The Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) will tackle critical track and power maintenance as part of its 2023 Trolley Tunnel Blitz. Also, San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) riders will soon receive improved wireless connectivity; copper theft causes delays on LA Metro’s rail lines; and the New Orleans Regional Transit Authority’s (RTA) Rampart streetcar line reopening is pushed back to 2024 amid infrastructure delays.
SEPTA announced July 6 that crews will work around-the-clock tackling critical track and power maintenance, station upgrades, and intensive cleaning as part of the 2023 Tunnel Blitz.
SEPTA Trolley Routes 10, 11, 13, 34 and 36 will not operate in the Center City tunnel from 10 p.m. on Friday, July 7 through 5 a.m. on Monday, July 24.
Trolley service will begin and end at 40th and Market Streets. Customers can board SEPTA’s Market-Frankford Line at 40th Street Station for travel to Center City. For travel from Center City to University City and Southwest Philadelphia, riders can board the Market-Frankford Line at 13th Street and then connect with trolley routes at 40th Street. In addition, buses will replace trolleys on Route 13 during the tunnel closure.
Work that will be completed includes:
- Demolish and rebuild the eastbound 22nd Street platform.
- Replace worn track curved rail at various locations.
- Clean out all pipes, drains, and vent wells.
- Replace four miles of overhead contact wire.
- Maintenance of entire tunnel signal system.
- Heavy cleaning and maintenance at all stations including graffiti removal, painting, and lighting.
According to SEPTA, this is the eleventh year the agency has held the Trolley Blitz, which is scheduled during the summer when ridership is traditionally lower to impact the fewest number of regular customers.
“The blitz gives our crews the opportunity to tackle construction, maintenance, and safety improvement work in a concentrated period of time to reduce the number of outages throughout the year,” said SEPTA General Manager and CEO Leslie S. Richards. “It also helps us prepare for Trolley Modernization – SEPTA’s program to transform the nation’s largest trolley network into an accessible, fast, and easy-to-use system.”
Trolley Modernization is a core component of SEPTA Forward, the Authority’s Strategic Plan, to create a “lifestyle transit network”—a transit system that can be easily used for any type of trip, not just traditional 9-to-5 commutes to work. In February, SEPTA awarded a contract to Alstom Transportation Inc. for the purchase of modern, fully ADA-compliant trolley vehicles to replace the Authority’s entire aging fleet of trolleys.
AT&T and infrastructure provider Boldyn Networks announced July 6 that they are bringing significant coverage expansion to the SFMTA. Through this partnership, millions of the agency’s passengers will be getting improved wireless connectivity across 11 miles of tunnels, 11 underground stations, rail cars, and surrounding areas.
This initiative from SFMTA supports the Bay Area Rapid Transit’s (BART) critical initiatives in delivering 5G connectivity to riders and surrounding communities, including its new digital railway project.
“At AT&T, we’re steadfast in our commitment to forging unparalleled connections for our customers, irrespective of their location,” said Marc Blakeman, President – AT&T California. “We’re thrilled to embark on this transformative collaboration with Boldyn Networks to deliver exceptional mobile experiences throughout SFMTA’s systems and communities across the Bay Area.”
“We’re excited to partner with AT&T to provide seamless and robust 5G coverage across the SFMTA network and bring improved wireless services to the city at-large”, said Christos Karmis, CEO of Boldyn Networks’ US business. “Our next-generation SFMTA distributed antenna system (DAS) network is an extension of our high-density fiber footprint in the region which delivers 5G wireless connectivity, data center access, and enables connected buildings to better serve residents and businesses across the San Francisco and Bay Area.”
More information on SFMTA’s Central Subway Project is available here.
A section of LA Metro’s rail system that extends from Norwalk to the South Bay was delayed this because of the theft of copper wires used to power the rail cars, according to a Los Angeles Times report.
According to the report, the incident marks the latest in a surge of valuable copper wiring that has caused disruptions for the rail system, which serves more than five million riders a month.
In 2022, LA Metro reported more than 60 copper wire thefts, mainly affecting the A Line (formerly the Blue Line). So far this year, there have been 21 thefts, mainly on the C Line (formerly the Green Line), according to Dave Sotero, an LA Metro spokesperson.
The thefts, according to the Los Angeles Times report, are happening on the above-ground sections of the light rail lines.
However, copper wire thieves are also targeting lights on Los Angeles streets and freeways, and in the last four years Caltrans has spent about $24 million on repairs, according to NBC News.
“The thefts from the rail system can cause service delays and interruptions for passengers, forcing Metro to use buses, reduce train speeds or rely on a single track,” said LA Metro Deputy Chief Operations Officer Errol Taylor, according to the Los Angeles Times report.
The thefts cost the transit agency between $8,000 and $15,000 each time to repair, said Taylor, who added that there are two types of cables being stolen, including larger cables that have the most copper used to provide traction power to the trains. “Stealing cables can cause fires or prompt the crossing gates to go down and stay down for extended periods,” Taylor said, according to the report.
The other type of cable being stolen is smaller track circuit cables, which are part of the train’s control system. “Losing the cables can affect the ability to brake, detect trains on the track circuit, signal the trains on how fast they can go and operate the gate crosses,” said Taylor.
“Trains cannot run without this equipment,” Sotero said in an email, according to the Los Angeles Times report. “Thieves run the risk of being hit by trains when they attempt to steal the wire,” he added.
To the stop the left of copper wires, which the FBI says are being used to sell for profit to recyclers, LA Metro is working to encase its copper wires in concrete, according to the Los Angeles Times report. The encasing is almost completed on the A Line and is going to happen on all light rail lines, Taylor said. According to a January board report, LA Metro plans to have fully encased the copper wires by the end of the year.
Additionally, LA Metro has added monitoring mechanisms and increased security patrols, said Sotero, adding that law enforcement is in contact with scrap yards and recycle centers that buy copper wires to reinforce that police are pursuing the thieves and those who are enabling them, according to the report.
According to the Los Angeles Times report, LA Metro and Caltrans aren’t the only agencies dealing with copper wire thefts.
In April, San Joaquin County reported a 139% increase in copper wire thefts over four months, according to ABC. Many of the wires targeted are from fiber optic cables, and one theft in the county left the 911 center unable to receive calls, ABC reported.
New Orleans RTA
The anticipated reopening of RTA’s Rampart streetcar line has again been delayed “as lingering infrastructure issues tied to the 2019 collapse of the Hard Rock Hotel continue to throw a wrench in the process,” according to Fox 8 report.
According to the report, when the hotel collapsed in October 2019, Rampart Street and the streetcar line that runs along it, which had only been open for about three years, “suffered extensive damage.” Nearly four years later and the Rampart streetcar is still not running.
According to the Fox 8 report, a New Orleans city spokesperson said the Department of Public Works (DPW) is currently reviewing RTA’s traffic control plan, and it has been delayed “due to the complexity and scope of the work on Rampert Street.”
“Once revisions to the traffic control plan come in, approval of the permit will follow,” the spokesperson said, not elaborating on a potential timeline for completion of the review, according to the Fox 8 report.
“That’s the timeframe, meaning it does take time,” said New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell when asked about the line on Wednesday, according to the Fox 8 report. “You have to put it out on the street, you have to wait for responses, they have to be vetted. And that’s the real meat, I would say, that’s eating up the time.”
According to the report, RTA declined to make CEO Lona Hankins available for an interview. They instead released the following statement via email:
“RTA is working with the Department of Public Works through a permitting process that requires thoughtful review and feedback from both parties before moving forward. We are encouraged with the progress we’ve made with the City and as mentioned previously hope to get the Rampart Streetcar back into service by early 2024.”