There is a certain happiness sighted when your bus comes along. It is of course a small specialized form of happiness and will never be a great thing.

-Richard Brautigan, The Old Bus

Friday, June 27, 2008

Crushed by success

Sacramento Regional Transit is out with more good news:

As rising gas prices continue to fuel the perfect ridership storm, the Sacramento Regional Transit District (RT) hit another transit milestone -- three all time highs in the month of May. RT experienced its highest total ridership ever, setting system ridership records with over 3.2 million passengers. This record month for RT is the fourth in a row of total ridership being higher than last year, increasing by 8.5 percent, compared to the same period last year.

Last month, total monthly light rail ridership was 1,669,000 -- up 22.4 percent from May 2007. Light rail ridership has steadily increased over the past year and has now surpassed bus ridership for the second month in a row. At 69,000 average weekend light ridership is also at it's highest ever, this positive surge is most noticeable at RT's 18 free light rail park-and-ride lots where heavier use has many lots filling up earlier in the day. Commuters should not be daunted, as there is an abundance of parking spaces available at the Florin, 47th Avenue, Hazel, Swanston, Marconi/Arcade and Watt/I-80 light rail stations.
And then they drop a car.

Today, I was standing in the muggy heat at 16th Street waiting for the next Folsom bound train. There had to be nearly 100 people lining the length of station. Just after 5 p.m. I could see the train turn the corner into the 13th Street station. I counted the cars. Three! Not good.

I was standing at 15th Street, planning to ride the very last train. As the train approached 16th Street I walked to where the end of a three-car train would stop. As the train passed me I looked inside and stopped. There was no way I was going to get on that three-car train. It was already full. The doors opened near me and I watched as the crowd attempted to squeeze on.

That wasn't going to be fun. Since I didn't need to get anywhere soon, I waited for the Sunrise train. Peole waiting for Folsom were out of luck.

If RT is going to cut back trains, the half-hour service to Folsom doesn't seem like a good choice at the height of the commute.


Leo dC said...

I am a Light Rail Supe for RT. It seems as if the public thinks we like to run cattle cars out there for fun. We try to keep 4 cars on all scheduled trains during peak hour. If its less, then something happened to the missing car, like mechanical issues, door issues, unsanitary conditions. Sometimes, just to keep schedule, we may split a 4 car train in to 2 car trains, because one train in the system might be running very late encroaching on the next schedule. So instead of one very late crowded 4 car train right in front of an empty 4 car train, we would send two on time, albeit crowded 2 car trains. We work hard to make sure the train system runs smoothly given the resources that we have. My receding hair line and larger pant sizes are proof of the stresses involved in running trains. Having the trains run late make things more complicated for the controllers, stressful for the operators, and opens up further problems down the line.

John said...

Leo, Thanks for taking the time to comment. It's helpful.

I'm curious why the fourth car could not be restored from the 13th Street yard.

pam said...

I did read that RT planned to add more trains to the morning and evening commute to augment service during the Highway 5 construction. At Archives Plaza at 5:10, I'll occasionally see a one-car train pull in. I'd assumed this was the augmentation plan. The car is always v. full; I'll invariably wait for the next train which is less full.

Leo dC said...

We try to get 56 cars in revenue service and 4 spares during the regular work day. That's 60 cars out of 76 in the fleet. The other 16 are either on mandated inspection, repair, routine maintenance. Lately, we are trying to get 6 spares to use as extra service trains to run inbetween schedules to ease with crowding during the I-5 closure, hence you may see single car trains 7 minutes from the published schedule at peak time. Unfortunately, with those extra service, there are no spares left to add to regular trains if any of their cars are taken out of service. To answer the 13th Street Yard question, the cars parked there are the Gold Line add cars, so once added, no cars are left for spares. However, we try to get 4 cars on Folsom trains because those trains have the highest load factor. The more crowding we get, the chances for delays gets higher, the more stressed the operator gets, and the farther the controller's hairline recedes. We have high incentive to keep things rolling. Buying baggier pants and Rogaine gets expensive.

John said...

Ah, stress! You should see my hairline under that hat!

Thanks for the explanation.

Perhaps RT should include a "How Things Work (We Hope)" feature in the Next Stop News and the web site, explaining some of the variables that have to be considered in operating a transit system. Then riders might gain a better appreciation of the difficulty of making the trains run on time.

The Derek said...

I just wrote a blog about my adventure on the gold line today... WOW

what happened to the cars RT bought from the VTA? Can't they put masking tape or something over the logos and use them temporarily? Today was a joke!

The Derek said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
The Derek said...

Another suggestion: Run CAF cars only on the folsom trains. The extra get up and go can make a huge difference for the distance. I noticed the Folsom line has not been on schedule as much since they started mixing the siemens trains.

John said...

The rtdriver guy doesn't blog much any more. But a year ago he had a useful post about the problems of mixing the Siemens cars with the CAF:

"At RT, I drive 2 types of Light Rail trains. The old school Siemens cars (German) and the new school CAF cars (Spanish).

"When the German cars play strictly with the other German cars, all is good.

"When the Spanish cars only boogie with the other Spanish cars life is great.

"When you mix the two, most of the time all hell breaks loose. For some reason, they just don't know how to communicate with one another. It seems that they play nice for a few trips, and then one says something to the other and neither of them want to play anymore.

"I'm not sure why RT insists on mixing the two, but as the weather gets warmer we can look forward to some good old fashioned German-Spanish culture immersion."

And, again according to the rtdriver guy, there's a reliability problem with the CAF trains:

"The reality of this situation is that the Siemens cars may be smelly, old and loud but they are bullet proof. Namely, they don't break down.

"CAF cars on the other hand break down daily. When a CAF car breaks down somewhere near Hazel, it could take a considerable amount of time to get the disabled car off the tracks so service can resume.

"Having the CAF cars on the Blue line eliminates this problem....mostly by keeping them closer to the shop.

"Also, in my opinion Siemens cars are safer. They may be slow off the line but the breaking is far superior to the CAF cars."

Both of those posts are from 2007. Maybe things have changed since then.

The Derek said...

Maybe RT should instead of trying to avoid the problem, find ways to lessen the impact of a malfunction on the system. Whether its adding more crossovers, more storage yards, or bypass tracks (like at Watt on the gold line, but permanent), because what they did isn't working. When you have trains having to head back at Hazel because they are so late, and this happens frequently, there is a problem!

The stops on the blue line are too close to make good use of the CAF trains. The 4 car CAF trains are always ahead of schedule. Sounds fine, but its not when there are completely failed trips along the Folsom line. A breakdown that doesn't have a serious impact on service is a lot better than people getting on the train and not knowing if they are even going to make it to their destination. You should have heard them yesterday, they were all talking bout how the train was going to drop them off at Sunrise or Hazel AGAIN.

If there are bypass tracks, then disabled cars can be slowly moved to the shop. When a regular train is coming, the disabled one can get off the regual tracks, get on a bypass, and get back on when the regular train passes. If thats too much, the cars can be left to sit on a bypass until the end of the day, then moved in the middle of the night.