Archive for the ‘transit’ Category

The National Troupe of Silly Bureaucrats (NTSB) wants to downgrade Washington Metro into a commuter-rail service. They are recommending that Metro be brought under FRA regulation:

Metro’s safety problems are so severe and persistent that federal officials should take a much stronger role in monitoring the subway system: reclassifying it as a commuter railroad so the transit agency can be subject to tougher regulations and penalties, the National Transportation Safety Board said Wednesday.

In an “urgent” recommendation to Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, the safety board’s chairman, Christopher A. Hart, cited years of “repeated and ongoing deficiencies” in Metro and said the current oversight process, involving the Federal Transit Administration, is inadequate and bound to keep failing.

Hart urged Foxx to ask Congress for the authority to reclassify Metro as a commuter railroad, which would remove the subway from the FTA’s safety oversight and place it under the “robust inspection, oversight, regulatory, and enforcement authority” of the larger, more powerful Federal Railroad Administration.

As if Washington Metro didn’t have enough problems.

Once it becomes an FRA-regulated railroad, Metro would need waivers just to run lightweight equipment. Metro would have to deal with all the ridiculous operating rules, like mandatory brake-checks at the start of reach run. The costs would be staggering.

He [Hart] also mentioned the Aug. 6 derailment of a train — which was not carrying passengers — between the Federal Triangle and Smithsonian stations.

Right…because the FRA has done such a fantastic job of preventing derailments on MetroNorth and Amtrak.

The Federal Railroad Administration oversees “heavy” systems — freight and commuter lines, such as MARC and VRE, as well as Amtrak. But the closest system to an urban subway that the administration oversees is the Port Authority Trans-Hudson (PATH) line, a 14-mile rapid transit link between New Jersey and New York. About half of PATH’s tracks are underground.

In its recommendation, the NTSB uses PATH as the model for FRA regulation of Metro. But as I pointed out last year, FRA regulation of PATH has been an unmitigated disaster. FRA rules increase PATH operating costs by a factor of 3 — and haven’t done anything to improve safety.

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PTC Deadline Excuses


On May 8, 2011, a PATH train overran the platform Hoboken, striking the bumping post at the end of the track. Of the 70 passengers on-board, 30 passengers plus two crewmembers were hospitalized with non-life-threatening injuries. An NTSB investigation concluded that PTC would have prevented the accident:

PATH has submitted its PTC implementation plan to the FRA, and the FRA has approved the plan. The proposed PATH PTC system would enforce an absolute stop for trains approaching the platforms at Hoboken station. The NTSB, therefore, concludes that the PTC system proposed for implementation by PATH would have automatically alerted the engineer to the train’s excessive speed; and if the brakes were not applied, while operating in automatic mode or manual mode, the PTC system would have automatically applied the brakes to stop the train and prevent the collision.

PATH suffered a similar kind of accident in 2009 at Journal Square.

It has been more than four years since the Hoboken crash, which is sufficient time to install the PTC system. The Port Authority, however, is dragging its feet:

PATH officials have joined officials from 21 passenger and commuter railroads and seven freight railroads asking the U.S. Senate to extend a Dec. 31 deadline to implement an automatic speed control system.

PATH officials warned that they could be forced to reduce or suspend service if the deadline isn’t changed and the Federal Railroad Administration fines railroads that haven’t complied.

“The delay in meeting the deadline in no way, shape or form jeopardizes the safety and or quality of service that PATH provides to 265,000 daily riders,” said Michael P. Marino, PATH director and general manager in a Sept. 17 letter to a U.S.senate committee.

Since the passage of a 2008 law that mandates PTC, PATH has “zero accidents” that would have been preventable if PTC were installed, Marino said.

Not only are PATH officials endangering riders, they are also lying to Congress.

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The California High-Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA) published photo-simulations for the proposed train alignment in Bakersfield. Trains would run on a humongous elevated viaduct through neighborhoods in the northern half of the city. Highway planners used to build nightmares like this in the bad old days of 1960’s urban renewal. This is the same thing, the only difference being that there are rails and wires on top instead of asphalt and cars:

Sumner at Baker Street, Bakersfield

Old Town Kern

Here is another image:

Garces Memorial Circle

Garces Memorial Circle

At least there will be some awesome infill transit-oriented development around the new Bakersfield station, right? Sorry, but no — the station would be surrounded by a ridiculous amount of surface parking:


There is no rationale for these aerial structures. Note that the original plan (in 2005) was to put the station on the periphery and keep tracks more at ground-level. That would have greatly reduced costs and neighborhood impacts. Since everyone will be be driving to the station anyway — as evidenced by the huge parking — a peripheral station location would not impact ridership.

Locating suburban HSR stations on the periphery is also typical European practice. Sadly, some so-called experts are too clueless to figure that out.

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The city of Roanoke, Virginia is restoring rail service, after a 35-year hiatus. This requires building a train station, which will cost $100 million. Despite ADA and FRA regulations on level-platform boarding, this 21st-century train station will not have level-platform boarding:

When passenger train service comes to Roanoke in 2017, riders will board from an old-fashioned, low platform that requires climbing stairs or using a lift to enter the car, according to tentative plans subject to federal review.

Planners setting up Roanoke’s train service say a standard low platform will meet Roanoke’s site-specific needs and comply fully with the Americans with Disabilities Act because of the availability of mobile lifts. But planners didn’t publicize the proposal when they approved it 14 months ago, and now that members of the disability community are in the loop, they’re upset. Advocates for the disabled say such an approach will shortchange today’s diverse ridership and there is a better option: a raised platform.

If, instead, Roanoke ends up with a low platform as tentatively planned, its advance in modern transit would be coupled with a throwback to early passenger railroading. Roanoke’s old passenger train station, now a museum built in 1905, had a low platform that’s only a step up from ground-level boarding. “It would be a wasted opportunity to build a low-level platform at a location like that,” said Kenneth Shiotani, an attorney at the National Disability Rights Network, speaking of Roanoke.

Low-platform are a throwback to the steam era. In fact, one of the reasons VA Dept. of Rail designed the station with low-platforms was to accommodate an oversized steam train from a nearby transportation museum. The FRA really needs to start enforcing its level-platform rules, and not prioritize historic museum trains over modern transport.

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The cost for a one-way trip on the new Pearson airport express train service (UPX) is a whopping $27.50. At that price, few are interested in riding, so the trains are practically empty. You would think with all that available space, Metrolinx might at least allow bicyclists to ride, but noooo:

It’s got Wi-Fi, luggage storage and plush seating. One thing Toronto’s new airport train doesn’t have is bike racks. Gary Dienesch found that out at the end of a 10-hour flight following a 1,000-km bike tour of England and Scotland. At the UPX terminal at Pearson, however, they were told that they couldn’t board unless the bikes were boxed in the same way airlines require.

“I know you can take your bike on the GO and the subway. You just hold your bike. It’s not a long trip (from the airport) to downtown so we would just hold our bikes like we would on the subway,” said Dienesch. He doesn’t think bike racks on the UPX are necessary, particularly when the trains aren’t crowded. “I’ve seen it done everywhere else. It’s not a big thing to do. I pay taxes, I’m paying for this. There should be a very good reason for me not to be able to use it and there isn’t a good reason because they’re doing it everywhere else.”

“Unlike GO trains, there is no dedicated or appropriate space to store and secure an unpacked bicycle,” said Alex Burke of Metrolinx, the provincial agency that operates the UPX.

Metrolinx ordered the same crappy DMU rolling stock for UPX that SMART plans to use. So that gives you an idea of the level of dimwittedness.


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The BART-Oakland airport connector has been in operation for 6 months. And now that we are entering the peak summer flying season, it is a good opportunity to look at actual ridership numbers.

For the month of June, the average weekday daily ridership was 3,231 entries and exits. The month of May had similar ridership (3,203 entries and exits).

In its final ridership study (to obtain grant funding) BART had predicted OAC ridership to be in the range of 3,260-3,940 in the year 2015. That number was later revised downward to 2,685.

The OAC replaced the AirBART bus service. The baseline bus ridership was 2100, although ten years ago it was much higher (around 3500 average weekday trips). This gives (at best) a net gain in transit ridership of 1,000 daily trips — a dismal result for a capital project costing $500 million.


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If you go to a train station to ride the train, then you should be able to purchase a ticket right there at the station. I would think that is a self-evident. And if you are eligible for a special fare discount, such as a senior or youth, then you should be able to purchase a discount pass at the station. I would think that is also self-evident. This is standard practice for almost any transit operator — except BART: discount_pass_1 This sticker is plastered to BART ticket fare machines — informing parents and seniors that they can’t buy discount train tickets at the station. Instead, one must either take time off from work to schlep down to a Clipper service center, or else fill out an “application“, mail it in along with a government ID — and then wait for 7 days for your train ticket to arrive by mail. Here we are in the technological center of the universe, where BART has spent tens of millions of dollars on ticket vending machines (not counting the hundreds of millions of dollars the MTC has spent on Clipper “smart” card technology). And yet something as simple as buying a discount kids or senior pass requires an application, identification check, and as much as 7 business days of processing. And for what — to make sure your kids aren’t on a terrorist watch list?


Even Muni (Muni!!) is able to sell discount tickets from ticket vending machines

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