Andy Byford, MTA’s head of subways, buses, reports for 1st day on the job

The MTA’s new head of subways and buses promised to shake things up at the beleaguered transit agency as he began his first day on the job Tuesday.

Andy Byford, the MTA’s recently hired transit president, said he would give equal focus to four key pillars of his job — subway, bus, paratransit and employee morale — during a brief interview with reporters that touched on the agency’s ancient subway infrastructure; funding and cost reforms; 24-hour train service and the politics at play as subway delays soar and bus ridership plummets.

“I’ve certainly not come here to hold the fort or to maintain the status quo. My job is to drive up the level of service and thereby customer satisfaction for all New Yorkers,” Byford told reporters awaiting him outside MTA headquarters at the Bowling Green subway station.

The former CEO of the Toronto Transit Commission, who has never owned a car, rode into work just after 7 a.m. on a downtown 4 train from Grand Central. He said he plans to rely on subways and buses to get to work each day. He had prepared for a “packed” first day of meetings with his new colleagues and higher ups, including his boss Veronique Hakim, the MTA’s managing director, and Phil Eng, the agency’s COO.

Byford, a UK native who began his transit career as a station foreman in the London Underground, said his first priority on the subways is to “maximize the capability” of the MTA’s current signal system, which relies on technology dating back nearly a century, and improve maintenance of the MTA’s fleet of trains.

“The short term is getting the existing system to work reliably,” Byford said. “Doors typically are the Achilles’ heel of trains — particularly aging trains. You’ve got to maintain your doors, you’ve got to maintain your signal equipment.”

Upgrading the MTA’s signals will allow the agency to add more trains to lines throughout the day because trains could run tighter together. The MTA in the past has estimated that such an endeavor would cost tens of billions of dollars and take nearly a half-century. Round-the-clock service — in some form — might have to be sacrificed, Byford said.

“You cannot upgrade signals effectively … unless you give crews access to the track and that does mean that we will have to find a way of doing that,” Byford said. “I do appreciate that this is a 24/7 city. New Yorkers rightfully hold the (24-hour) subway dear to their hearts. But equally, they expect me to provide more reliable service. If we’re to do that, there is no gain without some pain.”

While Byford said there will need to be a larger investment in the MTA to turn around service, he also admitted that costs are unusually high. Building out the first leg of the second Avenue subway was the most expensive subway project on Earth at $4.5 billion.

“We should be looking to be as efficient as possible in everything that we do so that we can maximize scarce tax dollars,” Byford said.

The MTA, which is effectively controlled by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, has experienced a roughly 200 percent increase in subway delays since 2012. While ridership on the rails has begun to plateau and drop, bus ridership has declined much faster, dropping 100 million passenger trips over the past eight years. Meanwhile, Cuomo has tried to pass some responsibility of the subways to the city and Mayor Bill de Blasio. Both the mayor and the governor have agreed that the MTA needs more funding, though each has their own dueling proposals.

Byford said that he hopes he’s “allowed the time and the space to do what I need to do.” Over the past 10 years, Transit presidents have typically stayed on the job for a little over two years, on average.

“At the end of the day the MTA is a state-run authority,” Byford said. “So it’s the governor’s prerogative to have a view. I think it would be perverse if the governor wasn’t interested in transit or in the subway because, at the end of the day, he’s an elected official and I think all elected officials should be concerned about making sure this city’s transit system runs effectively.”

As Byford trekked downtown, trains were still running smoothly in the early hours of the morning rush. He used a word to describe his commute that not many New Yorkers would associate with the subway: “flawless.”

But, just about an hour after he entered MTA headquarters, the MTA reported delays or service changes on B, D, 2, 3, 6 and 7 trains and the morning commute looked more familiar.

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Two Netherlands’ airports are planned to be linked by Hyperloop One

beam.land

Hyperloop One, a California-based company is seeking to make the concept of aircraft-speed ground transportation a commercial reality. A hyperloop track would link Amsterdam Schiphol and Lelystad airports to result the two facilities effectively becoming one integrated aerodrome within five years, according to FlightGlobal.

Hyperloop One senior vice-president global field operations Nick Earle said the company was in “significant discussions with the Dutch government around the concept of creating extra capacity at «Schiphol» by building a hyperloop link to Lelystad. If the concept becomes a reality, Earle says the 50 kilometers journey between Schiphol and Lelystad would take just 4 minutes, creating what he describes as “a single, integrated airport” at a “fraction of the cost” of building an additional runway.

Hyperloop One has built a 500 meters test track in Nevada for its version of the hyperloop technology that was originally conceived by Tesla founder Elon Musk. Other firms are also attempting to commercialise the concept.

The idea is to build a ground transportation system in which passengers and cargo are loaded into pods that accelerate gradually through a low-pressure tube using electric propulsion. The pods are then lifted off the track by magnetic levitation, the aim being for them to glide at speeds of up to 1,046 km/h.

Virgin Group founder Richard Branson in last October announced a partnership with Hyperloop One under which his company will invest an undisclosed sum in the firm. Branson will join the board of directors and the company will later be rebranded as Virgin Hyperloop One. On announcing the investment, Branson said: “After visiting Hyperloop One’s test site in Nevada and meeting its leadership team this past summer, I am convinced this ground-breaking technology will change transportation as we know it and dramatically cut journey times.”

Schiphol Airport

Meanwhile Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport added 4.8 million passengers last year with the help of a six-runway setup that’s unique in Europe, putting it almost level with Paris Charles de Gaulle as the region’s second-busiest hub, reports Bloomberg.

Schiphol attracted 68.4 million travelers, consolidating its lead over Frankfurt and putting it within 1 million of the total at Charles de Gaulle. London Heathrow remained Europe’s leading airport despite the constraints of only two runways as airlines turned to bigger planes to boost capacity.

While Schiphol plans to open a third terminal in 2023, when Frankfurt will also add a new building, its advance could be stymied by a cap on flights at 500,000 a year aimed at curbing noise and pollution. The Dutch hub had almost 497,000 plane movements in 2017, 22,000 more than at Heathrow, aided not only by its multiple runways but the ability to operate 24 hours a day — a freedom many of its European rivals are denied.

Brightline in the limelight as game-changing railway launches in the US

Global Rail News

A bright day for Florida and an even brighter one for rail transport in the United States.

January 13 marked the long-awaited launch of Brightline, the country’s first privately-owned passenger train service since the 1980s.

Initially the line will connect passengers from Fort Lauderdale to West Palm Beach in around 40 minutes, making use of the existing Florida East Coast Railway. Tickets cost either $10 for a smart service ticket or $15 for a select service ticket – which comes with seats that are two inches wider, complimentary drinks and snacks and access to a premium station lounge.

But connecting the two cities quicker than a journey by car isn’t the main selling point for what Brightline president, Patrick Goddard, describes as a “game-changing” service.

Free wi-fi, charging points, reclining seats, e-tickets, spacious aisles, leather seats, retractable gap fillers and baggage attendants. Brightline promises to set a “new benchmark” for train travel by concentrating on comfort and convenience to encourage motorists to ditch their cars for a mode of transport which currently plays a limited role in the nation’s transport network.

Its plans are big and bold – a stretch to Miami is due to open in 2018 and plans are well underway for an extension to Orlando – and so is Brightline’s brand with an eye-catching fleet of pink, red, orange, green and blue carriages and showcase partners such as Pepsi and the NBA’s Miami Heat.