Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Elevated Rail’s Many Advantages Include Highly Reliable, On-Time and Frequent Train Service

Consultant Jarrett Walker’s Human Transit website is must reading if you want a deeper understanding of issues that often are missed in the ongoing discussion about our future rail system.

Earlier this year he examined the relatively overlooked subject of train frequency and noted that automated systems like Honolulu’s (and Vancouver's SkyTrain, at right) usually maintain their frequency of service even in tight economic times. That’s because they’re not vulnerable to the kind of cuts operators often feel compelled to make first – labor costs.

At-grade systems with drivers often reduce the number of trains in their off-peak schedules, and that reduces train frequency and degrades their level of service, Walker writes. Driverless systems don’t experience the same service reductions when labor costs are reduced.

Ensuring On-Time Service

Yesterday’s post at Human Transit highlights on-time performance issues and new ways to measure that performance in light of improved tools. But the reason we’re sending you there is to make a bigger point about Honolulu rail.

Virtually all of Walker’s discussion of on-time performance deals with at-grade systems, which out of necessity must employ drivers and, as experience shows, are vulnerable to accidents and other at-grade interruptions. (Phoenix infamously experienced 52 vehicle crashes in its system’s first year of service.)

Honolulu rail will be fully automated. Trains will be driverless and controlled from an operations center. Walker wrote specifically about our future system last year in a piece titled “Is elevated acceptable?” It’s also recommended for your reading because he contrasts elevated systems like ours with Portland’s light rail system, MAX, whose problems were cited recently by local anti-railer Cliff Slater to cast doubt on Honolulu’s plans.

Elevated and at-grade systems have rails and trains in common but, as Walker notes, not much else.

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