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Pacific North West 2016 (Part 2)

Alan Pearce, 16th May 2017

The first part of Alan's presentation covered systems in Washington State and Vancouver that had been held over from last September when the battery of laptop being used had expired.

The first system seen was the quite short streetcar line in Tacoma. This modern line is mainly single track and has three cars that were Czech inspired but US-built. It runs at either a 12" or 24" headway with one or two cars in traffic and connects the city centre to the station used by the Sounder commuter trains to and from Seattle.

In the much larger city of Seattle a long north-south light rail line and two separate streetcar lines were in operation at the time of Alan's visit in September 2016. The 1,500V DC Soundlink light rail line is fast and busy with three unit trains and more cars on order. There is no street running although has some operation in a street environment and it also runs through a downtown tunnel that had initially been used by trolleybuses. There are two recently built streetcar lines, one of five mile and the other of two miles, that both use Czech and similar US-built cars that are very slow around the curves and offer a rather pedestrian operation. A rather older downtown monorail line is lightly used. There is also quite a large trolleybus network dating from the replacement of the original streetcar system in the 1940s but it was observed that there is not much integration between the various modes in Seattle.

The very much smaller city of Yakima is some way from Seattle and has two operable routes remaining of a formerly extensive interurban network. It had survived as a freight operation carrying huge quantities of locally produced apples long after the passenger services had been abandoned. Now there is only a heritage operation however theft of sections of overhead wire means that it mostly uses a rail-mounted diesel generator that is either pushed or pulled by the electric car. Rolling stock in use comprises two-axle cars from Porto.

Closer to Seattle than Yakima the Issaquah Valley Trolley runs on a 1km section of former railroad line. After trial operation in 2001/2 it commenced regular seasonal tourist service in 2012 using re-gauged Lisbon car 519 that had previously been at Aspen Colorado but not used there. Our speaker is probably the only person to have been at the controls of the world's both standard-gauged trams from Lisbon.

To conclude the first part we moved across the border to Vancouver, British Columbia. Here the automated SkyTrain rapid transit system uses two different and incompatible systems. The trains on the Expo and Millennium lines have linear induction motors whereas those on the more recent Canada line are powered by conventional electric motors. With large parts of the outer sections on viaduct the system provides some spectacular views but the city centre is poorly served. There is also a very large trolleybus system serving the city with a mix of articulated and conventional vehicles.

In the second part of the meeting Alan covered Portland, Oregon in some depth. As one of the earlier second generation systems in the USA it commenced operation in 1986 and has now expanded considerably with long interurban lines operating in seven separate directions from the city. They are built partly on old alignments and partly on new viaducts. The fleet of six-axle articulated cars comprises five different batches with the original ones being high floor but later ones having low floor sections and all trains include at least one low floor car. Four lines cross the Willamette River by means of an historic lift bridge; a new bridge is used by the light rail line to Milwaukee and also by one of the new streetcar lines.

The streetcars operate on north - south line on the west side of the river as well as a more recent loop that covers areas on both sides of the river. In the southern part of the city a new Swiss-built suspended cable car line directly connects the streetcar line to a major University Hospital on the plateau high above the west side of the river.

Alan's video coverage of the Portland area was superb with interesting views of both the regional and more local rail services as well as some spectacular views from the cable car line.

Geoffrey Tribe

London Area 16th May 2017


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