Transit Briefs: Amtrak, CTA, Gateway, LACMTA, SFMTA/Muni, SMART, VIA Rail

Written by Marybeth Luczak, Executive Editor
Amtrak, in conjunction with the Washington State DOT, Oregon DOT, VIA Rail Canada and other federal agencies, will restart service to Vancouver via Cascades on Sept. 26. (Photograph Courtesy of Amtrak)

Amtrak, in conjunction with the Washington State DOT, Oregon DOT, VIA Rail Canada and other federal agencies, will restart service to Vancouver via Cascades on Sept. 26. (Photograph Courtesy of Amtrak)

Amtrak Cascades service to Vancouver, B.C., is resuming this month. Also, the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) has released a combined Final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS)/Record of Decision (ROD) for Chicago Transit Authority’s (CTA) Red Line Extension Project; the Gateway rail tunnel project price tag has risen to $16.1 billion, with a new construction start-date of 2024; Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (LACMTA) has expanded its student fareless pass program; San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) has launched the MuniSafe campaign; Northern California’s Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit (SMART) marked its fifth anniversary last month; and VIA Rail Canada has released its second-quarter 2022 report.

Amtrak, in conjunction with the Washington State Department of Transportation, Oregon Department of Transportation, VIA Rail Canada and other federal agencies, will restart service to Vancouver via Cascades on Sept. 26. The Vancouver-Seattle service has been suspended since 2020 due to the pandemic.

International service first returned for Amtrak and VIA Rail riders on June 27 as Amtrak, in conjunction with VIA Rail, New York State and several federal agencies, among them the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, resumed service to Toronto via the Maple Leaf.

The first Cascades to Vancouver will depart Seattle at 7:45 a.m. on Sept. 26, stop at five cities along the way, and arrive in Vancouver at 11:45 a.m. Traveling southbound, Amtrak Cascades will depart Vancouver at 5:45 p.m. and arrive in Seattle at 10:10 p.m. This single round-trip will be offered daily, with a second daily trip added in the future as Amtrak staffing and equipment allow, according to “America’s Railroad.” In addition to resuming service to Canada, the route also offers three daily round-trips between Portland, Ore., and Seattle, Wash.; two daily round-trips between Eugene, Ore., and Portland, Ore.; two daily buses between Seattle and Bellingham, Wash.; and four daily buses between Seattle and Vancouver, B.C.

CTA Red Line Extension Project Map

CTA, which will celebrate its 75th anniversary next month, is proposing to extend Red Line rapid transit service from the existing terminal at 95th/Dan Ryan to 130th Street on Chicago’s far South Side (see map, left) as part of its Red Ahead Program. The 5.6-mile extension would include four new stations near 103rd Street, 111th Street, Michigan Avenue, and 130th Street. The project also includes a railcar storage yard and shop facility at 120th Street. 

FTA and CTA, in cooperation with the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), on July 28 issued the combined Final EIS/ROD and Final Section 4(f) Evaluation for the Red Line Extension Project. The Final EIS includes the project’s purpose and need as well as a description of the alternatives considered, and evaluates the potential impacts and benefits of the project’s Preferred Alignment in comparison with the No Build Alternative. The ROD is the conclusion of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) EIS process and is the official FTA decision document regarding the project’s environmental impacts and mitigation, according to CTA, which noted that the combined Final EIS/ROD “commits to specific mitigation measures to eliminate or reduce adverse impacts.” On Aug. 10, FTA issued a “Section 106 No Adverse Effect” determination (download Federal Register report below).

The Hudson Tunnel project, part of Gateway Program, which will eventually double rail capacity between Newark, N.J., and New York, will now cost $16.1 billion, Bloomberg reported on Aug. 31. Project overseer Gateway Development Commission said $2 billion has been added to the original price tag of $14.1 billion, the planned mid-2023 construction start date has been moved to mid-2024, and service is now expected to start by 2035, according to the media outlet.

The project has three major components: a new, two-track Hudson River Tunnel will be constructed between the Bergen Palisades in New Jersey to Manhattan; a third and final rail right-of-way preservation section will be built underneath Hudson Yards in New York, which will eventually allow trains to travel between the new Hudson River Tunnel and the existing Penn Station New York; and the existing North River Tunnel beneath the Hudson River, which was damaged during Superstorm Sandy, will be rehabilitated. 

Pictured: The existing North River Tunnel beneath the Hudson River. (Photograph Courtesy of Amtrak)

“The new estimate, with finance charges, was 14% higher than last year’s projection to build a passenger rail tunnel between New York and New Jersey, and rehabilitate Amtrak and New Jersey Transit’s only existing link,” Bloomberg reported.

Inflation and “time lost from political delay” during the former administration under President Donald Trump were among the factors driving the cost increase, Bloomberg reported the commission as saying.

“Half the cost was expected to be covered by the federal government, and the rest by New York and New Jersey, with contributions from Amtrak and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey,” according to Bloomberg. “The commission now will seek additional U.S. funding under the 2021 Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. It expects a full-funding grant agreement in early 2024, with construction starting later that year.”

In related developments, Amtrak, in partnership with NJ Transit and in coordination with the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority, in June entered into a $73 million, two-year contract with a team led by global engineering, consulting and design firm Arup to begin designing options for Gateway Program extensions and additions to the existing tracks, platforms and concourses in Penn Station New York. These facilities will be the first new ones since the original Pennsylvania Railroad New York Improvements Program in the early 20th century.

Glendale Community College students can now ride Beeline buses and LACMTA trains and buses free for a year with GoPass. (Photograph Courtesy of LACMTA, via Twitter)

LACMTA, Glendale (Calif.) Beeline bus, and Glendale Community College (GCC) have teamed to provide free yearlong GoPass transit passes to GCC students.

Any GCC student taking one unit or more on the Verdugo or Garfield campuses is eligible to receive the free pass to ride trains and buses. The pass will also allow them to ride free on Pasadena Transit, LA County Shuttles, LADOT Dash, City of Commerce, Culver CityBus, Foothill Transit, GTrans, Long Beach Transit, Montebello Bus, Norwalk Transit, Santa Monica Big Blue Bus, and Torrance Transit, according to LACMTA, which launched GoPass Fareless Pass Program for students in 2021.

“With GoPass, GCC students have the freedom to get to where they need to go quickly and reliably while helping us remove cars from the road and reducing the harmful effects of climate change,” LACMTA CEO Stephanie N. Wiggins said. “I thank the administration of GCC for partnering with us and we look forward to seeing more GCC students on our system!”

The GoPass Fareless Pass Program serves 53 K-12 school districts in addition to 16 community colleges. In the program’s first year, students from participating schools and school districts rode transit nearly 5.6 million times, according to LACMTA. More than 90% of boardings have occurred Monday through Friday, with the highest usage peaking at 8 a.m. and 4 p.m., consistent with school hours.  

“Data shows us that since its initial rollout, GoPass has engaged more of our county’s students as riders and, as a result, is increasing their access to more opportunities,” Los Angeles County Supervisor and LACMTA Finance Committee Chair Kathryn Barger said. “This new partnership [with GCC] also has excellent timing since Metro [LACMTA] is preparing to open the new K (Crenshaw) Line and Regional Connector in the coming months. I’m proud of these big steps forward that create more transit connectivity to different corners of our county.”

SFMTA’s new MuniSafe campaign aims to increase reporting of gender-based harassment. The agency is calling on Muni (San Francisco Municipal Railway) riders to help make Muni safe by reporting any incident (experienced or witnessed) using the Muni Feedback form or the 311 mobile app or by calling 311. Non-English speakers should call 311 for language-assisted reporting.

According to SFMTA, gender-based harassment takes many forms, affects many people and is “absolutely not tolerated” on Muni. “Survivors should report incidents to the San Francisco Police Department if they feel comfortable doing so,” the agency said. “By also reporting incidents directly to the SFMTA, you will help us track events that occur in our system so we can build better safety responses and direct resources to reduce gender-based harassment.”

Vehicles system-wide will soon be equipped with cards providing information about gender-based harassment reporting (see image above).

(Photograph Courtesy of SMART)

SMART on Aug. 25 marked five years of operating a 45-mile, 12-station DMU (diesel multiple unit) passenger service from Larkspur north to Sonoma County Airport. Since 2017, it has carried more than 2.4 million riders. SMART has seen a significant ridership boost since the start of the year, with an 83% increase in total monthly riders since January, according to data released by the agency and reported by Marin Independent Journal on July 25.

The agency said it has responded to many challenges since starting up. In addition to the pandemic, it assisted in the evacuation of Santa Rosa residents during the October 2017 Tubbs Fire, providing free service to all during the weeks of the fire and recovery and later providing free passes to people who lost their homes or businesses.

Additionally, SMART opened two new stations in December 2019: the Novato Downtown Station and the Larkspur Station, establishing an important link to San Francisco via the Larkspur Ferry.

“I’d like to thank our employees and our train riders for making the past five years such a success story,” SMART Board Chair David Rabbitt said. “SMART has been challenged by fire, floods, and the COVID-19 pandemic, and has responded by coming back stronger every time. SMART has a bright future—its ridership continues to recover from the pandemic and the agency is working hard to improve its service and to connect the communities of the North Bay.”

VIA Rail Canada on Aug. 31 released its second-quarter 2022 results. By June 30, almost all of its passenger rail services had returned across the country, it reported. While levels of operations still remained below pre-pandemic levels for the three-months ended June 30, they were “significantly better than the corresponding quarter of 2021,” according to VIA Rail. “As a result, capacity has increased by more than 76.5% in terms of train-miles, and by 276.3% in terms of seat-miles.”

VIA Rail said total revenues for second-quarter 2022 increased by 396.2% from the same period last year, “resulting from an increase in frequencies led by higher demand.” Operating expenses increased by 40.3%, “primarily due to the operating costs associated to the additional frequencies.” Additionally, VIA Rail said its operating loss decreased by 6.3% due to an increase in revenues.

VIA Rail’s second-quarter passenger revenues grew by $62.6 million (526.1%) compared with the prior-year period. It attributed the increase to “adjustments made to service levels for most train services driven by the significant increase in demand.”

“Based on our performance during the second quarter, there has been an increased appetite for travel, and we couldn’t be happier about this as we had dearly missed our passengers,” said Martin R Landry, who was promoted from VIA Rail Chief Commercial Officer to President and CEO in June. “This crucial milestone reached in June [, with the return of almost all of VIA Rail services across the country,] represents the culmination of two challenging years, and we are pleased with the results of this quarter and especially proud of how nimble our teams have been during this recovery. We are definitely back on track to doing what we do best: providing a safe, accessible, comfortable and sustainable travel experience to Canadians across the country.”

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