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Archive for the ‘transit’ Category

Nippon Sharyo loses railcar contract

As reported earlier, Nippon Sharyo has been struggling to complete the contract for new FRA-compliant bi-level trains for California. The project was becoming a fiasco, years late and in danger of being canceled altogether.

To salvage the project, it appears that Caltrans is now going with Plan B; i.e. purchase single-level railcars from Siemens instead:

The Midwest bi-level passenger railcar procurement (Contract No. 75A0362) of 130 bi-level passenger railcars is led by the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) in joint agreement with the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT), which represents the Midwest Coalition.

In order to satisfy its obligations under the Contract, Sumitomo Corporation of America (SCOA), proposed to (1) substitute Siemens Industry, Inc. (Siemens) in place of Nippon Sharyo as SCOA’s prime subcontractor and railcar manufacturer, pursuant to Section SP7.2 of the Contract and (2) manufacture 130 single-level railcars in place of 130 bi-level railcars.

Caltrans/IDOT are reviewing SCOA’s proposal. By moving from bi-level to single level railcars, Caltrans/IDOT will reduce the delivery frame for the railcars from approximately 24-34 months for a single level railcar as opposed to 5 years for a bi-level railcar. In order to proceed, Caltrans/IDOT and SCOA will execute an amendment to the Contract which will accommodate the substitution of Siemens as the manufacturer of 130 single level railcars.

One complication is that the Siemens single-level cars are not low-floor vehicles, and California Amtrak routes have just 8″ platforms. So passengers will have to climb stairs to board, which can be difficult for those with limited mobility, heavy luggage, or bicycles.

 

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BART has kicked-off its transit-village project at Walnut Creek. And as usual, it has a huge amount of parking. Might as well call it a parking-oriented village:

The first preliminary work begins Saturday in the “south permit lot,” where the new 900-stall BART parking garage will be built. It will stand next to the existing multilevel garage, which will remain in service. Ron Heckmann, a spokesman for the project, said the new structure will more than compensate for the loss of the south and north permit lots and the permit lot east of the station to residential and retail development, the net gain being about 100 stalls.

The new garage building is expected to open in late 2018, said Arthur, adding he hopes all the 596 apartments and ground-floor retail spaces will be finished in about five years. Parking for apartment residents and retail patrons will be provided in underground garages below those future buildings.

775 underground parking garage spaces will be built (at great expense) for the 596 apartments — in addition to the 900-stall parking garage.

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During the Obama Administration, the FRA began work on a NEC Future plan that was to modernize and speedup the Northeast Corridor Acela service. One of the easiest bang-for-the-buck opportunities is along the Connecticut shore, where train speeds slow considerably. The FRA proposed an inland bypass option, which would have solved the problem. But now the local Nimby’s have succeeded in killing it off:

Bowing to local pressure, the Federal Railroad Administration has dropped plans for a controversial new rail line along the eastern Connecticut shore from its ambitious project to overhaul the railroad system in the Northeast corridor.

[The] FRA dropped plans to add new tracks from New Haven to Providence, preferring instead to focus on increased maintenance and repair of the existing rail line and allowing Connecticut and Rhode Island to work with the FRA and other states, including Massachusetts, on a “capacity study” that could include alternatives to the existing route.

This decision means that NYC-Boston travel times will probably never be made competitive. It should also be noted that political opposition came not so much from anti-rail Republicans, but from anti-rail Democrats — i.e. Connecticut Senator Blumenthal and Governor Malloy.

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Senator Blumenthal

 

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Warm Springs is what BART calls an “automobile-access” station. No expense was spared in building new roads and highways for convenient car access. It has a huge parking lot, tricked out with solar panels and other “green” features.

The pedestrian access on the other hand…

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The photo above is Warm Springs Blvd, at the east entrance to the station. Those signals are totally new, and provide car access to the station. But as you can see, they lack pedestrian signals, and there are no crosswalks. The signals only permit cars to cross, not pedestrians. A pedestrian crossing the street (say to the business park on the other side), has no easy way to do it. The nearest intersection with ped signals is at Grimmer Blvd  — a half-mile detour just to cross the street. And in any case, there is no sidewalk on the other side of Warm Springs Blvd, even though the road was completely re-built. So the detour would involve walking out in the roadway.

The other roads in the station neighborhood are no better. Fremont Blvd, along the west side of the station, lacks sidewalks on both sides of the street. The speed limit is 45 mph (with actual speeds much higher), so you can imagine what that is like for pedestrians:

fremontblvd

And here is Grimmer Blvd, along the north side of the station, which also lacks basic pedestrian accommodation:

grimmer

North of the station, Warm Springs Blvd changes name to Osgood Rd. But it has the same crappy pedestrian access. Pedestrians must get by on a weed-choked dirt path:

osgood

These terrible conditions are not due to any lack of time or money. The Warm Springs station went through 10+ years of design and construction. During that time, vast sums were spent “improving” roads and freeway interchanges around the station, but not a single thing done for pedestrian access. From almost every direction, it is impossible to safely walk to the station.

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The Bay Area is notorious for preventing infill development around transit stations. But with Branham LRT station in San Jose, things have hit a new low.

The San Jose General Plan designates the area around the Branham LRT station for mixed-use development. Nonetheless, the VTA-owned property is zoned “A” (agricultural!). To facilitate transit-oriented development, VTA submitted a request to change the zoning. Developing the Branham parking lot is a no-brainer, since it has just 13% utilization.

But neighbors and Councilmember Johnny Khamis are pushing back, forcing the VTA to at least temporarily withdraw the application:

When VTA’s application was filed recently, San Jose City Councilman Johnny Khamis said he would demand it address traffic around the northbound on-ramp to Highway 87 near the site before he would even consider a land use amendment.

“I let VTA know that they would have big opposition, including myself, to developing that property…without traffic mitigation measures at least started. “To change the zoning to housing before we address the traffic concerns, it seemed irresponsible to me,” he added.

Gee, if only there were an LRT station nearby to mitigate the traffic….

branham

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In 2012, Nippon Sharyo won a contract to build new bilevel railcars for California and the midwest. The railcars were supposed to have gone into use by now, but the project (predictably for the usual reasons) has suffered major setbacks. Last year, the carbody prototypes failed FRA crash standards, forcing designers back to the drawing board. There have been reportedly hundreds of change orders.

In January 2017, Caltrans was supposed to present an update for the “next-generation” bi-level cars at a TRB conference. That presentation was abruptly canceled.  Steven Keck, CalTrans’ interim chief for rail, gave a cryptic explanation that no further information could be given due to ongoing negotiations over the schedule delays. Last month, Nippon Sharyo announced major layoffs at its plant, due to ongoing difficulties with the project:

Nippon Sharyo is cutting its workforce by about 110 employees because of continued complications with a prototype rail car, the company announced Monday. The rail-car manufacturer has laid off nearly two-thirds of its workforce in the past 5 months: It dropped 100 of its 350 employees in January.

“We continue to confront technical complications and delays with the bi-level rail car project that have forced us to evaluate the volume of work and the needs at our Rochelle facility,” the company said in a statement. “As a result, we have made the difficult decision to reduce our workforce.”

The project is funded by $551 million in federal funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. If the company cannot deliver on the contract by Sept 30, the funds revert back to the US Treasury.

lahood_nippon

Secretary LaHood announcing the Amtrak railcar order at the Nippon Sharyo plant, where he said: ” thanks to a standardized design initiated by our Federal Railroad Administration…the parts and components for passenger rail cars and locomotives lowers the costs of production and improves competition. It also makes it easier and reduces costs for operators to maintain equipment.”

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BART needs to close a $25-$35 million shortfall in its operating budget. The media blames the deficit on overpaid janitors, while staff is proposing a menu of fare increases:

The board held onto the possibility of putting a surcharge on rides taken using paper fare cards and reducing BART’s discount rates for youths, seniors and disabled people. The directors did not vote on fare increases, which they say are needed to help fill a projected $25 million to $35 million budget gap, but they discussed which fare proposals should undergo a mandated federal civil rights study so that they can be considered when the board assembles a spending plan.

There is one very easy solution to this problem: raise the cost of parking. BART has 45,984 parking spaces. Increasing the daily parking charge by $2.25 ($45 monthly) is sufficient to cover $25 million. Increasing the daily parking charge by $3.15 ($63 monthly) would raise $35 million. Those adjustments would make BART parking charges comparable to current market rates.

BART parking lots fill up at the crack of dawn, and the monthly reserved slots have years-long waiting lists. The Warm Springs station already has a waiting list and it isn’t even open yet. Because BART  is giving away parking at below-market cost, there is no parking availability (except for a lucky few). So even if there weren’t a deficit, the parking fees need to be raised regardless.

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