Transit Briefs: OCTA, PRT, Amtrak/CHIPWritten by Carolina Worrell, Senior Editor
The Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA) and its contractor have begun work on the track stabilization project in south Orange County. Also, Pittsburgh Regional Transit (PRT) announces that light-rail vehicles and bus have resumed regular operations through the Mt. Washington Transit Tunnel; and Chicago Mayor Lori E. Lightfoot joins 56 regional mayors to support an $850 million investment in the Chicago Hub Improvement Program (CHIP), formerly known as Chicago Access.
OCTA announced Nov. 14 that the agency and geotechnical contractor Condon-Johnson & Associates Inc. have begun construction activities to stabilize the railroad track through southern San Clemente.
According to OCTA, Condon-Johnson & Associates Inc. will perform the emergency stabilization work to “safely restore passenger rail service as soon as possible.” Project engineers and geotechnical experts, the agency adds, will continually monitor the slope next to the track during construction.
According to the agency, rail service could possibly resume prior to February, when construction is expected to be completed. OCTA says it will work in partnership with all rail agencies to “determine at what point service can safely restart.”
“We are attempting to get this emergency work done as quickly as possible with safety continuing to guide all of our actions,” said OCTA Chairman and Mayor of Orange Mark A. Murphy. “Like everyone, we want to see Metrolink and Amtrak Pacific Surfliner safely running again through this area. At the same time, we need first to ensure the track is no longer moving.”
According to OCTA, the construction timeline is subject to change, depending upon several factors, including securing and manufacturing necessary construction materials and inclement weather.
Clearing of vegetation in the construction zone occurred the first week of November and the recent heavy rainstorm had “no significant effect on the schedule, nor did it exacerbate ground movement,” OCTA said. Initial grading work on the site began on Thursday, Nov. 10 and was scheduled to be in full swing beginning Nov. 14.
The construction work is being completed on a slope along about 700 feet of rail between the ocean and homes above in the Cyprus Shore Homeowners Association.
OCTA this week began notifying residents near the construction area about the upcoming work, which includes:
- Mobilizing equipment onto a vacant lot at Avenida de las Palmera and Calle Ariana to produce concrete for the project.
- Performing excavation and grading activities to prepare for installation of the ground anchors to stabilize the slope.
Work will take place on weekdays between 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. for safety and to minimize disruption to surrounding residents, OCTA says. That work will involve drilling large steel anchors more than 100 feet long into the bedrock of the slope adjacent to the railroad track to prevent it from pushing the track further toward the ocean. According to OCTA, the track moved as much as 28 inches between September 2021 and September 2022 due to “storm surge and sand erosion on the coastal side and the gradually sliding hillside on the other.”
Passenger rail service, including Metrolink and Amtrak, was stopped in late September out of “an abundance of caution and to allow for the emergency repairs,” according to OCTA, which is working with state and federal officials to secure necessary funding to pay for the emergency construction, estimated at $12 million. In October, OCTA says its board approved the emergency construction, and, on the same day, the California Transportation Commission (CTC) met in a special session and approved $6 million in emergency funding.
In addition to the immediate repair work, OCTA says it will continue to review long-term options for protecting the rail line in this area and throughout the coastal region, adding that the agency’s priority is “to work with all partners to move forward with slope stabilization to ensure safety for all passengers who travel through the area.”
PRT recently announced that light-rail vehicles and bus have resumed regular operations through the Mt. Washington Transit Tunnel for the first time since a $14.1 million electrical system upgrade project began more than two years ago.
The 3,500-foot tunnel, which was originally built in 1904 and runs under Mt. Washington and Beltzhoover, has been closed nearly every night since the project began in July 2020.
Some of the improvements on the tunnel—the only tunnel in the U.S. shared by light-rail and bus service—include:
- Replacement of 324 lighting fixtures.
- Replacement of all conduits, junction boxes and power cables.
- Replacement of the 1,600-amp redundant power supply.
- Replacement of the emergency phone system, including conduits, phone cables and emergency blue light markers.
- Replacement of the fiber optic communication lines.
- A new ventilation fan power and communication conduits, junction boxes and power connections for 11 ventilation fans.
- New lighting control cabinets.
- New emergency strobe lights at each end of the tunnel.
In a letter sent to U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg and Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) Administrator Amit Bose, Mayor Lightfoot expressed her support for Amtrak’s proposed $850 CHIP project (formerly Chicago Access).
The letter, according to the Office of the Mayor, garnered the support of 56 regional mayors, including those in other Illinois cities and in neighboring states such as Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Idaho, Kansas, Missouri, Montana and Ohio, and highlighted the “urgent and collective need for infrastructure improvements.” If successful, Amtrak would use funds from a federal Mega Grant to improve Chicago Union Station, create more routes into the city and open a variety of new service options.
According to the Office of the Mayor, CHIP would create a new way for passenger trains to access Union Station from the south. Benefits include significantly improving on-time performance for both Amtrak and Metra trains and providing capacity for new routes and increased frequencies. In addition, CHIP would provide faster connections between the region’s largest job hubs and modernize Union Station to improve passenger flow and station ventilation. CHIP would also lay foundations for future improvements, such as direct access to intercity trains at O’Hare and McCormick Place.
“I am proud to join dozens of regional mayors in support of this transformative project for transportation in the Midwest,” said Mayor Lightfoot. “This investment in improved train services will give Chicago residents and visitors convenient, safe, and modernized travel options while reducing our carbon footprint. It will also lay the foundation for a more equitable transportation network, giving Illinois residents from all walks of life access to the amenities and opportunities found in our great city and region.”
“It’s no surprise that mayors from so many other cities support investment in better rail infrastructure in Chicago, because our city serves as the hub for most of North America,” said Rick Harnish, Executive Director of the Chicago-based High Speed Rail Alliance. “Our region has wonderful colleges, thriving towns and cities, innovative businesses, and great people. The missing link is a network of fast, safe, and affordable trains connecting them. CHIP would provide a first, foundational step toward implementing this vision.”
The letter builds on support expressed at a July press conference at Chicago Union Station. In July, a coalition of local leaders gathered to advocate for the project, including Mayor Lightfoot; U.S. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.); Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.); U.S. Rep. Jesús “Chuy” García (D-Ill.-4); Secretary Omer Osman of the Illinois Department of Transportation; Chicago Metra’s CEO Jim Lewinski; Jennifer Killen, the head of Cook County’s Department of Transportation and Highways; and Amtrak CEO Stephen Gardner.
According to the Office of the Mayor, the decision on the CHIP application is expected before the end of the year. For more information about CHIP, please see the resources provided by Joe Schacter, Amtrak Senior Manager for State Corridors.