Welcome to the City of Wanda's Domain, an imaginary city that I have created
and brought to life using art and writing. Look around and enjoy!

There are more pictures and maps down at the very bottom and in the archives!

What Wenda's listening to...

Saturday, December 27, 2008

The Windrider System

Rail transit first returned in Wanda's Domain almost 30 years ago with the restoration of the old Begonia Boulevard Streetcar.  Wanda's Domain Transit sought to restore the old route to replace the overcrowded bus line 20, affectionately known as the "Terrible 20," which ran the Boulevard between downtown W.D. and Begonia.  It was an ideal place to experiment with modern light rail, with existing high ridership on the bus line projected to nearly double with rail.  The 1950's-era tracks had never been removed from the street--they had simply been paved over.  In 1981, WDT began the Streetcar Project, as it was originally known.  The tracks were uncovered, remarkably in good condition for their age, requiring only simple modernization and repair work.  A new overhead electrification system was installed, and simple sidewalk stations constructed at major intersections.

Rather than using vintage streetcars, however, WDT ordered a starter fleet of custom-built light rail vehicles from a local company--an unusual move, as most of these vehicles were manufactured in Europe and Japan.  These single-ended, articulated cars, offically known as RailBuses or Windrider Mark I's, were built using bus bodies fixed to standard-gauge railroad trucks.  Unfortunately, they would prove to be a source of endless trouble for the agency, as mechanical failures became a regular occurrence.

Yet, despite the problems, the response was overwhelming.  People flocked onto the new line, and by 1983 the streetcar faced the same capacity and delay troubles as the original bus.  Yet this was the catalyst for the system that exists today.  A group of Begonia residents successfully lobbied for WDT to consider an "express streetcar," which would branch off of the main route onto a private right-of-way through the extremely dense areas of downtown and the Music District, avoiding the traffic jams and frequent stops of the existing line.  In 1984, the plan was approved and funded.  Windrider was born.  

The first line to be constructed was the westside section of the Green Line, originally running from Civic Center TC downtown to Byrne Street in Begonia, with six underground stations.  The "Express Streetcar" as it was then called, was an instant hit, and soon WDT began replacing the line's ailing, low-capacity RailBuses with the much larger Windrider Mark II vehicles.  The Mark II's, however, stretched the boundaries of what could be called "light rail."  They were too large to safely maneuver any street-running route, including the new Watermark Street tracks between Civic Center TC and Watermark Street station.  These vehicles were forced to lay over at Watermark Street's stub track, and only the RailBuses could run the whole route.

Next would come the popular Downtown Loop Subway, which would be extended into the Yellow Line subway that exists today, and in 1992 a stub called the Blue Line was branched off from the Green Line south into Culebra and Rossmoyne, using an elevated right-of-way primarily in the median of Interstate 38.  Both lines were built to the specs of the Mark II vehicles.

By the mid-90's, however, WDT began to drastically change its vision for the fledgling system.  Although the Yellow Line attracted heavy ridership in its northern section, through the highest density sections of the city, its southern suburban extension was more lightly used than expected, despite passing through vibrant neighborhoods such as Sienna and Umberpark.  What really stood out, however, was the failure of the Blue Line.  Trains ran half-empty even during rush hour, and off-peak use was low enough to prompt WDT to run one-car trains and end service at 10 p.m.

What went wrong?  The common factor seemed to be that both lines were separated from the areas they ran through, especially the Blue Line.  For most of its six-mile length, it ran on elevated track in the middle of the Valley's busiest freeway, and its primary destination, Culebra, had but two stops, with the one closest to the neighborhood's center being in the freeway median.

As they began considering their next project to extend Windrider, WDT officials reviewed the successful original Green Line, and discovered that it was not blind speed and efficiency that always made a line successful, but pedestrian-friendliness and community integration.

As a result, when the Red Line was built in 1996, it was primarily at-grade, with key stops such as the Stadium and U.C. Wanda's Domain being pedestrian-oriented facilities at street level.  Soon after, WDT began testing a new class of rail vehicles: the Windrider Mark III, combining the agility of the old RailBuses with increased capacity and modern technologies approaching the capabilities of the Mark II.  These would become the standard vehicle used on most of the system, with the RailBuses primarily consigned to streetcar use, and the Mark II primarily running the Yellow Line.

Completing the system were extensions of the Blue Line south to Moyer Park, and north to Oriole, followed by extensions of the Green Line west to Hannigan TC, and east to Nynell.  The final route to be built was the westside suburb-to-suburb connector called the Bronze Line, from Jadzia's Domain to Bermuda.

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