Posts by Author: Sandy Smith

The Amazonians Are Coming. How Will They Get to Work?

New Yorkers surround New York City Council Member Jimmy Van Bremer and N.Y. State Senator Michael Gianaris on Wednesday at a rally against the proposed deal to bring Amazon's new campus to Long Island City, the NYC neighborhood that both represent. (Photo by Oscar Perry Abello)

Our weekly “New Starts” roundup of new and newsworthy transportation projects worldwide.

Will Transit Be Able to Get Amazon Workers Where They’re Going?

Amazon pledged that its HQ2 facility would bring upwards of 50,000 new jobs to whatever city it picked to house it. Now that the project’s been split in two, New York and Washington can each expect about half that number. But that may still be a large enough figure to give transit operators in both cities more headaches, an Associated Press report suggests.

The report notes that the new riders won’t materialize all at once, but despite the presence of New York City Subway and Washington Metro stations near the sites Amazon has chosen, scholars and analysts cited in the story say that both systems will have trouble meeting the additional demand.

Local elected officials in New York are downright critical of what Amazon is getting to cope with some of the added demand — specifically, a helipad for its new headquarters in Queens’ Long Island City section. Even though Amazon will have to limit itself to 120 landings per year, New York City Council Member Jimmy Van Brenner, a Democrat who represents Long Island City, criticized the helipad as an extravagance when the subway lines passing nearby the planned Amazon site already have trouble accommodating the riders that use it now.

“For the city and state to greenlight a helipad for the wealthiest man in the world and one of the richest corporations in the world is a slap in the face to all New Yorkers, but particularly the people in Queens who have to fight to get on the 7 train in the morning,” Van Brenner told the AP. “And furthermore, if there were 25 to 30,000 Amazon employees in Long Island City, that fight to get onto the train is going to get a lot more intense.”

In Crystal City, Va., where Amazon has been promised improvements at two Metro stations (one of which is just now beginning to be built), the Metrorail system is at capacity on several lines and still has serious maintenance issues, according to Oakland, Calif.-based transportation consultant Tom Rubin. Commutes in Washington are among the nation’s worst, and the addition of Amazon’s workforce will do nothing to make them better.

“We have an embarrassing metro system here that I hope will benefit by this relocation,” said Thomas Cooke, professor of business law at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business. It will probably take more than expanding two Metro stations for that benefit to materialize, however, and whatever happens, Amazon won’t be paying for it. The taxpayers of Northern Virginia will.

Metro-North Seizes Opportunity to Buy Itself

Next year, for the first time since 1972, the organization that runs Grand Central Terminal and the regional rail lines that run into it from New York’s upstate suburbs will own both.

Railway Age reports that the Metropolitan Transportation Authority of the State of New York will purchase Grand Central and the Metro-North Railroad’s Harlem and Hudson lines from their owner, Midtown Trackage Ventures LLC, for $35 million next year.

Metro-North currently operates the three facilities under a 280-year lease it signed with American Premier Underwriters in 1994 — the company, now known as American Financial Group, had acquired a previous lease with the MTA from the bankrupt Penn Central Transportation Company. Midtown Trackage then acquired the lease in the 2000s. Under the terms, the MTA pays Midtown $2.2 million a year, but the lease includes a provision that allows the MTA to buy it out in 2019, and the MTA is taking advantage of that clause to achieve permanent savings.

“This was a no-brainer, from a financial standpoint,” MTA Chief Development Officer Janno Lieber told Railway Age. “We had to exercise the option to purchase or remain a tenant for another 270-plus years. The interest rate environment — and the $500,000 discount offered by the seller — means it’s cheaper to buy it now than to pay rent for all that time. Equally important, this transaction secures for the MTA control over development rights along the Harlem Line and Hudson Line, which will allow us to help local jurisdictions implement high-quality transit-oriented development for generations to come.”

Besides the iconic terminal building, the purchase includes the Central’s “Water Level Route” tracks along the Hudson as far as Milepost 75.8, a few miles north of Poughkeepsie, and the Harlem Line tracks as far as Dover Plains. The MTA already owns the tracks north of this point, which it built when it extended the line to Wassaic.

Area Man Trades Driving for Bus Riding, Discovers He Likes It

This sounds like a story that you would expect to read in The Onion, but this one’s real. KSN television in Wichita reported that a local resident decided to take one small step to make Kansas’ largest city a better place: in October, he decided to keep his car in the garage and get around on the city’s bus system instead.

“I took a pledge to ride public transit at least four round trips every week in October and share the experience with people,” said Wichita resident John DeCesaro.

DeCesaro decided to take the pledge in response to a call to civic action called BlackoutICT. This local program asked citizens and businesses to take concrete steps to address Wichita’s problems instead of flying the city flag as a sign of pride.

While riding around the city on local bus routes, DeCesaro shared photos of the city neighborhoods he traveled through, tales of new people he met on his travels and selfies of himself and his daughter on board via social media.

“I chose transit because I knew it was a valuable service here for the City fo Wichita, but I didn’t know a whole lot about it,” he told KSN.

His 35 October round trips have made him a permanent convert to using transit on a regular basis, and he hopes that his daughter will also pick up the habit now that bus riding is no longer an unfamiliar and scary thing.

“I hope that some people who saw those posts and those photos are curious enough to hop on a bus themselves,” he said.

The kicker? DeCesaro said he was surprised by how much money and time he saved taking the bus instead.

Know of a transportation project that should be featured in this column? Send a Tweet with links to @MarketStEl using the hashtag #newstarts.

 

Milwaukee Streetcar Line Opens; El Paso’s is Ready to Run

This Oct. 8, 2015 photo shows a new office building for Northwestern Mutual under construction in Milwaukee. In just a few years the core of Wisconsin’s largest city has been transformed by the investment of more than $1 billion, the labor of thousands of workers, the re-routing of two freeways and track of one new streetcar line that opened one week ago. (AP Photo/Carrie Antlfinger)

Our weekly “New Starts” roundup of new and newsworthy transportation projects worldwide.

Milwaukee Residents Hop Onto New Streetcar Line

The Hop, Milwaukee’s downtown circulator modern streetcar line, opened for business on Nov. 2, Metro Report International reports.

The line’s first phase follows a 2.1-mile route from the Intermodal Station west of the Milwaukee River through downtown and the Third Ward to Burns Commons near Lake Michigan. The streetcar, which is operated by Transdev, will be free to ride for its first year. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports that the free rides are part of a 10-year, $10-million sponsorship deal with Potawatomi Hotel & Casino.

A Federal Transit Administration grant picked up $55 million of the line’s $124 million price tag, with the rest coming from local tax financing districts. The line’s $3.2 million annual operating cost will be covered by fares (after this first year), advertising revenue, federal grants and revenue from city parking meters and lots. Cars run from 5 a.m. to midnight Monday through Friday, 7 a.m. to midnight Saturday and 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday.

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett said at the opening ceremonies that expansion is already being studied. A proposed second phase would add a loop to the east of Milwaukee Street near where the north-south line turns west to head to Intermodal Station; the loop would connect the Phase One line with the Downtown Transit Center.

Vintage Streetcars Ready to Roll Again in El Paso

The restored PCC streetcars working El Paso’s new heritage trolley line are preparing to take on passengers again. According to a news report from KTSM, El Paso city representatives say that the line is ready to open to the public and should begin service Friday afternoon, Nov. 9.

The city took control of the line from the Camino Real Regional Mobility Authority this week after construction crews finished their work. Four of the six vintage streetcars that will operate service are on the property. Brookville Equipment Company in Pennsylvania, which also built the new Milwaukee streetcars, performed the restoration work in El Paso. The restored streetcars have two features the originals lacked: air conditioning and Wi-Fi. Sun Metro will operate the line.

City Representative Peter Svarzbein said that the line will be free to ride on weekends for its first year of operation.

Bay Area County Backs New Form of LRT

According to a story in The Oakland Post, Alameda County is placing its own bet on a new, experimental form of light rail transit. It is one of the two East Bay counties that have joined together to explore rail service to combat worsening traffic congestion.

The Alameda County Board of Supervisors has approved a resolution that gives CyberTran International and other companies the go-ahead to seek funding to build and run demonstration “ultra-light rail transit” (ULRT) service in the county, which is home to both the East Bay hub city of Oakland and Berkeley, where the University of California’s northern flagship campus is located.

CyberTran has been developing this new form of light-rail transit for several years; it recently moved its research and testing facilities from Idaho, where inventor John Dearien lived, to Richmond in neighboring Contra Costa County in order to be closer to markets that might be able to put his concept to the test.

CyberTran’s ULRT attempts to solve one of the main problems of fixed-guideway transit, that of offering direct service from origin to destination with no intermediate stops. Its operation resembles that of a horizontal elevator more than it does a conventional light rail transit line: Passengers would summon vehicles at off-line stations by entering their destinations; like the cars on newer elevator systems, the ULRT vehicles would then deliver passengers to their destinations without making intermediate stops unless traffic required them. Idle vehicles are stored at the stations, and on- and off-ramps allow them to reach line speed before merging with the main line.

The electric cars would operate on guideways covered by solar power panels capable of producing a megawatt of electricity per mile, more than enough to power the cars. Surplus power would be fed to the grid.

Alameda County Supervisor Nate Miley has championed ULRT over the past few years, and the vote signals that enough of his fellow supervisors agree with him.

Alameda and San Joaquin counties had previously formed a joint authority, the Tri-Valley-San Joaquin Regional Rail Authority, to explore rail transit service connecting the Dublin BART station with the city of Tracy in San Joaquin County. Diesel multiple-unit trains are being considered for that route. The ULRT system Alameda County has authorized would address mobility issues within Alameda alone, but CyberTran President Dexter Vizinau cited other needs a ULRT system could handle, including providing additional trans-Bay rail service via a new crossing near the Dunbarton Bridge.

According to the article, ULRT would be cheaper to build and run than conventional light or heavy rail, but the report gave no cost estimates.

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Flying Taxi Trial Coming Soon to Singapore

(AP Photo/Wong Maye-E, File)

Our weekly “New Starts” roundup of new and newsworthy transportation projects worldwide.

Firm Will Test Air Taxis in Singapore Starting Next Summer

Flying cars have been the stuff of techno-futuristic fantasy for many decades, yet attempts to make them a reality have never quite gotten off the ground. Now a manufacturer of drone helicopters will give the idea a try in the form of a flying taxi service in Singapore.

Metro Report International reports that Volocopter will run a series of tests in the second half of 2019 to see how well their eVTOLs — electric-powered vertical-takeoff-and-landing aircraft — perform in a dense urban environment. Trips with passengers will be part of the testing regime.

The company will work with the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore to determine the scope of the tests and ensure that requirements are met. Velocopter will also establish a design and engineering team in the Southeast Asian city-state.

The helicopters can carry two passengers and have a range of just under 30 km (18.6 miles) between charges.

Ho Yuen Sang, director of aviation industry at the Civil Aviation Authority, told Metro Report, “There is potential for air taxis, or eVTOLs, to transform mobility and logistics in urban cities.”

A question these tests probably won’t answer: What happens if the concept takes off this time? Will the skies above our city streets become jammed with flying taxis?

One Final Weld Puts Finishing Touch on Oklahoma City Streetcar Tracklaying

The Oklahoman’s NewsOK website reports that city officials, local business leaders, community members and construction team workers officially marked the end of track construction on the Oklahoma City Streetcar Oct. 25 with a plaque unveiling and signing of a commemorative rail.

The actual end of track construction occurred the week before when construction crews welded the last segments of rail together. From start to finish, it took 20 months to lay the 6.9 miles of service track for the two-loop central-city circulator line.

Brookville Liberty modern streetcars have been making test trips on the shorter Bricktown loop since May. With the completion of the longer loop serving downtown and Midtown, test runs will take place on it over the next several weeks. Revenue service is tentatively set to begin on Dec. 14. The line’s $135 million construction cost was paid for entirely through proceeds from a one-cent, limited-term citywide sales tax Oklahoma City voters approved in 2009.

Revisions to BQX Streetcar Plan Turn Two Queens Council Members Into Opponents

Usually, changes to rail transit proposals aim to make the project less expensive while maintaining its original scope. An August report from the New York City Economic Development Corporation, however, concluded that the revised and shortened route for the proposed Brooklyn-Queens Connector (BQX) waterfront streetcar line will cost more - $2.8 billion - and take longer to build than originally announced.

These changed conditions have led two Queens members of New York’s city council to come out in opposition to the project. The Queens Daily Eagle reports that Council members Costa Constantinides and Jimmy Van Bramer, both of whom represent districts through which the proposed line will pass, now doubt that the project will benefit their neighborhoods.

Constantinides, who serves on the BQX planning committee, worries that the line might trigger gentrification in the area around the line’s northern terminus in Astoria. He told the Eagle, “My constituents deserve answers not just on funding, but how it might physically reshape our neighborhood. I firmly believe Queens residents deserve a holistic, multimodal, reliable transportation system that allows them to travel within or beyond the borough.”

Van Bramer also criticized the project for failing to deliver better transit for Queens residents in a timely and cost-effective fashion, saying, “The BQX preliminary report does not leave me believing in its viability. I prefer a less disruptive alternative, such as dedicated bus lanes. The estimated cost of the project had already been extraordinarily expensive and now it is pricier, shorter, and delayed longer.”

Mayor Bill de Blasio remains supportive of the project, as do waterfront developers. If the revised proposal gets the go-ahead, construction would not begin until 2024.​

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The Boring Part Is Over for Quito Subway

The iconic landmark El Panecillo in the heart of downtown, in Quito, Ecuador. Spanish conquerors named the hill El Panecillo, the Spanish diminutive for a bread loaf. The hill is considered sacred by the indigenous population and refer to it by its original name, Yavirac. (AP Photo/Dolores Ochoa)

Our weekly “New Starts” roundup of new and newsworthy transportation projects worldwide.

Quito Metro Line 1 Tunneling Completed

The last of the three tunnel boring machines that had been digging a subway tunnel under the streets of Quito broke through to daylight Oct. 24, the International Railway Journal reports.

The three machines, La Guaragua, La Carolina and Luz de América, together excavated a tunnel 9.5 meters (31.2 feet) in diameter for more than 19.5 kilometers (12.1 miles) under the city, including its World Heritage Site city center. Luz de América dug a total of 9 km (5.6 miles) of tunnel from the exit shaft at El Arbolito in the north to Solanda station in the south, passing beneath the historic city center without causing damage. The machine also excavated a record-setting 1,489.5 meters (.93 miles) of tunnel in 30 days.

The $1.54 billion Quito Metro is the largest public works project in the history of the Ecuadoran capital. Work on Line 1 began in January 2016 and is now 77 percent complete, including the foundations for 14 of its 15 stations, all of which are underground save for the southern terminus at Quitumbe. 14.9 kilometers (9.3 miles) of a total of 45 km (28 miles) of track has also been laid. The 22.9-kilometer (14.2-mile) Line 1 is set to open in late 2019.

Sagrada Família Will Pick Up Tab for Transit Improvements Around It

Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí’s masterwork, the Basilica de la Sagrada Família in Barcelona, is also part of a World Heritage Site, and it already has a subway station next to it. But the nearly 20 million people who visit the site each year, including 4.5 million who go into the still-unfinished church, putting a strain on that station and other nearby transport and public facilities. To ease the strain, the company that’s building the church will pay for transportation improvements in its area.

Metro Report International reports that the Junta Constructadora de la Sagrada Família has entered into an agreement with the Barcelona city council to fund transit operations and improvements to public facilities. The company will contribute €2.2 million (US$2.51 million) a year for the next 10 years towards the city’s public transport network and €300,000 (US$342,140) a year towards street cleaning and maintenance work. In addition, it will put up €7 million (US$7.98 million) towards improvements to Sagrada Família metro station. Options being considered include a direct connection between the station and the church’s interior or its exterior and widening existing access points. Finally, the firm will contribute €4 million to improving the public realm around the church.

Madrid Orders More Trains to Handle Record Ridership

Ridership on the Madrid Metro is expected to hit 687 million passengers by year’s end. That’s the highest ridership in the system’s 99-year history. Global Rail News reports that to handle this surge in traffic, Madrid Metro will order 60 new trainsets at the beginning of 2019.

So far this year, 100,000 more riders a day on average ride the metro than rode it last year. From May to July 2018, ridership rose 12.8 percent, according to figures from Spain’s National Bureau of Statistics. The increase in metro traffic appears to have come partly at the expense of other transit modes, on which ridership has declined.

The €700 million (US$799 million) order includes 32 trainsets that will replace existing rolling stock and 28 that will add capacity to the system. More operators will also be recruited to run the additional trains.

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Texas Taps Spaniards to Run High-Speed Rail Line

Downtown Houston. (Photo by Katie Haugland)

Our weekly “New Starts” roundup of new and newsworthy transportation projects worldwide.

Texas High-Speed Rail Developer Picks RENFE to Operate Proposed Line

Texas Central Partners, the group of private investors that seeks to build a new high-speed rail line that would whisk passengers between Dallas/Fort Worth and Houston in a mere 90 minutes, has chosen the builder of Spain’s successful AVE bullet train to operate its proposed one, according to a Global Rail News report.

Renfe Operadora, which runs Spain’s national railway system, will operate the “Texas Bullet Train” along with Adif, the company that owns and manages the tracks Renfe trains run on. The two companies will advise the Texas Central Railway partners on the design and construction of the line and assist in the development of plans to prepare the line for revenue passenger service. Renfe will also maintain line equipment, including the Japanese-designed bullet trains, and provide ticketing and customer service.

“Renfe has established a reputation for excellence in railroad operation in Spain and across the world, and we welcome them aboard,” Texas Central CEO Carlos Aguilar said in a news release. “Having the operator, the design-build and technology teams all on board and able to collaborate will ensure all aspects of the railroad are integrated and efficient. The combination of these best-in-class global experts sets the foundation for the new jobs-creating industry we are bringing to Texas.”

“Both Renfe Operadora and Adif have accumulated years and miles of high-speed railway development with professional teams, extensive experience and specialized knowledge,” said Renfe President Isaías Táboas in the same release. “We are committed to the success of Texas Central in improving the mobility of Texans and others in the U.S.”

The proposed 240-mile rail line will be financed entirely by the private sector with no government participation. Trains on the line would operate at top speeds of 200 mph between the two Texas cities, with one stop in the Brazos Valley mid-route.

Tampa’s TECO Line Goes Fare-Free, Runs More Frequently

Tampa’s TECO Line heritage trolley, a popular way to get from downtown Tampa to the Ybor City entertainment district, should become even more popular now that the Florida Department of Transportation will shower a total of nearly $2.7 million on it over the next three years.

WFLA News Channel 8 in Tampa reports that the three-year grant will be used to increase hours of service, increase frequency of trips, and cut fares on the 2.7-mile llne to zero.

Trolleys that had run once every 20 minutes will now run at 15-minute intervals from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily.

In a news release posted on Mass Transit, Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority Interim CEO Jeff Seward said, “Our customers wanted a service that fits the changing regional patterns of development and population trends, and a foundation to grow ridership.” The agency portrayed this service improvement as the start of a “New Era of Transit” in Tampa that would see the streetcar play a bigger role in the Tampa area’s mass transit service.

Suburban Rail Upgrade in Buenos Aires Advances Further

The International Railway Journal reports that trains are now running under wire on an additional 8.3 kilometers (5.2 miles) of Buenos Aires’ suburban Roca Line. The 297-million-peso (US$7.7-million) project brings the total extent of electrifcation to 71 kilometers.

The newly electrified segment runs between Berazategui and Bosques. About 21,000 riders a day use the route, which is one of six branches on the 237-kilometer (147.3-mile) Roca Line network. Approximately 550,000 passengers ride the system daily.

Last fall, another branch of this system that runs 9.6 kilometers (6 miles) from City Bell to the state capital of La Plata was electrified and reopened after a two-year shutdown that was supposed to last for about three months. The ongoing electrification is designed to cut travel time to Buenos Aires from outlying communities.

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Atlanta Figures Out How It’s Going to Spend Billions in Transit Funding

MARTA’s Oakland City station in Atlanta (Photo by DeKalb)

Our weekly “New Starts” roundup of new and newsworthy transportation projects worldwide.

Atlanta Council Votes to Spend $2.7 Billion on “More MARTA”

After several months of discussion and bickering, the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA) board voted unanimously Oct. 4 to approve a plan for spending $2.7 billion in sales tax revenues headed its way from the city of Atlanta.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that the transit expansion plan finally approved by MARTA differs significantly from the one the agency first presented to the public in the spring. Reflecting some adjustments that had been recommended a week before the vote, the plan calls for more money for light rail service along the Atlanta Beltline and less money for service along the “Clifton Corridor” leading to Emory University and the Centers for Disease Control. The revised plan also upgrades a proposed bus rapid transit line along Campbelltown Road to the Greenbrier Mall in the city’s southwest corner to a light rail line.

The shift in emphasis from the Clifton Corridor to the Beltline came in response to both Beltline advocates who wanted light rail on the entire 22-mile loop around the city (that’s not in the plan), Clifton Corridor opponents who argued that the project should get no funding at all because the city of Atlanta had not yet annexed the Emory University area when the half-cent sales tax that will fund these projects was approved in 2016, and residents who felt Campbelltown Road deserved higher-quality transit service.

The projects described in the plan will be built over a 40-year time frame. The sales tax revenue will not be enough to cover the cost of these projects, let alone the entire $11.5-billion wish list the Atlanta City Council prepared after the tax was approved. MARTA will have to find other local, state and Federal funds to make these improvements and expansions a reality.

But Robbie Ashe, executive director of the MARTA board, told the AJC that this package reflects a larger change in attitudes towards mass transit regionwide. “Over the decades there have been fights to keep transit out of pieces of the region,” Ashe said, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “We’re no longer having that fight. … Now the fight is why isn’t transit in my community and why isn’t it there soon enough.”

Work Begins on “Express” Tram-Train Line in Paris Suburbs

Metro Report International reports that work has begun on a new tram-train route that will connect several communities in Paris’ western suburbs. The T13 Express construction project commenced Oct. 5 with groundbreaking for a new tram terminal at Versailles.

This first phase of the T13 Express line involves mostly upgrading existing track along Paris’ Grand Ceinture freight rail belt line. Most of the 18.8-kilometer (11.7-mile) initial segment will use this right-of-way. Trains will run from the RER Line C station at Saint-Cyr to Noisy-le-Roi on a currently unused segment of the line and from Noisy to Saint-Germain GC on a section that already carries passenger traffic. Four kilometers of new tracks will be laid to take the line from Saint-Germain GC to an interchange station with RER Line A in Saint-Germain-en-Laye.

The tram-trains will stop at 11 stations, six of them new and five refurbished. In addition to the connections with the two RER lines, the T13 Express line will also have interchanges with Transilien lines L, N and U.

The line is expected to carry 21,000 passengers daily when it opens for service in 2021. A northern extension planned in the long term would nearly double the daily ridership to 40,000. The Île-de-France region is picking up more than half of the line’s €306.7 million (US$355.6 million) cost, with the département of Yvelines and the central government taking care of the remainder.

Public-Private Partnership to Boost Reverse-Commute Service in Chicago Suburb

With public funds to operate and expand service in short supply, Metra, the agency that operates commuter and regional rail service in Chicagoland, is turning to a public-private partnership for the money it needs to boost service from Chicago to a major suburban employment center north of the city.

According to a news story in Railway Track and Structures, Metra has entered into an agreement with Lake County Partners, an economic-development organization funded by Lake County businesses and the county government, to fund additional reverse-peak train service and build a universal crossover near Lake Forest, which Metra says is necessary for it to add even more service on the Milwaukee District North Line.

The agreement responds to a request from Lake County officials that Metra explore ways of enhancing reverse-commute service so businesses in the county can more effectively recruit and retain employees who live in Chicago. Currently, there are no outbound express trains during morning peak hours, and the afternoon trains into the city depart either too early or too late to be of use to most employees living in Chicago. Upgrades to the signaling system on the North Line now make additional reverse-commute service possible. Lake Forest is the closest Metra station to a major employment cluster in Lake County.

Under the agreement, Metra and the partnership will split the $1 million cost of running one new reverse-commute train each way during the peak hours under a two-year pilot program. The joint venture will also draw up a definitive agreement for splitting the crossover’s $4.75 million construction cost, with the business partnership contributing $2.75 million and Metra and local governments in Lake County chipping in $1 million each.

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A Breakthrough for Technology in Norwegian Tunnel Project

An underground metro station in Oslo. (Photo by Patrick Poculan)

Our weekly “New Starts” roundup of new and newsworthy transportation projects worldwide.

TBMs Finish Digging Part of Two Long Tunnels in Norway

Queen Eufenia and Queen Elisiv have achieved a notable feat. These are the two double-shield tunnel boring machines (TBMs) that have been digging their way through soil and rock beneath Oslo and its suburbs for the past two years. Global Rail News reports that on Sept. 11, 25,000 people watching on a live stream saw the two machines almost simultaneously break through 9.6 km (6 miles) of gneiss to finish their portion of two 20-km (12.4-mile) rail tunnels that will connect the Norwegian capital with the southern suburb of Ski, cutting the travel time between the two cities in half.

The milestone is a double breakthrough in a second sense: it demonstrated the power of modern tunneling technology in a country that has up to now been resistant to adopting it.

Gneiss, a type of rock formed by metamorphosis of other rock, is one of the hardest rock types in the world. Together, the two double-shield machines that broke through on Sept. 11 have carved their way through a total of 36 km (22.4 miles) of gneiss. Double-shield TBMs combine the functions of gripper and single-shield TBMs in a single unit.

The performance of Queen Eufenia and Queen Elisiv led Anne Kathrine Kalager, project manager for tunnel owner Bane NOR, to say that in the future, the machines will be “a realistic alternative in large projects, even in our extreme hard rock.”

While the two queens have finished their work in the direction of Oslo, two other machines, Anna from Kloppa and Magda Flatestad, continue digging through the same rock in the direction of Ski. They’re expected to break through in the spring of 2019. TBMs are performing the bulk of the digging on the two tunnels: 18.5 km (11.5 miles) of the total 20 km for each tube. The remaining 1.5 km are being dug by conventional drilling and blasting.

When complete in 2021, the two-track Folio Line will carry trains capable of speeds as high as 250 km/h (155.3 mph) over the 22 km (13.7 miles) between Oslo and Ski. The Folio Line project is the largest transport project currently underway in Norway, and the two tunnels are the country’s longest.

Two New Driverless Metro Lines Open in Wuhan

Metro Report International reports that the Chinese city of Wuhan opened two new automated underground metro lines on Oct. 1.

The initial segment of Line 7 runs 30.4 kilometers (18.9 miles) from Garden Expo North in the north to Yezhihu in the south, stopping at 19 stations on its 51-minute journey. The 13-station Line 11 is located in the city’s southeast and runs for 18.7 kilometers (11.6 miles) between Optics Valley Railway Station and Zuoling. The line is isolated from the rest of the Wuhan metro network until an extension of Line 2 opens later this year.

Extensions are also already underway for both lines. A 17-kilometers (10.6-mile), seven-station southerly extension of Line 7 is slated to open later this year. Work on a northern extension began in 2017 and should finish in 2020. An easterly extension of Line 11 should also open that year, and a westerly extension is also planned.

Trains on both lines will operate at top speeds of 100 km/h (62.1 mph). Both lines are currently being worked by six-car driverless trainsets built by CRRC Changchun and CRRC Zhuzhou. The trainsets will be expanded to eight cars in the future.

DART Board OKs Cross-Suburban Commuter Rail Line

Suburb-to-suburb commuting remains a tough nut to crack for American transit agencies thanks to the dispersed nature of the origins and destinations. But in the not-too-distant future, Dallas will join Washington in having a rail transit line running on a belt route through suburbs north of the city. Railway Track & Structures reports that the Dallas Area Rapid Transit board unanimously voted to proceed with construction of a 26-mile-long east-west commuter rail line that will follow a former Cotton Belt railroad route from Plano in the east to DFW Airport in the west.

The line will have 10 stations, two fewer than were originally planned. Stations will be located in the cities of Grapevine, Coppell, Dallas, Carrollton, Addison, Richardson and Plano. It will also connect with DART’s Orange, Green and Red lines, the TEXRail commuter line from DFW to Fort Worth, and local bus services.

DART envisions that the line will help ease congestion in the Interstate 635 corridor, one of Texas’ most congested.

The project has an estimated price tag of $1.1 billion. Removal of the two stations trimmed $30.3 million from the budget. Service is slated to begin in 2022, with diesel multiple-unit trains operating at 30-minute peak headways and one-hour headways off-peak. DART’s 2040 long-range plan calls for peak headways to be reduced to 20 minutes in the future.

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L.A. Subway Begins to Inch Even Closer to the Sea

The purple line in Los Angeles is slowly extending out toward the sea, starting from downtown L.A. (Photo by Andy Nystrom)

Our weekly “New Starts” roundup of new and newsworthy transportation developments worldwide.

Los Angeles Starts Preliminary Work on Purple Line Extension

Whether “The Subway to the Sea” ever reaches the Pacific remains an open question, but Railway Track and Structures reports that the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (LACMTA) has gotten a go-ahead from the Federal Transit Administration to begin preliminary work on the third section of the Purple Line subway extension to Westwood.

The federal clearance for preliminary work to begin has two important benefits for the LACMTA. One is that it increases the likelihood that it will receive a federal grant to help pay for the section. The agency seeks a grant to cover $1.3 billion of the extension’s total cost. The Federal Transit Administration had previously approved grants for the extension’s first two sections, which are now under construction. The LACMTA anticipates federal approval of the third grant in early 2019.

The second benefit is that it will allow the LACMTA to take advantage of tunnel contract bids that came in about $130 million lower than expected. The bids were set to expire on Oct. 3, which would have required the contract to be re-bid. Avoiding this will save the agency an additional $200 million in project escalation costs and two years’ worth of delays.

When complete, the Purple Line extension will take the route from its current terminus at Wilshire Boulevard and Western Avenue in Koreatown to Westwood and the UCLA campus. Work on the first section, from Wilshire and Western to Beverly Hills, began in 2015, and work on the Beverly Hills-to-Century City second section began in 2017. The extension is on track to open for service in 2026, in time to provide service during the 2028 Olympic and Paralympic games.

Glasgow Gets Driverless Subway Trains

Will they go ‘round in circles? Of course they will. Will they fly high like a bird up in the sky? No, they’ll travel under the streets of Scotland’s second-largest city.

“They” are the new driverless subway trains that will run on Glasgow’s 10.5-km (6.5-mile), 15-station circular underground line. Railway Gazette International reports that the trains’ manufacturer, Stadler, presented the first of 17 four-car trainsets to officials of the subway’s operator, Strathclyde Partnership for Transport (SPT), at InnoTrans 2018 in Berlin on Sept. 20.

Stadler Project Manager Stefan Rosendahl told Railway Gazette that the first trainset to arrive in Glasgow will get there by year’s end. The trains should enter service in October 2020.

While SPT transitions the Glasgow subway to fully-autonomous operation, the new trainsets will be operated by humans in drivers’ cabs that will be detached from the trainsets once the transition is complete. While the transition takes place, the new trains will operate mixed in with the existing rolling stock, with the new Ansaldo STS signaling system overlaid on the existing signals to control the new trainsets. SPT aims to complete the transition with no interruption in service. When the transition is complete, 16 of the 17 trainsets will be required to operate service.

The consortium of Stadler and Ansaldo won the £200 million (US$262.81 million) contract to supply the cars and signal system in 2016. The contract accounts for the lion’s share of the £288 million (US$378.44 million) SPT is spending to modernize the 122-year-old subway.

First Riders Board Hanoi Metro as Testing Continues

Metro Report International reports that the first metro line in Hanoi began making test runs with riders on board on Sept. 20.

Hanoi’s 13.1-kilometer (8.1-mile), all-elevated metro line is being run with a fleet of 13 trains manufactured by CRRC. The trains have a top operating speed of 65 km/h (40.4 mph). Test trains are running at 10- to 12-minute headways, which are expected to drop to 5 minutes when testing ends in three to six months.

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Houston Chooses Buses Instead of Light Rail, For Now

(AP Photo/Pat Sullivan)

Our weekly “New Starts” roundup of new and newsworthy transportation developments worldwide.

Houston Turns to BRT to Expand Rapid Transit

Houstonians have been arguing loudly for several years over plans to expand the city’s light rail system. Now the local transit agency, Houston Metro, has decided to cast its lot mainly with faster buses as the way forward for long-range transit improvements, according to a Houston Chronicle news report.

The $3.32 billion package of transportation improvements Metro is readying for a public vote next year doesn’t give up on light rail extensions completely. However, even though the three proposed light rail extensions total only 12 miles — less than the length of extensions built between 2013 and 2017 — they account for nearly half of the proposal’s estimated price tag: $1.52 billion.

The remaining half will create 34 miles of bus rapid transit lines, using dedicated lanes on freeways and major arteries, serving mainly areas west of downtown. The plan also envisions additional two-way HOT lanes on major freeways.

One of the BRT routes would follow Interstate 10 west from downtown and connect with a planned Houston-Dallas high-speed rail line.

Houston Metro officials stress that the first step needed to get the plan ready for a vote is clear and open communication with communities that will be affected by the proposed expansions.

Carbon-Fiber Light Rail Vehicle Unveiled in China

People have been flying in airplanes made primarily of carbon-fiber composites since the Boeing 787 Dreamliner made its first commercial flight in 2011. Soon, they will be able to board lighter light rail vehicles made of carbon fiber as well.

China’s Xinhua news agency reports that the country’s largest railcar manufacturer, CRRC Changchun Railway Vehicles Co., Ltd., rolled out its new-generation carbon-fiber light rail vehicle at an exhibition in Changchun. The car should produce significant energy savings because it weighs 30 percent less than an LRV made of stainless steel. It also has better thermal and sound insulation, making it quieter and more comfortable when in operation.

The new railcars are designed to hold 386 passengers and operate at speeds up to 80 km/h (50 mph). It’s also designed to operate wirelessly, with a supercapacitor that can run the car for 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) on a single two-minute charge.

Frankfurt Tests Package Delivery by Tram

Some critics of spending on urban rail transit instead of highways point out that streetcars and subways can’t be used to deliver goods. That may be about to change.

Metro Report International reports that VGF, which operates the public transit network in Frankfurt am Main, Germany, announced on Sept. 17 that it is launching a pilot program to deliver packages using dedicated trams.

The package-delivery trams will carry no passengers and operate during periods of lower traffic on the tram lines. Some will be outfitted with cargo trailers. The trams will deliver parcels to “microdepots” being set up for the pilot program.

The project is being run in partnership with the package delivery service Hermes Germany. Other partners include the city of Frankfurt, the House of Logistics and Mobility, the Frankfurt University of Applied Sciences, IHK Frankfurt am Main and the Climate Alliance.

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Rebuilding of Ground Zero Transit Infrastructure Completed with Station Reopening

A downtown 1 train pulls into the newly-opened WTC Cortlandt subway station in New York on Saturday evening, Sept. 8, 2018. The old Cortlandt Street station on the subway system's No. 1 line was buried under the rubble of the World Trade Center's twin towers on Sept. 11, 2001. Construction of the new station was delayed until the rebuilding of the surrounding towers was well under way. (AP Photo/Patrick Sison)

Our weekly “New Starts” roundup of new and newsworthy transportation projects worldwide.

Cortlandt Street Reopens, Completing World Trade Center (WTC) Transit Reconstruction

Just in time for the 17th anniversary of the attack that destroyed it, the New York subway station directly beneath the Twin Towers reopened for service Sept. 8.

Known then simply as Cortlandt Street, the new station is named WTC Cortlandt to commemorate the site and connect the station to its restoration.

Global Rail News, in its report on the reopening, quotes New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) Chairperson Joseph Lhota as saying, “WTC Cortlandt is more than a new subway station. It is symbolic of New Yorkers’ resolve in restoring and substantially improving the entire World Trade Center site.”

The new station, which was constructed in a shell finished for the purpose when the MTA rebuilt the No. 1 subway line tunnel that passes through it, is decorated with passages from the Declaration of Independence and other celebrated documents that, when read vertically, reveal words emphasizing human rights and dignity.

The New York Times reported on the artwork when station reconstruction began in 2015. Its report on the reopening itself included some commentary on how infrastructure projects in New York can get hamstrung by the demands of multiple overlapping agencies. Even though the MTA reopened the subway tunnel in fairly short order, it could not begin rebuilding the station itself until the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which owns the World Trade Center, finished work around the station site in 2015.

Metro Line to Connect Shanghai, Suzhou Systems

The metro systems in the Chinese cities of Shanghai and Suzhou will become one sometime around the start of 2024, when a new 41.3-kilometer (25.7-mile) subway line connecting the two opens.

Metro Report International reports that China’s National Development and Reform Commission gave the go-ahead for the line’s construction Sept. 6, after the city of Suzhou signed off on it Aug. 28. The line, dubbed Line S1, will have 28 stations, five of them interchanges, all of them underground. It will run from the eastern end of Suzhou’s under-construction Line 3 at Weiting southeast to the western terminus of Line 11 of the Shanghai metro at Huaqiao.

Construction will begin late this year, with a projected completion date of late 2023 or early 2024. The project’s total estimated cost is 27.4 billion yuan (US$3.99 billion).

Ottawa Postpones Confederation Line Opening

Railway Track & Structures reports that officials in the city of Ottawa say they won’t be able to open the new Confederation Line light rail route on Nov. 30 as originally scheduled. At a Nov. 10 meeting of the city’s Finance and Economic Development Committee, staff announced that the line will most likely open in early 2019.

The delay comes at the request of the Rideau Transit Group, which is building the line. The company asked for carveouts in the agreement that called for the Nov. 30 completion date. The largest one concerns the underground Rideau Station, near the line’s midpoint. City staff told the committee that the station still needed significant construction and mechanical work.

Work on the rest of the 7.7-mile, 13-station light rail line is progressing as planned, according to the report. The delay will also allow for operational testing of the entire route.

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