BART unveils first ‘Fleet of the Future’ rail car

Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) last week unveiled the first “Fleet of the Future” rail car at its testing facility in Hayward, Calif.

The agency now has begun testing 29 separate performance measures on the unit as part of the mandated testing process, BART officials said in a press release.

The first dynamic performance tests are for propulsion and brakes. Other tests will be performed to verify wheel-to-axle resistance and electromagnetic compatibility. These tests will be performed under a variety of weight patterns to reflect an empty car weight, seated passenger weight and other variables, BART officials said.

The next testing phase will occur on BART’s mainline system during overnight hours. That phase will include 16 qualification tests that must be completed before the California Public Utilities Commission can certify the trains to carry passengers.

If all testing goes well and no major re-engineering is required, BART plans to put the first 10 units into passenger service in December.

The agency is ordering 775 new cars as part of its Fleet of the Future program. Each unit is valued at $2 million.


Report: Amtrak, BNSF sue Kansas truck owner in derailment incident

Amtrak has filed a lawsuit alleging that Cimarron Crossing Feeders engaged in “gross negligence” in relation to a train derailment in Kansas last month.

Filed late last week, the lawsuit — which lists Amtrak and BNSF Railway Co. as plaintiffs — alleges Cimarron Crossing Feeders employees left a truck “unattended, out of gear and without any brakes applied” when it was loading grain March 13 into March 14, according to The Hutchinson News.

The truck rolled away from the Cimarron facility and downhill, crossed U.S. Highway 50 and struck the side of the railroad tracks, which are owned by BNSF. The truck came to rest on the tracks, the newspaper reported.

According to the National Transportation Safety Board, the impact of the truck hitting the track shifted the alignment by more than a foot. Cimarron Crossing Feeders called for a tow to remove the truck, but the company did not call BNSF or Amtrak to warn about the damaged track, according to the report.

The Amtrak train, traveling east on the track, derailed shortly after midnight near Cimarron, Kan. Twenty-eight passengers were hurt.

Metro-North line to Waterbury to get promised upgrades

WATERBURY — Projects to bring the Waterbury Branch of Metro-North up to current standards for passenger railroads are moving forward, and the branch is on track to meet the Federal Railroad Administration’s deadline.

“Let me be clear, the Waterbury Branch is not getting shut down and is under no threat of getting shut down,” said Kevin Nursick, spokesman for the state Department of Transportation.

Presidential Candidates in ALBANY, New York

Three of the five remaining presidential candidates were in Albany Monday, part of abnormally robust campaigns ahead of New York’s April 19 primary. Ohio Gov. John Kasich  huddled with GOP state legislators in the Capitol at noon, before heading to events in North Greenbush and Saratoga Springs. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders will start his day in Binghamton, and then held a rally at the Washington Avenue Armory at 2 p.m. before hosting a third event in Buffalo. And Donald Trump met supporters at the Knickerbocker Arena (also called the Times Union Center)  at 7.

Democratic Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders ticked off reasons why he believes the U.S. economy is “rigged” at the Washington Avenue Armory and sharply criticized his rival in the primary, Hillary Clinton.

In front of a raucous Albany crowd, the Vermont U.S. senator implored supporters to turn out on April 19, when Sanders is taking on Clinton in her adopted home state of New York, where Clinton served as a U.S. senator.

 BernieSupportersChantOutsideArmoryBernie supporters outside the Washington AvenueArmory chanting “Feel The Bern” . One said:”Seeing Sen. Bernie Sanders, she said, “is, like, bigger than seeing Beyonce.”

“Let us next week have the highest voter turnout in the history of New York State,” Sanders said, noting that his campaign has been successful so far in high-turnout states.

More than 4,000 people packed into the Armory, and about 2,000 more tried to attend but were unable to get in.

“Let me apologize to the 2000 people outside who couldn’t get in, we appreciate it,” Sanders said.


MTA looking to bring the W back to Astoria

The previously discontinued subway line would replace the Q in Queens

It’s 2010 all over again in Astoria.

The MTA is planning to restore the W subway line in city’s easternmost borough starting this fall to replace the Q train, which is being rerouted away from Queens as part of the ongoing Second Avenue Subway project in Manhattan.

In a release issued last Friday, the agency said it plans to hold a public hearing sometime in the spring to receive feedback on the idea from impacted residents on both sides of the East River.

“Adding the W line to the system,” the MTA said, “will provide more choices to Queens and Manhattan customers who use the Broadway N, Q and R lines, as well as allow New York City Transit to prepare for a seamless transition and connection of service between those lines and the Second Avenue Subway.”

The agency is proposing changing the northern terminus of the Q line — which runs in Queens between Queensboro Plaza in Long Island City and Ditmars Boulevard in Astoria — to 57th Street-7th Avenue in Manhattan until the new 72nd Street, 86th Street and 96th Street stations on the Upper East Side open in December.

In order to maintain service in Astoria, the W train — which was discontinued six years ago due to financial constraints — will run between Ditmars Boulevard and Whitehall Street in Manhattan on weekdays.

The subway will not run on weekends or late nights, forcing riders in Astoria to take the N train — which, along with the R train, would not be impacted by the alteration to the Q line.

“The changes, including the restoration of the W line, maintain service frequency and loading guidelines for customers in Astoria,” the MTA said, “and avoid significant deviations from current service that might confuse customers on those affected lines.”

The opening of the three new Manhattan stations are part of the Second Avenue Subway project’s first phase. When completed, the new line would run from 125th Street to Hanover Square in Manhattan.

In a Tuesday Facebook post, Councilman Costa Constantinides (D-Astoria) called the MTA’s announcement “long overdue” and “welcome news for our residents.”

“When the W was taken out of commission in 2010, we held a funeral and called for the service to stay,” Constantinides said. “With this new proposal, our neighborhood will have the choices to get to and from Manhattan during weekdays, including service to Whitehall Street, and allow for an easy transition to the upcoming Second Avenue Subway.”

The cost of the service changes announced Friday will be $13.7 million annually, which, according to the agency, has been incorporated into NYC Transit’s approved budget.

The Second Avenue Subway project entails the creation of a new train line — provisionally called the T —that would run along the East Side of Manhattan between 125th Street and Hanover Square in the Financial District.


Steve Weissman | Robert Reich vs. Paul Krugman on Bernie Sanders vs. Hillary Clinton

Now that both Hill and Bern have gone negative and set out to disqualify and demolish each other on the killing fields of New York, it helps to recall the wisdom of Bill Clinton’s labor secretary Robert Reich. Hillary Clinton, whom Reich has known since she was 19, is “the most qualified candidate for president of the political system we now have,” he said. “But Bernie Sanders is the most qualified candidate to create the political system we should have, because he’s leading a political movement for change.”

It’s as simple as that. Do you want a widely recognized face fronting an oligarchy of billionaire tax dodgers, Wall Street bankers, multinational corporation execs, and the merchants of death that President Dwight Eisenhower originally called the Military-Industrial-Congressional Complex? Or do you prefer a more just and equitable social democrat welfare state similar to those that flourished in Scandinavia and much of Western Europe in the decades after World War II?

“The upcoming election isn’t about detailed policy proposals,” said Reich, a self-admitted policy wonk who endorses Sanders. “It’s about power ‒ whether those who have it will keep it, or whether average Americans will get some as well.”

Paul Krugman, the Nobel Prize-winning economist and columnist for The New York Times, takes an opposing view. Consistently favoring Hillary’s well-honed command of policy details over Bernie’s frontal attack on Wall Street, he has little patience for calls to renew the Glass-Steagall division between commercial and investment banking and to break up banks that are too big to fail. Krugman’s concern, which I share, is that the collapse of the global economy had its cause in smaller shadow banks and non-Wall Street institutions like Countrywide Financial. I would also focus on the Clinton administration’s crippling of Brooksley Born’s efforts as chair of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission to regulate credit default swaps and other hybrid instruments.

But Krugman jumps in with both feet, chastising Sanders for saying that Hillary was unqualified to be president. “I don’t believe that she is qualified if she is through her super PAC taking tens of millions of dollars in special-interest funds,” Sanders said in Philadelphia on Wednesday. “I don’t think that you are qualified if you voted for the disastrous war in Iraq. I don’t think you are qualified if you supported almost every disastrous trade agreement.” Krugman risks his own credibility by failing to mention that the Clinton campaign started the mud-slinging, as reported by CNN’s senior Washington correspondent, Jeff Zeleny:

The Clinton campaign has refrained from going nuclear on Sanders, aides say, in large part to keep at least some good will alive in hopes of unifying the party at the end of the primary fight.

No more, a top adviser told CNN. The fight is on. Extending an olive branch to Sanders’ supporter “will come later,” an adviser said.

It’s a new moment in this Democratic primary fight, with the Clinton campaign poised to dramatically escalate its criticism of Sanders in the coming days.

As the Clinton campaign summed up its three-part strategy, “Disqualify him, defeat him, and unify the party later.”

Will Clinton’s negative approach ‒ or Bernie’s embarrassed reaction to it ‒ make any difference? We won’t know until after April 19, the day of the New York primary. But if Krugman has it wrong and Reich gets it right that this primary election is about power rather than policy, someone has to say that Hillary is completely unqualified to lead any effort to bring change. And in political terms, nothing would set that change in motion more effectively than breaking up the Wall Street banks, either at the start of a Sanders administration in 2017 or an Elizabeth Warren administration in 2021.

The new strategy builds on Clinton’s earlier effort to frame the primary as a choice between “Hillary’s pragmatism” and “Bernie’s idealism,” defining herself as “a progressive who gets things done.” She also acted as if she and Bernie wanted many of the same things, which seems to be true of social issues, including women’s rights. But as media maven Jeff Cohen pointed out in February, “what she gets done is anti-progressive (not unlike President Clinton in the 1990s).” What on earth is progressive about her promoting fracking worldwide, boosting corporate-friendly trade deals, enabling military coups, escalating the Afghan War, pushing chaotic military intervention in the Middle East and Libya, or pocketing millions from corporate lecture fees?

If she truly believes these are the way to a better world, she is the wild-eyed idealist. By contrast, Bernie is pure pragmatist when he insists on our building a huge popular movement to force through the changes America needs. Hillary’s pragmatism is more limited. Just listen to her long, wonky answers where she carefully leaves herself free to go back to her earlier support for the kind of world that her corporate and Wall Street backers want. What a brilliant lawyer she is, fully in the tradition of Slick Willie and what the definition of “is” is.

At the CNN debate in early March, she supported fracking, but only if local communities want it, if it does not cause pollution, and if the fracking companies disclose the chemicals they use. “By the time we get through all of my conditions, I do not think there will be many places in America where fracking will continue to take place,” she said. She added that some places with fracking are not sufficiently regulated. “We have to regulate everything that is currently underway, and we have to have a system in place that prevents further fracking unless conditions like the ones that I just mentioned are met.”

“My answer is a lot shorter,” said Sanders to applause. “No, I do not support fracking.”

She leaves herself the same freedom on Obama’s Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement, which she once supported but now opposes. As Chamber of Commerce president Tom Donohue assured viewers on Bloomberg TV in January, if elected president, Hillary would find a way to support the corporate backed trade agreement. That alone would make her unqualified to be president.

Steve Weissman, Reader Supported News
Weissman writes: “Do you want a widely recognized face fronting an oligarchy of billionaire tax dodgers, Wall Street bankers, multinational corporation execs, and the merchants of death? Or do you prefer a more just and equitable social democrat welfare state similar to those that flourished in Scandinavia and much of Western Europe in the decades after World War II?”

Honolulu leaders aim to curb cost overruns, promote benefits of city’s first passenger-rail system

A map shows Honolulu’s planned 20–mile passenger–rail system.

By Daniel Niepow, Associate Editor

Honolulu is home to 350,000 residents — a small sum compared to the likes of New York City or Los Angeles, where millions of people live. Even so, the Hawaiian city experiences some of the worst traffic congestion in the United States. In a 2014 ranking of congestion levels across the country by GPS-maker TomTom, Honolulu came in third, surpassing New York City, Chicago and many other much larger cities.

To reduce gridlock, city leaders are overseeing a plan to build a 20-mile elevated rail system. The largest public works project in Hawaii’s history, the rail line will run from Kapolei in the west to the Ala Moana shopping center just east of Honolulu’s downtown area, with a stop at the Honolulu International Airport.

Voters approved the plan in 2008, and the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation (HART) was formed in mid-2011 to shepherd the project.

Cost increases, delays and local opposition have plagued the more than $6 billion project since ground broke in 2011, but HART executives are making concentrated efforts to rein in expenses. They’re also doing what they can to promote the line’s benefits and mitigate negative impacts of construction.

“It’s going to be disruptive and it’s going to be a challenge,” says HART Executive Director and Chief Executive Officer Dan Grabauskas. “We’ve let people know it’ll be one step backwards and two steps forwards.”

HART has ordered 80 driverless rail cars for the project.
Source: Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation

In November 2012, HART received word of the Federal Transit Administration’s (FTA) intent to sign a $1.55 billion full funding grant agreement. At the time, the rail project was estimated to cost $5.2 billion, with the balance covered by Honolulu’s general excise tax revenue. However, capital costs have since jumped to $6.4 billion.

Sticker shock

The increase is due, in part, to a Hawaii Supreme Court decision in August 2012 that led HART to suspend construction for more than a year, Grabauskas says.

The court ruled that the project should not have proceeded without the city conducting an inventory survey of archaeological sites — such as Native Hawaiian burials — located along the alignment. Accordingly, HART halted construction while the study was completed. The agency didn’t resume construction until September 2013.

When bidding resumed, prices had increased 10 percent to 14 percent, says Grabauskas.

Additionally, HART faced a separate lawsuit that in February 2014 went before the U.S. District Court of Hawaii and the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. A group opposing the project alleged that government leaders didn’t adequately explore other transit options during the environmental review process.

The courts rejected the opponents’ arguments. And, at the district court level, a judge removed an earlier injunction prohibiting HART from acquiring property on part of the alignment.

Ultimately, the lawsuits delayed the project and contributed to the cost increases, Grabauskas says.

“We’re bidding the remaining contracts two or three years later than we thought we would,” he says. “Time is money.”

Although there’s no “silver bullet” for addressing the price jumps, the agency is taking a series of steps to keep costs in check, Grabauskas says.

For example, HART no longer will issue contracts for segments where it hasn’t secured right-of-way agreements. HART leaders also are working with construction companies to find ways to repackage contracts.

Cost control

The agency had planned to award contracts for the guideway and accompanying stations separately. After consulting with builders, HART opted to combine both elements into single contracts for each geographic area.

“We’ve taken the opportunity when we were not in construction … to really sit with a lot of the construction companies and try to learn from them how we could modify our general conditions in our contracts,” Grabauskas says.

So far, HART has awarded contracts to a mix of local companies — such as Hawaiian Dredging Construction Co. and Nan Inc. — and big-name national companies like Kiewit Corp., which was tapped to build the first 10 miles of the guideway, along with a 43-acre rail operations center in west Oahu.

Meanwhile, HART leaders expect to save money on operating costs by employing a driverless fleet. The agency contracted AnsaldoBreda, which was acquired by Hitachi Ltd. in November 2015, to build 80 fully automated rail cars in four-unit consists. The first train is being built at a plant in Pittsburg, Calif., and is expected to arrive in spring.

On a per-mile basis, the cost of operating the trains should be about 40 cents, or half the cost of running the city’s bus system, Grabauskas says. Each four-car train will be able to carry 800 people.

The rail system’s total operating costs would be $110 million to $120 million annually, depending on electricity usage and other factors.

Electricity and staffing are expected to consume the largest part of HART’s yearly operating budget, Grabauskas says, estimating that the agency will employ 300 workers once the system is in service by 2021’s end.

As HART leaders endeavor to keep project costs in check, they’re marketing the line’s traffic-mitigating potential to the public. By 2030, the agency expects daily ridership to reach nearly 120,000, which could mean a significant reduction in cars on city roads. But until the line opens and people can “tangibly see the benefits,” it remains a challenge to sell the idea to the public, Grabauskas says. So, the outreach continues.

Getting the public on board

For example, HART leaders are giving presentations at neighborhood board meetings to provide updates and answer questions from the public. On local cable access and online, they also broadcast the monthly “Honolulu on the Move” program, which features interviews with project leaders on any recent developments.

Whatever the outreach method, HART execs focus on three main benefits of the line: traffic reduction, decreased environmental impacts and economic development.

As residents opt to commute by train instead of by car, greenhouse gas emissions would drop, HART leaders maintain. What’s more, the project could cut Honolulu’s daily transportation energy demand by 3 percent, or the equivalent of 120,000 barrels of oil, according to HART’s website.

There’s also the potential for transit-oriented development near rail stations. This kind of development — which aims to create walkable neighborhoods that concentrate housing, shopping and jobs near transit centers — could bring both economic and environmental benefits to the area.

In addition, HART execs set up a “myth busters” page on the project’s website, where they address various claims leveled against the project, including concerns about cost and safety. One claim alleges that the project is unsafe due to cracks found in the guideway; HART responds that all construction must undergo “rigorous” quality and safety inspections. Furthermore, the agency notes that it had already identified these cracks, which would be repaired at the contractor’s own cost.

HART officials are trying to lessen the construction project’s impact on local businesses situated on line, too. Last year, HART launched a program called “Shop and Dine on the Line,” through which people who visit certain stores and restaurants near rail construction sites can receive discounts.

A second look

HART leaders also must answer to local government representatives. Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell, for example, is keeping close tabs on the project.

In July 2015, Caldwell hired transit-rail consultant Michael Burns to provide additional oversight of HART’s plans. Previously, Burns served in executive roles at several U.S. transit agencies, including the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority, San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency and Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority.

“We need to make sure that taxpayer funds are spent responsibly. With a project of this size, it’s always good to have checks and balances in place,” Caldwell says. “I know a fresh set of eyes to review and provide oversight will benefit the city, HART, and the city council.”

Pressing on

While Caldwell understands citizens’ concerns about the project’s costs, he maintains that the traffic-reducing benefits ultimately will outweigh any snags encountered along the way.

“I believe [the rail project] is worth fighting for because I know that when it comes to traffic congestion, Oahu is at a breaking point,” Caldwell says. “If you ask any Oahu resident who has been around for more than five or 10 years, you will hear how our freeway and streets have changed.”

Despite the delays, HART has achieved several project milestones, including the completion of 5 miles of guideway in December 2015. Pending continued progress, the city may opt for a “soft opening” of the system’s first 10 miles in 2018. And, on the funding front, the Honolulu City Council late last month voted to extend Oahu’s general excise tax by five years, which would help cover the cost increases.

Still, as the project proceeds, the community is bound to feel some adverse traffic impacts due to construction — which is why it’s so important to keep residents informed about the rail system’s future benefits, Grabauskas says.

“We’re constantly trying to let people know why we’re doing what we’re doing and helping them to understand,” he says.

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[Editor’s note: The City and County of Honolulu, which encompasses all of Oahu, has a population of more than 991,000 residents. The urban core of Honolulu, which is referred to as “Urban Honolulu” by the U.S. Census Bureau, has a population of about 350,000.]