Will the city Palmer be included in the Massachusetts’ East-West Rail project? Also, Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) completes an expedited track work project on the Red Line and removes nine speed restrictions; New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) upgrades cellular connectivity for MTA Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) riders and wraps up an subway station accessibility project in Brooklyn; Santa Clara Valley (Calif.) Transportation Authority (SCVTA) improves wayfinding for light rail riders; and metro Vancouver’s TransLink certifies 28 “transit-friendly” employers.
Monica G. Tibbits-Nutt, newly appointed Secretary of the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, recently joined commonwealth representatives to discuss the $135 million East-West Rail project and the inclusion of Palmer as a stop on the line linking Pittsfield and Boston, according to a WGGB/WSHM report. Springfield and Worcester are already stops on the planned line.
“Everybody knows about Springfield,” Massachusetts State Senator Jake Oliveira said during a Nov. 20 meeting, according to the media outlet. “And Union Station, and the success of Union Station from North-South and soon to be West-East. But Palmer is an essential stop for economic growth because of its proximity to the five colleges. You know, University of Massachusetts, one of the largest employers in our region with tens of thousands of students, having a stop here in Palmer is essential for them to get to link up to the West-East Rail line.”
With construction anticipated to begin by spring 2027, Sen. Oliveira said a decision about Palmer needs to be made soon, according to WGGB/WSHM.
“The administration and the legislature is committed to making this a reality,” said Oliveira, according to the media outlet. “It’s my hope that within the next decade we are going to be having commuter rail lines and people jumping on to the stop here in Palmer, going to Boston and vice versa, coming back. I don’t think is that far off.”
MBTA on Nov. 21 reported completing track work on the Red Line between the JFK/UMass and Park Street stations. Shuttle buses replaced service between these stations during the evenings from Nov. 14-16 and all day during the weekend of Nov. 18-19.
“Each step we take to repair our infrastructure is the building block for rebuilding public trust and restoring the level of service that the public deserves,” MBTA General Manager and CEO Phillip Eng said. “The MBTA is proud to have completed this critical work, removing nine speed restrictions on the Red Line, which is three more than we set out to remove. Part of this success is the collaborative coordination between contracted work and our growing in-house Maintenance-of-Way staff. I know that we have many challenges ahead, but this reconfirms a new way of doing business at the MBTA to safely improve our tracks and infrastructure and providing a faster, more reliable ride for the public.”
According to MBTA, fewer than 10 miles of Red Line track is now speed restricted—a first since March 8 when the MBTA first initiated slow zones systemwide. The early access and weekend diversion, the authority said, allowed crews to replace more than 2,000 feet of rail and 115 ties on the Red Line, “improving reliability as the MBTA incorporated state of good repair work as part of the planned work.” The authority reported alleviating six speed restrictions in this area between South Station and JFK/UMass. It also “maximized the unencumbered access to the track area” by alleviating another three restrictions near Downtown Crossing Station and by performing a variety of in-station work. The work included new and cleaned signage within tunnel areas; restoration and sanding of platform benches at Broadway, Andrew and South stations; new rubber flooring on the stairway at Broadway; painting at Broadway and Andrew; and fixing platform tripping hazards at South Station.
In a related development, MBTA earlier this month released its Capital Needs Assessment and Inventory, which estimated that approximately $24.5 billion is needed to support the existing network’s state of good repair.
The MTA on Nov. 21 reported upgrading mobile connectivity for LIRR riders. Improved cellular service is now available for AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon subscribers at Grand Central Madison (GCM) and its tunnels, and at Atlantic Terminal, Jamaica Station and tunnels between Atlantic Terminal and Jamaica Station. According to the MTA, which partnered with Boingo Wireless on the project, the expanded cellular service covers approximately 30 miles of right of way and features 5G and LTE coverage; it is complemented by free public Wi-Fi at Atlantic Terminal, Jamaica Station and GCM.
“Wireless connectivity is key to a 21st century transit system,” MTA Construction & Development President Jamie Torres-Springer said. “We are improving the system every day with capital investments and public-private partnerships in technology to respond to changing rider needs and expectations. With this added connectivity, we are closer to full wireless service in our system.”
“Fast, secure connectivity is essential to New York’s transportation systems and the MTA, LIRR and Boingo have worked together to give riders next generation communications infrastructure,” Boingo CEO Mike Finley said. “Boingo creates wireless technologies across carrier cell services and Wi-Fi to provide a seamless and enjoyable connected public transportation experience, as well as streamline transit operations and enhance network security.”
According to the MTA, Boingo networks for LIRR are built and managed at no cost to the MTA and are designed to generate long-term revenue for the MTA.
Also on Nov. 21, the MTA reported completing an elevator project at the 7th Avenue subway station on the F and G lines in Brooklyn. With the installation of three elevators—one that takes customers from the street level to the station mezzanine and two that take them from the mezzanine to the platforms—the station is now fully accessible.
The installed elevators include a new fire alarm system, smoke and heat detectors, and cameras inside the elevator cabs, according to the MTA. Additionally, each elevator is equipped with an emergency two-way communication system that allows riders to communicate with dispatchers in the event of an emergency via standard voice communications or visually by answering on-screen questions. MTA said this improves communication for riders with hearing or speech disabilities.
To support the elevators, a new platform ADA boarding area was installed and tactile strips were placed along the entire length of both platforms. At the 7th Avenue entrance, the hallway floor connecting the fare arrays and the mezzanine elevators was regraded to meet ADA standards, and the corridor includes new mosaic artwork commissioned by MTA Arts & Design, which also lines the mezzanine walls at the 8th Avenue entrance.
This project was funded by a Federal Transit Administration grant and completed as part of a design-build package of eight stations throughout the subway system, the first such bundle undertaken by MTA Construction & Development, the MTA said. The remaining stations from that bundle will open later this year.
“This was a long time coming,” MTA Chair and CEO Janno Lieber said. “Over the years, the Park Slope community has pushed hard to make this station accessible, and we have delivered with three brand new elevators.”
“Newly accessible stations like 7th Avenue are the fruits of our efforts to execute projects more efficiently through innovative delivery methods like project bundling,” MTA Construction & Development’s Torres-Springer said.
“Before this station became accessible, a subway rider who uses a wheelchair or caregiver with a child in a stroller would have to travel extra stops or plan a complicated route with buses or back-riding, instead of getting off at their destination,” MTA Chief Accessibility Officer Quemuel Arroyo said. “This is what we mean when we talk about closing those gaps in the system with accessible stations. These elevators now close that gap, ensuring Park Slope residents, and everyone who works, goes to school, or shops in this neighborhood can take that same subway trip as every other rider.”
According to the MTA, its pace in awarding contracts for accessible projects is five times what it was before 2020. MTA awarded contracts for 13 stations in 2020, 10 stations in 2021, 13 stations in 2022, and previously announced its plan to award contracts for 16 stations by the end of this year.
MTA said there are 145 accessible stations and 27 stations in construction for accessibility upgrades, five of which are expected to be complete by the end of 2023.
The 2020-24 MTA Capital Plan includes an investment of $5.2 billion to make 67 subway stations ADA accessible. Additionally, the MTA said it is delivering accessibility projects at an “unprecedented pace,” completing 24 ADA stations since 2020, which is double the number of ADA stations completed in the previous six years.
“Still not sure which platform to stand on? Look up!” SCVTA is telling light rail riders. Digital displays at the end-of-the-line stations—Alum Rock, Mountain View, Santa Teresa, and Winchester—now show the platform number for the next departing train (see image below).
The information on the display shows the next departing train(s) with the corresponding platform number making it easier for riders.
Riders can also look down for wayfinding help, as these stations offer floor decals that are color coded to indicate the light rail line as well as the platform number (see photograph, left).
TransLink’s Transit-Friendly Employer (TFE) program, which launched last year, has certified 28 local organizations as transit-friendly employers, which subsidize at least 50% of the cost of an employee’s transit pass, while employees pay the remainder. Large companies, with more than 200 staffers, need to sign up at least 10% of employees; for smaller employers, a minimum 25% of employees must enroll.
According to TransLink, these 28 employers have collectively provided nearly 7,000 subsidized transit passes to employees in the region. Among the 12 organizations certified this fall were Vancouver Coastal Health, Grouse Mountain, Canfor, Vivreau Canada, and Rivian Automotive.
“TFE recognizes leading local employers with a certification stamp for supporting transit and contributing to a cleaner environment,” according to TransLink. “For employers, providing subsidized transit passes to employees helps organizations increase their recruitment and retention. The TFE program also helps make employee travel easy, affordable and climate friendly.”
“We’re encouraged to see more local companies joining the transit-friendly movement,” said Kevin Quinn, CEO of TransLink. “By partnering with leading organizations, we’ve helped provide transit options for 7,000 employees across the region. TransLink will continue working with organizations around metro Vancouver to reduce our collective carbon footprint by providing innovative solutions such as the Transit-Friendly Employer Program.”
“We consider this transit subsidy program not only an investment in our people, but also an investment in the health of our planet,” said Stacy Sprague, Executive Director at Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH). “It supports employee retention, recruitment and well-being. As a values-based organization, this initiative aligns with our commitment to planetary health and to caring for our staff and medical staff, as well as the people we serve throughout the VCH region.”