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Fun in Philadelphia…

April 28, 2015, 11:29 PM

Back at the end of March, I went up to Philadelphia with my friends Melissa and Elyse.  We had a list of things that we wanted to do, and we did as many of them as we could.  We had a blast, plus we got to meet up with my cousins Mike and Tara for dinner.  This trip was also a proof of concept for how my various little outings might go now that I routinely work late nights, since my typical workday runs from approximately 4:00 PM until just before 2:00 AM.

Logistically, it worked out this way: Melissa met me at Glenmont station around 11:00, and then we traveled up to Howard County to get Elyse.  Then from there, up to Philadelphia via I-95.  Then in Philadelphia, everything that we were planning was transit-accessible, save for one thing, but we worked it all out pretty well.

Our first point of interest was the non-transit-accessible one: the SS United States.  This would be a quick look-see for some photos, and then move along to other targets.  We parked at the IKEA store across the street, and then Elyse and I walked over for a look (Melissa stayed in the car).  Here are pix:

The SS United States in Philadelphia

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I have ridden the 7000-Series…

April 15, 2015, 8:30 AM

Back in late March, Metro announced that the new 7000-Series railcars, which I toured in January of last year, would enter revenue service on Tuesday, April 14, on the Blue Line.  So on that day, I got together with Elyse, and we sought out and rode Metro’s new 7000-Series railcars on their first day of revenue service.  We met up in late afternoon, and we took the Red Line down to Metro Center from Glenmont.  At Metro Center, we waited for the train.  Elyse and I had been in communication with Metro’s social media team as we were making our way in, and they helped us with our planning, as they indicated when the train was entering service in the evening, how long it would be out, and where it was located, and in which direction it was heading.

And we watched the PIDS screens.  We knew that the train would be eight cars, because the 7000-Series is designed to run in quad sets rather than married pairs.  So when we saw something like this come up on the board, our ears definitely perked up:

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Categories: Elyse, Washington DC, WMATA

Growing out the beard…

February 25, 2015, 2:44 AM

This past Sunday, I really came to realize that I have, as TV Tropes would say, started “growing the beard” when it comes to driving a bus.  It’s about getting past all of the newness and figuring out how it all really works, and starting to, you know, become proficient at what you’re doing.  When it comes to jobs, if a person is a good fit with the organization, they grow out their beard within the first few months after whatever training period ends.  If the beard doesn’t grow, then it’s possible that they’re not a good fit, and that often ends with a parting of ways.

Me, I’ve grown my (figurative) beard out quite nicely.  I have a run of my own, meaning that my assignment does not change much from week to week.  I do the same thing every weekday, and I do the same Saturday and Sunday schedules every week.  When the transit agency that I work for cut me loose to work my own assignment for the first time, I was a bit overwhelmed.  I was at a different bus garage than the one that I had trained at after having been unexpectedly reassigned at the end of training (about half the class was also moved from where they had trained), and I had never done a street relief in the middle of a route before.

For those not familiar, a street relief is how some bus routes work.  The buses are out on the street all day, and the operators just cycle on and off of them.  One guy takes a bus out of the garage, and then at a designated location, he hands the bus off to another operator.  That next guy takes the bus for however long, and then gives the bus to someone else.  That keeps going until the last guy gets the bus, and he brings it back to the garage.

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I can’t believe I set off the DriveCam…

January 28, 2015, 7:57 PM

I had a good bit of fun on Tuesday.  I went down to the Washington Auto Show at the Washington Convention Center with Elyse, and we wandered through, seeing all sorts of interesting things.  We took the Red Line to Gallery Place, then took the 70 bus up to the Convention Center (and we got an artic).

Unlike most car shows that I’ve been to in my 33 years, this was primarily for auto manufacturers to show off new cars.  As such, it was heavy on the marketing, and you could touch and interact with most of the vehicles that were there.  If you go on a Tuesday, as we did, the place was pretty quiet.  No wait for tickets and security, and no wait to see or do anything, and more time to chat it up with people.

Right off the bat, with its being a slow day, Elyse and I could tell that the people working the event were in a good mood.  When I purchased my ticket, the guy mentioned that admission, normally $12.00, was only $10.00 with a SmarTrip, or $5.00 with a student ID.  My old JAC card from my college days still lives on my keychain over a decade after I graduated college.  I said, “I still have my old student ID from when I was in college.”  The guy sold me a ticket at the student rate, and justified it by saying that it just says “a student ID”, and not that you had to be a current student.

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Categories: Elyse, Events, Washington DC, WMATA

No longer a Baltimore transit virgin…

September 28, 2014, 1:58 PM

Two weeks ago, I went up to Baltimore with my friend Elyse.  We went for the Star Spangled 200 celebration, and wandered around the city a bit.  And most importantly, I rode public transportation in Baltimore for the first time.  MTA Maryland is a very different beast from Metro.  MTA has buses, and MTA has trains, and there’s also a Circulator-type service.  But the details are quite different.  Elyse and I started out at Cromwell station in Glen Burnie, which is out by BWI.  That’s light rail.  DC doesn’t have light rail, as you know.  There’s a streetcar system coming in DC, but it’s not here yet.  Then there’s a heavy rail system, i.e. the Metro Subway, which we also rode.  That’s more like what I’m used to.  We also rode the Charm City Circulator, which is a free bus service that travels around the city, separate from the regular MTA buses (which we didn’t get to ride).  And owing to cooperation between MTA Maryland and Metro, my SmarTrip card worked in Baltimore.

Most surprising was that the fares for the light rail were basically on the honor system.  You bought your ticket at the machine, and then you just got on.  No faregates, no fareboxes, no nothing.  In my case, I loaded an MTA pass onto my SmarTrip.

So this was what I saw on my first ride on the Baltimore Light Rail:

Baltimore LRV 5011

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Categories: Baltimore, Elyse, MTA Maryland

And this is why I should never be allowed to go to Micro Center unsupervised…

August 14, 2014, 1:27 AM

First of all, I apologize for my silence as of late.  I’ve been busy working on various things plus having some computer issues, and that’s caused me to neglect the website somewhat, save for changing the photo features and splash photos.

However, the good news is that I’ve received job offers from a few different area transit agencies (that I’m not naming) for the position of bus operator.  I should be starting training with one of them soon, once all of the various onboarding processes are completed.  From what I’ve seen, these are not quick processes, but they’re done correctly the first time, and I’m fine with that.  In deciding to become a bus driver, I realized over the course of the job hunt that my heart just wasn’t in it for more nonprofit work.  I also realized that I wanted a career, and not just another job, and I didn’t really have a passion for the issues that the organizations that I was applying to were about.  In looking at my interests, I came to realize that I had a real interest in starting a career in public transportation.  And a job as a bus driver is a foot in that door.  In pursuing that, I took a commercial driving course at Montgomery College over the winter, and I now hold a Class B commercial driver’s license with passenger and school endorsements, plus no air brake restrictions.  So life is good on that front.

I also had a big day on July 26, checking out the new Silver Line stations.  I received an invitation to ride the VIP train before revenue service began, and I brought my friend Matthew as my guest.  I’m going to do a full-on photo set for Life and Times for this day (along with a few other subjects in the photo set queue), so I’m not going to say much about it now, but we had fun.  I got to see a number of congressmen and other various elected officials, I got to talk to former Virginia governor Jim Gilmore, and then Matthew and I rode the first revenue train from Wiehle Avenue to Largo.  Then after lunch, we toured the new stations on the way back from Largo.

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It was a six-mile hike, mostly uphill, but the view was definitely worth it…

May 12, 2014, 12:19 PM

On May 4, I got together with Melissa, Pete, and Pete’s dog Bruno, and we went on a trip out to Harpers Ferry, West Virginia to do some hiking.  The inspiration for this trip was twofold.  First of all, Pete and Melissa had recently become friends on Facebook, though they had never met in person.  This seemed like a good opportunity for them to actually meet.  And then the venue came about after I saw someone else post pictures of the Maryland Heights overlook at Harpers Ferry onto Facebook, and I decided that I wanted to see it for myself.

Heading in, I first picked Melissa up at her house in Hyattsville, along with, to my surprise, Jason.  He was going to check out the Smithsonian, and so we brought him down to a Metro station.  After dropping Jason off at Eastern Market station, Melissa and I met up with Pete for breakfast at Sizzling Express.  After breakfast, we headed back over to Pete’s house to get Bruno, and then we all walked down to the car, which was parked on 6th Street SE.  I ended up taking Bruno’s leash, which was an experience all of its own.  Realize that when I was growing up, my family had a dachshund, which is a small dog.  Bruno is a basset hound, which is a much bigger breed.  Walking a basset hound is a different experience entirely from walking a dachshund, in that I was mostly walking Bruno, but there were definitely times when Bruno was walking me.  Bruno is pretty strong, and was able to pull me around at times as he checked out various items along our path.  Greta could never have pulled me around like that on account of her being too small.  But it was fun, so all was well, and Pete was there to remind Bruno to be on his best behavior if necessary.

When we got to the car, Bruno got in his carrier, and we were off.  To get there, we took the Southwest Freeway to GW Parkway to the Beltway to I-270 to US 340.  And for the record, 340’s east-west signing in Maryland always throws me off, because I am very much accustomed to 340’s being signed as a north-south route, as it is in Virginia and West Virginia, though that’s by far not the only US highway that changes directional designations like that.

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Listen to the 7000-Series accelerate…

April 28, 2014, 2:18 PM

This past Saturday, I went out to Lake Artemesia to photograph out there.  For those not familiar, Lake Artemesia is a manmade lake in PG County that may be best known as the big lake that you go past while riding up to Greenbelt on the Green Line.  I’m going to put the lake photos up on my Flickr page at a later date, because the highlight of this outing was, by far, in watching the 7000-Series railcars undergo some of their acceptance testing prior to entering revenue service.  This particular weekend, the Green Line was single-tracking between College Park and Greenbelt on track E2 (normally for service to Branch Avenue) for the acceptance testing, and the testing was occurring right next to the lake on track E1 (normally for service to Greenbelt).  Thus, this was a common sight near the lake on Saturday:

7000-Series train on track E1

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Categories: WMATA

The future is riding on Metro…

January 12, 2014, 10:52 PM

On Monday, January 6, at 10:30 AM, the future of Metro arrived, as Metro debuted its new 7000-Series railcars for the press at Greenbelt station.  First thing that happened is that they brought the train into the station:

The first 7000-Series quad set arrives at Greenbelt station

Once the train stopped in the station, the last set of doors on the trailing car (7006) opened, and out stepped Metro General Manager Richard Sarles to greet everyone.  As the train had come in signed as a Green Line train to Branch Avenue, the new canned announcements were running.  I only heard two: the line announcement and the door open announcement.  The voice is female, but it’s not Randi Miller, whose voice currently makes Metro’s door announcements.  The new voice is higher in pitch than Miller’s.  The door announcement, while in a different voice, is otherwise still the same: “Doors opening!  Step back to allow customers to exit.  When boarding, please move to the center of the car.”

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Categories: WMATA

Reading the book…

November 22, 2013, 11:15 AM

So to bring everyone up to speed on the employment situation, I am still between engagements.  That’s not to say that I’ve not been diligently submitting tons of applications and going to the occasional interview, but I still have yet to land a new full-time job.  However, there’s been a shift in my thinking.  I had an “aha” moment not too long ago when it came to what I wanted to do.  Everyone has said, considering how much of a transit nerd I am, that I should get into public transportation.  I talked it over with my family, and they all think it’s a great idea, so I’m taking steps toward making that so.  I want to get in on the ground floor and then work my way up.  After all, I love transit.  I can’t get enough of it.  So why not make it my career, already?

That said, I’m currently reading the Maryland CDL Manual with the intent of getting a commercial learner’s permit so that I can learn how to drive a bus.  So far, I’ve read Section 1, which is a general overview of the manual and the whole CDL process, as well as a list of many of the various offenses that would cause you to lose your CDL from a period ranging from a few months to life depending on what sort of offense and number of offenses.  I’ve also read Section 2.1, which discusses the pre-trip inspection.

The pre-trip inspection is something that, if you didn’t know to do it, you might not think to do it, but it makes perfect sense considering what you’re doing.  After all, these are very large vehicles that we’re talking about here.  Compare the size of a bus to that of a regular car:

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Chicago 2013…

August 9, 2013, 8:10 PM

At the end of July, Mom and I took a trip to Chicago.  We took the Capitol Limited, like we usually do, leaving DC on July 25 and returning July 30.  Not a bad trip, but I believe that there was something pivotal about this particular trip: Chicago was becoming a regular thing.  This isn’t a bad thing by any means.  It doesn’t mean that I enjoyed the trip any less, though, it’s just that it’s become something that we do every year, and that’s fine.  With the trip’s becoming something of a regular thing, this is the only thing you’re goign to get that’s specifically about the trip.  There’s not going to be a Journal entry for each day like I did in 2011.  No special photo set about the trip like I did in 2010 and 2012.  And that’s fine.  That’s not to say that there’s not going to be a photo set from the trip, though.  But it’s going to be a regular photo set, in Photography, about the Chicago Botanic Garden.  That photo set’s going to be what I describe as “flower porn”.  Seriously, I got very close to a lot of flowering plants, and got detailed photos of them.  When I used the term “flower porn”, Sis commented that it was also accurate, as I was photographing the reproductive parts of flowers.  So there you go.

On the outbound trip, Mom and I were in a roomette.  Second car back, room 14.  That’s a lower level roomette.  Mom and I were surprised to find that we felt like we didn’t have quite enough space on this trip.  That came about mostly in regards to legroom, as neither one of us really could extend our legs very far without getting in the other person’s way, and sitting diagonally was a little uncomfortable for both of us.  Having only one electrical outlet was also a problem, as we had several devices that we needed to charge: my laptop, my phone (which we were also tethering for Internet access when we had service), Mom’s phone, and Mom’s iPod Touch.  And one electrical outlet.  It was a shame that, when the Superliner I roomette panels were updated around 2011 or so, they didn’t add at least one additional power outlet.  What we ended up doing was plugging in the laptop and charging everything off of that.  It didn’t work as well in this capacity as I would have liked, however, we were asking the computer to do something that it probably was not designed to do, i.e. be a mobile charging station for three devices (vs. just one).

Meanwhile, the ride out was at times like visiting familiar places.  This was not just because this was our fifth round trip on the Capitol Limited.  Realize that as of this trip, I had visited all of the towns where we made a station stop between DC and Cumberland.  DC, Rockville, Harpers Ferry, Martinsburg, and Cumberland.  Now mind you, it’s been eight years since I last visited Martinsburg, and even longer since I was in the part of Martinsburg where the train goes, but it still counts.  Then I added Harpers Ferry earlier in the same month, and Cumberland in April.

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Categories: Amtrak, Chicago, Vacations

Sometimes it just writes itself…

August 7, 2013, 11:47 AM

So I was looking at the Twitter last night after swimming, and I spotted this picture:

Hey @wmata - what kind of discounted fare does this guy have to pay? #NotSoSmartTrip
Source: Craig Sallinger

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Categories: Advertising, Amusing, WMATA

Tonight’s commute was definitely more exciting than most…

May 14, 2013, 10:09 PM

Yes, tonight’s commute was definitely more exciting than most.  You may have heard about the Red Line train that caught fire this evening at Silver Spring.  That was my train.  Apparently the Metro gods thought we all needed a little excitement in our commutes this evening.  And that’s exactly what we got.

The ride started out pretty normally.  I got the train at Dupont Circle, boarding Breda 3147 – the lead car.  I was doing Facebook, and noticed this man who looked like a very serious businessman in a suit with his tablet computer and all that…

...but he's playing Angry Birds.

…and then I noticed that he was actually playing Angry Birds on his tablet.

When we got to Takoma, the train operator powered the train down and left the cab.  My first thought was that he was being relieved to use the restroom, and that a supervisor would be taking over the train shortly.  But no supervisor arrived, and I was starting to get a little bit concerned about when we were going to leave Takoma station.

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Categories: Commuting, WMATA

Seeing Cumberland from the ground…

April 7, 2013, 12:28 AM

You may be familiar with Cumberland, Maryland.  Whenever Mom and I go to Chicago, we take the Capitol Limited, and that train travels a route that goes through Martinsburg, Cumberland, Pittsburgh, Toledo, and South Bend, among other locations.  When I take train trips, I like to look at the scenery.  Some of it intrigues me, and it leads me do more research on it later.  Take the Koppers facility in Green Spring, West Virginia.  I always found it interesting to see these piles of neatly stacked lumber along the tracks.  I researched it, and I enjoyed learning a bit more about what I had seen from the train.  Towns are a similar idea.  These little towns that the trains either pass through or stop in make me want to do more research.  Unfortunately, many of these little towns are beyond my reach without incurring a lot of travel expenses, but for the places that I can reach, if they interest me enough, I’ll pay them a visit.

Cumberland was one of those places.  The Capitol Limited spends a lot of time in Cumberland.  Going west, the first thing that they do is a crew change, where they exchange engineers.  Then they continue a little further west and do the passenger stop.  That stop takes about ten minutes, and is also a “smoke stop”, where passengers who smoke are permitted to get off of the train and have a cigarette.  While on the train waiting through the crew change and the longer passenger stop, I got to take an extended look at Cumberland.  And I liked what I saw.  I saw a town with some character to it, and I saw a few places that I would love to explore more deeply.  I saw houses, I saw churches, and I saw the WTBO sign on Wills Mountain.  And I was sure that there was much more that was interesting beyond what I could see from the train.

So this past Tuesday, I did exactly that.  I grabbed the camera bag, got in the car, and headed off to Cumberland.  This, by the way, is not exactly a short trip.  Amtrak gives three hours and nine minutes to take the train from Union Station in DC to Cumberland.  Google Maps gives two hours and 123 miles driving from my house in Aspen Hill to Cumberland Amtrak station by car.  That’s going via the Intercounty Connector and I-370 to Gaithersburg, I-270 to Frederick, I-70 to Hancock, and then I-68 to Cumberland.  I’ve done the drive on I-270 to Frederick a number of times in the past, and so I knew what to expect there.  Interstate 70 through to Hagerstown took me over a number of hills and past the Appalachian Trail.  I had taken I-70 west the rest of the way through Maryland when I went to Breezewood in 2006.  Then I-68 was really awesome.  The first thing you do is go through a highway cut through Sideling Hill, and then you go over a number of mountains before you arrive in Cumberland – directly in the middle of downtown.

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“Where is this train going?” takes on new significance with Rush+…

December 18, 2012, 9:37 AM

So in reading the Express this morning, I looked at Dr. Gridlock’s column on the DC Rider page. There were three questions: two about escalators, and one about destination signs at Franconia-Springfield.

I took issue with the answer to that third question, which went as such:

Q: I am a regular rider at Franconia-Springfield and am adjusting to most parts of Rush Plus.  However, the problem remains that trains pull into the station, turn off their destination signs, and you are left to guess whether it’s a Blue or Yellow Line train until about 30-45 seconds before they close the doors.  It’s particularly frustrating when it is cold outside and there are two trains waiting with their doors open.  Is there any way to persuade Metro to leave the direction signs lit?

A: I don’t see a good reason a train operator would need to turn off the destination signs, unless just maybe Metro isn’t sure where to send the train till the last minute.  What I’m thinking of here is that the operations center monitors the crowding on the platforms and could alter a train’s route – though unlikely.

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Categories: DC area local news, WMATA