First impressions of the L from mook in Baltimore

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First impressions of the L from mook in Baltimore

Postby STrRedWolf » Fri Jan 01, 2016 10:44 pm

Let me share some impressions of my ride on the Chicago L Orange and Blue lines on my trip to a convention early December 2015, if you may. :-)

In context and perspective, I've studied the L off the Chicago-L.org site and thought "Hey, if I ever get to Midwest Furfest, I'll try to get there via the L." Well, Baltimore's a major hub for Southwest, and they go to Midway. The convention is near O'Hare. Yep, I'm taking the L... but I'm more familar with WMATA's Metrorail and MTA Maryland's Metro subway system (I will refer to MTA Maryland as MTA here).

So, my first impressions:
  • WTF? Chicago's using Cubic terminals for putting out Ventra cards! They're the same ones used for MTA's systems. Granted, they're not delivering paper tickets but daaaamn. Same OS and everything!
  • These turnstyles don't work with baggage. I only had one large travel bag (due to con-related reasons that made the news in 2014). I ended up lifting it over as I went through. I shudder to think how folks could get the bags through the full length turnstyles on the Loop stations. Baltimore and DC use clamshell style at all entrances.
  • Thankfully, there are elevators... but I wish the signage were bigger and consistent!
  • The subway cars are *short* but given the history and Loop, are forgiven.
  • The Blue Line sub-surface stations need to be expanded drastically. The middle platforms are basically as big as DC's side platforms... and they got I-Beams through it to cut the space down further!!! TINY! To show how spoiled I am, Baltimore's Charles Center station has a center platform wide enough to fit a L car lengthwise.
  • Tap to enter, but no tap to exit. DC and Baltimore are tap for both. DC has a variable system. Baltimore just wants to make sure you're out of the system. Chicago I think just wants your money.

There is one question though... does money on a Ventra card (not the paper, I got the plastic) expire?
I ride the (MTA Maryland) Penn Line (between Odenton and Baltimore). I used to work for MTA Maryland's IT department, and out of professional courtesy my responses may be limited. Wikimapia is wonderful (for track/interlocking locations)!
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Re: First impressions of the L from mook in Baltimore

Postby justalurker66 » Sat Jan 02, 2016 5:34 pm

STrRedWolf wrote:The Blue Line sub-surface stations need to be expanded drastically. The middle platforms are basically as big as DC's side platforms... and they got I-Beams through it to cut the space down further!!! TINY! To show how spoiled I am, Baltimore's Charles Center station has a center platform wide enough to fit a L car lengthwise.


It isn't trivial to widen a tunnel to make platforms wider.


STrRedWolf wrote:Tap to enter, but no tap to exit. DC and Baltimore are tap for both. DC has a variable system. Baltimore just wants to make sure you're out of the system. Chicago I think just wants your money.


The flat fares are decent. I would not want the variable fares of DC in Chicago. $2.15 minimum to $5.90 maximum plus $1 if a paper card is used in DC? I'd rather pay $2.25 and get anywhere on the system. The $10/1 day, $20/3 day, $28/7 day passes are a good deal in Chicago.
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Re: First impressions of the L from mook in Baltimore

Postby STrRedWolf » Sat Jan 02, 2016 6:34 pm

justalurker66 wrote:The flat fares are decent. I would not want the variable fares of DC in Chicago. $2.15 minimum to $5.90 maximum plus $1 if a paper card is used in DC? I'd rather pay $2.25 and get anywhere on the system. The $10/1 day, $20/3 day, $28/7 day passes are a good deal in Chicago.


Well, they're getting rid of paper cards entirely in DC. They're no longer selling them. Baltimore still has 'em.

Baltimore's cheap, though. $1.70 one way, $4 for all day, $22 for a week paper or 7-day plastic, $68 for monthly paper or 30-day plastic. Granted, express buses are extra ($0.40 per ride, express monthly/30-day is $85). Commuter bus or MARC train is by zone similar to that of Metra.
I ride the (MTA Maryland) Penn Line (between Odenton and Baltimore). I used to work for MTA Maryland's IT department, and out of professional courtesy my responses may be limited. Wikimapia is wonderful (for track/interlocking locations)!
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Re: First impressions of the L from mook in Baltimore

Postby justalurker66 » Sat Jan 02, 2016 11:25 pm

DC has 211.8 directional miles of track. Chicago has 207.8 directional miles of track.
Baltimore has 29.4 directional miles of heavy rail track, 57.6 directional miles of light rail. Not exactly the same value for the money.
(Commuter rail in DC and Chicago is separate ... and Baltimore charges separately for their 400.4 miles of commuter rail.)

The operating expense per WMATA train trip (per passenger) in DC is $3.32 (buses cost $4.13 per passenger trip).
The operating expense per CTA train trip (per passenger) in Chicago is $2.24 (buses cost $2.55 per passenger trip).
The operating expense per MTA train trip (per passenger) in Baltimore is $3.40 for heavy rail, $4.37 for light rail (buses cost $3.48 per passenger trip).
The difference between the operating expense and the fare paid by passengers is paid for by taxpayers ... 75% of Baltimore's MTA operating budget (all modes including commuter rail) comes from state funding. So if you think the ticket price is low perhaps you don't pay Maryland state taxes. That is where most of the fare is being paid.

CTA's operating expense is funded 33% local, 20% state and 42% by farebox recovery. WMATA is 27% local, 17% state and 46% farebox recovery. Perhaps from a distance the fares look more expensive ... but the reality is that more of the fare is being charged to the passengers instead of non-passenger taxpayers.


[All figures from the National Transportation Database - 2013]
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Re: First impressions of the L from mook in Baltimore

Postby ExCon90 » Mon Jan 04, 2016 4:00 pm

justalurker66 wrote:It isn't trivial to widen a tunnel to make platforms wider.


And wasn't the width of the Dearborn St. subway constrained by the basements of existing buildings? There are also limits on platform width in the highway median sections.
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Re: First impressions of the L from mook in Baltimore

Postby MACTRAXX » Mon Jan 04, 2016 4:27 pm

EC90: I think you are right - I believe both the State Street and the Dearborn Subway have constraints like this. I remember learning that Downtown
Chicago is mostly built on "fill" and because of this these subways had to be built deep down underground where more solid soil and rock was...

The only way to add platform expansions to stations on these two subway lines would be to construct new outside platforms - a costly proposition
thanks to both these subway lines being built with narrow island platforms through Downtown Chicago.

STRW: The State Street Subway was opened in 1943 and the Dearborn Subway in 1951 if I recall respectively and was built designed to be adequate
for that era noting your comments on their designs and the main reasons for the short CTA car length is the sharp curves located on some routes.
The best examples of these are all four corners of the Chicago Loop L structure over intersections.

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Re: First impressions of the L from mook in Baltimore

Postby Milwaukee_F40C » Sun Jan 24, 2016 11:51 am

Many of the older buildings and some newer buildings also have or had basement level vaults that "encroach" the street right of way. Though these are probably gone along the subway routes. "Basement level" was actually the original street level on most of the downtown streets before they were raised a story or so to improve drainage in the marsh.
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Re: First impressions of the L from mook in Baltimore

Postby jonnhrr » Tue Apr 26, 2016 8:29 am

Concerning STrRedWolf's comments about bags and turnstiles, we found on our trip if you put the bags on their sides they slid under nicely. Our bags were the max size usually allowed by the airlines.

On our trip we used the Blue Line and the Loop plus one trip down to Roosevelt to go to the Museum Campus. I enjoyed the L very much - it is a lot more interesting riding on an L structure with stuff to look at out the windows rather than being in a subway staring at the ads and the person across from you playing with his phone :(

Figuring out which direction to go on the Loop and making sure the train we were on was actually going where we wanted to go and not suddenly branching off was a little challenging at first but we got the hang of it.

We bought a Ventra card for both of us and that worked well, no issues there. Now I have to make sure I go back there within 5 years to use up the $2.00 left on the card :)

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Re: First impressions of the L from mook in Baltimore

Postby ExCon90 » Tue Apr 26, 2016 1:56 pm

As a first-time user, did you find the colors (rather than names) useful as route designators?
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Re: First impressions of the L from mook in Baltimore

Postby jonnhrr » Wed Apr 27, 2016 12:22 pm

Yes, with the color coded destination signs it made it easy to make sure you're getting on the right train. Since I never lived in Chicago the old names don't mean much to me other than being useful to know when reading historical documents. Also being from Boston originally, I'm used to color coded line designations.

Have to say I really enjoyed the few L rides I had and hope to come back and ride some of the lines I didn't get to, such as the Brown line out to Kimball and the Red/Purple line to Evanston.

Plus we didn't get to ride Metra at all. Originally we were going to check out the Museum of Science and Industry which was an excuse to ride Metra Electric but we ended up at the art museum instead. Maybe next time.

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Re: First impressions of the L from mook in Baltimore

Postby ExCon90 » Wed Apr 27, 2016 2:30 pm

If you get a chance next time, try to fit the Orange Line in--you get some great birds-eye views of Chicago railroads.
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Re: First impressions of the L from mook in Baltimore

Postby STrRedWolf » Wed Apr 27, 2016 5:38 pm

ExCon90 wrote:As a first-time user, did you find the colors (rather than names) useful as route designators?


WMATA already uses colors (from day 1) and only uses names in the route description when doing short-turns on two lines during rush hour.
I ride the (MTA Maryland) Penn Line (between Odenton and Baltimore). I used to work for MTA Maryland's IT department, and out of professional courtesy my responses may be limited. Wikimapia is wonderful (for track/interlocking locations)!
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Re: First impressions of the L from mook in Baltimore

Postby Head-end View » Sun Oct 23, 2016 7:42 pm

Being a New York railfan who has never been to Chicago, I have an important question..........

Can you see out the front of any or all of Chicago's subway/el trains? The answer will help me decide whether it's worth taking a trip there someday soon.
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Re: First impressions of the L from mook in Baltimore

Postby doepack » Mon Oct 24, 2016 4:35 pm

Yes you can, if you don't mind standing. The single "railfan seat" right up against the front window was abolished many years ago when OPTO came into vogue. In recent years, the 2200's and 2400's offered reasonable facsimiles of this with a two seat arrangement facing into the operator's area (when he/she had to operate the doors for island platforms) but it was close enough to actually see out the front window too. Alas, both series have been retired and outside of the few that were preserved, most of the others have made their final trip to that great yard in the sky..
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Re: First impressions of the L from mook in Baltimore

Postby Head-end View » Mon Oct 24, 2016 7:34 pm

Thanks doepack. Standing is no problem; that's what we do in New York too. The only trains I've ever rode where you could see out forward from a normal sitting position is the now old Washington DC Metro cars and SEPTA's Silverliner V's, which is a real luxury on those trains. Thanks again.
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