Transit Briefs: Sound Transit, BART, Brightline, Metra, NYCT

Written by Marybeth Luczak, Executive Editor
The Sound Transit Board on July 28 identified the preferred light rail route and station locations for the West Seattle Link Extension after weighing community priorities, regional needs, input from agencies and the city of Seattle, and Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) analysis. (Photograph Courtesy of Sound Transit)

The Sound Transit Board on July 28 identified the preferred light rail route and station locations for the West Seattle Link Extension after weighing community priorities, regional needs, input from agencies and the city of Seattle, and Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) analysis. (Photograph Courtesy of Sound Transit)

The Sound Transit Board has confirmed the preferred alternative for the West Seattle (Wash.) Link Extension and approved free fares for riders who under 19 years old. Also, San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit District (BART) has reinstituted a face-mask requirement; Brightline, Florida’s private-sector passenger railroad, is testing trains along a portion of its Orlando extension, slated to open in 2023; Chicago’s Metra is upgrading the historic Blue Island Vermont St. Station; and a new cohort of MTA New York City Transit (NYCT) train conductors has graduated.

The Sound Transit Board on July 28 identified the preferred light rail route and station locations for the West Seattle Link Extension, after weighing community priorities, regional needs, input from agencies and the city of Seattle, and Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) analysis. Before confirming or modifying the preferred alternative for the Ballard Link Extension, the Board called for further study and engagement in certain areas from the Chinatown-International District through Downtown, Interbay and Ballard.

The West Seattle and Ballard Link light rail extensions project (see map below) is part of the Sound Transit 3 Plan (ST3) of regional transit system investments, approved for funding by voters in 2016. Sound Transit said the project would provide “fast, reliable light rail connections to dense residential and job centers,” and add a new downtown Seattle light rail tunnel to provide “efficient operating capacity for the entire regional system.” The extension to West Seattle will operate from downtown Seattle to West Seattle’s Alaska Junction neighborhood and include four stations. The Ballard extension will run from downtown Seattle to Ballard’s Market Street area; it will include nine stations and a new rail-only tunnel from the Chinatown/International District to South Lake Union and Seattle Center/Uptown. The current cost estimate for the West Seattle and Ballard Link Extensions project is $14.131 billion.

For the West Seattle Link Extension, the Board selected the Medium Tunnel 41st Avenue Station alternative in the West Seattle Junction segment; the Andover Street Station Lower Height alternative in the Delridge segment; the South Crossing alternative in the Duwamish Segment; and the At-Grade Alternative Staggered Station Configuration in the SODO segment. Sound Transit reported that the Board will also consider the At-Grade South Station Option as a possible Preferred Alternative “with future endorsement contingent on resolving with partner agencies federal property acquisition requirements and project funding needs in a manner that does not impact the West Seattle Link Extension schedule”; a report for Board consideration is due no later than September 2022, the agency said.

Sound Transit said the Board also directed further studies in the West Seattle extension “to enhance station access, prioritize an integrated and well-designed transfer experience from buses to light rail, and address concerns over potential displacements of organizations serving low-income and communities of color, and determine potential third-party funding needs. Studies will include exploring a station entrance at 42nd at the Alaska Junction station, opportunities to provide access north and south of Andover Street at the Delridge station, enhancing access from the platform to South Lander Street at the SODO station, and considering eliminating the Avalon Station in the West Seattle Junction segment.”

Additionally, the Board requested further study for the Ballard Link Extension “to recognize past harms; minimize displacements and potential loss of cultural identity; conduct additional engagement between community and agency partners; support investment in public spaces; improve experience for riders; minimize construction impacts and risks; and determine potential third-party funding needs,” according to Sound Transit. “Specifically, further study and engagement will include concepts requested by community and agency partners in the Chinatown-International District segment; a number of additional studies in the downtown segment, including connecting Denny/Terry station to SLU/Harrison station and connecting SLU/Harrison station to Seattle Center/Mercer station; and additional studies in the South Interbay and Ballard segments.”

Staff members are expected to provide updates to the Board on progress in November 2022 and February 2023, after which the Board may confirm or modify the preferred alternative for the Ballard Link extension, Sound Transit reported.

“We recognize the impact this [Ballard Link extension] project will have on the Chinatown-International District, and we will continue our conversations with community members to gather information and fully understand their concerns,” Sound Transit Board Chair and University Place Council Member Kent Keel said. “At the same time, moving forward with a preferred alternative for West Seattle allows us to continue making progress on light rail expansions that will provide a hub for the entire region.”

Meanwhile, the Sound Transit Board has unanimously approved free fares for children, ages 18 and younger, effective September 1. “The new policy was prompted by the Move Ahead Washington transportation package passed by the state legislature last March, which incentivizes all Washington state transit agencies to adopt a free fare policy for riders under 19 years old,” according to the transit agency. Under Sound Transit’s previous policy, riders under 19 pay a reduced fare of $1.50.

The new policy is being implemented in partnership with other regional transit agencies “to create a seamless experience for riders,” Sound Transit reported.

(Photograph Courtesy of BART)

The BART Board of Directors on July 28 voted to reinstitute a face-mask requirement effective immediately until and inclusive of Oct. 1, 2022. “The temporary amendment to the District’s Code of Conduct requires riders to wear face masks that fully cover a person’s nose and mouth in paid areas of the system with limited exceptions,” BART reported. “This requirement applies to trains and all portions of stations beyond the fare gates. Children ages two and under as well as people with medical conditions that prevent them from wearing masks are exempt from the mandate.”

The Board will determine at its Sept. 22 meeting if the mandate should be extended.

Free masks are available at station-agent booths and from all safety staff for those who need one. The BART Police Department “will continue its education-based enforcement of the mask requirement by offering free masks to anyone who needs one before taking any enforcement action, which could include a citation up to $75 or being ejected from the paid area,” according to the transit agency.

Pictured: Brightline trainset testing at 79 mph on the West Palm Beach-to-Cocoa segment of the Orlando Extension, slated to open in early 2023. (Screenshot taken from a video, courtesy of Brightline)

Brightline on July 28 reported that it is testing trains at maximum speeds of 79 mph between West Palm Beach and Cocoa, Fla., ahead of service that is expected to begin early next year on its $2.7 billion, 170-mile extension north to Orlando (see map below). Daily crew training and qualifying test runs on the segment began in January. Testing at maximum speeds of 110 mph will occur later this fall, according to Brightline, with construction to wrap up at the end of the year.

Brightline ordered five new trainsets from Siemens Mobility to help serve the extension. Each comprises four coaches and two Charger diesel-electric locomotives (one at each end). Brightline’s Bright Pink 2 and Bright Green 2 trainset arrived on July 21 at Brightline’s Vehicle Maintenance Facility in Orlando after traveling the 3,000 miles across 10 states from the Siemens Mobility North American rolling stock facility in Sacramento, Calif.

Rendering of Metra’s historic Blue Island/Vermont St. Station, whose rehabilitation is slated to be completed this fall. (Rendering Courtesy of Metra)

State, local and Metra commuter rail officials on July 28 broke ground on the rehabilitation of the historic Blue Island/Vermont St. Station in Blue Island, Ill. The depot, built in 1868, serves as a station on the Rock Island main line and as the southern end of the line’s Beverly Branch. It was used by approximately 600 riders each weekday prior to the pandemic.

Work will include a complete interior update; renovation of the roof, including the replacement of gutters and downspouts; reconstruction of the original chimneys; rehabilitation of wooden eave supports; replacement of all doors and windows; custom brick replacement and masonry staining; asbestos and lead-based paint abatement; new landscaping and site improvements; sidewalk and crosswalk improvements and repairs to meet ADA compliance for accessible routes; and new wayfinding and intermodal signs. It is expected to be completed this fall.

The $3.1 million contract for the work was awarded to IHC Construction of Elgin; another $700,000 will cover construction management and flagging costs, according to Metra.

The total project cost is about $5 million. This includes $3.8 million in construction and $1.2 million in design costs. It is being funded by the Federal Transit Administration, Metra funds and a grant from the Regional Transportation Authority’s Innovation, Coordination, and Enhancement (ICE) program.

“This project will create a more welcoming, more comfortable facility for riders of the Rock Island Line while retaining its historic nature,” Metra CEO/Executive Director Jim Derwinski said. “The result will be an improved riding experience for My Metra customers.”

New graduating class of NYCT conductors (Photo: Marc A. Hermann / MTA)

Twenty new conductors have graduated at NYCT, following completion of training at the New York City Transit Learning Center in Brooklyn. They are slated to help the agency tackle crew shortages and bolster the frequency of subway service. Since February 2021, 451 conductors have joined NYCT.

“The new employees join the 953 bus operators and 784 train operators and conductors who recently completed their training—part of a deliberate effort by the MTA to rapidly grow the number of bus operators, subway train operators and conductors,” the agency reported. “A hiring freeze, necessitated by a fiscal crisis that developed during the pandemic, depleted the ranks of train operators and conductors with many veteran workers retiring or leaving their front-line posts. Along with improved recruiting efforts and speeding up training for new employees, the MTA addressed the staff shortage by bringing back recently retired train operators, scheduling additional overtime and buying back vacation time.”

“Building up the workforce remains a top initiative to provide better subway service for New Yorkers,” NYCT Senior Vice President of Subways Demetrius Crichlow said. “We are excited to welcome these new conductors to the NYCT team and can’t wait to see them out in the system.”

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