Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Gotham's robust rail growth

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MTA is readying infrastructure additions; continuing to repair, upgrade, and harden existing facilities; and acquiring new rolling stock, all in order to meet increasing passenger demand.

Rail suppliers, more than ever, want to be a part of it: New York, New York.

True, New York City and its metropolitan surroundings were the dominant North American rail passenger market even during the dark days of the 1970s, symbolized in New York by graffiti, crime, train fires, and derailments. The supplier market got better during the 1980s as the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) initiated successive five-year capital plans to repair and replace ailing equipment and infrastructure.

But in the new century, repair and replacement is joined by upgrades and expansion, with suppliers eager to provide support. Companies such as Thales and Siemens are busy applying Communications-Based Train Control (CBTC), slowly but surely, to portions of New York City's huge subway system, a lucrative potential opportunity for literally decades to come.

Damage inflicted by Superstorm Sandy to many MTA properties, but particularly MTA New York City Subways, resulted in approval of $5.7 billion in capital spending for repair work, resulting in an adjusted MTA 2010-2014 Capital Plan of $34.8 billion.

MTA also must cooperate and coordinate with other players in a larger transit mix. That includes an extensive underground pedestrian network in downtown Manhattan, where MTA and partner Port Authority of New York & New Jersey are linking the new buildings of the World Trade Center and the PATH interstate rail network with 11 MTA New York City Transit (NYCT) subway lines and ferry connections spanning roughly half lower Manhattan's width. In Queens, East Side Access must take into account not only MTA Long Island Rail Road's needs, but coordinate with Amtrak's ongoing Harold Interlocking work at Sunnyside Yards, and ensure NJ Transit train movements continue unimpeded. (Railway Age, Oct. 2010, p. 32.)

Equipment needs grow

Layered over both the routine and the unexpected capital expenditures is the huge order of 584 M-9 electric multiple-unit (EMU) cars for both LIRR and Metro-North, a $1.8 billion contract awarded to Kawasaki Rail Car, and a reflection of the complexity and ambitiousness of New York's rail growth. (Kawasaki still is delivering the last of roughly 430 M-8 EMU cars to Metro-North and the Connecticut Department of Transportation.) The design will include "reversible" third rail shoes to allow for potential future operations involving both LIRR and Metro-North. LIRR operates with overrunning third rail shoes, while Metro-North utilizes shoes running underneath the third rail.

The effort to mix and marry Metro-North and LIRR needs also is reflected by a $428 million contract MTA has awarded to a consortium of Siemens Rail Automation and Bombardier Transportation Rail Control Solutions. The consortium will install Positive Train Control (PTC) for both railroads, the two largest regional passenger operations in North America.

On the subways, 110 new R188 cars produced by Kawasaki Rail Car at its Yonkers, N.Y., plant will come equipped to handle CBTC. Testing began last month on the No. 7 (Flushing) Line. Kawasaki also will convert at least 370 existing R142 A Division (numbered lines) cars, also with CBTC capability, for use on the existing No. 7 Line linking Queens with Times Square—and for what's to come farther west.

Bombardier Transportation is building 300 R179 cars for NYCT's B Division (lettered) lines at the company's Plattsburgh, N.Y. site, allowing MTA to retire R32 and R42 cars. Delivery is set to begin in July 2015.

Expanding infrastructure's reach

In the five boroughs alone, nicknames and acronyms abound for huge rail infrastructure projects overseen by MTA Capital Construction: The No. 7 extension. Fulton (Street Transit) Center. SAS (Second Avenue Subway). ESA (East Side Access).

The 1.5-mile, $1.14 billion No. 7 extension likely will debut first, probably by June 2014, extending subway service from Times Square west to the Hudson Yards Redevelopment Project on Manhattan's West Side. Much of the redevelopment site sits literally atop the Northeast Corridor and LIRR's West Side Yards. With large-scale skyscrapers (even by Manhattan standards) planned atop the site (see image, p. 28), developers don't hesitate to note rail service is a key part of making the site economically viable. The project is a favorite of outgoing Mayor Michael Bloomberg. S3, a joint venture of J.F. Shea, Skanska USA Civil, and Schiavone, has managed the project. The extension will include CBTC, also being installed along the rest of the No. 7 line.

Racing to meet or beat that June 2014 opening date is the $1.4 billion Fulton Center, designed to streamline and unify six disparate subway stations serving 11 existing subway lines into a cohesive unit. MTA Capital Construction President Michael Horodniceanu tells Railway Age the project's pedestrian east-west passageway, running underneath Dey Street from the Fulton Center to the World Trade Center, essentially has been completed, with MTA and the Port Authority discussing ways to open the passageway for at least partial access to the WTC site, PATH train service, and nearby ferry connections even while construction activity continues. Eventually, the underground pedestrian route will offer transit access and protective shelter from the elements, spanning roughly half of lower Manhattan's east-west width.

Fulton Center itself, says Horodniceanu, "will be spectacular," with its oculus structure a focal point counterbalancing the more high-profile winged Calatrava sculpture designating the formal PATH World Trade Center entrance on Church Street.

MTA's two regional railroads are finally coordinating investment efforts not just for railcars, but for a rail terminal—literally MTA's grandest, Grand Central Terminal. Long home for just Metro-North, Grand Central will welcome Long Island Rail Road service, with predictions of serving 80,000 LIRR riders per weekday, when MTA's $8.2 billion East Side Access project is completed in 2019. LIRR's own GCT terminal platforms, well under way, lie 90 feet below street level, to be served by 22 elevators and 47 escalators.

ESA tunnels run north roughly 120 feet under Manhattan's surface, turning east under 63rd Street and joining a tunnel segment built during the 1970s and running just underneath F Line subway tunnels built at that time. The tunnel route surfaces at Sunnyside Yards in Queens, where extensive track rerouting involving LIRR, Amtrak, and NJ Transit has taken place to streamline operations and reduce movement conflicts. LIRR plans to operate 24 trains per hour on the new route during peak periods.

ESA's projected deadline slipped from 2012 to 2014 to 2016 and now is targeted for 2019, with the complexity of tunnel work at Sunnyside contributing to the delays and driving up anticipated costs.

Somewhat linked to ESA's future passenger delivery loads to and from Manhattan's East Side—the No. 1 jobs center in the U.S.—is Phase 1 of the Second Avenue Subway (SAS), first proposed in 1929 and finally taking form between 63rd Street and 96th Street, with three new stations. With ESA likely delayed, the two-mile, Phase 1 portion of SAS likely will open first, in December 2016, offering East Siders an alternative to the crowded No. 4, 5, and 6 lines underneath Lexington Avenue, which combined carry more riders than the next three U.S. subway systems combined.

Rider diversion to the SAS may ease the load on those numbered lines, allowing potential capacity for some ESA riders boarding at Grand Central. (Planners note many other LIRR riders using ESA will walk to jobs or events, ameliorating the "crush subway loads" anticipated by other observers.)

Undoing Sandy's damage

Other tunnel repair and upgrade projects, largely prompted by damage resulting from Superstorm Sandy in October 2012, will keep New York's role as proverbial 800-pound gorilla among North American rail transit players secure for some time to come.

One year to the day after Sandy savaged the Northeast, New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and MTA Chairman and CEO Thomas F. Prendergast, along with other officials, inspected some potential technological fixes MTA is weighing for flood protection and storm hardening for 600 "entry points" in lower Manhattan's transportation grid, mostly rail-related. Among the items: a prototype entrance cover at the Whitehall St. subway station, developed by RSA Protective Technologies to protect at least 13 vulnerable stairwells downtown, able to be installed quickly without the need for mechanized equipment.

The governor's touring party also visited MTA's major loss, the new South Ferry subway station, which was overwhelmed by 14 million gallons of corrosive salt water. There, the party inspected a tunnel plug under development by ILC Dover, a Department of Homeland Security vendor and supplier to NASA, to protect subway portals where grade level tracks transition to underground subways. The tunnel plug is similar to ILC Dover's "Tensioned Curtain" being eyed for the 207th Street Station in upper Manhattan. An alternate prototype is being developed for a typical street stairwell entry for other subway stations. A third vendor, FloodBreak, is producing a permanently implantable device beneath sidewalk ventilation gratings that can be immediately and easily closed manually, sealing the vent from flood waters. A prototype is in place under a grating at Rector Street.

Meanwhile, under the streets and rivers nearby, MTA New York City Transit has begun repair work on the first two of six storm-damaged subway tubes, including work on signals, pump rooms, power and communications, tunnel lighting, and ducts. NYCT also is building two new pump trains that will reduce the time needed to pump water out of the subway system when the next major storm occurs—something MTA brass regard as inevitable.

Above ground, work is under way to repair and elevate two of three damaged substations along LIRR's Long Beach Branch, close to the Atlantic Ocean. Back in Manhattan, design is under way for resiliency work that will protect Penn Station, which is likely to include flood barriers at the Northeast Corridor tunnel portals leading to New Jersey. North of Manhattan in the Bronx and in Westchester County, Metro-North has begun design work for new power and communications components along 30 miles of the Hudson Line, skirting its namesake river and prone to flooding.