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October 2013

Passenger Rail Article
Transit agencies sound off on 'hot issues' in annual passenger rail guide survey

Passenger Rail

By Angela Cotey, Associate Editor

In our effort to compile information for our annual Passenger Rail At a Glance guide, Progressive Railroading emails dozens of North American transit-rail agencies seeking information on rolling stock, ridership, and operating and capital budgets. We also ask for information on current and upcoming capital projects and pose the question: "What are the 'hot issues' your agency is facing right now?

This year, about a dozen agencies chose to answer that question. Their verbatim responses are listed below.

Alaska Railroad Corp.
"Loss of substantial revenue due to reduction in fuel production by a major customer (refinery) resulted in elimination of 50 positions (most from attrition and unfilled vacancies) and some capital expenditures in 2012 and another 50 positions were eliminated in May 2013. Beginning in 2013, federal funding reductions have significantly impacted our capital programs."

Altamont Commuter Express
"The uncertainty of federal funding, given that Congress hasn't passed a new transportation bill."

"Reauthorization issues. Insufficient federal investment of NEC infrastructure is leading to increasing degradation of ride quality, reliability and the ability to support major projects. Equipment utilization to meet capacity needs for increasing ridership demand. PRIIA Section 209 issue where state are to cover more costs for routes under 750 miles (except NEC)."

Bay Area Rapid Transit
"State of good repair."

Metro St. Louis
"Maintaining on-time service during continual tracking for rehabilitation of the Eads Bridge. The Eads Bridge spans the Mississippi River and is located on the rail line that is utilized by both our Red Line and Blue Line rail service."

MTA Long Island Rail Road
"East Side Access — $9 billion project that will connect the LIRR to Grand Central Terminal and the east side of Manhattan. Completion: 2019."

"East Side Access Readiness projects, including: Jamaica Capacity Improvements ($283 million), Mid Suffolk Train Storage Yard ($79.2 million), Great Neck Pocket Track and Colonial Road Bridge ($36.1 million), Massapequa Pocket Track ($19.6 million), Port Washington Yard Track Extensions ($14.1 million)."

MTA New York City Transit
"Sandy-related repairs and funding for our next 2015-2019 capital program."

Regional Transportation Authority (Nashville)
"Unfunded mandate of positive train control."

Regional Transportation District (Denver)
"Our FasTracks group is managing a huge system expansion with more than $4 billion currently under contract. RTD Rail Operations is wrestling with the generational turnover as baby-boomers in critical positions head toward retirement even as the system grow. Finding, hiring and retaining the next generation of skilled craftspersons to operate and maintain the system is a major challenge."

Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority
"The Tasman Drive light-rail pocket track is on the fast track to be in service prior to the opening of the new 49ers stadium in the city of Santa Clara. Coordination with various agencies and utility companies continue to present challenges."

Sound Transit
"Addressing overcrowding on ST Express bus services and continuing progress on the Sound Transit II program in the face of lower-than-expected revenues."

Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority
"Without an infusion of funding for SEPTA's backlog of critical state of good repair projects, the authority has projected that it may be forced to significantly shrink its rail transit system over the next 10 years. This would include major reductions in rail service. Fiscal-year 2014, which began July 1, 2013, represents the fourth consecutive year of reduced capital funding from the state, and the lowest level of capital funding for SEPTA in 15 years. At the same time, SEPTA has seen overall ridership hit its highest levels in over two decades, including an all-time high on Regional Rail last year. To continue safe and reliable operations, SEPTA may have to implement a Service Realignment Plan that the authority expects to  leave 89,000 daily riders — or 40.7 million annually — without rail service. This is due to the critical, immediate need to invest in SEPTA's aging rail network, such as replacement of bridges that date back 100 years to more and purchasing new Regional Rail cars, subway cars and trolleys to replace vehicles that already date back 30 years or more and are well beyond their useful service life. The Pennsylvania legislature is currently working on a long-term solution for identifying a dedicated source for transportation funding. The authority is hopeful that carrying out the elements to this plan won't have to occur."

Tri-County Metropolitan Transportation District of Oregon
"Restoring frequent service. Labor negotiations."

Trinity Railway Express
"Securing funding for positive train control."


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