Valocea Project – part 2

(Beautiful TGV Thalys photo in post header by Ad Meskens)

PART 2: Overview of public transit concepts – section A (introduction, high-speed/intercity/regional/commuter rail, V-Net, practices & policies)

I mentioned before that in all likelihood, there was one thing that would receive more attention than any other single subject in this project: Valocea’s transit systems.  The reason for this is that my love of all things transit-y motivated me to begin work on my own, fictional system.  Which is actually how this project got started.  That would make for a nice segue into an explanation of… how this project got started, but the whole history of this crazy thing, from original inception to current state, will have to be laid out in its own post, since it would be too long to add it to this one.

What follows here is a run-down of some of those transit systems in their current form.  This part will focus mainly on passenger rail, from intercity to commuter.  Information about intracity transit systems, including those in Lennvale, will come in the “B” section, which will be its own post.  As this entire project is still in a fairly early stage, there are still a lot of gaps to fill in, but that will change over time, of course.  That said, I know a lot more about the nature of the transit systems than I do anything else as of yet, which shouldn’t be surprising after reading the first paragraph of this post.

Note 1: This is written from the perspective of today, so any wording indicating time frame (i.e., “in recent times, this and that has happened”) uses early 2013 as a reference point.

Note 2: Fair warning: serious transit geekery ahead.  Proceed with caution.  I’ll provide links to Wikipedia articles for a few of the more esoteric terms, just in case someone who isn’t a transit geek is reading this.

On a national level, there is both regular and high-speed intercity rail, connecting the major cities as well as many smaller cities and points of interest.  Currently, there are only three or four high-speed lines total, with some large areas not having any yet, due to the fact that they adopted the concept later than, say, Europe or Japan (high-speed rail was open to the public by the 60’s and early 80’s in Japan and France, respectively; the first high-speed line in Valocea didn’t open until sometime around the mid 90’s).  However, the HSR network is continually expanding.  Far more prevalent are “conventional” intercity train services, utilizing both diesel and electric motive power.  Though not “high-speed” by definition, these trains routinely operate at speeds in excess of 100 mph when utilizing electric motive power, and even the diesels often run at 90+.  All of the high-speed and intercity services are run by a government agency, known as “VN Transit”.  This agency also provides long-distance, intercity bus service in areas where there is insufficient rail coverage but a transit connection is still needed, though there are notably fewer such lines compared to the rail lines.  VN Transit, in turn, is managed by the Valocean National Transportation Network, known commonly as “V-Net” (which I imagine started as only a nickname and was later adopted and made official by the agency as their “abbreviated” name).  V-Net also manages highways, bridges, etc. (those that fall outside the management prevue of local municipalities, anyway).  There is also a set of logistical and structural practices relating to accessibility, frequency, fares, and connectivity, established by V-Net.  Any smaller (regional or local level) agency could adopt these practices (and in the present day, most of the major ones already have), and if they did so, they’d be “part of” V-Net.  Member agencies, together with V-Net itself, pool resources for procuring equipment and coordinate their schedules and connections to maximize efficiency.  Membership also means that all fares can all be paid using the V-Net smart card, which would apply for the nationwide services and for any local or regional agency that was a member.  This is one of the biggest advances that Valocea’s transit providers have successfully implemented: across a sizable majority of the country, a passenger can literally use one smart card to ride on a local agency’s vehicles, transfer to intercity or high-speed rail, go halfway across the country, transfer again to another local agency, etc.  And since V-Net participation is up around 80-90% among all transit agencies serving large metropolitan areas, there aren’t very many major destinations in the country where this card can’t be used.  (Note that from here on, the term “V-Net” can be assumed to mean “V-Net and its member agencies”).

The next level down consists of the numerous regional (connecting the main population centers of a region to that region’s smaller cities and extents) and commuter (connecting the center of a single metropolitan area with its suburbs and extents) railroads run by local or regional agencies; these function similarly to the intercity services, excepting of course that their routes are shorter and more frequent, with a higher number of stops.  Stations are very frequently shared between commuter, regional, inter-city, and high-speed rail; station and network designers have, for decades, been intentionally building their infrastructure so that different rail services converge as much as possible in a single city.  So more often than not, one facility – or at least, several adjacent facilities spread out around one city block or so – will serve as a city’s main (often only) stop for all of those services, as well as a hub for local intracity services.  This central hub arrangement had become very common in transit planning during the mid-late 20th century, to the point where its existence is assumed in any such discussion.

Platform boarding heights, however, are less unified.  Multiple heights can be found among both station platforms, and train car floors.  The reason for this is relatively simple: the current rail network crisscrossing Valocea has been built on top of existing railroad infrastructure of past operators.  Some of these were privately owned, some were older regional railroads operated by the government; some have been completely defunct for ages, some survived in some form into the mid 20th century and have been absorbed into the larger network… In any case, the result of this is that a great deal of existing stations were used as the modern railroads took shape – replacing large numbers of platforms to create height uniformity was deemed far too expensive and largely unnecessary, as the use of different types of rolling stock across different services, or different regions, in order to accommodate these differing platform heights, is simply not seen as a very serious problem (there are other reasons why different operations sometimes have different characteristics anyway, resulting in the procurement of non-uniform rolling stock with or without the platform height issue).  Differing heights even within a single station are not all that uncommon, i.e. if a station had an existing platform for a regional rail employing a platform height equivalent to Europe’s low TSI height spec (550mm), but then a later section was added as an extension to a high-platform (1,200mm) commuter line, the new platform would simply be higher than the old ones.

Additionally, V-Net has been working with multiple vehicle manufacturers for quite some time, and indeed prefers to have some diversity among their vehicle fleets.  There is a program they initiated, in the late 90s, called the SMART (Shared Maintenance And Refit Training) Program, designed to facilitate better communication and coordination between a manufacturer and a transit agency when it comes to field maintenance of vehicles, extending the life of vehicles, identifying problems, advancing transit technologies, etc.  Several manufacturers of both rail vehicles and buses  – including Bombardier Transportation, Alstom Transport, New Flyer Industries, and Nova Bus (and possibly others as well; those are just the ones I’m sure about at the moment) – participate in this program, attending and contributing to training sessions and seminars and whatnot with Valocean transit engineers and maintenance workers.  This leads to better vehicle maintenance, more efficient use of procurement money (due to better informed decisions about when to spend money on upgrading and refitting existing, older vehicles vs. spending money on buying newer ones), and deeper, more useful feedback from the agency maintenance personnel to the manufacturers.  Some of these manufacturers also have actual facilities in Valocea, which has eliminated the need for expensive overseas shipping when obtaining new vehicles from those manufacturers.

The other reason why diversity is valued is that the riding public place some value on it themselves, as a more diverse fleet of vehicles is simply more interesting.  (Yes, this last part is somewhat indulgent; as a transit enthusiast, I am imagining that Valocea has a much higher number of fellow enthusiasts than the US does, and that even non-enthusiasts would have a greater appreciation for the nitty gritty details of transit systems than your average person tends to in real-life.  But why not?  There is a certain logic to it, anyway: greater knowledge of transit, and appreciation for transit, would go hand-in-hand with a higher value placed on transit and higher ridership).

Nearly all electrified passenger rail uses 25kv AC overhead catenary wires (note that “passenger rail” in this case excludes systems such as urban subways, light rail lines, trams, etc.  Those systems may use a different voltage or current, or employ third-rail rather than overhead wires), with a mix of electric locomotive-hauled trains and EMUs.  There is an ongoing project to slowly electrify more and more passenger rail lines, with the ultimate goal being 100% electrification.  Among the four levels of passenger rail service (high-speed, conventional speed intercity, commuter, and regional), the amount of total trackage that is electrified varies:

•          All high-speed rail is electrified.  The system in entirety has only been around for about 20 years or so, and was conceived as all-electric from the ground up.  Much of the constant tension catenary was built alongside the rest of the high-speed infrastructure in the late 80’s and early 90’s, and continues to be expanded as the HSR network itself does.

•          Intercity lines stand at about 75% electrification.  Although these lines were once made up of more diesel than electric – by a wide margin – the electrification project for those lines has been progressing for longer than high-speed rail has even been around, so a great deal of progress has been made.  The project continues, with more trackage being converted each year.

•          Commuter railroads (that is, all such services in the country, combined) stand at 65% electrification.  Generally, these services are newer than the intercity lines, and while some were built as electric from the ground up, there are also a number that weren’t, or were built as only partially electric.  This was done mainly to save on costs, by postponing the installation of overhead wires to a long-term project, rather than trying to do that while the railroad itself was being built up.  It also allowed them to make use of existing diesel locomotives (mostly acquired from VN Transit as they replaced their diesels with electric locos and EMUs), lessening start-up costs even more.  Of course, this approach has met with some criticism; many have pointed out the contradiction in building commuter railroads this way, and then turning around years later and giving them high priority within the ongoing electrification project, due to the fact that the inherent environmental, performance, and maintenance advantages of electric over diesel are more significant when applied to the characteristics of commuter rail (higher frequency, greater number of trips per day, more stops).

•          Regional rail lags the farthest behind in terms of electrification, at about 55%.  It has been around almost as long as the intercity services, but switching to electric propulsion simply wasn’t seen to be as pressing a need for these lines, as they are simply not as heavily used, nor as numerous, as the longer intercity lines.  And on the other side of the coin, as described above, commuter rail lines generally out prioritize the regional lines as well for electrification, though for different reasons.  Additionally, regional rail lines have generally been the least “stable” of the four types until more recently.  Unlike the others, the history of the vast majority of regional operations can be traced to private railroad companies – most now defunct – that all ran their own for-profit operations and competed with one another during the early 20th century.  The history of many of those companies was tumultuous, to say the least, and at the time that V-Net and VN Transit were getting going, and local commuter railroads were becoming more prevalent, the regional systems were in a state of relative disarray.  It took some time for them to stabilize and fall into more consistent patterns of management and use.  Thus, it will likely be the last type of passenger rail to be fully electrified, but the goal to do so remains.

Non-electrified lines use diesel locomotives, though in recent years, V-Net has worked with Bombardier (one of the first participants in the SMART Program; they have been providing rail vehicles throughout Valocea for some time) on a variant of their ALP-45DP – a locomotive capable of operating as either full diesel or full electric – for service in Valocea, on lines that have only been partially electrified.  DMUs are rare if not entirely absent; there may be a place for them on small feeder lines between rural areas and larger population centers in some cases, but I may just eschew them entirely.

That’s all for part 2!  Part 3 (which will be section B of the transit overview, detailing transit at the local, intracity, level) will be up soon.

-Saito S

(all real-world information sourced from Wikipedia)


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