Saturday, November 22, 2014

LRT rant

Last Thursday was a very bad day for Calgary transit. The Light Rail Transit system was hit with three unrelated incidents in one day that turned commuting life into hell. I had wondered if something was up, as I was leaving work and having to wade through people to get to the car.

Let's get a couple things straight first. Actual facts that are true and all:

  • The LRT is one of the biggest and heaviest vehicles in Calgary. Each individual car is about 80 feet long, and a train is 3 cars, soon to be 4. 
  • The empty weight is between 80,000 and 100,000 pounds, depending on which version the car is.
  • Somewhere between 250 and 300 people can cram onto a car, depending on how friendly people are feeling, and if any of them had garlic with lunch
  • So a full, 3 car train weighs in about 400,000 pounds.
  • It runs on about 58.5 Km of rail, and nowhere else.
  • There are more than 300,000 passenger trips on the average weekday.

There have been any number of times the newspaper headlines are "C-Train strikes pedestrian/car/truck/crane". Yes, an actual crane.

Well, no, the headlines are wrong. This has always peeved me. In fact, those things got in the way of the train. Really, the headline should read, "Stupid pedestrian strikes train, inconveniences a hundred thousand people."

The train does not stalk up and down the roads and sidewalks of Calgary, trying to strike the unwary. It's not like the train drivers are paid a bounty for every pedestrian they strike. It goes up and down a set of tracks that are out there in the open for all to see. They are not a secret. They're on maps and everything. There are signs.

Although the train is quiet, it's not silent, nor is it invisible, nor does it have a camouflage paint scheme. The trains themselves have a variety of horns, bells, and other noisemakers and the drivers are not shy about using them. The City and Calgary Transit employs fences, gates, crossing arms, lights, bells, nubbled or painted surfaces, and voice warnings to separate people from the train except when actual loading or unloading is taking place. There may be other safety devices I'm unaware of.

And still, STILL! The train is in collision with other vehicles and people. It baffles me. Well, the suicides don't, you can't protect against that, all you can do is make it a bit more difficult. But one of the first things children are taught about the world is how to cross the street safely. Most children master it by 4 or 5. Yet I see adults every day demonstrating that they've forgotten. They run across the street thinking they can beat the train. Sometimes they don't.

It pisses me off when cars block the cross intersection because the driver thinks they are too important to wait for the next green light. Same with crossing the tracks. They don't want to wait, and will try to zip across thinking they have room for their car. The train cannot stop on a dime. Whatever is in it's way is going to get crunched.

Then the world stops. There is very little redundancy in the system, especially downtown. Once a train stops it doesn't take long for the whole system to stop. Yes, they set up shuttle buses, but the whole resulting mess can be safely described as barely organized chaos. If Canadians weren't such a polite people, it could easily turn into a riot. For me, going from downtown to home using the LRT and bus, the trip is between 45 and 60 minutes. Once the train stops moving it can take any amount of time. Once you're on the train, and it stops, often you can't get off again.

When you count the cost of repairing the damage to the train, the counseling given to the poor train driver who is watching helplessly once the brakes are applied, the damage to the offending vehicles if they are repairable at all, damage to the track or other supporting infrastructure, the hospital care for the idiot that caused the issue or people in the train knocked off their feet, and the lost time for many 10's of thousands of people, it is easily counted in the millions of dollars. 

And as a quick aside, while I'm on my soap box, these are not accidents. They are a caused event. They are mostly caused by people demonstrating incompetence at some of the basic skills of living in a city. There are a few caused by an unexpected medical event, such as a driver having a medical event, but these are pretty rare. Mostly it's pedestrian or driver stupidity.

After one of these, people say that the City should do more to prevent such things from happening. One of the suggested improvement is to build an underground system. Such a thing would be obscenely expensive, and wouldn't solve the problem. Even in underground systems people still jump or fall in front of the train in the stations themselves.

We run a safe society here. We require that devices have safety features. When the train was first built, there were a number of safety features to warn people of the train. More have been added over the years. They review these every time, and have periodically changed procedures or equipment. Short of a chain of humans along every meter of track, I'm not sure what more can be done to protect the idiots from themselves. 

At some point I think you have to step back and say, "there are many safety features, but the most important one was taught to you many years ago. Look both ways before crossing the street, and realize a train could come along in a minute. Behave accordingly, and we may bill you if you cause a collision."

There are days I seriously think what we need to do is mount a cow catcher arrangement on the front of each train, with the purpose being to display a replica of the last person struck, along with their name, the date it happened and why. Such as :
  • He was deep into a Spice Girls remix and didn't hear it and was too lazy to look."
  • He thought he could beat the train, and couldn't.
  • She was late for work and couldn't wait a minute to cross.
There. I feel much better now.

In other news I had a nice swim Wednesday, even though it was spread over two different pools. 100 m intervals, 100 seconds, on 2:30. Good to start.

And technically, I've won NaNoWriMo! I could validate now, but I want to keep going. There's a bunch more story here. I'm really proud of one bit I banged out when I thought the well was dry, then something connected and I was on a roll again. 


  1. Now you have me picturing a mean face on the front of the C-train as it hunts people down for slaughter. Who's fault was the derailment?

    1. That I don't know. At this point I'm suspecting some kind of mechanical failure.


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