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Posted at 10:58 AM ET, 04/ 9/2010

How about 'wireless' light rail?

By editors

By Alexander D. Mitchell IV

Is the management of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority so hopelessly insular that it is unaware of a “wireless” light-rail system that is operating just up Interstate 95 [“Streetcar effort may go down to the wire,” Metro, April 6]? I refer to New Jersey Transit’s River Line, which connects Camden and Trenton using diesel-powered, multiple-unit cars without overhead wires. Other such systems are in operation in Ottawa and San Diego County.

If there is a legitimate concern about overhead wires, is this not an option for Washington? Certainly, these systems are not pollution-free, but neither is an all-electric transit system, unless WMATA buys solar, wind or hydroelectric power exclusively.

Whatever the solution, the looming battle over any such future light-rail propulsion system in the District will serve to expose the real priorities of the city’s residents and politicians.

By editors  | April 9, 2010; 10:58 AM ET
Categories:  HotTopic, Metro, transportation  | Tags:  D.C. Light rail, Transit Systems, Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority  
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These diesel-powered LRVs are underpowered for streetcar use. Their acceleration is too weak for city traffic. They are generally used in systems where the stops are several miles apart. The space needed for the engine compartment also takes away passenger space.

The only successfull "wireless" streetcars used the old conduit and plow system. Washington DC, London, and NYC used these systems on a massive scale. They did have problems in rain, ice, and snow. They were expensive to build and expensive to maintain.

The newer candidate wireless systems may evenuatlly be made to work but, as of now, they are not ready for "prime time". In the meantime, overhead contact systems (with wires) are used, day in and day out, in climates ranging from tropic to arctic.

Posted by: LRV3468 | April 9, 2010 1:33 PM | Report abuse

Diesel? We want to cut down on exhaust, not encourage it.

Posted by: jckdoors | April 9, 2010 2:28 PM | Report abuse

Actually, solar is worse than coal. The production panels involves carcinogenic chemicals that can enter the water table.

Posted by: BaracksTeleprompter | April 12, 2010 4:34 AM | Report abuse

What about natural gas or propane? Those tour trolleys that operate out of Union Station run all day on propane. It is clean burning and there is plenty of it.

Posted by: BaracksTeleprompter | April 12, 2010 4:50 AM | Report abuse

No one disputes that, like steam locomotives, trolleys have stood the test of time. But they flunk the tests of new construction cost, acceptable visual environment and, probably, state-of-the art.

Diesels can be replaced repeatedly with fuel cells of increasingly efficient and durable designs. Catenaries, installed in the next few years, will either look very dated soon or be taken down long before their depreciated in-plant life is up.

One way to address the power shortcomings of diesels is to run them at a constant efficient speed, driving a generator charging a battery and/or supercapacitors which are also recharged by regenerative braking.

No technology stays appropriate or optimal forever. Props gave way to jets. The DC3's were rugged and the Constellations were beautiful. The jets that replaced them were noisy and took a lot of fuel. But change happens. Even radial piston engines and trolley arms eventually fade away. Time to let go.

Posted by: pro-hydrolley | April 16, 2010 12:21 AM | Report abuse

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