Amtrak earns a spot on the Forbes 2023 list of America’s Best Large Employers. Also, San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit District (BART) launches a domestic violence prevention campaign; Brightline targets the opening of its Orlando, Fla., passenger rail extension, and plans three wildlife overcrossings for its Los Vegas-to-Southern California high-speed rail project; Metra’s Board signs off on the Chicago commuter railroad’s 2023-27 strategic plan; North County Transit District (NCTD) launches pilot fare products to meet the needs of San Diego County’s hybrid workforce; and members of the metro Vancouver community can scrap their cars for 16 months of free transit.
Forbes has recognized Amtrak as one of America’s Best Large Employers in 2023. “America’s Railroad” was one of 500 employers across 26 industry categories to make the list, which was compiled in partnership with market research firm Statista. According to Forbes, the ranking is based on a survey of approximately 45,000 workers at American companies and institutions with 5,000 or more employees. “Participants were asked if they would recommend their current employers to friends and family (on a scale of 0 to 10), and to cite any other employer they would also recommend,” Forbes reported. “The final list ranks the 500 large employers that received the most recommendations.”
Amtrak was one of 20 companies represented in the Transportation and Logistics category. J.B. Hunt Transport Services, New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority, and Old Dominion Freight Line were among the others.
Amtrak said it has a 20,000-plus member workforce, which includes 3,700 new hires in 2022; now, it has more than 4,000 positions available across multiple disciplines.
“Amtrak is setting in motion a new era of rail that will change the way America moves,” Amtrak CEO Stephen Gardner said. “The incredible new talent joining our dynamic workforce represents one of the best teams in the transportation industry. Our employees will power our growth thanks to their dedication and passion for what we do and drive our vision to deliver more trains to more people.”
“We are actively recruiting and hiring thousands of additional people to join a challenging and rewarding environment where we lead with our values to do the right thing, put customers first and excel together,” said Qiana Spain, Amtrak Executive Vice President, Chief Human Resources Officer. “We are committed to building an inclusive workforce that reflects the diversity of our customers and the communities we serve.”
BART on Feb. 14 reported teaming with the San Francisco Asian Women’s Shelter (AWS) and artist Amanda Phingbodhipakkiya on a new domestic violence prevention campaign, “Let’s Talk About Us,” to reach riders and local residents.
“The public art campaign seeks to start a conversation on preventing violence before it starts and stopping it from reoccurring, particularly among the Asian American and Pacific Islander community,” BART said. “The campaign also provides resources for people experiencing domestic violence, for allies who want to offer support to someone they know, and for riders who witness it in the BART system.”
Posters are displayed in more than 12 stations systemwide and onboard trains that serve each BART line. They feature messages such as “Be the Friend Who Brings It Up”; “Just Listen”; “Our Community, Our Responsibility”; “We All Deserve Respect”; and “Love Shouldn’t Hurt.” Each message is linked to a corresponding artwork, and the campaign includes more than 100 individual pieces of art. QR codes on the posters direct viewers to the “Let’s Talk About Us” resource website.
“BART is committed to enhancing the safety of women and girls, who are disproportionately victims of domestic violence and other forms of gender-based violence,” BART Board President Janice Li said. “Our stations are often the location for child visitation and custody pick-ups or drop-offs as they serve as a neutral location for adults to meet. These interactions can escalate, and this campaign can help disrupt the patterns of harm and ensure safe passageways for all riders.”
“This campaign helps us envision what can be when we look out for each other as a norm,” said Orchid Pusey, Executive Director of AWS. “Violence against children, partners, ex-partners, elders and strangers is interconnected, and preventing that violence starts at home, with each of us. This campaign can help flip the script through images and messages of mutual love, respect, belonging, and safety.”
Brightline, Florida’s private-sector passenger railroad, reported in its January monthly revenue and ridership report that it is targeting second-quarter 2023 to start service on its 170-mile expansion to Orlando, according to WFTV 9 and the Orlando Business Journal. The media outlets on Feb. 14 said that construction is 90% complete.
Brightline Orange 2, the last of five new trainsets from Siemens Mobility that will help serve the $2.7-billion extension, is now on its way to Florida. The railroad on Feb. 11 reported that it had left the manufacturing facility in Sacramento, Calif.
Separately, Brightline has entered into an agreement with the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) and California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) to design and construct three wildlife overcrossings across Interstate 15 and the planned 218-mile Brightline West high-speed rail system connecting Las Vegas and Southern California. Brightline on Feb. 15 reported that the overcrossings “will provide a sustainable and safe path for wildlife—especially for bighorn sheep—over the existing northbound and southbound highway lanes and the future high-speed rail system to be built within the median.”
CDFW has identified three San Bernardino County locations for the wildlife overcrossings: near Zzyzx Road, Mountain Pass and Rasor Road, according to Brightline. They are slated to span the width of I-15 including the rail line.
“Over the past year, Brightline, Caltrans and CDFW have worked together to develop a coordinated plan to fund, design, construct and maintain these wildlife overcrossings,” Brightline reported. “The parties intend to fund the overcrossings using a mix of Caltrans, CDFW and Brightline West capital resources, while also seeking federal dollars.”
Beyond the overcrossings, the Brightline West project will maintain or improve more than 600 culverts and large-scale crossings under I-15 that exist today, according to Brightline, which noted that it will also restore and install desert tortoise fencing and directional wildlife exclusionary fencing.
In related developments, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) in October 2022 released an environmental assessment of Brightline West’s proposed 49-mile Cajon Pass High-Speed Rail segment in California.
Capable of speeds of up to 140 mph, the segment would link Victor Valley and Rancho Cucamonga. The project includes two new stations: one in Hesperia and one in Rancho Cucamonga. The connecting station in Victor Valley was approved as part of Brightline West’s separate 200-mile Las Vegas-to-Victorville project that was evaluated in the Final Environmental Impact Statement (Final EIS; FRA 2011).
The Metra Board of Directors on Feb. 15 approved a 2023-27 strategic plan, “My Metra, Our Future” (see above), which the commuter railroad said focuses on “addressing the operational and financial challenges of a post-COVID world.”
The new plan was drafted and finalized with the assistance of Metra riders, employees and Board members; regional stakeholders; and others through two surveys and several open houses, meetings and workshops. Metra received more than 3,000 comments throughout the process.
Work on the plan started with refining Metra’s mission statement to make it “more concise and responsive to the community input,” Metra said. It is now: “Metra provides safe, reliable, efficient, and affordable commuter rail service that enhances the economic and environmental health of Northeast Illinois.” Next, the vision statement was rewritten to reflect the impact of the pandemic. “Ridership patterns and demand for Metra service have permanently changed, and Metra intends to move toward a ‘regional rail’ service model that provides more frequent service throughout the day to meet this demand, while still supporting peak demand during the traditional rush hour,” the railroad said.
To “fulfill its mission and move toward its vision,” the strategic plan was built around five goals: enhancing service to grow ridership and provide mobility choices; ensuring the Metra experience is “safe, easy and enjoyable” for all riders; attracting a diverse workforce and investing in employees; innovating to become “more efficient and effective”; and being a “socially responsible organization committed to equity and sustainability.”
“With the vision and goals that are outlined in this new strategic plan, we are recognizing that Metra must adapt and evolve to meet our riders’ and the region’s transit needs,” Metra CEO/Executive Director Jim Derwinski said. “It won’t be easy, but we will do everything within our ability and budget to achieve these goals and make our new vision a reality.”
NCTD on Feb. 15 reported offering new, pilot fare products for the 41-mile COASTER rail service that it said will “meet the needs of the hybrid workforce, as well as provide flexibility for leisure travelers and frequent riders.”
COASTER passenger trains run north and south through San Diego County, serving eight stations between Oceanside and downtown San Diego with seven locomotives and 28 bi-level coaches.
The new COASTER 5-Pack and COASTER 10-Pack products provide riders with five or 10 individual days of unlimited COASTER and regional transit system use within a limited time from the initial purchase.
The COASTER 10-Pack offers a 50% discount, based on the COASTER Regional Day Pass, according to NCTD. It provides unlimited use of COASTER on any 10 individual days within 60 days of the initial purchase. After 60 days, the pass, along with unused days, expires. The COASTER 5-Pack offers a 40% discount over the COASTER Regional Day Pass. It can be used on any five individual days within 30 days of the initial purchase. After 30 days, the pass, along with unused days, expires. Both products include transfers to SPRINTER, BREEZE, FLEX, MTS Bus, Trolley, MTS Rapid and MTS Rapid Express.
As part of SCRAP-IT’s vehicle scrappage program, individuals who scrap their vehicles can now choose to receive a Stored Value Compass Card worth $50 monthly for 16 months, TransLink reported on Feb. 15.
Customers redeeming the Stored Value incentive reward can use their Compass fare card on any TransLink service in metro Vancouver, including SkyTrain, West Coast Express, SeaBus and buses.
This new rebate option has been added to existing incentive options of an 8-Month 1-Zone Adult Monthly Pass or a 14-Month 3-Zone Concession Pass.
According to not-for-profit SCRAP-IT, the scrappage program is designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and lower exhaust pollutants across the province by offering multi-modal rebates to those who scrap their vehicle, including transit, carshare, e-bike rebates, and other services.
“The new Stored Value Pass incentive provides yet another option for customers looking to trade in their vehicle for transit,” TransLink CEO Kevin Quinn said. “We’re pleased to be able to continue this important partnership, which helps reduce greenhouse gas emissions in metro Vancouver.”