First birthday for the Second Avenue Subway

It has been running for one year.

The MTA says ridership on the Second Avenue Subway has been growing and it has eased some of the congestion on the nearby Lexington Line that serves the 4,5, and 6 trains.

There have been some growing pains, including a problem with the fire sprinklers and escalators at an entrance. Crews trained in fire safety had to be posted along the line in the fall of 2017. The MTA says the contractor will be covering those costs.

The final price of the new line continues to be a point of controversy. Some critics point to it as an example of problems with the MTA’s mega-projects.

Businesses along the corridor say sales and profits are on the rise.

Sammy Musovic, owner of Selena Rosa on Second Avenue at 89th Street, is also with the local merchants association. He says the new subway is bringing more people to the area after nearly 9 years of hardship. Some businesses did not make it.

The second phase of the new subway would take it to 125th Street and a connection with the Lexington Line. That is in the early stages of environmental review. The State and City of New York are counting on the federal government to be a funding partner.

After nearly a century of discussion and decades of on-again-off-again work, three station along the Second Avenue Subway opened to the public for service on January 1, 2017. It connects to the Q line.

It takes people from the Upper East Side to Coney Island and brings F-train riders from Queens with a transfer at Lexington/53rd St.

There was a reception at the 86th Street Station on New Year’s Eve for officials and people who worked on the project.


Hyperloop One raises $50 million from Dubai and Russian funders

Virgin Hyperloop One, a Los Angeles company, announced it has raised $50 million from foreign venture capital investors and made Richard Branson the chairman of its board of directors.

The new round of funding came from Dubai’s DP World and Russia’s Caspian Venture Capital. Axios, which first reported the story, called the money a lifeline for a company so low on cash that the jobs of some 300 employees were at stake.

The company has raised $295 million since its 2014 founding.

Great for them, but poor Louisville to Chicago is stuck on stupid.

Deutsche Bahn Knows How To Run High Speed Rail


By Noel T. Braymer

While subject to approval by the Board of the California High Speed Rail Authority at their next meeting on October 19th, the consortium headed by Deutsche Bahn (DB) for planning initial High Speed Rail service in California is a good choice. This was from a choice of a total of 4 consortiums, all highly competent in High Speed Rail Service. Coming second in ranking was a group headed by Spanish Railroad RENFE with successful HSR service. Third was a group with both Italian and British companies with HSR experience. Fourth was the Chinese group responsible for the largest and fastest HSR system in the world. Much has been said by critics that the California High Speed Rail Project is an example of a government boondoggle. Yet most of the work getting the High Speed Rail Project built has been done by private companies who won their…

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Passenger Trains Are The Safest Place To Be In A Crash


By Noel T. Braymer

If an airplane crashed with over 80 people on board but with only three deaths, the headlines would call that a miracle. But we see much the same circumstances with the recent crash in Washington State of Amtrak 501 and the headlines are basically saying rail passenger service isn’t safe. There is a lot that can and should be done to prevent rail passenger service accidents. But accidents happen. When there is a train crash even a terrible one, people are more likely to survive than they would in a plane, bus, car let alone on a motorcycle in a serious accident. This wasn’t always so, and passenger trains today are much safer than they were 50 years ago, let alone over a hundred years ago.

As much as people love the romance of steam locomotives, they had a habit of blowing up. In my family…

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Fixing Broken Links To Train Travel


By Noel T. Braymer

There are many places to go to, which don’t have rail service. The solution is often connecting transit service. But too often you can’t there from here that way. We have seen increased connections to rail and bus transit at train stations in California. These see a lot of transfers. But there are many places in California trying to take transit from the train station to your destination is often slow and roundabout. The California State Rail Plan is proposing the expansion of the State’s connecting bus services to more places. This would be in line with plans for more frequent train service on all of the rail passenger services in the State. This would mean regular service on many lines at least twice an hour most of the day. To connect these expanded services to more of the state and neighboring states will require more…

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NYC transit wish list: Ferry expansion, congestion pricing, MTA subway fixes and more

It’s been a roller-coaster year for transit in New York City.

2017 brought subway trains under Second Avenue and new ferries to the harbor. A summer subway derailment injured dozens; track fires and crippling delays marked a tipping point for steadily declining subway service and widened the political divide between City Hall and Albany.

While new leadership at the MTA searches for ideas to improve transit, we’ve spoken to New Yorkers in each borough this holiday season, who — after living through a brutal year in commuting — had plenty of suggestions.


Congestion pricing

Peter Beadle, of Forest Hills, said he’d like to see the city implement a form of congestion pricing — preferably a plan outlined several years ago called Move New York. The plan would toll all East River bridges and traffic as it crosses into midtown Manhattan, while also lowering the tolls on crossings in car-dependent outer boroughs.

“The top of my wish list would be the implementation of the Move NY plan, a congestion pricing plan that rationalizes East River crossing tolls and raises millions of dollars to repair and modernize out subways and buses,” Beadle said.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo is expected to unveil a congestion pricing proposal in his State of the State address next month, though it remains unclear how much his plan — if any of it — will borrow from Move New York.

Ferry service extension

A year after New York City Ferry service launched, Rockaway resident Joe Hartigan said he’d like to see local service in his neighborhood expanded to reach Kennedy Airport.

“By extending the ferry route to Kennedy Airport, Rockaway could have ferry service on the (half) hour and an additional stop at 69th Street without any additional subsidy. The ferry to the airport would not be subsidized and a separate charge,” Hartigan said.

More north-south bus service

Bay Terrace resident Warren Schreiber said he’d like to have more north-to-south local bus service in his area of Queens and the implementation of what’s known as a Freedom Ticket — the concept of charging lower LIRR fares for riders using the rail network within city limits.

“We have three bus lines and I can take any of those bus lines and go to Flushing,” Schreiber said. “I can’t go anyplace else. I would love to have routes that would go north and south. If I wanted to go from here (Bay Terrace) to Queens Borough Hall, it involves a bus and two subways. That’s almost two hours.

“I would really love to see options available where we can travel from one end of the borough to the other — we don’t have a subway here.”


New subway app

Ada Lin, 24, an assistant teacher from Sheepshead Bay, said “there’s a lot to fix” at the MTA. Chief among those problems: the agency needs to do a better job of communicating with riders during service disruptions — preferably through a new, rider-friendly app.

“Alternate routes don’t work. Finding a different way is really hard,” Lin said. “The maps don’t really help if you don’t know which way to go. Maybe create an app that could find alternative routes quickly to help us navigate through the system.”

MTA chairman Joe Lhota agrees and has said that the agency is in the process of developing a new wayfinding app.

Better L train shutdown plan

The MTA and city Department of Transportation released their plan to move hundreds of thousands of L train riders when the line shuts down for 15 months in 2019. But many residents don’t feel like the plan goes far enough to prevent commuting bedlam — including Williamsburg architect Jordan MacTavish.

“I’m very worried about the L train shutdown,” MacTavish said. “They’ve put in place different resources for that, but I don’t think that’s going to be enough. Increase the frequency of the trains. The L train is actually very predictable,” he said, adding that that needs to be the case for “all other lines.”

New train cars

Corey Lun, 27, a plumber from Sheepshead Bay, said he’d like new train cars — especially to replace the rickety cars on his line.

“I’m going to pick two things: some of the trains need new trains, some of them are really old like the B train,” he said, adding they make weird sounds as they move through the tunnels. “They should lower the fare to $2. I feel like they’re just taking advantage. Everyone has different situations going on. It’s hard out there for people.”

The model of the cars on the B line went into service in the late 1980s. While not the oldest of the MTA’s fleet, the two train car models running on the line do break down 11 percent more frequently than the average of all subway lines.


More dedicated space for cyclists

Kelvin Fanas, a 22-year-old bike courier from the Concourse area of the Bronx, said he’d want a network of underground tunnels for cyclists looking to get around the city. While an underground cycling superhighway might be a bit costly, Fanas said he’s also in favor of more dedicated bikeways — like the Hudson River Greenway — that give cyclists complete separation from vehicular traffic. Even parking-protected bike lanes are too dangerous, Fanas said, because of the risk of getting hit by a car door swinging open.

“It’s crazy — every second there’s something in your way,” said Fanas, on cycling in Manhattan. “I stay away from other bikes and bike lanes. I just act like I’m a car — that’s the only way to survive. Just demand your lane and you’ll be OK.”

Better weekend subway service

Zecia Duran, 26, a Hostos Community College student from Longwood, wants ramped up weekend subway service. The 25-minute commute to her job at a dental office across the borough could take double or triple the time, she said, thanks to service changes or planned work.

“Usually trains are running express and I have to use another station — and then you spend so much time waiting I end up being late for work or school,” she said.

New subway PA system

Stanley White, 62, of the Concourse area, said he’s tired of missing subway service changes because he can’t understand the public address system. As a rider of the 2, 4 and 5 lines, he’d like a complete revamp of the system.

“The service is always going to be lousy — at least let us understand what you’re saying when you’re telling us that we’re being delayed,” White said. “You can never understand a word that they’re saying. All you can hear is ‘squawk squawk squawk’ and you’re sitting there trying to figure out what the hell they just said.

“The thing is so muffled that you end up staying on your train anyhow because you don’t know what they’re saying,” he said, adding that “it takes being more than an experienced traveler to understand the PA system in the trains.”


North Shore waterfront bikeway

Rose Uscianowski, a Stapleton resident and senior ambassador at the advocacy group Transportation Alternatives, said she’d like a waterfront bikeway built along Staten Island’s North Shore — spanning from the Bayonne Bridge to the Verrazano Bridge.

The bikeway would serve both recreational and transportation uses, according to Uscianowski, who envisions the path as a complement to the bike share service that the city hopes to bring to the borough next year. The bikeway would also run past the Staten Island Ferry.

“Right now, you technically have bike lanes on Richmond Terrace and you have sharrows [shared lanes] on Bay Street, but in reality they’re not safe, they’re not protected, they’re not welcoming and they also don’t give waterfront access, which is this beautiful natural advantage that you have being on the island. But when you can’t access the waterfront you’re not taking advantage of what you have,” Uscianowski said.

“If we want bike share to not only come to Staten Island but to actually be successful here and get utilized, we don’t just need more bicycle infrastructure,” she continued. “We need safe and welcoming bicycle infrastructure.”

Better traffic management

Carlos Cancela, of Clifton, wishes for better traffic management in the borough — preferably through the deployment of more crossing guards at busy and dangerous intersections. Cancela, 50, said that traffic through the borough is already brutal and that big projects like the expansion of the Staten Island Mall and the development of Empire Outlets and New York Wheel would only add to the congestion.

“We could use more crossing guards on Hylan Boulevard — that’s a big disaster,” Cancela said. “They’re rebuilding the mall and I wonder what happens here when all the tourists pack in . . . It’s starting to look slowly more like New Jersey here with all the crashes that I’ve seen.”

Safe Staten Island Ferry bike parking

St. George cabbie Mitchell Vaillant suggested a small but important change: installing safe and secure bicycle parking at the St. George Terminal, down near where cyclists board the boat — an area managed by security guards.

The current parking area on the Richmond Terrace side of the ferry terminal is in a desolate area where bikes and parts are often stolen, Vaillant said.

“They strip bikes there all the time,” he said. “The one place where you could have a bike rack is down there where we walk our bikes in. There are guards there, a parking lot — but no bike parking. To me, it’s obvious that’s the safest place and there’s space for a rack.”


Second Avenue subway extension

If Alex Sanchez of East Harlem had a magic wand, the planned expansion of the Second Avenue subway to 125th Street would be completed in 2018. Though for now he’d be content with more service on the 6 line running through his neighborhood.

Sanchez, 38, an operating room technician, said that even though he moved to East Harlem from Brownsville, Brooklyn, his nearly hourlong commute to midtown barely changed because of how crowded the 6 is during rush hours.

“I have to wait for two trains to go by before I could even get in,” Sanchez said. “I’m a little claustrophobic, so I hate it. I need to make sure I get on a train that won’t be too crowded to even get off at my stop.”

Sanchez called the planed second phase of the Second Avenue subway line “great” but was ultimately skeptical that he’d see the line come into service.

“It took them almost a hundred years to get to 96th; I don’t know how long it will take them to get to 125th,” he said.

As officials look to secure full funding for the project, which would bring the Second Avenue line into East Harlem, with three new stops running up to 125th Street, the MTA currently plans to have early design work done in 2018.

Better bus service

Bus service was so slow and unreliable for Debbie Clark, 48, that she decided to just start walking from her home in Harlem to her job as a keyboard specialist in the Mott Haven area of the Bronx, over the Third Avenue Bridge. To improve service, Clark said she’d like to see more dedicated bus lanes in the city and additional long, articulated buses that can carry more passengers.

“After a certain time, the trains and buses just seem to slow down when the peak starts,” said Clark. “By the time I get to work between 8 and 8:30 a.m., I see the traffic backed up and I know I will be late if I don’t just walk.”

Actual enforcement of bike lane blockers

Blocking a bicycle lane in New York City could pack a $115 summons. But based on all the cars Mario Castro sees clogging the lanes, there’s room for more enforcement. Castro, a retail worker from Hamilton Heights, said he’d like to see more police tickets for offenders and, in general, more respect for the city’s bike lanes.

“We really have bike lanes but drivers don’t really care about them. There’s always construction or cars blocking the bike lane,” said Castro, 25, who was out riding his mountain bike during a frigid winter evening recently. “Broadway is an obstacle course.”

Walkway Over The Hudson Awarded $500,000 for Visitors Center


POUGHKEEPSIE, N.Y. — the Walkway Over The Hudson is getting a new visitors center.

The Walkway was awarded a $500,000 grant through New York State’s Consolidated Funding Application (CFA) program this week, to be allocated toward the planned Eastern Entrance Welcome Center.

The welcome center is expected to be completed by spring 2019 and will feature permanent restrooms, a gathering area for up to 40 visitors, water fountains, benches, lighting, landscaping and other amenities. The welcoming center will cost approximately $3 million and be located adjacent to the park’s east side parking lot and at the juncture between the Walkway State Park and the Dutchess County Rail Trail.

“The Dutchess Welcome Center is another great and much-needed enhancement to Walkway Over the Hudson State Historic Park,” said Walkway Executive Director Elizabeth Waldstein-Hart.

Whenever I hear about the WALKWAY, I think of old friend, the late Bernie Rudberg from Hopewell Junction. Know a lot of others promoted the Walkway, but Bernie was a great promoter.

Murphy Picks Turnpike Veteran to Be New Jersey Transportation Chief


New Jersey Governor-elect Phil Murphy chose a toll-road veteran to oversee transportation, charging her with fixing a commuter bus and rail system he called “a national disgrace.”

Diane Gutierrez-Scaccetti for the past six-and-a-half years has been director of Florida’s turnpikes. From 2008 to 2010, she was executive director of the New Jersey Turnpike Authority, which oversees toll roads and was where she had a 21-year career.

“There’s no doubt that revenue is going to be required to accomplish the mission,” Gutierrez-Scaccetti said at a news conference at New Jersey Transit’s Secaucus station. She declined to say whether a fare increase is in the works, explaining that she must study finances of the nation’s largest statewide mass-transportation agency.

Under Republican Governor Chris Christie, New Jersey Transit, once a national model, has shifted billions of dollars to day-to-day operations from its capital account. Two fare increases during his administration haven’t kept pace with the need for maintenance and equipment upgrades, and rail commuters increasingly endure crowded rides and late connections. The railroad has the most accidents and safety fines among its peers, and the second-highest number of breakdowns, federal data show.

The transportation commissioner, Murphy said, will “take care of the national disgrace that is New Jersey Transit: Turn it upside down and shake it up, so we can make it right again.”

Gutierrez-Scaccetti and Murphy, a Democrat who will take office next month, indicated that at least some of Christie’s senior-level hires may depart. New Jersey lawmakers on an investigative committee examining NJ Transit’s operations and finances for more than a year have sought information about a dozen employees who once worked for Christie’s campaigns or the administration. Their requests, made under subpoena, have been rebuffed.

“We need relevant competence in the key seats urgently,” Murphy said. “If that competence doesn’t exist or if it’s in the wrong seat we will deal with that, I think, aggressively and immediately,” Murphy said.

The legacy of Hunter Harrison

Special Guest Blog by Fred Frailey

We would all agree that he was a genius at breaking down railroad operations to its simple components and running trains economically. Hunter Harrison learned railroading at the knee of a brilliant, profane Texan, William (Pisser Bill) Thompson, who was on his way to becoming VP-operations of the Frisco in the late 1960s when Hunter encountered him at Tennessee Yard in Memphis. “Young man,” said Thompson, spreading his arm toward a sea of freight cars, “what do you see out there?” “A lot of good business, Mr. Thompson,” replied Harrison. Retorted Thompson: “What? Good business? See, that’s the difference, Hunter. I see a bunch of delayed cars, and you say it’s good business.” Hunter Harrison retold that story the rest of his life, which ended unexpectedly in mid-December from complications of a respiratory disease.

From lessons such as this, Harrison learned inventory control and asset utilization. Later, within Burlington Northern’s Seattle Region, he tried before others did to run individual cars strictly by schedule, thereby getting better utilization of equipment, including locomotives. Later still, running operations at Illinois Central, he put into practice all the ideas that had been brewing within him, including balance—if you run a train east, run one west, and better yet, have them meet mid-way and swap crews, thereby ending away-from-home expenses. He later did his magic at Canadian National and Canadian Pacific, and upon his death was eight months into a remaking of CSX.

So a genius at railroad operations, yes. But was the man a genius at running a railroad? Running a railroad, after all, is about more than running trains. You have to consider retaining your customers and finding new ones, dealing with government, building high morale and on and on and on. No, he was not a genius, and in fact I would call the man merely ordinary in some aspects of being a chief executive and deficient in a few critical areas. To say this does not detract one iota from the respect I have always shown for him. We are all imperfect creatures.

Harrison was so focused on operations that other aspects of the CEO’s job may simply have bored him or conflicted with his operating policies. His big blind spot at Canadian National was customers, getting them and keeping them. I wrote (see “Hunter’s Way,” August 2009) that he insisted customers load cars seven days a week. The natural traffic cycle is low volume Sunday and Monday, building to a crescendo on Friday and into Saturday. This played havoc with his desire to achieve operational balance, running the same trains every day, each way, and thereby always having cars, locomotives and people in the right place.

To force customers to play the game his way, Harrison had his marketing vice president, Jim Foote, institute low rates for early in the week and successively higher rates through Friday. It worked, I guess, but at the cost of alienating the customers, who were bludgeoned into changing their way of doing business. One of the first things Claude Mongeau did upon becoming Harrison’s successor in 2010 was to publicly apologize for the way customers had been treated and pledge to turn over a new leaf, which CN did.

Later, at Canadian Pacific, Harrison’s blind spot became politics. You may recall he tried to publicly entice Norfolk Southern’s new chief executive, Jim Squires, into agreeing to a merger of their railroads. Squires didn’t just say no, but hell no, and to make sure Harrison got the point, put the full weight of Norfolk Southern’s formidable Washington, D.C., office into poisoning the well within the federal government. The effect NS had in Washington must have stunned Harrison, who told me years earlier that visiting Ottawa or Washington was “a waste of time.” CP did not have a Washington office, just a law firm that did lobbying under contract. Harrison, clueless to the intricacies of the political process, was publicly humiliated and gave up his grand plan to get the final round of mergers rolling.

But give the man his due. What Mongeau did at CN was keep Harrison’s operating practices intact while instituting more customer-friendly policies, along with some sophisticated initiatives that wed the railroad to the specific logistical needs of customers. The result is the hugely successful Canadian National you see today. Harrison’s protégé at CN and CP, Keith Creel, now chief executive of Canadian Pacific, is giving marketing and customer relations the attention that his former boss did not. I expect good results. Hunter Harrison’s practices, modified by customer-friendly policies, are a win-win combination.

This bring us to CSX and 2018. Did Harrison put the railroad on the right path or leave it in shambles, having ripped its practices and institutional knowledge almost to shreds while not living long enough to build a new foundation? I wish the former but suspect the latter.

His former colleague at CN and now his successor at CSX, Jim Foote, has his work cut out. I interviewed Foote in 2009 and thought him whip-smart and funny (meaning a quick thinker). Nowhere in his background is experience in operations. And operations is where CSX now stands exposed.

Lastly, I wish Hunter Harrison had been better teaching people how to think like him than he was, through his Hunter Camps, to act like him. It’s an important distinction. In other words, you can tell me what to do (Hunter Camps) but how do I learn to think like you? Maybe that is our biggest loss.



By M.E. Singer

As they say in Washington, “the chickens are coming home to roost.”  The Administration has not issued any reasonable plan to conceptualize, let alone, how to pay for our much ignored, under-funded infrastructure; as Congress fights for its legitimacy to get anything done. It becomes abundantly clear the meaning of these revised messages; without any real hope for enhancing passenger rail services. Now, the public is beseeched to understand the obvious “walk-back” of how infrastructure was this integral component of the recent national campaign. Instead of deploying the initial vision of a multi-trillion dollar investment by private financiers, the Administration now claims how little potential there is for true P3. Indeed, as well, how the cities and states will have to “pony-up” real dollars to make infrastructure re-building actually happen.  From Congress, we hear the vagueness of their intentions amidst any plan that identifies priorities.

However, we…

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