Tagtrain

Railfan at heart

An ICE3 train is headed towards or away from the Hauptbahnhof in Köln (Cologne), Germany. The photo was posted by peters452002.

I am a railfan by any definition of the word. I cannot stop looking at pictures of trains. I look at Flickr every day and follow many contacts in Europe and Japan who post photos of trains. I’ve never attempted to describe why I think they’re beautiful and I’m not going to start here. I’ve been fascinated by things on tracks for as long as I can remember.

I was very happy to choose DB for my trip from Amsterdam, Netherlands, to München, Germany. Here’s a photo of the front of the train at Amsterdam Centraal Station.

Here are my other DB train photos.

N.b. I bring this up now because (1) I really love this photo that I spotted in my contacts feed, and (2) I explained what railfans and train foamers are to a friend after breakfast today.

How do you enjoy the roses: Smell them or photograph them?

A tram in Milan, outside the Castello Sforzesco and near the Milano Cardona train station, where I arrived from a short trip from Como.

My mother is one to consistently tell me, a communications and photography obsessed traveler who bikes 60 miles per week with a camera around my neck, to “stop and smell the roses” instead of “stop and take their picture”. My 18,208 photos taken in the last 12 months are probably a testament that I’m doing more clicking than sniffing. But the photos I take are there to enhance my stories when I come home. I feel I enjoy my trips even if half the time my eyes are looking through the lens.

On my trip to Europe this year, I made a commitment to myself to not worry about costs – I had money to spend on a wonderful trip. This came after I spend 10+ hours calculating on the value of a Eurail Pass that would give me unlimited free trips on all local trains and discounted trips on high-speed trains. A simple rule eventually made the decision for me: the ticket took two weeks to mail and my trip was in five days. After all those calculations, and understanding the pass’s restrictions, I was moving towards a decision to buy my tickets à la carte, or as I needed them. I kept all of my receipts to monitor the cost of my journeys. Guess what? They came out the same: I spent $512.55 on 19 train trips (including metros; conversion made on January 25, 2011)*. A Eurail Pass that would have gotten me the same trips (and more if I wanted to) was $716 or $771. By keeping my mind focused on enjoying the trip instead of analyzing my costs.

Why do I bring all of this up now? Wired’s October issue has a “travel optimization” article and I love that the author was in a similar quandary:

Halfway through my visit I missed a text message that cost me $5,000 in lost income. At the moment the message arrived (or didn’t arrive), I was enjoying a eucalyptus steam bath with an old laborer who’d belonged to the Solidarity Union, which had helped defeat communism in Eastern Europe. His stories were thrilling, but were they $5,000 worth of thrilling?

Of course they were, I concluded on the flight back. When the mind of the traveler grows overly preoccupied with estimating opportunity costs, the capacity for discovery diminishes, displaced by the obsession with efficiency. The voyager may as well have stayed home, since he’s not really on a voyage anymore; he’s researching economics in the field.

That is exactly the state of being I wanted to avoid. And I did a pretty great job.

I’ve got another example: When it came time to pay the bill after dinner and drinks in Copenhagen, I opened my wallet and said (mainly because I was unfamiliar with how to convert kroner to dollars), “This is what I have”. Thankfully it was enough, although I had to visit the ATM a couple times per day in Copenhagen.

*Add on $85 for a flight from Milan to Hanover. I rode on trains operated by at least 10 different companies and agencies – it was one of the most splendid journeys of my life.

What it’s like to Amtrak it with a bike

Update: This post has been widely shared. I suspect other people have blogged about their experiences of taking bikes on Amtrak. Leave a comment with the link, or tweet or email me, and I will include a link to your blog on this page. 

My friend, Will Vanlue, from Portland describes his experience taking a bicycle on Amtrak to Seattle. He bought a bicycle ticket even though he was pretty sure folding bikes could be brought on as carry-on luggage. It was true and the Amtrak staff refunded him.

Like some light rail trains, Amtrak Cascades cars have vertical storage for full-size bicycles. Travis was able to get his Bullitt “Long John” cargo bike on the train with assistance from the staff. 

The Amtrak Cascades train spoils their passengers compared to those on the Hiawatha or Wolverine, offering a power outlet for every seat, and free wifi. I took the train in April 2010 on my trip with Brandon to Portland and Seattle.

This is a good time to bring up, again, that Michigan trains will soon offer “roll on” bicycle service to passengers in 2012.

Bikes on Seoul subway

Brandon found this photo on an irritating website called ffffound. Why irritating? Because there’s no respect for attribution and authorship. I have no idea who took this awesome photo.After a little investigation on Twitter, I determined that the language is Korean. Then I searched for “bikes seoul subway” and found that the Seoul Metropolitan Rapid Transit company was testing bikes on trains in 2009. I couldn’t find any more recent information, nor information in English about bringing a bike on the train on the MTR website.

Anyway, if you ignore all that you’ll agree that what you see in the photo is pretty cool. I’ve been writing about how Americans put their bikes on trains for quite some time now, and I love seeing how other transit systems accommodate passengers and their bicycles.

More good transit news:

Michigan Department of Transportation and Amtrak will begin roll-on bike service on three of their Amtrak lines, the Wolverine, Blue Water, and Pere Marquette in spring 2012. That means I can take my bike with me next year to the 2012 Movement Festival (or Detroit Electronic Music Festival).

Same bad news as last year:

The South Shore Line to Indiana still doesn’t allow non-folding or non-boxed bikes aboard. So you can’t bring a regular bike on the train to the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.

Save the depot

The last thing we did in Detroit was visit the Michigan Central Station, once the world’s tallest train station (according to contributors of Wikipedia). It’s an interesting area, with big lawns and boulevards leading up to it. There are many homeless people hanging around under the broad trees. One of them came over to ask that I don’t take her photo.

Travelers

Photo of me and the “tourist assistant” by Francesco Villa.

A guy riding his bike came over to talk to us. I asked him if he knew how to get into the train station. He did and showed us where the fence could be easily lifted (someone even tied a rope to the fence) and you could slip under. I gave him a dollar for his help (actually, he asked when I said goodbye).

Thankfully the cool station is on the National Register of Historic Places* making demolition much harder. The problem is getting the right idea and developer married to renovate the station and put it back into productive use.

Amtrak served the station until 1988. I find it odd that Amtrak, or any passenger train, came here in the first place – the station feels far from downtown Detroit. Walking is possible, along Michigan Avenue, but there’s no street activity along the way. I presume that when it was constructed in 1913, the Corktown neighborhood was a bit more hoppin’.

We walked from the train station to the Greyhound station at 1001 Howard Street, a 1.2 mile walk. We stopped for lunch at Great Wall Chinese Food. It was cheap and tasty. Another customer there told us he drives 40 minutes for this restaurant. He also said he worked the light show at the VitaminWater stage at the Movement Festival (formerly Detroit Electronic Music Festival) we spent the previous two days dancing at.

Someone has placed letters at the top of the building saying, SAVE THE DEPOT.

Detroit has so much space. What should we do with all of that room?

*The National Register website doesn’t have permalinks (stupid). So search here for reference number “75000969” or name, “Penn Central Station”. I don’t know why the NHRP calls it Penn Central Station.

Can we standardize rules about bikes on trains?

Every transit agency across the United States has different rules about bikes on trains.

I think every bus operator with front bike racks has the same rule: “all day, every day”. But taking your bike on the train is a different story.

In San Francisco, there’re three operators with three sets of rules:

MUNI, a city agency, doesn’t allow bikes on trains, ever. I almost learned about it the hard way. I was returning from downtown on Market Street to my temporary apartment in the Castro District and I took my bike into the MUNI subway. I entered the station without seeing a sign or a staff member that would indicate I couldn’t do this. While walking along the platform, I saw a rules board and noticed no bikes. The trains were not busy, but they’re also not very big. I can see where some people would say, “Oh, I’m new here and I didn’t know”.

But that’s not me. I went upstairs and rode the bike all the way home.

Update May 26, 2011: Streetsblog SF tells us that MUNI will now allow folding bikes on the light rail trains.

BART, a state-controlled transit agency, allows bikes on their trains most of the time. Just not at certain stations, at certain times, and in certain directions. You either memorize these restrictions or carry a brochure.

And BART trains run on broad gauge track making them wider than all other rail transit vehicles in the country. This makes for a lot of space – dedicated space!

Finally, there’s Caltrain, a commuter/regional rail system operated by a joint committee of three transit operators. They seem the least restrictive: every train has a bike car or two, capable of holding about 40, 48, or 96 bikes. “But by the end of 2011, every gallery train set will have two bike cars, allowing for 80 bicycles minimum.” (See last photo.)

In Chicago, the Metra (like Caltrain) and Chicago Transit Authority (CTA, like BART and MUNI) have their own rules that differ from each other and from above.

It’s quite simple to remember the rules of one transit agency, but to be subject to the rules of two or three makes bicycling with rail transit a bit more complicated. The size and design of train cars has a big influence on rule making, but so does politics – the Active Transportation Alliance, né Chicagoland Bicycle Federation, had to lobby the state and the transit agencies here in Chicago to open up their trains to bicycles, and to further liberalize the rules as the agencies became more comfortable.

National or regional planning efforts could ensure that the designs of future or upgraded transit systems follow guidelines that “standardize” the rules of bringing bikes on board. The first step in this direction could be a dialogue between BART and CTA about carrying bicycles onto escalators:

BART did its own study on the “safety issue” years ago and concluded that escalators and stairs were equally safe for cyclists to use in BART stations. (Via Cyclelicious)

The rule banning bicycles from escalators is expected to be lifted this year. The CTA, and other rail operators, could review BART’s study and come to the same conclusion.

Photo of a loaded Caltrain bike car by Richard Masoner.

High-speed rail in Illinois, February 2011 edition

View a map of the places described in this article.

A friend of mine traveled by Amtrak’s Lincoln Service from Chicago to St. Louis in January 2011. He reported, “It’s extremely smooth north of Alton and south of Lincoln. You can barely even hear or feel that you’re on a train.” Track replacement as part of President Obama’s economic stimulus and high-speed rail plan is complete between Alton and Lincoln, Illinois.

Photo shows a Union Pacific work train next to new track in Carlinville, Illinois. Photo by Tim Carman, taken in November 2010.

The next track replacement phase will take place between Lincoln and Dwight, scheduled to be completed in Fall 2011. A December 2010 press release from the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) explains the next steps for the first state to begin construction on high-speed rail grants provided by American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA):

  1. Installation of new, enhanced grade crossing warning protection
  2. New cars and locomotives
  3. Station upgrades

Like all press releases, this one also seems to ooze idealistic endeavors by adding that the “public can expect to enjoy its first taste of 110 mile-per-hour train service when a 20-mile segment between Dwight and Pontiac is completed in 2012.” But this project has a high likelihood of being completed as described.

Read more posts on high-speed rail in Steven can plan.

A better way for bike storage on trains

UPDATED: How BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit, San Francisco region) treats bikes on board. Simple signage and a bike graphic tell all passengers where bikes belong. Photo by Jim Dyer. More photos.

Look at the photo below and take in all the details about the bicycle’s position and orientation in relation to the vestibule, modesty panel, doors, seating, and aisle. Accommodating bicycles on many of the Chicago Transit Authority’s ‘L’ cars can be a hassle, not only for the bicycle-toting customer, but for the other passengers as well.

This photo shows what I see as the only appropriate location for a bicycle on the Red Line’s 2600-series car.

The passengers may be hit by wheels or handlebars, or have their personal space intruded upon or reduced.

The bicycle owner has the responsibility to ensure they don’t hit or disturb other passengers – to be successful with this on every trip is nearly impossible. Additionally, according to the platform position, the owner will have to move their bicycle to the other side of vestibule to allow access to the doors and aisle. Sometimes other passengers are already standing there, not paying attention, and it can be almost embarrassing to ask them to excuse you and your bicycle.

The 2600-series car in which I rode and took these photographs was built in the 1980s. I think it’s safe to say that the designers and engineers at CTA and Budd Manufacturing didn’t consider the spatial needs of bicycles in the plans. And retrofitting train cars is expensive. Bicycle riders in Chicago “get by” with the current rolling stock. (The train cars with the butterfly doors cannot accommodate wheelchairs or bicycles – there are 2 of these cars on many Blue Line runs.)

But there’s an opportunity to change things because the CTA will be asking Bombardier Transportation for some refinements on the 5000-series cars that the transit agency has been testing on all lines. Now’s our chance to request changes!

If you don’t know of the differences beforehand, you can’t recognize that this is a brand new car with a slightly different exterior design. The interior, however, differs wildly.

The most striking distance is the longitudinal or aisle-facing seats.

The new train car now provides two spaces for passengers in wheelchairs (look in the middle for the wide seat backs facing you). The seats flip up and there’s a seatbelt to hold the wheelchair in place. Photo by Kevin Zolkiewicz.

Based on the design we’ve all seen, I suggest the CTA and Bombardier make the following changes to better hold bicycles on board:

  1. With signage and markings (on the interior walls and floor), indicate that the space for wheelchairs is a shared space and that passengers with bicycles may also use it. The signage would mention that customers with disabilities always have priority as well as mention the times bicycles are allowed on-board. This change would send a stronger message to all other passengers that bicycle owners also have a priority to use this space and they may be asked to move so a bicycle can fit here.
  2. In an educational and marketing campaign, teach customers about bike-on-board rules, where to place bicycles on the ‘L’, and where and when customers can expect passengers with bicycles.
  3. On or near the train door exterior, use markings to indicate where passengers with bicycles should board. The current system has a sign on one entrance saying, “Limit 2 bicycles this car” (see photo below). The other entrance has no sign. The confusion lies here: Should two bicycles occupy the same space, at one end of the car and only enter through the door with the sign? Or should two bicycles occupy opposite ends of the car and enter through either door? If the former is preferred, the second door could have a sign that says one should enter with their bicycle through the other door.
  4. Install a method or mechanism that can hold a bicycle still. This could be with a hook, a seatbelt, or a “groove” in the floor. In Minneapolis, passengers with bicycles can hang them (see photo below).
  5. Install a light at each door in the car that would pulse to indicate which doors will open at the next platform (left or right). This can help passengers with bicycles know where other customers will be alighting and boarding.

I have some other ideas for the 5000-series cars but not related to bicycling.

Photo of exterior bicycle sign. Photo by Payton Chung.

Photo of bicycle hanging from hook within the Minneapolis-St. Paul Metro Transit Hiawatha light rail train.

The first thing I see in Amsterdam

I got off the final train of a 4 hour trip from Wuppertal, Germany, to Amsterdam Centraal Station via Venlo and Eindhoven and the first thing I see is parking for about 7,000 bicycles. WOW!

7,000 is just the quantity at the front of the station. There’s additional parking in the rear along a major “bike highway” going east-west (on two defunct barges in the river IJ) and underground (guarded) parking as well. In all there “officially” 10,000 parking spaces for bicycles – and it’s not enough. During construction of the new north-south subway, bicycle parking and station access by bike will be reconfigured. Some people say that when the additional bike parking comes online, it will again be insufficient.

Since you read this blog, you know I have a passion for bicycle parking. Just like planning for automobile storage, bicycle storage requires similar attention and infrastructure.

I’ve uploaded more photos of bike parking in Europe (so far just 16 photos), including the fancy underground garage at Amsterdam Zuid Station, with its own escalator! For more sweet bicycle parking in Netherlands, check out the Fietsappel on Daniel Sparing’s blog, Railzone.nl.

Another case for integrating biking and transit

Integrating biking and transit can reduce a user’s transportation costs.

A friend just instant messaged me to describe his “bike instead of transit” commute,

“I spent $440 on Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) this year and $300 on bike stuff. When I was just taking the CTA it was $1032 per year. I used to have the monthly pass deducted from my paycheck, $86 per month. Now I pay as a I go, and I go much less.”

In some places, and for other people’s situations, commuters could bike TO the train or bus and reduce their costs by eliminating a transfer. Transit also lengthens a bike rider’s possible trip distance when they combine the modes. In this sense, providing services or facilities for people riding bikes attracts new customers or maintains relationships with existing customers.

The Department of Transportation is now funding projects that improve bicycling (and walking) connections to bus and train stations. We should continue focusing on expanding and improving our bikeway networks by connecting them with our transit networks. By doing so, we make each system more robust and give people more options to choose the route that’s best for them.

Boarding northbound Caltrain at Palo Alto University Avenue station.

Some buses can hold three bikes (see Seattle and Silicon Valley). Highway 17 Express bus Santa Cruz bound at San Jose State University stop. Photos by Richard Masoner.

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