Transit Briefs: Amtrak, Metrolinx, NYMTA, TransLink

Written by Marybeth Luczak, Executive Editor
Amtrak and the Illinois Department of Transportation have received federal approval to raise speeds from 90 mph to up to 110 mph for most of the Chicago-St. Louis corridor, primarily between the Joliet and Alton stations. (Amtrak Photograph)

Amtrak and the Illinois Department of Transportation have received federal approval to raise speeds from 90 mph to up to 110 mph for most of the Chicago-St. Louis corridor, primarily between the Joliet and Alton stations. (Amtrak Photograph)

Amtrak can now operate up to 110 mph through most of the Chicago-St. Louis corridor, and awaits approval of a federal grant to plan an Oklahoma City-Newton, Kans., connection. Also, Metrolinx offers a new way to pay for transit fares in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area; New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) reports nearly $500 million in upgrades to Brooklyn’s Broadway Junction subway station complex, and could consider re-instating Twitter to publish service alerts; and TransLink ridership in Metro Vancouver rebounds in 2022.

Amtrak and the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) have received federal approval to operate up to 110 mph for most of the Chicago-St. Louis corridor, primarily between the Joliet and Alton stations, “America’s Railroad” reported May 3. Until now, 90 mph has been the maximum authorized speed on the tracks owned by Union Pacific. Amtrak operates Lincoln Service and other trains under a contract with IDOT.

The new maximum speed will help establish shorter schedules for the four Lincoln Service round-trips and the Texas Eagle, according to Amtrak, which noted that there are no timetable changes at this time for the 10 daily Amtrak trains on the route.

“Trains will continue to operate at 110 mph for several weeks without a change in schedule to ensure everything on the system is running properly and to monitor the actual travel time between stations,” said John Oimoen, IDOT Deputy Director, Rails.

KGOU Radio on May 1 reported that the Oklahoma and Kansas departments of transportation have applied for a Federal Railroad Administration grant to plan and develop intercity passenger rail service between Oklahoma City and Newton, Kans., under the Corridor ID Program.

This Amtrak Heartland Flyer extension proposal was discussed at a recent Kansas Rail Caucus meeting.

Among its challenges: determining how to “accommodate freight and passenger rail on this line that currently doesn’t have passenger rail,” according to the media outlet, which reported that host freight railroad BNSF estimated in 2020 that the preliminary capital investment would be $124.4 million. KDOT Director of Multimodal Transportation and Innovation Cory Davis said at the meeting that grant results are expected later this year.

(Metrolinx Photograph)

Metrolinx reported on May 2 that riders can now tap their Interac® debit card on PRESTO fare collection devices to travel across its GO Transit and UP Express regional/commuter rail services as well as Brampton Transit, Burlington Transit, Durham Region Transit, Hamilton Street Railway, MiWay in Mississauga, Oakville Transit, York Region Transit, and Para Transpo in Ottawa. Paying via Interac® credit cards and PRESTO cards were already options.

According to Metrolinx, just like a credit card and PRESTO card, riders will need to physically remove their debit card from their wallet or phone cover and tap. Payment can also be made by using the cards connected to a mobile wallet on smartphones or smartwatches.

When riders pay with a debit card on GO Transit or UP Express, they will be charged a temporary pre-authorization amount that may be more than the cost of the expected trip, according to Metrolinx, which noted that riders should make sure that they have sufficient funds on their debit card to cover the pre-authorization. The difference between the exact fare and the pre-authorization amount will be returned by a rider’s bank, the agency said.

“This is just another way we continue to innovate the PRESTO payment experience and make it easier to travel seamlessly across the region,” said Barclay Hancock, Chief Payments Officer at Metrolinx.

Now that paying with both debit and credit cards is officially available for rides on participating transit agencies, Metrolinx said it is working with the Toronto Transit Commission to implement those options this summer for Toronto transit riders.

New York City Mayor Eric Adams on May 2 announced that the city and MTA will invest $95 million and $400 million, respectively, for improvements to the Broadway Junction subway station complex. As part of the plan, the New York City Economic Development Corporation will create two new public plazas on either side of Van Sinderen Avenue and Fulton Street, establishing a new gateway entrance to the Broadway Junction station with new lighting, art, vending space, seating and plantings. The project will also include streetscape improvements with new pedestrian safety measures, bike infrastructure, signage, and street furniture on Van Sinderen Avenue between Fulton Street and Atlantic Avenue. Planning and design is slated to kick off this summer with community workshops. Groundbreaking is expected in 2027, with completion anticipated by 2030. 

The MTA’s improvements will bring ADA accessibility to the entire Broadway Junction station, including transfers between the Fulton line A/C, Jamaica line J/Z, and Canarsie line L stations. The project also includes state-of-good-repair investments, including escalator replacements, and will create a new entrance with direct access to the L train on the east side of Van Sinderen Avenue. According to MTA, the project is part of the more than $5 billion in funding dedicated to ADA upgrades across the subway system in its current capital program. MTA is slated to award a design-build contract later this year, and construction is expected to take five years.

MTA has other investments planned for Broadway Junction and East New York. “Starting next year, electric buses will be located in East New York as part of phase one of the MTA’s zero-emission bus transition plan,” the transportation authority said. “The proposed Interborough Express, a new transit line from Brooklyn to Queens, is also slated to include a connecting station at Atlantic Avenue.”

“Brooklyn’s Broadway Junction is a major nexus for numerous subway lines, bus routes and the Long Island Railroad, and I am thrilled that city and state agencies are working together to add new public space, streetscape and safety improvements, and new opportunities for local businesses at such an important transportation hub,” New York City Deputy Mayor for Operations Meera Joshi said.

“Broadway Junction is the heart of the MTA,” said Jamie Torres-Springer, President, Construction and Development at MTA. “Through accessibility upgrades and other critical projects in the area, we’re making investments that reflect that. We’re proud to partner with the city on making East New York a priority for the future.”

Separately, “Twitter says it has restored free access to a key tool for verified government and ‘publicly owned’ services so they can tweet weather, transit and other alerts after New York City’s transit agency said … it would no longer use the platform for its service advisories,” the Associated Press reported May 3.

MTA on April 27 terminated posting service information to Twitter “as the reliability of the platform can no longer be guaranteed.”

Late on April 14, it was unable to post via Twitter real-time updates for subway, commuter rail and bus service “due to what it described as ‘an API issue,” according to a report from The New York Post. The issue was resolved early on April 15. MTA tweeted that its “access to the Twitter API has been unsuspended,” according to the newspaper, which explained that the issue was with an application programming interface (API), “a tool allowing multiple computer applications to talk with each other—in this case, in the form of updates on the status of key public transportation systems [including MTA and San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit, which experienced a similar issue April 14-15].” The MTA’s access to Twitter through its API was interrupted again April 27.

According to The Post, Elon Musk “announced in February that Twitter planned to begin charging accounts for access to its API system.” According to the Associated Press, the cost could run as high as $50,000 per month.

MTA acting Chief Customer Officer Shanifah Rieara said on April 27 that the transit authority “does not pay tech platforms to publish service information and has built redundant tools that provide service alerts in real time. Those include the MYmta and TrainTime apps, the MTA’s homepage at, email alerts and text messages. Service alerts are also available on thousands of screens in stations, on trains and in buses.”

According to MTA, riders will continue to be able to tweet at all MTA accounts, including @nyct_subway, with questions and requests for help as they have before, and those requests will continue to receive responses. Additionally, the @MTA account will remain active for branding and other messaging.

The Associated Press reported May 3 that “MTA officials have been in touch with Twitter’s development team, though the agency has not said whether it will return to publishing service alerts on Twitter in light of the change.”

TransLink on April 28 reported that ridership in 2022 grew 48% over 2021 volumes, with recovery continuing to be strongest in Metro Vancouver’s eastern suburbs. The agency is responsible for planning, financing and managing British Columbia Rapid Transit Company’s SkyTrain and West Coast Express services; Coast Mountain Bus Company’s SeaBus and regional bus service; and West Coast Express’ commuter rail service.

“[S]ystem-wide ridership recovery in fall of 2022 reached 80% of pre-COVID-19 pandemic levels from fall 2019,” according to the agency’s 2022 Transit Service Performance Review (see above). “We moved upward of 380,000 people per weekday in fall 2022 and some parts of our region—including the fast-growing Southeast and Pitt Meadows/Maple Ridge sub-regions—began to see ridership rates that exceeded those that were experienced before the onset of COVID-19.”

This report primarily looked at fall data—from Sept. 5, 2022 to Dec. 18, 2022—a period that historically “represents the most stable and highest level of ridership across the network.”

Breaking out the rail services, the report found:

  • Ridership on the Expo and Millennium lines increased by 39% from fall 2021 levels to reach 79% of pre-COVID-19 levels in fall 2022.
  • Canada Line ridership increased to 74% of fall 2019 levels.
  • Ridership on West Coast Express reached a monthly high of 43% in fall 2022, a 48% increase from the highest recovery month during the same period in 2021. “The commuter-oriented nature of West Coast Express means this service’s ridership continued to be primarily influenced by work-from-home patterns and habits and so continued to fall behind system-wide ridership recovery levels,” according to the report.
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