Transit Briefs: BART, Caltrain, MBTA, NJ Transit, Valley Link, WMATA

Written by Marybeth Luczak, Executive Editor
Caltrain representatives were joined by federal, state, regional and local officials and community members on Sept. 24 to celebrate the first public viewing of the Northern California transit agency’s Stadler-built KISS EMUs. (Photograph Courtesy of Caltrain)

Caltrain representatives were joined by federal, state, regional and local officials and community members on Sept. 24 to celebrate the first public viewing of the Northern California transit agency’s Stadler-built KISS EMUs. (Photograph Courtesy of Caltrain)

The San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit District (BART) announces its inaugural short story contest finalists. Also, Caltrain celebrates the first public viewing of its Stadler US-built KISS EMUs (electric multiple unit); Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) is launching its commuter rail fare gate program; New Jersey Transit is advancing its New Brunswick Station improvement project; California’s Valley Link is seeking funding for design and construction of the proposed 42-mile, seven-station passenger rail project between the Dublin/Pleasanton BART station and the North Lathrop Altamont Corridor Express (ACE) station, which could be powered by hydrogen; and the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) is in the final stages of preparation for the Silver Line extension opening.

This summer, BART’s first-ever short story contest drew more than 340 Bay Area writers, whose stories each comprise 7,500 characters or less. Based around the theme of “motion,” their “BART Lines” submissions “told heroic tales of dashing knights and swimming women, saw BART trains swallowed by tentacled monsters, and even transported us from the 19th century to the present day,” the transit agency reported Sept. 22. Local authors Annalee Newitz, Ishmael Reed, Ingrid Rojas Contreras, JK Fowler, and Daniel Handler served as jurors and selected 30 finalists, each of whom will receive a $200 honorarium.

Their stories are now available online and in BART’s Short Edition Short Story Dispensers, currently located at the Fruitvale, Downtown Berkeley, Balboa Park, and Pleasant Hill stations.

“Short stories are a dying art because publishers can’t make any money at them,” Reed said in a video congratulating the finalists (watch above). “So, BART is to be congratulated for sustaining a dying art form.”

The BART Lines finalists are: Ophelia Leong, “Always Be Prepared”; Joshua Riggs, “Drop Off”; Lucy Zhang, “Escaping the Butterfly Effect”; Allison Rassmann, “Rooted”; Drew Kiser, “The Bell Brothers”; Kobi Naseck, “Frank’s House”; Tighe Flately, “Counting on the Waves”; Jason Schwartzman, “Knox”; Edward Giordano, “Loida Goes to Get Her Cat”; Rachel Hope Crossman, “Swimmingly: A Lap Pool Fantasy”; Emma Li, “Change of Pace”; Ben Briggs, “Two More”; Karen Fayeth, “Swim, Swam, Swan”; Kevin Troxell, “The Delivery”; Sarena Kuhn, “Long Way Home”; Kristen Fantozzi, “Wrong Track”; Brendan Yungert, “The Black Bags”; Astrid Casimire, “Bills”; Chris Pais, “The Locomotive”; Lisa Martin, “Meeting People”; Teresa Pham-Carsillo, “Interior Life”;  Gina Willner-Pardo, “Locomotion”; Rachel Blythe, “Acts of Preservation”; Lia Smith, “Lucille”; FT Kola, “A Dry Path”; Matthew Hose, “Birds, Circling, Everywhere”; Doug Henderson, “More”; Katherine Briccetti, “Radiant Crown”; Kathryn Kahn, “Maya Moving On”; and Henry Tran, “Durians, and the Monster We Face.”

Caltrain representatives were joined by federal, state, regional and local officials and community members on Sept. 24 to celebrate the first public viewing of the Northern California commuter rail operator’s Stadler-built KISS EMUs. The new high-performance trains “will generate much less noise than their diesel equivalent,” and offer enhanced amenities, including new digital onboard displays, power outlets at each forward-facing seat, a new seat color palette selected by the public, energy-efficient lighting, coat hooks, security cameras, and expanded storage under the cantilevered seats, according to Caltrain. Additionally, each trainset will feature seven cars, as opposed to the current five or six, and will accelerate and decelerate faster than their diesel alternatives, allowing the operator to expand its service levels beyond the current 104 trains each weekday.

More public tours are planned for early 2023, according to Caltrain, which noted that the trains will undergo testing until they enter service in 2024.

Caltrain on Aug. 22 reported that the third and fourth EMUs of 19 on order had arrived at its Centralized Equipment and Maintenance Facility in San Jose.

The EMUs will replace the commuter rail operator’s existing diesel fleet. Caltrain awarded Stadler a $551 million contract in August 2016 for 16 six-car KISS bilevel EMUs, with an option for a further 96 cars worth an additional $385 million. In December 2018, Caltrain exercised an option to extend the trains from six to seven cars, and ordered another three seven-car trains. They are part of the Electrification Project to upgrade and electrify Caltrain’s 51-mile double-track system from the 4th and King Station in San Francisco to the Tamien Station in San Jose (see map above).

“We are excited for the first electric trains that will speed down the Caltrain tracks, carrying a future generation of transit riders across the Bay Area,” FTA Regional Administrator Ray Tellis said during the Sept. 24 public viewing.  “Creating the opportunity for more cleaner and higher capacity trains every hour means better service for riders. Electrifying those trains means a smoother ride, better air quality, and another step toward addressing climate change. Congratulations, and thank you to Caltrain for being a great partner.”

“We are always proud when a new audience is introduced to our trains,” Stadler US CEO Martin Ritter said. “Today [Sept. 24], the Bay Area will see a modern train, designed for comfort, efficiency, and sustainability, and I hope they are similarly proud to be served by these trains.”

“The electrification of Caltrain is one of the most important milestones in Caltrain’s history,” Caltrain Board Chair Steve Heminger said. “Being able to step onto the new trains for the first time makes me even more excited for the start of electrified service in 2024.”

MBTA Commuter Rail on Oct. 1 will begin operating electronic fare gates at North Station. The new gate system is slated to improve fare collection, to replace platform-door ticket checks, and to create a more consistent fare-paying experience across transit modes, according to the transit agency.

The layout features 30 gates installed around the concourse area, including nine wider, accessible gates that allow room for wheelchairs, scooters, bicycles, luggage and strollers.

Riders will be required to tap, scan or swipe their tickets or passes both to enter and to exit the platform area at North Station. Additionally, riders who enter through the gates will still need to show tickets to conductors on board to verify ticket zone—just like those who do not enter through the gates. According to the transit agency, in-bound riders who arrive at North Station without tickets will be required to purchase them through the mTicket app or from a staff member stationed at the gates before exiting. Fare Gates will be active during Commuter Rail’s regular service hours, and only when there is staff on-site to provide support.

“The fare gates that begin operation at North Station on October 1 and those to come at Back Bay and South Station will streamline Commuter Rail fare collection and deliver on our commitment to preventing fare avoidance on the Commuter Rail system,” MBTA General Manager Steve Poftak said. “Allowing the MBTA to create a more consistent fare-paying experience, the fare gates also provide us the opportunity to collect better ridership data for the Commuter Rail, which will inform operations and guide future investments in the system.”

The New Brunswick (N.J.) Station, located on NJ Transit’s Northeast Corridor commuter rail line, will benefit from a $49 million state investment to extend and replace platforms, rehabilitate escalators and elevators, install energy-efficient lighting, and upgrade heating and air-conditioning systems, in addition to other internal and external projects. This investment is just one piece of the $814 million that New Jersey’s FY 2023 budget agreement is dedicating to rail station improvements through the Debt Defeasance and Prevention Fund, according to Gov. Phil Murphy’s office.

The Middlesex County Improvement Authority (MCIA) will project manage the renovations on behalf of the County and NJ Transit, inclusive of design and construction. NJ Transit will provide technical assistance; procure and manage an engineering and design firm; retain construction services; and have review and approval rights throughout the project. MCIA is currently preparing the project scope.

“This revitalized station will enhance accessibility, mobility and the customer experience for thousands of Middlesex County residents who use this station every day,” NJ Transit President and CEO Kevin S. Corbett said.

Valley Link Rail Project Map

“Hydrogen could fuel the frequent passenger trains proposed between Lathrop and the Dublin BART station,” according to a Sept. 23 Modesto Bee report. The Valley Link Board—comprising county supervisors and city council members in San Joaquin, Alameda and Contra Costa counties—voted Sept. 14 to accept a study by Vancouver-based consultant HTEC, which found the power-source feasible. “It would be produced at a new plant in southwest Tracy, using solar panels to run the process,” the newspaper said.

The Board has also directed staff to seek funding for the $67.1-million, 42-mile project’s detailed design and construction, according to The Modesto Bee (see map above). “Valley Link could attract many of the 100,000-plus drivers who commute west from the Northern San Joaquin Valley, as well as leisure travelers. It would have far more trains than the Altamont Corridor Express, which runs four weekday round trips between Stockton and San Jose.”

The newspaper said Valley Link’s 26-mile first phase is expected to cost some $1.8 billion and serve four stations from Dublin to Mountain House; an additional $2 billion would add stations in downtown Tracy, the River Islands area of Lathrop, and North Lathrop.

In June, Phase I of the project was accepted into Project Development of the Federal Transit Administration’s Capital Investment Grants (CIG) Program.

Simulated service will begin next month on WMATA’s Silver Line extension, which will link the rapid transit system to Washington Dulles International Airport and Loudoun County, Va., for the first time.

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 was turned over to WMATA when the ORD (Operational Readiness Date) was declared on June 23. After this declaration, WMATA was charged with conducting extensive operational training and testing before the start of service, a date for which has not been set.

WMATA has already added the Silver Line extension to its system map. With more than 5,000 maps in stations and trains alone, WMATA reported on Sept. 23 it is starting the monthlong process to replace each one in preparation for opening. Digital maps and WMATA’s website will be updated upon opening.

The map’s original design was created more than 40 years ago by graphic designer Lance Wyman and was revised by Wyman for the opening of the first phase of the Silver Line and the extension’s completion.

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