RAILFAN GUIDES HOME RAILROAD SIGNALS HOME
I don't often go off about much. But I take exception with the Light
Rail system in Baltimore. It is run by a bunch a boobs (with few
exceptions) all the way from the top down.
This is an opinion page, coupled with some bad language
in a couple of places, so hit the BACK button now if you don't want to hear this crap.
A southbound "2 pack" running alongside Howard St, stopped at the Convention
Center. The Bromo-Seltzer tower is in the background, and Camden station
is behind me to my left. The tracks just left the middle of Howard St in
First, I worked there. What better way to get to know the politics?
Second, and I'm sure this is not
confined to the Baltimore system, the MTA uses outside contractors to design and
build most of their stuff, unlike the old streetcar days. Why is this such a sore
point with me? Because. (I would let it go at that, but you deserve
more of an answer) Because most of the engineering firms are too new and
don't have the real railroad experience needed to properly design a
system.... their engineers are (mostly) young, book/school trained, don't have any rail
experience, don't look into the future, and are not concerned with cost.
Most contractors look to the Light Rail systems as endless buckets of money.
Even the mentality of the MTA management looks at Annapolis as a source of unending
money (until they say NO).
Let's start off with some examples of what I am talking about:
1) When I was there, they
decided to expand the capabilities of the system, by adding a separate substation
for the North Avenue yard. The biggest reason for this was so we could
keep the cars powered up overnight during the winter when it was cold outside
and all the cars had their heat running. After the sub-station was installed and
powered up, the main breaker started tripping when all 35 cars were in the yard
with the heat on. Some bright bloke finally noticed that the
sub-station was a one megawatt unit, instead of a two megawatt unit they wanted.
Of course, at the low level I was at, we never heard as to whether the unit was
incorrectly specified in the first place, or the manufacturer supplied the wrong
unit..... and if they did, why wasn't it caught on the final inspection of the install
(and that PRESUMES they even do quality inspections). Whatever the
case, it's a good example of what happens when the government tries to run
things. I also never heard who paid for the second transformer.
2) The MOW department, for some reason, wanted a Gradall.
Why, I don't know. They can't really use it for anything. It doesn't even
have hi-rail capability....... and there is precious little right-of-way that
they can access with the thing without hi-rails. But,
they went off to Annapolis with their request (The state senate and congress
have to approve major expenditures such as this, as it cost $250K). The
rumor floated around that the justification was that "they needed it for snow
removal". Well, the Assholes down in Annapolis, not knowing any better,
approved the purchase. It sits around 95% of the time not doing anything.
Good use of MY tax money, yesiree!
I found this Gradall working in Hunt Valley while taking Light Rail Pictures, but it IS NOT the MTA Gradall.
3) One lonely night, myself and another ET was asked to take a look at a
speedometer, it was reportedly not
working. We took the car out into the yard and tested it, it didn't work.
So we got George to order us a new one out of the storeroom. We got the
new one, and I shook it from side to side (they are those industrial 270 degree
20ma instrumentation meters)..... the needle didn't budge, just like the bad one we
took out. George, the foreman (and no, his name wasn't George Foreman),
told us to put it in anyway. WHY? I guess he thought we were trying
to pull one over on him.
4) After many, many years, and
untold millions of dollars spent to put a pre-emption system in the cars, they
are taking it out to make room for other equipment. First, they had never
received a GO from the city of Baltimore to install a pre-emption system.
Sure, it would save an average of two minutes for the light rail trains to go
thru downtown Baltimore, but no-one really gave it much thought on how badly it
would screw up the auto traffic in town. This is also related to the clusterfuck in the next paragraph.
5) How many GPS units would you
say it would take to operate a Light Rail Vehicle. If your guess was
three, you're right. Why three, you ask. Well, let's see.
First there was the position reporting system. This was supposed to take
the location information from the GPS unit and report it back thru the new trunking
radios they were supposed to install.
These first GPS units were
supposed to have a second RS-232 port on them so they could interface with the
pre-emption system. Guess what? They didn't. So, instead of
shipping them back, and getting the correct model, they accepted the wrong GPS
heads. THEN, they added a second GPS unit for the pre-emption system.
Again, I don't know if the engineering firm fucked-up specifying and ordering
the units, or if the MTA engineering staff fucked-up in specifying, or if the
MTA was just to lame to tell someone that the units were wrong, and you need to
take them back and give us the right ones with two RS-232 ports. Then, a
third unit was needed to interface to the automatic braking system....great!
Way to go guys!
6) The trunking radios mentioned
above, another FUBAR mess. They went to the trouble of installing trunking
radios in all 35 of the original cars. They actually assigned them all
of the necessary group codes and ID's, but never put them into service.
They even went to the trouble of taking out a clearance lamp on one end, and
sticking a quarter wave whip up there for the radios. Never to be
used. They just started installing an automatic braking system, which
needed the space the radio head took up, so now we had to pay to have all
the radios taken out. Bright, really bright. Well, finally,
around 2019 or so, they finally went to using trunking radios, so you can no
longer hear them on 161.01!.....
7) Now, you wouldn't think I would leave one of my all time favorites to this far down
on the page. The catenary poles.
This one really gets my goat.
Anyone familiar with the Pittsburgh system can say what they want about their
poles being designed to withstand something like a 120mph wind. But they
at least put them in the right place.... in the middle of the tracks. Our
engineering people, and the genius' they employed to design the system, didn't.
Why does this bother me? For a number of reasons: a) It costs more money,
b) it's twice as ugly, c) it takes up more real estate, and (the selfish reason)
d) you can't get good pictures. I know the transit systems don't care
about d), I can't fault them for that, railfans don't pay their bills. But
a) should be the driving force for puttin' the line down the middle. If
the system was eventually planned to be double track, as this system was, why
didn't they put enough forethought into it and put the poles in the middle.
It seems obvious to me. Goes back to what I said about using young,
inexperienced designers. As for c), there are some places where we have
limited real estate for the right-of-way. Here in Riderwood is a prime
example, near the old Northern Central station. They barely had room for
two tracks and one pole line to squeeze in back of a strip-mall, but they still
didn't put the pole in the middle, they used a single pole on one side and used
a really obscene two track hanger. I don't know what it costs to have a
second pole line put in, but I betcha I could retire now with what it costs if
it was in my pockets instead of the contractors.
8) I just heard this one not too
long ago. It's about the track alignment just north of the main shops.
Again, instead of planning for the future, they designed the single track with
easier curves coming up thru the little valley along the Jones Falls.
Well, in 2005 with the advent of the double tracking project, it all had to be torn out and re-laid
to accommodate the second track. Bright, real bright. They even
had to tear out the old pole line too, another huge waste of money, time,
effort, and resources.... too bad no-one knows how to think ahead :-(
9) They react to a problem that
has happened, instead of having intelligent people think of problems that could
happen and take measures to prevent it from happening before it does. Case
in point: the two collisions they experienced years ago at BWI airport,
where the operators let the trains run into the bumpers. AFTER the second
one, they instituted a system by where the operator has to creep up to the
station. Prescription drugs or not, the operators should have been
fired....we can thank the union for keeping these morons on the property to risk
ours lives another day!
10) Up in the Hunt Valley industrial area, the track takes five really
sharp curves going into the final station. The brilliant MTA designers
and management types said they didn't want to get grease all over
the place, so they came up with a bright idea of putting flange lubricators on
the wheels. They don't work, and God knows how much money that FUBAR cost
the MTA. Last I checked, they weren't refilling the sticks when they wore
out. Too bad it goes below freezing around here, Dallas has a unique
solution to the problem.... they have small holes in the rail that let out
water, it works great, as all one has to do is watch the trains in Hunt Valley
during the rain.
11) Years ago, when I was working for Westinghouse (before it got gobbled up
by Northrop Grumman, and I could write many times more stuff about them) they
experimented with a thing that was called "quality circles" back in the
80's.... using the people that work there to come up with ideas to help solve a
particular problem the company faces, or to come up with enhancements. The
MTA did a similar thing around the 1996 timeframe, and one of the things I
suggested was running the LRV's after a ballgame, similar to how the Baltimore
Transit used to, back in the old streetcar days at Memorial Stadium.
Pack up a streetcar, and send it on it's way WHEN IT IS FULL!
That's called mass transit. The manager assigned to
oversee this project at our facility was Wayne Jubb. What a moron.
He said it couldn't be done because they had to stick to their schedule.
My answer was, "WHY". Ya'll made the rules, ya'll can change them.
You can modify the rules to meet a particular operating scenario. It never
changed, and they still throw in your face how they run something like, 98% on
time. Big deal. I guess no-one in management wanted to make the
change because of the possibility that one Light Rail train would run into the
back of another before they got into ABS territory. Who knows, maybe I
should try again, for he's long gone - Bonehead. His backward and
conservative thinking is why most transit companies can't come close to making
12) My other suggestion was to take
the block between the light rail and heavy rail stations at Lexington Mall and
put it under cover and enclose it for the safety and convenience of those
wishing to transfer between the two systems... it obviously was an idea that
didn't go anywhere.
I bring this up, because they are
now in the planning stage a third mode and separated system, with no real
transfer point... the Red Line. I can understand the MTA wanting to keep
costs to a minimum, but if you want to attract suburbanites and get them into
the city, then make the system easy and convenient (and hopefully safe) to use.
13) Who got the bright idea to use "FINISHED SERVICE",
instead of "out of service"? How can something be
"finished service" when it just came out of the shop for it's first run in the
morning? Assholes. Someone must have seen the light, for sometime in
late 2009, or early 2010, they did away with this and went back to using "out of
service".... maybe someone at the MTA read this page!
14) The head of the MTA is an appointed position. He is handpicked by the
governor, usually to reward a particular political crony for doing well.
The person usually knows nothing about transportation, much less how to
run an organization of this size that impacts soooo many people on a daily
basis. A good portion of the management under the administrator
exhibit the same stupidity and lack of common sense. An
EE I know, that was responsible for designing things at Light Rail, is now in
charge of the Light Rail division, and I understand that he has now been corrupted by the people he works
for. Something happens when you get that high.... you lose touch with
reality and common sense, and what is fair, and what is right and wrong.
It's too bad, for transit companies could probably turn a profit if it wasn't
for this "acquired from the ranks" stupidity. Update May2007.
The EE I refer to above, Dave, is gone..... in fact, there was about 3 or 4
management spots left vacated by people leaving in early 2006.
I love trains, and I love signals. I am not an expert. My webpages reflect what I find on the topic of the page. This is something I have fun with while
trying to help others.
Please Note: Since the main focus of my two websites is railroad signals, the railfan guides are oriented towards the signal fan being able to locate them.
For those of you into the modeling aspect of our hobby, my
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