Posts Tagged ‘Public transportation’

Crystal Ball Look at 2018 and Railroads

January 3, 2018

With a new year upon us, it’s time to look ahead to what 2018 might bring in the railroad industry. Such predictions are fraught with peril given that unexpected developments can occur at any time that dramatically changes the trajectory of the industry or its individual components.

A year ago at this time we thought E. Hunter Harrison was living out his days as CEO of Canadian Pacific. Few knew that he was plotting with a hedge fund to take over CSX.

Even fewer knew that Harrison was in his final days of overseeing any railroad and would die before the year ended.

With that in mind I press ahead in reviewing four stories to watch in 2018.

What now for CSX? The patriarch of precision scheduled railroading left before his model could be fully implemented.

Look for CSX to continue the PSR model under new CEO James M. Foote, although with some modifications.

Much of the early months of 2018 will see Foote finding his way at CSX while assuring investors that he was a wise choice to replace Harrison.

Industry analysts have pointed out that Foote is thin in operating experience. Much of his industry time has been spent in marketing and sales.

That could turn out to be a good thing for CSX because customer relations was not Harrison’s strong suit. He was an old school operating man who wanted to dictate terms to shippers not the other way around.

Look for CSX to appoint an operations vice president so that Foote can focus on what he knows best.

Both Canadian National and CP have done quite well post-Harrison. Will the same be true for CSX? Perhaps, but if that is the case it will be due to Harrison having laid the foundation not from having built the house as was the case at CN and CP.

What now for Amtrak? Richard Anderson is firmly in control of the nation’s rail passenger carrier with Charles “Wick” Moorman having retired.

Anderson, the former CEO at Delta Air Lines, has hired a supporting team that includes former airline executives. It remains to be seen what that means.

These airline executives cut their teeth during the airline deregulation era when airlines learned ways to squeeze every last dollar out of passengers through such things as baggage fees and seat assignment fees, among others.

Remember the last time that an airline served you a not meal in coach as part of your fare? Yeah, it’s been a while.

Anderson won’t necessarily remake Amtrak in that model but look for him to move in that direction.

The name of the game will be maximizing revenue yield – something Amtrak has already been doing – as the carrier seeks to recover even more of its expenses from the fare box.

Anderson will have his hands full this year attending to matters that grabbed a disproportionate number of headlines in 2017. This includes the rebuilding of New York’s Penn Station and dealing with the aftermath of the derailment of a Cascades Service train in Washington State.

Much of the latter has focused on the fact that positive train control was not yet in operation on the route. Questions are being raised about the adequacy of training of Amtrak operating employees and the railroad’s safety culture.

These matters will continue to attract attention in 2018 and take up much of Anderson’s time.

Rail passenger advocates in places such as Ohio will continue to be disappointed in Amtrak in 2018. But that is nothing new.

Little, if any, progress will be made in terms of route expansion, new equipment for long-distance trains or expanding the frequency of such tri-weekly services as the Chicago-Washington Cardinal.

Perhaps the best that can be hoped for is that the aging Superliners will get a new interior look starting later in the year.

Will Railroads Make the PTC Deadline? The last day of 2018 is the deadline for the railroad industry to implement positive train control systems on routes that handle passengers and/or carry hazardous cargo. The deadline has been moved once already.

The Federal Railroad Administration has warned that waivers won’t be issued again, but that was during a different administration.

The Trump administration might be far more sympathetic to railroad industry pleas for a little more time due to the expense and complexity of PTC systems.

Some railroads will make the deadline, but others are going to be cutting it close.

Will the Trump Infrastructure Plan See the Light of Day? Candidate Donald Trump liked to talk about his big plans to revamp the nation’s infrastructure. President Donald Trump has barely mentioned it other than to pay it lip service on occasion.

The administration has been tight lipped about the scope of the plan other than a few broad details, such as $200 billion in federal funds will be used to leverage $1 trillion worth of infrastructure improvements.

Supposedly, the infrastructure plan was being held in abeyance until Congress passed a tax bill, which it did in late December.

In theory, an infrastructure improvement plan should have bi-partisan support. But in a hyper partisan environment during a midterm election year bi-partisan support might be hard to come by. Political hardball will be the rule.

There remains the question of how much the railroad industry would benefit from an infrastructure plan once or even if it is implemented. Few rail infrastructure plans come with a private developer other than than the railroad itself to provide matching funds.

Passenger rail should be a prime beneficiary of an infrastructure plan, but given the current political climate it might find little to feed on except for a few token crumbs that will be eaten by Northeast Corridor infrastructure needs, of which there are many.

Freight railroads might fare a little better in getting funds for some projects, e.g., enlarging tunnels or replacing bridges that they agree to help fund.

But don’t be surprised if the infrastructure plan winds up benefiting highways and even some areas that only a strained definition of infrastructure would incorporate, e.g., a veteran’s hospital. It will hinge on how the terms of the plan are written.

A lot of hungry government agencies and private companies are going to be looking for a slice of the infrastructure pie and might provide tortuous explanations as to how their project constitutes infrastructure.

I’m reminded of that famous response from bank robber Willie Sutton in the Saturday Evening Post as to why he robbed banks: “I rob banks because that’s where the money is.”

The infrastructure plan might make available money not available otherwise so there are going to be a lot of hand out seeking a part of it.

Conservatives in Congress will not necessarily offer automatic support for an infrastructure plan, which they might fame as a stimulus plan. That would remind them too much of something they despised during the early years of the Obama administration.

And conservatives absolutely, positively dislike spending federal money on passenger rail. They are not all that more supportive of public transportation even when it uses rubber tires on asphalt and concrete surfaces.

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Christmas on the New York Subway

December 16, 2017

‘tis Christmas time again and New York City puts its full size train set under the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree for all New Yorkers and tourists to enjoy.

The New York City Transit Museum maintains complete sets of vintage subway cars and periodically operates them during the year for public excursions.

The city, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and the transit museum rolls out this set of 1930s subway cars every Sunday in December and the trains operate on a regular schedule during the day.

Tourists and regular New Yorkers waiting for a train are suddenly faced with these beautiful old cars. The reactions can be priceless.

To add to the fun, museum volunteers and local actors/actresses dress in period costumes. One can ride the train all day for $2.75, the price of a normal subway ride.

Riding these trains has become a tradition for me over the years. The ultimate train set for under the ultimate Christmas Tree.

Article and Photographs by Jack Norris

Pittsburgh Light Rail Gets New CEO

November 10, 2017

Katharine Eagan Kelleman has been named chief executive officer of the Port Authority of Allegheny County, which operates Pittsburgh’s 26.2-mile light rail system.

She succeeds interim CEO David Donahoe, who replaced Ellen McLean last June.

Kelleman, who most recently served as CEO of the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority in Florida, will began at the Port Authority in January.

She also worked for the Maryland Transit Administration and Dallas Area Rapid Transit.

“Katharine’s credentials highlight her well-balanced experience along with a deep understanding of the importance of transit systems in connecting people to every aspect of their lives,” said Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald.

The search for a new CEO began in April and drew 43 applications for the position.

Pittsburgh Light Rail has Real-Time Tracking

November 7, 2017

Real-time tracking is being offered by the Port Authority of Allegheny County on its light-rail system.

Known as “TrueTime,” it will enable riders to track the status and location of light-rail trains.

“This has been one of the most anticipated items from rail riders for several years,” said Port Authority Interim Chief Executive Officer David Donahoe in a statement. “Real-time information reduces time riders spend waiting for public transit and allows them to make better, more informed decisions about their transit experience.”

Location tracking devices have been placed on more than 80 light-rail vehicles. There is also a system in place to help overcome tracking-service limitations while trains are underground.

Agency officials said that third-party transit-app developers are expected to integrate the rail tracking feature.

GCTRA Completes Building Green Line Station

October 19, 2017

Renovation of the Lee-Shaker station on the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority Green Line has been completed.

The $11.7 million upgrade involved removing and replacing the original platform and waiting shelters.

Workers also installed new lighting, signs, railings and a safety security system with cameras and emergency call boxes.

The work began in October 2016 and the station remained open during the construction work.

In a news release, RTA said the renovations make the station compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“This station, as well as other recent renovations on both our light- and heavy-rail lines, are examples of RTA’s significant investment in our robust rail infrastructure,” said GCRTA CEO and General Manager Joe Calabrese.

Cleveland RTA Names Operations Manager

October 3, 2017

Floun’say Caver has been appointed deputy general manager of operations at Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority.

Caver replaces Michael York, who retired last week. Carver first joined RTA in 2000 and left in 2002 to earn a doctorate degree from the University of Texas at Dallas. He returned in 2006 as RTA’s manager of budgets.

Carver was chosen during a nationwide search to fill the position.

In a news release, RTA General Manager Joe Calabrese said Caver’s technical knowledge of the bus and rail industry, and his ability to lead and inspire others, made him the top candidate.

Caver is the creator of the TransitState performance management initiative, which has helped reduce costs, improve processes and change work culture at GCRTA.

TransitStat is an adaptation of New York City’s CompStat and Baltimore’s CitiStat programs. Caver also created GCRTA’s management trainee program.

In an unrelated announcement, the federal government will provide $5.85 million to help update RTA’s radio communications system.

“Our current system is obsolete and parts availability has been so difficult that we were sometimes shopping on Ebay for discontinued parts,” Calabrese said. “This grant will allow us to update our entire communications system and bring it into the 21st century to improve the quality of our service and the safety of our customers.”

Updating the communications system will enable RTA to provide reliable real-time arrival information for riders.

The total cost of the upgrade is $18 million; other federal funds and local matches will cover the remaining costs.

Cleveland RTA Executive to Retire

September 26, 2017

A key Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority executive is retiring after a 50-year career in public transportation.

York

Mike York, who joined Cleveland RTA in 1990, will retire on Sept. 29 from his post as deputy general manager of operations.

In that position, York oversees more than 2,000 employees and an annual budget of $218 million.

He played a key role in the 1996 opening of the Waterfront Line light-rail route.

York began his public transportation career in 1967 as a bus operator.

He was later hired by Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority and played a pivotal role in the planning and development of a transit system that was a deciding factor in Atlanta being selected to host the 1996 Olympic Games.

In 1984, York was hired as assistant executive director for operations and planning for Dallas Area Rapid Transit where he conducted the initial planning and development for the agency’s light-rail system.

Wi-Fi Now on at 7 Pittsburgh Light Rail Stations

August 30, 2017

Wi-Fi is now available at the seven busiest light rail stations served by the Port Authority of Allegheny County.

The service is being provided by Comcast which last January received a seven-year, nonexclusive agreement to provide wireless hotspots at the Station Square, First Avenue, Steel Plaza, Wood Street, Gateway, North Side and Allegheny stations.

In a news release, the Port Authority said the agreement came at no cost to it.

“We see this [Wi-Fi] as an invaluable tool, especially once we roll out real-time tracking of our light rail vehicles, which is currently in a testing phase,” said Port Authority Interim Chief Executive Officer David Donahoe.

Comcast also provides Wi-Fi service for transit riders in Philadelphia, Boston and southern New Jersey.

DePaul University Study Finds that Akron, Columbus, Dayton are Among Transportation ‘Pockets of Pain’

August 25, 2017

Columbus has been identified in a study as one of the nation’s most prominent “pockets of pain” when it comes to intercity public ground transportation.

The capital of Ohio ranks toward the top of the list because of its lack of Amtrak service and express bus service.

It was joined by another state capital, Phoenix, which also lacks Amtrak service. Also on the list are Akron and Dayton.

Amtrak’s New York-Kansas City National Limited halted in Columbus and Dayton for the last time on Oct. 1, 1979. Megabus pulled out of Columbus this past January.

The study was released by Chicago-based DePaul University’s Chaddick Institute for Metropolitan Development.

It focused on large cities that lack rail and express bus connections to other major cities. Cities outside Ohio that also made the list included Tulsa, Oklahoma, and Fort Myers, Florida.

“Columbus has been cursed in terms of ground transportation, largely because of geography,” said Joseph Schwieterman, co-author of the study and director of the Chaddick Institute. “It’s a little far from cities such as Chicago and Washington to make bus service a good success.”

Among the study’s findings:

  • Cleveland-to-Columbus is the fourth-busiest route (ones with the most point-to-point travel) in the country that lacks both intercity express bus service and rail service.
  • Chicago-to-Columbus is the seventh-busiest such route.

“The study validates what we already knew: The central Ohio region does have gaps in ground transportation options for passengers connecting to other regions,” said William Murdock, executive director of the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission. “That is why we are working hard with our community partners across four states, including Ohio, Illinois, Indiana and Pennsylvania.

“These efforts include a Columbus-to-Chicago passenger rail connection and the Midwest Connect Hyperloop Corridor (Pittsburgh to Chicago via Columbus), as well as (other) regional efforts.”

Last year, Columbus won the national Smart City Challenge and was awarded $40 million by the U.S. Department of Transportation and $10 million by Vulcan Inc. Another $90 million has been pledged by a Columbus public-private partnership, bringing the total to $140 million.

That funding was not intended to go toward development of conventional rail or bus intercity service. However, Schwieterman said the Smart City projects can only help.

“Innovation in urban areas could morph into providing true intercity service,” Schwieterman said. “It’s only a matter of time before services like Uber and Lyft start offering van service between cities, for example.”

He also believes the federal government should track ridership of private express bus services the way it does with airline passengers in order to better understand the demand on various routes.

Schwieterman would like to see local governments encourage bus service by helping companies establish convenient curbside stops and providing incentives to renovate bus stations.

“Some people will consider an express bus, but are resistant to taking Greyhound,” Schwieterman said. “It’s a culture change.”

To see the study, go to http://bit.ly/2xd2LEb

The Double Edge Sword of Rising Gas Prices

August 25, 2017

Lower gasoline prices present a dilemma for public transportation agencies.

On the upside, that means lower operating expenses for their buses. On the downside, it means more people are likely to drive than take public transportation.

It is not just local public transit that is suffering. Amtrak and intercity bus services have seen their ridership tumble due to lower gas prices.

A DePaul University study released this week found that eight of the 50 most heavily-traveled routes between cities 120 to 400 miles apart in America have lost express bus or Amtrak service since 2014.

Nine metropolitan areas in the United States with populations above 700,000 have no Amtrak passenger rail service or express bus service at all.

The decline of ridership on Amtrak and bus services such as Megabus and BoltBus has declined since 2015 in rough tandem with a decline in U.S. gasoline prices, the DePaul study found.

It concluded that so long as gasoline remains cheap, public transportation is bound to suffer.

When gas prices rose past $4 per gallon a few years ago, many transportation companies added a fuel surcharge to their normal pricing to cover their increased costs.

Ridership of public transportation and public intercity transportation typically rises when gas prices increase.

But gasoline prices this week across the United States averaged $2.34 per gallon, the American Automobile Association reported.

The DePaul study said the low cost of gasoline made driving cars an inexpensive transportation option, which led to the loss of intercity bus service in particular.

Joseph Schwieterman, co-author of the study and director of the Chaddick Institute at DePaul said there is wide agreement that gasoline taxes eventually will have to go up to help fund aging road infrastructure.

Although more expensive gasoline could lead more people to consider taking the bus, he said it could be a “double whammy” for bus operators because ridership gains could be offset by higher fuel costs to operate their fleets.

The DePaul study found that travelers tend to favor airplanes for trips of more than 400 miles. They favor their own automobile for trips of less than 100 miles.