Transit Briefs: MARTA, MBTA, Metrolinx, NYMTA, RTA, Sound Transit

Written by Marybeth Luczak, Executive Editor
The Georgia Department of Transportation’s recent safety audit of MARTA has found “a strong commitment to safety and no major safety gaps or concerns,” the transit authority reported on Dec. 8.

The Georgia Department of Transportation’s recent safety audit of MARTA has found “a strong commitment to safety and no major safety gaps or concerns,” the transit authority reported on Dec. 8.

Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA) undergoes the Georgia Department of Transportation’s (GDOT) 2022 Triennial Safety Audit. Also, Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) celebrates “substantial completion” of the first of two construction contracts for its South Coast Rail Phase I project; a contractor-targeted opening date for the long-delayed Eglinton Crosstown LRT, one of four light rail projects in the Greater Toronto Hamilton Area, may be “overly ambitious,” according to a Metrolinx report obtained by the Toronto Star; New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) in early 2023 will begin phasing in a new role for subway station agents; Regional Transportation Authority of Northeastern Illinois (RTA) releases a draft strategic plan; and Sound Transit’s Downtown Redmond (Wash.) Link Extension has earned an award from the Institute for Sustainable Infrastructure.

GDOT’s recent safety audit of MARTA has found “a strong commitment to safety and no major safety gaps or concerns,” the transit authority reported on Dec. 8. The audit examined MARTA’s heavy and light rail departments, including operations and maintenance; training and communications; and equipment, structures and signals.

“As required by the Federal Transit Administration (FTA), MARTA maintains and regularly updates an Agency Safety Plan and that plan, along with Authority safety procedures and practices are audited every three years through GDOT’s State Safety Oversight (SSO) program,” according to MARTA. “This year’s findings show a significant improvement in safety practices in all areas, with only 20 deficiencies and 16 areas of concern identified, compared to close to 100 such findings during the previous audit in 2019. A deficiency is defined as an item that doesn’t meet the established safety criteria; an area of concern partially meets that criteria.”

MARTA reported that the audit found “minimal public safety issues, the most pressing being loose pavers on a walkway at Brookhaven rail station, which is currently being addressed. Examples of other deficiencies include irregular monthly fire extinguisher inspections and an unsecured parking lot panel access door at Lindbergh rail station. The areas of concern identified include no public-facing safety issues; a locked fire extinguisher cabinet at Avondale Rail Yard among the dozen or so items that can be easily remediated.”

The transit authority said it will review the audit findings this month and generate a Corrective Action Plan (CAP) for each item needing attention.

“MARTA takes a collaborative approach to managing safety, [as] everybody has an important role to play,” MARTA Chief Safety and Quality Assurance Officer Ralph McKinney said. “This allows us to better control risk, quickly detect and correct safety issues, and more precisely measure safety performance.”

“We successfully addressed and closed every item identified in the previous audit and we will approach these most recent findings with the same commitment,” MARTA General Manager and CEO Collie Greenwood said.

Gov. Charlie Baker, MassDOT Secretary Jamey Tesler, and MBTA General Manager Steve Poftak were joined by elected leaders and community partners to celebrate the substantial completion of the $159 million contract for South Coast Rail Main Line construction at a ribbon-cutting event at the brand-new Freetown Commuter Rail Station. (Caption and Photograph Courtesy of MBTA)

MBTA on Dec. 8 reported holding a ribbon-cutting ceremony celebrating “substantial completion” of the $159 million construction contract for its South Coast Rail Phase I project. South Coast Rail Phase 1 will extend the existing MBTA Middleborough/Lakeville commuter rail service from Boston to southeastern Massachusetts (see map below). It will bring service to the Taunton, Fall River and New Bedford communities through the extension of a secondary rail line west to Taunton (from the existing Middleborough/Lakeville Commuter Rail station), and the creation of the Fall River Secondary Line and New Bedford Main Line.

The contract, one of two for Phase 1 construction, was awarded to Skanska DW White JV in May 2020 for the Fall River Secondary Line. It includes building the Freetown and Fall River stations, plus the all-new Weaver’s Cove layover facility; upgrades and modernization of more than 12 miles of track that were previously used for freight; and work on nine bridges, 11 culverts and 10 grade crossings. According to MBTA, final work is now being performed in preparation for passenger service; this includes installation of signal boxes along the right of way and other signal work as well as a testing and commissioning process of all new equipment by contractor crews, MBTA and commuter rail operator Keolis.

A second $403.5 million major construction contract was awarded in August 2020 to SCR Constructors JV to build the New Bedford Line; upgrade the Middleborough Secondary; build stations in East Taunton and Middleborough and two in New Bedford; and construct a layover facility and the Phase 1 signal and communication systems. Once this work is substantially complete, MBTA reported, the South Coast Rail project will begin the commissioning process, with Phase 1 expected to begin passenger service by late 2023.

The event at Freetown Station also featured four of MBTA’s new bi-level commuter rail coaches, 16 of which are being procured in support of South Coast Rail. (Caption and Photograph Courtesy of MBTA)

The December event also featured state, Massachusetts Department of Transportation, and MBTA officials riding four of MBTA’s new bi-level coaches, 16 of which are being procured in support of South Coast Rail as part of the $278.5 million contract awarded in December 2019 for 80 Hyundai-Rotem bi-level coaches. The first four of the new bi-level pilot coaches were delivered in June 2022. A second set of four were received in July, a third set in September, and a fourth set in November. The remaining cars will be delivered through summer 2024. The first coaches are anticipated to enter commuter rail service before the end of the year, with more coaches added on a rolling basis following the completion of qualification testing, according to MBTA.

Eglinton Crosstown LRT route

While the Eglinton Crosstown LRT builder, Crosslinx Transit Solutions, expects to finish the long-delayed project by March 2023, an internal Metrolinx performance report said that date is “overly ambitious,” according to the Toronto Star. Metrolinx said in the September 2022 report, obtained by the Star, that “Crosslinx Transit Solutions does not have a ‘credible plan’ to complete the LRT. It ascribed the ‘continuous slippage of the project’s plan’ to the ‘underperformance’ of Crosslinx,” the Star reported.

The 11.8-mile (19-kilometer) project (see map above) has been plagued with numerous construction delays, and as a result, relations between Metrolinx and the contractor have been strained, according to Railway Age Contributing Editor John Thompson, who reported in August on Metrolinx’s four light rail transit projects in the Greater Toronto Hamilton Area. Construction of the Eglinton Crosstown project started in 2011, with an expected launch date in 2020.

According to the Star, the Metrolinx September 2022 “documents give a detailed picture of the ongoing strife between the provincial agencies overseeing the project, Metrolinx and Infrastructure Ontario, and Crosslinx, the consortium made up of four construction and engineering companies.

“Crosslinx and Infrastructure Ontario did not respond to requests for comment by the Star. Metrolinx reiterated a statement it gave the Star in September, where it said it had expected the LRT to be up and running this fall, but Crosslinx fell behind schedule.”

The newpaper reported that in the internal documents, “Metrolinx said the testing of the entire system is lagging behind schedule. ‘The plan’s projection is extremely ambitious and (Crosslinx) has continuously failed to achieve the goals,’ the documents read.”

According to the Star, the documents said line construction and engineering is 98% complete; testing is 78.5% finished. Additionally, the Star reported that the documents said “the current approved budget is [C]$12.82 billion, up from [C]$12.24 billion in 2019.”

(Marc A. Hermann / MTA)

The New York MTA on Dec. 8 reported that New York City Transit subway station agents will be retrained in customer service roles and deployed outside booths. “In recognition of the changing environment at subway stations, station agents will shift from working exclusively in booths to performing core customer service functions throughout the station, including at turnstiles, MetroCard machines and on platforms,” according to MTA, which announced it had come to an agreement with the Transport Workers Union (TWU) Local 100 on the station agent role shift.

In their new role, station agents will provide customer support out-of-booth by helping riders with wayfinding; providing assistance to riders with disabilities and to seniors; providing assistance at fare machines; offering enhanced customer service during service disruptions and major planned changes; offering OMNY fare collection guidance and information, including conversion and use; reporting in a timely fashion any issues related to rider amenities, including elevators, escalators, digital signage, Help Points and turnstiles; maintaining a “safe and clean” environment for riders; and reporting of quality-of-life issues.

MTA said it will begin to phase in the new role in early 2023; training is currently under way.

“Improving the customer experience is a top priority across the MTA,” MTA acting Chief Customer Officer Shanifah Rieara said. “Improving the ability of station agents to be where customers are and enhance their experience throughout stations has been a long-standing goal of the MTA, and this unprecedented agreement responds to the changing needs of customers with the rollout of OMNY while maintaining these critical positions in the transit system.”

RTA on Dec. 5 released a draft 2023 regional transit strategic plan, “Transit is the Answer” (see above), which has been in development for more than a year. It outlines 14 key “Areas of Advocacy and Action” that were co-created with stakeholders to guide priorities in areas like funding, safety, speed and reliability, RTA reported, and identifies a number of actions that RTA, Chicago Transit Authority (CTA), Metra commuter rail and Pace bus service will work together on in 2023, including:

  • “Pursuing additional funding for transit operations, which is set to hit a funding cliff in 2026 that can’t be solved by raising fares or cutting service.” RTA reported that at the end of 2021, it completed allocation of $3.4 billion in federal relief funding provided to the region to help offset fare revenue losses from declining ridership due to the pandemic. Remaining federal relief funding is being used to balance the current budget but is projected to last through the third-quarter 2025. RTA, CTA, Metra, Pace and Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP) officials estimate that beginning in 2026, the system could face an annual budget gap of $730 million assuming current service levels are maintained region-wide, according to RTA. The group “evaluated 27 revenue options and identified 11 that have the potential to address gaps,” RTA reported. “Their findings show that there is no simple or singular funding solution; instead, the RTA will engage its partners and stakeholders to pursue a combination of available solutions to close the funding gap.”
  • “Convening a region-wide, cross-sector safety and security summit to facilitate information sharing and explore holistic solutions to the challenges affecting transit.”
  • “Seeking funding to pilot an expanded regional free or reduced fare program. …”
  • “Collaboratively beginning development of a regional transit climate action plan that identifies how transit can support the region’s climate action goals, outlines regional strategies that will encourage more people to ride transit, and charts a course to reduce the footprint of the transit system and move toward zero-emissions for transit operations.”

The draft is open for public comment through Jan. 9, and the RTA Board of Directors will vote on adoption on Feb. 16.

“The RTA releases a strategic plan every five years, but never before has the need been so significant and the opportunity so great,” RTA Executive Director Leanne Redden said. “Almost overnight, the COVID-19 pandemic changed public transportation systems across the nation, and we are all working on solutions that rise to the occasion. With ridership still not reaching pre-pandemic levels and federal relief dollars projected to run out at the end of 2025, we knew we needed to build a coalition to create a plan that addresses the needs of riders and maps out new ways to fund our unique system.”

Sound Transit Rendering of the Downtown Redmond Link Extension Project’s Marymoor Village Station Entrance.

The Institute for Sustainable Infrastructure (ISI) has awarded Sound Transit’s Downtown Redmond Link Extension project an Envision Platinum Award “for sustainable infrastructure for going above and beyond to deliver improvements to the social, economic and environmental conditions of its community,” Sound Transit reported on Dec. 8.

The 3.4-mile light rail project (see map, left) will add two new light rail stations in southeast Redmond: the Marymoor Village Station near Marymoor Park, and the Downtown Redmond station serving the residential and retail core. It also includes 1,400 parking stalls at the Marymoor Village Station. While the project was slated for completion in late 2024, Sound Transit said in August that “construction challenges may delay completion by four to six months.”  

The Downtown Redmond Link Extension is the first transit project in the Pacific Northwest to receive verification by ISI, according to the transit agency.

“Envision is an internationally recognized rating system for sustainable infrastructure projects,” Sound Transit reported. “This award is issued following a comprehensive independent peer-review process conducted and overseen by ISI that verified the project accomplishments. The evaluation assessed the project’s performance across 64 sustainability criteria addressing a wide range of indicators including: community, quality of life, management, planning, materials, energy, water, environmental impacts, emissions, and resilience.”

The transit agency said the award is the result of collaboration between the Sound Transit project team and Sustainability group, and the project’s Design Builder Stacy Witbeck/Kuney, a Joint Venture; Jacobs, the lead design team; and WSP, the project’s design-build project manager (DBPM).

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