Alex Goldmark

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Amtrak: No Service to NYC, Hudson Tunnels Still Flooded

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

(New York, NY) Amtrak says there will be no service to New York City Wednesday, and they have no idea when regional trains will be able to run along the busiest rail corridor in the nation following flooding from Hurricane Sandy. Amtrak tunnels under the Hudson and East Rivers are flooded just like NYC subway tunnels.

"The amount of water intrusion into the tunnels is unprecedented – as was the storm itself – so a date for restoration of Amtrak service directly to/from New York Penn Station from either the north or south is not available at this time," Amtrak spokesman Cliff Cole told Transportation Nation in an email.

"There will be no Northeast Regional service between Newark and Boston [on Wednesday] and no Acela Express service for the length of the Northeast Corridor," Cole wrote.

Amtrak carries more travelers between Washington, D.C. and Boston than all airlines combined, about 750,000 each weekday.

Check our Transit Tracker for the full route updates on buses, subways, bridges and more. That's where the latest information will be posted.

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NJ Transit Still Shut Down, No Timeline for Service Resumption

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Hoboken Terminal, post-Sandy (photo by NJ Transit via flickr) See the "before" photo below. 

All NJ Transit service remains closed Tuesday afternoon following Hurricane Sandy with no estimates for resumption of rail and bus service throughout the state, nor for the vital commuter routes connecting New Jersey to New York City.

The prospects for resumption of service are dire and daunting. "This is unprecedented damage," Nancy Snyder, a NJ Transit spokesperson, told Transportation Nation. Agency infrastructure and equipment is "quite damaged, if not crippled" she said.

Crews began assessing the damage at 8:00 a.m. Tuesday, an intensive and arduous process that involves inspecting 500 miles of tracks and 300 rail crossings -- in addition to flooded bus terminals and train stations.

Key transit hubs in the NJ Transit system remained flooded Tuesday, including Hoboken, Secaucus Junction and Newark Penn Station.

"Right now there is no estimate for service restoration," Snyder said.

To follow the latest updates on resumption of service on all transit lines in the NY area, check our Transit Tracker.

The Hoboken Terminal earlier in 2012


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Here's the NY Gov. Order for Transit System Shutdown

Saturday, October 27, 2012

UPDATED: Sunday 12noon: Here's the latest release from the NY Governor's office about Hurricane Sandy transportation shutdowns and evacuation orders. Scroll down for previous statements.




Orderly Suspension of Subway, Bus and Commuter Railroad Service Begins at 7 p.m.

Transportation System Must Be Suspended to Protect Customers, Employees and Equipment

Monitor and Media Outlets and Call 511 for Latest Transportation Information

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today announced that the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) will begin the orderly suspension of all subway, bus and commuter railroad service at 7 p.m. Sunday to protect customers, employees and equipment from the approach of Hurricane Sandy.

The New York City subway system will begin to curtail service after 7 p.m., and the New York City bus system within the following two hours. Metro-North Railroad and the Long Island Rail Road will start their final trains by 7 p.m. Subway and railway stations will be closed after the last trains.

Customers who need to travel today should do so as soon as possible and not wait until the last train or bus is departing. Anyone who does not leave for their destination before 7 p.m. runs the risk of being stranded when service is suspended. New York City Transit, Metro-North and the LIRR will cross-honor each other’s passes today to speed the process of returning customers to their homes.

“The transportation system is the lifeblood of the New York City region, and suspending all service is not a step I take lightly,” Governor Cuomo said. “But keeping New Yorkers safe is the first priority, and the best way to do that is to make sure they are out of harm’s way before gale-force winds can start wreaking havoc on trains and buses.”

The MTA Hurricane Plan calls for suspending service hours before the approach of winds of 39 mph and higher. That gives MTA crews time to prepare rail cars, buses, tunnels, yards and buildings for the storm, then return to safety. Winds of 39 mph and higher are predicted to reach the metropolitan region during the predawn hours Monday.

“The MTA proved it can suspend service in an orderly manner when it did so last year for Tropical Storm Irene, and we have refined our Hurricane Plan since then to help us prepare for Hurricane Sandy,” said MTA Chairman and CEO Joseph J. Lhota. “This storm will batter the MTA, but the precautions we take now will allow us to recover much more quickly.”

The MTA has for days prepared for the possibility that conditions would require a service suspension by readying recovery equipment, clearing drainage areas, moving vehicles from low-lying areas in bus and rail yards and sealing some tunnel access points.

The duration of the service suspension is unknown, and there is no timetable for restoration. Service will be restored only when it is safe to do so, after careful inspections of all equipment and tracks. Even with minimal damage this is expected to be a lengthy process.

Metro-North Railroad’s special “Train to the Game” for today’s Jets game in the Meadowlands has been cancelled. Customers who return promptly to Penn Station after the conclusion of the game will be accommodated on MTA services leaving by 7 p.m.

Outbound Access-A-Ride trips are being scheduled only until 12 p.m. today, and return trips will continue until 5 p.m. Any previously scheduled trips after that time, including subscription trips, are cancelled.

The Staten Island Railway will attempt to continue to operate until the Staten Island Ferry suspends service, in order not to strand any customers in the ferry terminal. However, the railway will not operate if conditions are deemed unsafe.

Customers and the media should monitor the website or call 511 for the most current service information.


POSTED: Saturday, 2:45 p.m. Just in from the New York Governor's office, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority will begin taking the first steps of what could become a total subway and transit system shut down for the New York City area in response to Hurricane Sandy.

A decision will be made Sunday.

The MTA hurricane plan calls for shutting down any above ground subway service in high winds, or especially heavy rains. For a bit more on why a total subway system shutdown might be called for, see our article from yesterday, and our coverage from Tropical Storm Irene last year, the first  preemptive total system shutdown in the 108 year history of the NYC subway.

Full statement from NY Governor Andrew Cuomo's office:

Final Decision Whether to Suspend Service Will Be Made by SundaySubways, Buses and Commuter Railroads Will Prepare to Suspend Service Sunday Evening to Protect Customers, Employees and EquipmentState Preparations Continue for Department of Health

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today directed the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) to begin planning for an orderly suspension of all subway, bus and commuter railroad service, if Hurricane Sandy continues to bear down on the New York City metropolitan area. In addition, the Governor continued oversight of state preparations for the storm, including actions taken by the State Department of Health (DOH). 

Department of State Operations Howard Glaser, DOH Commissioner Dr. Nirav Shah, MTA Chairman Joseph Lhota, and PANYNJ Executive Director Pat Foye gave an update on preparations at the Governor’s Office in New York City today. 

A final decision on whether to suspend service will be made by Sunday, but the MTA must begin preparing immediately for a possible suspension to protect its customers, its employees and its equipment.

If a decision to suspend service is made by Sunday, New York City subways and buses would begin an orderly suspension of service at 7 p.m. Sunday. Metro-North Railroad and the Long Island Rail Road would suspend service at 7 p.m. Sunday. Some lines may be curtailed over a period of several hours before all service is suspended, but no one would be able to rely on any MTA service after 7 p.m. Sunday. 

All customers leaving the Sunday afternoon Jets game in New Jersey would be accommodated before service is suspended. However, the special through train from New Haven to the Meadowlands has been cancelled. 

“I have directed the MTA to put its Hurricane Plan into action to help New Yorkers prepare for the storm and protect the vital assets of the region’s transportation system,” Governor Cuomo said. “New Yorkers need to take action now to protect themselves, and as the transportation system prepares to possibly suspend service, no one should wait until the last minute to prepare.” 

The MTA Hurricane Plan is designed to secure equipment and protect employees before dangerous sustained winds of 39 mph or higher and storm surges of 4 to 8 feet reach the area. This process must begin hours in advance of the storm’s arrival, as thousands of rail cars, subway cars and buses must be pulled from service and stored safely.

“Suspending the largest transportation system in North America is a monumental effort, and it is imperative that we start the process before we make a final decision, and before the worst of Hurricane Sandy reaches us,” said MTA Chairman and CEO Joseph J. Lhota. “That means all of our 8.5 million daily customers need to prepare for the storm and be ready to complete their travels by 7 p.m. Sunday.”

Before any final decision on suspending service, MTA crews will follow the Hurricane Plan by moving rail cars, locomotives, subway cars and buses from low-lying yards to higher ground; preparing recovery equipment and clearing drainage areas; and deploying sandbags and other protective materials at tunnel entrances, station entrances and other locations vulnerable to flooding. Taking these pre-emptive measures before the full brunt of the storm arrives will help in the MTA’s recovery efforts after the storm passes.

MTA subway and railroad stations are not designated shelters and would be closed in the event of a service suspension. Those in need of assistance would be directed to designated shelters nearby.

Service would be restored following the storm only when it is safe to do so, after careful inspections of all equipment and tracks. There is no timetable established for restoration. Customers and the media should monitor the website or call 511 for the most current service information.

Details of each agency’s suspension plans are provided below.

New York City Transit

If a decision is made to suspend service, all New York City subway and bus service would need to be suspended by early Monday morning to allow crews to secure stations, tracks and tunnels before the onset of sustained winds of 39 mph or higher.

On the subway system, where the orderly suspension of service takes eight hours, service would begin to be curtailed after 7 p.m. Sunday. While some trains may continue to run for several additional hours, there would be no guarantee of any subway service after that time, so all customers who rely on the subway would have to plan to complete their travel by 7 p.m. Sunday.

The bus system requires six hours for the orderly suspension of service, so buses would be able to remain on their normal routes for as much as two hours after 7 p.m. Sunday. There would be no guarantee of any bus service after that time.

The MTA would run normal service until those times, with sufficient capacity to allow customers to leave vulnerable areas and reach safe destinations before service is suspended. Those who use the MTA to evacuate would be allowed to carry pets. Dogs must be leashed and, if possible, muzzled. Cats should be in carriers.

Subway stations in flood-prone locations such as lower Manhattan would be evacuated and secured. Critical track-level components would be removed from tunnels under rivers so they will not suffer the corrosive effects of salt water if they are flooded. Workers would secure all elevated stations to protect against damaging winds.

There would be no Access-A-Ride trips scheduled after 12 p.m. Sunday. Customers will be able to schedule trips until then. 

Metro-North Railroad

If a decision is made to suspend service, Metro-North Railroad would run its final trains at 7 p.m. Sunday to prepare for the arrival of high winds and heavy rain. Customers are urged not to wait for the last trains when making their travel plans.

Grand Central Terminal, including its shops and restaurants, and all outlying Metro-North station buildings would be closed for the duration of the service suspension. In preparation, train equipment is being moved out of low-lying locations known to be prone to flooding, such as the Highbridge and Mott Haven yards in the Bronx. 

As the storm approaches, Metro-North has secured its infrastructure by moving trucks and equipment such as backhoes, cranes and bulldozers, to higher ground. 

Parking lots that usually flood, such as the ones at White Plains and Beacon, would be barricaded. Connecting ferry service at Beacon and Ossining would be suspended. The Hudson RailLink that serves Spuyten Duyvil and Riverdale would be suspended.

Metro-North has asked many employees to shelter during the storm at a Metro-North facility, so they will be immediately available to begin recovery efforts when the worst of the storm has passed.

Long Island Rail Road

If a decision is made to suspend service, Long Island Rail Road would run its final trains at 7 p.m. Sunday. Service would be suspended earlier on some outlying parts of the system because crews would be required to secure or remove 690 gates at 295 railroad crossings across Long Island to prevent them from being damaged by wind. Customers are urged not to wait for the last trains when making their travel plans.

This process takes approximately 12 hours and must be completed prior to forecasted sustained winds of 39 mph or higher. Crews would begin by removing gates east of Ronkonkoma on the Main Line to Greenport, where weekend service does not operate at this time of year. Additionally, crossing gates would start being removed on the Montauk Branch east of Speonk beginning Sunday morning, so train service would be replaced with buses from 9 a.m. Sunday until the full service suspension takes effect at 7 p.m. 

Long Island residents, pedestrians and drivers need to be aware that the third rail remains electrified even during a service suspension and equipment trains may be operating. Please act in a safe manner in and around tracks.

In order to restore service, train equipment and crews must be repositioned, all crossing gates re-installed and fully tested and power to the crossing gates restored. In addition, any debris, such as fallen trees, must be removed from tracks and the right of way inspected.

Preparations by State Department of Health 

Based upon the latest weather models, the greatest risk to the New York City metropolitan area and the entire state, due to rain and strong winds, will be prolonged power outages. These prolonged outages may last at least 48-72 hours beginning as early as Sunday evening. This could also lead to flooding, which is a chief concern.

Statewide, the Department of Health has released general guidance for all health care facilities, including hospitals, nursing homes, and adult care facilities, to be prepared for a prolonged power outage and to check generators, fuel levels, food and water levels, etc. Health care facilities should focus on planning for patients who are dependent upon electrical equipment such as ventilators, dialysis patients, oxygen concentrators, etc. Dialysis facilities statewide should consider staying open on Sunday and dialyzing as many patients due for dialysis Monday through Wednesday as possible. Facilities should report power outages to their local county/NYC Emergency Operations Center and to DOH. Facilities needing assistance due to prolonged power outages should make requests through their local EOC who will then request state assistance if needed.

In the New York City metropolitan area, with the MTA closure possibly planned for 7 PM Sunday, DOH has required all adult homes and nursing homes to bring staffing levels to 150% of standard shifts by 5 PM Sunday. Staff should be prepared to stay for 48-72 hours. The State Human Services Task Force is responding to a request for 700 volunteers for pre-landfall deployment and 2,500 for post-landfall deployment to staff shelters.

DOH has designated a “Slosh Zone” which includes Zone A, the Rockaways, northeast Queens and eastern shore of the Bronx. All nursing homes in these areas are required to move ventilator dependent patients to facilities outside of the Slosh Zone by 5 PM Sunday. Ambulances are currently at home stations awaiting directives to support the movement of vent patients. 

DOH is in regular contact with hospitals, nursing homes and adult care facilities in Slosh Zones, county health commissioners and local health directors statewide. DOH staff is also deployed in the New York City Office of Emergency Management (OEM), Healthcare Facility Evacuation Coordination Center (HEC). 

To get the latest updates on the storm, follow the Governor on Twitter and subscribe to our Storm Watch list. You can also visit or connect with the Governor on Facebook for more information.

Visit for safety tips from DHSES on how to be prepared.

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Happy Birthday, Old Boy! NYC Subway Turns 108 Years Old

Saturday, October 27, 2012

NYC subway station entrance, Undated. (Courtesy MTA)

The first American subway trip left New York City Hall heading north for Harlem 108 years ago today. The Independent Rapid Transit line connected Manhattans most traveled crossroads in one zig-zaging route.  The first IRT line ran under Park Avenue South to Grand Central Terminal, crossed 42nd Street to Times Square, then up Broadway to 145th Street in Harlem -- a combination of today's 4/5, shuttle, and 1/2 lines.

A year later the route extended into the Bronx, then within five years, over to Brooklyn. Transit expansion was fast a century ago.

The subway quickly gained popularity because it was much faster than trolley cars and existing elevated trains. About 20 years later, New York got it's second subway company, the Brooklyn-Manhattan Transit company combining existing elevated lines in south Brooklyn with newer routes connecting to Manhattan. In 1932, Independent Subway launched, which, despite the name, was municipally-owned and operated.

In 1940 with the IRT and BMT both in deep financial trouble, the city absorbed the original subway lines and merged them with the IND, forming what is today's subway system, which hasn't expanded much since.

Construction is currently underway for the first new line since the slow process of unification of the three systems: the 2nd Ave Subway. Here's a bit more history.

City officials inspect City Hall Station and tracks prior to completion, January 1, 1904. (Photo courtesy New York Transit Museum)









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Hurricane Sandy (aka Frankenstorm) Could Shut Down NYC Subway

Friday, October 26, 2012

The NY MTA began placing service advisories in subway stations Friday.

UPDATE 2:43 p.m. ET Saturday: NY Gov Andrew Cuomo has ordered the NY MTA to begin the preparations needed for a total subway and transit system shutdown. Full details here.

ORIGINAL POST: (New York, NY -- WNYC) The New York City subway system will be running Saturday, but Sunday ... that's wait and see. As Hurricane Sandy bears down on the mid-Atlantic region charting an ominous course north, transit agencies in the New York area are getting ready for potentially crippling rains. Subways, buses, railroads, bridges, tunnels could all be affected.  (See below for full MTA press release)

New York City Mayor, Michael Bloomberg said the NYC subway system -- which turns 108 years old on Saturday -- could be shut down if Sandy brings sustained winds of higher than 39 mph, according to a standing MTA hurricane action plan. As of Friday at 4 p.m., no decisions on shut downs had been made, though warnings, cautions and caveats were flowing from all levels of government.

“Our first priority is always safety, and the MTA is taking no chances with the safety of our customers, our employees and our equipment,” said MTA Chairman and CEO Joseph J. Lhota in a statement.

NY Governor Andrew Cuomo declared a state of emergency across the state. "With unpredictable weather conditions, we are taking the greatest precautions – especially after our experience from last year’s storms,” he said, referring to tropical storms Irene and Lee.

If Hurricane Sandy holds course toward New York City, it threatens to be especially dangerous because it would join with a second winter storm, creating what the National Weather Service called Frankenstorm.

Hurricane preparation for a large subway system is long and elaborate process that takes at least 8 hours once ordered.

Last year, the subway system shut down a day ahead of Tropical Storm Irene to allow MTA staff to flood proof tunnels and move trains and buses out of harms way. (See photos) A report following a 2007 storm, found that subway drainage systems are designed to handle no more than 1.75 inches of rain an hour.

This time, MTA workers began flood-prevention preparations Friday afternoon -- two days ahead of the storm's expected arrival -- by covering subway ventilation grates with plywood in low lying areas. After severe flooding crippled the subway in a 2007 storm the transit agency began the slow process of raising subway grates a few inches above street level, but many are still at street grade.

An MTA statement listed what else would need to happen this weekend:

"The Hurricane Plan also contains detailed protocols for New York City Transit, Metro-North Railroad, the Long Island Rail Road, Bridges and Tunnels and Capital Construction to prepare for the onset of a storm by moving equipment such as rail cars and buses from low-lying storage areas or vulnerable outdoor tracks; by staging recovery equipment such as generators and chainsaws near areas where they would be needed; by clearing catch basins and sewer lines; and by installing protective barriers to keep floodwaters out of buildings, tunnels and storage yards."

Most planned construction in the subway system is cancelled. The  NY Buildings Commissioner ordered a similar halt to all exterior work at construction sites in New York City starting Saturday at 5 p.m.

Amtrak said all trains are operating as usual as of Friday afternoon and had not made any plans to cancel service, though some equipment was being moved into place for emergency action if needed.


Here's the full MTA Hurricane Sandy Press Release:


MTA Prepares for Hurricane Sandy


Service Shutdowns Possible as Forecasts Develop; Subways, Buses, Railroads, Bridges and Tunnels Preparing for High Winds and Heavy Rain


Monitor, Media Outlets and Call 511 for Latest Transportation Information


The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) is monitoring the progress of Hurricane Sandy and taking necessary precautions to protect its transportation network. The storm is tracking toward New York and holds the potential for high winds and heavy rain that could make it unsafe to operate subway, bus and railroad lines, as well as to allow vehicles on the MTA’s seven bridges and two tunnels.


The MTA is working closely with the Governor’s office, the Mayor’s office and state and local Offices of Emergency Management to prepare for the storm and respond in a coordinated manner.


“Our first priority is always safety, and the MTA is taking no chances with the safety of our customers, our employees and our equipment,” said MTA Chairman and CEO Joseph J. Lhota. “We are hoping for the best but preparing for the worst. Whatever happens, we’ll be ready.”


The MTA Hurricane Plan calls for an orderly shutdown of service before the arrival of sustained winds of 39 mph or higher. No decision has been made whether to suspend some or all service in advance of the storm, but ample notice will be provided of any suspension. Customers and the media should monitor the website, which is updated continuously with service information as it becomes available. Customers can also call 511 for service information.


The MTA last suspended service during Tropical Storm Irene in August 2011, when it successfully helped people get to safety before the storm, then shut down its transportation network in an orderly manner to protect employees and equipment.


The Hurricane Plan also contains detailed protocols for New York City Transit, Metro-North Railroad, the Long Island Rail Road, Bridges and Tunnels and Capital Construction to prepare for the onset of a storm by moving equipment such as rail cars and buses from low-lying storage areas or vulnerable outdoor tracks; by staging recovery equipment such as generators and chainsaws near areas where they would be needed; by clearing catch basins and sewer lines; and by installing protective barriers to keep floodwaters out of buildings, tunnels and storage yards.


Details of each agency’s storm planning are provided below.


New York City Transit


Most scheduled weekend subway service changes for construction projects have been cancelled, with the exception of changes planned for the 7 and J lines, which are now scheduled through Saturday only. Crews are inspecting and clearing main drains and pump rooms throughout the subway system. Personnel are checking and cleaning all known flood-prone locations and these areas will continue to be monitored.


Extra workers and managers are prepared to staff New York City Transit’s Incident Command Center, situation room, satellite desks, depot operations and facility operations as necessary. The Incident Command Center will be activated starting at 8 a.m. Sunday. Among those present in the ICC throughout the duration of the storm will be Customer Advocates, who will ensure that all decisions made during the event will reflect a focus on customers. They fill a position created after reviews of the agency’s performance during Tropical Storm Irene.


Trains will be removed from outdoor yards prone to flooding and moved to more secure locations. Subway ventilation grates vulnerable to flooding will be sandbagged and tarped over. Many station entrances and ventilation grates in low-lying areas have been successfully modified in recent years to raise them above street level, making it more difficult for floodwaters to enter the system.


All portable pumps and emergency response vehicles will be checked, fueled and made ready for service. Outside contractors have been asked to prepare their work sites for heavy weather.


Bus operators are ready to move buses that normally park in low-lying depots to areas of higher ground.


Metro-North Railroad


Metro-North personnel are stockpiling material in preparation for possible washouts or bank erosion, and are securing road crossing gates when necessary.


Much of Metro-North’s territory runs along rivers and the Long Island Sound With nearly 800 miles of tracks to take care of, Maintenance of Way workers have already begun preparing for Sandy at known trouble spots.


Culverts are being cleared of fallen limbs and other debris. Ditches and swales are being cleaned out. Pumps are being tuned up and put in place at known low spots such as New Haven Yard and Mott Haven Yard, while generators at all rail yards are being fueled and tested.


Cranes and excavators and back hoes are being positioned along the tracks, and a tree service contractor is on call to respond rapidly if needed.


Long Island Rail Road


Long Island Rail Road is preparing facilities and infrastructure by clearing drains, securing work sites against possible high winds, fueling equipment, stocking supplies and making plans to move equipment and supplies away from low-lying areas. Chain saws, generators and pumps are ready for use as well.


The LIRR’s scheduled track work this weekend for the replacement of concrete ties between Jamaica and Queens Village, and the resulting bus service for Queens Village and Hollis customers, is now scheduled to end at 11:59 PM Saturday evening.


Extra personnel will be assigned to report for duty before the storm is forecasted to make landfall on Long Island.


Crews will be prepared to remove crossing gates from LIRR crossings in advance of the storm if necessary, to protect them from high winds and assist in a quicker recovery. Service must be suspended if crossing gates are removed.


Bridges and Tunnels


All roadway and drainage systems at Bridges and Tunnels facilities are being checked and cleared of debris. Construction areas will be secured, backup generators are in place, and wrecker trucks and other response vehicles are readied to help motorists who may become stranded. In addition, staffing levels were checked and emergency personnel have been put on standby.


Motorists are advised to reduce speeds when winds are between 40 and 49 mph in dry conditions, and 30 to 49 mph in windy and wet conditions.


When the winds are 50 mph or more in dry or wet conditions, certain vehicles will be barred from using MTA crossings. These include motorcycles, tractor trailers, step vans, mini buses, trucks with open backs, cars pulling trailers, motor homes and vehicles carrying plate glass.


If there are sustained winds of 60 mph or above, the MTA may close one or more bridges to all traffic.


Capital Construction


All contractors at Capital Construction projects – East Side Access, the Second Avenue Subway, the 7 Line Extension and Fulton Center – will secure all materials and equipment, including cranes, to prepare for high winds and flooding.


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For Barbra, I'll Take the Subway -- Brooklyn's Barclays Center Passes Second Traffic Test

Thursday, October 11, 2012

What do Jay-Z fans and Barbara Streisand fans have in common? They both take mass transit.

Long orderly lines of flamboyant ladies in finery stretched from subway steps to the flickering marquis of Brooklyn's new Barclays Center arena for Thursday night's Barbra Streisand concert.

"I am in Brooklyn which is where I was born.  I haven't been here since I was born. I'm about 120 years old," gushed Laura Slutzky of Manhattan, which she insisted on referring to only as New York City. "This is fabulous here. I took the subway, used my Metrocard for two-dollars and 25 cents. I was going to take a limo for $4,550 but this was much easier... I love Brooklyn, I love the whole thing."

The 18,000 seat arena with just 541 on-site parking spaces has raised hackles and hellfire predictions of clogged streets and desperate fans circling the nearby residential neighborhoods for parking, blocking traffic and usurping local car owners; curb space.

Twenty minutes before showtime the shuttle bus bringing concert-goers from remote lots was mostly empty. The attendant said people were using the lots, but they weren't full.

A small army of police and citizen "pedestrian traffic managers" played crossing guard to usher the throngs of walkers safely through the always busy intersection at Flatbush and Atlantic Avenues. Cars and limos that tried to stop to drop off fans, usually in groups, were forced to drive to pre-determined drop off locations that wouldn't block traffic. This operation was in force for the first set of concerts as well.

After the eight Jay-Z shows failed to cause vehicular mayhem, rendering all but irrelevant the "gridlock alert" that preceded opening night, many still feared the pedestrian calm was a fluke, that it was something about Jay-Z fans that predisposed them to use the 11 subway lines, 11 bus lines, the Long Island Rail Road or walk.

In fact it seems that at least 1/3 of fans on opening night got out at the subway station right below the arena, according to our analysis of turnstile data.

The data isn't in yet on the Streisand fans, but after chatting with a few of gaggles of giddy women of a certain age in front of the gates, it was clear, Barbra, as fans know her, draws a crowd from far beyond Brooklyn. And rather than drawing them by their usual mode of automobile, these groups behaved like the Brooklynites. When in Rome ...

Robin Schrieber and her friend took an hour-long train ride on Long Island Rail Road, which stops right next to the arena. "We had to change at Jamaica...We had to walk up and over at Jamaica which we didn't love, but it took us right here."

The LIRR arriving at 7:18 at Atlantic Terminal might as well have been called the Babs Express.

"Everybody was going to the Barbra concert," Schreiber said. "People we knew, people we didn't know, everybody was talking to each other. No one knew where they were going, it was like 'Are you going to Barbra?' 'Where do we get on?' 'Where do we get off?' We all just kind of went en masse together."


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Chevy Testing App to Help Volt Owners Visualize -- and Brag About -- Fuel Savings

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Chevy Volt getting juiced up. (Photo via GM)

Early adopters are a risk-friendly group of people. They put in a little extra effort to make new technology work for them, often before all the kinks are ironed out.

They also like to brag.

Chevy wants to harness all of these character traits with a new smartphone app. “Volt owners do like a lot of information,” said Paul Pebbles of GM's OnStar division. “These early adopters, they are very into the data.”

They also want to say: "I spent $1.50 to fill up my car yesterday," possibly with a smug eco-friendly smile aimed at an SUV-owning co-worker. Soon they will be able to.

GM's OnStar is testing out a new mobile app called EcoHub that lets Volt owners track exactly how much -- or how little -- it costs to recharge their cars. OnStar's built-in features already lets Volt owners track how many miles they drive using gas vs. electric power, kilowatt-hours consumed,and other stats. What Chevy wants to do is turn data into dollars. The company estimates it costs about $1.50 a day to power a Volt.

“I think people have a good sense how much a car costs to fill up a car with gas, but when it comes to electric there’s been a lot less visibility of the cost side of the vehicle,” Pebbles said.

A Volt costs about $39,000 -- more than twice the price of other cars. Chevy argues that the savings come over time.

EcoHub is being tested in a single neighborhood to start out, the Pecan Street Demonstration Project subdivision in Austin, Texas. It's a newly built community designed to test out smart energy grid capabilities, constructed with some funding from the Department of Energy.

The houses have more control -- and more data readily available -- over energy , consumptionand some of them are solar powered as well. So EcoHub can adapt to that data, changing when the Volt pulls in power to charge based on when there might be excess solar energy, or time it to when demand is lower.

It will then also be able to compare a Volt's energy use to other household use. "If you look at the energy consumption of a Volt it is a quarter of the average consumption of an average house," Pebbles said. "That’s less than an A/C."

And he wants people to start telling their neighbors that.

Watch a video of Paul Pebbles explaining how EcoHub works.

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Nine Percent of All D.C. Bike Share Bikes at Washington Nationals Stadium For Playoff Game

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The Capitol Bikeshare "corral" at Nationals Stadium earlier today.

Playoff baseball pulls in the fans. In Washington, D.C., it's also pulling in the Capital Bikeshare bikes.

According to a rough count from the Washington D.C. Department of Transportation, about nine percent of the city's bike share bikes are Nationals Park for game three of the National League East division series, according to John Lisle, a DDOT spokesman.

"We have about 1,600 bikes in the system, and best I can count, we have somewhere in the neighborhood of 140 that are docked there [at the stadium]. Or were docked there," Lisle said. "That's a pretty good showing."

Capital Bikeshare, which is run by DDOT, has set up a staffed bike corral at the stadium for the overflow. "So if someone brings a bike there, even if the station is full, they put can put it in the corral," Lisle said. "It's a way to add capacity and it's relatively easy to do. " So there is no limit to the number of people who can come by bike share, Lisle said.

During the regular season, Capital Bikeshare clears out the docking stations before games and monitors them closely. If the docks fill up, then Capital Bikeshare "rebalances" them -- the technical term for 'takes the bikes to by van to another dock somewhere else.'

After today's game ends, staffers will keep the docks full with those corralled bikes so fans can check out a bike as usual.

But, Lisle cautions, "after the game there is no guarantee you will have a bike share bike to go home, but we are not removing any of the bikes."

So: Nats fans who chose bike to cheer on their team may want to consider checking out in the top of the ninth to ensure a two-wheeled ride home.

The bike corral will be in place at all Nationals home games during the playoffs.

The bike share corral at Nationals Park, pictured earlier with just 102 bikes. Photo: DDOT

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Amtrak: We Broke Another Ridership Record, 49% Growth Since 2000

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

(Chart: Amtrak)

For the ninth time in ten years, Amtrak has broken a ridership record. The national rail network carried 31.2 million passengers in the twelve months before September 30, 2012. This news comes smack in the heat of an election season where nationally subsidized services like passenger rail and public television have become campaign issues.

The news: ridership grew by 3.5 percent  in 2012, giving Amtrak its highest number of passenger trips since the company began operations in 1971. As the chart above shows, Amtrak ridership has grown steadily--a total of 49 percent since 2000.

Ticket revenue increased 6 percent, accounting for $2 billion of a roughly $4 billion budget. That revenue comes in about $100 million above projections in the 2012 budget (PDF). The government chipped in a $466 million operating subsidy, according to the Federal Railroad Administration. The federal government also allocated an additional $952 million for capital expenses.

Amtrak President and CEO Joe Boardman said in a statement, "ridership will continue to grow because of key investments made by Amtrak and our federal and state partners to improve on-time performance, reliability, capacity and train speeds."

In the speed department: Last month, Amtrak began testing Acela trains to run at a new top speed of 160 miles per hour along several stretches of the Northeast Corridor. And 82 percent of trains were on time in 2012, up a bit from last year, which is about on par with airline industry performance compiled by FlightStat. (PDF) Amtrak has been growing in part by stealing business travelers from airlines on shorter flights.

Post-September 11th security procedures have given train travel a considerable time advantage on short haul flights, but the as TN has reported, the decline of short haul flights -- those that compete with Amtrak for business travelers -- has been a decades long trend.

The newly released numbers show the Northeast Corridor is still the anchor route for Amtrak with more than a third of all riders (11.4 million) traveling between Boston and Washington, D.C. Amtrak won't release new state-by-state and line-by-line numbers until next week, but the 361 miles of track along the Northeast Corridor are likely to continue to bring in more than half of all ticket revenue for Amtrak, as it did last year according to the 2011 annual report. According to projections (see PDF, last page of Appendix), only the NEC and Kansas City - St. Louis lines earn a profit on a per passenger basis. When final numbers are in, we'll find out if this new ridership and ticket revenue peak brings any other lines into break even territory.

Amtrak was established to provide passenger service that private train companies would not, or could not offer profitably.

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NYPD Focus Shifts on Bike Ticketing

Sunday, October 07, 2012

(photo by Alex Goldmark)

Listen to the audio versions of this story below.

If the flared tensions around cycling in New York City ease a bit this year, it might have to do with a more targeted approach to policing bike riders, according to NYPD data provided to Transportation Nation.

Tickets to cyclists this year are on pace with 2011, but New York Police Department Deputy Chief Brian McCarthy tells TN that delivery cyclists are getting more police attention than last year, as are locations where bike-related accidents occur. Data show fewer red light tickets have been issued than during the same period last year, while riding on the sidewalk remains the top offense.

Anecdotal reports from cyclists point to a greater understanding of bike traffic laws by riders and police alike. Last year much ruckus was caused when police held a ticket trap for cyclists not riding in the bike lane, which is legal on most streets. Though similar speed-trap like efforts aimed at cyclists continue, more cyclists have told TN they got off with warnings and were handed educational pamphlets in place of tickets than in the past. It's not a vast shift in policy, but it's a slightly kinder and gentler Operation Safe Cycle, or as Chief McCarthy called it, "more focused."

The Backstory

The number of cyclists in NYC has quadrupled in the past decade. The city has laid down more than 250 miles of new bike lanes since 2006. The (delayed) CitiBike bike share program was set to unleash 10,000 rent-by-the-hour bikes on city streets this past summer, along with 600 "docks" on sidewalks, a plan the New York Post framed as an invasion. In a crowded city like New York, every square foot is precious to someone. So the trend toward New Bike City rubbed some the wrong way. Tensions flared. Cyclists were painted by detractors of the trend as effete hipster transplants. The bike-loving New York media corp, (tabloids aside), regularly wrote paeans to the city's mayor and transportation commissioner for pushing forward with a plan to make the city more livable.

By last year, bikes had became a cultural powder keg in NYC, and the elite power brokers had their fight: Brooklyn's 0.9-mile Prospect Park West bike lane, which launched a legal contest that came to symbolize competing visions and styles for running New York. At the same time, police entered the mix with a crackdown on scofflaw cyclists.

By the time Operation Safe Cycle kicked off last January, it met with complaints from both sides.

Cyclists argued it was too sudden, improperly targeted at the wrong offenses, and not focused enough on educating the city's thousands of cyclists who, like pedestrians, are accustomed to flouting traffic signals with impunity. Conversely, many non-cycling New Yorkers felt threatened by dangerous bike riders or inconvenienced by bikes riding in traffic with their cars, and demanded a more immediate end to the bike free-for-all.


The Evolution of Operation Safe Cycle

Twenty-one months after Operation Safe Cycle began, Transportation Nation sat down with the NYPD's Brian McCarthy to get an update and go over some of the statistics of bike traffic enforcement in NYC. "Our goal is to improve the safety not only of the public but of the cyclists," he stressed throughout the conversation.

In 2011, the NYPD issued 48,556 summonses to cyclists. That's about 133 tickets a day.

Police also made more than 12,000 "contacts" about bike safety and traffic rules. A contact is anytime a police officer contacts a person or a group about bike safety. It could be an auxiliary officer handing out a warning and a pamphlet to a single bike rider, or it could be the Central Park Precinct Commanding Officer taking questions during a packed community meeting.

Both the number of tickets and the number of contacts are roughly steady when compared to 2011 -- though the make up is slightly different. Most notably, police issued less tickets for the failure to stop at a signal, which include red light running and can cost $270 per ticket. Bike riders pay the same fines motor vehicle drivers do.

The biggest complaint about cyclists -- and one of the more dangerous practices -- is riding on the sidewalk. "I’m a lifelong city resident and I see that and I’m disturbed by that and that’s why ... in 2012 I think Operation Safe Cycle has been a little more focused. And out of our 35,726 bicycle summonses thus far in 2012, 22,297 have been for bicycles on the sidewalk," McCarthy told Transportation Nation. "The overwhelming majority are for riding on the sidewalk … you have to be able to walk on the sidewalk and not dodge someone. Literally."

(Click to enlarge)


Click to enlarge

The Case of Central Park 

As for the contacts, consider Central Park. Last year police issued tickets to cyclists for running red lights in the park with such fervor that some City Council members pushed for, and won, a reprogramming of the 40 or so of the park's stoplights to make it easier to ride without running a light during the periods when the drive is not open to cars.

By comparison, this summer the NYPD placed auxiliary officers at busy intersections along the Loop as crossing guards in an attempt to force the throngs of all park users -- including pedestrians -- to obey the traffic signals. The officers also handed out an NYPD pamphlet with the rules of the road and tips for safe cycling. This is the education bike activists had cried for last spring.

“What we’ve tried to do is get the summonses that are unique to the conditions," McCarthy said. "In Central Park, for example, people go to the park, I think they let their guard down, and they are at the lights crossing with a little less attention... than they would in a regular city street." So they're more vulnerable to being hit by a bike.

"As a result," he said, "151 of our summons [in Central Park] were issued for failure to stop for pedestrians, 65 summonses to failing to stop at a traffic signal." That's out of 423 total tickets issued to cyclists during roughly the first 10 months of this year. By contrast, in a far shorter period last year, the police had issued 230 tickets in the first three months of 2011.

Delivery Cyclists Getting More Tickets

Ask a typical New Yorker what the worst bike behavior is, and you'll probably get some complaint about bike delivery men or bike messengers running wild. The NYPD appears to be getting the same message. They didn't track commercial bike ticketing as a category in 2011, but so far this year, one in every three tickets to a cyclist has gone to commercial cyclists.

"In 2012, in an effort to have more of an impact on specific areas that are impacting on safety, based on complaints and observation, commercial bike enforcement, delivery enforcement, has been expanded and has been monitored," McCarthy said. "As a result, there have been 8,959 commercial bike summonses issued in 2012." Independently of the NYPD, the city's Department of Transportation is currently engaging in a commercial cyclist education campaign -- an effort that will turn to enforcement next year.


Bike Accidents Are Up

"Traffic accidents are down year-to-date. However, bicycle accidents are up 2.7 percent,” McCarthy said. The worst precinct for accidents involving bikes is the 90th, which covers Brooklyn's Williamsburg neighborhood and saw 113 accidents through September 23. This was also the most deadly precinct for cyclists last year. Central Park comes in second, with 98 accidents so far this year -- 91 of them involving a motor vehicle hitting a bike, and seven where a bike hit a pedestrian.

The NYPD closely tracks traffic crime and crashes through a program called Traffic Stat. Each week three precincts present their latest data to top brass. Bike accidents and crimes involving bikes are also included. Before each meeting, officers will photograph trouble spots where two or more accidents have taken place so the group can review and propose action -- anything from traffic stops at that location to suggesting an infrastructure change.

There have been 2,968 bike-related accidents in New York City this year, most of them car-cyclist collisions. The NYPD only recently began tracking cyclist-pedestrian crashes and could not provide that data.

By comparison, there have been 141,454 traffic crashes in total in the city this year, slightly lower than the same period last year.

If past trends hold, then the number of new cyclists on the streets is up more than 8 percent this year, making the 2.7 percent increase in bike accidents a mixed numbers game. The Department of Transportation would not comment on the figures, but said that as cycling has increased fourfold in the past decade, serious injuries to cyclists have fallen by 70 percent.

Caroline Samponaro of Transportation Alternatives, a bike advocacy group, said the apparent shift of the NYPD to include more education for cyclists is a welcome one, but added that "dangerous driving is by far the leading cause of injury and death on New York City streets and we continue to call on the NYPD to make protecting New Yorkers from dangerous drivers a priority."

Police have issued 35,726 tickets to cyclists this year out of 685,616 total motor vehicle summonses. There was no known case of a cyclist hitting and killing a pedestrian last year. In the same time period, nearly 300 cyclists and pedestrians were killed when struck by cars and trucks.


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CHART: How Barclay's Center Opening Caused Subway Surge

Saturday, September 29, 2012

It turns out you can have a 19,000 seat NBA Arena, in a crowded residential neighborhood with almost no dedicated parking and still not snarl traffic during a sold out show ... at least for one opening night concert.

Friday night was the first of eight sold out concerts by Jay-Z. As Janet Babin and Stephen Nessen of WNYC report, "an epic exodus, it wasn't."

Transit use certainly played a role in keeping the roads clear. The Barclay's Center is the new home to the Nets basketball team -- in which Jay-Z owns a small but visible stake -- and is served by 11 transit lines and commuter rail. As the chart above shows, subway ridership spiked by more than 5,000 at the arena's station compared to previous days.

Babin and Nessen were on the scene:

Traffic thickened, but moved along with no major backups. Officers directed the flow of vehicles at all key intersections surrounding the arena, easing congestion and assisting pedestrians. Horns blared as a street sweeping vehicle crawled down Flatbush Avenue, cleaning the street despite the late hour.

Officials from the Prospect Heights Neighborhood Development Council surveyed the area throughout the concert, looking for problems spots. The group said it will continue to look for trouble areas related to the Barclays Center.

Read the full report on opening night at our partner WNYC.

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Neighbors of Brooklyn's Brand New Barclay's Center Want Their Benefits

Friday, September 28, 2012

Groundbreaking of the Barclay's Center, Brooklyn, NY. (Photo by Spencer T Tucker)

As the NBA's newest arena opens in Brooklyn, neighbors still haven't warmed to the arena nor it's rusty swirls of metal sheets that dominate the nearby brownstone-lined streets.

Our partner WNYC has a detailed look at the promised concessions to the communities around the Atlantic Yards Complex of which the Barclay's Center is the first phase and anchor element.

The 675,000 square foot Barclays Center is part of the first phase of the project, which also includes five other buildings, most of which will be residential buildings in the Brooklyn neighborhood.  The second phase of the project includes 11 other buildings.


But the hoopla surrounding the opening still can’t quell the controversy that has surrounded the project. The construction has been the subject of dozens of challenges from community groups.

In 2005, Forest City Ratner signed a deal that was supposed to ease neighborhood concerns, called a Community Benefits Agreement. It laid out in detail all sorts of concessions Forest City Ratner would make to neighborhood groups in exchange for support of the Atlantic Yards project. The document was signed by eight community groups, including Brooklyn United for Innovative Local Development (BUILD), the Downtown Brooklyn Neighborhood Alliance (DBNA) and the now defunct Association for Community Organizations for Reform (ACORN).

But some neighbors and groups opposed to Atlantic Yards alleged that the CBA failed to include all of the people who would be affected by the 22-acre Atlantic Yards development.

See photos, and hear the rich history in audio at WNYC.

There's also this time lapse of the construction of the Barclay's Center so you can geek out to construction.

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Data from Only State that Tracks Dooring Show Its Big Problem

Friday, September 28, 2012

(image courtesy of DOT)

Here's a little update on how prevalent "dooring" accidents are: very.

When we reported on NYC's new initiative to stop taxi passengers from hurting cyclists by reminding people not to open the car door when a bike rider is passing, we mentioned that Illinois is -- we think -- the only state to track dooring accidents as its own category. The Illinois Department of Transportation didn't get back to us with a request for dooring data, but Chicago writer Steven Vance did and he has access to IDOT's Data Mart, their online transpo data distribution site. He generously sent over the dooring data for Chicago, but also crunched the numbers on his site, Grid Chicago.

The results are  pretty shocking. In 2011, one in five bike crashes were caused by dooring.

  • In 2010, there were 127 reported dooring crashes, for a rate of 0.35 doorings per day. Doorings made up 7.25% of all reported bike crashes.
  • In 2011, there were 344 reported dooring crashes, for a rate of 0.94 doorings per day. Doorings made up 19.7% of all reported bike crashes.
  • In 2012, up until August 29, 2012, there were 132 reported dooring crashes, for a rate of 0.55 doorings per day. Data for non-dooring crashes is incomplete and excluded.
Even if 2011 turns out to be an anomaly, this quick look is still strong evidence for more measurement of the problem and more campaigns to educate drivers ... or better yet passengers. The Chicago data sent over by Vance also reveal that the dooring culprit is most often the passenger, not the driver.
Vance goes on to compare the severity of injuries between dooring and non-dooring bike accidents in Chicago. His post is worth a full read for a local take on Chicago cycle safety, including the long legislative history of anti-dooring laws there.
For context: The best evidence we found in NYC for dooring prevalence was an observational study in 2010 that monitored 11 locations and found 77 dooring incidents, including near hits, over two days.
Chicago has about 2.7 million people, compared to New York's 8 million, but Chicago has about twice the rate of bike commuters as New York does according to the American Community Survey (spreadsheet) via the League of American Bicyclists. Until there's more measurement, there's no real way to tell if these Windy City numbers are the national normal, or wild outlier.
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Watch Amtrak's 165 MPH Test Trains Whiz Past

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

As we reported Monday, Amtrak is taking steps to run Acela trains at a new top speed of 160 m.p.h. along four stretches of the Northeast Corridor. The current top is 150 m.p.h. All this week, the company is running empty test trains at night at 165 m.p.h., and rail fans are out there with video cameras.

Here's a sampling what a very high speed (by American standards) train looks like in motion.

The Harlem Line Productions You Tube Channel got an up close view of all the test runs from normal speeds of 135 m.p.h on up. For the fastest runs skip ahead to about 1:20.


The All Aboard Productions You Tube channel offers up the most complete document of what high speed testing looks like. And it's in HD, so remember to turn on that feature. AAP captures nine test runs, and documents the exact time of each in the comments.


Here are two views from Hamilton, NJ station via You Tube user THEATREofPAIN270.


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NYC Aims to Stop Bike "Dooring" by Targeting Taxis

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

(image courtesy of DOT)

UPDATED with Chicago dooring figures below.

New York is dreaming of a world where taxis and cyclists can be friends.

In addition to new logos and a brighter yellow color, the city's taxi of tomorrow will also come with anti-"dooring" decals.

And so will the taxis of today, according to Taxi and Limousine Commission Chairman David Yassky.

"We believe the stickers and video will really resonate with riders and inspire them to pause for that critical second before they open the door and exit the taxi,” said Yassky. “It’s that moment of pause that could make all the difference in the world to both a bicyclist and the taxi passenger alike.”

The message not to fling cab doors open without first checking for bicyclists will be hammered home in a video message that will play on all 13,000 Taxi TVs (assuming passengers don't turn them off first). "Take out a friend," reads the message on the video. "Take out a date. But don't take out a cyclist."

Getting doored is rightfully high on the list of fears for any urban cyclist. When a car door opens in a cyclist's immediate path it can not only injure him/her, it can fling the biker into the path of oncoming traffic. It can be common and even deadly, though few studies track dooring.

Illinois began what we believe to be the first statewide effort to track dooring last April. We've asked the Illinois DOT for the figures from that effort and will report back as soon as we get them.

UPDATE: Steve Vance of Grid Chicago got in touch with the data. He used his access to the Illinois DOT online Data Mart and found there were 344 reported doorings in Chicago last year, responsible for one in five bike crashes. It should be said that's a big spike over 2010.

A 2010 survey in NYC counted bike-related infractions at 11 locations found that dooring (including near-hits) is a pervasive phenomenon with 77 infractions over the two days of measurement, 19 of them on one street alone.

According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Wisconsin enacted an anti-dooring law in 2009 that switched culpability from cyclists to motorists for dooring accidents, and added a $40 fine for striking a cyclist with a car door.

Taxis, with their frequent stops and passengers exiting from both sides, are at high risk for causing dooring incidents.

(image courtesy of NYC DOT)



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Bus to Stoplight, "Obey!" NYC Gets Traffic Signal Priority

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

(Photo CC by Flickr user Stephen Rees)

Traffic lights will yield to buses in New York City -- at least on a stretch of Manhattan's East Side.

It's a small but significant step that could further speed travel times for the city's Select Bus Service. SBS routes have dedicated lanes, express stops, and passengers pay before they boards. Now New York's SBS is rolling out signal priority: stop lights that can sense when a bus is approaching -- and stay green to let it pass.

“Traffic Signal Prioritization is a vital piece in making bus travel more attractive,” said New York City Transit President Thomas F. Prendergast in a statement.

An initial run of 60 buses on Manhattan's heavily traveled M15 route will be outfitted with the technology to communicate with streetlights along First and Second Avenues. Manhattan's signal priority, which has been tested on an SBS bus route in the Bronx, will begin in November. The MTA says another 200 buses could join the program if it proves successful.

The cost of upgrading the 60 buses will cost $480,000.

SBS is a form of Bus Rapid Transit, a popular form of mass transit in other countries, often as a cheaper substitute for a subway system. Traditional BRT systems use lanes that are physically separate from other traffic. But in New York, the lanes multitask -- cars can use the lanes to make turns, and taxis can drop off passengers in the SBS lanes.

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Amtrak to Test New Top Speed of 165 m.p.h

Monday, September 24, 2012

 Rendering of an Amtrak NextGen high-speed rail train (not on the tracks yet).

Amtrak is testing a new top speed this week. The national rail network will be running empty test trains at 165 m.p.h at several locations along the Northeast corridor. The current top speed is 150 m.p.h. on stretches between New York and Boston, and 130 m.p.h south of New York. Those are the fastest rail speeds in the U.S.

These tests are part of a long slow process to transform the Northeast Corridor into true high-speed rail  service. See the vision for that here.

The tests, beginning tonight and stretching through the week, are designed to pave the way for passenger service of 160 m.p.h. on about 100 miles of route between Boston and Washington D.C.. Each stretch being tested is between 20 and 30 miles long. Federal regulations require tests of 5 m.p.h. above maximum operating speeds.

European and Asian high-speed trains routinely top 200 m.p.h.

Existing Acela equipment will be used for the tests. Though Acela service tops out at 150 m.p.h. for about 34 miles in Massachusetts and Rhode Island, average operating speeds are lower: 81.8 m.p.h. between NY and Washington, D.C. and 75.4 m.p.h between NY and Boston.

Acela trains top 125 m.p.h for 45 percent of the Boston to D.C. trip, but reach what Amtrak calls the "very high speed" of 150 m.p.h for just 5 percent of the NY-DC trip. Track congestion, route curvature, station stops, and infrastructure factors inhibit higher speeds on other portions. Federal regulations, like the one requiring this week's test of a new top speed, also limit speed.

Here's the full announcement from Amtrak with test locations:


Four test areas cover more than 100 miles of the Northeast Corridor

WASHINGTON- Beginning tonight and continuing into next week, Amtrak plans to operate high-speed test trains at 165 mph in four areas covering more than 100 miles of the Northeast Corridor.  The tests in Maryland / Delaware, New Jersey, Rhode Island and Massachusetts are locations that may at some future time experience regular 160 mph service.

The tests will utilize high-speed Acela Express equipment and will measure the interaction between the train and the track, rider quality and other safety factors. The test runs must be performed at 5 mph above the expected maximum operating speed of 160 mph.

The test areas between approximately Perryville, Md. - Wilmington, Del. (21.3 miles) and Trenton - New Brunswick, N.J. (22.9 miles) currently have a maximum speed limit of 135 mph.  The test areas between approximately Westerly - Cranston, R.I. (29.2 miles) and South Attleboro - Readville, Mass. (27.8 miles) currently have a maximum speed limit of 150 mph.  The same areas were used for similar high-speed tests before the introduction of Acela service.

The initial test run is in New Jersey where Amtrak is presently advancing design, engineering and other pre-construction activities for a $450 million project funded by the federal high-speed rail program.  The project includes upgrading track, electrical power, signal systems and overhead catenary wires to improve reliability for Amtrak and commuter rail service, and is necessary to permit regular train operations at the faster speeds.  Some construction activity is anticipated in 2013, but the project will ramp up dramatically thereafter to be completed in 2017.

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Amtrak: 'We're 85% Self-Sufficient'; Pols: 'Not Good Enough'

Thursday, September 20, 2012

The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee meets this morning to hold Amtrak to the fire over taxpayer subsidies to the national rail network. Amtrak, founded in 1971, has never made a profit. Over its four decades of operating a for-profit passenger service on 44 rail routes, Amtrak has received about $40 billion in subsidies for capital and operating expenses.

Transportation Committee Chair, John Mica (R-Fla.) says a big chunk of those subsidies are wasted. In recent months, Mica has been shining a brighter spotlight on what he sees as unnecessary spending and mismanagement at Amtrak. Today's hearing will be the third of three discussing Amtrak operations. The head of Amtrak, Joe Boardman, (interviewed by TN here) will be on the stand along with representatives from the bus industry, a rail passenger group and the conservative Cato Institute.

Mica's office and Amtrak have each issued statements that hint at how this hearing will play out. We've pasted them below. Consider it a tale of dueling press releases.

The announcement from Mica's office states the purpose of the hearing bluntly: "to review Amtrak operations and the need for reforms to significantly cut the unnecessarily high costs of U.S. passenger rail service."

Late yesterday afternoon, Amtrak issued a retort that touted record ridership and a consistent decline in subsidies that peaked in 2004. The proud subject-heading on Amtrak's email blast is a direct response to Mica's criticism: "Amtrak Covers 85 Percent of Operating Costs with Ticket Sales and Other Revenues." That still leaves $466 million in annual subsidies. And that means each passenger trip on Amtrak costs the government $46, more than ten times what other modes receive according to figures cited in Mica's statement, which quoted from a recent study funded by the bus industry.

Mica also offered a pair of line items he'd like to see slashed. One of the lines costs Amtrak $200 million on overtime pay annually, he says. Then there's the hamburgers. Mica devoted a whole press conference last month to lambasting Amtrak's $16 money-losing burgers and the $83 million the company loses from on-board food and beverage service. Mica says that's a glaring example of mismanagement, particularly considering Amtrak's failure to meet a Congressional mandate to break-even on food.

Congressional mandates, Amtrak has said in the past, are exactly the reason the company runs in the red, at least on certain routes. Amtrak was founded to operate a rail network as a for-profit company but also a national public good. Commercial passenger rail had all but failed by 1971. Freight companies were required to operate passenger service. Amtrak was the replacement for that unpopular system.  (See these historical press releases from Amtrak's early days for a sense of the thinking in the early 1970s).

Many routes travel through sparsely populated towns with stops chosen as much by political negotiations -- or even mandate -- as passenger demand. Amtrak's long distance routes lose the most money. The worst performer of all is the Sunset Limited line from Los Angeles to New Orleans. As we reported last month, local officials are now agitating to restore that service along the Gulf Coast despite the fact that some stations had passenger numbers in the single digits.

If you want more data from the Transportation Committee, the briefing memo from Mica is here.

Amtrak funding has come to be a political football as a symbol of big government. Today's hearing is sure to be gripping political theater ... for us rail geeks, anyway.

Watch it here starting at 9:30 a.m.


Full Press Releases, first Mica, then Amtrak: 


Billions in Taxpayer Subsidies for Amtrak to be Focus of Hearing

Washington, DC – The $40 billion cost to taxpayers in subsidizing Amtrak over the years will be the subject of a Transportation and Infrastructure Committee hearing on Thursday.

The Full Committee hearing, chaired by U.S. Rep. John L. Mica (R-FL), will investigate the monetary losses associated with Amtrak’s operations, explore and compare Amtrak’s level of federal subsidy with the subsidies provided to other modes of passenger transportation, and examine management deficiencies identified by the Amtrak Office of Inspector General.

Funding for Amtrak’s capital and operating expenses comes from operational revenues and appropriated funds.  Amtrak’s operations have never resulted in a net profit with most of its routes losing money.  The system as a whole only accounts for 0.1 percent of America’s passenger travel, but its per-ticket subsidy level is dramatically higher than other modes of transportation.  Over the past 41 years, Amtrak has received nearly $40 billion dollars in taxpayer subsidies.  According to a recent study comparing FY 2008 levels of federal subsidy by mode, aviation received $4.28 per passenger trip, mass transit received $0.95 per passenger, intercity commercial bus received $0.10 per passenger, and Amtrak received $46.33 per passenger.

Various factors result in Amtrak’s more than $460 million in annual operating losses, including $83 million per year in food and beverage operating losses (despite a long-standing Congressional break-even requirement), and more than $200 million annually in overtime pay (despite a Congressional cap on the amount of allowable overtime).

This will be the third in a series of Committee oversight hearings to review Amtrak operations and the need for reforms to significantly cut the unnecessarily high costs of U.S. passenger rail service.  Click here for more information about Thursday’s hearing.

And from Amtrak: 


Federal operating grant reduced nearly 50% since FY 2004

WASHINGTON - Amtrak President and CEO Joe Boardman will appear before a Congressional committee tomorrow and testify that with record ridership of 30.2 million passengers, Amtrak now covers 85 percent of its operating budget with ticket sales and other revenues, reducing the federal operating need to just 15 percent.

In addition, he will inform the committee that the FY 2012 federal operating grant of $466 million is significantly down from a peak of $755 million in FY 2004, or a reduction of nearly 50 percent in inflation adjusted dollars.

"Amtrak uses federal operating support to achieve the mission given to us by Congress to deliver the mobility, connectivity and economic benefits of a national passenger rail network, particularly long-distance train routes," Boardman stated.

Through dispatching services, operating contracts and access to Amtrak-owned and maintained infrastructure, Amtrak also supports the safe movement of more than 230 million commuter rail passengers and more than 300,000 carloads of freight rail service each year.

He also will reiterate that for FY 2013, Amtrak is requesting $450 million in federal operating support, an amount lower than what Congress appropriated for the current year.  This is possible as a result of improved management and financial performance.

"The federal government has long been in the business of subsidizing all modes of transportation, yet no one can agree on what numbers to use to quantify the benefits of these investments," Boardman said.  "Record ridership and revenue, best farebox recovery in the U.S. passenger rail industry, debt cut in half, increased efficiency, better cost controls, improved on-time performance and being the nation's only high-speed rail operator are strong indicators that Amtrak is putting our portion of the federal investment to good and effective use."

Also, Boardman will explain that according to the U.S. Department of Transportation, the numbers of Americans in smaller cities and rural communities who no longer have access to intercity bus or air service, and are served only by Amtrak, tripled in just five years.  Ridership on Amtrak long-distance trains is up 18.4 percent from FY 2007 to FY 2011.

Finally, Boardman will remind the committee that throughout Amtrak's 41-year existence, passenger rail has been only a small portion of the annual federal transportation budget.  In contrast, in just the past four years, the Congress appropriated $53.3 billion from general revenues to bail out the Highway Trust Fund as federal gas tax receipts prove insufficient - that's almost 30 percent more than the $39.3 billion in total federal expenditure Amtrak has received since it was created in 1971.

About Amtrak(r):
Amtrak is America's Railroad(r), the nation's intercity passenger rail service and its high-speed rail operator.  A record 30.2 million passengers traveled on Amtrak in FY 2011 on more than 300 daily trains - at speeds up to 150 mph (241 kph) - that connect 46 states, the District of Columbia and three Canadian Provinces. Amtrak operates intercity trains in partnership with 15 states and contracts with 13 commuter rail agencies to provide a variety of services.  Enjoy the journey(r) at or call 800-USA-RAIL for schedules, fares and more information.  Join us on and follow us at

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U.S. DOT Gives $74 Million to Virginia for 11-Mile High-Speed Rail Construction

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

This just in from the Dept. of Transportation: Virginia is getting an additional $74 million in federal money for high-speed rail. Upon closer inspection, it's really higher speed rail that will top out at 110 m.p.h. The money will help pay for laying an extra 11-mile stretch of rail meant to speed freight and passenger travel between Washington, D.C. and Charlotte, N.C.

The Obama administration has allocated around $10 billion to high-speed rail that was meant to lay whole new track and connect regional lines into a national rail network. Republican governors in Wisconsin and Florida returned federal money, saying the plans were too expensive and the states would be on the hook for cost overruns. That leaves California as the the biggest beneficiary of federal money, for an ambitious nearly 400-mile plan to connect Los Angeles with San Francisco by high-speed rail. DOT funds have been distributed around 153 projects, most of which are more like today's Virginia announcement than California's plan: projects meant to incrementally push the nation's rail network toward true high-speed rail through construction that will help an eventual HSR network, but also offer near-term intermediate benefits like faster travel time on congested stretches.

Here's the full release:

U.S. Department of Transportation Awards More than $74 Million to Further Development of the Southeast High-Speed Rail Corridor in Virginia 

Added Capacity Will Improve Passenger, Freight and Commuter Rail Service Between Virginia and Washington, D.C. 

WASHINGTON –U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood today awarded more than $74.8 million to the Commonwealth of Virginia to continue development of the Southeast High-Speed Rail Corridor.  The funding will help improve passenger and freight rail service between Virginia and Washington, D.C. and reduce delays on the Virginia Rail Express (VRE) commuter service.

“The Southeast High-Speed Rail Corridor between Charlotte and Washington D.C. serves one of the fastest growing regions in the country, which is why it is critical to eliminate congestion points so that intercity passenger, freight and commuter rail can all run smoothly without delays,” said Secretary LaHood.  “This is a great example of how federal, state and local governments are working with rail carriers to build capacity and improve service for the public.”

The project will build up to 11 miles of third track and related improvements from Arkendale in Stafford County to Powell's Creek in Prince William County, Va. The third track will provide the capacity needed for higher speed trains on the Southeast Corridor to operate without conflict from freight and commuter trains.  On a daily basis, 40-50 freight trains, 10 Amtrak trains and 14 VRE trains operate over this segment, and the addition of a third track will allow for traffic to flow unimpeded.  In addition to adding a third track, the project includes final design and improvements to the station at the Quantico Marine Base in Quantico, Va.

“The Washington, D.C. area transportation system has been plagued with delays as population in the area has increased and more commodities flow through the region,” said Federal Railroad Administrator Joseph C. Szabo.  “Reducing congestion and adding capacity are two key outcomes we and our state partners in Virginia planned for in making this investment.  Projects like this will make a real difference for passengers while maintaining our world class freight system.  We are building a rail infrastructure for an America built to last.”

When completed, the Corridor will have have at least eight high-speed trains traveling at 110 mph between Charlotte, N.C. and Washington D.C.  Travel time between Charlotte and Washington D.C. will be reduced by up to three hours, and travel time between Richmond and Washington D.C will be reduced by 35 minutes.  The Southeast Corridor is one of five originally proposed high-speed passenger rail corridors designated by the U.S. Department of Transportation in 1992. It is part of an overall plan to extend service from the existing high-speed rail on the Boston to Washington Northeast Corridor to points in the Southeast.  Future plans for the Southeast High-Speed Rail Corridor call for extending service from Charlotte to Atlanta.

The Federal Railroad Administration and its 32 state partners are making great progress on High-Speed and Intercity Passenger Rail projects across the country. With $10.1 billion in federal funding, states are moving forward with 153 projects, laying the foundation for a 21st century passenger rail network.




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Near-Field Communication Coming to Cars of the Future

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

New Tech City host Manoush Zomorodi talks to Alex Goldmark of WNYC's Transportation Nation about the future of technology and transportation.

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