Archive for the ‘transit’ Category

BART sets a goal of having 91% of its trains on time, with just 74% actually running on-time. By comparison, Ukrainian Railways reports 95% of trains depart on schedule — despite constant shelling and missile attacks:

Ukrainian rail has become a figurehead of the staunch resilience in the country since the outbreak of the war in February 2022. The service hasn’t completely stopped since that date “for more than two hours”, despite the fighting across the country, Ukrainian Railways CEO Alexander Kamyshin told AFP at the InnoTrans trade fair in Berlin.

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During the latter days of the Obama Administration, the FRA proposed a new two-man crew mandate. It would have required all trains — including passenger trains — to have both a train driver and conductor. The effort was widely seen as a gift to railroad unions.

The Trump Administration quickly cancelled the rule-making effort — but now the idiotic rule is back:

The Federal Railroad Administration has scheduled a public hearing on a proposed rule that would require at least two crew members for most trains.

Set for 9:30 a.m. Eastern on Dec. 14, the hearing will take place virtually and in-person at the National Association of Home Builders headquarters in Washington, according to a notice published in the Oct. 27 Federal Register.

The proposal calls for regulations establishing safe minimum requirements for the size of train crews depending on the type of operation. This minimum requirement is proposed for all railroad operations except for those that don’t pose significant safety risks to railroad employees, the public or the environment. Other exceptions would include trains working as a helper service, as well as those consisting of only a locomotive or a locomotive attached to only a caboose.

As noted previously, single-man operation is common throughout the world for passenger operations. This rule would outlaw cost-effective commuter and regional train service in the US. This time, the FRA at least acknowledges that the new rule is contrary to global practice — which the agency then dismisses with some cringeworthy arguments:

Foreign train operations in developed countries, other than Canada, are not comparable for the most part due to differences in train lengths, territory, and infrastructure. For instance, a foreign, one-person freight train operation in an industrial-type railroad servicing only one origin and one destination would not be comparable due to the complexity of most U.S.-based freight rail operations. Most foreign, one-person freight train operations also do not carry out extensive interlining or switching with other railroads. Further, many foreign, one-person passenger train operations do not have to share track with freight operations or operate over highway-rail grade crossings, and thus the safety hazards associated with those foreign operations are not comparable to those involving U.S. passenger train operations.

The idea that single-man operated passenger trains don’t have to deal with grade-crossings or freight trains will no doubt come as a surprise to anyone who ridden trains in Germany, Switzerland, France, the UK, etc, etc…

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Hard to believe, but its has been a decade since the FRA gave the Ok for transit agencies to use modern, lightweight trains. And yet hardly any rail operators have taken advantage of the technology. But perhaps that is starting to change, with the announcement that California will be trading in its antiquated tank-trains for something much more modern:

California State Transportation Agency (CalSTA) and the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) and Stadler signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for the design and supply of four hydrogen Flirt trains to operate in California. The agreement highlights the responsibilities and roles of each stakeholder and will lead to a contract which outlines the procurement of the zero emission multiple units, with the option to purchase up 25 units.

Stadler is the only manufacturer in North America that designs and builds rail vehicles compliant with the FRA AVT Crashworthiness Standards.

AVT means “alternative compliance” trains, i.e. lightweight, so it burns less fuel (unfortunately, the decision to use hydrogen might negate the cost advantages…).

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Think of the Children!

The FTA has an innovative program to locate childcare facilities near transit stations. The idea is to make it easier for parents to pick-up and drop-off their kids from daycare as part of the commute.

But the Riverside School Board apparently didn’t get that memo. They are freaking out over plans to build a new regional transit hub near the site of a planned school:

School board members are demanding regional transportation officials change plans for expanding a Riverside train station because it’s near the site of a planned school to serve the city’s Eastside community. The board voted 5-0 Thursday, July 14, to oppose the expansion, as proposed, and to urge the agency overseeing the venture — the Riverside County Transportation Commission — to pursue other options for increasing the Riverside-Downtown Station’s ability to handle passenger rail traffic.

This is about the safety of children,” said Tom Hunt, in urging colleagues on the Riverside Unified School District’s board of education recently to take a stand against the project.

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One-man operation is the industry standard practice for regional and commuter services. However that isn’t the case for Denver RTD — which still uses both a driver and conductor:

Recent staffing issues for the Regional Transportation District’s (RTD) University of Colorado A-Line have caused cancellations of trips, leaving travelers waiting at Denver International Airport (DIA) for hours. Since January, 1,548 A-Line trips have been canceled, according to data from RTD. About 80% of those cancelations – 1,290 in total – happened because there wasn’t a second crew member available to be on the train. One reason for this is that the A-Line requires two people to be on board the train during a trip.

Thanks to automation, two-man operation became obsolete decades ago. To make matters worse, RTD work-rules require the second crew member to be an armed guard (i.e. rent-a-cop) — which limits the pool of applicants.

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June 7th was the ribbon-cutting for new platforms at the Ashland (VA) Amtrak station. Built at a cost of $10 million, the purpose of the project was to improve ADA accessibility and safety:

A quick glance in the image above begs the question of what exactly was done to improve accessibility? There is obviously no level-platform boarding. Passengers with mobility issues will still have difficulties climbing stairs into the train. Wheelchair riders will still have to rely on mobile lifts. This was the best that could be done for $10 million?

Sadly, this project serves as a template for stations all across the country. Amtrak is spending $58 million bringing 16 stations into ADA “compliance” — with another 120 stations in the pipeline at a cost of $126 million.

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Senator Chris Murphy is the author of various Buy-America bills over the past decade. It is one of his top priorities — and yet he can’t understand why HSR costs are so damn high:

This the same Senator who killed a plan by Amtrak to build a 30-mile bypass around the slow tracks along the Connecticut shoreline. The bypass would have reduced NY-Boston travel time by a remarkable 20%. Amtrak proposed building the route inland through open terrain, so as to keep construction costs low. However, the Senator demanded the route stick to the same curvy ROW where it will be very costly and complex to do any speed improvements.

If Senator Murphy wants to discover the reason US high-speed rail costs are so much higher, he can start by looking in the mirror.

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The revised EIR for the SF-SJ segment has been published, although it hardly changed from the 2020 version. A few observations from both documents:

1. The existing 4th/King HSR station will get fare gates. Page 2-77 states: “The existing 4th and King Street Station would serve as the interim terminal station for the project until the DTX provides HSR access to the SFTC. Station improvements would include installing a booth for HSR ticketing and support services, adding HSR fare gates, and modifying existing tracks and platforms.”

2. Transfers between Caltrain and HSR at Millbrae will be done through the upper concourse. This is similar to the baldy designed transfer currently done between BART and Caltrain at Millbrae. There will be no cross-platform transfers between the express and local trains.

3. The upper concourse at Millbrae is extended all the way to El Camino Real, for no apparent reason. The southbound Caltrain is at-grade, and the west entrance is at-grade, but this diagram suggests these passengers will have to travel all the way up and down the concourse just to go from street to platform.

Click to enlarge

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After the Capitol Hill riot, a considerable number of corporations indicated they would withhold campaign contributions from the so-called Insurrection Caucus. But one corporation that has not shied away is Cubic:

Cubic Corp.: $5,000 to the NRCC in March and a combined $26,500 directly to the campaigns of the 147 election objectors.

Cubic is, of course, the defense contractor which manages MTC’s Clipper Card program. Their contract with the MTC was recently renewed, at a cost of over half a billion dollars.

Cubic’s record of campaign contributions can be viewed on the FEC database.

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The VTA is still defending its decision to build the phase-2 San Jose BART extension with a deep bore tunnel. They are being roasted on social media for the design of the stations, which would be as much as 90′ underground. VTA is pushing back, saying this is no big deal:

[VTA spokeswoman] Alaniz contends the deep stations won’t be a hindrance. Riders will have the option of taking escalators, multiple high-speed elevators or stairs at each stop. VTA estimates that even at the peak of rush hour it will take riders “less than a minute” to get from the platform to street level by taking the elevators, Alaniz said, while escalators will take between a minute and 90 seconds depending on whether the rider walks or stands. “A minute, to me, just seems extremely nominal when I think about a typical commute,” Alaniz said.

It is not clear where Alaniz obtained the 90 second figure, as it is significantly lower than what has been publicly discussed. A study of the downtown SJ station using simulation software showed it could take as long as 3.55 minutes to exit the platform, and 12 minutes to exit the station.

The simulation was done in the context of an evacuation. While one might argue routine rush-hour traffic is not quite the same as an evacuation, note that the simulation assumes the faregates and emergency exits are opened. In fact, Alaniz does not indicate whether the 90-second figure includes wait-time at the faregates.

The reason for the lengthy travel time is due not so much to the depth of the station, but the lack of exits. In a conventional downtown cut/cover station, there are exits heading off in multiple directions. These deep-bore stations funnel passengers through a single narrow chokepoint, which can easily back up.

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