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Archive for the ‘Railway’ Category

Alaska Trip: Part 7

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The final leg of the land tour was supposed to be by bus to the Yukon and White Pass Railway and thence by train. Unfortunately we learned in Whitehorse that a large rock had fallen on the tracks and that trains would not be running until it could be removed and the track repaired. This came as a blow, but it was not entirely bad. First, the bus ride down the highway is considerably faster than the train, so we could have an extra hour in bed and still get to Skagway in time for lunch on board the Volendam. Second, I got really lucky as unusually when we boarded the bus, the front two seats by the door were empty. So we got a great view for the road trip.

We started at Miles Canyon, which we had visited the evening before on our own, but the bus stayed on the top and there was no time to get closer to the water. We had a brief stop in Carcross and had a pleasant chat to the young lady in the station. There is a tour that allows for bus and train travel between Whitehorse and Skagway and there is usually room for people who are not on cruise ship excursions, though obviously booking in advance is still strongly preferred. Since we have family in Whitehorse and Terrace an independent trip is going to be fairly easy to sort out.

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On the other hand we still had to cross the international border and, as you might expect, the BSA did their very best to be as awkward as they could. The tour guide had the manifest she had used on the Air North flight from Fairbanks to Dawson – but that was unacceptable as it is supposed to be submitted in advance. I suspect this might be because someone has to enter the passport data in some computer system – and the border guards preferred that everyone line up and put their passports through computer’s scanner. This might have been arranged better but someone in front of the bus had their own highly complex transaction to complete first – and only one guard was actually available. Apparently they were completely unaware that the train was not running, nor where they able – or prepared – to make any suitable arrangements. As usual the whole performance of “security” has to be followed even in the complete absence of any discernible threat.

There are, of course, no pictures of the border crossing. The scenery was amazing – and we did indeed see the engineers train working on the track on the other side of the canyon. I was on the wrong side of the bus and missed that shot.

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Once we got to the ship, we had to go through the same performance to “check in”, and we decided not to eat on board but explore the small town. The Skagway Brewing Company is strongly recommended not least for their innovative use of spruce tips in place of hops. Spruce tips are, as I am sure you know, an excellent source of Vitamin C.

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I had seen from the bus where the trains were being stored – and we also found that there was a city sponsored shuttle bus. Pay $5 on exit on the first ride, then get a hand stamp and ride free all day. I think I must have got a shot of most of the current roster of the W&Y as well as a few historic locos displayed in the town.

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We had previously travelled on the Volendam from Vancouver to Sydney, so it was very familiar to us.  And as part of the deal we had a complimentary dinner booked in the Pinnacle.

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Up next: Glacier Bay

 

Written by Stephen Rees

June 14, 2018 at 9:55 am

Alaska Trip: Part 1

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We returned to Vancouver on Wednesday from a trip to see glaciers, railways and the history of The North. We flew up to Anchorage and then took the train to Denali, and from there went on to Fairbanks by bus. Air North flew us to Dawson City then it was back on the bus for Whitehorse and Skagway where we joined our ship, MV Volendam. We had expected to ride on the White Pass and Yukon railway, but a huge boulder on the tracks was blocking traffic, so we had to stay on the bus. The ship took us to Glacier Bay (also a National Park) and Ketchikan (quite the opposite), and then traversed the Inside Passage. That was also a bit of a nonevent, as the first section was overnight and the day was socked in by the weather.

I will be posting pictures to flickr, but I have learned that little attention is paid when a large quantity of images get posted there all at once. It is also necessary to do some editing, adding map tags and commentary. But this morning I was in my storage locker looking for the screen I used to use for slide shows. That was in the days when my pictures were transparencies on film, but they were rarely seen by more than a small audience. I thought a slideshow here might get some more attention

Since the way slideshows work on WordPress also requires some effort, and I am sure you will appreciate at least some indication of what you are looking at, I am going to try a series of short slide shows with a little text. Feedback is encouraged, if not a comment then at least a “like”. If this works for the first day or so, then I will post more.

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Flying in to Anchorage one of the first things you see is the wind farm on an off shore island. Alaska has huge amounts of oil and coal, yet they are also under threat from rising seas and melting permafrost.

The stuffed moose is in the middle of the airport lobby – as is the float plane which is unique. 

The little locomotive was used in the building of the Panama Canal and subsequently on the construction of the Alaska Railroad. Both of these were US federal government initiatives, back in the day when this was about the only feasible way to achieve such results.

“People Mover” is a term of art in the transportation business and usually refers to rail based, driverless vehicles in airports and theme parks. I quite like the use of the term by the local transit agency: it does not just cover full sized buses but also vans and shuttles.

The large locomotive was built for the use of the US Army in the second world war and then worked on the Alaska Railroad for another ten years.

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We arrived in Anchorage a day before the start of the land tour to give us more time to explore the town. This meant we were able to rent bikes for a couple of hours to ride the shore line trail which includes a very interesting area where we found the explanation of the very strange topography of the waterfront.

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That evening we were staying in the Captain Cook, the best hotel in Anchorage, and far better accommodation than the Ramada. We had a room near the top floor with a view over the ocean. The hotel naturally features a portrait of the great explorer – and there is a lovely piece of public art between the hotel and the car park of the small fleet of ships he commanded on three round the world voyages

Our after dinner walk enabled me to get some shots of the Alaska Railroad – and we also visited the area where most of the townspeople were fishing for salmon. The next morning we joined the train – just two dome cars – with at seat service of drinks and snacks throughout the day and lunch served in the lower deck dining room. The views are spectacular – with glimpses of passing trains in the loops – and the ability to move around and a lower deck open viewing platform.

Part two will cover the Denali National Park and our Tundra Wilderness Tour.

Written by Stephen Rees

June 8, 2018 at 10:17 am

The Case for Ultra-high-speed Rail Across Cascadia

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An article in the Georgia Strait summarizes a report to Washington State Department of Transportation which examines the case for a new very high speed rail link between Vancouver BC and Portland OR. The potential for hyperloop is also mentioned but quickly discarded as the technology is not yet ready for implementation.

Happily the Strait includes a link to the report itself – a 94 page pdf which includes some very general maps but no actual alignments. Instead it shows where the freeways are, and also suggests that a link between Seattle and Spokane needs to be assessed as well.

Screen Shot 2018-02-10 at 12.29.54 PM

This appears to be the favoured choice at present. Though I was struck by the apparently quite small advantage in terms of ridership between the MAGLEV and HSR model results

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Of course a lot more work needs to be done, and the report identifies these next steps. Not the least of these is the analysis of what needs to happen at the border. This is, of course, completely outside of the state jurisdiction and we can only hope that by the time any of this comes to pass, that a more sensible approach to border “security” between Canada and the US will have also come about. I won’t hold my breath on either account.

And here is a picture of a High Speed Train – which was not included in the original report

TGV 4409

My photo on Flickr

Technology Differentiation Results

7. In 2035, maglev seems to cover O&M costs in most alternatives; a small subsidy may be needed in the earlier period (2035) for HSR. By 2055, all corridor technological alternatives cover O&M and assist in capital carrying costs to various degrees.

8. While maglev and HSR have different capital and operating benefits over time, the CONNECT tool does not provide sufficient data to choose a specific technology at this time. More detailed technical analysis is required to select among the feasible technologies being examined.

Intercity Travel Mode Share Results

9. Both technologies have the potential to shift a significant share of the intercity travel market torail. For these technologies at 12 round trips, 12 to 17 percent of the travel market by 2035 could be diverted to UHSGT.

10. Conversely, the utilization of capacity is relatively low, indicating an immature market or a model input limitation. As noted in #1, a more detailed analysis of how the market economies are changing needs to be completed to adequately predict future ridership and revenue.

POSTSCRIPT

For context, the introduction of a direct high speed rail service between London and Amsterdam shows why trains can compete with air. In this case the flight time is around an hour and the new train will be closer to four. But add in the security line ups and this is actually competitive. Plus the train is actually comfortable, and the stations are usually much closer to where you are or want to be compared to the airport. But read through to the end to see how the British have managed to make getting in to Britain much harder – long before Brexit.

Written by Stephen Rees

February 10, 2018 at 1:20 pm

Friday round up

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Three tabs are open in my browser right now. All about transport and relevant to this region. But none actually qualifying for the full blog post treatment since I have nothing much to say about any of them, other than my readers ought to be aware of them.

The Auditor General has released a report about the Evergreen Line

Moody Central Station, Evergreen Extension

In his audit, Doyle said that the business cases developed by the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure, TransLink and Partnerships B.C. and reviewed by the Ministry of Finance omitted information needed to understand the costs, benefits and risks when comparing SkyTrain, light rail and bus rapid transit options; did not explain ridership forecasts were based on assumptions that placed them at the upper end of the estimated range; and did not describe the risks from changes in complementary and competing transit services.

Actually no-one is going to be very surprised by the report. The idea that Translink might actually consider different options for the technology based on actual data seems to be quite foreign to the way things are now done in BC. The line itself was part of the regional transportation plan for years, but the NDP decided to only build the Millennium – which served Burnaby – but not the long promised link to the TriCities. Of course, in places where they do these things rationally, the line would have been built before the area was opened up for massive population growth, so of course it has been, up to now, car oriented. And there have been significant expansions to the road system – including the expansion of Highway #1 and the replacement of the Pitt River bridge. The Evergreen Line was the highest priority for the region, but the province decided to build the Canada Line instead and tied that to the Olympics.

“Meaningful consultation with the private sector and significant due diligence is required and we are taking the time to get it right,” the province said.

Which seems to me to be an admission that it was not done right, and that consultation with anyone other than business is not important.

Crosscut takes a look at High Speed Trains between here and Seattle as result of Jay Inslee (the Washington state governor) announcing a budget request for a $1m study in response to pressure from the private sector.

Freccia Argento

This one happens to be Italian – they developed the Pendolino tilting trains after British Rail abandoned the Advanced Passenger Train after attacks by the press on the “vomit comet”. BR did build a very successful 125mph HST forty years ago which did not tilt and runs on conventional tracks unlike the French TGV or the Shinkansen which need purpose built rights of way – fewer curves but can cope with quite steep grades – to achieve higher speeds. Indeed the current Cascades Talgo sets could run faster, if they did not have to fit into slots between slow freight trains.

Unid GWR HST through Exeter St Thomas

And of course the cost of a new railway is going to be the biggest issue (“$20-$30 billion to build and equip the system”) but that does not mean that much better passenger train service is not entirely feasible at lower cost, and hopefully some kind of incremental strategy will be identified, rather than blowing the budget on the unachievable “best” when “good enough” is going to win plenty of people away from terrible traffic on I5 and appalling inconvenience and discomfort of short distance international air travel.

Needless to say, others think that self driving cars are going to be the answer, although realistically are probably further off into the future than self driving trucks  as this graphic piece makes clear.

As for the hyperloop, that seems like science fiction to me and even more claustrophobic than space travel. How do you get to your seat? Or use the bathroom?

HyperLoop 2

UPDATE Feb 21 The Seattle Transit blog has taken a long hard look at what a high speed rail line might look like – the link takes you to the first of four parts

Written by Stephen Rees

February 10, 2017 at 1:32 pm

Passenger Rail in Whatcom County

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Amtrak Cascades Mud Bay Surrey BC 08-04-2005 10-28AM

Yesterday I went to a meeting of All Aboard Washington “a consumer transportation advocacy group, comprised of nearly 500 people who have a goal of preserving and expanding passenger rail service in the state of Washington”. They had invited Transport Action BC to attend the meeting, as much of it concerned the operation of Amtrak Cascades. They meet monthly and the meeting at the University of Western Washington in Bellingham had around 50 people, I estimated. Invitations had also gone to BC officials but only one attended, Councillor Grant Meyer of White Rock, who gave a short presentation on the proposed real relocation project. Surrey MLA Marvin Hunt had been expected to attend, but he sent his apologies. Speculation was that he had been instructed not to appear, and certainly speaking of a looming election here (next May) when one is happening next month in the US seemed inappropriate.

I have managed to find some of the materials from the presentations, so that you will not have to rely on my rather rusty note taking.

Lloyd Flem AAW’s long serving Executive Director opened the meeting with a short history of Passenger Trains to Bellingham. Much of this will be familiar to readers here, so I will just mention some highlights. The Washington State talks of an objective of 4 trains a day between Seattle and Vancouver BC by 2035, but 13 between Seattle and Portland OR. The challenge lies in the capacity of the single track line from Everett through Mount Vernon to Blaine, and the lack of investment north of the border. BC did spend $7m on a slip at Colebrook as a contribution  to get the second Cascades service in time for the Olympics. Unlike Washington and Oregon, BC provides no operating subsidy for the service. Considerable work was achieved on the line due to the reallocation of High Speed Rail funds after Florida decided not to proceed. The route between Vancouver and Portland is identified by the US as part of its desired HSR initial network, and that has been endorsed by both the BC Premier and WA State Governor.

The Asia Pacific Gateway was cited as an example of Canada’s commitment to infrastructure spending. Nine rail overpasses were built over the Roberts Bank corridor as part of the billions spent on port expansion. The use of P3 funding was also mentioned. The future of the passenger rail is that there will be no further HSR money, and no capital funds from Olympia but it might be possible to upgrade the capacity and provide some overpasses through the colocation of utilities such as water mains and fibre optic cable in the right of way.

Bruce Agnew of Cascadia Academy and Bob Lawrence of AAWA spoke about the possibility of a third train to serve the line between Bellingham and Seattle. This would replace the current bus and would increase the utilisation of existing equipment. Ridership from Bellingham is currently 51,000 by train, 13,000 by bus and is the 6th busiest station on the service, and the 7th highest revenue. There has been a decline in travel in recent years on the bus service.

Laurie Trautman, Director of the Border Policy Research Institute (WWU) spoke about the proposal to introduce pre-clearance for passengers in Vancouver. There is a pdf of the study as a research brief. Currently there is pre-inspection for immigration only as the result of an informal agreement: pre-clearance requires legislation. This is mainly about protection and liability issues affecting armed TSA staff operating in Canada and requires Congressional approval. [Nothing specifically was said, but I was left with the impression that this is highly unlikely.]  The five border crossings between Point Roberts and Sumas are some of the busiest crossings on the border, but travel has been much affected by the exchange rate. 80% of the cross border trips are made by Canadians, with shopping the primary purpose of 31% of them.

There was a presentation on student travel at WWU which I think is of little interest to readers here. Essentially, use of transit has been increased by the introduction of a UPass which has also seen increases in local transit services to meet demand. There is an identified need for a better connected passenger rail system across the state to better meet the needs of post secondary students – and others.

Students at WWU have conducted a feasibility study of adding an additional stop at Blaine station. There is a pdf of their report on the AAWA site. 

There is a population of over 1m living south of the Fraser River who have a shorter drive time to Blaine than Pacific Central Station in Vancouver, shown by the red line on this map

city-map

The train schedule time is currently 4 hours 25 minutes compared to 2 hour 50 drive time. The train departure time of 6am is also unattractive to people facing a two hour drive and the need to arrive early for immigration inspection. Train departure time of 8am from Blaine would be more attractive and parking would be easier and cheaper. SkyTrain does not provide a service which integrates conveniently with Amtrak. The students used an on line survey which had 1,000 responses. 70% of Canadian respondents said they had not used the train as it was too far to the station in Vancouver, too expensive and inconvenient. Unfortunately this was a self selected sample and therefore cannot be held to be representative of the broader population. [It made me wonder if there had been similar issues with stated preference surveys used to support the case for tolled road bridges in the same area.]

BNSF 4463

Relocation of rail in White Rock has long been a discussion in the area, but now seems likely to move forward. The cities of Surrey and White Rock have agreed to make an application to the federal government under the Railroad Relocation and Crossing Act. [This article in the Peace Arch News gives some insight into the provincial attitude and is fairly recent.]

The current shoreline route is vulnerable to sea level rise and more extreme weather events due to climate change. There have been landslides (4 to 5 a year) and erosion along the route and the increasing number of trains, between 16 and 20 day some with 120 or more cars, gives concern for pedestrian safety. The carriage of dangerous goods is also a concern in the light of the Lac Megantic disaster. The community in Crescent Beach gets physically cut off when a train stops on its crossing, and an overpass there is both cost prohibitive and would have a huge impact.  Trespass on the railway is frequent but may be reduced by the extension of the walkway from its present 2.2km to 3.3km: a lease amendment request has been made to BNSF.

whiterockrailroutes-12

The four possible routes shown here have three options which would require rail relocation in Blaine, which may be a significant issue there. The fourth, westernmost alignment, while requiring expensive tunneling would avoid the need to relocate track in Washington. While the initial studies have been done more work is required to produce the full cost benefit analysis required by the CTA. Prime Minister Trudeau’s interest in increased infrastructure spending was cited as a reason for optimism.

The relocation of the track would produce at least 15 minutes of travel time savings on the passenger service. The loss of the scenic ride along the current route seemed a reasonable trade off.

UPDATE  December 10, 2016

The Bill to allow preclearance has now passed both House and Senate

 

Written by Stephen Rees

October 9, 2016 at 3:42 pm

Posted in Railway

Tagged with

Mr Robertson, take down this sign

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This sign, and more like it, was put up by the City of Vancouver along the Arbutus Corridor, in anticipation of the resumption of rail traffic along the CP railway line.

The Arbutus Corridor

This particular image was taken on King Edward Avenue eastbound, just west of Arbutus Street. There is a full set of railway level crossing signals here: no barriers, of course, because the frequency of trains when they were running was so low they were not needed. But CP is required by law to maintain the signalling equipment as long as they have not formally abandoned the track. So if there was to be a train, lights would flash and bells would sound. If the equipment is, in fact working, of which I have seen no evidence. When CP’s contractors were operating rail mounted equipment near other crossings, nothing happened. Nor were flag persons present

Anyway, since these signs first appeared, no trains have run.   So the sign is not necessary. In fact, redundant signs tend to reduce compliance with signs in general. Which is not a Good Idea.

The Arbutus Corridor

This image is taken looking south at the point where the line crosses King Edward. You will notice the post and sign in the middle of the tracks, put there by the contractor to show the limit of the refurbishment work they had performed. From here down to Marine Drive/Kent Avenue track had been lifted, ballst added and graded, ties replaced, level crossings cleaned and so on. From this point north, only some desultory vegetation removal – plus the enthusiastic destruction of community gardens – had taken place. But it is clear from the state of the track that it could not support train operation in its current condition.

The Arbutus Corridor

At crossings south of this one, the flangeways have been cleared, and in some cases timbers inserted parallel to the rails to make subsequent cleaning easier. Obviously nothing was done here.

The Arbutus Corridor

On the other side of King Edward the blackberries are returning.

The Arbutus Corridor

From here northwards the track is once again dissapearing under the growth.

CP were bluffing. You do not need the signs: you can start with the ones one King Ed and work north from there confident that no trains will run. It seems pretty unlikely that they will to the south either, but theoretically they could. I doubt they will.

UPDATE May 7, 2016

The City of Vancouver announced today that they had finally got a deal with CP to take over the line and turn it into a Greenway: the potential for future light rail in the longer term is not ruled out.

Gary Mason of the Globe reveals how the deal was done

July 15, 2016

The City of Vancouver’s latest update on track removal and construction of the greenway

and more photos on my flickr photostream

Written by Stephen Rees

November 27, 2015 at 4:04 pm

“so it’s a third of the cost for two-thirds of the benefit,”

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The title is a direct quote from Yves Desjardins-Siciliano who is the CEO of VIA Rail. The story comes from the Huffington Post citing the Financial Post and the Windsor Star. It sets out the case for a separate passenger only railway between Toronto and Montreal, which would significantly increase the speed and reliability of rail service but would not be as expensive a full blown High Speed Rail (HSR). Given the financial position of VIA, and the nature of the demand in the corridor, this proposal would be Good Enough. HSR is a good example of the best being the enemy of the good.  It has been studied extensively – I worked on one such study as a consultant back in the 1990’s – and so far nothing has been done in terms of improving VIA rail’s current service or winning people back to rail from short distance air or driving. It did surprise me, when I first came to Canada, that intercity buses were often faster than passenger trains.

It pains me a little that electrification is still seen as a dispensable option but actually I have to admit that a modern diesel electric locomotive  can be very energy efficient. I just happen to think that since Ontario has done such a good job of getting rid of its coal fired power stations, the greenhouse gas reduction argument should be given much more weight. There are also a couple of considerable advantages of an electric train. First, electric trains can climb much better than diesels: they don’t weigh nearly as much, as they don’t have to carry the generator or the fuel. So lines purpose built for modern electric trains can have steeper grades, and often that means they can be straighter, which also helps increase speeds. Secondly, the energy used in braking can be captured and returned to the power supply line for the the use of other trains. Regenerative braking captures a lot of the energy that is otherwise lost as heat. Electric trains can also decelerate and accelerate much better than diesels, so dealing with intermediate stops is not such an issue in overall travel time. I would hope that the design of intermediate stations would permit fast trains to pass stationary ones, so that even if it is not actual HSR, there could still be some non-stop service between the two major centres, to improve  competitiveness with air. However, given the way that the population is distributed across sprawling suburbs, centre to centre may not be the most important tool to attract traffic. Large Park and Ride lots, on the other hand, will be essential.

I have not seen any of the analysis that VIA has used to come up with the costs of its proposed separate line compared to a HSR, but there has to be a lot in common between the two. Land costs will be very similar, I think. It also seems sensible to eliminate level crossings – and to fence the entire line – just to increase safety.  You have to do that for HSR, but if those components were omitted for a conventional speed line that might explain some of the price difference.  While I am in favour of getting the costs down, this would seem to me to be very hard to defend when it comes to public consultation.

 

 

Written by Stephen Rees

November 5, 2015 at 8:20 am