Transit Briefs: CTA; DART; MBTA; Minn. Met Council; WMATAWritten by Marybeth Luczak, Executive Editor
Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) is deploying K-9 teams across its rail system. Also, Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) is hosting the Latinos in Transit 2022 Leadership Summit; Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority’s (MBTA) maintenance-of-way blitz on the Orange Line is 50% complete; Minnesota’s Southwest Light Rail project has a $534 million funding shortfall, according to a state audit report; and more 7000-series rapid transit cars will return to service starting Sept. 12 at Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA).
CTA on Sept. 2 began deploying the first dozen of up to 50 K-9 teams the transit agency requested as part of its $30.9 million, 18-month contract with Action K-9, which was awarded late last month. Additional teams will be added through October, following completion of training. Each team comprises two unarmed guards with valid canine handler licenses, plus a canine.
Adding such teams, CTA said, is part of transit agency’s “Meeting the Moment” action plan to develop “new ways to target fare theft and prevent fare evasion before it might lead to other illicit activities.”
The new teams will complement the approximately 300 unarmed guards already scheduled to patrol the rail system daily and tasked with educating and reminding customers of the rules of conduct for traveling on CTA. The transit agency noted that its use of unarmed guards is not a replacement but a supplement to law enforcement on CTA, which is provided by the Chicago Police Department.
Both the unarmed guards and the K-9 teams will be “strategically deployed across the CTA’s rail system, including conducting missions at stations along the heavily traveled Red and Blue lines, which operate 24/7 and have seen a recent uptick in crimes and unruly behavior,” CTA reported.
DART is hosting and sponsoring the Latinos in Transit 2022 Leadership Summit, to be held Sept. 23-24 at the Omni Hotel in Dallas, Tex. The summit will bring together national, regional and local transportation leaders and industry partners, and feature breakout sessions, a leadership luncheon, and a state of good repair technical tour. City of Dallas Mayor Pro Tem Omar Narvaez will provide opening remarks; Federal Transit Administration Deputy Administrator Veronica Vanterpool will serve as keynote speaker at the luncheon. Also participating: Nadine Lee, DART President and CEO, and Michele Wong Krause, Chair of the DART Board of Directors.
MBTA on Sept. 2 reported that its Orange Line m/w blitz is 50% complete, and work is on schedule. The blitz, which is shutting down the line for 30 days, began Aug. 19. So far, work teams have completed 44% of rail replacement; 49% of track renewal and tie replacement; 84% of special trackwork; and 22% of cologne-egg fastener and other rail-fastener work.
Earlier in the project, MBTA said, “crews completed rail replacement between Downtown Crossing and State stations over an unencumbered two-day period, which was about 900 feet of track. This track replacement was one of the six slow zones that the MBTA was aiming to address during the Orange Line shutdown. To put this into context, when MBTA crews work during overnight hours when the subway is closed, they are able to replace about 39 feet of track a night after materials are staged and the third-rail power is cut. The rest of the slow zones are also in the process of being completed.”
As of Sept. 2, an additional five of the MBTA projects have been completed: crossover improvements at Ruggles Station, rail welding at Forest Hills Station, canopy work at Sullivan Square Station, security enhancements at North Station, and crossover work at Jackson Square Station. Additionally, tie replacement work continues between the Dana Bridge and Community College Station; work teams near Wellington station have begun de-stressing rail and continue electrical connections at special trackwork locations; and at the Tufts Curve, crews continue to replace cologne-egg fasteners, which allow them to directly affix rail to the concrete pads, according to the transit agency. Signal upgrades at Oak Grove and Malden stations have also reached 47% completion.
Fifty-six new Orange Line cars will be available when service re-starts Sept. 19, reported MBTA, which noted that the Orange Line provides approximately 101,000 trips per day with ridership at approximately 49% of pre-pandemic levels.
Meanwhile, MBTA and its Commuter Rail operator Keolis on Sept. 3 increased rail service at the Forest Hills Station during the Monday-Friday peak periods and on weekends to provide riders with another alternative during the Orange Line blitz. The added service will continue through Sept. 18.
“Commuter Rail continues to be the best option for Orange Line riders during the shutdown, and we’re grateful to be able to offer additional rail service at Forest Hills for our riders after Labor Day,” MBTA General Manager Steve Poftak said.
“Supporting riders during the Orange Line service disruption by revising the commuter rail schedule to implement additional stops at Forest Hills allows us to be responsive to the increase in ridership that we have observed over the past two weeks and to the needs of the communities we serve,” said Abdellah Chajai, CEO and General Manager of Keolis.
Plagued by delays and cost overruns, the Southwest Light Rail project has come under the review of the Office of the Legislative Auditor in Minnesota.
The Metropolitan Council—the agency overseeing project design, engineering and construction—announced earlier this year that the 14.5-mile, 16-station light rail project connecting Minneapolis to Eden Prairie would cost another $450 million to $550 million and service would not begin until 2027, nine years later than originally scheduled, according to Railway Age sister publication Railway Track & Structures.
The Office of the Legislative Auditor has now found that $534 million of the project’s estimated $2.74 billion budget “is currently unfunded, and the Metropolitan Council … has not yet identified a funding source,” Minneapolis FOX 9 reported on Sept. 2. The original project price tag, set in 2011, was $1.2 billion.
The Metropolitan Council is working with Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz’s office and “the project’s two main funders—the Federal Transit Administration and Hennepin County—to figure out what to do,” FOX 9 reported. “Minnesota law prohibits additional state money from flowing to the project.”
Some of the shortfall is due to starting the bidding process for the “civil construction contract in 2018 without including two expensive change orders, even though project officials knew they would need to be included, auditors found,” according to FOX 9. The change orders included constructing a barrier protection wall between BNSF freight and light rail tracks, as part of a safety agreement with BNSF, and changing construction methods to include a secant (retaining) wall for the Kenilworth Tunnel in Minneapolis, due to proximity to and sensitivity of nearby structures.
While project construction is 60% complete, it “drops to 25% along the half-mile Kenilworth tunnel in Minneapolis,” according to FOX 9. “Soil conditions and the presence of a condo tower feet from the construction site have led to costs and delays.”
Another audit is scheduled for release during the 2023 Minnesota legislative session.
WMATA can “safely operate up to 20 of its 7000-series cars per day, up from the current limit of eight trains,” under an updated return-to-service plan approved by the Washington Metrorail Safety Commission, WMTA reported on Sept. 2.
The plan (shown above) was developed based on data analysis accumulated from more than 860,000 miles of train travel, roughly the equivalent of 13,438 trips around the Beltway, the transit agency reported.
Last year, WMATA sidelined all 7000-series rapid transit cars—built by Kawasaki Rail and representing nearly 60% of its fleet—after an Oct. 12, 2021 derailment. Eight 7000-series trains resumed service in June.
“Our 7000-series trains are the newest and most reliable in Metro’s [WMATA’s] fleet, and they are key to providing the level of service our customers want and deserve,” WMATA General Manager and CEO Randy Clarke said. “In my frequent conversations with Metro customers, I hear over and over that more frequent service and more 7000-series trains on the tracks are a top priority, and that’s what we’re working to deliver. We appreciate the partnership of WMSC in our shared efforts to improve service for the region.”