DC Streetcar to start serving riders next week

After a series of delays and cost overruns, the streetcar system in Washington, D.C., will open for full passenger service Feb. 27, the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) announced yesterday.

The news follows more than a decade of planning, construction and testing, DDOT officials said in a press release.

The first segment of the DC Streetcar system will be the 2.4-mile H Street/Benning Road Line, which will provide service between Union Station on the west and the Anacostia River on the east. Eventually, the segment will be one piece of the One City Line that will traverse the city from east to west.

Rides on the streetcar will be free for a while, said D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser.

DDOT previously contracted with the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) to conduct a review of the streetcar program. Although the review documented numerous issues, there were no “fatal flaws,” which meant the streetcar system could move forward after the issues were addressed.

“After years of overspending, mismanagement and lack of direction, we made it happen,” said DDOT Director Leif Dormsjo.

The city has spent $200 million on the project so far, the Washington Post reported.


The New York City subway is stuck in the past, but it can glimpse the future

Money for USB chargers, but not the next phase of the Second Avenue Subway

New York City’s subway system is many things: huge (469 stations); long (233 miles); old (112 years); valuable (the entire system is worth $1 trillion); and insanely, annoyingly, and dangerously congested (1.75 billion trips were made in 2014). One thing it is not, however, is futuristic.

Aside from a handful of touchscreen displays intended for lost tourists, and a limited train arrival countdown system that’s about as modern as a sundial, the subway is decidedly stuck in the past. The equipment is old — some of it dates back to the 1930s — and it breaks down a lot. And when it does, people get delayed in the best-case scenario. In the worst, they’re hurt, and sometimes die.This was the vision that was sketched out last week by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo in a speech delivered at the New York Transit Museum (an odd choice of venue, with its mise en scène of rusty signage and antique train cars). And to understand why the MTA is just now deciding to give its old, grizzled appearance a much needed facelift, you need to understand Andrew Cuomo’s brand of governing.

Hot, crowded, and flat funding

But over the next few years, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority will undergo a series of upgrades intended to usher the aged, ungainly, and often broken transit system into the 21st century. Or at least it will look that way on the surface.

By the end of this year, all the underground stations will have Wi-Fi. Subway cars and buses will be equipped with USB charging ports. Thirty stations will be completely closed for several months to facilitate a total redesign. And the MetroCard, that flimsy, yellow piece of plastic that sometimes takes a dozen or more swipes at the turnstile to work, will be retired and replaced with a new payment system that will be mobile and contactless.

This was the vision that was sketched out last week by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo in a speech delivered at the New York Transit Museum (an odd choice of venue, with its mise en scène of rusty signage and antique train cars). And to understand why the MTA is just now deciding to give its old, grizzled appearance a much needed facelift, you need to understand Andrew Cuomo’s brand of governing.

Andrew Cuomo Leads
Andrew Cuomo Leads

For the better part of 2015, as train cars got slower and more crowded, Cuomo was content to completely ignore the MTA. The MTA’s capital budget, a five-year, $32 billion plan that outlines how the subway system will both maintain its current level of service as well as expand and improve, was partially unfunded and way past due. The MTA’s CEO and chairman, Thomas Prendergrast, spent the early part of 2015 crisscrossing the city, predicting further doom and decay if the MTA’s capital budget was left to languish.

This was all very odd, considering the MTA is a state entity, and is completely under Cuomo’s control. He appoints the chairman and a plurality of seats on the agency’s Board of Trustees. And while most people would associate the MTA with New York City, it is very much a regional system, encompassing both the Long Island Rail Road and Metro North Railroad.

When he wasn’t ignoring the MTA, Cuomo was throwing shade, like calling the capital budget “bloated” and suggesting its needs could be met without any new revenue sources. He tossed the MTA $750 million in early 2015 — just 5 percent of what it said it needed to fund its capital plan — and later demanded that capital plan be reduced by $3 billion. And when summer rolled around, the governor suddenly decided to make it his mission to needle New York City mayor Bill de Blasio to pay more into the capital plan than the city had historically contributed.

The result was a bitter back-and-forth between the governor and the mayor, delicious fodder for the media but little solace for the millions of commuters forced to endure a stranger’s armpit in their face while riding another crowded train.

In the end, Cuomo won; de Blasio promised to kick in $2.5 billion, or about 280 percent more than he originally said he would commit, while the state would contribute $8.3 billion. The mayor was able to eke out a few promises from the governor to stop raiding the MTA’s budget for non-transit-related projects. But most experts saw the deal as a huge win for Cuomo. And to the victor, goes the spoils: the governor now could shape the MTA’s plan for the future to his liking. Thus, Wi-Fi hotspots, USB charging stations, more countdown clocks, and a new fare payments system.

“Cuomo now wants to position himself as someone who can get the big ticket items accomplished,” said Benjamin Kabak, who runs the transit blog Second Avenue Saga.

But whether Cuomo will get the money to kick off his modernization plan will rely on the approval of a handful of state lawmakers from upstate New York and Long Island, many of them Republicans, who view the MTA as a money suck of little use to their suburban and rural constituents. (Never mind the fact that workers who commute to the city from the suburbs using the MTA bring home $36 billion in income each year, according to a recent study.)

Those legislators want equal funding for upstate roads and bridges before approving such a large allocation of cash for the MTA, a “level of parity that just doesn’t make sense,” Kabak said. But once Cuomo works out a deal, the capital plan will get the green light, and then the real fun starts.

The governor has set a tight deadline for many of these projects: Wi-Fi by the end of the year; mobile ticketing for LIRR and Metro North within six months and the subway system by 2018; USB ports in 1,500 buses also by 2018. The station closures will create headaches for commuters, but will accelerate a redesign process from years to just a few months.

“It is very frustrating for subway riders to have a station closed every night, or every weekend, for an entire year,” said John Raskin, executive director of the Riders Alliance. “If you’re able to get the work done quickly, keep nearby stations open so people don’t have to go very far, and then restore the station to service soon, that’s actually something people could appreciate.”

Meanwhile, repairs from the devastation from Superstorm Sandy continue to cause their own brand of consternation. The L train tunnel, which connects Midtown Manhattan to hipster friendly haunts like Williamsburg and Bushwick in Brooklyn, could be completely shut down for a year to repair the damage wrought by Superstorm Sandy in 2012, according to a report in Gothamist.

Adam Lisberg, chief spokesperson for the MTA, said he was well aware of the agency’s reputation for system failures and indefinite repairs. “We’re trying to break that paradigm, that it’s too slow and takes too long,” he said. “That’s why the governor is using design-build and new construction methods. But the onus is on us to improve.”

A number of software and technology companies, like the California-based defense firm Cubic, have been waiting patiently for many months for the MTA to release its request for proposals for a new fare payment system. But the MTA can’t release that request until it gets final approval for its capital plan from state lawmakers in Albany, who won’t sign off until they get a cash commitment from the governor for upstate roads and bridges. It’s a morass of red tape and political horse-trading that keeps New York’s transit system tethered firmly in the past, while other cities’ metro systems and subways get glossier and more high tech. (Countless metro systems already have contactless fare systems, and London is getting fully autonomous train cars by 2022, while everything about Singapore’s metro “oozes future,” according to CNN.)

Some critics say the new improvements announced by Cuomo amount to creature comforts that don’t address the core problem with the MTA: dangerously overcrowded, out of date, with no relief in the near future. The big, expensive infrastructure projects designed to address the exploding ridership — the Second Avenue Subway on the east side of Manhattan, and the East Side Access project to bring the LIRR to Grand Central Station — are over budget and behind schedule.

Which is not to say the MTA isn’t working diligently to make the subway system work more efficiently. It is laboring to replace the current fixed-blocked signals with a Communications Based Train Control (CBTC) system, which would essentially put computers in charge of running the trains, making it easier for the MTA to know where certain trains are and how fast the trains are traveling, and allow the agency to increase the number of trains on each line. To do this, the MTA needs to shut down trains for long periods of time, increasing delays and further complicating commutes.

NY City Transit Authority Control Center
NY City Transit Authority Control Center

We still don’t know how much some of Cuomo’s flashy proposals will cost, but it seems fair to ask why that money isn’t being spent on fast-tracking CBTC, or funding the second phase of the Second Avenue Subway, or finishing East Side Access before we’re all dead and buried.

“This stuff matters to people too,” Lisberg said of the Wi-Fi, USB charging, and mobile payments. “As long as the region is growing, we have to build out the Second Avenue Subway to its full length, we have to finish East Side Access and look at things like Penn Station access and building four new Metro North stations in the Bronx. We need to keep expanding to handle ridership of a growing region. But at the same time, people need to know what they’re getting for their money, for all the billions of dollars that the state is investing.”

“Expectations are rising,” he continued. “Thirty years ago, people were lucky to get a subway car with air conditioning. Twenty years ago, no one expected to talk on a cell phone in a subway station. And now people want it done as fast as possible. People want to be able to charge their phones on trains. You have to meet customer expectations and show you’re with the modern era.”

A response to New York City’s Subway

Although I’m now 2500 miles from the land of my origins I’m always glad to read a piece on the NYC subways [my first railroad both as a train buff and career wise], sometimes I boil and sometime I’m most pleased. A few thoughts on the article.
First there are no 1930’s era trains running there, I ran my share of them and loved them but the last one ran in scheduled service in January 1977. The oldest cars in scheduled service are some 250 of the 600 car fleet of R32’s built 1964-65 and they are to be replaced. The next oldest date to about 1975. There was a massive car  replacement in the early  and mid 2000’s and more followed and more to come.But even that isn’t a big deal to me if they are maintained and reliable.
The wi-fi I hardly consider necessary, the 2nd ave line a thorn in my side. In 1952 money was voted for a new East Side trunk line from lower Manhattan to connecting with another line in the Bronx, yes, 2nd ave line. Over 60 years later they’re making a big deal about nearing completion [when?] of a 1  1  2/3 mile SPUR connecting with an existing line. Meantime since the last elevated on 3rd ave was torn down in 1955 the whole east side commuter crowd is jammed into the “Lex”..Lexington Ave line and the promised relief is decades late.. LIRR into Grand central, so far over 40 years delayed.
New York IS ages behind a lot of cities and so little relatively has been added for growth.. so many smaller cities, and don’t forget huge LA County, have brought rail empires back out of the ashes of the 1950’s.. New York has a long way to go. nuff said.
Ed Davis Sr, Boise ID

Bernie Sanders just surged past Hillary Clinton in a national poll for the first time

Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders (shown in a 1962 photo) took the lead over former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for the first time Thursday in a national poll of Democratic primary voters.

In the Fox News survey, Sanders captured 47% support among likely Democratic voters nationally. Clinton, who has long been the Democratic frontrunner, garnered 44%.

Though Clinton’s lead has shrunk significantly over the past several months, the Fox News poll is the first to show the senator ahead outright.

However, it presented a divergent result from other recent surveys. An NBC poll released Thursday evening showed Clinton maintaining an 11-point lead over Sanders nationally. Still, that represented a 14-point swing from when the same poll was conducted last month, before Sanders’ double-digit New Hampshire primary win.

Both polls come just two days before Saturday’s Nevada caucuses, where the few available public polls show the two candidates virtually neck-and-neck. Once considered a “firewall” for Clinton, Nevada has become a key battleground, as both candidates have rolled out campaign surrogates to woo interest groups like Latino voters and immigration activists.

Sanders has bombarded the state with ads and redeployed key campaign staff to the state in an attempt to make up ground against Clinton’s team, which has been operating in state since April.


Hillary Clinton’s terrible, horrible, no good, very bad answer on whether she’s ever lied


CBS’s Scott Pelley interviewed Hillary Clinton on Thursday night. One exchange tells you everything you need to know about Clinton’s struggles in the Democratic primary race so far and why she continues to be dogged by questions about her honesty and trustworthiness. Here it is:

PELLEY: You know, in ’76, Jimmy Carter famously said, “I will not lie to you.”

CLINTON: Well, I have to tell you I have tried in every way I know how literally from my years as a young lawyer all the way through my time as secretary of state to level with the American people.

PELLEY: You talk about leveling with the American people. Have you always told the truth?

CLINTON: I’ve always tried to. Always. Always.

PELLEY: Some people are gonna call that wiggle room that you just gave yourself.

CLINTON: Well, no, I’ve always tried —

PELLEY: I mean, Jimmy Carter said, “I will never lie to you.”

CLINTON: Well, but, you know, you’re asking me to say, “Have I ever?” I don’t believe I ever have. I don’t believe I ever have. I don’t believe I ever will. I’m gonna do the best I can to level with

the American people.

I mean, what? W-H-A-T?  “I’ve always tried to” tell the truth?  On what planet is this a good answer for a politician?

The answer, of course, is on no planet. While I am less familiar with politics on Mars than I am with those on Earth, I am pretty sure that being unable to simply say, “Yes, I have always been truthful with the public,” would be a problem on the Red Planet, too.

Comets 4 @ Crunch 5

The Utica Comets could not overcome two early Syracuse Crunch power-play goals and saw their eight-game point streak snapped at the War Memorial on Friday night by the score of 5-4. The Comets were able to cut the Crunch’s lead to one goal on four separate occasions, but could not find the equalizer in their first regulation loss since Jan. 24 in Toronto.

Carter Bancks (1-0-1), Ashton Sautner (1-0-1), Andrey Pedan (1-0-1), and Brandon Prust (1-0-1) scored for the Comets, while Richard Bachman made 26 saves in the loss. Ronalds Kenins (0-2-2) recorded his third multi-point game in the team’s last four games.

The Crunch jumped out to a quick 2-0 lead with two power-play goals in the game’s first 2:52. Matt Taormina scored his 11th of the season 1:14 into the game, and then Tye McGinn struck just 1:37 after that for his 16th of the year.

The Comets cut into the Crunch’s lead with some heavy offensive pressure. Jon Landry wristed a shot through heavy traffic in front. Bancks redirected the Landry shot, and then quickly cleaned up his own rebound for his eighth goal of the season.

The Crunch were able to re-establish their two-goal lead when Jeff Tambellini tapped in a back door rebound after a Comets neutral zone turnover led to an odd-man rush.

The five-goal first period came to a close with a Comets goal with just 24 seconds left. With a delayed penalty upcoming on the Crunch, and an extra attacker on the ice, the Comets worked the puck around the Crunch’s zone for a substantial amount of time. Eventually, Ashton Sautner unleashed a rocket of a slapshot that screamed over the shoulder of Gudlevskis to bring the score to 3-2. Brendan Gaunce and Ronalds Kenins chipped in with assists on the goal.

The goals kept coming in the second period.

Once again the Crunch answered the Comets goal with a goal of their own. The Crunch’s leading goal-scorer, Jeff Tambellini, scored his second of the night just 2:34 into the second period to stretch the lead to 4-2.

Referees caught the Crunch with back-to-back penalties on the same play to set up the Comets with a 5-on-3 power play for a full two minutes. As the power play waned down, Andrey Pedan one-timed a pass from Kenins past the glove of Gudlevskis to cut the Comets deficit to 4-3. With the assist, Kenins has three multi-point games in his past four. Grenier recorded a secondary assist on the play to run his point streak to six games.

For the third straight time the Crunch followed up the Comets goal with one. With a two-on-one advantage down low, Blunden received a cross-crease pass from Erne for the power-play goal.

While killing a penalty, Brendan Gaunce intercepted a pass in his own zone and chipped it past a pinching Crunch defender to spring Brandon Prust on a semi-breakaway. Prust faked a shot to drop Gudlevskis to his knees before he wristed a shot under the goaltender’s glove. Gaunce’s helper gives him and two assist night and 11 points (4-7-11) in his past six games.

With the loss the Comets record dropped to 25-18-4-3. Utica still holds the edge in the race for the 2015-16 Galaxy Cup with a record of 4-2-0-0 against Syracuse.

The Comets return home tomorrow night for Clinton Comets Heritage Night at The AUD. Puck drop is scheduled for 7pm but fans are highly encouraged to arrive early to take part in the special pre-game ceremonies. The Comets will don special throwback blue jerseys in honor of the Clinton Comets. The jerseys will be auctioned off as part of a live auction immediately following the game.

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