17.7.03

AND AN ACCIDENT WAITING TO HAPPEN. On Transport Blog, Brian Mickelthwait comments on a recent Lileks bleat about progress on the Hiawatha Corridor light rail line in the Twin Cities.

(First, some geographical context: The Twin Cities are Minneapolis and St. Paul in Minnesota, the Manchester Metrolink is a U.K. example of a light rail line that reuses some existing railroad tracks, with some new construction downtown linking the two intercity railroad stations, and "Strib" is "Minneapolis Star-Tribune" for Viking fans.)

Methinks Lileks doth protest too much about the overhead wires: do they really block the view that much? On the other hand, the people who build modern trolleys have this propensity for imitating the Japanese Shinkansen when it comes to holding up the wires. We used to do well with a simple span wire linking poles on each side of the street, and the boulevard bracket arms of New Orleans have ornamental ironwork rather than simple angle bracing.

On the other hand, half-hourly Sprinter service linking St. Cloud to the Cities makes sense, perhaps one of the latest generation of rail diesel cars (DMUs, for those of you in the Commonwealth) can be made up to satisfy crashworthiness requirements.

There is a future Bleat just waiting to happen. I have seen renderings of the new trolleys being built for the Twin Cities. They have artsy solid-black ends. (Well, artsy if you're into Star Wars, I suppose.) But come November, the morning and evening rush hours are after dark, and we're dealing with Minnesota drivers. It's just a matter of time until someone "doesn't see" a black tramcar. Credit to former Illinois Central conductor Richard Lukin for first pointing this flaw out. There was a bad collision on the Illinois Central in 1972, when some new-look electric cars had black ends, and after that collision among the changes we saw were orange ends on the new cars.

As an aside, Mickelthwait mentions the trolley buses in Reading. Funny Milwaukee story about those ... one of them was doing 40 mph plus in a 25 mph zone, and a traffic cop attempted to give the motorman (he has a steering wheel and foot pedals, why are you calling him a motorman?) a speeding ticket and the Transport Company's lawyer got the ticket thrown out. Why? Legally, those things were trackless trolley cars and therefore not subject to the speed limits applicable to motor vehicles. And if you search the pictures of Milwaukee trolley buses closely, you'll see ... no license plates! License plates and driving licenses are for motor vehicles. Trackless trolley cars have no license plates, and they have motormen.

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