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Wednesday, June 15, 2011

11-06-15 PHOTOS: Seattle Transit

This kicks off the first part of what will probably be a many part series documenting my epic trip on Amtrak's Empire builder last year. The first part of this series will focus on the various Transit alternatives in the Seattle area. These include the SoundTransit Light Rail, the South Lake Union Streetcar, the King County Metro trolleybuses, the now defunct Waterfront Streetcar and of course the Seattle Monorail. I'll also throw in any photos of other non-heavy rail transportation items such as ferry boats, container ships, elevators and retractable rooftops.

You can find browse the entire gallery of transit related photograph here.

Like most people who travel to Seattle my first experience with their transit system was the shiny new light rail link to SeaTac airport. There was nothing wrong with it as it was clean and had cool station art, but as far as light rail systems go nothing really stood out and it was rather generic. Here we see LRV #135B in the region's typical "Wave" paint scheme accepting passengers at the airport station.

The LRVs are of the low floor articulated 2.5 segment type. Again, completely generic. Here is 117B after having arrived at the SeaTac station.

One cool feature of Seattle is that it has a downtown transit tunnel that also counts as a "fare free" zone. The light rail portion of the tunnel runs from the International District Station (on the site of the old Union Station) to the Westlake Center where one can catch the Monorail. Here we see 144A at the International District station looking along the length of the subterranean platform.

Ah the Mono-D'Oh!, one of Seattle's most iconic institutions and also probably the most overrated. Ask most people and they would tell you that the entire city is covered by monorail lines. In reality the system consists of a single line about a mile line with two stations that connect the downtown area with the site of the 1962 Wo--d F-ir. Fortunately, unlike Knoxville, Seattle was successfully redevelop its fair site so it is actually still a fairly robust draw featuring such attractions as the Space Needle, a science center, the usual stable of performing arts centers and an arena that hosts a NBA team.

Here we see the monorail beams at the Westlake Center terminal. When the original terminal was moved to make way for a park the replacement made use of the monorail version of a gauntlet track to save money. Only one of the two monorail can platform at a time or badness happens. The monorails use a 4th rail system as there are no actual rails to conduct traction current back through. Current supplied if 700VDC supplying 4 750hp motors per train.

After paying a $2 fare that is not integrated with the rest of the local transportation system you wait to board one of two Monorail vehicles, the Blue Car or the Red Car. Yup, that's all these are, one car per rail to avoid having to deal with things like...switching. And to think that people thought this was somehow going to be the transit system of the future. Here the blue car on the near beam lines up with the platform screen doors.

When the Red Car arrives a system of folding extendable platforms must deploy.

 Most of the Monorail beam was built down the middle of 5th Ave. I did not have a chance to see if typical "under the El" businesses were also present under the Monorail.

On my first day both cars were in operation so I managed to photograph the meet about 2/3rds down the line.

Going through the S-Curves as the monorail approaches the fairgrounds the cars exhibit some crazy tilting that allows the Conductor to maintain speed.

Here's what that looks like in video form.

The vehicles are the original 1960's Alweg products, one of only a few still operating. The insides retain all of their retro future charm.

Near the Seattle Center terminal the beam passes through the Experience Music Project and Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame which was built as a Frank Gehry-designed museum, but now may be some sort of prison. 

From below we can see how the Alweg cars grip the beam and propell themselves via sideways mounted rubber tyres.

The Seattle Center terminal is still in its original configuration and was a match for the Westlake one before it was moved and cut back to reclaim space for a new public park. The terminal consists of two beamways and three platforms. Only the center platform is in the fare paid area so trains discharge outside of fare control then close those doors and let people in from the paid area. This prevents riding back and forth for free.

Because these cars were designed in an area before terrorism and urban crime the operator sits within the passenger area and has a Class 1 railfan seat sharing half of the front window. For those of you who are too price conscious fly to Seattle and then pay the $2 to ride the monorail here is a railfan here is a full trip video taken from the railfan seat on a Southbound trip.

Now of course no trip to Seattle would be complete without a trip to the top of the Space Needle and by law I have to post a photo including it prominently.

However to keep the post on topic I can point out that this city icon is served by a trifecta of vertical wire rope propelled rail transport cabins...aka elevators.

These of course run on tracks set into the tower's exterior to afford one a view of the surroundings on their way up.

Also from the top of the Space Needle you can get a good shot of the Monorail as it travels back and forth along its single beam.

 In addition to the monorail, Seattle has an small but growing fleet of bi-rail urban transport. Chief amoung these is the South Lake Union Streetcar which transports people from the downtown area to the South Lake Union restaurant and lightlife district. The line uses traditional trolley infrastructure, but uses modern European style tram equipment. Currently the fleet consists of two cars, one orange and one purple, but plans are in place to purchase more. Here we see the Orange Car returning from its Lake Union terminus.

Seattle used to have another Heritage trolley operation called the Waterfront Line which ran from the International District to the waterfront where it turned north to Broad Street. The service opened in 1990 with three Melbourne heritage trolleys and ran until 2005 when construction of the new Olympic Sculpture Park demolished the line's carbarn. While promises have been made since then to restore the service nothing has come of it. Here we see the currently disused Vine Street station.

In addition to mono and bi-rail transit, Seattle also hosts completely trackless rail transit in the form of an expansive trolleybus network. Now trolleybuses aren't my area of expertise, but they do count as rail transit so I will cover them here. The fleet consisted of a 4100 series class of standard type trolleybuses like 4129 seen here.

And a second fleet of 4200 series flexible trolleybuses like #4227 seen here.

There were also some pretty impressive trolleybus "junctions" like the one outside of the Union/International Station at Jackson and 5th.

These junctions can sometimes get the buses in trouble like here were #4151 suffered a dewirement that I had just happened to catch on video :-)

After a brief recovery period the operator managed to get the poles back on place and the bus back on the move.

On the other hand here is a video of #4256 successfully negotiating the junction at 5th and Jackson.

I mentioned other transport modes in and around the city. Well the Puget Sound area has an extensive system of ferries to get people to the numerous peninsulas and islands that cannot be easily reached with bridges.

There are Greek owned aggregates freighters that liven up the foreground in front of the better American version of Mount Olympus.

Chinese freighters are constantly delivering the next load of cheap crap to the American marketplace. 

The Todd Pacific shipyards are constructing giant floating radomes that will protect us from missiles fired from the same.

The Japanese Maritime Self Defense Forces training ship JDS Kashima was making a goodwill visit after the devastating earthquake that happened in the Spring of last year.

In the category of "non-floating" transport the Seattle Mariners' Safeco Field (what's a Safeco anyway?) has giant moving retractable roof.

And yes it counts as rail transport.

For all you forgotten fans there are these adorable little 4-way traffic lights still in service in the downtown area.

And while Seattle is certainly no San Francisco it does have its share of 1%ers such as whomever owns this Maserati parked outside a hotel near the famous fish market.

And this classic Ford Mustang parked in the lot outside Qwest Field which has somehow managed to avoid rusting into a pile of brown goo in the Pacific Northwest's oh so damp climate.

Well that's it for now. Tune in next week when I'll move onto heavy rail in the Seattle area which includes Amtrak, Sounder and BNSF rail freight.

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