Transit Briefs: Brightline, Calgary Transit, East-West Rail, NYMTA, Valley Metro

Written by Marybeth Luczak, Executive Editor
Calgary Transit is seeing a promising start to 2023, after predicting in 2022 that ridership wouldn’t return to pre-pandemic levels before the end of this year. (Jeff White photo, Calgary Transit)

Calgary Transit is seeing a promising start to 2023, after predicting in 2022 that ridership wouldn’t return to pre-pandemic levels before the end of this year. (Jeff White photo, Calgary Transit)

Brightline releases a revamped New River Bridge app and website, which will be expanded this year to include two other South Florida bridges along the private-sector passenger railroad’s line. Also, Calgary (Alberta) Transit reports “better-than-expected” increases in ridership, with light rail boardings near 100% of pre-pandemic levels; the Massachusetts Governor discusses hiring an East-West rail project director; a recent MTA New York City Transit (NYCT) rider survey shows improvements in service reliability, cleanliness and personal security; and the cities of Tempe and Mesa, Ariz., approve funding for a Valley Metro streetcar extension study.

Brightline on March 8 reported that it has updated the technology of its app and website that allow mariners, businesses and recreational boaters to plan their travel along the New River in Fort Lauderdale based on the Florida East Coast Railway/Brightline bridge closures and openings.

Brightline said it has been working with the Marine Industries Association of South Florida since the company’s inception in 2012. One of the top requests from marine users, it noted, has been greater predictability of the rail bridge’s operations. As a result, the app and website “are more user friendly and provide more accurate information,” as they are based on train GPS data, Brightline reported. Both not only provide real-time updates, but also forecasts of future bridge movements.

Brightline said it also reinstated a bridge monitor and countdown clock at the New River Bridge.

The bridge app and website are slated to be expanded in 2023 to include the same real-time bridge information for the Loxahatchee River in Jupiter and the St. Lucie River in Stuart, once Brightline launches service to Orlando.

“Our partnership with the Broward marine community is important, and we worked diligently and collaboratively to develop an app and website that will meet their needs on the waterway,” said Michael Lefevre, Brightline’s VP of Operations. “We have already heard great feedback that this revamped app and website provide the information needed so both marine and rail industries can operate efficiently.”

Separately, Brightline on March 6 announced that after hitting speeds of 130 mph during a test of its Orlando extension, it is officially “the fastest train in Florida and the Southeastern U.S.”

Calgary Transit said it is seeing a promising start to 2023, after predicting in 2022 that ridership wouldn’t return to pre-pandemic levels before the end of this year. As of January, bus boardings were at close to 70% of pre-pandemic levels, but CTrain boardings were near 100%, and these numbers “are expected to continue to rise as more and more Calgarians return to working in corporate offices and as Calgary continues to attract new people and business,” the agency said.

“Similar to increases seen in Vancouver and Edmonton, there has been a great improvement in our ridership numbers since the beginning of the year,” reported Sharon Fleming, Director of Calgary Transit. “As we move into spring, even more demand is expected, and we’re working to grow our service to keep up with those projections.”

Calgary Transit said it is continuing to team with the Calgary Police Service and City of Calgary Corporate Security to increase the number of station patrols and help identify safety issues on the system before they become significant incidents. It is also continuing work on the Green Line project. An SNC-Lavalin consortium was recently appointed as delivery partner. The first phase will connect southeast Calgary to downtown—11.18 miles (18 kilometers) from Shepard to Eau Claire—and link to the existing Red and Blue lines and four MAX BRT (Bus Rapid Transit) routes. It includes 0.93 miles (1.5 kilometers) of tunnel under Beltline and Downtown (6th Street S.E. along 11th Avenue to 2nd Street S.W. at the planned Eau Claire Promenade); four LRT bridge structures that span the Elbow River, Bow River, Deerfoot Trail and Blackfoot Trail; 13 stations; and an LRV maintenance storage facility. The second phase will run 1.2 miles (2 kilometers) from Eau Claire to 16th Avenue North. According to Calgary Transit, utility relocations and early works construction are under way; the new fleet of low-floor vehicles have been purchased; and work will soon begin on design, and to determine cost, a risks project schedule.

Additionally, Calgary Transit said that it is encouraging off-peak ridership, and has introduced free fare for young people 12 and under as well as a weekend group day pass.

(MassDOT Photograph)

MassLive on March 2 reported that Massachusetts Gov. Maura Healey has not yet provided a timeline on the hiring an East-West rail director, who would oversee all major construction and operational contracts for implementing passenger rail service from Boston to Springfield and Pittsfield, Mass.

However, on her “campaign website, Healey had described the East-West rail director as being ‘laser-focused on achieving this complex project,’ which gained traction in the last legislative cycle,” according to the news outlet. “In the final days of the campaign and during her nascent administration, Healey hasn’t specified a hiring timetable despite reiterating her commitment to the commuter rail project.”

In her budget proposal, Healey has allocated $12.5 million “from the so-called millionaires tax or Fair Share Amendment—which voters approved last November to impose a 4% surtax on all income exceeding $1 million—to East-West rail,” according to MassLive. That includes $8.5 million for Pittsfield station track improvements and $4 million for the study and design of a Palmer station.

According to MassLive, Healey told reporters that she will “continue to collaborate with state and federal government partners to move the East-West rail project forward. There’s still governance issues to be ironed out, Healey noted—and that’s a key focus area for the Western Massachusetts Passenger Rail Commission.”

The Western Massachusetts Passenger Rail Commission, which was created this past summer to “come up with a permanent body to manage and enhance passenger rail through the region,” hosted its first public meetings in December.

In related developments, the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, in partnership with Amtrak and with support from CSX, is seeking federal funding for corridor improvements to restore Inland Route intercity passenger rail service.

(NYCT Photograph)

NYCT on March 8 reported results of its February Pulse Survey, which showed “a continuing climb” in overall rider satisfaction across the board for subways, buses and paratransit. Subway operations, it said, maintained an 85% on-time performance for the second month in a row, the best in 10 years, and overall subway experience satisfaction reached 65%, a two percentage-point increase from January, and a 13 percentage-point increase since June 2022 when satisfaction was at 52%. According to the transit agency, 72% of riders reported satisfaction with their travel time as well.

Overall satisfaction with safety and security on trains increased by two percentage points, to 62%, and in stations by one percentage point, to 62%. The 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 lines all increased at least five percentage points, regarding satisfaction with train safety and security since the previous month, with the highest increase of 11 percentage points on the 5 line, NYCT said. Additionally, rider “perceptions of the amount of uniformed police officers in the subway continues to increase, with 44% stating there are about the right amount, the highest number registered since this question was introduced in February 2022,” according to the transit agency.

“We are well on our way of reaching—and in one case, even passed!—our North Star goal in customer satisfaction, as introduced in the Faster, Cleaner, Safer Plan,” NYCT President Richard Davey said. “We have introduced new Customer Service Centers; the ReNEWvation program, which focuses on station cleanliness and appearance; communicated with our partners in law enforcement; and much more to improve the transit system. New Yorkers are starting to see that we are getting things done and while we weren’t going to slow down, it’s certainly encouraging that these changes are being noticed.”

In a related development, NYPD Transit Chief Michael Kemper on March 8 “told reporters that the NYPD’s ‘Cops, Cameras and Care’ strategy, launched last October, drove crime down by more than 20% since January,” according to a 1010WINS news report. “Kemper noted that ‘overall index crime is down 21.5% in the subway system’ just nine weeks into the new year.” Additionally, 1,200 more police officers have been on patrol in the subway since October, and he said “the surge has dropped crime by 13% compared to a 42% increase for the majority of 2022.”

ABC15 Arizona on March 8 reported that the cities of Tempe and Mesa have each voted to fund a $2 million study to expand Valley Metro’s Tempe Streetcar system, which launched May 20, 2022. The study would explore a Rio East-Dobson extension running 4.4 miles along the Rio Salado Parkway, from near Rural Road to Dobson Road, to Mesa, near Sloan Park. Some 2.6 miles would be in Tempe and 1.8 miles in Mesa, according to the news outlet, which said that Tempe and Mesa will provide $1.2 million and $800,000 for the study, respectively, over the next three years.

Tempe Streetcar is operating Brookville Equipment Corp. hybrid vehicles to along its three-mile, 14-stop route, whose construction got under way in 2018. The new streetcar system serves destinations such as Tempe Beach Park, Marina Heights, Gammage Auditorium and Arizona State University sports facilities (see map above), and offers links to existing light rail service. 

The hybrid vehicles use a lithium-ion battery OESS (onboard energy storage system) to operate along Mill Avenue in downtown Tempe and at gateway intersections where there is not an overhead catenary system (OCS). The streetcars’ batteries stay charged with OCS traction power.

The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) awarded a $75 million Capital Investment Grant to Valley Metro in September 2019 for the approximately $200 million project, and another $17.4 million in June 2021 under the American Rescue Plan (ARP). The project was also supported by $112 million from regional Prop 400 funds and $13 million from a public/private partnership including the city of Tempe, Arizona State University, and more than a dozen major employers and property owners along the route.

Separately, Valley Metro and the city of Phoenix are now conducting a study to evaluate high-capacity transit options—such as bus rapid transit (BRT), streetcar or light rail—in west Phoenix.

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