Silverliners, a mile high.

So Denver’s got a very extensive rail system they’re putting together right now. In the early planning stages, it was imagined to be mostly Light Rail, with a couple of traditional diesel loco-hauled, peak-oriented commuter rail lines extending into the northern reaches of the Denver metro. But as costs rose, the transit agency decided to switch two of the LRT lines to FRA-compliant EMU. This would allow the same acceleration/deceleration profile as LRT, but without requiring grade separation where the line crosses industrial spurs and other freight trackage.

Meanwhile, in the East, SEPTA was writing up a detailed spec for their new Regional Rail EMU, to be called the Silverliner V. The SEPTA spec sent east coast transit geeks into fits of apoplexy, as it ruled out existing FRA-compliant EMU designs from Bombardier and Kawasaki, among others. SEPTA was demanding a “custom design” that “no one else would want,” or so went conventional blog and forum wisdom.

Back in Denver, DTP, the Fluor-lead consortium building the rail lines, had tapped Hyundai-Rotem as a rolling stock vendor. In 2006, SEPTA awarded the Silverliner V contract to… Hyundai-Rotem. And so it was that Philadelphia came to design Denver’s trains for them.

Was it a good choice? Well, the Silverliner V’s certainly have swank acceleration. As this video shows, the V’s can easily match the 3.0 mphps service accel common to most Siemens LRVs.

On the other hand, if Fluor’s renderings are to be believed, Denver commuters will now be subject to the pure, unadulterated evil of three across seating. This is a disease which had heretofore been tightly confined to the northeast. Even other old-line Yankee systems don’t have three-across. Metra doesn’t have three-across. MARC bilevels don’t have three-across. For decades, the plague of three-across has been quarantined at Newark.

But if Denver rolls with three-across, who knows what might happen? Other New Starts systems in the Mountain West might take notice, spreading three-across to SLC’s Frontrunner or ABQ’s Rail Runner. Phoenix might pick three-across EMUs when they rebuild the Papago into a multi-modal corridor. From there, three-across seating might spread east along IH-10, infecting San Antonio and, yes, Houston. Three-across to Webster! Three-across to Missouri City!

Folks, we are looking at some potential Andromeda Strain type shit here. To prevent a contagion that could potentially wipe out the entire country, or at least our ability to ride commuter trains in comfort, it is imperative that the Denver EMUs be delivered with two-across seating. Call your representatives. Call your Embassy. Occupy DTP! (note this nice bulb-out in front of their offices – room for 6-8 tents there, easy). Whatever you do, let’s keep the scourge of three-across confined to the Northeast.

6 thoughts on “Silverliners, a mile high.”

  1. pure, unadulterated evil of three across seating??????????

    can’t tell if this is sarcasm or if you have a reason.

  2. It is kind of hard to tell: based on the standard width of rail and certain aisle lengths for fire/ADA/whatever standards, the seats would have to be quite narrow.

    On the flip side, I can’t tell with KHH sometimes–the “Abandon Pennsylvania” was an odd one.

  3. People who know me in person are used to statements that are simultaneously serious and sarcastic, but it doesn’t come through as well in a blog context. The correct way to think about it is as a double-deck freeway; at one level, it’s a sarcastic comment, but at another level, it’s true.

    In regards to this blog post, the suggestion that a tent city be constructed to protest the seating arrangement on a rail vehicle is obvious hyperbole. But the unpleasantness of being squished into a three-across bench with two other people is a complaint of many an eastern train rider. A New Starts system like Denver which is still trying to poach market share from cars should be adopting bigger, more comfortable seats.

  4. The MBTA commuter rail also has three-across, even in the Kawasaki bi-levels, and even in the new Rotem bi-levels currently being built. Of course, much of the time, the middle seat was just a place for the two people on the ends to dump their bags… Yankee hospitality I guess. Since locals call the MBTA “the T”, this practice was colorfully referred to as “T-bagging”.

    At least in the case of the MBTA, there’s some LOS dynamic in play. Even if no one actually uses the middle seat, you count that seat as capacity, and therefore your trains meet your LOS standard for percentage of standees. If you reduce the number of seats from 5 to 4 per row, you drop your nominal capacity 20%, and then politicians will want you to run more trains.

    For Denver, the long-term consideration would be that if you go with two-across seating to start, and then you max out capacity, people are going to complain if you try to switch to three-across.

  5. So (i) even Bostonians don’t like three-across, as evidenced by the bag behavior, and (ii) it’s as much a way for agencies to fudge the numbers as it is an actual service consideration. Sounds like two more points against.

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