Exploring the brand new Doha Metro

Although history and abandoned rail lines always seem to capture my interest, in a refreshing change of pace today we feature a brand new rail line in a country that up until earlier this month had no active rail service whatsoever. In this case, we’re talking about the Middle Eastern country of Qatar, where construction is happening at a frenzied pace in order to ready for 2022’s World Cup. Not only are new skyscrapers and stadiums being constructed, entire new cities are being built, and a futuristic driverless Metro will connect them all.

Initially, much of the plan for the Metro was based around Qatar’s bid for the 2016 Summer Olympic Games, but was revived in 2010 when Qatar was awarded the World Cup. The Qatar Railways Company was birthed in 2011, and will oversee the Metro, a new light rail in Lusail, and the planned long distance and freight routes to Saudi Arabia and Bahrain (which appears to be stalled, and the severing of ties between Qatar and its neighbors likely means it will be halted indefinitely).

Aesthetically, no matter where you travel through the system, you will ever be reminded that you are on the Doha Metro. The system itself has a unique identity, using locally-sourced sandstone for station exteriors, a nod to traditional architectural materials. Vaulted spaces evoke traditional Bedouin tents, stylized arched columns resemble the sails of time-honored dhow ships, and large panels of glass ensure that the stations will be lit by natural light, said to resemble the inside of an oyster. The visual cues continue on a line basis – as each will have their own identity and feature a distinctive wall finish and pattern. In the case of the Red Line (nicknamed the Coastal line, as it hugs Doha’s West Bay and terminates in the new planned city of Lusail), that pattern is iridescent mother-of-pearl, a reference to Qatar’s history of pearl diving.

The trains themselves were produced by Japan’s Kinki Sharyo, and are said to resemble Arabian horses. The three car fixed sets feature Gold class, with larger individual seats at 10 QAR (approximately $2.75 per trip) and family and standard classes, with typical subway style benched seating, at a price of 2 QAR (approximately 55 cents). Standard class trips are quite a bit cheaper than the Karwa bus service that operates in Doha, where a round trip ticket costs 10 QAR. For safety, station platforms have full-length barrier doors that only open when a train is ready for boarding. The system is fully driverless, and as a result the large windows at either end of the train are extremely popular with passengers to look out at the tracks ahead.

The Metro is a continuing work in progress, and as of the soft opening earlier this month, only 13 stations along the Red Line are currently open (10 underground, and 3 above ground). More stations along both ends of the Red Line are planned, along with a spur connecting Doha’s airport. Two other lines are currently under construction, the Green (Education) Line, as well as the Gold (Historic) line. Phase 1 of the system is planned to be complete for the World Cup and will have nearly 40 stations across the three lines, with central interchange point at Msheireb. A future Blue (City) line is also planned, and once fully realized, the Doha Metro is envisioned to have nearly a hundred operational stations.

All in all, I greatly enjoyed my visit to Qatar. Initially I had been fascinated with the city of Dubai, but many travelers to that city have stated that it feels a little “soulless” – they’ve given up much of their history to steam forward with glittery skyscrapers. In contrast, it seems that Qatar has found an interesting balance of ultra modern skyscrapers and planned cities, while respecting their rich history (take a visit to the traditional market Souq Waqif – you won’t be disappointed), and incorporating traditional elements in modern architecture, like on the Metro.

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The Electrification of Grand Central, and Metro-North’s Third Rail

Over the past few years this site has significantly delved into the history of Grand Central Terminal and how it came to be. We’ve talked about the Park Avenue Tunnel wreck that led to the banning of steam locomotives in Manhattan – considered one of the catalysts for building the new all-electric Terminal. We’ve also talked about the power plants established to provide the electricity to power the trains operating to Grand Central. But somehow along the way, we’ve neglected to discuss the integral bit of tech that delivered the electricity to the trains in Grand Central, and is still used today – the third rail.

After the recent, tragic crash on the Harlem Line, the topic of third rail has become a talking point in the media. For those not exceptionally familiar with railroading (who have been frequenting the site as of late), electric trains can be powered by various methods, and most railroad systems picked one method of power for their road. Since Metro-North is made up of two historical railroad systems – the New York Central, and the New York, New Haven, and Hartford – you will not find just one method of powering electric trains here. One common type of power, which is seen on the New Haven Line, is the overhead catenary system. Wires above the train carry electricity, and trains have special “arms” called pantographs that reach up and connect with these wires.

Drawing of the bottom contact third rail, from the patent documentation.
Drawing of the bottom contact third rail invented by William Wilgus and Frank Sprague, from the patent documentation.

The other common method of train power, the third rail, comes in a few different “flavors,” but the concept on each is similar – an extra rail that conducts electricity is placed on the ground, and special shoes on the train connect with it and draw power. The New York City subway and Long Island Railroad, for example, use an over running third rail, where power is collected from the top of the third rail. This is the oldest type of third rail power. Metro-North, however, uses a method of under running third rail, which is also known as bottom contact third rail (or the Wilgus-Sprague system, for its inventors). As one would gather from the name, the power is collected from the bottom of the third rail. This method was especially invented for use in Grand Central Terminal, and was an improvement on the original by inventors William Wilgus (Chief Engineer of the New York Central) and Frank Sprague for safety. It is still used on the Harlem and Hudson Lines today, and is what was involved the recent crash.

Before I continue on, let’s break down some facts about the third rail in Valhalla, and about under running third rail:

  • The railroad tracks running through the area in question have been in service since 1846.
  • Under running third rail has been in service in the New York Metropolitan area since 1906.
  • Third rail in the area in question was installed in 1983 when the Harlem Line was electrified to Southeast (then Brewster North).
  • Over running third rail (like the LIRR uses) is the oldest type of third rail. Under-running third rail was developed later as a safer methodology, as it was less likely to electrocute a worker or trespasser, and better covered from rain, snow, and ice.
  • The original NYC subway (IRT) used the older version of third rail because the under running variety had not been invented yet. The Long Island Rail Road followed suit when electrifying due to connections / planned connections with the subway.
  • The same year that under running third rail was patented, the legislature of the State of Connecticut banned unprotected third rail technology after several people / animals were electrocuted. The whole concept of under running third rail was that the rail was protected, and thus considered far more safe.
  • In modern usage, under running third rail seems appears overwhelmingly safer in comparison to over running. The subway and LIRR have had far more deaths in this manner – from numerous trackworkers, to people walking across the tracks, falling on the tracks, graffiti artists getting zapped, people trying to rescue dropped items, and even peeing on the third rail. Over the five year period from 2002 to 2006, one person was electrocuted by Metro-North’s third rail, while six were electrocuted by the Long Island Rail Road’s.
  • The over running third rail used by the LIRR and subway are far more effected by rain, snow, and ice. Even a dropped umbrella onto the tracks managed to shut down the 7 line recently.
  • Metro-North is not the only transit system to use under-running third rail. One line in Philadelphia uses it. Historically, a tunnel from Detroit to Windsor, Ontario used it, but that line was de-electrified. Transit systems in Vienna, Warsaw, Sao Paulo (and more) use under-running third rails.
  • Few systems using under-running third rail means nothing about the soundness of the technology. It is only a legacy holdover to a country once comprised of many different railroad companies, each of which picked the technology best suited for them. The lines that comprise Metro-North were not even a unified system until 1969, which is why different modes of electrification are used across the system.
  • While Chuck “Photo op” Schumer and Richard “Stolen Valor” Blumenthal would prefer to blame a third-rail design that has worked successfully for well over a hundred years, and is safer than the one used by our neighbors, the fact of the matter is that this accident would have 100% been prevented by better driver vigilance and abiding the sign “Do not stop on tracks.”

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2014 in Photos – Your favorites from last year

As is customary around this time of year, it is always fun to look back on the previous year and what was popular. For the past few years I’ve counted down your favorite articles and social media posts, and today I bring you 2014 in Instagram. Instagram has quickly become the most popular social network that this site is on. While I’m often out photographing, the good majority of the photos I take never make it onto this site. The good ones, however, show up on Instagram. Here’s the top 10 favorites from 2014:


Two Metro-North diesels meet near the Pleasant Ridge Road crossing in Wingdale, New York.

 
Left: An Alaska Railroad train bound for Fairbanks rounds the bend north of Nenana at sunset. Right: A Genesis pushes southbound on the Danbury Branch, kicking up leaves after departing Cannondale.


The only non-railroad photo to make the top 10, New York’s skyline as seen from the opposite side of the river in New Jersey.

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