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.”
U.S. railroads posted significant safety improvements in 2009, according to a report posted Wednesday on the Federal Railroad Administration’s website.
The industry’s safety record commands particular attention at a time when railroads are under an unfunded federal mandate to implement Positive Train Control (PTC) as a safety measure. The cost could exceed $15 billion.
The new FRA report, compiled by its Office of Safety Analysis, shows that train accidents were down 25.2% in 2009 to 1,841, compared to 2,997 in 2006, 2,668 in 3007, and 2,461 in 2008.
The number of collisions declined 28.9% to 135 in 2009, compared to 203 in 2006, 211 in 2007, and 189 in 2008. Derailments were down 26.4% to 1,308 in 2009, compared to 2,195 in 22006, 1,930 in 2007, and 1,727 in 2008. Yard accidents dropped 28.8% to 974 on 2009, compared to 1,579 in 2006, 1,195 in 2007, and 1,368 in 2008.
Rail fatalities of all kinds--due mainly to highway/railcrossing accidents and trespassing--declined 11.2% last year to 713, vs. 903 in 2006, 849 in 2007, and 803 in 2008.
Crossing fatalities dropped 14.2% in 2009 to 248, compared with 369 in 2006, 337 in 2007, and 289 in 2008.
Trespassing deaths declined 5.2% last year to 434, compared with 480 in 2006, 408 in 2007, and 458 in 2008.
Amtrak has tapped Nomad Digital for its launch this week of AmtrakConnect service on its Acela service plying the Northeast Corridor between Boston and Washington, D.C. Amtrak is offering the service free of charge, at least initially, and has advertised the offering in various media outlets throughout the Northeast.
Newcastle, England-based Nomad Digital says AmtrakConnect will provide passenger WiFi using a technology platform provided by the company. Amtrak determined that using a single 3G network would not be sufficient to provide the quality of connectivity that Acela passengers expect, and therefore a solution able to aggregate the capacity of multiple 3G networks would be essential.
Nomad, in cooperation with The GBS Group, Virginia Beach, Va., was selected on the strength of its WiFi platform technology, and its extensive experience in delivering best-in-class WiFi solutions, the company said.
Nigel Wallbridge, Nomad Digital chairman, said, “We are absolutely delighted to be working with Amtrak. Nomad believes in making public transportation more attractive to passengers to reduce road and air traffic and help the environment. We look forward to working closely with Amtrak over the coming years and to continuing to develop our business in North America.”
The Washington Metropolitan Transportation Authority, burdened with budget problems and dealing with serious safety issues on its Metrorail system, is drawing upon the talents of three transit veterans in an effort to get the troubled agency back on more-secure footing.
Former New Jersey Transit Executive Director Richard Sarles, who departed NJT last month, has been identified by WMATA as a candidate for Metro’s interim general manager for at least six months, and possibly for a year.
Metro’s Board of Directors, scheduled to make a decision Wednesday, seeks Sarles’ experience as it tries to address safety and fiscal concerns plaguing the sytem. Any interim general manager would have to address funding issues, including adequate funds for capital needs and to fill an estimated $190 million budget gap for the fiscal year that begins July 1.
Metro Chairman Peter Benjamin identified Sarles as “somebody who knows transit well and can step right in and do the job, and somebody who will not be a caretaker, who will be an assertive and aggressive leader of the organization because we have a lot of issues we have to tackle, starting with safety."
Sarles (top), if chosen, would succeed General Manager John B. Catoe, Jr., whose resignation takes effect April 2. Sarles also worked in executive positions at Amtrak and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.
Benjamin said a search for a permanent general manager will take place during the remainder of the year.
In a related development, former WMATA General Manager David Gunn (second from top)—well known and highly respected in the rail industry for his ability to turn troubled transit systems around—has been hired as a consultant to make recommendations on safety and operational issues. A straight shooter who has never been one to tolerate political shenanigans, Gunn served as WMATA GM from 1991 to 1994.
Gunn was asked to consult by yet another rail industry icon: new WMATA board member Mortimer L. Downey (bottom), the former U.S. Deputy Secretary of Transportation from 1993 to 2001 and former Executive Director and Chief Financial Officer
of the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority. Downey is now a senior executive at Parsons Brinckerhoff.
Both Gunn and Downey are recipients of Railway Age’s W. Graham Claytor Jr. Award for Distinguished Service to Passenger Transportation.