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Gov. Cuomo proposes $4.9 billion plan to harden New York’s transportation network against future storms

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New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo recently unveiled a coordinated transportation resiliency program designed to help prepare the state for future emergencies, reduce the impact of future storms on vital transportation infrastructure, and improve the long-term reliability and resiliency of the public transportation network.

The governor plans to submit the plan to the Federal Transit Administration, which has made $3 billion available for resiliency programs in regions affected by Hurricane Sandy. The New York plan includes projects worth $4.9 billion. The state’s applications exceed available federal funding because the projects represent the extensive need New York faces in trying to protect its vital infrastructure, said Cuomo in a press release.

At Cuomo’s direction, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, and Moynihan Station Development Corp. jointly prepared a plan that considered transportation needs and priorities on a regional level to protect against stronger and more frequent storms in the future.

A key element of the plan is protecting commuter-rail access into Manhattan, by hardening Penn Station’s existing rail service and providing alternate service to Penn Station for MTA Metro-North Railroad riders in the event of a single-point failure along its network through upper Manhattan and the Bronx.

“Our response to the billions in damage Superstorm Sandy caused our transportation system is to build back stronger, better and smarter than before,” Cuomo said in a press release. “These projects build on the state’s commitment to transforming our infrastructure, transportation networks, energy supply, and coastal protections to better protect New Yorkers from future disaster.”

The Penn Station access would give Metro-North an alternate means to enter midtown Manhattan if its four-track mainline through the Bronx or the Harlem River Lift Bridge were disrupted for a prolonged period. An outage would halt commuter-rail service in New York’s northern suburbs and southeastern Connecticut, with a devastating impact on the regional economy, said Cuomo. The project’s estimated cost is $516 million, of which $387 million is eligible for federal funding.

The River-to-River Rail Resiliency project  would protect the East River Tunnels and Penn Station, which are used by MTA Long Island Rail Road, Amtrak and New Jersey Transit. The project’s estimated cost is $321 million, of which $241 million is eligible for federal funding.

The plan also proposes to harden other infrastructure and improve network resiliency for all forms of transit in New York. Other projects would mitigate flood risk at MTA New York City Transit subway yards and bus depots by hardening structures; seal entrances to subway tunnels and ventilation plants; and make the World Trade Center site more resilient against water intrusion. 

In addition, the governor’s plan includes projects designed to improve the PATH rapid transit line through Manhattan, the John F. Kennedy International Airport AirTrain station at Howard Beach in Queens and the Staten Island Railway.

Metro-North takes steps to improve safety

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Metro-North  is continuing to make immediate safety improvements following orders from New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA). The railroad was ordered to take various steps following the Dec. 1 derailment at the Spuyten Duyvil curve in the Bronx, which caused four fatalities.

• Developed and finished signal system modifications at the derailment site.

Completed signal system modifications at the Jenkins curve in Bridgeport, Conn., and the Port Chester curve on the New Haven Line. In addition, modifications were made at Peck Bridge in Bridgeport.
• Enhanced communication among train crew to members to ensure trains are operated at safe speeds at the four remaining critical curves and five movable bridges on the railroad’s network.
• Surveyed all mainline track locations that require a reduction of more than 20 mph from the maximum authorized operating speed. The railroad also reduced speed limits at 33 locations both East and West of the Hudson River in order to eliminate all locations where speed limit drops by more than 20 mph and enhanced monitoring of compliance with speed restrictions.

Metro-North is making progress on other actions, as well, such as the development of signal system modifications at the two remaining critical curves at Yonkers on the Hudson Line and White Plains on the Harlem Line, and four remaining bridges on the New Haven Line. Two-thirds of Metro-North’s operating fleet is equipped with “alerter” devices in the engineer’s position to ensure they remain responsive. By 2014’s end, all older equipment without alerters will be retrofitted to include them or replaced with equipment that includes alerters.

Metro-North and the MTA Long Island Railroad recently committed $428 million for a contract to begin the installation of a positive train control (PTC) system. National Transportation Safety Board officials have said the Dec. 1 accident could have been prevented by a PTC system.

 

 

Metro-North Response to Spuyten Duvil accident

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The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) yesterday announced that MTA Metro-North Railroad is making immediate improvements to reinforce safety at critical curves and movable bridges along its right of way.The improvements were directed Friday by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo in a letter to the MTA and by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) in an emergency order issued late last week.

The emergency order directs Metro-North to take immediate steps to ensure its train crews don’t exceed speed limits, modify its existing signal system and provide two employees to operate trains where major speed restrictions are in place.

The order also requires the railroad to provide the FRA with a list of main track locations where there is a reduction of more than 20 mph in the maximum authorized train speed by tomorrow. In addition, Metro-North must identify appropriate modifications to its existing automatic train-control system or other signal systems to enable adequate advance warning of and adherence to such speed restrictions.

The modifications will help prevent another over-the-speed-limit event if a locomotive engineer fails to take actions to appropriately slow or stop a passenger train, FRA officials said in a press release.

The FRA’s order followed the Dec. 1 accident in which a Metro-North train derailed in the Bronx, N.Y., killing four passengers and injuring as many as 70 others. In its investigation, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) determined that just prior to the derailment, the train was traveling 82 mph as it approached a 30-mph curve.

“Metro-North is taking important steps to improve safety for its customers and employees, and I expect the railroad will continue searching for ways to improve its operations and fully restore its commuters’ confidence,” said MTA Chairman and CEO Thomas Prendergast in a press release.

The railroad also must submit to the FRA for approval an action plan that ensures the safety of its operations for passengers and employees by Dec. 31. The plan must contain target dates and milestones for implementing necessary signal system modifications.

“Last year was the safest on record for our nation’s rail industry,” said FRA Administrator Joseph Szabo. “Even with a 43 percent decline in train accidents nationwide over the past decade, we must remain steadfast and vigilant to ensure passengers and employees are safe.”

Meanwhile, Metro-North officials announced the improvements they’ve made to date. Signal crews have installed new protections at the Spuyten Duyvil curve, the site of the derailment, which will warn train engineers of the approaching speed reduction and will automatically apply the train’s emergency brakes if speed is not lowered to the 30 mph maximum in the curve.

The signal improvement at Spuyten Duyvil was done simultaneously and in coordination with work to restore track, power and signal systems there after the derailment, Metro-North officials said.

By tomorrow, all Metro-North trains will enhance communication between train engineers and conductors to ensure trains are operated at safe speeds at four other critical curves as well as at five movable bridges, they said. Conductors will stand with engineers at each train’s control cab through the critical curves to verbally confirm that speed limits are adhered to. Where the train layout prohibits the conductor from reaching the engineer in a locomotive, they will communicate by radio. They also will communicate by radio at the five movable bridges.

Metro-North engineers are developing new signal protections to automatically enforce speed restrictions at the other four critical curves by March, and at the five movable bridges by September, Metro-North officials said.

The railroad also has surveyed its tracks and will reduce the maximum authorized speed at 26 locations in order to eliminate all locations where the speed limit drops by more than 20 mph. Signs will be posted along the right-of-way to alert engineers of reductions in maximum authorized speed at the four curves by Dec. 16.

 

Metro North Railroad Electrical Disaster

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Top picture is a diesel train running because the electricity is out.

Bottom picture is no more: it was the New Haven Railroad’s Cos Cob coal-powered power station. The railroad used to make its own power before jumping in bed with Con Ed.

Partial service could be restored to Metro-North’s New Haven Line this weekend following a massive power failure on Wednesday that brought service to a crawl and clogged the highways, Gov. Dannel Malloy said during a news conference on Thursday afternoon.

A feeder cable serving an eight-mile portion of the New Haven Line’s electric fleet failed on Wednesday. The de-powered section includes four towns and four stations between Stamford and New York.

Malloy warned that repairs could take “as long as three weeks or more,” but said the MTA and power company, Con Edison, are working to restore partial energy to the line as early as Saturday.

He said the plan is to bring in three transformers to provide 13,000 kilowatts of energy to the track.

Con Edison officials said this is something they have not tried before and thier engineers are studying the process.

This is only a fraction of the normal 100,000 kilowatts that service the line, and authorities will conduct tests this weekend to determine the number of trains that can run on this limited-power system.

Malloy said he hopes to release an updated plan no later than Sunday so commuters can arrange their work weeks.

The governor said communication is vitally important and promised a “better protocol” going forward.

“We didn’t receive immediate notification yesterday morning,” he said on Thursday, adding that this made it difficult to alert commuters.

Until the problem is solved, Metro-North is offering limited service on diesel trains, which can accommodate about 30 percent of the New Haven Line’s daily ridership.

Twenty-four diesel trains are now operating on the New Haven Line, according to the MTA. The line normally runs four diesel train sets.

One train is running per hour in both directions and commuters are expecting the commute to be long and crowded. The power problem primarily affects the Metro-North New Haven Line, so train service to and from the New Haven station is limited.

“We realize this is not nearly enough,” the MTA said in a statement on Thursday night. “Customers endured crowded conditions; longer travel times or had to seek alternate means of travel. It is, however, at this time the most service that can be offered in a safe and organized manner given that there is no power for an eight-mile section of the road.”

Malloy has also suspended all roadwork on Interstate 95 to keep traffic flowing during the Metro-North outage, and has offered to move Connecticut trains across the state line to help with increased traffic running through New York.

He encouraged the MTA to reimburse commuters riding the New Haven Line and said he hopes the repair work on a second feeder cable can be expedited to restore power by Oct. 7.

Currently, the maintenance work is scheduled to finish up on Oct. 14, but Malloy said that’s not soon enough.

Con Ed said it could take two to three weeks to repair the 138 kilovolt feeder cable that failed just after 5:20 a.m. Wednesday.The cable brings high voltage power from the Con Ed grid to the railroad’s overhead catenary wires, which power both Metro-North and Amtrak trains through the New Haven line corridor.

A second feeder cable was already out of service for repairs when the failure occurred, according to Con Ed and Metro-North. The railroad was performing upgrades to the power supply in that stretch of track, a spokeswoman said. Without the second feeder cable, Metro-North and Amtrak have resorted to diesel-powered trains running on the hour between Stamford, Conn. and Grand Central Terminal, severely limiting capacity for riders.

Amtrak, which runs over Metro-North’s tracks on the New Haven Line, also suffered “significant delays,” according to a service announcement posted later Wednesday morning. Acela express service was halted between Boston and New York. Some regional service was running, also using diesel-powered locomotives instead of electric locomotives, which draw power from catenary wires over the tracks. Delays from the reduced service radiated along the Northeast Corridor, Amtrak said, as far south as Washington, D.C.

Ms. Anders said the outage had occurred in an area where the railroad and the Connecticut Department of Transportation had been planning to increase the supply of electric power. The Connecticut DOT pays 65% of the operating expenses of the New Haven line.

Workers tried to find ways to restore some power to the crippled New Haven Line before commuters return on Monday, while New York environmental crews assessed a chemical spill at the Mount Vernon, N.Y., substation where the power failure originated, officials said Friday.

Wendy Rosenbach of the New York Department of Environmental Conservation said about 1,000 gallons of fluid — which is under pressure in the electric wires and is used as a coolant — leaked when the wires failed on Wednesday morning. The dielectric fluid does not contain PCBs.

Malloy also said Con Edison planed to test three transformers this weekend in the hopes of getting a portion of the electricity needed to the New Haven Line, Metro-North’s busiest line, which serves Connecticut and parts of suburban Westchester County. There is a good chance that Metro-North and the utility would be able to substitute some kind of power source to provide electrified catenary power to the Pelham, N.Y. through Rye, N.Y. stretch of track before one or the other feeder cable is fixed and put back in service.

In the wake of service problems in past years Metro-North officials have often noted that even with the arrival of the state’s fleet of new M-8 commuter rail cars the New Haven Line requires billions in long deferred investment is needed to modernize the rail line and ensure reliability.

David Hendricks, a member of the Connecticut Commuter Rail Council said that he missed two important meetings Wednesday morning as a result of the sudden outage.

Hendricks said that the ability for any one power source to halt electric train service between a swath of track between Stamford and Grand Central Terminal was alarming.

“I’m surprised that there is a single point of failure for electricity serving Metro-North Railroad and that a cable could go out in one place and all service would be disrupted for 50 miles,” Hendricks said. “It’s surprising and also disconcerting.”

Hendricks said that the incident underlines the discussion of recent months about the need for greater investment to ensure the reliability and safety of the New Haven Line, calling the 70-mile railway the “economic lifeline to the region.”

“It’s just one more thing MTA and Metro-North has to deal with and it looks like the list is getting longer,” Hendricks said. “To me it begs more understanding about needing more investment because the more stress we put on the line the more likely things like this are going to happen. It can’t go down, and if it does go down, it has to be back up fast.”

Metro-North and utility company officials plan to throw the switch Saturday afternoon a jury-rigged system that would provide enough power for some electric trains to pass through a section of track knocked out earlier this week after a 138,000-volt feeder cable failed. The mishap brought train service on the nation’s second-busiest rail line to a virtual standstill.

Although there is light at the end of the tunnel for a temporary fix, several of Connecticut’s political leaders continue to insist the railroad work faster to bring service back to normal.

Over the past three days, Con Edison crews have worked feverishly to install three heavy-duty transformers near the Harrison, N.Y., station that will draw power from the local neighborhood and convert it for use by the railroad.

“What we’ve sought to do is almost build another substation overnight,” Con Edison spokesman Bob McGee said Friday. “The idea is to get power that Metro-North can use as quickly as possible.”

That power will replace what was lost when a large feeder cable for the railroad’s electricity gave out early Wednesday in Mount Vernon, N.Y., setting off three days of travel chaos.

The temporary system will provide less than 10 percent of the normal power to the line, but Metro-North believes that should be enough to get at least one electric train through the affected area every 15 minutes. Officials said they will have an idea if the fix is working by Sunday night.