Transit Briefs: Metrolink, RTD, CTA, NJ Transit, Austin’s Project Connect, NYMTAWritten by Carolina Worrell, Senior Editor
Metrolink’s new Arrow service will begin on Oct. 24 following a ribbon-cutting ceremony. Also, the Regional Transportation District (RTD) announces two zero fare days to encourage voter participation; the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) completes more than 80% of work outlined in its Refresh & Renew program; NJ Transit reaches agreement to fix issues at five stations on the Northeast Corridor (NEC); Austin’s Project Connect is back in the public eye; and Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) New York City Transit (NYCT) leadership ensures public safety announcements are being made.
Following a ribbon-cutting ceremony, which is set to take place at Metrolink’s historic Redlands–Downtown Station on Oct. 21, the new Arrow service is scheduled to begin on Monday, Oct. 24, the San Bernardino County Transportation Authority (SBCTA) and Metrolink recently announced.
Featuring new tracks, enhanced street crossings, quiet zones and five stations along the nine-mile route between downtown San Bernardino and downtown Redlands, Arrow “has been more than a decade in the making,” Metrolink says. Bringing state-of-the-art clean-air rail technology to one of the world’s busiest transportation corridors, Arrow “will transform how passenger rail is operated in the Inland Empire and across the state.”
According to Metrolink, Arrow’s operator, the new service will connect the East Valley of San Bernardino County to a multi-modal transit hub that can provide access to all points west. Five new stations will connect residents, businesses and visitors to a variety of leisure, education, healthcare and other destinations. The stations include San Bernardino–Downtown Station located at Rialto Avenue and E Street, San Bernardino–Tippecanoe Station located between Victoria Avenue and Hardt Street, Redland –Esri Station across from the Esri campus, Redlands–Downtown Station just north of the historic Redlands Santa Fe Depot, and Redlands–University Station at the south end of campus.
“The launch of Arrow signals the next generation of passenger rail service across our region,” said Art Bishop, President of the SBCTA Board and Mayor pro Tem of the Town of Apple Valley. “This clean-air service will help to improve air quality while providing direct access to the Metrolink system for tens of thousands of additional riders in one of the fastest-growing population and economic centers in the nation.”
Arrow schedule and fare information can be found here. For more information riders can text or call Metrolink at (800) 371-5465 or submit an email through its Customer Service webpage.
“The launch of Arrow is monumental for both San Bernardino County and the Southern California region,” Metrolink Board Vice-Chair and SBCTA Board Member Larry McCallon said. “The effort of SBCTA and Metrolink to complete a project of this magnitude is tremendous. By extending passenger rail service to Redlands with new, modern and eco-friendly trains, the agencies are fulfilling commitments to not only provide Southern California residents with greater regional rail connectivity, but also meet California’s aggressive climate-improvement goals.”
The ribbon-cutting invite and information about continued train testing is available here.
The Secretary of State’s Office and RTD, which serves eight counties in the Denver metro area, announced on Oct. 18 two zero fare days to “encourage voter participation in the upcoming general election.” In recognition of National Vote Early Day and General Election Day, RTD says its services will be available at no cost to all users on Friday, Oct. 28, and Tuesday, Nov. 8.
This effort, in partnership with the Colorado Secretary of State’s Office, “encourages voter turnout in the RTD region and removes a cost barrier for people to travel by bus or train to cast their ballot,” the agency said.
“I am pleased that this year, RTD will have two fare free days to provide voters another accessible way to return their ballot,” said Secretary Jena Griswold. “I thank RTD, Colorado’s largest transit agency, for their partnership in making it even more accessible to vote in Colorado.”
“While data shows that mail ballot voting has significantly increased voter turnout in Colorado, providing systemwide zero fare transit access on general election days further reduces barriers to polling places,” said RTD General Manager and CEO Debra A. Johnson. “With this initiative, the playing field is being leveled so that registered voters can exercise their constitutional right.”
Colorado voters can find their nearest ballot drop box or voting center here, and can use RTD’s trip planner to find the best route to get there. This year, a record 411 drop boxes and over 350 voting centers will be available for Colorado voters by Oct. 24. Some locations will open prior to Oct. 24 and voters can look up their locations, opening date and hours here.
CTA announced on Oct. 18 that it has completed more than 80% of the work outlined in its Refresh & Renew station and facility maintenance program, allowing the agency to remain on track to complete $3.5 million in state improvements by the end of the year. The outlined work includes nearly 30 rail stations scheduled to receive extensive improvements, and more than 90 stations slated to receive painting and lighting improvements this year.
Work performed as part of Refresh & Renew program, which the agency rolled out in May 2021, CTA says, “not only improves the customer experience, but is also an investment in CTA employees by providing a safe and comfortable transit experience–key pillars of the recently unveiled ‘Meeting the Moment: Transforming CTA’s Post-Pandemic Future’– a multi-pronged Action Plan for improving rider experiences to “ensure that public transportation is the first choice of travel throughout the region.”
“As the CTA celebrates its 75th year of operation, important and critical investments such as this help ensure that we are good stewards to the communities we serve,” said CTA President Dorval R. Carter, Jr. “Not only does routine maintenance help prolong the life of our facilities for decades to come, but it also lends the opportunity to make improvements that create a safer transit environment for both our customers and employees.”
According to CTA, throughout 2022, Refresh & Renew crews have been performing extensive improvement work valued at $2.1 million. Among the internal and external improvements made at 23 of 28 rail stations are:
- Power washing of entire facility.
- Graffiti removal.
- Re-painting of painted surfaces.
- Converting the entire facility to new, brighter and more efficient LED lighting.
- Removal of obstructions from windows for improved natural light and line of sight.
- Repair of facility surfaces, such as cracked or crumbling concrete.
- Replacement of outdated and damaged/faded signage.
According to the agency, crews are on track to complete all remaining work by year’s end, which includes the remaining five stations receiving extensive improvements, as well as the remaining 17 (of 92) stations slated to receive $1.4 million in painting and lighting improvements. Customers at the affected stations will be notified of work ahead of time via signage at each location a few days before work begins, while work is occurring and following the completion of work. More information on the Refresh & Renew project is available here.
According to a NJ.com report, NJ Transit has reached an agreement with the U.S. Attorney’s office to fix issues at five stations on the NEC that “don’t meet federal standards for access by people with mobility, visual or hearing issues.”
According to the NJ.com report, the U.S. Attorney’s office identified violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) at NJ Transit’s Newark Penn, Princeton Junction, MetroPark, Trenton and New Brunswick stations, but the agreement, which was announced by U.S. Attorney Philip R. Sellinger on Oct. 18, will allow the agency to avoid court action to get the repair work done. NJ Transit officials said that work has been done to make the stations accessible and that only “minor repairs remain,” NJ.com reported.
“In ways large and small, people with disabilities were denied full access to transportation services–whether it was the lack of access to restrooms, no signs, bad ramps, poor access to elevators, or that parking spaces were just too small for those who needed wheelchair access,” Sellinger said in a statement.
“Through this resolution, we are holding NJ Transit to its obligation to provide accessible transportation services to all,” he said. “To their credit, NJ Transit has swiftly recognized these deficiencies and already begun to bring its intercity rail stations into compliance with the ADA.”
According to the NJ.com report, repairs identified include both small fixes, such as providing raised character/braille signage and more complex repairs to curbs or platforms, which “require engineering and architectural review,” said NJ Transit spokesman Jim Smith.
Under the agreement, NJ Transit “agreed to modify multiple facilities at the five stations, including making physical modifications to station platforms, waiting areas, parking lots and restrooms,” according to the NJ.com report.
“Approximately half of the issues have been remediated, and the remaining are either underway or in planning and design,” Smith said.
According to Smith, and as reported by NJ.com, the agency began working on remedying the ADA issues when it was contacted by the U.S. Attorney in early 2021.
“We moved quickly to implement remedies and add repairs to our capital improvement plans,” Smith said. “Notably, the stations identified are currently accessible.”
According to the NJ.com report, several stations, including New Brunswick, Newark Penn Station, and MetroPark “needed platform work to make abrupt level changes between sections of concrete platforms to make them uniform in height, so passengers in wheelchairs could travel over them easier and riders with canes or walkers didn’t trip.”
In all five stations, according to the NJ.com report, height changes were needed to facilities items, such as ticket, service and information window counter tops, while some stations needed restrooms fixed to make them wheelchair accessible. Others required the addition of infrastructure barriers that could be detected by a visually impaired persons’ cane and signs in braille.
The agreement, NJ.com reports, also requires adding 27 additional handicapped parking spaces in three lots at the Princeton Junction station. Trenton Transit Center, MetroPark, Princeton Junction and Newark needed curb or ramp modifications. Princeton Junction was singled out for work on wheelchair access ramps and installation of better handrails on them.
According to the NJ.com report, several of the stations are scheduled to receive major upgrades through a state-funded program that allocated $814 million for NJ Transit projects in the fiscal year 2023 state budget that started on July 1. “Some of the ADA work could be part of those projects,” the report adds.
“Included in $191 million in funding for the continued restoration and rehabilitation of Newark’s Penn Station over five years, a project announced by Murphy on Dec. 9, 2020, is refurbishing restrooms and escalators, conversion of freight elevators for passenger use and work on station platforms,” NJ.com reported, adding that the New Brunswick station is scheduled to received $49 million worth of work, including improvements to the station’s elevator and escalator systems and extending the eastbound platform, in addition to other work.
Austin’s Project Connect
In December 2020, Railway Age reported that the $7.1 billion Project Connect bus and rail transit improvement initiative in Austin, Tex., was moving forward after receiving a $900,000 grant from the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) for transit-oriented development planning and anti-displacement efforts. The grant followed an overwhelming voter approval of the project, which includes three new light rail lines (21-mile Orange, 15-mile Blue and 9.5-mile Gold); two additional commuter rail stations along the MetroRail Red Line, which extends from downtown Austin to Leander; a new 27-mile MetroRail Green Line, which would connect neighborhoods east of central Austin to downtown; and a new light rail tunnel in the downtown area.
Now, with project costs soaring, transit officials in Austin are “looking at ways to revise the city’s marquee transit expansion effort–including possibly paring down planned subways in downtown Austin,” according to a report by news outlet Axios Austin.
According to the Axios Austin report, Project Connect is “still slated to tie Austin together, though planners are looking at adjusting light-rail lines at street-grade through downtown as part of a wider project review.”
Cost estimates for two light rail lines (Orange Line and Blue Line), according to the Axios Austin report, have increased from $5.8 billion to $10.3 billion, due to “soaring real estate expenses,” with budget estimates for right-of-way for the two rail lines jumping from $250 million to $1.19 billion; inflation spikes driving up the cost of construction materials; and changes in the project’s scope, with the estimates for a downtown subway tunnel jumping from $2 billion to $4.1 billion, “as the length has more than doubled due to engineering and other factors, such as the incline of the hill heading into South Austin.”
“Transit planners have a ‘working expectation’ of no new tax increases, a Project Connect officer wrote in a memo addressed to the Austin City Council and the board of transportation agency Cap Metro,” Axios Austin reported.
“If costs are going up and revenues are staying the same, we have to have an adult, open conversation about what that means,” Bill McCamley, Executive Director of Transit Forward, a nonprofit that promotes Project Connect, told Axios Austin.
According to the Axios Austin report, Director Greg Canally, Interim Executive Director of the Austin Transit Partnership, set up by the City of Austin and Cap Metro to design, finance and build Project Connect, confirmed to the news outlet that “engineers are re-examining the subway portions of the project—as part of a much wider technical review.”
“This is the right time to deal with this stuff, not later, not when construction contracts are in place,” Canally says. “We want to put in place the light-rail vision Austin voted on while living within our budget.”
“We’ve made no decisions yet,” Canally said regarding what changes might be made.
“Subways are really expensive,” McCamley added. “If we scale [the subway] back we can use more money to lay out [the most] track.”
Transit engineers “are looking at what’s possible, what are the levers we can control to get the biggest bang for the buck, while avoiding disruption for drivers and others,” McCamley said.
According to the Axios Austin report, “besides potentially scratching or shortening underground tunnels, planners could pare down the Lady Bird Lake crossings from two to one,” Canally and McCamley stated.
According to the Axios Austin report, Austin Transit Partnership officials “will continue to ask for public input in coming months.”
“Everything’s on the table right now,” McCamley said
Leaders from MTA NYCT were in the subway system on Oct. 18 “to ensure public safety announcements are being made live by conductors onboard trains,” the agency reported. NYCT President Richard Davey rode the Lexington Avenue Line from Bowling Green to 14 St-Union Square Station with NYCT SVP of Subways Demetrius Crichlow to check in with riders, train crews and NYPD officers. When a train pulls into a station, the conductor alerts passengers when an officer is onboard and where officers can be found on station platforms.
“If you’re on a 10-car train, it’s incredibly difficult to see if a police officer is on a platform. With these announcements, subway riders can now know that an officer is at a station or on their train,” said Davey. “I think that it certainly will prevent crime, make sure that people feel safe, and that people are safe.”
According to the MTA, the onboard subway announcements are another tool the agency, in collaboration with NYPD, are using “to deter crime and assist customers in need of law enforcement.” Consistent with strategies announced earlier this year by Gov. Hochul and Mayor Adams, the MTA says NYPD “deployed hundreds of additional officers to increase visibility throughout the subway system.”