Weekend Links

» This week’s big news. Open thread in the comments.

Follow my Twitter account (@ttpolitic) to get news in real time.


  • Washington, D.C. will abandon its Clear Channel-sponsored Smartbike bike share system (with 10 stations and 100 bikes) in favor of 1,100 Montréal Bixi bikes, which are now becoming the world standard, having been sold to Ottawa, Minneapolis, Boston, London, and Toronto. The system will spread across Washington and Arlington with over 100 stations.

On The Transport Politic:

Can we fund new transportation?

  • Christopher Leinberger argues in The Atlantic that private developers could play an important role in developing new transit system, just as they did a century ago, but that the federal government has put up roadblocks preventing them from doing so. Jarrett Walker on Human Transit writes that that kind of talk ignores the fact that most of that development was built on greenfields. Alex Block suggests value capture as an effective was to leverage private investment. I argue in Next American City that for the purposes of democracy, planning for new transit should remain in public hands.
  • On the California High-Speed Rail Blog, Robert Cruickshank asks President Obama to solidify his support for high-speed rail, expressing a fear that the program could die just a few years after it was announced.
  • The Ford Foundation dedicates $200 million to regional planning grants.

Buses in place of rail?

  • Human Transit on FTA Chief Rogoff’s arguments in favor of maintenance over capacity increases this week. And, on that matter, a piece from Jarrett Walker positing that Ottawa’s BRT program was never fully completed and that my arguments this week in favor of its transition to light rail would apply just as well to building a new downtown bus tunnel.
  • Despite recent successes — Maryland’s MARC commuter rail has produced record ridership — former Republican Governor Bob Ehrlich, now running for that office again, has announced that he would scrap light rail for the proposed Red and Purple Lines if he makes it back into the people’s mansion.

New Starts!

  • Denver’s East and Gold Lines, being built using a PPP management and financing structure, may include one-track sections if the two bidders get their way.
  • The Source: Congressman Henry Waxman, once a serious opponent of a subway under L.A.’s Westside, is now arguing that the entire line — from Wilshire and Western to UCLA — be submitted to the FTA for consideration in one big step.
  • Second Avenue Sagas announces that New York City’s DOT will finally begin a study of a streetcar line between Red Hook and Downtown Brooklyn. Note that Brooklyn has plenty of ideal routes for streetcars, but the Red Hook corridor isn’t really one of them.
  • Las Vegas, previously the domain of a fight between conventional rail-based DesertXpress and the California-Nevada Maglev, now gets another competitor for the route: Desert Lightning, which would also include a link to Phoenix.

Image above: Track plan for Denver’s East and Gold Lines, according to Mountain-Air Transit Partners (one of two teams hoping to win PPP contract), from RTD FasTracks

30 replies on “Weekend Links”

Why would Denver even consider operating its planned heavy rail on single track? Are they hoping to duplicate Austin’s Capital Metro Rail? Making the routes single tracked even a small part of the way will put a tight cap on the lines’ maximum capacities. Transit wise, one year is a short time, why not be patient and wait the extra year for the best possible system? Being among the few EMU lines in North America, the two lines have quite a bite more potential than usual diesel electric commuter rail that shares track with freight and is limited do to the physical limitations of using diesel electric propulsion.

Having single-track segments is not really a problem, if they (or the double track segments) are located at the right place. I know of several single-track lines with 10 minute intervals, and they operate stable.

Of course, if the capacity needed gets beyond that, double tracking will eventually become a necessity (and then, it is the question whether it would not be cheaper to do so to begin with.

Speaking of “eventually.” A post not long ago reported on a plan for Colorado to have HSR running Denver International Airport-Union Station-Colorado Springs-Pueblo as well as thru the Rockies to serve the ski resorts. A question then was, would the DIA-Union Station HSR line somehow be piggybacked onto the planned RTD East Line? Could that desired segment still offer complementary service, or is it doomed to be unnecessarily duplicative? Does Colorado’s busy right hand even know, or care, what the left hand is dreaming of?

What is the Desert Lightning? How does it differ from the DesertXpress, other than reaching Phoenix.

While Denver’s Fastracks is in a bit of a financial pickle and will inevitably make short-sighted, but money-saving choices in the short-term, it is at least getting noticed. This does not appear to be true of Denver B-Cycle.

In contrast with Washington DC, which you report is going to implement a 1100 bike/100 station plan; Denver already HAS a 40 station/400 bike system which is currently the largest bike-sharing system in the United States. Admittedly, I’m a bike fan, especially in a sunny, dry, relatively flat city like Denver, but this WAY more fun to use that I ever thought it would be. I can take off on some errands and not worry about finding or paying for parking and it’s FUN! My biggest fear is that it’s not big enough to sustain itself and that enough people won’t be tempted to sign up and try it until it’s too late. Let’s talk about the good things in alternative transport that are already in motion, in addition to those to come.

Despite common wisdom, it seem that Denver has the best bike network of any city in the US, primarily because of of its extensive, paved bike trail network. Despite this, there is a lot Denver should still do. For a bike sharing system like B-cycle to work, there must be a very solid bike network already in place, this includes not just bike lanes, but safe, physically separated ones:,to qualify these must be safe enough for children of age 6 to ride on, the lack of such standards for bike lanes in Denver is evidenced by the fact that B-cycle is not open to minors. In addition, bike sharing programs are especially useful in cities with extensive mass transit, as a means to solving the last mile problem, unfortunately as of today, bike stations are almost entirely concentrated in the downtown core of Denver, thus limiting their interaction with transit. Along with the implementation of Fastraks it will be important to also put bike stations at all transit stops, old and new.

I think it is VERY wrong, and VERY short-sighted, to even consider a new rail transit construction with ANY portion of the line being single tracked. One derailment, accident, or weather related failure closes a good portion of, or the entire line. And if traffic eventually increases, you’ll have to go through the trouble of building a second track anyway; and at a MUCH higher cost than creating both tracks during the initial construction, with possible infrastructure clearing then required for the wider ROW.

The obvious question is, how often do you plan on trains derailing or having accidents?

The capacity issue is much more pressing. Single-track systems can maintain 10-minute intervals, if there are double-track passing sections and if the trains are reliable. But then adding a second track is expensive, and for a high-frequency system, two tracks from the start would be best.

Reliability is another issue. Running an effective single-track system requires schedule discipline, which may not be needed elsewhere in the system. For urban rail, constant headways are more important than constant intervals; German, Austrian, Swiss, and Japanese systems still try to run on time, but there are successful systems, for example the Moscow Metro, that don’t even bother. Unless there are timed transfers, the need for high reliability is an expensive headache.

While you certainly don’t PLAN on accidents or derailments, a double rather than single track line gives more contingency in case of whatever kind of disruption. Also, tight adherence to schedules works in Germany, Japan, or Switzerland. I ride US (Chicago – CTA) public transit ALL the time; tight schedules? With US I-don’t-give-a-f**k workers? BE SERIOUS – they can’t find their own @$$holes, how could they even attempt to keep Swiss-like schedules?

Contingency alone is a poor reason to multi-track. Most accidents would likely put both tracks out of service, and dealing with a couple days’ disruption every few years should easily be cheaper than the capital cost of double-tracking.

It’s not as though US workers are genetically unable to “give a f**k”; this generally varies from employer to employer, and can be corrected with the right management. In extreme cases you could even do something like make the majority of employees’ salaries a bonus based on the schedule adherence of the trains they interact with.

Note that the Denver lines will be operated by a PPP, which is likely to be able to take a harder line with labour than government agencies generally can. Furthermore it will (if I understand correctly) be the same PPP that builds the lines, so it should already be considering the tradeoff between the capital costs of double-tracking and the operating costs of schedule-adherence.

This is not to say that single-tracking is a good idea, though, especially given RTD’s history of underestimating ridership.

The fact that Chicago transit sucks doesn’t mean that every greenfield light rail in the US has to be built to low standards.

What Anon256 calls an extreme case is actually standard in multiple countries. For example, SNCF gives drivers a bonus if the TGV is less than 5 minutes late. Switzerland and Japan go the opposite route: drivers are fined or reprimanded if they’re late.

Also, in Japan there’s a certain pride among drivers (especially on Shinkansen) that they operate trains that have on-time performance second to none, which encourages high standards.

I have my doubts about anything similar happening among American train operators — Americans (and to a lesser extent, French and Germans) seem to be more concerned about salary and overtime than pride in their work.

Well, German train punctuality isn’t far behind Japanese punctuality. Germany issues the same delay certificates as Japan when the trains are late more than 5 minutes. Like Japan, the German-speaking countries have cultivated a culture of precision and order, enforced with managerial pressure on drivers to be on time and fines for drivers who aren’t. (This is not strictly linguistic – Geneva’s train punctuality is Swiss, not French.)

That’s my question – will the ROW allow for double tracking the full lines from the start? Will the key bridges and underpasses be wide enough?

If so, no bid deal, as adding double track will be relatively easy then. If not, I have a serious concern.

According to the linked article:
“David Parker, spokesman for Denver Transit Partners, said via email that his team also has proposed single-tracking about six miles of the project to cut the size of the grade-separation structures where the East corridor passes Interstate 70 and E-470.”
So this isn’t just about waiting until later to put in the second track; it sounds like the whole point is to build smaller bridges and underpasses. Definitely a bad idea.

The article mentions that it won’t affect performance, but what does that mean? What’s the parameter – what kind of service frequency do they have to meet?

If that is a six mile stretch between stations, what would be the smallest clockface frequency that would work, even on a rigid timetable? 20min would seem to – a transit speed of 36mph including crossing headway. 15min? That requires a transit speed of 48mph, maybe doable if its a 60mph train. 12min would need a transit speed of 60mph, and 10min clockface would seem out of reach without an island platform in the middle of the segment and a rigid timetable.

The six miles in question have no stops on them, so trains would be able to go relatively fast, say 60 mph.

However, a train can’t enter the single-track section just as the train in the opposite direction exits it; there needs to be a safety margin, which depends on stopping distance. At higher speeds, the stopping distance starts to become significant.

However, a train can’t enter the single-track section just as the train in the opposite direction exits it; there needs to be a safety margin, which depends on stopping distance.

Precisely: as I said, “a transit speed of 36mph including crossing headway”

If the reverse direction train is stopped when the first train clears the section, it can indeed move to enter as soon as the switch is completed, but of course then it is entering from a dead stop, which also reduces the effective transit speed below maximum speed.

That is one reason for two platform tracks on single track lines run on a rigid timetable – I believe one example is in Sweden.

On the longest single-track section, this is exactly what the plan is – two tracks near and at the stations, one track in between. The single-track stations are on shorter segments, which are not the limiting factor to capacity.

And after they build it with ONE track, and after the trains run so UNRELIABLY as to be UNUSABLE; then they’ll ask “Oh, why don’t we have any passengers”?

Well DUH’, we tried to tell you – hot air balloons made of lead don’t work, you geniuses!

Bruce, Nice work in laying out the problems as usual. And in principle I really like the idea of voting on where to place the Cinci station for the 3-Cs, the Amtrak Cardinal service, and future commuter and light rail lines. Indeed, the planning also needs to take serious account of the eventual extension of the Midwest Rail route Chicago-Indianapolis-Cincinnati, which you did not discuss here. But in practice, the matter is so complicated that I couldn’t quite figure out how I would vote myself! And I’m really into this stuff.

Meanwhile I’m dismally pessimistic that the future, long-run solution will be made ever more expensive by some shortcut, quick-fix decision driven largely by the shortage of funds for rail investment in this deepening worldwide economic slump.

(Commenting here because I couldn’t see HOW to Comment on the linked site.)

Its a community blog, so you may have to register to comment. Its also up at dkos and ProgressiveBlue and

The idea on the vote was just for the 3C terminus … on Chicago / Indianapolis / Cincinnati if you can get to the terminus from Sharonville, you can get a terminating Chicago / Indianapolis / Cincinnati train into the same station.

Its more important in the big picture to have a station location decision that builds rather than erodes the political legitimacy of the 3C project and its incremental upgrade to the 110mph trunk of the Ohio Hub

Bruce, with plethora of blog sites where you publish the same post, it would make sense to disable comments at all sites but one and redirect readers to comment there. :)

Community blogs don’t really work that way – most members of the communities that are given second class status would take offense.

At one time I put a lot of effort into giving crosslinks, but never saw that I was getting any benefit from the crosslinks. Maybe I could use links so that I can track whether any of the cross links are being used.

I’m not sure the commuter rail decision is that relevant. If your region doesn’t have an extensive local rail network, suburban commuter rail is going to underperform. And nowadays the best commuter systems are those that serve multiple urban job centers. Obviously there should be easy commuter/intercity transfers, but the decision of where to place the hub is based on different criteria for each type of service. For examples:

– There could be multiple commuter hubs – for example, three commuter lines with only pairwise transfer points. Intercity trains are going to stop at only one station.

– Commuters are (I believe) more tolerant of timed transfers than intercity travelers.

– Commuter hubs need two tracks – four if they’re really busy. Intercity hubs may need more if they are terminals.

– Commuter hubs need to be placed to have maximally convenient connections to the major suburban corridors. Intercity hubs need to connect to the next city over.

– Commuter hubs can function if they’re dark and dinky: Shinjuku, Chatelet-Les Halles, Penn Station. Intercity hubs are expected to look nicer.

– Intercity travelers are more likely to take a taxi from the station if the connecting transit sucks. Commuters would drive all the way instead.

The streetcar is not a commuter rail system as such – sure there would be commuting on it between Over the Rhine and Downtown, but its transport task is far more diversified than primarily commuting.

And indeed, a main of convenient interchange with a so-called “commuter rail” system and HSR is to expand the diversity of the transport service during off-peak hours … and, indeed, during peak hours as well, since Start of Business arrivals that would take the “commuter” rail from a downtown interchange station would more often be travelling counter to the dominant flow.

Cincinnati had previous proposed a commuter rail, light rail, and streetcar system … only the streetcar system survived the defeat of the measure in the middle of the last decade.

If you are referring to the long section I quoted regarding the Cincinnati Transit Center, it was DESIGNED for a commuter rail system and the light rail system from the NE to Covington to run through it and the streetcar to pass over it, making for an excellent intermodal. It was, however, designed to exclude intercity passenger trains.

Now, Ohio has Federal funding for intercity passenger trains, and Cincinnati is 2/3 of the way to funding the Streetcar … but as far as the trains that the CTC was designed for, no immediate prospect.

In the final section, I did propose taking over parts of the dormant light rail and commuter rail corridors for Rapid Streetcars, but that of course partly anticipates that otherwise the light rail and commuter rail corridor proposals are likely to remain dormant.

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