be rolling by 2017. By 2028 BART plans to have all the new cars on the tracks.

New BART cars

The fleet replacement is likely to bring out some interesting designs because BART trains are longer, wider and faster than any other metro system in the world. For these reasons the fleet replacement will also be more expensive than other fleet replacements because the new cars will have to be designed from scratch. Some elements from the original design may be used, but because BART used new technology in the original train design the technology has some flaws. Now will be the chance to work those flaws out – the new cars won’t just be cosmetically different.

Innovative designs by Kistel

Here are list of some of the changes that can be expected with the new cars:


  • Independent axles: this should help eliminate screetching sounds around corners and reduce maintenance.
  • More doors: this should reduce dwell times at stations by getting passengers in and out faster.
  • Smaller seats: BART uses larger seats than other metro systems. Reducing the seat size will allow more passengers to board the train.
  • More standing space: In addition to smaller seats, there may be fewer seats so that more passengers can stand.
  • Improved ATC (automated train control systems): this could allow for driverless operation and lower headway times. This means lower operational costs and more trains. It also means more space for passengers on the trains.
  • Visual Displays: passengers have complained about not being able to see what station they are at. New display boards would display station names, time and other relevant information. These displays may be flat panel TV screens that allow other information to be shown, possibly advertisements and news.
  • New look: BART prides itself in its’ image. The new trains will probably look sleek.
  • Wireless Connectivity: BART has already began rolling out a WiFi system. They have also been aggressive in providing coverage for cell phone carriers. The new trains may improve connectivity options.
  • Plastic Seats: the comfortable cushioned BART seats are expensive to maintain and hard to clean. Plastic seats can solve these problems and make the cars lighter.
  • Articulated cars: the new cars may be linked together without the door between cars. This requires putting the train axles at the joint of the cars, but allows passengers to move more freely between cars and increases space for passengers.
  • Lighter weight: although BART used advanced technology when the trains were built, new materials and design technologies may allow the cars to be lighter. This would reduce maintenance costs on both the cars and the tracks.
  • Green technology: there is likely to be some element to the new cars that is ‘green’.

UPDATE 5-7-2009: Check out the link to the BART’s New Rail Cars page.

UPDATE 5-8-2009: Take a look at what the next generation of BART cars might look like in this video (July 17th, 2008).

IMAGE CREDIT: Top right, BART; middle left, CBS news

SF transit fares rise to $2: roadways remain free

Paying More For This?Following the lead of transit agencies around the country the San Francisco Municipal Transit Agency (SFMTA), the agency that operates Muni, will raise fares by fifty cents and cut some services beginning July 1st. The new fare will be $2 and there will also be an increase in the price of a Fast Pass, the transit agency’s monthly pass. Like other transit agencies around the country the SFMTA is faced with falling government subsidies in the wake of the economic crisis and needs to increase fares to cover operating costs.

The problem is not that $2 is too high for transit. The problem is that driving a personal vehicle is too cheap. Despite what many people think, using public roads and freeways is not a right – it’s a luxury. The government doesn’t provide limitless free TV, it doesn’t guarantee that anyone can have a good job, a college degree, or for that matter free health care. Why should limitless roads and freeways be viewed as a right when these other services are not?

It’s true that the private sector would not build a system of roads and freeways the way the government has and there are some fees for using roadways (such as the gas tax and vehicle registration fees). However, it’s a mistake to assume that simply because a service is public, that it should remain essentially free- It’s OK for the government to make money, or at least receive some revenue for a service, especially if it can send a price signal for people to use a good or service in an efficient quantity.

The problem with the SFMTA announcement is that it sends the wrong price signal. Raising fares to cover transit operating costs is something that needs to be done, and that’s OK. However, fare hikes need to be complemented by increased transit assistance for the needy, markedly improved transit services, and above all by roadway toll fees – toll fees that are something close to the true cost of using the private automobile on a roadway. If such a toll were charged people would make efficient decisions about which mode of transportation to use and transit would be relatively more attractive. But, raising fares on transit without simultaneously raising fees for the automobile only makes the car ever more attractive. This is the wrong direction for San Francisco and America.

There is hope on the horizon: keep your eye out for the vehicle-miles tax (VMT). It’s what transit needs to be competitive.

IMAGE CREDIT: Source Flickr, by Steve Rhode.

© Brian A. Tyler and SwitchingModes.com, 2009.
Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this website’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Brian Tyler and SwitchingModes.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The HOT Lane: San Francisco Bay Area MTC moves forward with congestion pricing

The MTC’s Plan
On Wednesday the MTC of the San Francisco Bay Area boldly added an 800 mile high-occupancy toll, or HOT lane, network to its 25-year regional plan. These new lanes act as High-Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) (a.k.a. carpool) lanes but when there is extra capacity it is sold using an electronic toll. Traffic always keeps moving in the HOT lane because the lane uses congestion pricing: as more users begin to use the lane the toll rate automatically rises to deter more cars from using the lane before the decelerating effects of congestion set in. The first phase of this $3.7 billion project will install FasTrak electronic toll collection sensors on the entire 400-mile HOV lane network already in place in the San Francisco Bay Area. This will effectively convert the HOV lanes to HOT lanes. Subsequent phases will widen freeways to makes space for new HOT lanes rather than convert mixed flow lanes to HOT lanes.


Good for Transit? – Yes.
Besides having a really a sleek acronym, HOT lanes are a rather attractive idea. The MTC claims that the funds raised from the tolls will help improve the HOV network (now be called the HOT lane network) and that this will reduce congestion and emissions, and provide “a reliable travel option for express bus and carpools.” While, the MTC is somewhat amiss to claim the plan will “reduce” emissions, these new lanes do help transit gain a strategic edge over the automobile: In a way these lanes act as a kind of transit-first guideway because even when there is congestion on the mixed-flow lanes, and people really want to use the HOT lanes, the prices of the HOT lane will rise deterring automobile drivers but never the buses that will be whisking by parked cars on the freeways.


This might sound great, but it’s not the primary way the HOT lane network will support transit. Why? Rail. Take a look at the MTC’s Regional Rail Plan released last September and compare it to the Regional Hot-Lane Network announced today – there are clear similarities: these rail corridors parallel and compliment the freeway system. This is no coincidence – these corridors were designed to work as a transportation system that breaks the funding divide between roads and transit: the MTC envisions the HOT lane networking partially funding their nearly $50 billion rail proposal (see page 25).


Building more freeways is not the right way forward, but it’s (somewhat) inevitable for the time being. At the very least HOT Lanes provide a way to recoup the costs of, and even earn a profit from, freeway expansions. Transportation projects can earn money – the bridges in the Bay area alone earn over $400 million per year. If the profits from HOV lanes are used to put transportation on the fast track then they’re an excellent idea.


What’s Next?

There are gaps in the MTC’s HOT lane network, mainly either in San Francisco or directly connected to it. This is due to the high cost and infeasibility of adding lanes to these roads and bridges. Thus, the only way to expedite any sort of HOT lane network on these sections of roadway is to convert existing mixed-use lanes to HOT lanes. This has been studied, but it isn’t being done because of the experience that Santa Monica had in ‘taking away’ mixed flow lanes for use as HOV lanes.


Although the conversion of lanes in Santa Monica initially failed to reduce congestion and lawsuits were filed, by the time the lanes were converted back to mixed flow lanes, the HOV lanes had begun to work – people had switched to carpooling and taking the bus, it just took time. While this website promotes transit, there’s nothing wrong with getting freeway traffic to flow again. Let’s hope the MTC’s project is a success because if it is it may open the door to converting mixed-flow lanes to HOT lanes. Not only could this create a huge windfall for transit it would help avoid the tragedy of the commons on our freeways – a situation where nobody can get anywhere at all.






© Brian A. Tyler and SwitchingModes.com, 2009.
Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this website’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Brian Tyler and SwitchingModes.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Patience Is A Virtue

On the slow track

San Francisco’s Central Subway Delayed Two-Years
The San Francisco Examiner reports that the Central Subway project will be delayed two-years and cost $278 million more ($1.58b total) then expected. There is some ‘good’ news though: the federally mandated study that arrived at these figures gave a green light to project funding thus allowing project officials to comment that, “This project is very much on track.”

At SwitchingModes.com we promote Putting Transit on the Fast Track. While we support the Central Subway project, we are dismayed at this rate of progress. Of course, that is just our subjective opinion. That is why we calculated the expected average speed of the 1.7 mile project from now until the 2018 completion date announced today: The project is moving along 0.179 miles per year; 0.0148 miles per month; 0.000041 miles per day; and just 0.00000169 miles per hour. This is just 2.566 inches per day! In other words, the Central Subway might be on track, but it’s certainly not the fast track.

© Brian A. Tyler and SwitchingModes.com, 2009.
Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this website’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Brian Tyler and SwitchingModes.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.



© Brian A. Tyler and SwitchingModes.com, 2009.
Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material and/or concepts without express and written permission from this websites’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Brian Tyler and SwitchingModes.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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