Think you know everything there is to know about light rail? Think again! Late last year, I went on a tour of the Valley Metro Operations and Maintenance Center, guided by Debby Thacker, assistant manager of Rail Operations. My first glimpse of the OMC was from a conference room with a huge glass window looking down on a giant mechanics shop. I was so amazed to see a whole train inside the building, along with a lot of fascinating machinery that does many incredible jobs.
There are a total of 50 light rail trains. Each train costs $6.3 million. The trains can last for 50 years depending on the quality of the maintenance they are given. That is why the Operations and Maintenance Center is so important. It is where the light rail trains are repaired and touched up. The Operations and Maintenance Center covers 39 acres. The light rail system has 43 stations and 28 miles of light rail track.
One of the many amazing machines at the OMC is called a truing machine. I got to see a train wheel being trued. Truing is how the wheels are fixed. Light rail trains have steel wheels, but occasionally these wheels get flat in places. The wheels are made round again using the truing machine. The machine straightens the wheel by shaving metal from it. The metal pieces fly out into a bin and are recycled. The pieces of steel that come off of the truing machine are very sharp. I also got to see a train getting a new paint job. The updated paint scheme is purple and looks like the buses.
There are 18 consists. Consists are trains that have two working ends. This is because light rail has no roundabout, so when the train reaches the end of the line, the driver simply goes to the other end of the car and drives back. Each consist has accordion folds in the middle. I always wondered what these folds were for. The folds help the train curve when it turns so that it doesn’t always have to move in a straight line. This is called articulation.
Light rail trains are sustainable because passengers share rides, which reduces emissions. About 50,000 people use light rail every day—that’s over 18 million riders a year! Over 60 million gallons of fuel have been saved and over 19 tons of air pollutants were prevented since light rail began in 2008. Light rail trains are insulated to keep the cool air inside and have reflective paint and window tint. Each train has two five-ton air conditioning units on top. Plus, the car wash that trains and buses are sent through recycles the water, saving 60percent of fresh water. The water is also recycled when the seats are cleaned.
Similar to the car wash, the seats are power washed. The seats are dried on huge racks, which I got to see. There were some seats already on the racks. I never knew that it was possible to take the seats out of the train to wash them. In addition, some platforms are shaded with plants native to Arizona andarranged to have optimal shade throughout the day.
As part of my tour I visited the Operations Control Center or OCC. The people who work there are like air traffic controllers for the light rail. There are several differences though. These employees can control the trains in real time. They can also receive messages about disturbances on the trains, and figure out how to deal with them. This helps keep passengers safe. This was very interesting because all 28 miles of light rail track are monitored on screens that cover an entire wall.
The screens are basically a bunch of flat screen TVs on the wall, so close together that they look like one screen. If you get very close, you can see that they are not all one screen, but they are still very cool. The screens show all of the information about each train, including who is driving it, what its number is, and how fast it is moving or if it is moving at all. I didn’t know that it was possible to control the trains from a distance, or track their speed and driver.
Light rail has a fun program called Ride Like Right. Two cartoon characters named Right and Rong show passengers the rules of light rail platforms. At RideLikeRight.com you can take a pledge to follow the rules of the light rail. It is important to follow these rules for the safety and comfort of all of the passengers. After my tour I received some costume glasses that are just like the ones Right wears.
Remember, light rail is important because it reduces emissions and is an efficient way to travel. Why not give riding light rail a try?