Archive for the ‘transit’ Category

Amtrak is really trying to upstage airlines on complicated boarding procedures:

On the day of your trip, check in with a uniformed Amtrak employee who will verify your ticket, and issue you a boarding pass. You will then be directed to the appropriate boarding area to wait for your train. The earlier you check in, the earlier you’ll be in the boarding process. If you don’t check in, you’ll be among the last to board.

Board with Your Assigned Group
About 30 minutes before departure, a boarding call will be announced and you’ll board with your assigned group.

General boarding for passengers traveling in Coach Class will take place in the Great Hall. There will be signs to direct you to the location of your assigned group. Customers who purchased a $20 Priority Boarding Pass for the Legacy Club will be the first Coach Class group to board.

They also recommend arriving at the station at least 45 minutes before departure, to deal with this nonsense. And “boarding gates” will close 5 minutes before takeoff train departure.


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In an action that went largely unnoticed last month, the CHSRA has changed the specifications for platform lengths. Whereas they were originally to be 430 meters (long enough for double trainset), they will now be just 800 feet (243 meters). This will effectively cut the capacity of the system in half.

The memo does allow for longer platforms at shared stations — if other operators are running longer trains. Its effect on the cramped Transbay Terminal is unclear, as Caltrain is only planning for 8-car EMUs.

The decision also affects placement of turnouts and crossovers. So once the track and platforms are locked in concrete, it would be extremely difficult and costly to change later on. Reducing costs of the project is one thing — but this is an example of being penny-wise and pound-foolish.


Double trainset

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Back in 2009, SMART came up with a bonehead plan to use custom-design rolling stock — a decision heavily criticized in this blog. And here we are six years later, and they are still struggling to get something working:

On September 7, 2016, SMART was notified by SCOA [Sumitomo Corporation of America] that the failure was due to an underlying design flaw in the engine’s crankshaft. Responding to this news, SMART’s Vehicle Maintenance Superintendent, supported by LTK vehicle engineers, travelled to the Cummins Engine facility in Seymour, Indiana, and on September 14 met with Cummins, carbuilder Nippon Sharyo and SCOA. At the meeting it was agreed that the engines would be rebuilt with a new crankshaft designed for the life of the engine, as soon as possible.

So now all the engines will need to be scrapped, and the train design re-tested. The SMART staff is now (very optimistically I think) saying the line won’t open until at least Spring 2017. The previous opening date was supposed to be the end 2016 (which had already been pushed back 2 years due to other issues).

Remember: the whole rationale for using custom FRA-compliant rolling stock was that it would take “too long” to get regulatory approval for off-the-shelf European DMUs.

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BART bond does not address structural deficit

In the November election, voters will decide whether to approve a $3.5 billion bond for overhauling and repairing BART. The East Bay Times has been editorializing against the bond. Most of what they write is completely loopy. For example, complaining that the costs are not given in year-2065 dollars, or that households would pay more if interest costs were to balloon to 12% (if rates get that high, then the BART bond will be the least of our worries).

There is, however, a kernel of truth in the argument that the bond is back-filling a structural deficit in the maintenance budget. The Times scapegoats the “excessive” worker salaries for this deficit. That is incorrect as the deficit would exist even without recent pay increases. The deficit is the result of two structural problems.

The first problem is the long-term decline in gas tax revenues. For the past two decades, politicians at the State and Federal level have refused to increase the gas-tax. As inflation eats into gas-tax revenues,  there has been a big decline in revenue to support transit operations. This has forced BART and other agencies to use creative accounting and borrowing to shore up finances — but that can only go on for so long.

The second problem has to do with the design of BART itself. The low-ridership extensions into far-flung suburbs are a huge drain on finances. Unfortunately, the BART bond exacerbates the problem by providing $350 million for the construction of new parking garages. Subsidizing auto-centric development around the peripheral BART stations is not the solution to the suburban ridership problem.


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Sticker Shock over SMART fares

The SMART Board has decided on a fare structure, and voters are having sticker shock over the high ticket prices:

Critics say the fares are too expensive and won’t entice the North Bay commuters who drive solo — SMART’s primary targeted customer base. Some also argue the charges are an affront to the financial sacrifices taxpayers in the two counties have made, and will continue to make, through the quarter-cent sales tax that supports the rail line through at least 2029.

We failed miserably,” said SMART director Shirlee Zane, who joined fellow Sonoma County Supervisor David Rabbitt in voting against the approved fares. “What we’ve done, in effect — and I want to be clear, I didn’t vote for this — by approving these very high fares, the public has said, ‘We’ve been paying for this train for eight years. It’s public transportation, and now you’re going to turn around and charge us these really outrageous fares?’ ”

SMART director Zane should know better. She was on the Board when it approved the purchase of FRA-compliant DMU’s. These heavy DMU’s are more expensive to operate compared to light-weight DMU’s. The SMART Board had even done a study which quantified the extra expense. It was inevitable that the inefficient DMU’s would require higher fares. Even worse, though, is that they can only afford to run trains during commute hours. There will be just a single midday run, and no weekend service only 6 weekend round-trips.

There is virtually no other transit operation using heavy DMU’s, which really tells you something. California’s two other DMU systems, eBART and the San Diego Sprinter, both use lightweight European DMU’s.  Indeed, it is instructive to compare performance metrics of SMART vs. NCTD Sprinter:


(Click chart to enlarge)

One note about the data: Whereas NCTD provides extensive budget and operations data, it is difficult to obtain any numbers from SMART. Some metrics were calculated based on newspaper reports, so any clarifications/corrections are welcome.

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SEPTA removed its Superliner V railcars from service after structural defects were discovered:

SEPTA has identified a defect with its Silverliner V Regional Rail cars that has resulted in these trains being taken out of service for the immediate future. This will impact customers starting Tuesday, July 5, as SEPTA’s passenger capacity for weekday travel will be reduced. All 120 Silverliner Vs, which SEPTA received between 2010 and 2013 and comprise approximately one- third of the Regional Rail fleet, are out of service.

The Silverliner V structural defect was discovered early Friday morning by SEPTA railroad vehicle maintenance personnel. Follow-up inspections with the fleet showed that there was a problem with cracking in the main suspension systems. Within 24 hours, all Silverliner Vs had been taken out of service. SEPTA will work with Hyundai Rotem, the rail car manufacturer, to resolve the problems. The suspension systems are still under warranty, and Hyundai Rotem is working cooperatively with SEPTA to locate and expedite the procurement of materials to repair or replace the failed suspension components.

These Hyundai-Rotem railcars have been an ongoing headache for SEPTA (and other agencies):

It wasn’t the first time that problems with the cars surfaced. Delivery of the cars, which started in 2010, was delayed because of workmanship defects and other problems; the cars also have experienced trouble with doors opening and closing during exceedingly cold weather.

Hyundai Rotem entered the U.S. market a little more than a decade ago, aggressively underbidding competitors. Its manufacturing record produced complaints, not only in Philadelphia, but by Boston mass-transit officials who had ordered cars assembled in South Philadelphia and complained of delays and shoddy workmanship.

[…and also Metrolink in So. California]

There is a large worldwide market for commuter trains. They come with competitive prices and reliable service histories. But instead of using any of those proven designs, SEPTA wanted trains built locally, and designed to an obsolete government spec. And so while it is easy to blame Hyundai, the real culprit is Buy-America policies.

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To accommodate higher passenger loads, BART has been testing new seating layouts. There are three configurations being tested:




This evening, I was riding in the 3rd one. Most of the seats were removed along one side of the car. I have to say, it did a good job accommodating five bikes, airport luggage, and an oversized wheelchair. The wheelchair user was thrilled that she finally got a window seat. Passenger volume was not that high, though, despite being rush hour.


Approaching 12th St Station 


Relatively empty at the end of the line in Fremont

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