It has been a while since I’ve driven Metro’s trolleys. (I love driving trolleys, but for a Part-Timer there isn’t much variety in the work available at Atlantic base so I tend to pick work elsewhere.) Our trolley system has been around a long time and functions well, especially when you consider how old it is. That said, there is one design choice I’ve always wanted to change – The pull-out wire in the busier bus zones.
In this picture, there are 3 trolleys. The 1st coach has just finished loading a wheelchair and has been blocking the other two from proceeding for several minutes. (I first noticed these coaches while walking Northbound on 3rd Ave a block from where I took this picture). This scenario occurs often because you don’t always know to use the pull out wire. If there is a passenger who needs the lift hidden in a crowd waiting at the zone or on your bus who doesn’t let you know they need the lift early enough, for example. In these instances, your poles track to the outside position, thus blocking all of the trolleys behind you. (And, in this case, any diesel coaches that need to service the zone because it is full of trolleys).
I’ve long felt that a better option would be to reverse the pull-out wires. If the default behavior is to be on the inside track, then coaches behind you still have the option of passing if you need to use the lift. (We communicate delays downtown by turning on our 4-way flashers. Drivers to the rear can also see the lift coming out and generally know whether they will be able to pass or not) This system would require training and wouldn’t be perfect but on balance, it would leave open the possibility for trolleys to the rear to pass the lead trolley – the current system only allows passing if the lead trolley driver knows in advance that they will be delayed.
Two zones come to mind as ideal candidates for a trial: Jackson & 5th/4th and 3rd & Pike. I’m sure there are many others but I recall these zones as having the most issues with coaches blocking.
Has this been tried before? Do other drivers/supervisors out there think this is a good idea?
So I’m getting to the point where I am a pretty experienced trolley driver. I know where the dead spots are, gently come to a crawl right before them, and then smoothly accelerate once I’m past them. (For the uninitiated in trolley operation, dead spots exist in the wire where the wires cross. Why? For that, I’d reference a basic electronics course for what happens when you cross the hot wire with the neutral or ground – but that’s another story.) For the most part, I give folks a smooth ride and don’t lose my poles. Since I returned to Atlantic base the only time I’ve had to futz with my poles is after dealing with the temperamental switch turning right onto 4th Ave from Jackson St.
I haven’t really thought about my poles much. Except now, it’s raining. You see, when it’s raining there is a nasty carbon filled soot that drips off of the wires. If you get out and have to put your poles up in the rain, you get dripped on – typically in your face – with this stuff. To understand what it’s like, repeatedly rub a WHOLE BUNCH of pencils all over thick copper wire, add a built up layer of diesel soot and generalized pollution to the mix, and then drip some water over the wire so the water ends up in your face and on your clothes. Do this all while looking up at the wire, in the dark, while maniacs in SUVs drive around you with the assumption that your reflective vest is a car-proof vest and not simply a device designed to enhance your visibility.
Ok, so now I’m thoroughly obsessing about not losing my poles. I’m carefully approaching corners so as not to throw the poles off. I’m dutifully slowing down in the special work. (Disclaimer for supervisors reading this: I *never* speed through special work! 🙂 And of course, I’m paying close attention to when I need to signal for the correct switch. (Trolley drivers use our turn signals to tell the poles where to go. That’s why you sometimes see us signaling at odd times)
Except now, I have drunk on my bus who is obsessing about the horrible traffic that had Pine street backed up. The traffic was caused by this evening’s unfortunate shooting, but SHE’S GOT TO GET WHERE SHE’S GOING AND SHE DOESN’T CARE WHAT’S CAUSING IT. WHY AREN’T THESE STUPID BUS DRIVERS MOVING. Ok, you get the idea… Anyway, while listening to her yap about the traffic, I became distracted and missed my switch at Pine & 5th Ave. I had to stop the bus, get out with my reflective pseduo-car-proof vest, and put my poles onto the correct wire so I could turn left onto third. Ok, no biggie – traffic was a mess anyway so I didn’t even delay anyone.
After allowing the drunk to leave my bus under her own power (as opposed to leaving with the assistance of the Police), I then turned the corner onto 3rd where traffic was much better although still thick with buses trying to escape the mess on 1st. I was in the clear – well, until I missed a 2nd switch because I signaled right without meaning to switch to the right turn wire for Union St. Pop! Off go the poles as I drive straight while they tracked to the right. At this point I’m blocking the intersection at 3rd & Union with my poles hung up in the wire. The street in front of me is empty while both lanes of 3rd Ave behind me are packed full of buses. Lovely.
Fortunately, I was able to don my trusty reflective vest, wiggle the poles out of the wire, and get moving again. But the whole experience has reminded me what happens when I start to worry about something. It usually just makes the whole situation worse. I’ll try to be more mellow next time it rains.
If you’d like to see some examples of “Special work” take a look at my “Trolley Wire” set over on Flickr.
One of the cool things we trolley drivers get to see are the effects of a heavy frost on the current collecting shoes of the trolley buses. The ice collects on the wire and causes the shoes to lose contact with the wire which results in electrical arcing. Picture a trolley bus driving along with a trail of sparks emanating from the wire as the coach drives by. It’s pretty darn cool. When the ice gets really heavy, Metro replaces the shoes on the first couple of coaches to leave the base with steel shoes, instead of the standard carbon shoes. The steel shoes are stronger and knock the ice off and act as an icebreaker. I’m guessing I didn’t have steel shoes this morning, but I may have – More experience will be necessary to tell the difference.
I hadn’t thought about it when I left the base but did notice that the coach was losing contact with the wires quite a bit. It wasn’t until I saw another trolley coming towards me that I realized what was going on. At that point, I noticed that I was lighting up the street as I drove by – I was probably the 4th or 5th coach through this particular piece of wire on East Cherry St, so I’m sure the light show was even better earlier.
If anybody wants to witness this event, I suggest getting up very early on a morning with a very heavy frost. Head out to the end of a trolley route, such as the 3, 4, 2, or 1, that doesn’t get much traffic so you can watch the first couple of buses go by. If you can find a section of wire that has a lot of “special work” (places where the wires cross with other wires) that’s even better. (Disclaimer: Diesel buses are placed on most trolley routes on the weekends to allow for construction reroutes so no light show on weekends – You’ve been warned)