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Archive for the ‘transit’ Category

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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The Biden Administration is developing a $3 trillion infrastructure plan, and every city wants in. That perhaps is the explanation for Dallas proceeding on a proposed downtown subway, because it certainly has no value-added for riders.

DART has 4 lines converging on a short segment running through a downtown transit mall. Two of those lines would be shifted a few blocks south to a new $2.7 billion subway. The plan does not provide any increase in service, except for the Red line which would see some additional peak-hour trains. DART concedes the project does not enhance service much. Indeed, the Build Alternative would see a net loss in transit ridership:

The main point of the project, according to DART, is to improve reliability and capacity. DART at one point looked at running trains on the branching lines with 10-minute headways, meaning 24 trains per hour through the downtown segment. That’s not exactly pushing the envelope; there are plenty of streetcar systems which achieve much higher throughputs. It is also curious that a subway is needed to improve capacity when DART runs just 2-car trains.

Computer simulation of subway stations. I lost count of the number of mezzanine and concourse levels at the Commerce station.

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The FRA has indefinitely postponed plans for a major expansion of Washington DC Union Station. The $7 billion project ran into a firestorm of criticism for its single-minded focus on car parking. There was no planning for improved bike/ped access, and only limited accommodation for intercity buses. Congresswoman Eleanor Norton sent a scathing letter which undoubtedly caught FRA’s attention:

Among other problems with the proposal, the Project includes too many parking spaces for cars. NCPC [National Capital Planning Commission], which has approval authority for the Project, has asked FRA to “substantially reduce” the number of parking spaces and to work with all the stakeholders to determine the appropriate amount of parking in light of the “mix of uses, traffic and urban design impacts and the transit-oriented nature of the [P]roject.” In order to truly become a 21st-century multimodal facility, the Project needs to address pedestrian and bike connections, which are increasing modes of transportation here, as well as pick-up and drop-off locations and the bus facility.

Andrew Trueblood, Director of the D.C. Office of Planning, has warned that FRA’s desired number of parking spaces would undermine the key goals for the Project, including prioritizing intermodal efficacy and efficiency and providing continued and enhanced quality of life for people who live, work and visit the District.

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How BART does belt-tightening

Pity poor Cubic. The defense contractor spends years lobbying for a $200 million faregate contract, only to have the pandemic upend the budget at BART. With billion dollar deficits, it would be crazy for BART to do a new faregate project…or not:

BART expects ridership won’t be close to rebounding to pre-pandemic levels for years and is grappling with “a crisis without precedent in our history,” the transit agency’s staff told its board Thursday. The pandemic is expected to cost the train system more than $1 billion in revenue losses through fiscal year 2022.

Board directors said Thursday that they want to see possible scenarios about which service could be brought back when depending on returning ridership…Director Liz Ames said she would like more investment in capital projects. She stressed moving forward on new, more secure fare gates which aren’t yet fully funded. General Manager Bob Powers said fare gates are a high priority. Director Debora Allen said “safe, clean, affordable transit” will get people back the fastest. She pushed for new fare gates and more police enforcement.

Service has been reduced almost by half, and they’re worried about whether Cubic gets their cut.

New faregates will not prevent anyone from going through the emergency exit

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COVID-19 has slammed the Portland WES commuter rail service, with ridership down 75%. But even before the pandemic, the service was struggling due to poor service and sky-high operating costs:

Since its inception, WES has seen operating costs per passenger dip slightly then rise dramatically. In fiscal year 2019, WES cost Trimet $19.75 per passenger. The operating cost per rider jumped to $27.39 in fiscal year 2020 before skyrocketing to $91.15 during the first six months of fiscal year 2021.

When comparing the cost of operating WES versus TriMet’s other services like light rail and bus, it’s not even close. In December 2020, the operation costs per rider for WES was $108, compared to $9.32 for MAX light rail and $9.82 for bus service.

TriMet said the commuter rail is always more expensive because it requires two people to operate – an engineer and a conductor – compared to other types of transit, like bus and light rail, which require only one operator.

Conductors are an anachronism, as demonstrated by the gazillions of DMU services doing one-man operation. Given their dire financial condition, it is incredible that WES has not eliminated the position.

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