Transit Briefs: Amtrak, SEPTA, TransLink, MDOTWritten by Carolina Worrell, Senior Editor
Amtrak aims to achieve net zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2045. Also, the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) advances two major initiatives; TransLink opens Customer Service Center at Waterfront Station; and the Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT) recruits colleges, trade schools to help Marylanders seize career opportunities.
As part of its vision for the future, Amtrak says it has pledged to achieve net-zero GHG across its network by 2045. This net zero emissions target “focuses on expanding efforts across Amtrak’s entire carbon footprint to reduce environmental impacts from operations while safely moving people,” the railroad says.
“Not only are trains convenient and comfortable, they are also one of the most sustainable modes of transportation,” said Amtrak CEO Stephen Gardner. “With new equipment, modernized stations and net zero emissions, Amtrak can lead the drive toward sustainable transportation throughout the nation.”
“We congratulate Amtrak for this ambitious commitment to further reduce its carbon footprint, cementing its place as a leader in the clean transportation revolution,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. “As we continue working to implement President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, we look forward to working with Amtrak to demonstrate the key role of passenger rail in fighting climate change.”
Climate change, Amtrak says, requires “collective action to curb emissions and mitigate irreversible environmental and societal damage.” Amtrak plans to take the following actions, which would provide significant benefits to its customers and communities:
- Achieve net-zero GHG across Amtrak’s network by 2045: Begin with efforts to increase energy efficiency, followed by the implementation of renewable fuels and energy.
- Reduce diesel fuel use through advanced technologies: Leverage industry-leading research and testing in collaboration with state partners and experts to progress innovation and research in fuel-cells, hydrogen, batteries and other zero-emission technologies.
- Achieve 100% carbon-free electricity by 2030: Continually focus on energy efficiency upgrades to reduce consumption and gradually meet all remaining needs using carbon-free electricity through renewable energy generation and power purchase agreements.
“We are seeing a new generation of travelers who are conscious of their environmental impact. This is providing a significant opportunity to attract rail riders well into the future,” said Amtrak President Roger Harris.
With a “historic investment in improving and expanding passenger rail, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL) signifies “the important role trains play in the future of sustainable transportation,” Amtrak says. According to the railroad, funds from BIL will be used to support this target by helping Amtrak procure a more sustainable fleet and make other improvements to its aged assets. Additionally, BIL funding, the railroad says, will help improve and grow Amtrak service around the nation, creating more low-carbon alternatives to high-carbon flights and car trips.
Alongside these “ambitious goals” for the future, Amtrak says it is “continuing to create innovative solutions today that reduce energy consumption, emissions and waste even further.” Examples of this work, along with the company’s latest performance metrics for GHG, electricity use, recycling and diesel fuel use, can be found in the FY21 Sustainability Report and Performance Scorecard, which includes Amtrak’s Sustainability and Climate Resilience program.
Amtrak published the sustainability report for FY 2021 in August, highlighting projects across its regions and operations.
“Positioning the company to withstand climate impacts across all functions and asset types, the climate resilience plan enables Amtrak to continue providing reliable and safe service as climate conditions change,” the railroad says.
The SEPTA Board on Sept. 22 approved measures that will allow for significant advances to two major initiatives of SEPTA Forward, the Authority’s Strategic Plan–King of Prussia Rail (KOP Rail) and Trolley Modernization.
According to SEPTA, KOP Rail will extend the existing Norristown High Speed Line (NHSL) four miles into King of Prussia, providing a “one-seat” ride from any station along the NHSL, including 69th Street Transportation Center in Upper Darby and Norristown Transportation Center.
As part of the Project Development Phase, the Board voted to initiate the real estate process related to necessary permanent and temporary acquisitions of approximately 70 parcels in and around the proposed rail alignment. These acquisitions, SEPTA says, will facilitate the construction, staging and establishment of the KOP Rail extension.
The Board’s decision “authorizes SEPTA to begin appraising the properties, determining fair market value, making offers, and reaching an agreement with owners,” the authority says. SEPTA added that it will “attempt to acquire all necessary property interests through good faith negotiations.”
The Board also approved the acquisition of a 13-acre property in southwest Philadelphia for SEPTA’s Trolley Modernization Program, which “will transform the nation’s largest trolley network into an accessible, fast, and easy-to-use system.”
Acquiring the property at 5100 Grays Avenue, SEPTA says, will secure a potential site for a new facility that is centrally located and large enough to accommodate the anticipated future fleet of articulated, ADA-accessible trolleys.
According to the authority, the property has an existing structure that can be adapted to SEPTA’s use as a facility and has sufficient additional land area to support the planned yard and employee parking. In addition, SEPTA’s existing trolley tracks are immediately adjacent to the roadside of the property.
“SEPTA is committed to ensuring that transit can support the needs of our region moving forward,” said SEPTA Board Chairman Pasquale T. Deon Sr. “KOP Rail and Trolley Modernization are initiatives that represent the type of investment that can transform mobility by meeting current demand and anticipating future growth.”
“These authorizations by the Board mark important milestones for two of SEPTA’s largest capital projects that will provide long-needed improvements for our riders,” said SEPTA General Manager and CEO Leslie S. Richards. “KOP Rail will connect the three largest employment hubs in the region–Center City, University City, and King of Prussia–increasing equity by increasing access to jobs and opportunities with frequent and reliable transit service, while Trolley Modernization will create a fully accessible trolley system with new vehicles and stations built for universal access–opening our trolley service to everyone.”
According to SEPTA, the authority’s Fiscal Year 2023 Capital Budget commits $390 million to advance KOP Rail to final design and progress real estate activities. The project is currently at 30% design, and construction is expected to begin in 2025 if full funding is secured. SEPTA says it will seek a Federal Transit Administration (FTA) New Starts Capital Investment Grant to support up to 60% of the total project cost.
Funding for Trolley Modernization also comes from the Fiscal Year 2023 Capital Budget and 12-Year Program. A SEPTA-contracted independent, fair market value appraisal determined the value of the 5100 Grays Avenue property to be nearly $22 million, and negotiations with the owners are ongoing, the authority says. In comparing this site to others, a cost-benefit analysis estimated a savings of about $20 million by purchasing this property and repurposing it for SEPTA’s intended use.
TransLink announced on Sept. 22 that it is opening a new flagship Customer Service Center at Waterfront Station, in the region’s busiest transportation center “to provide more opportunities for in-person assistance.”
At 6,200 square feet, the new Customer Service Center is three times as large as the current Compass Customer Service Center at Stadium–Chinatown Station and will allow TransLink to provide in-person support to twice as many customers, the authority says. The new Center opens to the public on Friday, Sept. 23.
“We need to be more available to our customers when and where they need assistance, and that’s why we are moving our Customer Service Center to Waterfront Station which is located at the intersection of every one of our transit modes,” said TransLink CEO Kevin Quinn. “Moving our customer service facility to this prime location opens new opportunities for us to elevate customer experiences, create more meaningful connections, and build ridership.”
According to TransLink, the new facility can be used to:
- Receive support from customer service employees.
- Purchase and activate Compass products.
- Get wayfinding advice through the facility’s touch-screen transit kiosk.
- Pay fare infraction tickets.
- Purchase Taxi Savers.
- Sign up and get keys for bike lockers on TransLink’s system.
With direct access to two SkyTrain lines, SeaBus, multiple bus routes, West Coast Express, and HandyDART pick-ups or drop-offs, Waterfront Station is “the only location on TransLink’s system which serves all modes of transit,” according to the authority. With more than one million people traveling through the station every year and 35,000 people on an average weekday, the TransLink Customer Service Center will “make customer support easily accessible at the busiest transit hub on the system,” TransLink says. Adjacent to Canada Place, Helijet, and the cruise ship terminal, Waterfront Station is also a common destination for tourists who can now more easily access customer service and Compass products.
The new center will be open every weekday between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. The current Compass Customer Service Centre, located at Stadium–Chinatown Station, is closing, and all services in that facility will be provided at the new center in Waterfront Station starting Sept. 23. TransLink’s Lost Property Center will remain at its current location in Stadium–Chinatown Station.
“The addition of this facility is part of our Customer Experience Action Plan, which aims to make our system easier to navigate and to create more opportunities for customer service,” TransLink says.
At a recent Skilled Trades Partnering event hosted by MDOT, Secretary James F. Ports, Jr., told representatives of community colleges, trade schools and high school vocational programs that their institutions are “essential in providing the skilled labor for MDOT’s future.”
“MDOT has hundreds of skilled worker positions available for mechanics, electricians, carpenters, masons, plumbers, HVAC technicians, aircraft service workers and others,” Ports said. “There are more openings at MDOT than people to fill them.”
“I know the importance of our skilled trades, and I know it’s possible to begin in a skilled trades position and work your way up,” Ports added. “In all honesty, it’s been my personal mission to make connections and build partnerships with skilled trades educators to grow the next generation of MDOT employees.”
The Skilled Trades Partnering event, held at MDOT Headquarters in Hanover, was “an opportunity for MDOT to work with organizations involved in workforce development to connect and share ideas on how to partner to place students into MDOT positions,” according to the agency. Ports appealed to institutions to focus on training young men and women to meet the growing demand at MDOT and help them discover careers with competitive salaries and benefits that include health coverage, retirement, paid leave, tuition reimbursement and more.
Ports said trends affecting agencies and industries across the country–including turnover, early retirement, increased competition and the “great resignation” spurred by the pandemic–have increased the need to recruit and train new workers.
“We’re ready to do our part to build a productive skilled trades workforce by working with all of you to bridge the skilled trades gap,” Ports said. “Let’s work together to help you grow your business, increase enrollment and get more young adults interested in skilled trades.”
According to the agency, MDOT has several existing apprentice and internship programs, including the MDOT Fellows Program at the University of Maryland Baltimore County and the Morgan State University Graduate School Internship Program. See more about those two programs here.
In addition, the MDOT State Highway Administration operates a student internship program in fields from engineering and construction to data analysis and environmental science, and each summer MDOT Maryland Aviation Administration hosts a paid Summer Youth Initiative internship for Baltimore youth at Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport.
For information on career opportunities across MDOT’s business units, including skilled trades, engineering, IT and entry-level positions, go to the MDOT Careers page.
Organizations wanting to discuss potential apprentice and internship partnerships may contact MDOT Human Resources Director Judy Slater at [email protected]
“I’ve always been a big believer in apprenticeship programs and internships to cultivate tomorrow’s workforce,” said Ports, who shared his own story of a career that began in the trades as a steamfitter and gasfitter with BGE, and how that experience “laid a foundation that served him in positions at the local, state and federal levels.”
The secretary touted success stories of several other MDOT employees who started with internships or trade programs and have launched successful careers–from the skilled MDOT Maryland Transit Administration (MTA) bus repairman who started as a high school office intern, to the college student who entered a construction internship and is now executive director of the Maryland Transportation Authority (MDTA).
That MDTA Executive Director is Will Pines, who was a University of Maryland student in 2003 when he accepted an internship with MDOT SHA and worked on a highway construction project. Eighteen years later, he was named to the top position at MDTA, guiding an agency with an annual budget of more than $380 million and a $2.6 billion six-year capital program.
“That internship was a tremendous experience, and really gave me insight to what I wanted to do, and what I could accomplish,” said Pines. “The work was interesting, challenging and really important–and that’s what I wanted in a career.”
Ports said that story, and his own work experience, are just two of many examples of Marylanders who have found rewarding careers while improving their lives, their families and their communities. “Whether you’re representing a trade school, community college, high school with vocational education, or other areas of workforce development, MDOT wants you to be a part of our team,” Ports told those in attendance. “Quite simply, once you train them, we hope to hire them.”