Brightline derails, causing extensive damage; ‘definitive’ cause in question

A Brightline train derailed during testing earlier this year, causing more than $400,000 of damage, according to the Federal Railroad Administration.

The derailment occurred at 5 p.m. Feb. 11 as one of Brightline’s five passenger trains returned to the railroad’s West Palm Beach maintenance facility, according to the incident report Brightline filed with the federal agency.

The train had just finished performing signal tests, according to Brightline.

As the train entered the yard, the locomotive truck — the part of the train that supports the locomotive and provides propulsion and braking — derailed, taking two axles off the track.

Damages to the train was about $408,000; damage to the track was negligible, according to Brightline.

The $3.5 billion Miami-to-Orlando passenger railroad is to begin phase 1 service, between Miami and West Palm Beach, by the end of the year. The railroad has not set a date for phase 2 — from West Palm, through the Treasure Coast and Space Coast and on to Orlando International Airport — but service is expected to be at least several years away.

Though popular in South Florida and much of Brevard County, Brightline has faced staunch opposition and legal action from Treasure Coast governments and citizen groups, which say the railroad would endanger public safety, the environment and quality of life.

NYC Pols Want MTA to Be More Transparent About Its Spending

Two New York City Council members are calling on Metropolitan Transportation Authority Chairman Joe Lhota to set up an independent commission to examine the MTA’s runaway costs as the city and state continue to spar over who should fund a plan to fix the city’s subway system.

In August, Manhattan Councilwoman Helen Rosenthal and Upper Manhattan Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez, chairman of the Council’s Transportation Committee, wrote a letter to Lhota requesting the creation of the commission. They said that the MTA has not responded to their request and that they are looking to stress the urgency of the situation.

They noted that independent research has concluded that the MTA has the highest transit construction costs in the world, spending many more times than other cities for similar projects.

“If we really want to have a system that represents the 21st century, if we really want to have a system that’s accessible for everyone, we really wanna have a system that gets out to transit deserts such as far out in Queens and northern Manhattan and the Bronx, then what we need is for the MTA to figure out why it spends four to 10 times more money than any other city,” Rosenthal said.

“As it starts to investigate that issue … their costs will come down and then we can have a 21st century transit system and then we can have a transit system where everyone, where everyone — even if you’re in a wheelchair, even if you use a walker — where everyone can ride the subway to get to work and get home,” she continued.

The Council members said that the request comes amid the MTA’s request that the city pay half of the $836 million short-term renewal project to fix the city’s subway system.

The Council members noted that while Paris was able to build a new line for $370 million, for example, the first phase of the Second Avenue subway cost $2.7 billion per mile.

Rodriguez also noted that the Mario Cuomo Bridge, for example, was built on time.

“This is about … our children and for the new generation,” he said. “We cannot leave New York City behind. We are taking about 8.5 million New Yorkers. Only 1.4 million have cars. And even most of those who have cars, they live in transportation deserts. They live in places where they have to walk 50 blocks.”

The mayor and the governor have clashed in the last few months over who is responsible for the city’s crumbling subway system.

At the end of July, Lhota unveiled a subway turnaround plan that included the short-term plan, which centers on signal and track maintenance, car reliability, system safety and cleanliness and customer communications. The $8 billion second phase is composed of long-term improvements, including better subway cars, updated communications technology and a new signal system.

Lhota proposed that the city and state split the cost of the short-term plan but de Blasio has refused, maintaining that the money to fund the plan is already in the governor’s budget.

The Council members and transit advocates in attendance, including John Raskin of the Riders Alliance, also criticized New York City Transit’s Enhanced Station Initiative, referencing the service problems on the B, D, F and M lines on Monday morning.

State Senator Michael Gianaris, who is the deputy minority leader, reiterated that the MTA is run by the state, not the city.

“The city does not control the MTA. The state controls the MTA … I don’t begrudge the city for saying, ‘I don’t trust the MTA to come take our city money ‘ … This is the state’s responsibility and the state needs to find a solution for it,” Gianaris said.

He noted that the mayor and others proposed the millionaires tax, which would tax wealthy residents to finance subway repairs and reduced fares for low-income New Yorkers. Cuomo, for his part, is currently studying a congestion pricing plan to tackle the problem.

“Let’s get the state on the ball and figure out what the answer is because the state is providing precious few answers,” he continued. “They are the ones that have to step in and are failing.”

The MTA said that the study that the Council members are calling for was already done by the MTA with a blue ribbon panel in 2008. One recommendation made by the panel, the agency said, is bonding changes that are now in use, including on the Long Island Rail Road expansion project, a project that seeks to add a 9.8 mile-third track to the Main Line between Floral Park and Hicksville.

In a statement, Shams Tarek, an MTA spokesman, said that the MTA studies best practices and takes “aggressive steps” to build major projects while reducing costs, with approaches such as design-build contracting and holding contractors accountable for delays.

“New York has some of the highest construction costs across all industries — which is exactly why the MTA’s new senior management team is laser-focused on this issue,” Tarek said. “And while ignoring the facts can garner headlines, the fact is that there has been a study on this topic — a 2008 blue ribbon panel on construction at the MTA made a series of recommendations that are paying off.”

NEXT: Hyperloop Commuting

David Staley @ Columbus Underground

Everyone who reads Columbus Underground must be aware that Columbus—or, rather the Chicago-Columbus-Pittsburgh “Midwest Hyperloop Project”— was one of 10 winners of Hyperloop One’s Global Challenge. Hyperloop, you’ll recall, is Elon Musk’s vision for a network of “vacuum tube trains:” trains that are sealed in a tube such that air and wind resistance are eliminated, meaning that, with very little power, the train can move along at very high speeds. If this vision is realized, a trip from Chicago to Columbus might take 30 minutes or so, a trip from Columbus to Pittsburgh only 20. The revolution in transportation—in the movement of people and freight—is obvious to contemplate. But the social and cultural consequences are no less important to consider.

Airline travel would surely be reduced were a system of hyperloops established across the country. If a trip to Chicago takes half the time, an airline flight now looks less inviting as a mode of travel. Many domestic airlines would ground their flights in such an environment, although international flights would more than likely remain the preferred method of international travel (unless hyperloops can be placed below—or above?—the oceans, and I’ve yet to see anyone proposing this.)

Depending on the scope of hyperloops across the country, freight will also be transported in this fashion, which would mean that the volume of trucking would similarly be reduced. Indeed, I assume that the transportation of freight would occur before that of people—there are still concerns about the experience of traveling by hyperloop and whether it will be comfortable enough. Inanimate objects would have little concern for passenger comfort.

Amazon would most certainly be interested in such high speed freight service, meaning that customer orders could be filled more quickly. Amazon fulfillment centers will likely be situated along hyperloop routes. This all assumes, of course, a robust network of hyperloops across the country, not only a Midwest corridor.

A half hour trip to Chicago would remake our cities. Currently, my commute from the suburbs to campus is about a half an hour each morning. If I could reach Chicago in 30 minutes, I might consider taking a job in Chicago but continue to live in Columbus. (And vice versa: I might live in Chicago and commute each day to Columbus).

I can recall one time—only one time—I awoke early one morning, took the first flight out of John Glenn International to Chicago, conducted my business, then hopped onto an afternoon flight at O’Hare to return to Columbus in time for dinner. I would not want to do that on a daily basis (I spent more time in airports that day than actually on a plane), but I could see some people who would easily and cheerfully take up to an hour one way to commute each day to Chicago and back. Columbus would become, in effect, a suburb of Chicago.

In the same way that the automobile transformed American cities and the residential patterns of suburbia, hyperloop might similarly refashion cities. As four-lane highways radiated out of the mid-20th Century city, cities like Columbus and Pittsburg might be similarly extended outward along a network of hyperloop trains. The distance between “where I work” and “where I live” might now be extended across several hundred miles.

We should be clear that hyperloop commuters will, at least in the early stages, be members of the economic elite. There is no consensus yet as to the cost of a hyperloop trip, but it seems unlikely that the cost would be something like the $2 it costs me to ride COTA. Even if a hyperloop trip to Chicago is less than the cost of flying there, which it most likely would be, a round trip cost of even $40 per day would mean that hyperloop-commuting would only be possible for a relative few.

Hyperloop would not address transportation around the city, of course, as in how I would get my kid to school or how I would get to the grocery. That is, American cities like Columbus will remain automobile-centric unless and until we decide to redesign our cities around light rail or bicycles or some other alternative form of transportation. A hyperloop from Clintonville to Westerville would, of course, be ridiculously impractical.

But when the Midwest Hyperloop Project is completed, many Midwesterners will quickly find Columbus to be an easily accessible place to live and work.

David Staley is interim director of the Humanities Institute and a professor of history at The Ohio State University. He is president of Columbus Futurists and host of CreativeMornings Columbus. The next Columbus Futurists monthly forum will be Thursday October 19 at 6:30 p.m. at the Panera Bread community room (875 Bethel Rd.) The topic will be “Hyperloop and its Impact on Central Ohio.”