Passenger Rail Briefs: Amtrak, NYMTA, Metrolinx, NCDOTWritten by Carolina Worrell, Senior Editor
Amtrak and the Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT) continue their partnership with SeaStreak to offer connections at Providence Station and Newport. Also, 48 of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s (MTA) train operators graduated from the New York City Transit (NYCT) Learning Center in Brooklyn; Metrolinx makes transit easier for people with vision loss; and the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) will fund a $250,000 Pitt-Greenville passenger rail study.
Amtrak announced on July 6 that it will partner with RIDOT and SeaStreak for another season to offer travelers connecting service from Providence Station to Newport via convenient shuttle connections to and from the SeaStreak Ferry Terminal now through Monday, October 10. There will be four daily roundtrips available now through Monday, September 5, and three daily roundtrips available from Tuesday, September 6 through Monday, October 10.
“We are proud to partner with RIDOT and SeaStreak to once again offer travelers easy connections in Providence from all modes of transportation–from train to bus to ferry,” said Amtrak President Roger Harris. “Whether it’s to experience the majesty of Narragansett Bay, learn about the history on Benefit Street, enjoy gelato in Federal Hill or spend a day watching exotic animals in Roger Williams Park, Providence visitors can now get to Newport via the relaxing amenities of the ferry and experiencing some of the best views in the country on an Amtrak train.”
“Since we launched the Providence-Newport ferry seven years ago, we’ve carried more than 210,000 people,” RIDOT Director Peter Alviti, Jr. said. “With more transit connections like Amtrak’s, more of our ferry riders can take advantage of existing transit services for an easier connection to Newport while saving gas and helping reduce vehicle emissions.”
Amtrak travelers riding on both the Acela and Northeast Regional–the two Amtrak trains that service Providence Station–can connect with this service. The station is also served by the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) commuter rail that runs between Boston South Station and Wickford Junction via T.F. Green International Airport. In FY21, Providence Station was the 11th busiest station in Amtrak’s national network with more than 303,000 passengers either boarding or alighting a train at the station.
The MTA announced on July 5 that 48 new subway train operators, who will help NYCT tackle crew shortages and bolster the frequency of subway service, graduated following their successful completion of training at the NYCT Learning Center in Brooklyn, marking the end of intensive training that began in December 2021. The graduation took place as NYCT ridership hovers between 60% and 70% of pre-pandemic levels.
“By aggressively recruiting and increasing class sizes, we have been able to onboard hundreds of new train operators,” said NYCT President Richard Davey. “Our riders are using mass transit to get to work, school and everything New York City has to offer this summer, and this new class of train operators will help get them there.”
“Despite staffing challenges, we are focused on bringing staffing back to pre-pandemic levels and providing the best possible service for our riders,” said NYCT Senior Vice President of Subways Demetrius Crichlow. “Subway operators have kept the city moving and will continue to bring New York City back.”
The new employees join the hundreds of bus and train operators and conductors who recently completed their training–part of a deliberate effort by the MTA to rapidly grow the number of bus operators, subway train operators and conductors. A hiring freeze, necessitated by a fiscal crisis that developed during the pandemic, depleted the ranks of train operators with many veteran workers retiring or leaving their frontline posts.
Metrolinx’s wayfinding team, in charge of signage and other information systems, is taking major steps to make travel accessible for all passengers, including those who are visually impaired. Some of the systems being implemented, according to Toban Allison, Metrolink wayfinding manager, include:
- Philosophy of Universal Design.
- Bus stop poles with distinct sounds.
- Signage in multiple languages.
- Tactile floor tiles.
“If I could emphasize one thing about accessibility and wayfinding at Metrolinx, it’s that we really want to have people with disabilities shape whatever we do,” Allison said.
“We want to design in a way that is responsive to their needs, and in the best-case scenario, anticipating their needs. We want to obtain feedback from people with disabilities and involve them in user testing before implementing across all stations. We’ll continue to get better at that, but they’re the drivers of what we do—and we’ll just try to keep improving.”
District 9 Rep. Brian Farkas, a representative for North Carolina’s Greenville and Pitt County announced on July 6 that NCDOT will provide $250,000 in funding for the Pitt-Greenville Passenger Rail Feasibility Study through State Planning and Research funds. In March, Farkas announced plans to collaborate with city and county officials to undertake the study, which would “deliver a comprehensive assessment of the steps needed for passenger rail,” the Reflector reported.
“This major funding announcement is a big win for anyone who believes eastern North Carolina should have access to affordable and dynamic transportation options,” Farkas said in a release. “With a population over 90,000 and Greenville-based East Carolina University (ECU) anchoring the entire region, there’s no reason why Pitt County shouldn’t be a part of a statewide passenger rail system. I’m grateful for the bipartisan state and local partners we were able to bring together to get this part of the project taken care of.”
Greenville’s Urban Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) led the application for funding with letters of support submitted by Farkas, ECU Chancellor Philip Rogers, Greenville Mayor P.J. Connelly Director of the Pitt-Greenville Convention and Visitors Authority Andrew Schmidt.
“For years, the Greenville MPO has envisioned a passenger rail service to and from Raleigh,” said Farkas. “We’re excited to see this important first step taken, especially as the newly unveiled Interstate 587 continues to see significant economic and population growth projections along the entire corridor.”
“Passenger rail service supports economic development, connects rural communities to the rest of the nation and helps reduce roadway congestion in growing metropolitan regions, Farkas added”
The release called the study a “critical part of making a future rail project eligible for federal funds from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.”
Greenville’s current transportation infrastructure includes the G.K. Butterfield Transportation Center, which broke ground on Nov. 29, 2016. The center serves as an access point for people to transfer from one mode of transportation to another.