Los Angeles Railway is officially coming back

Yesterday, the Los Angeles City Council approved $352 million dedicated to rebuilding and maintaining LA’s streetcar system that existed between 1901 and 1963. The trolley line will be nowhere near as expansive as it was in its heyday, but it’s at least a start to a much-needed rail system in one of the largest cities in the country. The next step is to secure $75 million from the federal government, and then the city will begin to lay the tracks.

The trolley system was orchestrated by real estate tycoon Henry E. Huntington in 1901, and at its height there were more than 20 rail lines and 1,250 streetcars. Unfortunately, the Los Angeles Railway was a victim of the General Motors streetcar conspiracy in 1945, where General Motors and other companies bought up railway systems across the country with the purpose of removing them entirely. Rather than disappearing completely, many of the streetcar lines were replaced with buses. By 1963, all trolley bus lines and streetcars were replaced with diesel buses.

But the streetcars are coming back! After years of supporters fighting to have the streetcars reinstated, they have finally gotten their wish. The proposal is only for a single line that will run through 3 of downtown LA’s largest routes – Broadway, Hill, and Figueroa streets – but there is room for expansion. The city is even considering using wireless electric trolleys, similar to those in Bordeaux, France.

The line will open in 2016 and I’m really excited for LA! They probably have the largest traffic problem in the United States and this will definitely provide some relief for commuters. Even if it’s only one line, I’m sure more will be added once the city sees how successful the project is.

All info and images via Wikipedia and LA Times.

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Montreal and Mannheim to begin testing wirelessly-charged electric buses

Bombardier, the world’s largest manufacturer of railway systems, will begin testing wirelessly-charged buses this winter in Montreal. The test rides won’t be available to riders just yet – but Mannheim, Germany will give commuters the first chance to ride wirelessly-charged buses, as they will have a limited run of the buses in the city for 12 months starting in spring 2014.

I personally find the idea to be pretty clever. From CBC of Canada:

[Bombardier’s] Primove technology is designed to allow buses to be charged by underground induction stations when they stop to let passengers hop on and off.

So rather than relying on charging stations as many electric vehicles do, these buses will be charged wirelessly as if they were running on rails. The idea is similar to trollies and railcars that have electric lines overhead, but the buses will only charge when they are stopped and the charging platforms will be entirely underground.

While such a system would require an underground building process, I think that it would be worth it – these buses will be quiet and clean, and I think it’s pretty ingenious that they will integrate something as time-consuming as battery charging into the day-to-day operations of the buses themselves. The project in Mannheim will cost 3.3 million euro ($4.4 million), and will be completely funded by Germany’s Federal Ministry of Transport.

Images via Bombardier and all info from CBC and Bombardier.

Philadelphia’s SEPTA is the last public transit system in the US to ditch the token

Philadelphia’s SEPTA (Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority) still has passengers use tokens in order to ride the rails. However, the transit system announced last year that contactless cards and smart phones will begin make their way in as tokens and magnetic strip cards are phased out over the next three years. While there are many transit systems who currently use magnetic strip cards, SEPTA is the last to utilize tokens.

The switch from token to contactless cards (think Amsterdam’s Chipkaart or credit cards that you “tap” rather than swipe) is a huge leap, and will make SEPTA go from being one of the most outdated systems to one of the most advanced in terms of fare. The idea has been in the works for a few years, and SEPTA officially announced the switch last November when they awarded a contract to the company designing the new fare method.

The new system will be smart – users will have a SEPTA card that they can load up and manage their account online. Magnetic strip cards of the past do not really have a long shelf life, as rail riders typically print out the card for their single ride and toss it after the ride is over. This way, people will have a single hard plastic card that they can use over and over. In addition to the contactless card technology that will come into place, those who don’t want to spend the $5 on the plastic card can simply use their smartphone to pay for their ride. This will be particularly advantageous to tourists.

2015 is the target year for the system to really come into place – the “New Payment Technologies” is still in its design phase. Now that one of America’s most outdated transit systems is entering the 21st century, perhaps others will follow suit.

Info from NextCity and Wikipedia.

Antiquity À-la-carte uses GIS to display roads used in ancient times

The Ancient World Mapping Center over at the University of North Carolina has made an awesome application with GIS interface that combines my love of maps, history, and transportation. You can look at different geographical features from various eras of history, from Archaic Greece to Late Antiquity. Among the features are cities, temples, roads, aqueducts, and urban areas, among others.

Pictured above is Ancient Rome and the roads leading out of it, which I find fascinating. I think it’s amazing to see the roads that were used by the ancients to travel and transport goods and to see how Romans navigated through the mountains to get where they needed to go. The map is incredibly detailed and has roads that stretch throughout the extent of the Roman empire, as well as roads used during other eras.

Here’s Rome and the whole of modern Italy at 1:3120000. It’s incredible to see the roads used throughout the peninsula. This can be done anywhere in the world. Finally, below is the whole of Europe. I’m just blown away that we have the ability to visualize roads used 2000 years ago! I’m going to be playing with this website for a long time.

The application: Antiquity À-la-carte

World’s largest underground rail station is an urbanist’s dream

Hong Kong’s “Express Rail Link West Kowloon Terminus,” to be completed in 2015, will be the largest subterranean rail station in the world. Hong Kong’s station will rival Beijing’s West Railway Station, and at 4.6 million and 5.5 million square feet respectively, these stations are nothing to balk at.

The station is also a fine example of modern urbanist architecture – designed by Andrew Bromberg at Aedas, the station’s design blends in well with Hong Kong’s urban setting. The sloping roof of the station features trees and other vegetation, as well as a walkway designed to present pedestrians with a beautiful view of the city. Furthermore, the platforms and railways will be entirely underground, so there won’t be any sort of major redesign to the city itself.

Architect’s site via Weburbanist