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Archive for the ‘transit’ Category

ARTIC Disaster

Anaheim’s new ARTIC train station was built on the wrong side of the freeway, putting visitors further away from Disneyland. And whereas the old station had easy access to buses and parking, the new one forces passengers to walk long distances.

It is also a financial disaster:

The bulk of the $185 million ARTIC project cost was paid for by Orange County taxpayers with a special half-percent sales tax known as Measure M2.

But it’s Anaheim’s taxpayers that will shoulder the annual operating and maintenance expenses for ARTIC, which is several times over the cost to run train stations in other nearby cities.

For example, the Irvine train station saw 1,900 boardings a day in fiscal year 2013-14, according to city provided figures. That’s well over twice as many as ARTIC.

The cost to operate and maintain the Irvine train station annually is $485,000.

That cost for ARTIC is expected to be $4.7 million, nearly 10 times what it costs to run the Irvine station.

Oh, and rail ridership at Anaheim is down 32.2% over the past two years.

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If you are planning to board Amtrak buses in San Francisco, be prepared for some insane TSA-style security checks:

Security Check

Upon entering the facility, passengers must show your Amtrak ticket or photo I.D. to the Greyhound Security Staff. Greyhound security will also inspect bags and wand passengers for metal contraband who enter the building. Please allow additional time arriving for this process.

So now you can’t even enter a bus terminal without a security check.

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Heckuva Job Obama

feinburgHaving deep experience in the railroad industry isn’t necessarily a good thing for running the FRA (case in point: Joe Szabo). But an FRA Administrator should at least have some technical or transportation background:

Feinberg has a resume loaded with high-level jobs as a communications specialist and Democratic staffer. She was an assistant to Rahm Emanuel when he was President Barack Obama’s White House chief of staff and later director of communications and corporate strategy at Facebook. She also worked on Capitol Hill for years, as communications director for the House Democratic Caucus and as national press secretary for former Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle. Feinberg was formerly married to Dan Pfeiffer, a key White House adviser whose service to the president dates back to Obama’s days as senator from Illinois.

But her executive experience doesn’t include running anything the size and complexity of the FRA, and she does not have much experience with railroads. That’s led some to question whether she’s a good fit to lead an agency widely thought to need an urgent overhaul.

One of the (many) failings of the Bush Administration was its appointment of unqualified political hacks to key positions. People like Michael Brown to run FEMA, or the GOP ideologues who ran the provisional government in Iraq. You would think the Obama Administration would not repeat that kind of mistake.

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Valhalla

The 5 victims in the horrific Metro-North collision in Valhalla will be listed in the official statistics as train fatalities — even though it was an automobile that killed them. Each year, there are tens of thousands of automobile fatalities, but for some reason, the NTSB only investigates crashes involving trains or other mass transit.

Based on previous work by the NTSB, one can expect their report to focus on accident survivability, not accident avoidance. The key question isn’t what role the 3rd rail played, or the design of the road — but why the grade crossing was even there in the first place?

The Commerce St. grade crossing has little traffic, and is located just 1 mile away from grade-separated crossings in both north and south directions. Closing the crossing to motor vehicles is the obvious solution. It would greatly increase safety, with only minor time penalty for motorists.

Metro-North has such a large number of crossings similar to this one that it begs the question as to why they are left open to motor vehicles. A systematic approach to closing minor at-grade crossings that are in close proximity to grade-separated roadways would greatly increase safety, with only minor impact on motor vehicles. Note that crossings could still be left open to bikes/peds, avoiding the “Berlin-Wall” effect. The reason this has not been done is because small inconveniences for motorists takes precedence over the safety of train passengers. Hopefully this latest tragedy will lead to a change in priorities.

And it is not a problem unique to Metro-North. In the SF Bay Area, the Caltrain line has a number of minor at-grade crossings that should be closed to motor vehicles. It is just dumb luck that Caltrain has not experienced a mass casualty event. And when the agency starts using EMU’s, you can be sure the knives will come out if one of those “dangerous” non-compliant trains were involved in a fatal accident.

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40 miles SW of Toronto lies the city of Hamilton. It joins a select group of cities (Liverpool, Berkeley, and Nashville) in turning away bus lanes:

With a Wednesday night council vote, city staff will spend about $100,000 to get rid of the transit lane, which runs from Mary to Dundurn Streets. It was a close vote, with councillors voting 9-7 to get rid of the lane. Coun. Chad Collins moved the motion.

City staff said Thursday morning the bus lane will still be in effect until city staff remove the signage above the lane. City staff are expected meet before the week is finished to formulate a plan to remove the signs and markings.

Council votetd to kill the bus lane, even though it was working mostly Ok:

A staff information report last week had recommended keeping the lane with modifications. The lane added about five minutes to the stretch during afternoon rush hour, its report showed, and carried nearly as many people as the other two lanes. The majority of transit users and drivers liked it, the report said, as well as the 2015 Toronto Pan Am committee. The majority of businesses did not.

The bus lane was to be a precursor to a full blown light-rail line. But now the same City Councilors say they don’t want the light-rail either — even though the LRT is fully funded:

Hamilton’s mayor announced Monday that the province is willing to fully fund the capital costs of light rail transit here, but the news did little to sway the minds of councillors unsure about LRT. Those opposed or uncertain about LRT continued to raise objections and reiterate their opposition Tuesday.

The news didn’t convince Coun. Judi Partridge of Ward 15 in Flamborough, who says she’s uncertain on LRT even if it does get full provincial funding. “There is no change,” she said. “We still don’t have any information. We still don’t have a commitment. We still have confusion, but that’s about it.” Only eight of council’s 16 members confirmed a commitment to a $1-billion LRT system on Tuesday if it’s fully funded. Others say they have questions.

Partridge and Coun. Arlene VanderBeek of Ward 13 in Dundas cited unknown below-ground infrastructure costs as reasons they’re hesitant.

My husband collects train sets. I can tell you that the train and the track are the cheapest part, and that’s just toys,” VanderBeek said. “That’s not the reality of transit for this city, which is so important.”

Is VanderBeek aware of how much the highway infrastructure costs? Automobiles are the cheapest part.

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CHSRA Platform Fail

As you probably know, Caltrain and the CHSRA are supposed to share infrastructure but can’t agree on a common platform height. The CHSRA train specification is for 1295mm (51″) floor height, That is much too high for Caltrain with its legacy 8″ platforms.

If you are wondering where the CHSRA came up with the 51″ number, the answer is that it was mainly a political decision. The FRA wanted California to use HSR rolling stock compatible with the NEC corridor (even though the NEC is thousands of miles away). When that idea proved impractical, the joint bid was dropped. And yet here we are, apparently stuck with the 51″ requirement.

What needs to happen now is for the CHSRA to drop the 51″ requirement from the train specification. Since Caltrain and the CHSRA will almost certainly use European “off-the-shelf” trainsets, the obvious solution is to follow the European platform standard.

In 2002, the European Commission issued a Technical Specification for Interoperability (TSI) that allows for two possible platform heights: 550mm and 760mm. If you do the metric-English conversion, you find that 550mm is 21″, and 760mm is 30″. For comparison, Caltrain’s Bombardier cars have a 25″ floor level. So trains built to either the 550mm or 760mm platform height would provide backwards-compatibility to legacy 8″ platforms while the agency works on rebuilding platforms to the new height.

Following the TSI platform standard is also in the best interests of the CHSRA, because it will ensure the largest number of vendors can bid on high-speed train procurements. In a 2009 white paper, the CHSRA planners tried to argue otherwise, saying that most HSR trains currently in operation fall within the range of a 45″-51″ height. That is certainly true, but they need to think about the state of the market in the year 2024 (when California’s system supposedly begins operation), not the year 2009. It is clear that the next-generation of HSR trains are going to be compliant with TSI accessibility standards.

In fact, most vendors have already made the switch to TSI standards. Talgo, for example, offers two HSR trains with low-floor coaches at the 760mm height:

talgo_350

Talgo 760mm level-platform boarding

euroduplex

Euroduplex 550mm entrance

The new Stadler EC250 is also low-floor. It will operate on new high-speed service between Zurich, Frankfurt, and Milan, though only with a maximum speed of 155mph.

The TGV duplex is yet another train with 550mm level-platform boarding. Even though it is the workhorse of the TGV network, the CHSRA has already ruled out the use of this train, saying it has “unappealing aesthetics”. It is incredible that the CHSRA would so blithely dismiss Europe’s most popular high-speed train.

One HSR vendor that does not offer TSI-compliant trains is Siemens. Siemens does, however, have a train manufacturing facility in Sacramento and has made grandiose promises of local jobs if it wins the contract. This leads to the suspicion that specifications were written to favor a preferred vendor — at the expense of taxpayers and transit riders.

If the CHSRA prevails on using 51″ platform boarding, the implications would be quite bad for Caltrain. There would be no good options for migrating to that platform height. Caltrain would either have to decide on segregated platforms for HSR (limiting its access to the new Transbay Terminal) or else design some goof-ball train with two sets of doors.

Sadly, it appears Caltrain is going with the latter plan. In a presentation last month to San Francisco officials, Dave Couch of Caltrain outlined a plan whereby the new electric railcars would have dual sets of doors. One upper set for stations with 51″ platforms, and a lower set of doors for the legacy 8″ platforms. This is a huge step backwards from what customers have today. At least with the current rolling stock, riders only have to make one (small) vertical transition. The new rolling stock would add yet another — inside a crowded moving train, no less, where there are also bikes and luggage to contend with. To accommodate wheelchairs, some kind of internal wheelchair lift may be needed too. And a train with dual sets of doors isn’t exactly off-the-shelf, so expensive customization would be needed.

This proposal is so ridiculous, it is hard to believe it is being taken seriously. Let’s hope it leads to a re-evaluation of the CHSRA platform decisions.

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Measure Once, Cut Twice

Insufficient space on the platform for the stairwell.

dutch_platform

(Another gem from the CrappyDesign subreddit.)

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