RAILFAN GUIDES of the U.S.



the COMPLAINT DEPT

 

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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 all the way from the top down.  If you don't like bad language, hit the home button and leave, sometimes I get worked :-)



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 the background.

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 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, and add 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 the heating needed to run.  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 individual 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.

 

I found this Gradall working in Hunt Valley while taking Light Rail Pictures, but it IS NOT the MTA Gradall.

 

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 it.  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!

 

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!

 

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.  The Light Rail freq BTW, is 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 poles.  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.  Now, with the double tracking project going on, it all had to be torn out and re-laid to accommodate the second track.  Bright, real bright.

 

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 MTA brilliant engineers and management ones 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 didn'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 any money.

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 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.

 


Disclaimers:

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.  My webpages are an attempt at putting everything I can find of the subject in one convenient place.  There are plenty of other good websites to help me in this effort, and they are listed in the links section on my indexa page, or as needed on individual pages.  Please do not write to me about something that may be incorrect, and then hound the heck out of me if I do not respond to you in the manner you would like.  I operate on the "Golden Rule Principle", and if you are not familiar with it, please acquaint yourself with how to treat people by reading Mathew 7:12 (among others, the principle exists in almost every religion).  If you contact me (like some do, hi Paul) and try to make it a "non-fun" thing and start with the name calling, your name will go into my spambox list! :-)

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 indexa page has a list of almost everything railroad oriented I can think of to provide you with at least a few pictures to help you detail your pike.

If this is a railfan page, every effort has been made to make sure that the information contained on this map and in this railfan guide is correct.  Once in a while, an error may creep in, especially if restaurants or gas stations open, close, or change names.  Most of my maps are a result of personal observation after visiting these locations.  I have always felt that a picture is worth a thousand words", and I feel annotated maps such as the ones I work up do the same justice for the railfan over a simple text description of the area.  Since the main focus of my website is railroad signals, the railfan guides are oriented towards the signal fan being able to locate them.  Since most of us railheads don't have just trains as a hobby, I have also tried to point out where other interesting sites of the area are.... things like fire stations, neat bridges, or other significant historical or geographical feature.  While some may feel they shouldn't be included, these other things tend to make MY trips a lot more interesting.... stuff like where the C&O Canal has a bridge going over a river (the Monocacy Aqueduct) between Point of Rocks and Gaithersburg MD, it's way cool to realize this bridge to support a water "road" over a river was built in the 1830's!!!  

My philosophy: Pictures and maps are worth a thousand words, especially for railfanning.  Text descriptions only get you so far, especially if you get lost or disoriented.  Take along good maps.... a GPS is OK to get somewhere, but maps are still better if you get lost!  I belong to AAA, which allows you to get local maps for free when you visit the local branches.  ADC puts out a nice series of county maps for the Washington DC area, but their state maps do not have the railroads on them.  If you can find em, I like the National Geographic map book of the U.S..... good, clear, and concise graphics, and they do a really good job of showing you where tourist type attractions are, although they too lack the railroads.  Other notes about specific areas will show up on that page if known.

By the way, floobydust is a term I picked up 30-40 years ago from a National Semiconductor data book, and means miscellaneous and/or other stuff.

Pictures and additional information is always needed if anyone feels inclined to take 'em, send 'em, and share 'em, or if you have something to add or correct.... credit is always given! BE NICE!!! Contact info is here

Beware: If used as a source, ANYTHING from Wikipedia must be treated as being possibly being inaccurate, wrong, or not true.

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