How do they do that?: earthquake edition

Subway at Union Station; photo from Metro Library via Flickr

How do they do that? is a new series for The Source that explores the technology that helps keep Metro running and passengers and other commuters moving. Some of it applies directly to the trains, buses and freeways and some of it runs in the background — invisible to nearly everyone but essential to mobility in our region.

Following an earthquake, how does Metro check the rail lines to make sure they’re safe?

In Los Angeles we live in a world of nearly constant earthquakes. Most of them are too small to notice but seismic detection equipment along all of Metro’s rail lines is constantly tracking temblors and reporting movement to staff in the rail control center, which monitors train activity throughout the Metro system.

When a quake is thought to be strong enough to cause damage, rail control center staff will radio the train operators and tell them what to do. Orders can vary from line to line, depending upon where the quake is strongest. If a weak quake is centered in the San Fernando Valley, for example, trains in Long Beach may not be affected.

If the quake is deemed potentially damaging, operators may be told to stop where they are and begin sweeping the track, which means that they proceed at about 15 mph to the next station or to the point where the train ahead of them stopped and began its sweep. (In that way, every inch of the track can be examined.) While the operators are proceeding they carefully watch the track looking for damage. Everyone reports back to rail control, which determines if the line or lines can reopen. Decisions are based on the common sense of humans, rather than seismic machines.

Should a significant event occur, the entire rail system would be shut down and not reopen until all lines have been thoroughly checked and determined to be safe. The term “significant” does not refer to Richter scale strength but to a variety of factors including strength and location of the quake and the judgment of rail control staff.

Should operators feel an earthquake (not that obvious in a moving train), they must immediately stop where they are and then proceed slowly to the next station. Or they may be given specific instructions from the rail control center, which generally will tell them to begin sweeping.

So the system is watched over by both machines and humans but the most important element — as in many things — is common sense and caution.

Metro bus struck by two errant bullets

I just wanted to provide a quick update on an incident that happened this afternoon involving a Metro bus.

About 1:30 p.m., a Line 117 bus that was stopped to load a passenger was hit by two bullets near the intersection of Century Boulevard and Normandie Avenue in Los Angeles. The bullets struck the bus’ windshield and door panel — there were no injuries.

The Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department says that the bus was not the target but was hit twice by errant shots. About 40 people were aboard the bus at the time.

A male suspect was seen running from the scene with a handgun. The Sheriff’s Department is investigating the incident.

Ride the ribbon

Cool news for bicyclists and bike rider wannabes who have thus far been too nervous — and rightly so — to ride in downtown Los Angeles.

A six-foot-wide emerald green ribbon of bike lane is ready for its inaugural ride at 1 p.m. today. To celebrate the new safer street, there will be a small ceremony at the corner of Spring and Second streets and then a chance for bike riders to try it out.

City council members Jan Perry and Jose Huizar, who is also a Metro Board member, are expected to be among those who take a first ride down the 1 1/2-mile long bike lane that extends from Cesar Chavez to 9th Street.

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New interactive maps posted for Gold Line Foothill Extension

Click above to see a larger map.

Click above to see a larger map.

The Gold Line Foothill Extension Construction Authority has posted new interactive maps, showing San Gabriel Valley destinations in relation to future stations along the line from Pasadena to the Azusa/Glendora border. I’ve posted a couple of the maps above.

The Irwindale map is interesting in what it doesn’t show — a vast warehouse, office park and manufacturing district immediately south of the tracks. It’s not a traditional business district by any means, but hopefully the train will be a good option for workers reaching those jobs.

The Gold Line Foothill Extension is funded by the Measure R sales tax approved by L.A. County voters in 2008. It is being built by the Construction Authority, an independent agency, and will be turned over to Metro to operate when complete. It is scheduled to open in 2015.

Transportation headlines, Monday, Nov. 21

Here is a look at some of the transportation headlines gathered by us and the Metro Library. The full list of headlines is posted on the library’s blog.

Taking first-class coddling above-and-beyond (New York Times)

If you need another reason to hate flying — and I don’t — read this. The article covers some of the ways that airlines, while cutting basic services for coach passengers, are competing to lure the wealthiest of business executives. Among those: ferrying them by limo from the airport to the airplane seconds before the doors shut and special access to immigration officials so customers isn’t such a hassle. Thank you, Air France. And when the revolution comes, I hope you’re not surprised.

Click above to open pdf version of Metro's mailer.

Metro does mailings! (L.A. Streetsblog)

Metro has mailed its latest fact sheet to addresses in Beverly Hills, Century City and portions of Westwood that summarize the two reports released in October on seismic and tunneling issues in those areas. One local newspaper that has been railing against the possibility of the project tunneling under part of the Beverly Hills High campus declared its learning of the mailers was a scoop and that it had obtained a copy. Streetsblog editor’s Damien Newton’s response: please. Would you like to obtain a copy? Click on the page from the pamphlet at right for the pdf version of the four-pager or click here to read it on a web page.

U.N. agency: carbon dioxide at record levels (NPR/Associated Press)

Here’s the news: “The new figures for 2010 from the World Meteorological Organization show that CO2 levels are now at 389 parts per million, up from about 280 parts per million a quarter-millenium ago [the year 1750]. The levels are significant because the gases trap heat in the atmosphere.” Attentive readers already know that CO2 is a big-time byproduct of burning fossil fuels such as gasoline and that mass transit creates less greenhouse gases than do single-passenger cars, according to this study from the federal government.

Council votes to replace 6th Street Bridge (L.A. Times)

As expected, the Los Angeles City Council voted to replace the crumbling current double-arch structure with a cable-supported bridge. I know this has gotten a lot of attention, but I’ve had a hard time over the years seeing the current bridge as an architectural gem. It’s certainly a familiar structure, but that’s about it — at least in my book. Construction could begin in three years and take four years to complete, during which time the bridge would be closed. Traffic!

Pacific Surfliner gets $21 million to begin second track work (Neon Tommy)

The feds have awarded the money to begin the environmental studies of adding a second track in some stretches of San Diego County where there’s only a single track, which slows trains down considerably. And, again, I raise the question I raised the other day: what’s the cost of speeding up Amtrak versus building an entirely new high-speed rail project?