IBX Cannot be a Tram

Clay Guse of the NY Daily News reports that in New York, the plans for the Interborough Express connector between Brooklyn and Queens are starting to lean in the direction of light rail. To be very clear, light rail in this context just means running light rail vehicles on infrastructure that is entirely grade-separated, either in the Bay Ridge Branch right-of-way (which has a handful of freight trains and is mostly wide enough for light rail and freight on separate tracks) or on viaducts (over the sections of the branch that are too narrow). I do not think there is any plan to downgrade IBX to a tramway. However, on Twitter I was asked about this anyway: why not make it a tramway, for more on-street flexibility?

What is a tram? Or a streetcar? Or light rail?

A tram or streetcar is a rail vehicle that runs predominantly on-street. The quality of the right-of-way may vary, from full mixed traffic as was traditional, to dedicated lanes that may be shared with buses and emergency traffic, to a grassy median that is no longer usable by road vehicles. But the distinguishing feature of the streetcar is that it runs on a street.

The doesn’t mean the streetcar has to run on-street the entire way. Street running is slow, even with dedicated lanes. Paris’s T3, an orbital tram in the grassy median of the Boulevards des Maréchaux on the outer margin of the city, averages 18 km/h. Berlin’s streetcars average 19 km/h; a handful of central sections are mixed-traffic but most have dedicated lanes, and in outer parts of the city there’s just less traffic and lines are generally faster.

There are two main ways to speed up the streetcar: make it faster in city center via tunneling (called subway-surface, Stadtbahn, or premetro), or make it faster outside city center by finding grade-separated rights-of-way (called tram-trains). Confusing, both subway-surface and tram-train systems are called light rail in the US, and Germany’s most celebrated tram-train, that of Karlsruhe, is also called Stadtbahn. Because these systems have evolved from all-surface streetcars, the separation between them and streetcars is not always perfect, which is why the American distinction between light rail (either subway-surface or tram-train) and streetcar (all on-street) is sometimes muddied in popular reporting.

Can IBX function as a tram variant?

No.

The problem with running an orbital tram parallel to the right-of-way is that there is no good street for it to run on. On the map below, the thick black line denotes the right-of-way that IBX is to use:

Cropped from the official bus map

There are no on-street alternatives to the right-of-way. Brooklyn has three major orbital buses: the B35 on Church, and the B6 and B82. Church is not wide – dedicated lanes there would be contentious and still produce inferior speeds to those of T3, let alone streetcars in less dense cities; it’s a great corridor for dedicated bus lanes, but not for a tram. The B6 and B82 shift between different streets, as do other crosstown routes, like the B1, B3, B8, B9, and B11. Even Kings Highway is only 24 meters wide.

This, in turn, is why IBX is such a great idea: it provides service that the surface bus networks can’t provide, because the quality of rights-of-way is poor unless one uses the Bay Ridge Branch. When the street network is poor, surface transit ridership is suppressed relative to travel demand, which means that a rapid transit service like IBX will overperform any model trained on existing travel volumes.

This is also why no variant with any street running is viable. Not only is there no good street for a streetcar, but also there is no section of a street that is good for a streetcar. The narrow sections of the Bay Ridge Branch right-of-way, mainly the segment between the F and Q trains, don’t parallel any convenient street.

Moreover, subway-surface alignments work by branching the grade-separated core into many surface branches, but there is no good tie-in. Circumferential lines sometimes do branch, but the best use case is when there are major destinations just off the route. This is not the case for IBX: Brooklyn College is on-route. The most significant destination in Brooklyn off the route is Kings County Hospital/SUNY Downstate, which is unusually poorly-served by the street network even by Brooklyn standards, and is therefore only on one bus route, the B12, rather than at the intersection of multiple buses as it ideally should be. There is no viable surface deviation off of the IBX right-of-way that serves it.

So why light rail?

The modal alternatives analysis seems biased in favor of light rail. This, to be clear, is not light rail as a service or infrastructure technology – the plan is to use viaducts wherever the Bay Ridge Branch right-of-way is too narrow for IBX and freight tracks side by side. Rather, the plan is to use light rail vehicles on a service that is entirely rapid transit.

This has precedent in the United States. In the same manner that historic streetcars evolved into subway-surface lines in Boston, Philadelphia, and San Francisco, and into the tram-trains that are called light rail elsewhere (with inspiration from Germany, brought in by American troops serving there in the Cold War), some light rail lines evolve into fully grade-separated rapid transit. It’s uncommon, because usually the parts that are left on the surface are the most difficult to construct, but it does exist. The Green Line in Los Angeles runs LRVs on a fully grade-separated right-of-way, mostly in the median of the 105, and the Gold Line’s initial section to and beyond Pasadena has just 1.5 km of street running, on Marmion Way. In Calgary and Dallas there are plans to bury light rail lines, which could result in fully grade-separated lines that still run LRVs and are locally conceived of as light rail.

But in New York, this is not a wise course of action. Running rapid transit with LRVs is great for a city that has LRVs but not subway trains, like the Los Angeles of the early 1990s. A city with both may potentially still elect to use LRVs if it expects some surface extensions. But New York has large-scale operations and maintenance for subway rolling stock, and none for LRVs. The only light rail in the region is in Jersey City and Newark, which do not share management or maintenance facilities with the city, and couldn’t do the latter even if they wanted to since they’re on the wrong side of the Hudson.

If intermediate-capacity transit is desired, New York could build shorter platforms, only long enough for 4- or 5-car trains. If even less capacity is desired, it could go down to 2-car platforms; the rolling stock would need to be somewhat captive to the line, since the rest of the system runs permanently coupled 4- and 5-car trains, but that’s completely normal for a large subway system, and heavy maintenance facilities can still be shared. I’m wary of reductions in capacity just for the sake of downsizing – this is an entirely above-ground project, so station costs are not as onerous as they are underground – but I can see a case for smaller trains.

I can’t find a good reason for this preference for light rail over subway equipment for what is, by infrastructure and service, rapid transit. I can find many bad ones, of which the most likely is a desire for something different from the subway with all the connotations it has.

But this does not mean that the IBX plan is a tram. It’s not; it’s rapid transit service, which could easily be a normal subway, running LRVs for bad reasons.

54 comments

  1. Andy G

    Worth pointing out that in the feasibility study (https://new.mta.info/document/72081) presented to the public the MTA claimed that light rail would complete the route faster (39 min vs 45 min) than mainline rail vehicles, require fewer takings, and have higher ridership. These time and ridership numbers were never fully explained, but I imagine it’s probably related to them assuming that the IBX would have long dwell times like the LIRR and terrible acceleration performance, even though they explicitly said they would have vehicles with a more subway-like interior layout with more doors.

    • Alon Levy

      Yeah, I think all area rail advocates are assuming the IBX commuter rail option baked in standard bad LIRR practices, like longer dwells than necessary.

  2. Borners

    Thinking wider than IBX and its legacy infrastructure, what the principles that justify using light-rail versus heavy rail on mega-city orbitals? I.e. Paris vs Tokyo? Is it just the expense of building new rights of way/cannibalising legacy infrastracture?

    • Alon Levy

      Yeah, pretty much. Notably, both Paris and Tokyo have a legacy orbital mainline route in the Grande Ceinture and the Musashino Line respectively. Musashino is mainline rail and the Grande Ceinture is downgraded to a tram-train, I think for the following reasons:

      1. Tokyo is so much bigger and more transit-oriented that full-size trains on Musashino can be run at usable frequency.
      2. Musashino is useful as a freight bypass around the city and as a route with some through-service to other mainlines (like Keiyo).
      3. The Grande Ceinture has some useful deviations that encourage the use of a tramway.
      4. Tramways are more extensive in suburban Paris thanks to the extensive inner-suburban lines running on streets (T1, T3) or partly in rights-of-way (T2), so scaling up that mode is easier.

      • Borners

        Not just the Musashino. The Tobu Urban Park line has almost completed double tracking which includes a lot of elevated sections which has allowed expresses to run along it. Osaka not only invested in the Osaka-higashi line but is planning to expand the Monorail southwards. Nagoya thanks to JR Central is unable to use its orbital lines properly.

        Of course there is no rule against mixing strategies. The Croydon trams system is a good choice for South London whereas North of the Thames there are enough legacy freight by passes to enable quite a few more orbitals than the current Overground loop. And the DLR acts as a light-metro intermediate for East London.

        • Borners

          Also Alon how useful is it to have radial lines turn into orbitals at the edges e.g. what the Uxbridge branch of the Piccadilly line should do with the Central Line in Ruslip?

    • Phake Nick

      Tokyo itself have been continuously considering but never realizing plans to build low to medium capacity orbital transit system, like Kannana/Kanhachi monorail plan, although I guess the monorail they have around Tachikawa also count as something similar to that

      • Borners

        The really big missed opportunity was not double tracking the Kawagoe-Hachiko-Sagami lines given how close to capacity the Musashino system is for both freight and passenger (n/b Musashino is widely regarded as very unreliable for commuters). Also at those distances expresses are useful that’s why Tobu’s investing in them for its section.

        • Phake Nick

          Those are even further away than Musashino etc and didn’t really connect big towns even by satellite town standard iirc? And are also losing money like other rural lines. Musashino line trains are still relatively short iirc.

          • Borners

            Omiya, Kawagoe, Haijima, Hachioji, Sagamigahara, Ebina and Chigasaki aren’t small. Certainly more populated than the Omiya-Kashiwa arc Tobu’s double tracking. The only one that’s losing money is the Hachiko line north of Komogawa i.e. the non-orbital section. And the other part was creating a freight bypass since Tokyo is one of the two pinch points for the national network with Kansai. Also I said it was a missed oppurtunity, had they done before 2000 it would have easily paid for itself whereas the current demographic trajectories make everything outside central Tokyo somewhat iffy.

            Only in Tokyo is 8 cars “short”. And the Musashino has a relatively low stop density and lots of missed connections.

  3. wiesmann

    At least in Switzerland, my understanding is that there is a technical difference between tramway and regular rail (beside gauge): tramways have wheels that are designed to rely on the existence of counter-rails. The tramways in Zürich run on gutter shaped tracks even when they are not on roads. The S18 train can run on both tramway and regular tracks.

  4. shirknado

    In the second Town Hall meeting, they claimed that the East New York tunnel was too narrow for LIRR rail vehicles *and* an emergency evacuation platform. Narrower, FRA compliant vehicles such as those on the PATH would be required, whereas as standard LRVs would fit and allow for evacuations with no problem.

    • Alon Levy

      If it’s unsafe to run through the tunnels now without an emergency evacuation platform, why are trains running through them at all?

      • Matthew Hutton

        Well you’d need to staff the trains. That said it’s politically viable to run the existing tube lines without an emergency walkway so I think running them without would be politically viable.

  5. xh

    LA Green Line is a light rail in name only, but actually a medium-capacity rail transit, using the same signalling technology as Copenhagen Metro Line 1 and 2. It was planned to be a UTO line, but only achieved ATO operation for some reason.

  6. Paul L

    Can someone discuss the tradeoffs of using a light metro versus light rail on the IBX?

    • Henry Miller

      I don’t think there is even a clear enough distinction of light metro vs light rail to have this discussion. Light metro is just running cheaper light rail vehicles in metro style service. The devil is in the details – what part of metro service as you taking, and what parts of light rail are you taking – depending on exactly how you choose tradeoffs you will get different answers. Even if there was a clear difference, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t choose something that overlaps each and thus isn’t either. (there are cities that have a single line that is clearly a streetcar in some segments, and clearly a metro in others)

      Be more specific about what you are thinking about and we caan discuss trade offs, but right now you asked too broad a question to answer.

  7. Phake Nick

    Can speed performace of on street light rail be improved by having fewer stops & overtaking? I heard people living in part of Hong Kong with new light rail system (from 1980s-2000s) that said the light rail is now slower than buses in the past because the bus can use expressway to reach destination without stopping while light rail need to make all the stops in-between despite the light rail also go up to 70km/h in operation, and thus it is regrettable that those buses were effectively banned by government after light rail entered service. There is now a heavy rail route that parallel the main section of the light rail, but for trips within the scope of the light rail, the time lost from transfer aka walking between platforms of light rail and heavy rail and waiting for train cancelled out heavy rail’s time saving effect.

    • Alon Levy

      No, overtaking is not possible on a light rail line unless it’s so frequent it can get four tracks, in which case it should be a full-size metro.

      Bus expresses are something different – as you note, they use motorways to bypass arterials, which is really good if you pay the wages of 1980s Hong Kong and completely unviable at the wages of the 2020s; New York’s motorway-using express buses are a giant financial sink, because they have no seat turnover and can’t possibly get any turnover.

      • Phake Nick

        Buses in Hong Kong are still predominately express dominated even as of 2020s, and in fact the bus companies are trying to push for even more express service and reduce non-express on the ground of revenue even now. Non-express buses can have seat turnover during the trip, but each of those short-distance passengers only pay something between HK$3-6, however passengers on an express bus are charged something within the range of HK$7-25 depends on how far the express segment is, which mean the express buses are still going to earn more money than buses that can provide seat turnover. And this is in addition to a recent scheme of off-board fare rebate which allow short distance passengers to deboard before express segment of express buses, and get the excess fare back by using card readers on bus stop, hence allowing seat turnover even on express buses.

        Buses in Hong Kong still remain unsubsidized (other than some discount in fuel tax and road toll and such, but even the toll saving have to go into a separate funds), hence fare is still the main revenue source of bus companies, unlike some American cities where the main source of bus funding is government subsidy causing the extra fare on passenger unable to make meaningful differences in covering the extra operating cost. The extra miles driven by buses on express service cost extra fuel, but is in fact more efficient in term of drivers utilization as well as vehicle utilization because it covered more miles for the same hour of work done by driver, and charging passengers more for that.

  8. Alex Cat3

    I’m guessing that they think LRV’s are cheaper to buy, because American LRV’s are sometimes modified European trains, whereas NY Subway rolling stock is custom designed. Of course, lumping in custom vs off the shelf rolling stock with subway vs light rail would be dumb, but this is New York, so…

  9. Henry

    From what I remember seeing on the interim report, if you look at pictures of the light rail station not only are the platforms shorter, but the light rail assumes that one set of platforms will be accessed by crossing the tracks to the side which actually has the exit.

    This is a really bad idea, but I guess this is the response to “subway stations in New York cost too much.”

    • Henry

      Also, I think for the light rail option, they want to use street running on the section between Middle Village and Jackson Heights, since that area is constrained by freight operations (that yard is not big enough), and Jackson Heights on the ROW is not quite close to the station.

      Also, some of the alternatives for the AirTrain LGA are a light rail from Jackson Heights, and if both of them were light rail you could have through running.

  10. AlexB

    Isn’t there another argument that if we ever want it extended to the Bronx, it’s easiest as a commuter rail branch off the metro north? Doesn’t that decrease the amount of extra tracks and viaducts also since it can share tracks with freight?

  11. david vartanoff

    When IBX was first proposed as Triboro RX, it included using Hell Gate Bridge to access the Bronx. In recent years there has been effort to institute local service along the ex-New Haven between New Rochelle and Penn Station. IBX must be FRA compliant and should be high platform MN-CDOT compatible equipment to implement transfer/through running to the Bronx. Opening new travel options skipping Manhattan for work, leisure, residing in the 3 boros (as well as creating connections to JFK and employment in Nassau County) has immense potential. Cheaping out with LRVs, not only debases the service, but introduces a new maintenance protocol whereas using MN-CDOT eqipment merely increases fleet size.

    • df1982

      Yeah, isn’t the issue with IBX that they want to keep access to the line for freight (for the, what, 4 or 5 freight trains that run through the line per day). So regular subway trains were not considered possible and, excluding the BRT canard, that limited their options to:
      – FRA compliant commuter trains, running on the same track as freight trains in locations where there’s no space for amplification
      – LRVs that would run on-surface in these locations

      The journey time comparisons seem based on bad commuter train operations (long dwell times in particular). But strangely don’t penalise the LRVs for their surface detours.

      The big problem with opting for LRVs would be that it would close off the possibiltiy of extending to the Bronx over the Hell’s Gate bridge, short of shutting down freight operations. The best solution if continuation of freight is required is trains that are labelled “commuter” are actually designed like subway trains in terms of performance characteristics, but can still co-operate with freight trains.

      • david vartanoff

        The critical issue is either direct or transfer service getting to the Bronx from Bklyn/Qns. Amtrak on Hell Gate necessitates FRA compliant cars. Assuming the Penn-New Rochelle project happens, the current 2 tracks pax, 1 freight will likely be inadequate. The freight will have to be overnight only.
        I

        • Matthew Hutton

          Why can’t these stupid rules be got rid of? It’s not like American trains are particularly safe.

          • df1982

            There is apparently already an FRA waiver about crashworthiness standards. So they could just call the trains “commuter trains” if there is some bureaucratic rule against rapid transit and freight co-habiting lines, but run metro-style trains anyway. I doubt it could literally be standard NY subway stock as Alon proposes, but something like London’s overground trains might be possible. The problem there is that if it is officially dubbed commuter then the LIRR might step in demand every train has seven conductors, manually operated doors and the like.

            It’s a shame it couldn’t be driverless light metro as that seems the most appropriate mode for the corridor if there were no freight trains. Can the freight trains at least be quarantined to overnight windows? That would seem to be the most sensible operational solution.

            The Hell’s Gate bridge has space for four tracks, but two of them will be monopolised by Amtrak and Penn Station Access, so an IBX Bronx extension would still have to share track with freight on this section, even if the fourth track is installed.

          • Matthew Hutton

            Surely they could use the Amtrak tracks some of the time given Amtrak isn’t going to be running 14tph on them.

          • df1982

            Between Amtrak and Metro North there will likely be pretty high frequencies (and longer-term the demand is there for even higher frequencies a la Alon’s and others’ plans for NY regional rail). Too high to accommodate either a rapid transit service running 5-min headways or slow-moving freight trains, unless the latter are quarantined to late nights only.

          • Matthew Hutton

            Surely if you have the capacity to run 1-2tph from the rapid transit on the express tracks to allow a freight train to cross the bridge on the slow tracks where the bulk of the rapid transit goes?

          • adirondacker12800

            The short range plans, sometime in the next decade or so, are for ten trains an hour. Six Metro North trains and four Amtrak trains.

      • adirondacker12800

        They want to run 20, 30, 40 freight trains a day on it. Some of them quite long because millions of people generate lots of recyclables or garbage.

    • Richard Mlynarik

      Cheaping out with LRVs, not only debases the service, but introduces a new maintenance protocol whereas using MN-CDOT eqipment merely …

      Don’t threaten me with a good time!

  12. Ronald Grassel

    Subways are far more EXPENSIVE (in all aspects – to build, maintain, run etc.) than light rail or bus or tramways.
    I submit that it should be built as cheaply as possible – in the likelyhood that it will fail – who goes from Bay Ridge to Jackson Heights? – which means busses or trams.

  13. Frederick

    In an ideal world, where American commuter rail is as good as German or Japanese, of course the IBX (or the original Triboro) should build to be a commuter rail service with the corresponding infrastructure. They can simply operate on the freight tracks with the freight trains. Such plan would minimize construction cost.

    Sadly, in the real world, we know that American commuter rail is in the eighth circle of hell. Not just the transit advocates, but your average New Yorkers have already voted with their feet: they ride the subway frequently but not the LIRR.

    Many Americans seem to blame FRA for how bad American commuter rail is. FRA regulations are not just about vehicles or infrastructure, but there are also regulations for operation and maintenance. For example, while PATH received waivers to operate rapid-transit vehicles instead of commuter rail vehicles, they still need to operate like an American commuter rail — every train operator being a licensed locomotive engineer, frequent inspections, positive train control et cetera. Hence, the more we stray further from FRA compliance, the closer we are to God’s light.

    On the other hand, MTA seems to be using this as an excuse to use “light rail” train sets on IBX. The reason seems to be it’s easier to construct tracks with required clearance if some smaller train cars are used. American light rail cars are articulated and can turn very tight curves. However, light rail cars are not designed to form long trains, and thus inadequate to serve NYC, even if we project IBX to have even less ridership than the G train.

    If width of tunnels is the only issue, MTA should just consider to use PATH-sized trains.

    • Richard Mlynarik

      Exactly. You just have to look at Caltrain’s Stadler-USA (Potemkin Stadler) KISS trains: 70% over-priced, the electrification project twice as expensive and taking twice as long as anything in the civilized world, and the end result will be IDENTICALLY SHITTY COMMUTER RAILROAD SERVICE, FOREVER (it’s right there in their plans! They’re up-front about it! — A mess of “skip-stop” service patterns, HOUR HEADWAYS, shit peak service, shittier off-pak), HIGHER OPERATING COSTS (same 3x over-staffing on trains, same 19th century track and train maintenance “producivity”, but now bonus with catenary maintenance on top), LONG AND UNPREDICTABLE DWELLS (no level boarding, forever)

      Unless you clean house completely, “FRA pre 2020s” or “UIC compatible” or whatever) you’re just going to get the same shit commuter railroading scum running the same shit service with terrible productivity, terrible maintenance practices, terrible maintenance costs, terrible utilization, and out-of-control capital costs, forever and ever and ever, but with some wires on top. Woo hoo.

      I mean, just look where we are. Look what they PROMISE to do! We even get the BLASTING AIRHORNS, forever and ever and ever. I’ve met these people. It’s what they like. It’s what they’re going to do. Nothing you can do will change them. Nothing anybody can do can change them. They just have to go.

      The further you get away from this shit — like continents away — the less likely that any tiny sad possibility of success (as you or I would measure “success”, that is!) will be immediately and ruthlessly extinguished.

    • xh

      I see nothing wrong with “every train operator being a licensed locomotive engineer, frequent inspections, positive train control”. You need frequent inspections or preventive maintenance to avoid MBTA problems. Predictive maintenance wasn’t viable until the very recent generations of trains with full digital capability. Also, CBTC is an FRA-compliant form of PTC. (https://www.regulations.gov/document/FRA-2010-0034-0010) Should NYCT have been under FRA supervision, it would be fully equipped with CBTC just by 2020, as PATH did.

      Don’t blame FRA for agency incompetence. “Mess of skip-stop service patterns, hourly headways, shitty peak services, shittier off-peak services, terrible productivity, terrible maintenance practices, terrible maintenance costs, terrible utilization, and out-of-control capital costs” all have nothing to do with FRA regulations. Denver RTD’s commuter rails are under FRA supervision, but they have none of these.

      Over-priced rolling stocks are mainly due to “Buy America” protectionism, which is not FRA’s fault. Caltrain’s cost overrun is mainly due to their bad decision to improvise a “communication based overlay” PTC, where off the shelf product as ETCS level 2 already existed and served the exact same purpose.

      FRA does have a bunch of incompetents. But at the end of the day, they did a fair job in safety supervision, so that you won’t see an FRA-supervised agency saving a few penny on the signal system, ending up with shit like this:

      • Richard Mlynarik

        I see nothing wrong with “every train operator being a licensed locomotive engineer, frequent inspections, positive train control”

        Strawman alert!

        Denver RTD’s commuter rails are under FRA supervision, but they have none of these.

        Overpriced rolling stock? Check.
        BONUS: Overpriced rolling stock that is DECADES out of date, because USA Commuter Railroading troglodytes in charge of everything, at every point, at every step? Check.
        Massive overstaffing? Check.
        Ridiculous maintenance costs? Check.
        Pathetic service levels, especially given the “investment”, driven largely by massive overstaffing and ridiculous maintenance? Check.

        Look, technically some species of super-intelligent alien lifeforms could run useful transportation services to serve The People Of Your Planet under FRA regulations — hell, I could do it! — but the minute you call something A Railroad in the USA you get The Railroad People all over it, everywhre, and you’re fucked. Utterly, completely, irredeemably fucked.

        Over-priced rolling stocks are mainly due to “Buy America” protectionism, which is not FRA’s fault. Caltrain’s cost overrun is mainly due to their bad decision to improvise a “communication based overlay” PTC, where off the shelf product as ETCS level 2 already existed and served the exact same purpose.

        Thanks for the lessons. I was not aware of ANY of this, despite, you know, shilling for ETCS directly with Caltrain’s executive director and Caltrain’s “Chief Rail Transformation Officer” (who told me that CBOSS would be a “fun project” because “it’s fun to work with freight”) for a decade, pleading to avoid the utter bullshit “dual height” door fiasco, pleading to avoid VOLUNTARILY federalizing funding and triggering Buy America (THEY DO THIS TO THEMSELVES OF THEIR OWN WILL, BECAUSE they want higher costs, higher overheads, more consultants feeding at the trough at every stage at every level, advocating standard, lower-cost, non-pulled-out-of-their-rectums catenary design, despite …

        Thanks. I’ll go back and read everything I’ve written for the last 30 years so I can educate myself about this.

        I mean, how could ever forsee shitty outcomes when the shittiest people were making the shittiest (and self-enriching) decisions every single time?

        It’s the culture, stupid. And it’s here to stay. About the only move you can make is “not play the game”, and in the USA that means avoid anything “commuter railroading”, because it’s going to fail fail fail fail.

        • xh

          “Strawman alert!”

          It’s not your argument, but exactly Frederick’s. What makes you think you are the only “thing” here I’m replying to?

          “Overpriced rolling stock? Check.”

          Now it is you who are making the strawman argument. Where the hell did I say RTD didn’t purchase overpriced MUs? They had, just as every US transit agencies:

          https://pedestrianobservations.com/2019/09/22/new-york-rolling-stock-costs-are-skyrocketing/

          The phenomenon is somewhat universal in the US. Not only did US commuter rail operators buy overpriced trains in the recent decade, heavy rail or light rail operators did either. Thus, pointing out RTD’s costly trains is useless and doesn’t refute my arguments.

          “Massive overstaffing? Check.”

          They don’t. They didn’t build luxurious stations with mezzanines, help centers or fare zones. A proof-of-payment system is used. Every line except line A have one person operated trains. On line A, there’s an additional non-union “conductor” outsourced to some security companies. What else can be overstaffed?

          “Ridiculous maintenance costs? Check.”

          They don’t. Per NTD (https://www.transit.dot.gov/sites/fta.dot.gov/files/2020-11/2019%20Top%2050%20Profiles%20Report.pdf ), they have per car-mile operating costs comparable to the average of heavy rail systems ($14.68 vs $13.28). Given that RTD operate mostly 2 car trains and a few 4 car trains, their per train-mile operating costs would be even lower, comparatively.

          “Pathetic service levels, especially given the “investment”, driven largely by massive overstaffing and ridiculous maintenance? Check.”

          They don’t, either. They’re operating on flat, clock face schedules with a 15-minute headway on line A and 30-minute headways on line G and N. Line B has hourly services but it’s currently a one-station spur from line G.

          “…Caltrain’s “Chief Rail Transformation Officer” (who told me that CBOSS would be a “fun project” because “it’s fun to work with freight”) for a decade, pleading to avoid the utter bullshit “dual height” door fiasco, pleading to avoid VOLUNTARILY federalizing funding and triggering Buy America (THEY DO THIS TO THEMSELVES OF THEIR OWN WILL, BECAUSE they want higher costs, higher overheads, more consultants feeding at the trough at every stage at every level, advocating standard, lower-cost, non-pulled-out-of-their-rectums catenary design, despite …”

          Assume these are legit. They just argue for my points rather than yours: The agency is incompetent, not FRA. Never ever had FRA told them to do these. They did themselves, for whatever

          ” I’ll go back and read everything I’ve written for the last 30 years so I can educate myself about this. I mean, how could ever forsee shitty outcomes when the shittiest people were making the shittiest (and self-enriching) decisions every single time? It’s the culture, stupid. And it’s here to stay. About the only move you can make is “not play the game”, and in the USA that means avoid anything “commuter railroading”, because it’s going to fail fail fail fail.”

          So you claimed to have studied on rail transit for thirty some years, without even realizing that you are nothing but a “negative exceptionlist”, as mentioned in an earlier post by Alon? (https://pedestrianobservations.com/2022/08/18/negative-exceptionalism-and-fake-self-criticism/)

          Yes, US commuter rail practices are genuinely bad. That doesn’t necessarily mean anything related to US mainline rails is bad. Specifically it doesn’t necessarily mean FRA is bad. And even some FRA regulations are bad, it also doen’t necessarily mean going without FRA regulations is good. Without FRA regulation is the reason you see that many transit agencies operating subway style services on the so-called light rail lines, with limited signalling protection as a money saver, resulting in overspeed derailments, signal overruns and collisions. Also some US heavy rail or light rail operators does appear to be more cost effecient than some US commuter rail operators. It’s often not because they’re doing efficient maintenace, but because they don’t do them anyway, just as what MBTA or WMATA did to their heavy rail lines.

          Even though a negative exceptionlist, you are not an exception to me. I saw many railfanners like you in China. The Chinese Railway operates little to no regional services, and where they do, the services are usually shittly. So many Chinese railfanners falsely concluded that you need to “draw a line from anything related to CR”, claiming non-sense like “interoperable CTCS and GSM-R solutions are bad; instead we must use non-interoperable CBTC and non-standard LTE solutions on new suburban rail networks”, only because they were proposed and used by CR.

          • xh

            Correction: RTD use a proof-of-payment system, but have an additional non-union “armed security” onboard outsourced to some security companies. RTD repeatedly claimed it to be part of the FRA requirement, but it turned out only to be part of their implementation of some irrelevant FRA requirements. (https://cdn.muckrock.com/foia_files/2019/11/05/Responsive_Record_-_RTDC-DTP_PTEP_Plan_Rev_No._6__10_13_16.pdf) So even if this is considered redundancy, again it’s due to agency fraud, not FRA’s.

          • Matthew Hutton

            I have to admit my experience of government is that when some completely over the top bureaucratic decision is made it’s usually the fault of local government or an individual school or whatever rather than national government.

            I wonder if a lot of the time if you read the federal railroad regulations for America if they were often fairly sane – especially if you read them charitably towards what you wanted to do.

            For example in the UK you aren’t allowed to have ads on the motorway, however on the M6 in Birmingham or the M4 in London there are massive billboards that presumably “technically don’t target the motorway” even though they just target the motorway.

            Could be completely wrong about this – as I’ve never read the US federal regulations.

          • Matthew Hutton

            Could also be a middle ground where the federal regulations are insane but the local people make it worse.

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