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Archive for the ‘transit’ Category

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

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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.

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Approaching 12th St Station 

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Relatively empty at the end of the line in Fremont

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First there was the Fremont flyer. Now the Hayward flyer:

One of BART’s new train cars overshot the end of the track and ran into a mound of dirt at a Hayward testing facility on Friday — another setback for a transit agency that has been dealing with aging infrastructure and a mysterious track problem crippling trains.

Officials were investigating whether an operator mistake or system error caused the glitch, which occurred at 1:55 p.m. on a test track between South Hayward Station and Union City, said Taylor Huckaby, a BART spokesman.

The train was traveling on a straight track and continued going after the track ended, causing some of the train to remain on the track while the rest went into the dirt, he said.

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VTA proposes cuts to bus network

A bus network is a compromise between ridership and coverage. Trunk routes provide the bulk ridership, while feeder lines fill in the geographic gaps. Geographic coverage is pretty important for low-income riders without cars, seniors, persons with disabilities. And in a place like Silicon Valley, geographic coverage is also needed for reaching the remote office parks.

However, feeder routes do not generate much farebox revenue. And with VTA struggling to pay for a ludicrously expensive BART subway, it is looking to cut bus service:

Despite a Santa Clara Valley population and jobs boom, ridership on buses and light-rail trains has dropped a staggering 23 percent since 2001, forcing the Valley Transportation Authority to consider its biggest shake-up ever in transit service.

Tough, unpopular decisions loom if the VTA hopes to attract those new passengers, get them to their destinations and improve its dismal 10 percent fare box return, which is the worst in the nation among similar agencies.

At the crux: Is the board willing to cut sparsely used, unprofitable routes that carry a handful of passengers — many of whom have no other means of transportation?

“This is going to take quite a bit of courage,” VTA General Manager Nuria Fernandez said following the release of a 68-page report on bus operations. “Ridership continues to decrease. Our fare box is not getting any better. Clearly we are going to have to make a choice to take a chance or nothing will ever change.”

Currently, about 30 percent of VTA bus service is geared to covering areas where bus rides are vital to the very few riders those lines carry. The two-year, $50,000 report by consultant Jarrett Walker + Associates said if that was lowered to 20 percent or 10 percent and money was redirected to the most heavily used routes, ridership and fare revenues would likely increase.

VTA riders are being given a hobson’s choice. They can choose either a comprehensive network with 30-60 minute headways, or a much more limited network with 5-15 minute headways.

The one choice they aren’t being given is to restore cuts made in bus funding.

In 2002. the VTA provided 1,508,300 revenue-hours of bus service. By 2013, service levels declined to 1,290,216 revenue-hours. The reason for the decline was to pay for very expensive expressway, LRT, and BART projects. The only logical choice is to reduce the highway spending, and to bring BART costs under control, in order to avoid eviscerating the bus network.

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‘On schedule’ was how the Tri-City Voice described the project in August 20, 2010:

According to Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) spokesperson Linton Johnson, the Warm Springs Extension, 5.4-miles of new BART track from the current Fremont Station to a new station in Warm Springs, Fremont, with an optional station at Irvington is “on schedule and under budget.”

An award of contract is expected in March 2011 with construction lasting from June 2011 to June 2014. Construction costs are estimated at $300M with anticipated funding of $421M. Testing of the BART extension to Warm Springs will begin in April 2014 with live service expected by the end of 2014.

 

And then it got delayed until 2015 (Mercury News):

Q You report that the BART Warm Springs station will open later this year. Wikipedia says early 2016. Can you use your superpowers to find the actual date they plan to be ready?

Cliff Gold

Fremont

A BART says late this year [2015] remains the target. They are testing the connections from the main Fremont station to this new station. After that’s done this fall, we should know more.

Delayed again, until 2016 (Mercury News):

With its structure nearly complete and testing of trains in its second month, the Warm Springs/South Fremont Bay Area Rapid Transit Station is expected to go into service this summer [2016], according to BART spokeswoman Molly McArthur.

Last October, the agency delayed opening of the station on Warm Springs Boulevard near South Grimmer Boulevard from later that year to sometime in 2016. Testing of several systems such as communications, train control and traction power were expected to begin that November. However, trains did not begin rolling into the station for testing until January.

It’s kind of like watching grass grow,” McArthur said jokingly.

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APTA has a very, very bad week

The New York MTA says that the situation with APTA is hopeless and wants out:

The country’s largest transit agency is withdrawing from the country’s main transit trade association.

In a letter dated April 8, top executives of New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority wrote they were canceling the agency’s membership in the American Public Transportation Association, known as APTA.

APTA is theoretically a league of all American transit agencies. To understand the magnitude of the MTA’s withdrawal, though, it’s worth reiterating the extent to which discussions about public transportation in this country are really discussions about the MTA. In 2015, the MTA accounted for 35 percent of all U.S. transit ridership—an even higher percentage than ten years ago despite substantial transit investments elsewhere in the country. The idea of a transit industry association that doesn’t include the MTA is akin to an OPEC without Saudi Arabia.

Two out three rail trips are in the New York metropolitan area. So without NYMTA participation, APTA is irrelevant on rail transport matters. Not that it ever was — in their very candid and scathing letter, the MTA states that “the knowledge transfer and technical assistance front is even more robust both nationally and internationally” with other organizations:

Knowledge transfer and collaborative activities with these organizations, especially the LUL in London, Network-Rail in the UK and RATP and RER in Paris, provide support and assistance to the MTA and its transit operating agencies not found through APTA.

This blog has frequently criticized APTA, in particular for wanting to adopt FRA-style safety rules on metros and light-rail. If MTA’s exit reduces the influence of APTA, then that can only be a good thing, as it would open the door to badly needed reforms in the transit industry.

 

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Amtrak California was expecting to receive new railcars. Funded through the 2009 stimulus package, the new railcars were supposed to replace antiqued models, some of which date back to the 1970’s. But production is stalled, for the usual and predictable reasons; i.e. the strict Buy-America procurement rules, and trying to debug a unique train design:

The tight restrictions on when and where the stimulus money can be spent left Nippon Sharyo with almost no room for error with a car model that it hadn’t built before and a brand-new assembly plant 80 miles west of Chicago that cost $100 million.

Crashworthiness of passenger railcars has been a primary focus of car designers since collisions involving commuter and freight trains in Southern California killed 11 people in 2005 and 25 people in 2008. Nippon Sharyo’s car hasn’t been able to pass a federally mandated test for absorbing rear- and front-end compression force generated in a crash.

After repeated failures, engineers are now redesigning the car’s body shell. That and additional testing will take about two more years to complete, according to people familiar with the matter. The entire job was to be finished in 2018, with the stimulus-funded portion due for completion in 2017. Now, Nippon Sharyo isn’t expected to start production until 2018, people familiar with the work say.

Nippon Sharyo isn’t the only manufacturer running into these problems. Spain’s CAF is having similar issues:

Five years after winning a $343 million contract to build 130 long-distance railcars for Amtrak, Spain’s Construcciones & Auxiliar de Ferrocarriles SA is struggling to complete the order. The work was supposed to be completed by early 2015, but as of late last year the company’s CAF USA Inc. subsidiary had turned out 70 baggage carsfrom its plant in Elmira Heights, N.Y. Nearly 400 defects were identified in the first 28 baggage cars delivered, according to an Amtrak report issued in February. The work schedule has been renegotiated, with each delay pushing delivery dates further.

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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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Crafts Project

There has been a recent spike (no pun intended) in news articles about the difficulties with BART’s proprietary design. Because of BART’s uniqueness, Board member Tom Radulovich describes it as a kind of crafts project which is more complicated to maintain compared to other metros:

BART’s 1,000 volt electrical system is unique. So is its station design and even its ticketing system. Having such custom features, according to Radulovich, means that projects are not only more expensive, but take longer. Added to that, he said, “there’s a chance it won’t work – or at least won’t work the first time.”

BART is indeed a unique design, but that in itself is not unusual. A large number of transit projects in the US involve propriety design. Everywhere you look, transportation consultants are going out their way to spec out special snowflake trains, signal systems, etc. Hardly any of these projects comply with global standards.

Consider the Caltrain “modernization” project, for which the agency is designing dual-door “frankentrains” and a non-standard signal system. Or the San Diego Sprinter DMU with its platform lift gates and proprietary braking system. Or the Marin-Sonoma SMART line with its propriety DMU trains and gauntlet tracks. Or the Acela, which will probably be getting early retirement. The list goes on and on.

 

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