Transit Briefs: NJT/Amtrak, MBTA, Caltrain, Brightline

Written by Marybeth Luczak, Executive Editor
The Portal North Bridge crossing the Hackensack River in the New Jersey Meadowlands is 50% complete, NJT and Amtrak reported May 13. (Photo Credit: Amtrak/Marc Glucksman and William Kyle Anderson)

The Portal North Bridge crossing the Hackensack River in the New Jersey Meadowlands is 50% complete, NJT and Amtrak reported May 13. (Photo Credit: Amtrak/Marc Glucksman and William Kyle Anderson)

New Jersey Transit (NJT) and Amtrak’s Portal North Bridge project on the Northeast Corridor is 50% complete. Also, Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) advances Red Line track work, removing 13 speed restrictions; Caltrain launches Bay Area transit “discord server”; and Assured Guaranty Municipal Corporation insures $1.134 billion of bonds for Brightline, Florida’s private-sector passenger railroad.

NJT / Amtrak

The Portal North Bridge crossing the Hackensack River in the New Jersey Meadowlands is 50% complete, NJT and Amtrak reported May 13. The companies will share bridge operations and maintenance once it’s completed in 2027.

The new bridge is replacing a mechanical-trouble-plagued swing bridge built by Pennsylvania Railroad in 1910. The Skanska/Traylor Bros Joint Venture, under a $1.56 billion contract, is building the new bridge as a two-track fixed span that rises 50 feet over the river, allowing maritime traffic to pass underneath without interrupting rail traffic.

The Portal North project spans 2.44 miles of the Northeast Corridor line and includes construction of retaining walls, deep foundations, concrete piers, structural steel bridge spans, rail systems, demolition of the existing bridge, and related incidental works. It is one component of the larger Gateway Program, which will eventually double rail capacity between Newark, N.J., and New York.

The project is being funded by the U.S. Department of Transportation, New Jersey, New York, and Amtrak. In January 2021, NJT received a Full Funding Grant Agreement, securing $766.5 million from the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) to support construction. 

“Today [May 13], NJ TRANSIT CEO joined Acting NJDOT Commissioner and NJT Board Chair Fran O’Connor, @Amtrak Chairman Tony Coscia, @FTA_DOT, @USDOTFRA, GDC, & NJ’s Congressional Delegation to celebrate 50% completion of the new Portal North Bridge,” NJT reported via social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter. (Photograph Courtesy of NJT)

“The Portal North Bridge Project stands as a testament to collaboration towards a common goal:  Enhancing the region’s transportation network and ensuring that people can seamlessly access New Jersey, New York, and beyond by train,” said FTA Regional Administrator Michael Culotta, whose agency provided $926 million in federal grants for the project. “The Federal Transit Administration is committed to improving transit access for everyone who uses the Northeast Corridor.”

“Less than two years after officially breaking ground in August 2022, NJT is pleased to be able to demonstrate that mega-projects in the Northeast can be advanced on-time and on budget,” NJT President and CEO Kevin S. Corbett said.

“With 50% of construction complete, Portal North Bridge serves as the shining example for what Amtrak and its partners can accomplish when we have the investments, partnerships and commitment to build the new era of America’s rail infrastructure projects,” Amtrak Board Chair Tony Coscia said.

In a related development, the Gateway Development Commission recently submitted all documents required by the FTA to reach a Full Funding Grant Agreement for $6.88 billion in Capital Investment Grants funding for the Hudson Tunnel Project, another component of the Gateway Program.


MBTA on May 13 reported completing “critical“ track work on the Red Line allowing the agency to lift 13 safety-related speed restrictions. To accomplish this work, Red Line service was replaced with shuttle buses daily between Park Street and JFK/UMass stations from May 2-10. Evening Red Line service was also suspended between Park Street and Ashmont stations from May 2-9. 

(MBTA Map)

With unencumbered access to Red Line stations, crews accomplished the following work:

  • Replaced approximately 11,500 feet of rail.
  • Replaced over 1,500 ties.
  • Replaced approximately 11,400 plates.
  • Approximately 22,750 feet of track was surfaced and tamped.
  • Among the work by the MBTA’s Maintenance of Way team:
    • Added screw spikes near Andrew.
    • Replaced plates in the track curve area between South Station and Broadway and regauged approximately 1,200 feet of track.
    • Regauged the crossover track area at Broadway.
    • Replaced switch stock rail and four 39-foot lengths of rail.
    • Replaced rail at South Station (northbound).
    • Welded the special crossover frog track at the South Station and Ashmont crossover track areas. 
  • Performed overhead inspections of the platform and lobby areas at Downtown Crossing and Broadway with areas of note to be addressed.
  • Performed security improvements at JFK/UMass.
  • Completed tunnel inspections of the Red Line tunnel between Broadway and JFK/UMass.
  • Completed critical ceiling repairs and fireproofing work at Downtown Crossing. Importantly, this work was able to be successfully accomplished thanks to the unencumbered access to this area during the multi-day Red Line outage and would not have been able to be accomplished during overnight periods alone.
  • Removed approximately 180 square feet of glass panels at Ashmont and replaced with new glass panels to improve the customer experience.
  • Relocated Downtown Crossing signal equipment in the mezzanine area, including rewiring power connections, removing defunct equipment, and recommissioning all new equipment.
  • Performed power improvements as needed, including removing feeder cable as part of the Red Line Cable Replacement Project.
  • Among the work by the MBTA’s Signals team:
    • Supported work to improve approximately 30 track circuits and removed over 15 WEZE bonds.
    • Drilled 20 new holes for WEZE bond installation and replaced six damaged WEZE bonds.
    • Removed and reinstalled approximately 4,000 feet of cable to support rail replacements.
    • Completed switch replacement work at Broadway, Fields Corner, and Shawmut.
Crews worked in critical track areas during the May Red Line service diversion at MBTA. (Complimentary Photo by the MBTA Customer and Employee Experience Department)

As a result of this critical work, the following safety-related speed restrictions are no longer in place:

Speed Restriction NumberRestriction Information and LocationStatus
1.    567513Northbound between Andrew and BroadwayRemoved
2.    000119 Northbound between South Station to Downtown CrossingRemoved
3.    565099Southbound between South Station to BroadwayRemoved
4.    000118Northbound between Broadway and South StationRemoved
5.    523832Southbound between Broadway and AndrewRemoved
6.    526513Southbound between Broadway and AndrewRemoved
7.    523867Southbound between Broadway and AndrewRemoved
8.    523870Southbound between Broadway and AndrewRemoved
9.    000115Northbound between Broadway and AndrewRemoved
10.    000138Northbound at BroadwayRemoved
11.    000137Northbound between Andrew and BroadwayRemoved
12.    000141Northbound between Broadway and AndrewRemoved
13.    000142Southbound at Broadway and AndrewRemoved
(Courtesy of MBTA)

Various other in-station work also took place along the Red Line, including: 

  • Painting doors, sign frames, and fences.
  • Door repairs.
  • Concrete repairs at Downtown Crossing.
  • Repaired gates at the right of way areas at Downtown Crossing.
  • Repaired bike racks and fencing at JFK/UMass.
  • The replacement of eight stairways at Downtown Crossing, including replacing stair treads, flooring replacement, resecuring handrails, concrete repairs, deck patching, and more. 
  • Powerwashing between Downtown Crossing and Andrew.
  • Cleaned and rehabilitated restrooms areas.
  • Cleaning work throughout the shutdown area.
  • Waste receptacle replacements.
  • Pump room, plumbing, and HVAC maintenance and repairs.
  • Cleaning and replacement of mile markers.
  • Installing/replacing station signage, including system maps, throughout the shutdown area.

In other MBTA news, the Transport Workers Union of America secures a contract that raises wages for its commuter rail workers in Boston.


(Screenshot of Bay Area Transit Discord Server)

Caltrain on May 11 launched the Bay Area Transit Discord Server, an online community that it said will help keep current and potential riders informed and engaged. 

The “Discord Project” is housing service alerts from all the major Bay Area transit agencies—BART (San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit District), VTA (Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority), AC Transit, WETA, Caltrain, and SamTrans, according to Caltrain. Participating agencies will have representatives active on the platform to engage with their respective riders. All members of the public can join by clicking here. In the first 48 hours of operation, more than 1,200 people signed up.

Caltrain said that an events tab will list both in-person and virtual events for each agency. Additionally, the server will allow transit users to interact with one another, share photos and discuss transit policy. Later this year, press releases and blog posts from participating agencies will auto-post, so riders can stay up to date. 

“As a rail service serving Silicon Valley, Caltrain has never shied away from innovation,” Caltrain Executive Director Michelle Bouchard said. “Our presence on Discord will help to create an online community of transit riders, bringing us into a new era of social media as we prepare to enter a new era of train travel.”

Meanwhile, Caltrain, with partners Pacific Gas & Electric Company and Balfour Beatty US, have energized and tested the OCS (overhead contact system, or catenary) on the entire 51-mile Caltrain Electrification Project between San Francisco and San Jose. Electrification, Balfour Beatty reported on May 14, is “substantially complete.” Testing the system’s 23 Stadler Rail-built EMUs (electric multiple-units) at maximum operating speed (79 mph) and preparing for electrified revenue service, expected to commence in September 2024, is under way. 


Map Courtesy of Brightline

Assured Guaranty Municipal Corporation reported insuring $1.134 billion of “senior revenue bonds, Brightline Trains Florida LLC Issue, Series 2024 (Tax-Exempt), issued by the Florida Development Finance Corporation” on May 9. The bonds, it said, are part of a $2.219 billion issue of fixed-rate revenue bonds that priced on April 25.

“By insuring a majority of the senior bonds, Assured Guaranty’s participation helped drive a highly successful execution by Morgan Stanley in placing this debt,” said Lorne Potash, Managing Director, Infrastructure Finance, Americas, at Assured Guaranty Municipal Corporation. “Brightline is the first private-sector passenger rail system built in the U.S. in over a century and this transaction further demonstrates the value investors place on Assured Guaranty’s extensive due diligence and financial guaranty as it insured $1.134 billion of senior debt.”

“Assured Guaranty has unrivaled capacity and transaction experience to guarantee municipal bonds and infrastructure financings,” said Sam Nakhleh, Director, Infrastructure Finance, Americas, at Assured Guaranty Municipal Corporation. “We were pleased to help bring this important transaction to market.”

The bonds “will be fully amortizing after an initial interest only period,” according to Assured Guaranty Municipal Corporation. The company said it insured term bonds of: $326,500,000 due in 2044, $213,180,000 due in 2047, and $593,910,000 due in 2053. The total insured par was $1,133,590,000 out of a total issuance of $2,219,280,000, it noted.

Morgan Stanley served as sole book-running manager for the transaction. Hogan Lovells served as Assured Guaranty Municipal Corporation’s legal counsel.

Brightline covers 235 miles between Miami and Orlando (see map, top). It launched the first phase of its South Florida operations in 2018, connecting Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach. Stations in Boca Raton and Aventura opened in 2022. Construction of its 170-mile, $6 billion phase two extension from West Palm Beach to Orlando began in 2019 and service launched in September 2023.

Separately, Brightline has ended its monthly pass program.

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