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I like my trains like I like my cookies. Chunky.

August 18, 2010

Let’s talk rail.  Rail on a transit blog, imagine.  But but I’ve noticed people in Cobb County using the term “lite” rail and I’m just annoyed.  Not like any of them would read this blog post, but it’s light rail!  LIGHT not DIET, folks.  So let’s take a look at the various types of rail so we can set these sorts of mindless buffoons straight.

MARTA is heavy rail, or sometimes called rapid rail.  This is your classic subway, an electric railway with the capacity for “heavy” volume that runs at higher speeds with limited stops.  It uses exclusive right-of-ways, multi-car trains, rapid acceleration, and designated high platforms.  Heavy rail extremely expensive to build and operate, making it a viable option only in dense urban areas that see extensive ridership, which is why the possibility of seeing a “MARTA train” in Clayton County is low.

Light rail is what we call the modern street car or trolley.  It is an electric railway with a lighter capacity, operating at slower speeds and with more stops.  It can use shared tracks or have exclusive right-of-ways and in general is more versatile.  When people talk about the Beltline or the street car downtown, they are referring to light rail.  This is a more cost effective way to move passengers than heavy rail but is quicker than bus service tends to be.

Commuter rail is local and regional service between a central city, suburbs and/or another major city.  It generally operates on shared right-of-ways and is characterized by multi-trip tickets, station-to-station fares, and limited stations in the central cities, such as a union station (or multimodal passenger terminals) common in many cities.  In Atlanta, commuter rail would be the “Brain Train” from Athens to Atlanta to Macon and because it travels on existing infrastructure, it is the quickest rail option to build. 

High speed rail, like the TGV, serves densely traveled corridors at speeds of 124 mph and greater.  It requires exclusive right-of-ways and considerations when crossing roads and other rail lines due to the speeds at which is travels.  This rail would give us the ability to travel across the country in less than five days (not that I don’t love Amtrak).

Now you know, and knowing is half the battle.  The other half is asking Cobbites why they only like skinny trains.  Fat trains need love, too.

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. Mason Hicks permalink
    August 18, 2010 10:41 am

    A suggestion if you haven’t already done so: Go to Charlotte, and ride their Lynx light rail line. Your description is correct, but if you ride the full length of the line, down to the southern terminus at I-485, you will see that once the station spacing increases, the train is capable of traveling at higher speeds as well; The train doesn’t quite travel as fast as the stretch of MARTA line as it breaks out of the tunnel, north of Arts Center to Lindbergh, but much faster than the cars on the adjacent street, (South Boulevard).
    As for high speed rail… TGVs approach 200mph as their standard speed. The Spanish AVE has stretches that run 220mph. Anytime the train is running at high speed, it is running on completely dedicated tracks, with no grade crossings. Today, I rode my bike along a portion of the TGV Atlantic line running south out of Paris from Gare Montparanasse. Most of it runs through the densely deveoped banlieues, so it is running mostly underground here. They have built a nice greenway above this stretch.

  2. neff permalink
    August 18, 2010 2:22 pm

    Yeah, interestingly enough, light-rail cars often weigh more than heavy-rail cars.

    I think “light rail” was a badly chosen name though. I think it implies flimsiness and half-baked temporariness (or something like that) to a lot of people who hear it. I have this crackpot theory that this helps make light-rail lines less popular than similar things called “streetcar” or “trolley” or whatever.

    • CCTgirl permalink*
      August 18, 2010 11:34 pm

      The moniker comes from the “light volume,” but I agree with you, I think street car is a better name, even thought a modern street car doesn’t resemble most people’s concept of a street car.

  3. Mason Hicks permalink
    August 18, 2010 5:19 pm

    Another note about high speed rail. The train ride from Paris to Marseille currently takes three hours. This is true wheather or not there is a stop along the way; usually in Avignon or Lyon. That’s roughly a distance of a little under 500 miles. A big argument raised against the development of high speed rail in the US is that the we do not have the population density to support high speed rail. I counter this argument by stating the fact I laid out above, and suggesting to the “nay-sayer” that he draw a 500 mile circle, centered on Atlanta or whatever city they like and see what other cities fall within it. New Orleans, Cincinatti, and Orlando fall within it, as does most of the state of Ohio. Washington, DC lies about 35 odd miles outside this circle; another ten minutes maybe. Make 3 and a half hours or four, and you’ve added Chicago, Indianapolis, Saint Louis, and your almost in Philadelphia. Newyork and Boston within five and a half hours. I imagine That one could possibly reach the west coast on an overnight train.
    I like my trains fast…

  4. CCTgirl permalink*
    August 18, 2010 11:37 pm

    Thanks for the comments Mason! These are the technical definitions, but you’re right, the Lynx does go faster than MARTA in Decatur! It’s all relative. But getting across the country on high speed rail would be amazing!

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