Transit Briefs: Amtrak, TECO, TTC, WMATA, USPSWritten by Marybeth Luczak, Executive Editor
Amtrak celebrates a Roanoke, Va., service milestone, and partners with First National Bank of Omaha to launch two Guest Rewards credit cards. Also, TECO Line Streetcar marks 20 years of service; Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) is upgrading streetcar and bus fare-card readers; Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) sets Nov. 15 as opening day for the Silver Line extension; and the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) reveals 2023 stamp designs that include “noteworthy railroad stations.”
The Virginia Passenger Rail Authority (VPRA) and Amtrak on Oct. 31 celebrated five years of service to Roanoke, Va., according to a WSET-TV news report. Passenger rail service returned to Roanoke in 2017—the first time since 1979—when Amtrak’s Northeast Regional was extended from Lynchburg, and since then more than 879,000 riders have traveled along the Roanoke-Washington, D.C. corridor and points beyond, the ABC affiliate noted.
VPRA supports Amtrak Northeast Regional service, which serves Norfolk, Richmond, Newport News, Lynchburg, Roanoke and other points within Virginia, and provides same-seat trips and through service to other cities along the Northeast Corridor.
Amtrak’s Northeast Regional service on July 11 began offering a third daily departure from Norfolk, Va., and a second daily departure from Roanoke, “giving customers more flexibility and convenience for travel within Virginia, to Washington, D.C., and to cities in the Northeast.” In addition to existing early and mid-morning departures, the new daily service began departing Norfolk in the early afternoon. July 11 also saw the restoration of a second daily roundtrip to and from Newport News. Amtrak began offering morning and afternoon options in both directions between Roanoke, Washington, D.C., and the Northeast Corridor. (The move was part of the Western Rail Initiative to expand commonwealth-supported Amtrak service from Washington, D.C., to Roanoke and to the New River Valley.)
“The success of our Roanoke state-supported service is a great example of how local communities can work with the commonwealth and our rail partners to provide rail service that Virginians want and need,” WSET quoted VPRA Executive Director DJ Stadtler as saying. “Our mission is to expand passenger rail service throughout the commonwealth and that begins with strong partnerships like what we have with Roanoke.”
“Amtrak is proud of our expanding partnership with VPRA because of the continuing, growing demand for train travel,” said Ray Lang, Vice President of State Supported Services at Amtrak, according to WSET. “Roanoke service is an example of the commitment Virginia has in providing residents more transportation options than driving and flying, taking vehicles off the road, and improving our lives and carbon footprint.”
Separately, Amtrak on Oct. 31 launched Amtrak Guest Rewards® Mastercard® credit cards, issued by First National Bank of Omaha (FNBO). The new cards, it said, “offer additional value and benefits to members of Amtrak’s loyalty program. Customers can enhance their travel experience by earning points toward rewards like Amtrak travel, upgrades, dining, gift cards and more.”
“We are delighted to partner with FNBO and Mastercard to offer our customers additional value to their Amtrak experience with our two new Amtrak Guest Rewards credit cards,” Amtrak President Roger Harris said. “The new cards offer excellent benefits and look fantastic, featuring our newly unveiled locomotives that will serve Amtrak customers from coast to coast.”
For more information, visit Amtrak.com/Apply.
Tampa, Fla.-based TECO Line Streetcar marked 20 years of service on Oct. 28. This follows its September celebration of one million riders in Fiscal Year 2022.
Electric streetcars began operating in Tampa in 2002—56 years after the original streetcars rolled to a stop. The new TECO Line Streetcar was built to help support growth in downtown, the Channel District, and Ybor City; improve transportation capacity and shared parking capabilities (specifically related to the traffic peaks caused by large events); support Tampa’s cruise and tourism industry; and to the degree possible, transport workers to and from their jobs.
The initial phase of the system was designed as a single-track bi-directional line with six passing tracks, according to Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority (HART), which operates and maintains the system. “This configuration provides the flexibility needed to enable the simultaneous operation of the 10 replica double-truck streetcars and the single-truck Birney,” HART reported. “Phase II of the system, which represents the system as it exists today, was initiated in late 2003, and completed in December 2010 adding the 11th station to the system and an additional 0.3 miles of track (extended line is a single track from Dick Greco Plaza to Franklin and Whiting Streets, with a passing track north of Brorein Street) increasing the system to 2.7-miles, linking downtown Tampa with the Channelside and Ybor City entertainment districts, and providing passengers with a connection to the core of downtown Tampa.”
TTC and PRESTO have started upgrading streetcar and bus fare-card readers ahead of the introduction of new features next year, TTC reported on Oct. 31. New PRESTO card readers are now being field-tested on one streetcar and two buses; more than 5,500 devices will be installed on TTC vehicles between now and the end of January 2023, the agency said. Readers on TTC fare gates are slated to be replaced next year.
“The new readers are an important step in the TTC’s ongoing modernization efforts and will be future-ready for new customer-friendly services, such as open payment (credit/debit card and mobile device taps) when PRESTO makes that function available on the TTC in 2023,” reported TTC, which noted that the readers are the same as those currently in use by other transit agencies across the Greater Toronto Area, including GO Transit buses.
WMATA on Oct. 31 reported that opening day for the Silver Line extension is Nov. 15. This announcement—also released as a video, see above—follows 18 weeks of testing, training and safety certification efforts by WMATA.
Constructed by the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA), the Silver Line extension’s six new stations, 11.4 miles of new track, and new rail yard were turned over to WMATA when the ORD (Operational Readiness Date) was declared on June 23. The first phase of the Silver Line opened in July 2014, adding five new stations; Silver Line service currently operates from Largo Town Center Station, through Washington, D.C., and terminates at Wiehle-Reston East Station. The new segment will provide a long-awaited connection to Washington Dulles International Airport, which WMATA said gives visitors a direct connection to destinations around the region.
WMATA said riders who visit the six new stations—Reston Town Center, Herndon, Innovation Center, Washington Dulles International Airport, Loudoun Gateway, and Ashburn—on Nov. 15 will be greeted by transit agency teams handing out commemorative pennants, a tradition that started when the first WMATA station opened in 1976.
In related developments, WMATA on Oct. 25 was given the green light to return more 7000-series rapid transit cars to service; they are slated to help serve the Silver Line extension.
The USPS on Oct. 24 revealed many of the stamps it will issue in 2023, including those with railroad station designs.
“Noteworthy railroad stations began brightening the American landscape by the 1870s and, although many were torn down once they had outlived their original purpose, hundreds survived,” USPS said. “This issuance of 20 stamps features five architectural gems that continue to play important roles in their communities: Tamaqua Station in Pennsylvania; Point of Rocks Station in Maryland; Main Street Station in Richmond, Va.; Santa Fe Station in San Bernardino, Calif.; and Union Terminal in Cincinnati, Ohio. Passenger trains stop at all of them except Tamaqua.” Derry Noyes served as art director for these stamps; Down the Street Designs created the digital illustrations and typography.
Other 2023 stamps will feature the Lunar New Year-Year of the Rabbit; Great Smoky Mountains (Priority Mail Express); U.S. Flag; Chief Standing Bear; Ruth Bader Ginsburg; Toni Morrison; Roy Lichtenstein; and Women’s Soccer.
“The 2023 stamp program features a broad range of subjects and designs,” USPS Stamp Services Director William Gicker said. “These miniature works of art highlight our unique American culture and offer a broad selection for those looking to collect stamps or send their mail around the nation or the world.”