Transit Briefs: Amtrak, BART, CapMetro, CTDOT, PATH, TTC, WMATAWritten by Marybeth Luczak, Executive Editor
Amtrak awards Rail Clearance Management system contract. Also, the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) lowers its ridership estimate for San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit District’s (BART) extension through San José; CapMetro’s Project Connect in Austin, Tex., has five new light rail options; Connecticut Department of Transportation (CTDOT) is developing a unified, statewide public transit information system for mobile devices; PATH introduces nine-car train service on the Newark (N.J.)-World Trade Center (N.Y.) line; the city of Toronto, Ontario, and the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) bolster transit system outreach efforts; and Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) tests new fare gates.
Cordel Group PLC and D/Gauge Ltd. (part of the TÜV Rheinland Group) on March 22 reported securing a 6.5-year contract with Amtrak to supply a software and hardware package that provides network-wide scanning and storage of structure survey data as well as the automated calculation and reporting of clearance information. Called Rail Clearance Management, the system implements Cordel’s Artificial Intelligence, scanning and data processing technology and D/Gauge’s clearance technology.
The companies said they have installed similar systems at U.K.’s Network Rail, enabling the railroad operator “to rapidly obtain comprehensive clearance information” for all routes.
Cordel and D/Gauge said the Rail Clearance Management system will provide Amtrak:
- “Improved visibility and usability of survey data, collected and stored in an intelligent database.
- “Up-to-date assessments using the latest survey, vehicle, and clearance data and technologies.
- “Greater opportunities to increase the size of rolling stock safely, including non-standard load types and larger passenger trains.”
“The Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority is working to reassure taxpayers their dollars are not going to waste after a federal agency undercut its ridership estimate … by more than 20,000 passengers per day” for the BART Silicon Valley Phase II extension project, the San José Spotlight reported March 21.
The six-mile extension project in California—which includes three underground stations (28th Street/Little Portugal, Downtown San José, and Diridon), one at-grade station (Santa Clara), a maintenance facility, and five miles of subway tunnel—will expand BART service from the Berryessa Transit Center in northeast San José through downtown San José into the city of Santa Clara (see map below). SCVTA is the funding agency managing project delivery, while BART is system operator and maintainer. The work is expected to be completed in 2030. It is funded, in part, by such tax measures as Measure B, a 30-year, half-cent sales tax passed in 2016, according to San José Spotlight.
According to a recent VTA blog post, the four new BART stations are projected to have approximately 54,600 weekday riders in 2040, which represents 6.9% of the total anticipated BART ridership, with a projected 27,9000 daily riders at the Downtown San José Station alone. VTA reported that the two stations adjacent to San José State and Santa Clara universities are projected to serve more than 5,600 university student trips per day, not including trips taken by staff and faculty.
The FTA has “released a new document estimating 32,900 riders will use the four stations,” the San José Spotlight reported. “The difference has to do with how the FTA allocates funding, according to [Bernice] Alaniz [Director of External Affairs for the BART to Silicon Valley Division of VTA]. Transit agencies across the U.S. use a wide variety of factors to determine ridership, but the FTA is required to use the same model to determine how much money to allocate to each agency, she said.”
According to Alaniz, FTA’s estimate does not account for San Jose State University students using BART to get to school. “‘Because not every transit agency has a college associated, that’s not part of the evaluation process,’ Alaniz said. ‘That’s why the model for the FTA doesn’t capture some of the trips of our model.’”
According to a March 21 Bay Area News Group report in The Mercury News, “If revenue falls short and costs balloon, the VTA may have to dig into its coffers to feed the BART system—and that could require the agency to cut bus and light rail service or possibly highway projects.” The newspaper noted that the FTA “alluded to the scenario” in its recent update document, saying “the VTA’s fare revenue projection for BART is ‘very optimistic.’”
Despite this, the FTA earlier this month recommended that the project receive $500 million in support under President Joe Biden’s Fiscal Year (FY) 2024 Budget Request to Congress.
The 10-mile BART Phase I Berryessa Extension Project opened in 2020; it begins south of BART’s Warm Springs Station in Fremont, proceeds through Milpitas and ends in the Berryessa area of north San José.
In November 2020, Austin voters approved Project Connect’s “pair of light rail lines stretching 28 miles with high-frequency service, a downtown subway and rapid connections to the airport,” but those plans have been scaled down, according to a local NPR report. Each of five new light rail options released for public comment on March 21 “is less than half the length of the original 28-mile vision,” the news outlet said. “Gone are the plans for a 4-mile downtown subway with underground shopping. Only one of the five proposals goes to the airport.”
The base estimate project cost has grown from $5.8 billion to $10.3 billion, so “the plan is to build the system much more slowly,” NPR reported.
The Austin Transit Partnership (ATP), which CapMetro and the city created to implement Project Connect, has spent “months paring down the original light rail plans to fit in the advertised budget,” NPR reported. The new options are the result—each of which “is estimated to cost less than $5 billion, including a whopping 40% cost contingency. So while each plan is actually closer to $3.5 billion, the ATP is hoping the added cash cushion will make its pitch more appealing to the federal government. Project Connect still depends on the Federal Transit Administration shouldering up to half the cost.”
According to NPR, “Austin’s permanent transit property tax ensures a steady stream of cash—about $159 million this year and growing—to keep building the system after the smaller plan is up and running.”
Following are the five light rail options:
PARTIAL UNDERGROUND: UT TO YELLOW JACKET
According to NPR, “[o]ne of the biggest changes in the ATP’s new light rail options, besides the shortening of routes, is the new prospect of elevated rail downtown.”
The news outlet reported that the Partial Underground: UT to Yellow Jacket option not only offers elevated rail, but also is the only option with an underground tunnel. However, “instead of a 4-mile system downtown, this tunnel would run about a mile down Guadalupe Street from 20th Street to south of Eighth Street.”
PARTIAL ELEVATED: 29TH TO OLTORF TO YELLOW JACKET
This is ATP’s only other option including elevated rail, according to NPR.
ON-STREET: 29TH TO AIRPORT
According to NPR, this option is the only one that links the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport.
ON-STREET: NORTH LAMAR TO PLEASANT VALLEY
This on-street option includes two choices for downtown. “The first downtown option would have a station at Republic Square Park and cross Lady Bird Lake at South First Street to reach a station at Auditorium Shores,” according to NPR. “The second downtown option would eliminate the Republic Square and Auditorium Shores stations. Instead, the route would turn east down Third Street to reach stations at Congress Avenue and Third and at Cesar Chavez and Trinity Street. The route would cross Lady Bird Lake at Trinity Street and continue to Riverside Drive at Pleasant Valley.”
ON-STREET: 38TH TO OLTORF TO YELLOW JACKET
According to NPR, this on-street option “not only includes two downtown configurations, but also asks people if the route should go farther north or farther south.” The route could begin at 38th Street and Guadalupe Street and “go as far south as St. Edwards University,” or it could begin “farther north at 45th Street and end at Oltorf.” NPR reported that a “second line, branching off on the south shore of Lady Bird Lake, would extend down East Riverside Drive to Yellow Jacket Lane. The downtown options are similar to the configurations in the North Lamar to Pleasant Valley plan. The first option would stop at Republic Square, continue across Lady Bird Lake next to the South First Street bridge and stop at Auditorium Shores. The second option would send the line down Third Street, stop at Congress Avenue, and cross Lady Bird Lake at Trinity Street.”
CTDOT will use a $2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s (USDOT) new Strengthening Mobility and Revolutionizing Transportation (SMART) Grants Program to begin developing a unified, statewide public transit information system for mobile devices.
CTDOT is partnering with the California Integrated Travel Project and RATP Dev USA on the project, which not only will include real-time arrival information, but also will allow users to pay fares directly from their smartphones, CTDOT reported March 21.
The funding allows for Stage 1 Planning, during which time CTDOT will seek input and feedback from stakeholders, including Connecticut transit service providers and community organizations. Planning and development will be ongoing in 2023 and 2024.
Connecticut’s public transit provides more than 43 million annual passenger trips on bus and Americans with Disabilities (ADA) service and more than 41 million annual passenger trips on rail service.
“By making transit more accessible and easier to use, more people will use our public transportation system,” CTDOT Commissioner Garrett Eucalitto said. “This grant allows us to plan and create an easy to use, one-stop shop for all things transit in Connecticut.”
In a related development, the Massachusetts Department of Transportation will receive nearly $2 million from USDOT’s SMART Grants Program to improve rail safety, efficiency and climate resilience by using drones and sensors to monitor and analyze railroad infrastructure threatened by ground water variability in Cape Cod, Mass.
The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey’s PATH on March 23 began operating nine-car trains during peak hours on the Newark-World Trade Center line (NWK-WTC) for the first time in its 100-year history. The addition of a ninth railcar to trains is part of a program “to increase capacity and provide a safer, more convenient commuting experience for customers,” reported PATH, which seeks to boost capacity by 40% on the NWK-WTC line, its busiest.
The transit agency recently completed platform and infrastructure expansion projects along the line to accommodate the longer trains.
PATH said it would gradually increase the number of nine-car trains over the next 12 months, so that by the beginning of 2024, nearly all peak trains on the NWK-WTC line will be nine-car trains.
When Kawasaki begins delivering PATH’s 72 new rapid transit cars later this year, the agency said it will include them in the nine-car train service. (The carbuilder last fall began testing the first two new cars at its Yonkers, N.Y., plant.)
“We are fully committed to increasing capacity and modernizing our assets and facilities to provide a safer, more efficient and convenient travel experience,” PATH Director Clarelle DeGraffe said. “Expanding to nine-car service during the busiest commuting hours of the day on our busiest line helps us meet that obligation to our riders.”
TTC on March 22 reported that it is teaming with the city of Toronto and LOFT Community Services “to better respond to the needs of vulnerable people sheltering on Toronto’s transit system.” The need for increased services for these individuals is “unprecedented,” according to the transit agency.
Starting this month, LOFT staff will be deployed in the transit system to connect people with services.
Through LOFT and the city’s Multi-Disciplinary Outreach Team (M-DOT) program, individuals requiring more complex and longer-term supports will now have access to case workers and healthcare professionals, including registered nurses, according to TTC. “This will ensure people are receiving the health and social supports they need long after crisis de-escalation and emergency response are complete,” TTC reported. “While not a crisis service itself, this new one-year partnership expands the city-funded M-DOT service, growing the specialized team of providers from various organizations that delivers services to the most vulnerable individuals.”
The City Council approved C$500,000 to support the partnership.
The new LOFT supports are on top of measures under way by the city and TTC that include:
- 20 Streets to Homes workers to help individuals experiencing homelessness or at risk of homelessness access immediate supports like water, warm clothing and referrals to indoor space.
- 20 Community Safety Ambassadors bolstering the work of Streets to Homes teams in addressing immediate needs of individuals experiencing homelessness.
- 50 security guards trained in mental health first aid, overdose prevention and nonviolent intervention to assist people in crisis.
- De-escalation training for all TTC Chief and Mobile supervisors and scheduling adjustments to ensure these specialized skills are where they are needed most.
WMATA has been testing newly designed fare gates at the Fort Totten rapid transit station, according to a March 21 report by WTOP News, based in Maryland. The goal is to deter fare evasion. According to WMATA, the news outlet reported, “from Jan. 1 to March 16 of this year, approximately one in eight rail riders vaulted, stepped over or forced open Metrorail fare gates, or ‘tailgated’ a passenger who had just tapped their SmartTrip card.”
The transit agency has tested “two new higher, four-foot-tall doors—resembling swinging saloon doors—which have been retrofit[ted] into the current fare gate cabinets,” so that a fare evader cannot “grasp the stanchion and propel himself over the barrier,” WTOP News said.
According to a summary provided to the WMATA Board, “[o]bservations demonstrated an immediate change in customer behavior and non-tap entries were reduced at those gates,” WTOP News reported. “Jumping and stepovers continued at the not-yet-retrofitted gates.”
WMATA is expected to complete the retrofit project at Fort Totten soon and extend it to nine more stations, according to WTOP News, which said all station fare gates will have the new door-style gates in about 15 months at a cost of $35 million to $40 million.