Transit Briefs: Amtrak, CATS, MBTA, Metrolinx, NYCT, TransLinkWritten by Marybeth Luczak, Executive Editor
Amtrak, the New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT) and VIA Rail Canada are fully restoring Adirondack service. Also, a Charlotte Area Transit System (CATS) derailment report raises light rail vehicle safety concerns; Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) lifts Green Line speed restrictions; Metrolinx, the Greater Toronto Hamilton Area transit authority, launches the #GOTransitReads by Legible Book Club; MTA New York City Transit (NYCT) logs more “Station Re-NEW-vation Program” work; and the government of British Columbia provides C$479 million in emergency funding for metro Vancouver’s TransLink.
Amtrak on March 20 reported that Adirondack service between New York City and Montreal via Albany and North Country, N.Y., will resume April 3. It had been suspended for three years due to the pandemic.
The first northbound Adirondack train will depart Moynihan Train Hall at New York Penn Station (NYP) at 8:41 a.m. on April 3 and arrive in Canada’s Gare Centrale/Central Station in Montreal at 8:16 p.m. for the first time since 2020. The first southbound Adirondack train will depart Montreal at 11:10 a.m. on April 4 and arrive at NYP at 10:15 p.m. Additional stops along the route include Albany-Rensselaer, Poughkeepsie, Saratoga Springs, and Schenectady, N.Y.
Amtrak President Roger Harris said that Amtrak is “proud to restore service to one of the most popular trains in the Northeast,” and thanked U.S. Sens. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Kristen Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.), and its partners at NYSDOT, VIA Rail Canada and the Federal Railroad Administration for their support.
“VIA Rail is pleased to collaborate with Amtrak on the return of the Montreal-New York train, a pleasant and popular service that connects our two great countries and gives passengers on both sides of the border more travel options,” said Martin R Landry, President and CEO of VIA Rail Canada. “The Adirondack train provides a beautiful, sustainable and efficient travel experience and allows passengers to connect in Montreal to VIA Rail trains that can transport them anywhere in Canada.”
A recently released report on a May 2022 CATS derailment raises “safety concerns” about light rail vehicle maintenance, according to WBTV in Charlotte, N.C., which obtained a copy through a records request with the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT).
“To NCDOT, what caused the [LYNX] train to derail is clear,” the media outlet reported March 20. “In the comments section of the CATS report, an official from NCDOT wrote ‘root cause is poor maintenance which led to the wheel bearing failure.’”
According to WBTV, “CATS Safety & Security General Manager David Moskowitz wrote in response ‘deferred maintenance possibly contributed to the failure of the bearing and is properly listed as a contributing factor.’”
“NCDOT’s reference to maintenance is regarding midlife and truck overhauls the train cars need according to the manufacturer, Siemens,” reported WBTV. “The report says that the specific car that derailed was due for an axle overhaul at 10 years, but it has been operating for 12 years without the overhaul being completed.
“‘CATS must explain what actions will be taken to reduce safety risks. Operating these trains, for the next two years, without overhauls is unacceptable,’ an NCDOT official wrote in the report.”
According to the media outlet, since the report’s Feb. 28 release, “CATS Interim-CEO Brent Cagle has announced his efforts to get Siemens to conduct the overhauls quickly. NCDOT has forced CATS to take some of the light rail vehicles with the most mileage out of service. No light rail vehicles are permitted to go over 35mph.”
The “overdue maintenance issues were ‘a result of supply chain issues and staffing caused by COVID and decisions made at the procurement/finance level,’” CATS wrote in the contributing factors section of the report, WBTV said.
A CATS spokesman told WBTV that the agency “is currently working to understand the pause on the overhaul of the rail vehicles. With the departure of past leadership, CATS is currently trying to understand the past business decisions that were made.”
According to the media outlet, “CATS says there are two overhauls needed, a truck overhaul and a midlife overhaul. The midlife overhaul will cost between $43-50 million. The truck overhaul will cost $24 million but contracts and council approval haven’t happened yet. CATS says $50 million total has been earmarked for the project, $38.9 million from the American Rescue Plan, and $11.1 million from the Coronavirus Response and Relief fund.”
MBTA on March 20 reported that the speed restriction encompassing the entire length of the Green Line has been lifted and replaced with “more targeted” block speed restrictions, representing about 18% of the track. According to the transit authority, a block speed restriction is “a length of track that may include multiple defects that need to be investigated or mitigated. As each defect is validated and corrected as needed, the length of the block speed restriction will be reduced until the block is fully removed.”
System-wide speed restrictions were previously replaced with block restrictions on the Orange, Blue, Red and Mattapan lines, according to MBTA.
The speed restrictions were implemented due to safety violations that the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities (DPU) found and reported to MBTA earlier this month. According to the DPU, and as reported by the Boston Herald, multiple trains were observed overshooting a station platform between March 3 and March 5, a worker wasn’t wearing a hard hat as required by personal protective equipment (PPE) policies, and inspectors identified defective Red Line track conditions.
Riders of GO Transit train and bus service can now join the #GOTransitReads by Legible Book Club and gain access to a free quarterly e-book using their mobile devices, tablets or laptops, Metrolinx reported March 20. The first book for download from Legible—an independently owned Canadian e-bookstore delivering e-books via web browser—is The Perfect Marriage by Jeneva Rose. It will be available for free until June 30. Club members will be able to download another e-book each quarter after.
Legible Inc. and Metrolinx on Oct. 27 reported signing an agreement for the e-book club partnership.
NYCT on March 20 reported that 20 stations have now been upgraded as part of its new Station Re-NEW-vation Program, which launched last fall. With the recent completion of Court Square station on the 7 line in Queens and 8th Avenue station on the L in Manhattan, the agency has now finished 11 of 12 stations in Brooklyn, Queens and Manhattan that were scheduled to receive renovation work in first-quarter 2023. The work included concrete repairs and water mitigation; tile replacement along station walls; and deep cleaning from the staircase to the track. Also deep cleaned and renovated were employee crew rooms. To minimize rider impacts, the work took place on weekends during outages planned for other reasons, NYCT said. The Station Re-NEW-vation Program’s first group of nine stations along the D line in the Bronx were completed in 2022.
“The Station Re-NEW-vation Program embodies NYC Transit’s goal of increasing customer satisfaction, and the results have been everything we would hope it would be,” NYCT President Richard Davey said. “Customers are returning to stations that feel new, hopefully inspiring some neighborhood pride, and making their commute more enjoyable. I can’t thank the NYC Transit team enough and am excited to further expand the program as we strive to provide faster, cleaner, and safer subway service.”
The agency’s goal is to complete 50 stations by the end of this year.
The government of British Columbia is providing C$479 million to TransLink “to save it from what officials say is a feared ‘death spiral’ sparked in part by the COVID-19 pandemic,” The Canadian Press reported on March 15. The funding, from the province’s “multi-billion surplus,” is slated to keep fares affordable, to avoid service cuts and enable future transit expansion plans to continue, according to the report appearing on the CBC/Radio-Canada website.
“TransLink CEO Kevin Quinn says losses in ridership revenue because of the pandemic, higher service costs due to inflation, and supply chain issues have put unprecedented strains on the company’s finances,” The Canadian Press reported.
TransLink ridership was down more than 50% in 2020, “causing significant financial stress for the organization and necessitating a $644-million bailout from the federal and provincial governments to avoid major cuts,” according to The Canadian Press. “But transit ridership isn’t all the way back to 2019 levels, and is only now back to around 90% of what it was before.”
Traditionally, the primary source of non-fare revenue for TransLink has been “a portion of the gas tax, which is projected to decline over time due to increasing use of electric vehicles,” The Canadian Press reported. “It has led to the TransLink Mayors’ Council to repeatedly ask the provincial government for a new funding model—something [Premier David] Eby only partly committed to on Wednesday [March 15], while mostly pointing to Ottawa [the federal government].
“‘The issue of sustainable transit funding in major metro areas is an issue across Canada,’ he said. ‘We’ll be working with certainly our municipal partners with TransLink, [but] we need to see the federal government at the table around transit funding.’”