Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

Follow up to recent rail stories

with 3 comments

BART saw circuit problem at center of Metro probe

“Railway Track & Structures” in their Breaking News feature provide some more information on the probable cause of the fatal crash on the Washington DC subway.

Metro officials said the malfunction that appears to be at the heart of last month’s deadly Red Line crash was traced to “flickering” in a track circuit that seemed to be a “freak occurrence” they had never before encountered or knew was possible, The Washington Post reports.

But that type of transient, intermittent failure is known to experts who work with automated transit systems and was flagged as a hazard by the Bay Area Rapid Transit system in San Francisco. Officials there installed a separate system as a protection against flickering track circuitry.

BART is considered a sister system to Metro because it was built about the same time using similar designs, technology and suppliers. Metro never installed the backup system, known as the sequential occupancy release system, that is used by BART.

The signal system used by both BART and Metro is quite different from that used by SkyTrain (and the Docklands LRT) which I referenced in my original story. It also seems that “intermittent failure of track circuits most often occurs when there is poor electrical contact between the steel rails and the wheels of the train.” This means that the equipment itself may not be the problem but the state of the track and the wheels. This wheel/rail interface has been found to be critical in a number of railway crashes – and is one of the reasons that the break up of British Rail into separate track and train operating companies was so much opposed by my former colleagues at HM Railway Inspectorate.

I am still bothered by the fact that the stationary train was being driven manually while the one that hit it was under system control. That seems to be a mix that ought not be allowed.

Alberta sees LRT, not HSR, as provincial priority

Light rail transit expansion for Calgary and Edmonton trumps provincial needs for high speed rail, according to Alberta provincial government officials, despite rising clamor for linking the two cities with intercity service. The stance follows the release Monday of a feasibility and ridership study, evaluating HSR service between the province’s two largest cities. “At this time, when we’re a little short of cash, show me the money. That’s what I would have to say because we’ve got a lot of other needs that will have to come first,” said Alberta Finance Minister Iris Evans.

source  Railway Age Breaking News

There is not much more to add. And in fact the link does not provide much more detail. That is in stark contrast to the wealth of information provided by the full report of the passenger demand analysis for HST which I provided a link to. I think it would be a very good idea for some of the most frequent commenters to this blog actually take the time to read that report – and indeed make a practice of actually referring to the source of any story before launching into comment mode. Even when a report is in the public domain, if it is available on the web I will not reproduce much of it here, though I will, of course, selectively quote the bits I am commenting on. But that does not mean there is not a whole lot of other information available from the same source -and often that would actually obviate the need for the some of the questions and comments I have seen – but not replied to – recently.

“A little short of cash” is a bit hard to swallow – Alberta may not be in the middle of a boom any more but it is a lot better off than most places. Intercity High Speed Rail should also not be seen as a competitor for funds with urban light rail – the markets are quite different. If HSR is – as the proponents seem to be saying “of investment quality” there should be private sector funds for it. Not that I would allow that to make my mind up but then I am not the Alberta Finance Minister. And if I were I would be looking at the longer term public interest – not just the short term cash flow.

Written by Stephen Rees

July 8, 2009 at 10:15 am

Posted in Railway

3 Responses

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  1. Somewhat happy regarding the province pushing light rail within Edmonton and Calgary. A high-speed link is not going to attract many individuals if there is no way to get around the City once you’re there. Edmonton and Calgary are both cities which aren’t all that nice without a car. They do have their downtowns/inner-city areas which aren’t too bad without a vehicle; however, that’s really it. They’re sprawling cities with little regard to the pedestrian.

    Before we link the two cities with rail, I think we need to make them pedestrian friendly.

    Kyle Sharpe

    July 9, 2009 at 7:35 am

  2. Good point Kyle.

    There is really only one place on the continent where driving isn’t essential: New York City. Fully 75% of households in Manhattan don’t own a car and city wide more than half of all trips are taken on public transit. Such figures are beyond comprehension for most of us who live in cities where the car is considered more important than its passengers and cargo.


    July 9, 2009 at 10:45 am

  3. New York like other huge conurbations, have large metro networks, because they have the population (New York City & environs 8.5 million persons) that can pay the costs of large metro networks.

    Back to the original post; the problem with automatic railways and/or intricate signaling systems, is that they need lots of maintenance, especially after several years of wear and tear.

    In Europe, the art of signaling is taken very seriously and preventive maintenance is done on a continuing basis.

    In North America, we are somewhat lax, with transit maintenance and tend to fix problems as they occur.

    SkyTrain is a good example, as the system is now 25 years old and stoppages (2 to 20 minutes)for “communication” problems” are becoming common place.

    There was a series of article in ‘Modern Railways’ 7 or 8 years ago, both explaining the various signaling methods and the pitfalls of all types of signals over time.


    July 9, 2009 at 11:37 am

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