Transit Briefs: Brightline West, NYMTA, TriMet, WMATAWritten by Marybeth Luczak, Executive Editor
The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) releases an environmental assessment of Brightline West’s proposed 49-mile Cajon Pass High-Speed Rail system. Also, the Society of American Military Engineers, New York City post, recognizes New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) for improving accessibility; Tri-County Metropolitan Transportation District of Oregon (TriMet) maintains a top bond rating; and Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) reopens six stations following an eight-week shutdown of rail service south of Reagan National Airport.
According to an FRA-released environmental assessment, Brightline West is seeking to build a 49-mile high-speed rail system through the Cajon Pass in California, the Victor Valley News Group reported on Nov. 5. Capable of speeds of up to 140 mph, the system would link Victor Valley and Rancho Cucamonga. The project includes two new stations: one in Hesperia and one in Rancho Cucamonga. The connecting station in Victor Valley was approved as part of Brightline West’s separate 200-mile Las Vegas-to-Victorville project that was evaluated in the Final Environmental Impact Statement (Final EIS; FRA 2011).
Brightline West is proposing to construct and operate the 49-mile system under a lease agreement with the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) for the use of the Interstate 15 right-of-way and the station at Hesperia, according to the environmental assessment released by FRA in October and prepared by Circlepoint (download below), and will secure additional agreements for right-of-way use; design and construction oversight and reimbursement; and operations and maintenance, as needed. For the last mile of the project from I-15 to the Rancho Cucamonga Station, Brightline West is slated to enter into agreements with the city of Rancho Cucamonga and the San Bernardino County Transportation Authority (SBCTA) for land rights, construction, operations and maintenance, as necessary. (The Rancho Cucamonga City Council and the SBCTA Board of Directors recently approved the first step of the sale of a five-acre portion of the jointly owned property at Cucamonga Station to Brightline West.) Service will be coordinated with existing and planned Metrolink commuter rail service at the Rancho Cucamonga station.
Trains are expected to operate daily on 45-minute headways between Victor Valley and Rancho Cucamonga, Victor Valley News Group reported, with an approximately 35-minute trip time.
According to the environmental assessment, the aim of the project “is to provide reliable and safe passenger rail transportation between the Los Angeles metropolitan region and the High Desert of San Bernardino County,” and offer a “convenient, efficient, and environmentally sustainable alternative to automobile travel on the highly congested I-15 freeway.”
The public comment period on the environmental document began Oct. 28, 2022, and ends Nov. 28, 2022. Comments may be submitted to the Regulations.gov Project webpage.
New York MTA on Nov. 5 received an award from the Society of American Military Engineers, New York City post, for its accessibility improvement work.
Since 2020, 15 additional subway stations have been made ADA-accessible, and the MTA’s 2020-25 Capital Plan includes nearly $6 billion to make 80 additional stations accessible, according to MTA. Additionally, MTA in 2021 partnered with the city of New York on Zoning for Accessibility, which it said “created a framework for developers to make accessibility upgrades to stations without requiring MTA capital dollars.” Four stations are already slated for upgrades through this program.
“2022 has been a milestone year for accessibility at the MTA,” MTA Chief Accessibility Officer and Senior Advisor Quemuel Arroyo said during the awards presentation. “From the rollout of OMNY for Reduced-Fare customers to the MTA’s historic commitment to bringing accessibility to over 95% of subway stations [by 2055], we have made huge strides towards a more accessible system.”
“Making the entire MTA system more accessible is one of our top priorities,” MTA Construction and Development Chief of Staff Cathy Sheridan said during the event. “We have made immense progress on accessibility in the last few years through our historic Capital Plan, with further enhancements coming soon. We are honored to be recognized.”
TriMet on Nov. 4 reported that the Kroll Bond Rating Agency has reaffirmed its top-tier AAA bond status for the fifth straight year.
Kroll recognized TriMet for “a diverse and growing economic base [and] a highly reliable revenue source, which demonstrated resilience during the COVID-19 pandemic,” according to TriMet, which provides bus, light rail and commuter rail services. The transit agency noted that the rating “is largely based on the strength and stability of Oregon’s employer payroll tax, which is our highest revenue source.”
“We issued more than $400 million in bonds on Oct. 5, 2021, of which $229 million was refunding bonds to take advantage of lower interest rates and $181 million was new money,” the transit agency reported. “The funds will be used for our A Better Red MAX extension and improvements project, our Powell Operating Facility renovation, and the purchase of new light rail vehicles.”
Additionally, TriMet reported that the Government Finance Officers Association (GFOA) awarded its Budget and Grants department a Distinguished Budget Presentation Award for the third consecutive year. “The GFOA conducts a rigorous budget review process to ensure that organizations are not only spending their money wisely, they’re effectively telling their story to stakeholders,” according to the transit agency.
WMATA on Nov. 6 reopened six stations—Braddock Road, King Street-Old Town, Eisenhower Avenue, Huntington, Van Dorn Street, and Franconia-Springfield—south of Reagan National Airport on the Yellow and Blue lines. The move follows eight weeks of prep work for a new Potomac Yard Station. Blue Line trains are now serving all six stations, while long-term work continues on Yellow Line Tunnel and Bridge rehabilitation.
The Potomac Yard Station will be located at the southern end of National Landing on WMATA’s Yellow and Blue lines between the existing Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport and Braddock Road stations. “This project was initiated by the city of Alexandria and will be funded by tax revenues and developer contributions generated by planned new development in the Potomac Yard neighborhood, as well as state grants and loans and regional sources,” WMATA reported. “The station will provide a wide range of benefits for Alexandria and the surrounding communities, including walkable access to regional transportation systems for residents in the northeast area of the city.”
Potomac Yard Station prep work required an eight-week shutdown of rail service to connect new tracks that “tie in” the new station with the existing main line rail system, according to WMATA, which also conducted the engineering, testing and commissioning needed to integrate the track, power, communications, and signal systems into the system.
The transit agency said it is also making progress on rehabilitation of the Yellow Line Tunnel near L’Enfant Plaza Station and the bridge across the Potomac River, which began during the closure.
WMATA’s “chief engineer has identified the steel-lined tunnel near L’Enfant Plaza as the agency’s top structural priority, with repairs needed to strengthen the tunnel lining and stop water intrusion,” said the transit agency, which “will also remove and replace miles of critical communications cables used by multiple jurisdictions and repair the Yellow Line Bridge.” The Yellow Line will remain suspended through May 2023, while work continues.
“Watching the test trains go through the [Potomac Yard] station reminds us we are nearing the finish line of this large and significant capital project that will serve the region for decades to come,” WMATA General Manager Randy Clarke said. “We thank our customers and partners for their patience as the team ensures we provide the safest and best experience for this beautiful station.”
According to WMATA, the Potomac Yard Station is slated to open in 2023. Crews continue working to complete construction of the east retaining wall; paving the access roads; and installing interior features at the station, such as modern fare gates, fare machines, and the station manager kiosk.