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Archive for the ‘transit’ Category

There is probably no safer place than public transit stations and vehicles. Despite what you see in the movies and on TV, the incidence of crime is rare. But since the 9/11 attacks, the Dept. of Homeland Security has provided over $1 billion in grants to public transit agencies through the Transit Security Grant Program. A large chunk of that money has gone to visual surveillance systems.

For the 2015 budget, the DHS wants to eliminate dedicated public transit grants — though transit agencies could still apply for funding under a different National Preparedness Grant Program.

The American Public Transit Assoc (APTA) has come out against this idea. In fact, APTA wants another $6 billion:

We are well aware of the many pressures on our nation’s budget and the importance of addressing other national funding priorities; however, the current level of transit security funding is woefully inadequate as the Transit Security Grant Program is the primary source of funding for security needs of public transportation agencies. To put the current level of investment in transit security into greater perspective, we note that a 2010 APTA survey of its members found security investment needs in excess of $6.4 billion nationwide. APTA urges Congress to acknowledge the risk that our citizens and transit systems continue to face, and restore appropriations for the Transit Security Grant Program in this and subsequent appropriation bills to levels closer to those authorized under the 9/11 Commission Act.

When transit agencies receive the DHS funding, they don’t pretend it has anything to do with terrorism. Trimet (to use one example) spent $5 million for 4,400 cameras, with an additional $7.5 million in the pipeline. The cameras were useful for catching vandals and gropers. That kind of criminal certainly deserves to be punished, but they are hardly Al Qaeda.

The sad thing is that there is one very significant part of the transportation system that could benefit from surveillance cameras: our roads and highways. Speed cameras are proven effective in reducing crashes and injuries. Just imagine if $1+ billion had been spent on that.

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The NEC is a legacy 100 year-old infrastructure, whereas the Calfornia high-speed rail project is clean-sheet design. There was never a rational explanation as to why California should use NEC-compatible equipment when the corridors are so completely different. And now, thankfully, sanity has prevailed:

It became clear in meetings with manufacturers during the last few weeks that the requirements were too different to incorporate into one set of trains, said Lisa-Marie Alley, a spokeswoman for high-speed rail.

“The feedback that we got from the industry was that Amtrak and high-speed rail need such different things, it was almost impossible for them to build a train that meets both our needs,” she said. “We’d hoped that the industry had evolved to where they can accommodate both.”

The agencies concluded that too many compromises would need to be made to meet both their needs, which would “move us away from a service-proven design and create significant risks as to schedule and costs,” Amtrak spokesman Craig Schulz said in an email.

One of the puzzling things about the CHSRA has been its inability to work with its California partners (Caltrain, Metrolink) on really basic things, like compatible platform heights and signal systems — while at the same time design its high-speed trains to be compatible with a rail line 3000 miles away. The NEC requires high-platform trains, which precludes Caltrain and CHSRA from sharing platforms. Hopefully, with this decision, Caltrain and CHSRA can at least use trains with the same platform height.

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Over at Railway Age, Frank Wilner has some scathing criticism of the FRA’s proposed two-person crew mandate. According to Wilner, there is no factual basis for two-man crews, which leads to the suspicion that the purpose is union featherbedding:

In 2009, the FRA said it had “no factual evidence to support [a] prohibition against one-person crew operations.” The California Public Utilities Commission concluded a two-person crew “could aggravate engineer distraction,” while the National Transportation Safety Board does not oppose phasing out two-person crews as other safety enhancements, such as PTC, are implemented.

Yet in April, the FRA, at the urging of labor, said it would promulgate a rule requiring two-person crews. Privately, some at FRA disparage the agency’s effort as “the Book of Mormon,” saying FRA lacks data, and its arguments are ubiquitous with the term, “we believe.”

Regulatory actions should be data driven. Yet when a carrier official suggested a data-driven approach, an FRA official responded—according to FRA-prepared meeting minutes—“What would be the objective of this exercise?” That the FRA administrator is a former union officer legitimately adds to anxieties.

Congressional oversight may soon probe what really is going on, and surely if the FRA proceeds, a federal court challenge, accompanied by extensive pre-trial discovery, will focus sunlight. Clearly not the FRA’s finest hour, this may well be its nadir.

The FRA has never been data-driven. It is all hocus pocus and pseudo-science.

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Frankenelevator

Is there anything Buy-America can’t screw up? An Italian company won the bid for its diagonal elevators, but the “performance specifications” were written to favor American subcontractors:

Project administrators preferred that the software and other components come from American companies with whom they were more familiar. (The authority said its contractors, not the agency itself, made these decisions after being presented with performance specifications.)

The controller was made on Long Island. The speed governors, or limiters, came from Ohio. Other pieces, like buttons and speakers, were manufactured in Queens. “It’s like if Ferrari would be instructed to put in a Chevy engine and a Ford transmission,” said Charley Hart, the project manager for Kone, the company overseeing the elevator and escalator installation. “Yes, it can be done. But it’s a challenge.”

The elevator and its assorted pieces passed tests separately, and other construction appeared to be moving apace. Publicly, officials said they remained on track for a Bloomberg-era start date. But when the parts were integrated for the July test, the system failed. Mr. Horodniceanu has taken to calling the elevator his “mutt,” for its hodgepodge pedigree.

Even if they get the elevator working, I wouldn’t feel safe riding it.

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Milwaukee Interspacial

Milwaukee is finally getting around to rebuilding its decrepit train station. Because it is new construction, the station will have to provide level-platform boarding to comply with ADA. And here is the kludge for meeting the requirement:

The present plan for the boarding platform is definitely not the one the department started off with, Boardman said, but it does achieve level boarding — meaning the train doors open, and passengers can exit without going down any steps.

“In the end, we were able to keep large portions of the design the same, but we did end up with platforms with multiple heights,” Boardman said. “It’s not what we envisioned when we started.”

The challenge was that the trains had different boarding heights. Equipment for Amtrak’s Hiawatha service, which runs between Milwaukee and Chicago, is different from its Empire Builder Service, which run through Milwaukee to the Twin Cities. The new platform design accommodates both by having a platform height in the middle that’s different from the ends.

How did this situation come about? It wasn’t just an historical accident, but a combination of bad planning and bad politics.

In 2009, Wisconsin received an $810 million “high-speed” rail grant to upgrade the Hiawatha line to 110 mph. The money was to pay for new trains and a revamped Milwaukee station. With new trains and a new station, what better opportunity to examine level-platform boarding? However, planners ignored the issue because Federal regulations (at that time) did not require it.

Then Scott Walker won election to Governor, and refused the HSR grant money. With the grant money gone, Wisconsin taxpayers were on the hook to pay for the station re-build.

Meanwhile, the FRA adopted level-platform boarding rules. Wisconsin appealed to the FRA for a special waiver, arguing that work on the station pre-dated the rule change — but the FRA was obviously in no mood to do them any favors. And so we end up with a sub-optimal design that has to accommodate antiquated rolling stock.

 

 

 

 

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Cost Of A New MBTA Subway Car

The MBTA has budgeted $1.3-1.5 billion to purchase 226 railcars for the Red and Orange lines. If you do the math, that is over $5.75 million apiece!

Why so much? Because Gov. Patrick insists they be assembled in Massachusetts — even though the State has no passenger railcar industry:

Gov. Deval Patrick expressed his preference Thursday that whichever company gets the $1.5 billion contract to build new Red Line and Orange Line cars for the MBTA that the cars be assembled in Western Massachusetts.

The factory could have 150 to 300 employees.

“As governor, I have to love the whole state,” said Patrick during a meeting with the editorial board of MassLive.com and The Republican editorial board . But Patrick said he would like to see the cars assembled in Western Massachusetts. He added though, that he is “agnostic” about which city in the region would get the project.

“That’s why it is important that the decision is made while I’m still in office,” said Patrick, whose term ends at the end of the year.

The Governor seems to have learned nothing from the recent Hyundai-Rotem debacle. As you may recall, the MBTA had Hyundai set up a special factory to manufacture some commuter railcars, Those railcars turned out to be very expensive and unreliable. And now they are going to use the same approach for the subway car order.

And even looking at this as a jobs program (instead of transit project), the cost-benefit is horrible. Massachusetts will pay at least $3 million extra per railcar, which works out to $2 million per employee.

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House GOP Transportation bill would slash $1.2 billion from housing subsidies for the poor, eliminate funding for high-speed rail, eliminate bike/ped funding, and cut $200 million for new transit projects.

On the other hand, the GOP has no problem with continuing $150 million in subsidies for the Essential Air Services program.

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Dumb question….but why is Caltrain adding more signals?

In December 2012, Caltrain started construction of the second phase of the Signal Optimization Project to place into service additional signals in the cities of San Mateo and Redwood City.

Lead Agency: Caltrain

Contractors: Transit Constructors LP

Project Limits: San Mateo to Menlo Park

Construction Cost: $549,000

Began Construction: December 2012

Completed Construction: May 2013

Caltrain is already spending one-quarter of a billion dollars on a new PTC system. PTC cab signalling largely eliminates the need for trackside signals. Not having to spend money on maintaining trackside signals was supposed to be one of the benefits of the PTC system.

And no, this isn’t because of some stupid FRA rule. The FRA has signed off on signal removal by other railroads with PTC.

Contractors installing new signal

Contractors installing new signal. Note the giant signal house to contain the “complex” electronics.

 

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gBART

The Phase-1 eBART extension, now under construction, will take BART into the Eastern Contra Costa County ex-urbs. Phase-2 would take it beyond the ex-urbs, into rural and greenfield locations. Call it gBART if you will.

It is inevitable that the empty fields surrounding gBART stations will be converted to new housing developments. But will planners use this “blank slate” opportunity to build walkable communities around transit…or will it just be more sprawl?

Well, the answer is pretty obvious from the proposed station renderings. All the stations will be built in a freeway median, surrounded by giant parking lots:

Laurel Road station

Laurel Road station

 

 

Lone Tree Way station

Lone Tree Way station

 

Mokelumne Trail station (at least this one has a bike/ped path)

Mokelumne Trail station (at least this one has a bike/ped path)

 

San Creek station

San Creek station

 

Balfour Road station

Balfour Road station

 

Discovery Bay station

Discovery Bay station

 

Here is the Google Streetview of the Discovery Bay station location:

discovery_bay_streetview

 

MTC policy is that new rail projects must incorporate transit-oriented development in order to receive funding. But as can be seen from these station plans, the TOD requirements are never taken seriously.

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BART Orders Stadler DMU

For its new eBART extension, BART has ordered Stadler DMU railcars:

SAN Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) has awarded a contract worth $US 58m to Stadler to supply eight two-car DMUs for use on the 16km East Contra Costa Bart extension project, which is currently under construction. Dubbed eBart, the new line will utilise standard-gauge rather than 1676mm-gauge infrastructure used by conventional Bart lines and is due to enter service in 2015. Bart officials say the $US 462m project is around 60% cheaper than conventional electric Bart services.

The Stadler cars will not be FRA-compliant, nor will they be purchased under Buy-America rules. Stadler will produce the vehicles from its plant in Switzerland.

It is worth comparing the BART DMU order with the one done by SMART. SMART, as you may recall, selected heavy FRA-compliant DMU’s over the more popular non-compliant varieties. SMART even paid for a “study” to show this would give the public a less expensive railcar. Well, now we can conclude that SMART study was bogus: the BART DMU’s are comparable in price to the SMART DMU (when accounting for inflation and LTK consultant fees).

Stadler was the only vendor that bid on the BART project. Other foreign vendors were no doubt discouraged from participating in a US project, given the convoluted regulations. As a result, BART still paid a lot more than it should have. But at least BART will get a model that has been fully debugged and burns less fuel.

 

Stadler DMU used for Austin's Capital Metro

Stadler DMU used for Austin’s Capital Metro

 

SMART's klunky DMU

SMART’s klunky DMU

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