Transit Briefs: Amtrak, CATS, GCRTA, NYMTA, SEPTA, STM

Written by Marybeth Luczak, Executive Editor
Map of the proposed Twin Cities-Milwaukee-Chicago intercity passenger rail service. This project would add an additional daily round-trip passenger train to the existing Amtrak Empire Builder corridor between the Twin Cities and Chicago. (Caption and Map Courtesy of MnDOT)

Map of the proposed Twin Cities-Milwaukee-Chicago intercity passenger rail service. This project would add an additional daily round-trip passenger train to the existing Amtrak Empire Builder corridor between the Twin Cities and Chicago. (Caption and Map Courtesy of MnDOT)

The Twin Cities-Milwaukee-Chicago Intercity Passenger Rail Project (TCMC) is now in the final design phase. Also, the Charlotte Area Transit System (CATS) in North Carolina introduces fare capping; Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority (GCRTA) in Ohio is launching a pilot project to address “last-mile” gaps; a $57.9 million design and engineering base contract has been approved for the New York Penn Station project; Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) has released design concepts for new trolley stations; and starting next month, Société de transport de Montréal (STM) métro riders can bring their pet dogs on board.

Now in the final design phase for rail infrastructure improvements, TCMC is slated to add a second daily round-trip Amtrak passenger train on the 411-mile rail corridor between Chicago, Illinois and the Twin Cities (see map above). Service will follow Amtrak’s existing long-distance Empire Builder route. Construction work for the $53.3 million project is expected to begin in 2023 and wrap up in 2025, with service to start in 2024.

The required rail infrastructure work includes La Crosse Yard and Depot Area improvements in Wisconsin (rebuild second main line track, extend yard lead to the west, and reconstruct passenger platform); the Mississippi River Bridge project in La Crescent, Minn. (realign track approaches, replace switches, and track work); River Junction Yard improvements in La Crescent, Minn. (conversion of yard track to signalized second main track, including signal improvements, new main line track, turnouts, and connection track, as well as an upgrade to existing yard track); Winona, Minn., siding improvements (upgrade siding track, switches, and signals); and the Tower CK project in Winona, Minn. (construct new siding track connecting main track to CPR Waseca subdivision, and add switches and signals).

Project partners include the Wisconsin, Minnesota and Illinois departments of transportation; Amtrak; Federal Railroad Administration (FRA); La Crosse Area Planning Committee; and the Ramsey County (Minn.) Regional Railroad Authority.

The project will be funded by a $31.8 million FRA Consolidated Railroad Infrastructure and Safety Improvement (CRISI) grant, which was awarded in September 2020 for final design and construction; a $5 million commitment from Amtrak; a $10 million commitment from MnDOT; and a $6.5 million commitment from WisDOT. A $12.6 million grant from the FRA Restoration & Enhancement Program will be used to offset operations costs for the first three years. On-going operating costs will be shared by the states of Minnesota, Wisconsin and Illinois.

For more on the project, visit WisDOT and MnDOT.

CATS on Sept. 21 debuted fare capping on its CATS-Pass app. The transit agency described fare capping as “a flexible, cost-saving option that rewards customers with a monthly pass once they have paid $88—the equivalent of a monthly pass—in eligible fares through the CATS-Pass app. When customers reach the $88 monthly threshold, a monthly pass will automatically be added to their CATS-Pass wallet. With the monthly pass, customers can ride local bus and [light rail] rail for free for the remainder of that month.”

Express and Express Plus buses will still require the normal fare, regardless of the fare capping status of the rider, according to CATS.

“Providing equitable access to transit is a driving force behind CATS’ operation,” CATS CEO John Lewis said. “Fare capping is a key strategy to improve the rider experience and ensure it is affordable and accessible to all, especially those who cannot afford the upfront cost of a monthly pass.”

CATS noted that riders can connect their CATS-Pass accounts to their debit or credit cards and load funds into their mobile wallets to purchase passes. To pay with cash, riders can visit the CATS customer service booth at the Charlotte Transit Center and provide the agent with cash that will be instantly added to their CATS-Pass accounts.

GCRTA, SHARE Mobility, and employers in Solon and Bedford Heights are teaming to provide “last-mile” service for riders, according a Sept. 20 Government Technology report.

“GCRTA’s goal is connecting the community,” GCRTA spokesman Robert Fleig told the magazine. “This particular project pilot seeks to address the mobility gap that impacts the ability of workers to get to jobs using public transit.”

According to Government Technology, SHARE Mobility “contracts with fleet providers to provide transportation for workers leaving a bus stop or other transit connection at the appropriate time to get them to jobs in the area. The rides are generally shared, similar to microtransit operations or even ride-hailing. SHARE Mobility’s digital platform is unique in its ability to allow riders to schedule trips well in advance.”

The pilot project’s aim is to help “hourly workers who may not always have access to transportation or are looking for ways to save on their monthly transportation costs,” the magazine reported.

Fleig told the magazine that the service will pick up workers “at a stop, transport them to their workplace, and then pick them up, returning them to the GCRTA stop at the end of the shift. The route frequency will be based upon employer work schedules in this particular pilot.”

Rendering of the proposed reconstruction of the existing Penn Station in New York City, courtesy of the office of New York Governor Kathy Hochul

A design and engineering contract for the New York Penn Station reconstruction project will go to a joint venture led by FXCollaborative Architects LLP and WSP USA Inc., with British architect John McAslan + Partners* as a collaborator, according to the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA). MTA, in partnership with New Jersey Transit and Amtrak, announced approval of the contract on Sept. 21. The RFP was released in June.

The FXCollaborative and WSP joint venture developed the Penn Station Master Plan unveiled last year that evaluated alternatives and created the preferred redesign plan for Penn Station as a single-level facility centered around a train hall with a 450-foot long sky-lit atrium between Madison Square Garden and 2 Penn Plaza, according to MTA. The design called for by the MTA’s contract will advance that preferred alternative. It will also relieve overcrowding and improve passenger flow and orientation; improve safety by increasing platform and station egress and accessibility; alleviate the “cramped, disjointed circulation areas with widened concourses and high ceilings”; “create a clear street presence that integrates with the surroundings”; optimize retail and other revenue generation; and integrate Penn Station with Moynihan Train Hall and the planned Penn Station Expansion, MTA reported. 

The recommendation for the design joint venture follows an open, competitive RFP process that attracted five proposals from firms and joint ventures that were reviewed and scored by representatives from MTA Construction & Development, Amtrak, and NJ Transit, and assisted by a Technical Advisory Committee with additional representatives from MTA Long Island Rail Road (LIRR), Empire State Development and the New York City Economic Development Corporation. 

The base contract of up to $57.9 million would develop the preliminary station design and would last for one year, MTA reported. This contract includes options covering preliminary design for improvements to nearby subway stations and design and engineering support as the station reconstruction moves forward. Additionally, MTA said its Department of Diversity and Civil Rights assigned a 22.5% Disadvantaged Business Enterprises goal to the contract. 

“We are excited to recommend a team that has a track record of designing projects that achieve world-class design excellence while improving safety and being constructible, our singular focus as we seek to finally give Penn Station’s 600,000 daily riders the station they deserve,” MTA Construction & Development President Jamie Torres-Springer said. 

“The work will take place on an aggressive timetable,” MTA Chair and CEO Janno Lieber said. “The opening of Grand Central Madison in just a few months provides us with a once-a-century opportunity to rebuild Penn Station. With a sizable percentage of LIRR riders expected to shift their trips to Grand Central Madison, Penn Station will have five years with lower customer volumes before a new influx of customers arrives on Metro-North Railroad by 2027. The MTA wants to get most disruptive the work done before then, so I’m thrilled we are moving forward quickly with the design phase of this massive, long-delayed effort.” 

The full project is estimated to take 5-6 years to complete and comes with a price tag of $6 billion-$7 billion.

* McAslan + Partners designed the 2012 transformation of London’s historic King’s Cross Station.

As part of its Trolley Modernization Program, SEPTA has released design concepts for new stations (see one above), and is seeking public feedback. According to the transit agency, many trolley stops today “are simple signs along the sidewalk with few amenities. Trolley Modernization will introduce new stations that make it easy to find, level boarding that makes it easy to get on, and consistent service that makes it easy to get where you are going.”

The current station design concepts build on input from more than 5,000 participants who provided information on what stations should include and how they can fit in with the communities SEPTA serves. The public is again being asked to provide feedback—this time on potential station designs, colors and lighting for all trolley stations across the SEPTA system.

SEPTA has released an online survey and will be hosting pop-up and virtual community events this fall throughout Philadelphia and Delaware County.

STM on Sept. 21 reported that starting Oct. 15, 2022, riders will be allowed to bring pet dogs on the métro as part of a nine-month pilot project. To do so, riders must:

  • Travel outside rush hour, Monday to Friday, between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. and after 7 p.m., and all day on weekends and holidays. Additionally, dogs will not be allowed during major events.
  • Ensure the dog wears a muzzle for the entire duration of the trip.
  • Keep a firm grip on the dog’s leash, leaving no more than 49 inches of slack.
  • Enter the métro only through entrances and entrance buildings owned by the STM. For now, Longueuil–Université-de-Sherbrooke station is excluded from the pilot project, according to STM, which noted that discussions are under way with the entities responsible for the outer entrances to this station.
  • Pick up and clean up any mess the dog may make.
  • Keep the dog off all train and platform seating.
  • Bring only one dog per customer.

STM said it also strongly recommends not using the lead railcar, as it is reserved for school groups, daycares, people with disabilities, and cyclists. It also recommended that customers not bring dogs on escalators, due to risk of injury to dogs.

Riders who use guide and service dogs will still be allowed to bring them on the bus, métro and paratransit vehicles at all times, the transit agency reported. All customers will also still be allowed to use the STM network with their pet in a cage or other closed container designed for that purpose; the current rules will still apply.

The métro pilot project will allow STM to assess customer and employee safety; integrity and cleanliness of facilities and vehicles as well as maintenance needs; impact on the quality of service provided to customers; and perceived transit experience.

“We will properly assess the results of the pilot project, in a continuous manner, in order to make an informed decision on the implementation of such a measure in the metro network,” STM Board Chairman Éric Alan Caldwell said.

“It is a big change for our teams and a first in the history of the Montréal métro, so we will do everything we can to create optimal conditions for this trial period,” added Nathalie Clément, Executive Director of Bus and Métro Operations.

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