Transit Briefs: Amtrak, Stantec/HART, Metrolink, New York MTA, San Diego MTS/NCTD

Written by Marybeth Luczak, Executive Editor
Starting July 29, Amtrak’s Ethan Allen Express will extend north to serve Middlebury, Vergennes and Burlington, Vt. (Amtrak/Steve Ostrowski)

Starting July 29, Amtrak’s Ethan Allen Express will extend north to serve Middlebury, Vergennes and Burlington, Vt. (Amtrak/Steve Ostrowski)

The Vermont Agency of Transportation (AOT) has reported that Amtrak’s Ethan Allen Express will begin service to Burlington, Vt., next month. Also, Stantec has landed a contract extension for work on Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation’s (HART) light rail project; Southern California’s Metrolink is rolling out the next phase of its Earthquake Early Warning System; New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) has launched an online trip planner for riders considering new Grand Central Madison commutes; and a new San Diego Metropolitan Transit System (MTS) and North County Transit District (NCTD) program will offer free transit passes for young adults transitioning out of foster care.

The Amtrak Ethan Allen Express will extend service north from its current terminus at Rutland, Vt., starting July 29. It will add stops in Middlebury and Vergennes, Vt., and continue on to Burlington, following extensive planning and infrastructure work, according to Vermont AOT. Part of that work included main line tunnel reconstruction, which Vermont Railway—Railway Age’s 2022 Short Line of the Year—completed in the spring with the state of Vermont, town of Middlebury, New England Central Railroad (NECR), lead designer VHB, Kubricky Construction Corp., and Engineers Construction Inc. The Ethan Allen Express will depart Burlington daily at 10:10 a.m. and arrive at Penn Station in New York City at 5:45 p.m.; fares will start at $75. Northbound service will depart Penn Station at 2:21 p.m. daily with arrival in Burlington at 9:55 p.m.

“Our agency’s talented and dedicated rail leadership, engineers and planners deserve immense credit for their steadfast dedication to bringing to Vermonters and visitors to the state this new transportation option for travel between New York City and Burlington,” Vermont Transportation Secretary Joe Flynn said.

Map of the 20-mile, 21-station light rail line under construction in O‘ahu between Kapolei and Ala Moana Center. (Map Courtesy of HART)

Stantec has been awarded a $119 million contract extension to continue construction engineering and inspection services for the east section of the HART light rail project. The contract will run through the end of 2026, with the possibility of a five-year extension to expected project completion in 2031. The 20-mile, 21-station elevated light rail system will connect West Oahu with the Honolulu International Airport; downtown Honolulu; and the Ala Moana Center, a major shopping center and transit hub.

“Light rail is an essential part of improving transportation in Hawaii and reaching our climate goals,” HART Executive Director and CEO Lori Kahikina said. “Providing a connecting spine through downtown, important transit centers, and the airport will vastly improve our transit system. Stantec has been with us from the early days, and we value their expertise and longstanding service in delivering the project.”

In related developments, HART earlier this month submitted to the Federal Transit Administration a Recovery Plan documenting how it will complete the project within the amount of funding available. Due to a funding shortfall estimated in March 2021, the transit agency’s plan proposes truncating the project by 1.25 miles with an interim terminus at the Civic Center Station, located at the intersection of Halekauwila Street and South Street, and deferring the Pearl Highlands Parking Garage. The moves will keep the overall cost under $10 billion, according to HART, which said it remains committed to completing the full scope of the project to the Ala Moana Center in a subsequent phase. The plan was approved by the HART Board of Directors; Honolulu City Council Committee on Transportation, Health and Sustainability; and the full Honolulu City Council prior to submission.

Metrolink, in partnership with the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) and U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), last fall began testing an Earthquake Early Warning System along the 91/Perris Valley rail line between Perris and Riverside (see map above).

The system was able to send automated messages to train crews to begin to slow or stop the train, as needed.

Next up for test is an updated version of the Earthquake Early Warning System that is based on an interface between Metrolink’s Positive Train Control (PTC) system and USGS-operated ShakeAlert®. The system will process ShakeAlert data—earthquake origin, time, location and magnitude—and send PTC messages to trains in the impacted area so they will automatically slow or stop based on earthquake severity, according to the passenger railroad.

The new system will also provide “enhanced data to support inspection of the rail network and resumption of service following an earthquake,” Metrolink reported.

After the pilot on the 91/Perris Valley Line, staff will evaluate the Earthquake Early Warning System’s performance for potential expansion across the 538-route mile, seven-line regional/commuter rail network that spans Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, Ventura and North San Diego counties.

(ShakeAlerts do not predict earthquakes, according to Metrolink. Instead, an alert indicates that an earthquake has begun, shaking is expected, and protective measures should be taken.)

New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) has launched a new tool,, allowing Long Island Rail Road riders to plan trips to and from Grand Central Madison, Penn Station, Atlantic Terminal or any other station when service to Grand Central Madison begins in late 2022. To use the trip planner, a rider can input station of origin, destination, time of travel, and day of week, and the planner will suggest itineraries and transfer opportunities, according to MTA.

The timetables included are currently drafts and subject to change; they will be finalized this fall.

“The online trip planner will help LIRR customers see the many new travel opportunities that the opening of Grand Central Madison will bring to the Long Island Rail Road,” said Catherine Rinaldi, interim President of MTA Long Island Rail Road and President of MTA Metro-North Railroad. “Once the public has an opportunity to plan their new commute, they will see how many new traveling opportunities the new, refreshed schedules provide to our beautiful new Grand Central Madison Terminal, revitalized Penn Station and our Brooklyn hub at Atlantic Avenue.”

San Diego MTS and NCTD in California are teaming on a pilot program that will offer free transit passes to individuals ages 18-24, who have previously been in and exited the foster care system, or who are currently in Extended Foster Care. Once approved for the PRONTO Extend program, participants will be able to download the free transit pass to their PRONTO app or PRONTO card for MTS and NCTD fixed-route bus, Trolley, and SPRINTER and COASTER passenger rail services each month. Slated to launch July 1, the program will run for up to 18 months, through Dec. 31, 2023.

“Young adults who have aged out of the foster care system face unique challenges as they enter adulthood,” said Nathan Fletcher, MTS Board Chair, and San Diego County Board of Supervisors Chair. “Many of the transitional age youth don’t have social safety nets or financial support from their families. Our goal with the PRONTO Extend program is to offer additional resources to ease that transition from foster care to more independent living. Being able to have free transportation to school or jobs is an important stepping stone to help them succeed.”

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