Brightline, Florida’s private-sector passenger railroad, offers riders high-speed, low-latency broadband service from Starlink. Also, Denver Regional Transportation District (RTD) provides real-time train/bus arrival information through a new Interactive Voice Response (IVR) customer service system; New York’s MTA Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) and MTA Metro-North Railroad reach record average weekday ridership; and VIA Rail Canada releases 2022 annual report.
Brightline on May 8 reported teaming with Starlink to provide internet connectivity onboard its five trainsets serving South Florida between Miami and West Palm Beach. It will be added to Brightline’s five newest Siemens Mobility trainsets this summer when service to Orlando is slated to begin. Broadband from Starlink, which is engineered and operated by SpaceX, is complimentary for all riders.
“Starlink delivers high-speed, low-latency internet to users all over the world and is made possible via the world’s largest constellation of highly advanced satellites operating in a low orbit around the Earth,” Brightline said. “Its constellation of satellites orbit the planet at about 550 km, and cover the entire globe with significantly lower latency—around 25 ms vs. 600+ ms. Traditional satellite internet services come from single geostationary satellites that orbit the planet at 35,786 km with only one roundtrip signal to Earth per every 70 round trip signals by Starlink. As a result, Starlink has the capability to provide a seamless connection, making it possible to support everyday uses of WiFi, including streaming, online gaming, video calls or other high data rate activities through even the most rural areas.”
Brightline will be Starlink’s first venture into the passenger rail industry, according to Brightline. It has already provided internet services to residences; businesses; and transportation providers in the aviation and marine industries, with Hawaiian Airlines, Royal Caribbean Group and Carnival Corporation among its customers.
In a related development, Brightline on April 20 unveiled its completed new station at Orlando International Airport.
Denver RTD has introduced the Next Ride IVR system, which in-house staff spent more than a year developing. When riders call the transit agency’s customer service number, the new system allows them to hear when any train or fixed-route bus is expected to arrive at a specific stop—rather than the scheduled stop times provided previously.
“Scheduled times are not useful when service deviates because of an issue or disruption, for example,” Denver RTD said. “The data [now] presented by phone are the same used by the Next Ride web application on the RTD website, meaning that customers seeking this information will now receive identical data by phone or online, including stop cancellations or suspensions.”
By keeping the project in-house, Denver RTD said it will save “hundreds of thousands of dollars” in development, support and maintenance costs, and staff can make changes, such as adjustments to a script, within minutes if necessary.
Among the Next Ride IVR system features are:
- More accurate speech recognition, enabling callers to better interact with the system without using a touch-tone keypad. Should certain words be detected that suggest the customer needs to speak with a customer service agent, including “I need help” or “I don’t know,” the call will be automatically transferred.
- “[R]icher, more lifelike speech quality,” due to a Neural Text-to-Speech (NTTS) voice engine that uses machine learning, the transit agency said.
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) on May 8 reported that Metro-North and LIRR recorded their best month in April since 2020. Preliminary ridership statistics indicate that in April, both commuter railroads carried a combined 9.46 million riders and posted their highest average weekday ridership since the pandemic began, according to MTA. On an average weekday in April, LIRR carried 200,915 riders. In the two months since Grand Central Madison opened, the new terminal has “already passed major iconic facilities like Boston South Station and Chicago Union Station in the rankings of busiest commuter railroad facilities,” MTA said.
Metro-North carried 180,174 riders on an average weekday last month. On April 18, it reached a pandemic-era ridership record with 194,549 riders. That record was broken a day later, on April 19, when Metro-North carried 195,086 riders. The consecutive ridership records culminated in the commuter railroad reaching its three-day ridership high since the pandemic of 193,111.
Also on May 8, MTA unveiled two escalators and one elevator connecting Grand Central Madison’s LIRR Concourse with Metro-North’s main concourse at Grand Central Terminal. The escalators ascend into Metro-North’s main concourse near Tracks 39 through 42, near 43rd Street, in the historic section of the concourse known as the Biltmore Room.
Their opening provides Grand Central Madison users, “more than 50,000 of them each day last week, with a new street-level entrance that easily connects to Metro-North trains and other parts of the historic Grand Central,” MTA Construction and Development President Jamie Torres-Springer said.
VIA Rail Canada on May 8 issued its 2022 annual report (above).
Among its highlights:
- VIA Rail recorded an increase in year-over-year ridership of 1.7 million passengers (118.4%) in 2022.
- Passenger revenues increased by $198.8 million (168.2%) compared with 2021, led by an increase in frequencies and higher demand.
- Operating funding decreased by 4.4% compared with 2021.
- The rollout of VIA Rail’s new fleet of trainsets from Siemens Mobility for the Québec City-Windsor corridor “reached a new critical milestone in 2022 when we welcomed the first passengers on board,” the intercity passenger railroad reported.
- VIA Rail was the first federal organization in 2022 to submit a multi-year (2022-25) accessibility plan under the Accessible Canada Act.
- VIA Rail released a five-year sustainability plan.
“2022 was a rebuilding year that demonstrated the enduring relevance and popularity of passenger rail service in Canada, a time in which VIA Rail was delighted to welcome back Canadians from across the country,” said Françoise Bertrand, Chairperson of the VIA Rail Board of Directors. “With the setting up of VIA HFR-VIA TGF Inc., another critical step was taken toward improving passenger rail service between Québec City and Toronto.”