A bus dewirement in action.
Admittedly, this is far from pressing news. But, ever since Seattle Weekly moved into its new office - and, specifically, I moved into my new desk which overlooks where Third Avenue South connects with Second Avenue South Ext South (you know, right above Salumi) - I've been struck by the regularity with which King County Metro electric "trolley" buses become derailed from the wires above. Whenever this happens, the bus stops - because it has lost its power source - and the driver is forced to don gloves and a orange vest and jump out into traffic and reattach the poles to the wires, which seems both inconvenient and a mild safety concern. In the three weeks since Seattle Weekly has been in this location, the occurrence has happened at least three or four times a day (until yesterday, as I'll elaborate on below).
A bus dewirement in action.
So I decided to call King County Metro Public Affairs Coordinator Jeff Switzer to see what's up.
Dewirements have been a common occurrence as buses merge from 3rd Ave. S onto 2nd Ave. Ext S. since Seattle Weekly moved in above Salumi.
Originally reached by phone earlier this week, when I told Switzer what I've witnessed - the dewirement of electric buses at this one location at least three or four times a day for the last three weeks - he agreed that such a situation isn't how it's supposed to work. While dewirements - apparently that's the technical term for them - do happen, Switzer said three to four times a day in one location would be unusual. He told me he'd make some inquiries and look into the situation.
Yesterday Switzer called me back. After poking around, he told me the location I'd identified wasn't considered a "trouble spot" for dewirements by King County Metro. Interestingly enough, on the very same day Switzer got back to me, buses seemed to be taking the slight turn from Third Avenue onto Second Avenue Ext slower - and I only witnessed one dewirement, representing a marked decrease from what had become the norm over the past three weeks (coincidence?).
Whether my sample set of three weeks perhaps represented an "oddball occurrence," as Switzer put it, is hard to say at this point. But he was able to provide some information on why dewirements happen in the first place ... and teach me a new word in the process.
According to Switzer, dewirements at Third Avenue and Second Avenue Ext can have a number of causes. In an email he explained the three most likely explanations:
A device called a fahslabend (a switch in the overhead wires activated by a radio signal - usually the coach turn signal) malfunctions, does not trip and the poles continue on the straight wires (to Third Avenue South) instead of going to the left wires onto Second Extension South.
The operator fails to keep his/her left turn signal on long enough to trip the fahslabend (there's the new word!) and the poles continue straight, eventually causing dewirement.
The operator drives too fast through the crossing wires at this location and dewires. Speed limit through crossing wires is 5 mph.
Switzer also says some dewirements could be caused by drivers with new routes learning the territory - though with the most recent changes to Metro services having kicked in Feb. 16, he indicates the bulk of the dewirements I've witnessed wouldn't have been caused by this.
Will the dewirements continue at the pace I've previously witnessed, or did yesterday mark the start of a new trend? Only time will tell ...