Transit Briefs: SBCTA, Amtrak, MBTA, NCTDWritten by Marybeth Luczak, Executive Editor
San Bernardino County (Calif.) Transportation Authority (SBCTA) reports that train testing continues along the nine-mile Arrow passenger rail corridor, which is slated for launch this fall. Also, Amtrak late last month celebrated the completion of ADA-related improvement projects at two Kansas stations; the Federal Transit Administration ordered Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) to conduct “an immediate safety standdown,” starting July 30; and North County (Calif.) Transit District has earned a financial reporting award.
SBCTA, in collaboration with Metrolink, began train testing in mid-February along the nine-mile, five-station Arrow passenger rail corridor—also known as the Redlands Passenger Rail Project. In its August newsletter, SBCTA reported that testing—now using both Metrolink and Stadler low-floor FLIRT DMU (diesel multiple-unit) trainsets—continues, with Arrow service expected to begin this fall.
The $359.7 million project was initiated by SBCTA and Metrolink in 2014, and will link the San Bernardino Transit Center (located at Rialto Avenue and E Street in downtown San Bernardino adjacent to San Manuel Stadium) and the University of Redlands (see map below).
Three DMUs will operate on the Arrow corridor. Each offers 116 seats and additional standing room for 120 passengers. The design complies with Federal Railroad Administration Alternative Vehicle Technology (AVT) requirements for shared-use (passenger/freight) corridors, and meets Federal Transit Administration Buy America requirements.
Southern California Regional Rail Authority, which operates Metrolink, will run the Arrow service, maintain the rail vehicles, and provide dispatching and maintenance-of-way services. In addition to standard passenger rail service, the Metrolink regional/commuter rail express train will be extended to serve the Redlands-Downtown Station with limited-stop service to and from Los Angeles during the peak commute hours.
Amtrak held ribbon-cutting ceremonies late last month at the Dodge City and Hutchinson, Kans., stations, celebrating the completion of improvements totaling nearly $7 million.
The $3.8 million project at Dodge City—served by Amtrak’s Southwest Chief—covered replacement of the existing asphalt platforms, including a narrow center platform, with a new 780-foot concrete platform, including dedicated passenger loading areas to accommodate eastbound and westbound boarding; and such upgrades as new station signage, a mobile lift enclosure, and energy efficient LED light fixtures along the platform and pathways. According to Amtrak, sloped accessible walkways connect platform entries with the existing elevated brick plaza area adjacent to the historic station. The 1898 station building, a previous Harvey House, was restored in 2003 and a portion of the building provides an Amtrak passenger waiting area.
The $3 million project at Hutchinson—a Mid-Century Modern (circa 1954) station served by Amtrak’s Southwest Chief—included a new 350-foot boarding platform with new station signage; mobile lift enclosure; energy-efficient LED lighting; guardrails; new accessible pathways providing improved connections to city sidewalks; and new ADA parking locations. Interior building improvements included a full restroom renovation with new fixtures, accessories and adequate clearances for accessibility; new entry doors; accessible drinking fountain; and full accessibility for all passengers within the station waiting area.
Since June, Amtrak has also completed accessibility-related improvement projects at stations in Ashland, Va.; Westerly, R.I.; and Homewood, Ill., as part of a multi-year effort to bring its more than 500 stations into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990.
To date, Amtrak said it has completed 171 ADA station-related projects as part of the ADA Stations Program, including 20 additional stations meeting ADA compliance last fiscal year for $82 million. Another 29 stations are targeted for completion this fiscal year at a forecasted investment of $113 million. The program is also advancing 120 station designs and 40 station construction projects. Since 2011, Amtrak said it has invested more than $489 million in accessibility upgrades throughout the country.
In related developments, Amtrak has been recognized as a “Best Place to Work for Disability Inclusion” by the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD) and nonprofit Disability:IN, achieving a high score on the 2022 Disability Equality Index® (DEI).
Following three recent uncontrolled train-movement incidents, the FTA has ordered MBTA to “conduct a new series of safety briefings for workers and produce new documentation putting necessary inspection steps on the record,” according to a July 29 State House News Service report.
MBTA, starting July 30, was required to conduct “‘an immediate safety standdown,’ which will ban any worker from moving rail transit vehicles in maintenance yards or shops until they attend a special safety briefing.
“The briefing must provide ‘all workers who may in the course of their work operate a disabled rail transit vehicle and all workers who may have cause to secure these vehicles’ with an overview of the circumstances in three recent incidents: a May 28 ‘rollaway’ at Cabot Yard, a May 30 ‘rollaway on the mainline’ near Braintree Station, and the latest runaway train that occurred Monday [July 25], when a train with faulty brakes slipped out of a rail yard and onto the main passenger service segment of the Red Line near Braintree,” State House News Service reported. “MBTA officials must also brief workers on ‘policies and procedures that prevent unintended or uncontrolled movements,’ the FTA ordered.”
According to the news service, FTA Associate Administrator for Transit Safety and Oversight Joe DeLorenzo wrote in a July 28 letter to MBTA General Manager Steve Poftak: “While no injuries have resulted from the [three] recent incidents, uncontrolled train movements, especially on the mainline, are exceptionally dangerous, can result in collision or derailment, and pose a substantial risk of injury or death to employees in the path of the train.”
MBTA is also required to “prepare checklists outlining existing procedures for linking and unlinking trains and require workers to follow those steps,” within five days of the letter, which stated MBTA must “develop and implement a form to document the results of the ‘circle check’ inspection for rail transit vehicles” within 10 days, according to the State House News Service report.
MBTA spokesman Joe Pesaturo said in a statement to the news service: “The MBTA shares the Federal Transit Administration’s concerns over recent incidents of uncontrolled movements involving out-of-service rail cars. Having received the FTA’s letter yesterday, the MBTA is taking steps to execute the immediate actions required by the FTA. Fully supporting the FTA’s ongoing scrutiny of safety-related processes and practices, the MBTA is committed to providing the training and tools necessary for employees to create and maintain a culture in which safety is prioritized.”
FTA on June 15 issued a series of special directives to MBTA and the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities—the state agency responsible for safety oversight of MBTA’s rail transit operations—to “improve safety for the Greater Boston Area’s rail transit system.”
The five special directives issued—four to MBTA and one to DPU—are a result of FTA’s safety management inspection of MBTA that began April 14, 2022, following several incidents that resulted in one fatality and several injuries to passengers and employees on MBTA’s rail transit systems. (For more on the inspection, read: “Second FTA Safety Probe Targets MBTA.”)
According to the July 29 State House News Service report, “MBTA officials said they met all of the deadlines and requirements listed in the June 15 special directives and have issued new safety trainings and policies regarding train movements in rail yards and car houses. The agency is also working on a pilot program to implement ‘blue flag’ procedures, in which blue flags or lights indicate workers are on, under or between rolling equipment, on its rapid transit network.”
NCTD has received the Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting from the Government Finance Officers Association of the United States and Canada (GFOA) for its annual financial report for the fiscal year ended June 30, 2021. NCTD provides COASTER commuter rail, SPRINTER hybrid rail, BREEZE bus, FLEX on-demand, and LIFT para-transit services.
According to NCTD, the report “was judged by an impartial panel to meet the high standards of the program, which includes demonstrating a constructive ‘spirit of full disclosure’ to clearly communicate its financial story and motivate potential users and user groups to read the report. The Certificate of Achievement is the highest form of recognition in the area of governmental accounting and financial reporting.”
“When you have a team of dedicated individuals who believe in transparency and delivering exceptional work, a notable recognition such as this is greatly appreciated,” NCTD Chief Financial Officer Eun Park-Lynch said. “I am proud of the work that was accomplished and hope this award provides reassurance to the public to the diligence provided by NCTD.”