Facing the requirement to cover a $300 million budget deficit for fiscal year 2011, New Jersey Transit Friday released its plan to increase rail, light rail, and bus fares 25% and to “trim service proportionate to recent ridership declines.” Left unstated was the impact of several recent service cutbacks, applied unilaterally by NJT, that some observers may have contributed to such rider declines in tandem with recession.
“We recognize that any increase is a burden for our customers, particularly during a recession,” said Executive Director Jim Weinstein. “However, we have worked to keep local bus fares below the regional average and preserved some important discounts for seniors and people with disabilities, as well as for students and others who are among the most transit dependent.”
Following public hearings on the plan—hearings that were not held during recent, more modest service “adjustments” during the administration of Gov. Jon Corzine—NJ Transit would enact its fare and service changes May 1. NJT says it expects to generate more than $140 million in revenue. It noted that with the proposed increase, fares will be 3% lower than they were in Fiscal Year 1991, based on inflation-adjusted dollars.
Service reductions seek a goal of “reducing service proportionateto ridership, which has declined systemwide by about 4% as a result of the economy and low fuel prices,” NJT said. “In all, the agency proposes to eliminate 32 of 725 commuter trains, with at least two trains scheduled for elimination on each of the system’s 11 lines.
“Our service plan is designed to size our service to match ridership demand,” said Weinstein. “We also looked at where we could squeeze out the most costs while impacting as few customers as possible.”
Federal Transit Administrator Peter M. Rogoff called Thursday for “a top-to-bottom change in the safety culture and focus on safety at Washington Metro.” Discussing the findings of a WMATA and Tri-State TOC safety audit prepared by FTA for Congress, he called Metro’s Safety Department “dysfunctional and ineffective.”
Acknowledging that “FTA is currently prohibited by law from having direct safety oversight of Washington Metro and similar agencies across America,” Rogoff said that “at the direct of request of Senator [Barbara] Mikulski (D-Md.) and [DOT] Secretary Ray LaHood, and with the encouragement of WMATA’s interim Chief Safety Officer, this audit, for the first time, took a hard look at WMATA’s own safety program.”
The audit resulted in 21 findings and recommendations. While directed specifically at WMATA, they could also affect other agencies if embodied in legislation.
“The Metrorail crash last summer certainly accelerated our efforts within the Obama Administration to develop and transmit our transit safety reform bill,” said Rogoff. “However, we have also been focused on accidents and safety lapses at the Chicago Transit Authority, the MUNI system in San Francisco, the “T” in Boston, and elsewhere. While we believe the situation at Washington Metro is particularly troubling, some of the deficiencies and vulnerabilities that we identified in our audit of Metro and the TOC are similar to problems that exist at transit agencies and State Safety Organizations across America. Thatis precisely why we need Congress to move forward with our transit safety reform bill now. The U.S. Department of Transportation cannot move forward to address these problems in any meaningful way while we are still prohibited in law from issuing safety regulations or conducting direct safety oversight.”
Rogoff emphasized that “despite Metro’s safety challenges, every Washington area commuter is far safer traveling on Metro than they are traveling on our highways. Anyone who decides to drive to work instead of taking Metro is immediately putting themselves at much greater risk of accident or injury. The Metro rail system has experienced 13 on-board crash-related fatalities during its 33-year history. While every one of the fatalities has been a tragedy, the fact is that automobile accidents on the roads of the Washington area claim the same number of fatalities every two weeks. Nationwide, a person is 107 times more likely to die and 57 times more likely to be injured as a motor vehicle passenger than as a rail transit passenger. So, does Washington Metro and the TOC need to make changes to improve safety? Absolutely! Should Metro’s safety challenges prompt riders to drive their cars instead? Absolutely not!”
“Regarding WMATA,” he said, “we believe there are serious organizational failures that must be addressed immediately. For example, our audit found thatthere is no internal process for communicating safety-related information across all WMATA departments. Worse still, there is no internal process for the Chief Safety Officer to communicate safety priorities to the General Manager. We are also deeply troubled by the fact that WMATA’s safety department does not routinely have access to operating and maintenance information so that it could analyze the information for safety implications.”
“For example,” said Rogoff, “FTA found evidence that WMATA’s Safety Department is not ‘plugged-in’ to critical conversations, decision-making meetings, and reporting systems that provide information on hazards and potential safety concerns throughout the agency. Key documents, reports, and decisions are not consistently shared with the Safety Department. In addition, the Safety Department does not receive and review available monthly reports from the Rail Operation, Quality, or Maintenance departments. On numerous occasions during the audit interviews, Safety Department representatives indicated that they were learning for the first time that information of a safety nature was being documented by operating departments … we are also concerned about the resources dedicated for the Safety Department, the lack of stability within the Safety Department, and the scant attention it has gotten from senior management. Three illustrative observations are worth sharing with you:
(1) “At the time of our audit, there was a 25% vacancy rate within the Safety Department.
(2) “The Safety Department itself has been reorganized six times since 2005.
(3) “Since 2007, there have been four different individuals in charge of safety.”
On worker safety, Rogoff said: ”We found that WMATA’s procedural protections for right-of-way workers, implemented after the 2006 Dupont Circle accident, were not developed in consultation with TOC or even evaluated for its impact on safety. In addition, while WMATA representatives stated that employees were provided training on this directive, during our interviews we found that employees were simply provided the directive and asked to sign a form stating that they understood the rule.
“And, given the communication problems within Metro, it is troubling that while Metro intends to revise this rule, in light of the recent tracker worker deaths, the Safety Department has not been asked to conduct an analysis of the revisions. Also, supervisors and operators told FTA that communications from right-of-way workers do not specify their exact location on the alignment. Specifically, operators stated that in some cases they do not know if workers are on the alignment until they have visual contact, and, when this occurs, especially in ‘blind spots,’ operators have limited ability to slow the train.”
Urging Congress top address these and other concerns, Rogoff described the administration's approach:
“First, our legislative proposal would provide FTA direct oversight authority over individual transit systems. The bill would grant us the ability to issue regulations and enforce them. So our legislative proposal would allow FTA to set minimum, national standards regarding such issues as track worker protection, crashworthiness, on-board event recorders, or the institution of safety management systems to ensure critical safety issues receive the attention they deserve.
“Under our legislative proposal, the FTA would be empowered with the same tools that agencies like the FAA have to compel the compliance of regulated parties. While State Safety Oversight (SSO) agencies would have the opportunity to enforce Federal regulations on the FTA’s behalf, they would only be allowed to do so if they had the staff strength, expertise, and legislative authority to compel compliance by the transit providers.
“Importantly, our legislative proposal would provide Federal funds to TOCs for hiring, training, inspections, and other safety-related activities. Rather than having TOCs that are understaffed and undertrained, the FTA would provide resources to ensure that they are up to the task.
“Most importantly, our legislative proposal is built around the goal of getting every rail transit provider, including Metro, to embrace state-of-the-art Safety Management Systems (SMS). An effective SMS is one where every employee, from the lowest to the highest rungs of the operation, are keeping their eyes and ears on safety concerns.”
City council members in Cincinnati are trying to identify and secure a terminal for Ohio’s proposed Cleveland-Columbus-Cincinnati (3-C) Corridor passenger rail service. In a 6-3 vote, the council has recommended the city’s 77-year-old Union Terminal be the site for any such service.
Built in 1933, the building was declared a National HistoricLandmark in 1977. In the late 1980s, the building was renovated and then reopenedas Cincinnati Museum Center.
Amtrak is the only rail service that uses the terminal at present, with only its tri-weekly Cardinal stopping at the station en route to Chicago or Washington/New York. Amtrak says it cannot properly maintain the building itself, given its size and relative lack of use.
The state of Ohio has pressed for an alternate train station site in Cincinnati on its riverfront. But the City Council measure requests the state to study ways to incorporate Union Terminal into the plan. It allows for use of a temporary station if the terminal itself can’t be ready to serve passengers before passenger service begins.
The Federal Railroad Administration in late January awarded Ohio’s3-C Corridor $400 million to advance rail passenger service resumption on the route.
Employees of Austin, Tex.’s Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority are playing the roll of passengers as testing, which began this month, continues on the oft-delayed line. Cap Metro also announced Friday its intent to begin revenue service Monday, March 22.
Cap Metro staff are simulating rider conditions, including ticket queuing, passenger boarding and departures, and of course riding on the agency’s Stadler-Bussnag diesel multiple-unit (DMU) equipment as the trains operateover the system in simulated revenue service.
"We're going through the motions of what passengers will hopefully experience," said Cap Metro employee David McNiff. "Hopefully we'll make sure it's working. At this point, we're trying to overload it to see what the capacity is."
Capital Metro spokesman Adam Shaivitz says the system wasn't overloaded. But people involved in the testing were simultaneously buying tickets at the system’s nine stations and working to push the set up to itslimit. During testing without passengers on March 1, a server glitch at MetroRail's dispatch reportedly halted testing for around 45 minutes.
The tests have mirrored the rail's actual service schedule along the 32-mile route from 5:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. in the morning, then again from 3:45 p.m. until 7:45 p.m.
Shaivits says inspectors from the Federal RailwayAdministration are overseeing the testing. The agency originally had hoped to launch revenue service at the end of 2008. Throughout that year, Cap Metro and the FRA clashed over the agency's pursuit of a waiver to operate under temporal separation (time-sharing) rules.
U.S. carload freight traffic reached its highest level inmore than a year during the week ended February 27, the Association of American Railroads reported Thursday, though coal lagged behind. U.S. carloads for the week were up 2.6% from the comparable 2009 period, notching the “highest level reported since the week ended Dec. 6, 2008,” AAR noted; they still fell below the 2008 week’s total by 13.5%.
U.S. intermodal traffic reached its highest level so far this year, up 17.5% from last year, though still down 8.1% from the comparable week in 2008.
Total volume for the week was estimated at 31.6 billion ton-miles, up 3.9% from last year but down 10.5% from 2008.
Eastern U.S. carloadings rebounded, gaining 3.3% compared with 2009, still off 16% compared with 2008. Western U.S. carloadings gained 2% from 2009, trailing 2008 levels by 11.7%.
Fifteen of 19 carload commodity groups showed gains from a year ago, with 10 registering double-digit percentage increases. Coal loadings, however, were off 6.5%; the “all other carload” category fell 15.7%.
Canadian railroads carloadings rose 12.2% from last year, with intermodal also up 11% from 2009. Mexico’s two major railroads reported carloadings rose 17% from the same week last year, while intermodal climbed 59.2%.
Combined North American rail volume for the first eight weeks of 2010 on 13 reporting U.S., Canadian, and Mexican railroads totaled 2,818,429 carloads, up 2.1% percent from last year, and 2,001,824 trailers and containers, up 6.5% from last year.
A study released Tuesday evaluating public transit in 23 European cities gave top honors to Munich, Germany.
The survey, conducted by EuroTest, a group of automobile clubs in 15 European nations, found only nine of the 23 cities offered “acceptable” heavy rail, light rail, and/or bus services.
Munich was lauded for its “mostly competent and friendly advice at ticket desks, also in English”; its “escalators and lifts provided in most cases; almost all the stops tested were accessible”; and its “bicycle parking facilities at many of the stops tested.”
Also faring well were London, praised for connections to Heathrow Airport and for its variety of ticket options, but criticized for its “relatively expensive trips and transfers” and lack of escalators and elevators; and Paris, given high marks for its low-cost trips within city limits, signage and maps made readily available, and timetables offered in six languages.
The EuroTest survey can be accessed here.
New Jersey Transit Corp. said Wednesday it plans to cut at least 200 positions, both at the union and management level, implement an emergency spending freeze, reduce executive salaries by 5%, and cut contributions to employee 401(k) retirement accounts by a third.
The cutbacks seek to save more than $30 million, still far short of NJT’s $300 million budget gap, which Gov. Chris Christie says will require service cutbacks and fare hikes. Gov. Christie pledged not to raise taxes if elected.
"Unfortunately, fare and service changes will have to be a part of NJ Transit’s overall response to this financial crisis," said NJT Executive Director James Weinstein. "I know this will be painful for our customers. I welcome their suggestions and ideas as well as those of the public."
In addition to the $300 million deficit, Christie has said he wants to withhold nearly $33 million in subsidies to the agency as a way to help close a $2.2 billion state budget gap Weinstein told unions last month the fare hikes could be as high as 30%, though some observers see a smaller increase coming. Any increase could be implemented as soon as May.
The 200 layoffs announced, roughly 2% of all NJT staff, is the most severe one-year worforce reduction in the corporation’s history. NJT spokeswoman Penny Bassett Hackett said "all of these (reductions) are being made with an eye on not compromising safety." Affected workers will be notified during the next several weeks, she said, and the layoffs take effect for fiscal year 2011, which begins July 1.
Bombardier Transportation said Wednesday it has been awarded an order to install its Interflo 200 mainline signaling technology on the Albacete-to-LaEncina section of the Madrid-Valencia-Alicante line in the Castilla la Mancha region of Spain.
The contract, valued at approximately $53 million, is the highest value contract ever signed with ADIF, the Spanish rail infrastructure administrator, Bombardier said. The contract also strengthens Bombardier’s Rail Control Solutions activity in the Iberian peninsula; Bombardier notes its technology has been selected by metro operators in Madrid, Seville, Bilbao, Barcelona, and Porto.
Bombardier says Interflo 200 signaling is typically used for busy, mainline networks, allowing reduced headways and higher safety levels. Interflo 200 can complement a national automatic train protection (ATP) system and can later be upgraded to European Rail Traffic Management system (ERTMS) operation. Bombardier says Interflo 200 hasbeen installed extensively across the world in Brazil, Bulgaria, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Poland, Russia, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden, and Thailand.
Bombardier will upgrade signaling along approximately 90 kilometers (56 miles). The scope will include Bombardier’s globally installed EBI Lock 950 computer-based interlocking (CBI), EBI Screen local control center, and EBI track train detection systems, as well as modification of existing systems, equipment, and structures. Implementation is expected to take one year.
Anders Lindberg, president, Rail Control Solutions, Bombardier Transportation, said, “We are very pleased to be awarded this major new contract for our INTERFLO 200 solution. With this system already well-proven in Spain, this order is further testimony to the customer’s confidence in our technology.”