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Explainer: What Happens Now With California's Bullet Train

Thursday, July 26, 2012

The bullet train may be back on track. Earlier this month the California legislature narrowly approved $8 billion dollars in bond money to start construction of the high-speed rail system connecting Los Angeles to the Bay Area. Governor Jerry Brown signed off at ceremonies in LA and San Francisco.

The project is now expected to cost close to $69 billion dollars to complete. The bulk of the money the legislature just approved will go to start building a 130-mile stretch of track in the Central Valley; about a quarter will go to local transportation projects in LA and San Francisco.

The bullet train project is controversial. The scope -- and the price tag -- has changed many times since voters first approved the plan back in 2008, and the project now faces multiple lawsuits designed to stop construction before it starts. KALW’s Julie Caine sat down with Mike Rosenberg, a reporter who covers high-speed rail for the San Jose Mercury News, to talk about what happens next. Below is the full transcript of the interview, which was edited for broadcast.

Listen to the radio version:

JULIE CAINE: I wondered if we could start with giving people a sense of what high-speed rail is right now in California? It's been through so many changes—different price tags, different plans. Can you give us a brief overview about what the Legislature just approved and Jerry Brown signed into law?

MIKE ROSENBERG: Sure. The legislature approved a bill worth $8 billion dollars. It's the starting point for high-speed rail. So there’s going to be a $6 billion dollar stretch of track in the Central Valley, around Fresno. And there's also going to be about $2 billion dollars worth of upgrades to projects in the Bay Area and Southern California. For us, that means electrifying the Caltrain line that runs between San Francisco and San Jose. The reason they're doing that is these are projects that will help now in the Bay Area and LA area, but they'll also lay the groundwork for high-speed rail later. The entire high-speed rail project that runs between San Francisco and LA is slated to cost about $69 billion dollars.

CAINE: So there's $8 billion dollars of that money now. Are there any plans for how to get the $61 billion that are needed?

ROSENBERG: Not really. There's a little bit of bond money left over from when voters approved the project in 2008. There's a few billion dollars left from that, but as far as the rest of the money, it's all sort of on paper. They're hoping the federal government kicks in about $40-50 billion dollars. But they've zeroed out all funding for the last three years, and Republicans have sort of made a mockery of the project in the House. The only way that they'll really be able to get the money is if something changes in the political climate in Washington. The other back-up plan is to use new greenhouse gas fees that are coming down at the state level.  Big polluters would have to pay because of their greenhouse gases and that would have to go to environmentally friendly projects. High-speed rail is going to try to tap into that, but that's also a questionable source of funding.

CAINE: So right now all that the money will pay for is a stretch of track in the Central Valley and improvements to rail systems in LA and San Francisco. Why start in the Central Valley? Why is construction starting there?

ROSENBERG: The consensus view is that, putting aside backroom deals with Central Valley politicians, it was something that was decided on by the federal government. The Obama Administration is desperate to see some sort of high-speed rail built because California is the only state left that actually has plans for a high-speed train that's anywhere near reality. The Central Valley portion is the biggest stretch of land where they can build the biggest stretch of track. They can build about 130 miles down there, whereas if they were to do it here or in LA, it would be a much smaller amount. The theory is that once you have a bunch of tracks sitting there doing nothing, it's going to be much harder to abandon, so that puts the pressure on politicians to give more money. Whereas if you were doing something that had use, like electrifying the Caltrain line, they'd say, well, you know we succeeded at that and let's abandon it. Whereas the entire Central Valley stretch of track is going to be tough to let sit out there as a sign of failure.

CAINE: It would be a source of embarrassment to the federal government if nothing else happened but that stretch of track?

ROSENBERG: Right.

CAINE: I'm curious about the support in California for high-speed rail. The legislature just voted on whether they were going to approve releasing the bond that voters passed in 2008, and that was an incredibly close vote. In the state senate it needed 21 votes to pass, and it got exactly 21 votes. No Republicans voted in favor, and some of the major Democratic supporters of high-speed rail voted against it. One of those was Senator Joe Simitian from Palo Alto, who changed his vote to no at the last minute. I'm wondering what it meant for someone like Joe Simitian to vote against the high-speed rail plan?

ROSENBERG: It's actually really significant. I mean on one hand he's just one guy, but him and also a Democrat from Concord named Mark DeSaulnier and another one from Long Beach called Alan Lowenthal, they were the three guys who were tasked with overseeing the bullet train for the Democratic Party. And they were the three who came out and said, you know, the more we look into this, the more we don't like it. The other Democrats were supposed to rely on their expertise, but once they said that they didn't want to go forward with the project, they had to weigh that with the leadership, like the president of the Senate, Darrell Steinberg, and of course the governor, who are die-hard supporters. And they all ended up just going with the program and approving it, even though as far as I can tell, they didn't necessarily know that much about what they were voting on. But the ones who had been following it decided ultimately to vote against it.

CAINE: Can you tell me a little bit about some of the reasons Joe Simitian gave for voting against something that he has really championed, even since before 2008.

ROSENBERG: The biggest reasons for him, and really anyone who doesn't like the project, is the cost and the uncertain funding. I mean $69 billion dollars is more money than any state has ever spent on any public works project. It's an unprecedented amount of money, and finding that much money is just going to be a really big chore. Following that, there are a lot of questions about whether this is actually worthwhile in the first place. The rider estimates keep going down, and they're questionable. And people are wondering what exactly will happen to the property along the way. There's a 520-mile route that this is going to take, and that's going to take over a lot of businesses and homes along the way. So that's going to cause a lot of economic damages as well, not to mention people's livelihoods. If it was just about whether or not we had the money and we were trying to decide whether it was worthwhile, it would sort of put a lot of people on fence. Those who are wobbling on it get pushed over the edge by the fact that there really isn't that clear of a plan to actually get this done. They're scared that they're going to be only left with that one stretch of tracks.

CAINE: It's interesting that building is starting in the Central Valley where there is a lot of opposition, very vocal opposition to the project, and in fact a lot of litigation. I'm wondering if you can talk about some of the real obstacles, particularly legal obstacles, that are in the way of the bullet train now.

ROSENBERG: Yeah, it’s funny. The Central Valley was supposed to be the easy part. Because the opposition was really in the Bay Area, and there were just so many people in LA that they would have to displace. But the Central Valley, they were supposed to just say yeah, this is great, come on down. It turns out they were the ones who rose up against the fiercest. And now they're really only faced with one option, which is to sue. Because no one has any control over the project, outside of the state and federal governments. So if you're a local county, or a city, or a farmer, or a business owner, the only thing you can do is to try to sue. There are about half a dozen suits going on right now, and there’s going to be more coming. The general idea is to have a judge issue an injunction to stop them from being able to start construction. That’s something that will be playing out over the past six months or so.

CAINE: I know there are also some questions about whether the plan that the legislature and Jerry Brown just approved is actually legal in terms of what the voters voted on in 2008 because the high-speed rail plan has changed so much since that time. Can you talk a little bit about that? What are the major points of contention between what voters approved in 2008, and what was just approved?

ROSENBERG: It’s an ethical argument saying that we voted on a certain plan. It was supposed to be $33 billion, now it's twice that. It was supposed to open by 2020, now it's 2030. The ticket to get from SF to LA was supposed to be 55 bucks, now it's like 85 bucks. The rider estimates have gone in half. Everything has changed pretty dramatically. Some of the opponents are trying to go beyond an ethical argument and saying it's just flat out illegal. You can't use this money—it's a legal statue that was created when voters passed the bond measure to approve the project in 2008, so if you're going to use that money you have to adhere by what you said you were going to spend the money on. That's probably not an argument that's going to win in a legal sense cause they usually give them leeway to spend money on those sorts of things, when the details have changed. But just from an ethical standpoint, that's the main argument that opponents cite, when you talk about people who once supported it and are now against it.

CAINE: I know a lot of the opposition to the plan is very political, and a lot Republicans when they were giving their statements about why they didn't support high-speed rail were starting to invoke huge budget cuts that the state is facing, particularly for education, and really using this as a kind of focal point to turn voter sentiment against Jerry Brown's November tax initiative, which is the centerpiece of how he's going to finance some of the social programs and education in the state. Is the bond money that just got approved actually money that could be used for education for example?

ROSENBERG: It depends on who you ask. The voters approved $10 billion dollars in bonds, and that money can only be spend on high-speed rail. Now, the bond money itself gets paid back through the General Fund, which is used on everything--education, social services, prisons. So the money right now is only available for high-speed rail, but when they start paying it back over the next three decades, that will cut into all the other programs.

CAINE: I'm just curious, in light of all of that, why is Jerry Brown still such a champion of high-speed rail? Why is he still so behind it?

ROSENBERG: There’s a couple of schools of thought on that. I mean what he says is that he dreams of doing big things and he doesn't believe that bad times are the time to shy away.   He had this press conference where he called all the skeptics fearful men and NIMBYs and declinists. He tends to take his point of view and he doesn't necessarily care so much about what the polls say. Especially when it comes to a long-term project. To be frank, by the time the project's finished, even (by) the most optimistic standards, Jerry Brown will probably (have) passed away. So it's something that's so long term, he'll never really have to deal with the repercussions of it. From a skeptic's standpoint what people point to is that the main driver of this project in terms of the funding to get the ballot measure passed and to keep it going and to lobby politicians has come from the construction unions. Because that $69 billion dollars, that's going into their pockets. And Democrats—Brown and some of the others—are funded mostly by the unions so if they turn down a project that the unions support, then they risk losing the support of their major funding backers and then they might not get elected back to office.

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Transportation Nation

Caltrain Engineer: Every Time I Go Past The Scene of a Fatality, It Plays Back Like a Video

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Caltrain station in San Francisco, photo by Julie Caine

In the past six weeks, five people have died on on Northern California's commuter rail tracks, hit by trains that could not stop in time to avoid them. Every year, an average of 12 people die on Caltrain tracks, and most are suicides. This is a small percentage of suicide deaths each year – only about one percent of suicides in the U.S. are by train.

Caltrain has built ten-foot fences along much of the route, commissioned studies about location and prevention, put up signs with suicide hotline numbers along its tracks, and partnered with mental health agencies. But the problem persists.

And not just on Caltrain. In 2011, 702 people died on train tracks nationwide. Suicides are a small percentage of these deaths, but they have serious emotional consequences – not only for the loved ones of the people who kill themselves, but for the men and women who drive and work on trains.

Charles is a locomotive engineer for Caltrain. That’s not his real name; he asked us not to use it. Charles is the one of people who drives the trains between San Jose and San Francisco. He’s been working on the railroad for more than 30 years, and for the most part he loves his job.

“I’ve tried to quit the railroad several times,” says Charles. “And I don’t know if it was in my blood, or…I’m a third generation railroader, so I was always pulled back to the railroad. I like the lifestyle. I like the money. I’ve raised a family on the railroad.”

But there’s a part of his job that never gets easier—witnessing people die under the wheels of his trains.

“I’ve had two since January first. That’s kind of high for me. I average one a year. You never know when it’s going to happen. You never know,” says Charles.

Train engineers like Charles may not know when it’s going to happen, but they do know that, sooner or later, it is going to happen. Trains aren’t like cars. They weigh 400 tons. You can’t just slam on the brakes and stop.

“The way I kind of look at it, the farther I am from my last one, the closer I am to my next one,” he says. “It’s almost like rolling the dice. It’s an awful tragedy.”

On Caltrain, a typical crew is made up of three people—the engineer, and two conductors, who work with passengers. When someone is hit, the conductors are the first people to go out on the tracks to find them. The engineer is usually the last to see the person alive.

“It's an interesting thing though how in the heat of the battle, we kind of go on automatic, and it don't sink in until we've been rescued from the scene and we're taken away,” says Charles. “I’ve seen people break down afterwards. You know, I want to break down. Sometimes my ego and my pride keep me from it, but inside I'm dying.”

When they’re first hired, crew members are told that bad things may happen on the tracks and any crew member involved in a death gets paid time off and access to counseling. But not everybody takes advantage of it. Laurie Richer is a clinical psychiatrist at University of California San Francisco. She says part of the problem is that this kind of emotional trauma isn’t necessarily something crews are trained to deal with.

“As opposed to first responders--EMS, paramedics, police--that come to a scene, they have some degree of emotional preparedness,” says Richer. “Whereas a train driver doesn't. So they're not trained or prepared, or it wasn't a motivation in choosing that line of work. So these tragedies happen to them right out of the blue.”

Richer says the emotional trauma that can result in Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). It’s something we often associate with soldiers coming home from war. Basically, when we’re in danger, our adrenaline kicks in and we go into survival mode. The problem is that once the danger has passed, we can get stuck in that heightened state—unable to stop reliving the trauma, unable to stop being on the lookout for more danger, and with a strong urge to avoid the place where the trauma happened.

That’s the problem for train crews—they can’t avoid the place where the death happened. And they can’t avoid the fact that another one could happen at any time.

“It’s difficult because every time I go past the scene of where I’ve had a fatality, it plays back like a video,” says Charles. “Your first nature is to crawl in your hole and just pull the covers over your head – and many people do that, you know. They don't answer the phone after that. And that's probably the worst thing you can do, cause you just sit there with that rolling around in your head. It just destroys your sleep for several days.”

Laurie Richer says the best thing you can do after a serious trauma is to reach out for help as soon as possible and talk about how you’re feeling.

“What that does is it validates the response,” says Richer. “It helps individuals realize that they're not alone in their response, that in fact it's more common than not to experience some of the symptoms of PTSD. And also, peers provide ideas for how they got support. And seeking help becomes more acceptable.”

Seeking—and giving—help is something Charles has learned how to do in his long career on the railroad. He talks to friends and a counselor, and makes it a point to reach out to other crew members who have experienced trauma.

“I don't get to spend too much time thinking about mine if I'm helping others, and that works for me,” says Charles. “Plus I have a great network of friends who support me. They prop me up when I can’t stand on my own. They help me through these difficult times. I’m really blessed. I feel like the luckiest man on earth sometimes.”

Charles doesn’t blame Caltrain for the deaths. Track fatalities are part of the job, he says, all over the world.

“Caltrain goes to great lengths to keep that from happening,” he says. “They have ten-foot fences along the whole line. It’s not because of any negligence. It would be nice to prevent all of it, but that's dreaming. But we're trying. And anything that we can do to have some kind of effect on it, if it saves one life, it's worth it. That's why I agreed to do this interview. If it saves one person from this, it's a wonderful thing, and I'm honored to be able to do it.”

On a warm Saturday afternoon in June, several thousand people are gathered at San Francisco’s Fort Mason.

It’s a sea of blue t-shirts. The back of each shirt reads: “I’ll be up all night for--” followed by a blank line. People have filled in the words: “I’ll be up all night for my mother, for my father, for my Uncle Tim.” Other people have written in names, followed by dates—dates of birth, and dates of death.

The annual Out of the Darkness walk is a suicide awareness event held in different cities around the country. This year, people spent all night walking the streets of San Francisco, raising money for suicide prevention and research. There are a lot of individuals, and a lot of families. And this year, there’s also a group of eight Caltrain staff members.

April Maguigad works in the operations department at Caltrain. She’s leading tonight’s Caltrain walkers.

“I just recently moved to the Bay Area from Virginia in January,” she says. “I think it was probably right around the third fatality that we had here at Caltrain since my moving here that I decided that I needed a way to cope and deal with it.”

Ted Yurek is also on the Caltrain team.

“We've kind of taken a position of instead of not talking about it, talking about it more,” says Yurek. “And hopefully this helps promote that point of view, that you should be more open about depression and suicide as things that happen.”

Since the night of the walk, the Caltrain team has raised $12,000 to help people who have lost loved ones to suicide. Donations are still coming in. Maguidad say the walk gives people a sense that there’s support––that there are people who understand what it’s like to go through a suicide, and who want to offer help.

“It is a sense of sadness that you know this is a person who has chosen quite a tragic way to end their life,” says Maguigad. “You wonder about their family, and you wonder about the people they're leaving behind. It's not just another delay, it's somebody's family member.”

If you, or someone you know, is in suicidal crisis or emotional distress please call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) right away. Help is there for you, and you are not alone. You can also read about suicide warning signs and prevention strategies here.

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Transportation Nation

TN MOVING STORIES: Texting While Driving Up 50%, House To Hold Hearing on CA Bullet Trains

Monday, December 12, 2011

Top stories on TN:

What Cuomo's tax bill says about transit. (Link)
And: Cuomo says he'll include transit in his infrastructure fund. (Link)
Bloomberg is still optimistic that the governor will sign the taxi bill. (Link)

Waiting for a bus in L.A. (photo by Laurie Avocado via Flickr)

A federal audit says Los Angeles's transit agency failed to fully research its impacts on riders and communities, especially when eliminating bus lines, adding service or changing fares. (Los Angeles Times)

The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee will hold a hearing this week on California's high-speed rail project this week. (Link)

The pre-tax commuter benefit rewards drivers more than transit riders. (New York Times)

And: if Congress doesn't act before the end of the year, the benefit expires. (Washington Post)

New Jersey's Urban Transit Hub Tax Credit program has become popular that it may be expanding to other types of communities -- diluting the original intent of the program. (NJ Spotlight)

Texting by drivers is up 50%, even as states pass laws against it. And what’s more, many drivers don’t think it’s dangerous when they do it — only when others do. (AP via Washington Post)

Ford kills a line of small pickup trucks, says demand is for full-size. (Marketplace)

The new Apple store at Grand Central Terminal is a good deal for New York's transit agency. (NY Daily News)

Deaths on Caltrain tracks are increasing--horrifying train engineers, who are the last people to see the victims alive. (Bay Citizen)

More on Rick Perry's Trans-Texas Corridor problem. (New York Times)

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TN Moving Stories: BRT On The Rise -- But Not Everyone's a Fan; Mica Wants Reauthorization Bill ASAP

Monday, May 23, 2011

Select Bus Service on Manhattan's East Side (photo by Kate Hinds)

Bus rapid transit systems are on the rise, but not everyone is a fan. (Wall Street Journal, Globe and Mail)

Amtrak is seeking private investors for its Northeast Corridor high-speed rail line. (The Hill)

California's high-speed rail authority is disputing bills from Caltrain that are worth more than $108,000. (San Francisco Examiner)

Rep. John Mica's opinion piece in today's Politico: "Congress must act now" on transportation reauthorization legislation.

San Francisco's cabbies want their fares in cash instead of credit cards (Bay Citizen via New York Times). Meanwhile, NYC livery cab owners are fighting the city's outer-borough medallion plan (WNYC).

New York City Deputy Mayor Howard Wolfson, a supporter of the city's bike lanes, gives a reporter a taste of his two-wheeled commute. (New York Times)

Maryland's governor signed a bill forbidding a French government-operated company from competing to run that state's commuter trains, because of the company's activities during the Holocaust. (Washington Post)

The NY Daily News blames Mayor Bloomberg for not doing enough for the city's transit.

Boston unveils three electric car charging stations today. (Boston Herald)

Riders at two Brooklyn F and G train stations have their stations back -- for now. (WNYC)

Follow Transportation Nation on Twitter.

In case you missed it on Transportation Nation:

-- the Yankees' parking garage is losing money, plus it displaced a public park (link)

-- cab sharing on tap for this year's US Open (link)

-- bike commuting in Houston? You betcha. (link)

-- carpooling in Houston? Yep, especially as gas prices fluctuate (link)

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Transportation Nation

Caltrain Isn't Slashing Service – Yet

Friday, April 08, 2011

The Popular Palo Alto California Avenue Station Would See No Weekend Trains if Plan Is Approved (Photo: Caltrain)

(San Francisco – Casey Miner, KALW News) Caltrain’s Joint Powers Board voted Thursday to keep its current level of service – at least for the next two weeks. Facing a $30 million deficit, the board had debated a series of cuts that would have closed three stations indefinitely and cut 10 weekly trains, including the popular Baby Bullet service. And that was the less drastic proposal: the agency at one point threatened to cut nearly half its trains, whittling service down to peak commute hours only.

Caltrain is unique among the Bay Area's many transit agencies in that it has no dedicated funding source. But board members decided today to spend the next two weeks looking for the money to preserve service as-is. Hundreds of riders have spoken out to oppose the cuts, even hosting a weekend summit to generate ideas.

The most recent proposal was a compromise – most service retained, but in a way that would inconvenience some riders. Caltrain spokeswoman Christine Dunn said staff based its recommendations on a combination of factors including ridership at each station, proximity to other stations, and geographic equity (in other words, making service available down the whole Peninsula). Dunn said that if the plan were adopted the agency expected to sacrifice about $2 million annually in lost ridership, but that overall the cuts would save them $5.3 million – a net gain of $3.3 million.

We'll be following this as it develops; interested Caltrain riders can check out the latest proposed schedule for themselves here.

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TN Moving Stories: Gas Prices A Political Problem for Obama, and Saab Stops Production--For Now

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

President Barack Obama inspects an AT&T all-electric vehicle on display during a tour of the UPS facility in Landover, Md., April 1, 2011. (Office White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Rising gas prices present a problem for President Obama's reelection hopes. (Los Angeles Times)

Meanwhile, in Pennsylvania yesterday, he talked about electric vehicles, increasing fuel-efficiency standards, and alternative energy sources. (White House transcript)

Gothamist interviewed the bicyclist who was arrested on Manhattan's Upper West Side for either running a red light or resisting arrest.

Swedish automaker Saab has temporarily shut down production due to "limited liquidity," lack of supplies, and ongoing negotiations with suppliers who need to be paid (Wall Street Journal). Meanwhile, a slowdown in Toyota's production is causing ripple effects in Japan (NPR).

But it's not all bad news for Toyota, which just sold its one millionth Prius in the U.S. (Wired/Autopia)

New York's fire department is expanding a program that requires firefighters to follow traffic laws, operate at reduced speeds and turn off lights and sirens when responding to certain non-life threatening emergencies to Brooklyn and Staten Island after a successful pilot program in Queens. (WNYC)

Caltrain cuts may not be as bad as originally projected, but "there is still some pain." (San Francisco Chronicle)

The Citizens Budget Commission released a report that says New York's subways are among the most efficient in the country -- but the MTA's bus operations, and two commuter rail roads, are "relatively inefficient."  Download the report (pdf): Benchmarking Efficiency for the MTA's Efficiency Standards

Stanford University has founded a program for the cross-cultural study of the automobile. (New York Times)

The New York Yankees and the MTA agreed to return the B, D and 4 subway lines to the "Great New York Subway Race," the animated mid-game scoreboard segment. (NY Daily News)

Make mine a double: new double-decker buses roll out in Seattle. (Seattle Post-Intelligencer)

Top Transportation Nation stories we're following: After Transportation Nation report,Governor Cuomo says he'll overhaul  the state system of handing out free parking placard as perks to state employees. A NY State Senator introduced a license plate bill that he'd benefit from.  The applications are in for Florida's rejected high-speed rail money.Congress floats new motorcoach safety bills. And labor leaders and transit advocates talk about equity with DOT officials.

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TN Moving Stories: Honolulu's Rail Imperiled by Lawsuit Over Burial Grounds, DIY Bike Lane Installation in Guadalajara, and US Airfares Rise 11%

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

NY Rep. Michael Grimm's quest to have a light-rail link be part of the renovated Bayonne Bridge led to a "very heated" discussion with a top Port Authority official this week, Grimm said. (Staten Island Advance)

Congestion pricing is proposed for two Bay Area bridges. (San Francisco Chronicle)

A lawsuit over possible ancient Hawaiian burials along Honolulu's proposed rail transit route could put the brakes on the $5.5 billion project. (Honolulu Star Advertiser)

Metro-North Railroad will institute a reduced New Haven line schedule that will cut service by 10% during the morning and afternoon peak due to a faltering fleet of rail cars damaged by harsh winter conditions. (CTPost.com)

Check out this video of a DIY bike lane installation in Guadalajara, Mexico--where no bike lanes previously existed. The technique of the man painting the lines is not to be missed. (via AltTransport)

A gym in Maryland is using exercise bikes to generate electricity. (Savage-Guilford Patch)

Some passengers on MARC, Maryland's suburban commuter rail line, have started a secret, BYOB happy hour. (Well, it was secret until WAMU reported on it.)

A Colorado Republican has backed off his plan to strip funding from that state's transit and bicycle lanes in favor of highways and bridges. (Bloomberg)

U.S. domestic air fares rose 11% in the third quarter versus last year, as carriers continued to seize on increased demand for flying. "In the third quarter, New Jersey was home to the airports with both the highest and the lowest average fare: Newark Liberty, at $469, and Atlantic City, at $153." (Dow Jones via WSJ)

Walmart opponents cite the possibility of 32% more traffic as a reason one should not be built in East New York. (New York Daily News)

Will math improve bike sharing programs? Two Tel Aviv engineering professors have developed a mathematical model to predict which bike stations should be refilled, and when. (Wired - Autopia)

Top Transportation Nation stories we're following: New York's East River will get all-day commuter ferry service starting in June. Bay Area riders brainstorm ways to save Caltrain. And New York's MTA is "very early in the process" of considering sliding barriers for subway platforms.

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SF and Points South: What Will Happen to Caltrain?

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

(San Francisco–Casey Miner, KALW News) We reported a few months back on the grassroots effort by riders to try and save Caltrain, the Bay Area’s commuter train system. It’s the only one of the Bay’s 28 (!) different transit agencies that doesn’t have a dedicated funding source; it’s facing a $30 million deficit and considering cutting train service by nearly half.

Luckily for Caltrain, it’s also the only Bay Area transit agency whose riders care so much that they’re willing to dedicate their weekends to figuring out how to save it. Last Saturday, citizen group Friends of Caltrain organized an all-day brainstorming summit whose attendees included everyone from workaday commuters to elected officials. Panels and breakout groups explored funding strategies—levying a gas tax, charging more for parking, adding onboard WiFi, and improving connectivity to other transit were among the suggestions. And they also talked about messaging: how to sell the idea of Caltrain to people who don’t ride it, and how to convince policymakers that the rail is worth saving.

SF Streetsblog has more.

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Transportation Nation

Caltrain Riders Fight for Their Commute

Friday, October 01, 2010

(San Francisco–Casey Miner, KALW News) It’s been said that transportation planning in San Francisco is a contact sport. People around here have very, very strong opinions about their transit, and they’re not shy about sharing them. A lot of the time, things can get nasty.

But there’s one place where things are a little different. Call it a throwback. Caltrain started in the 19th century, and in some ways the railroad still has an old kind of feel. The locomotive cars run on diesel, and you can still hear that satisfying rumble of the wheels on the tracks when you ride.

For all of its historic charm, Caltrain has very modern budget problems. Facing a $2.3 million deficit, the agency is considering raising fares, cutting service, or both. There’s a worst case scenario where everything but weekday peak trains could disappear. That won’t happen for a while though: not if the passengers have anything to say about it.

Head over to KALW News to hear the full story of this emerging rider community of tech savvy, DIY professional types trying to save their train service through bike access and old-fashioned organizing.

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Transportation Nation

TN Moving Stories: Daley Pines for High Speed Airport Rail Link, Villaraigosa wants better federal transit financing, and roll-bar rebate rolling out in Vermont

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

LA Mayor Villaraigosa testifies before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, asks feds to create a "national program of innovative financing tools" for major transit projects (Los Angeles Times). At same hearing, committee chair Barbara Boxer questions the need for President Obama's proposed infrastructure Bank (Streetsblog).

NYC's Department of Transportation rescues engagement ring after would-be groom drops it during proposal on the Brooklyn Bridge. (New York Post)

Delta flight attendants begin voting on union representation today. (Minnesota Public Radio)

Caltrain installs suicide prevention signs on tracks. (Silicon Valley Mercury News)

Roll-bar rebate: a new Vermont program will reimburse farmers to prevent tractor rollover deaths -- the leading cause of death on farms. (Burlington Free Press)

Chicago's Mayor Daley visits China, admires high speed rail, hopes that foreign investors will build a similar link between O'Hare and downtown (ABC7Chicago).

Just how politically divided is the country over the issue of high-speed rail? The Infrastructurist has a chart that breaks it down by state. Just about every Republican candidate opposes it, while Democrats support it.

Following up on last week's story about a man who commutes to work via kayak, here's a more...vertical commute story: follow along as a technician climbs 1,700 feet into the air to get to his job, repairing broadcast antennae (via AltTransport).

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Transportation Nation

Explainer: What is a heat restriction, anyway?

Thursday, August 26, 2010

(San Francisco—Casey Miner, KALW News) It's been downright sweltering in the Bay Area over the past few days, and here at KALW News we’ve been enjoying the sudden summer weather by taking our laptops outside. But the heat hasn’t been so kind to everyone.  Both BART and Caltrain are experiencing heat-related equipment malfunctions that have led to long delays: computer failures on BART forced conductors to operate trains manually on Tuesday, while Caltrain cars had to slow down significantly due to “heat restrictions” on speed. From the San Jose Mercury News article on what happened:

“On the Caltrain tracks, trains were being slowed down from their top speed of 79 mph, according to a release from spokeswoman Christine Dunn, who explained that in extreme heat, tracks become soft and can be damaged by the weight of the train.”

Tracks going soft in the heat? Sounds kind of dangerous, right?

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Transportation Nation

Why is Transit in Such a Fiscal Hole?

Friday, June 25, 2010

(Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation) There's not a transit system in the nation that isn't under water. MARTA in Atlanta is looking a cutting a quarter of its service. The board of the Caltrain, through Silicon Valley, is reserving the option of ceasing to exist entirely. But why is the NYC MTA, the nation's marqee transit system, facing an $800 million budget gap?

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Transportation Nation

Caltrain Closes in on Cuts, Fare Hikes

Friday, June 04, 2010

Caltrain, the commuter rail line linking San Francisco and San Jose, is now officially in a fiscal emergency.  It has a budget gap that amounts to more than a third of its $100 million annual operations.  The unanimous declaration of a fiscal emergency by Caltrain's board last night allows it to move ahead with service cuts and fare hikes.

The San Mateo County Times reports that those cuts could include all weekend service (sending 18,000 riders somewhere else), four midday trains, and/or early and late day trains.  It could also raise fares by 25 cents overall, or 25 cents for each "zone" of travel.  That's not the worst part: "the board also discussed Thursday the possibility of the railroad shutting down in 2012 if they can't resolve its budget problems."  Much of this is not new -- and KALW's Nathaneal Johnson has reported on some of the implications for funding structures, and California's high-speed rail plans.

As a Bay Area native and former full-time Caltrain commuter, this is a sad process to watch.  What's worse, things like the San Francisco Giants' new ballpark, and large swaths of new downtown development were built with CalTrain in mind as a commuting artery.  No weekend service means no easy and car-free fun at this ballpark by the Bay.  The cuts could start as early as October, when the Giants could be in the World Series.  -- Collin Campbell

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Transportation Nation

TN MOVING STORIES: ZipCar IPO, Motor City by Bike and Riding the Bus with a Broken Foot

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Is car sharing so hot that it can park an IPO on frigid Wall Street? Hello $75 million bucks.  (The Takeaway)

SF Bay Area Congresswoman: foundering Caltrain commuter rail too important to lose.  So give it the SF-San Jose high-speed rail stimulus money?  (SF Chronicle Op-Ed)

South Carolina voters may see transit tax on the ballot in November.  (The State)

Tabloid-y take on New Yorkers facing transit cuts.  “I broke my foot, I can’t take the subway. Instead of an hour and 10-minute commute, my commute will now be two hours.”  (Metro)

Is Detroit becoming a bike mecca?  Life in Motor City without a drivers license.  (Metro Times)  Bike seat conversations, too.

Woman sues Google over walking directions.  (Search Engine Land)

Australian commuters happy to stand on trains for 45 minutes?  Government document also says passengers need just 40cm x 40cm to ride commuter rail -- not much more than the space of a single Herald Sun page, the paper reports.

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Transportation Nation

Blood on the Tracks: Could the Cal Train Die?

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Photo: Caltrain

(KALW, Nathaneal Johnson)

It’s hard to imagine that the Caltrain, the commuter train that runs through the heart of Silicon Valley, could actually die. But the whistles that echo past Cisco Systems, Sun Microsystems, Yahoo, Google and Apple may be silenced if the transit agency doesn’t solve its budget woes – quickly.

On April 1, Caltrain declared a state of fiscal emergency. “This is not an April Fools Joke,” Caltrain CEO Mike Scanlon said then. “There’s a possibility this railroad could go away."

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