Other People's Rail: Amtrak, commuter rail, rapid transit news & views outside New England

F-Line to Dudley

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Is M8s on Shore Line East still a thing? Aside from those pictures/videos of M8s testing on Shore Line East territory which date back three/four years ago(!) has there been any real movement on this? While we are of course still waiting on the additional M8s, is it true that one of the tracks at Guilford still needs catenary, and the side platform at New London might not be able to handle M8s, right? And what about the power system between New Haven and Old Saybrook/New London? Will that need upgrading for SLE? While these are relatively small items, what makes me ask is that as far as I know CTDOT has been fairly silent on this in contrast to their openness about their work on the Hartford Line and procuring new railcars for the diesel branches (where they lump in SLE to boot). I haven't been following CTDOT's statements too religiously, but it seems to me they're still pointing fingers at Amtrak and they seem fine with the "New Haven Line is growing so much there are regrettably no M8s left for SLE" narrative. I know the option for 34 more cars hasn't been exercised yet, but how do we know those won't just fall prey to the New Haven Line as well? Also, if SLE uses 32 coaches now, would 24 M8s cars still be enough to replace all diesel service?
EMU conversion is still a thing. They were originally hot to do it well before this supplemental order of M8's, but that ignited a turf war with MNRR. SLE share will run in pool fleet with the MNRR share, but ConnDOT had to appease the MTA by slotting the New Haven Line supplementals first before they started siphoning any off. That's baked into the 60-car base order; the 34-car option order is for Penn Station Access. Power system in CT is pre-provisioned for SLE electrics at Branford and New London substations. ConnDOT paid Amtrak to do those upgrades years ago, and they were considerably lower-impact than what the T has to do because none of SLE's subs have to power a complete terminal district like Sharon, MA sub does...plus SLE's schedule and particularly its consist lengths are a pittance of the Providence Line's. All stations are currently fully-wired with the exception of the 3rd track at New London. Madison is the last one that's still awaiting a funding dump for construction of a second platform; Clinton's second platform is under active construction (see parking lot all torn up on Google with construction equipment) and slated to open in 8 months.

The 32-car Mafersa coach fleet is way more than SLE needs. Virginia Railway Express offered ConnDOT a steal for the barely-worn fleet when VRE switched to 8-inch low-level boarding gallery cars for ADA 2 decades ago, so ConnDOT took on more than they needed. The Mafersas spot-rotate on Waterbury shuttles a lot, and spend a lot of time idled at New Haven. They aren't usable on the Hartford Line right now because the T's lease for the MBB cars doesn't allow mixed trainlining, aren't usable in the regular MNRR pool because the undersides won't clear Grand Central third rail, and there aren't enough spare locos at the moment to put together any Mafersa-only Hartford sets yet with all SLE-nonessential GE Genesis P40DC's shipped out for midlife overhaul.



For handling electrics at New London they're going to reconfigure the platforms. State has bonded out construction of a footbridge from the north tip of the station building to the Ferry Terminal and new Coast Guard Museum set to break ground (COVID-willing) this Fall. Footbridge will be Phase II after the main Museum building is done, and includes the new Ferry Terminal waiting room. Overpass will include egress onto a brand new center island platform that bypasses the current curved full-high to the north on a more tangent stretch of track, and will include track realignment to further ease the curvature. Access to the new platform will be from the overpass only, in order to discourage peds from crossing State St. grade crossing to reach trains. The full-high shown on the Track 1 side north of the station building in the render is currently *optional*; ConnDOT is not paying for that now as it's surplus-to-requirement for SLE, but it can be added later to settle up Northeast Regional remainders.



This will wipe out all of the malformed platformlets scattered around in favor of just the new island, and (for interim) the low platform in front of the station building until its TBD replacement gets worked out. Note at the current station that both the north and south approaches have 3-track catenary towers waiting for direct plug-in of Track 3...but the 800 feet that passes directly through the station and State St. crossing switches over to a dozen or so 2-track only poles. That's because this is the area where the track will be realigned for this project.
 

F-Line to Dudley

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Wow, 30min headways on the WTBY line would be AMAZING indeed. The plans I've seen for the Naugatuck Station upgrades involve moving it south to Maple st, and the massive redevelopment potential of Parcel B. That should allow them to use the existing Maple st underpass for access ti the second track. I agree that a Torrington extension seems uncalled for, but I think that an extension to Watertown/Frost Bridge and/or Thomaston is warranted.
Naugatuck rebuild/relocation is stalled interminably in design. Maybe yesterday's conference call is the kick in the pants it needs to get unstuck. Yes...plan is still to flip it onto the other side of Maple St. overpass and TOD the shit out of it. They're also still trying to bait a mega freight intermodal redev of the ex-Uniroyal property on Elm St. south of CT 63 to be served by Pan Am Southern, tucked away along the riverbanks out of range of the nearest NIMBY's over the hill...with Nestle being an anchor tenant moving IM loads of bottled water. I'll believe that when I see it, but if they can somehow get a 530,000 sq. ft. rail facility served by Norfolk Southern up and running in their little hamlet their tax coffers will be set for life. Not to mention all the coin PAS is going to have to drop into the Highland to serve that facility makes Hartford-Waterbury CR hella easier to do. The Mayor made it 'the' linchpin of his reelection campaign to make hay on both these two projects and has been whipping up a frenzy in the press flogging PR for it since start of the year, so I guess right this moment it's a pro-dev electorate in Naugatuck. Never thought I'd be typing those words in close proximity to each other.


RE: Thomaston/Torrington...I just don't think they can afford to dilute any of these RUR frequencies without the divide-and-conquer sending them out of the running on either extension. Retaining the full :60/:30 slate to Bristol/New Britain and Hartford is so much more crucial. However, if you truly are committing to those frequencies I think there's excellent opportunity for a second Waterbury gap-filler stop at Homer St. Which I wouldn't have considered on a traditional peak/(way) off-peak schedule...but this kind of pulsing is a different animal altogether. Site features thick retail and residential, CTransit Route 413 bus, adjacent CT 8 exit for pooling any Torrington commuter buses, river crossing to Watertown only a couple blocks away, and reasonably spaced 2.3 miles from Waterbury Station (Derby-Shelton and Ansonia space closer, FWIW). I think that's a much denser substitute for Frost Bridge while crucially staying on the much higher-leverage Highland alignment.
 

F-Line to Dudley

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Stirrings afoot in the Delaware State Legislature to try to jump-start a MARC commuter rail extension from Perryville, MD to Newark, DE to at long last connect MARC and SEPTA together at a transfer. Will believe it when I see it because this has been pigeonholed as an A+ priority many times before, but DELDOT of late has been signaling more willingness lately to do the heavy-lifting to make it happen (and one can only assume with hometown Biden now being the uncontested nominee it gives them some leg up on momentum). DELDOT joining the MARC district is one of the bureaucratic prerequisites for getting it going, hence the bill sponsored in the Legislature. MARC's agency charter is easily expandable across state lines because of the whole baked-in bureaucracy for dealing with Maryland-D.C. border crossings; they are currently in process of roping VADOT in for future Alexandria + Beltway-south run-thru extension of the same Penn Line that would be crossing the MD/DE border to close the Perryville-Newark gap.

Newark-Perryville is one of 3 local commuter rail gaps left on the NEC. There hasn't been a commuter-priced connecting train there since the Amtrak Chesapeake, a poorly patronized D.C.-Philly quasi- commuter fare state subsidy service akin to today's Springfield Shuttles, was discontinued in 1983. Currently only a very lousy-frequency connecting bus covers the gap as any means of ducking a full Northeast Regional fare. I-95 congestion is usually what fans the flames for a new round of gap-filler talk, but it's hoped that this time it will stick. The only other commuter rail service gaps between Boston and Spotsylvania, VA are: New Rochelle to Penn Station, to be plugged by Metro North Penn Station Access on the New Haven Line by mid-decade; and New London to Wickford Jct., to be plugged by Shore Line East and RI Intrastate CR (wearing MBTA Purple Line colors) meeting at Westerly whenever ConnDOT/RIDOT are done slow-walking their buildouts to the border.
 

F-Line to Dudley

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L.A.-Vegas HSR...Take XVII...secures a wad of new private financing in a latest/greatest bid to un-vaporware itself:


This latest incarnation of XpressWest is now owned by Virgin Trains USA (co-owners of Florida Brightline) and sourced by certifiable train nut Richard Branson's backing unlike the previous cash-poor incarnations, so it stands a somewhat better chance of "breaking the third dimension" than the rotating cast of tilting-at-windmills outfits who tried this before them. If still not exactly what any rational observer would call 'good' odds. Certainly their 2023 service target is laughable by any measure since it's only sitting north of 30% design; that timeframe shouldn't be taken as any more than a typically Branson-esque over-the-top PR stunt. But a few more cash dumps and some favorable regulatory luck (see glacial-but-breathing "progress" on Texas Central for how much time chew gets lost solely in FRA approvals, nevermind the mountain of other paperwork that takes forever) and 2033 might look aggressive-but-realistic. They already secured tax-exempt construction bonds in California for the tie-in @ Palmdale with CAHSR Operating Segment 1 (the part that's still shovels-in-ground proceeding after Gavin Newsom axed the rest). Being mostly empty desert ROW along I-15 with few mountain passes (CAHSR Phase I does all the brutal work crossing the Sierra Nevada) it should be an effective test for cost-management and whether public-private enterprise can tighten the bolts on slovenly U.S. construction costs.

Unlike Brightline which is glomming onto one of the country's most heavily used freight corridors with fast diesel service, XpressWest is expected to be all-electric from Day 1. Though Virgin could conceivably stock it with diesel Brightline trainsets for a 'soft' opening until a completed south end of CAHSR gives it an effective hook for Phase II'ing the electrification. Direct service to Los Angeles is still contingent on electrifying Metrolink's commuter main to Riverside and a commuter-outlying portion of the Amtrak Southwest Chief route for the slow-speed last connection, which CAHSR will 'mongrel'-upgrade for high speeds at some TBD point after Phase I is complete. A completed XpressWest ROW is also thought to be a vector for restoration of the Amtrak Desert Wind L.A.-Vegas-Salt Lake City-Chicago route, chopped during the 1997 bloodbath of Clinton Admin. LD train cuts. The DW has consistently ranked Top 5 on defunct/suspended Amtrak routes most desireable for restoration.

Another tax-free bond granted by California for XpressWest HSR. Is this...dare I say...actual real momentum?!?
 

AusdaciousfromNYC

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Thank you F-Line for the updates on the M8s. I heard about some of the news going on, but I didn't realize they finished wiring Guilford. The work at New London for the Coast Guard museum seems like something that would take some time to complete, though. I'd like to be optimistic and hope CTDOT isn't pulling a fast one on SLE riders. There's a follow-up to the CTDOT coach procurement news today:


Interesting snippet:
The State Bond Commission voted Thursday to approve a bond allocation for $300 million to finance the purchase that had initially included the Waterbury and Danbury lines.

Before the vote, Melissa McCaw, the state budget director, reported that the 60 new cars are being purchased for only the Shore Line East and the Hartford Line.

She said the Waterbury and Danbury lines were included in error on two bond commission agendas, and the agendas also incorrectly stated that 72 replacement cars would be purchased.
So the article F-Line linked last week talks about how Connecticut prepared for an upcoming vote for $300 million in bonds to buy 72 coaches for the Waterbury and Danbury branches, Hartford Line and Shore Line East. Today's news article states that the described fleet purchase (listed in the state bond commission's official meeting agenda, on pg. 21) was a mistake, and surprise, the state is actually only buying 60 new coaches, and only for the Hartford Line... and Shore Line East. That's some "mistake" in CTDOT's communications. And there they go listing Shore Line East again...


Unclear how this intrastate award of $300M dovetails with the coming MNRR procurement, because this latest funding action by Gov. Lamont actually beats the MTA to the punch on allotting monies for the base procurement. And also unclear whether the purely shuttle MNRR services are, with this move, going to be divorced from the MNRR pool fleet and get stocked specifically by this CTrail procurement. It's already confusing because the Waterbury Branch and Shore Line East, both being based out of Bridgeport layover, have long liberally raided each other's equipment even though there is technically supposed to be some separation in MNRR vs. CTrail ops. And, red-paint ConnDOT vs. blue-paint MTA Shoreliners show up daily on each others' trains with no consideration to ownership separation so the actual fleet ownership split is very fluidly managed in the field.
Looks like we have an answer?

EDIT: Looks like the CT Commuter Rail Council had a meeting last night, focused on Shore Line East, including M8s and expansion, but no details yet. CTDOT confirmed the shrunken car order at the meeting, according to the Council's Twitter.


EDIT 2: Straight from the horse's mouth, here's the video link to the State Bond Commission meeting: http://ct-n.com/ctnplayer.asp?odID=17312 The relevant portion is from 34:20 to 47:50. When questioned, Melissa McCaw, Secretary of the Office of Policy and Management, and CTDOT Commissioner Giulietti stated that the initial order was shrunken from 72 cars for $360mm to 60 cars for $300mm because of fiscal constraints, and that the highest priorities for new cars were the Hartford Line due to Massachusetts needing its cars back, and Shore Line East, due to its cars being "significantly antiquated". Giulietti also again stated that the state "originally anticipated" using the M8s on SLE before discovering they were needed on the mainline, and doesn't say anything about the M8s. He also said that hopefully the Waterbury and Danbury Branches could get new railcars in an option order. Nothing mentioned about any railcar orders by the MTA.
 
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F-Line to Dudley

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Thank you F-Line for the updates on the M8s. I heard about some of the news going on, but I didn't realize they finished wiring Guilford. The work at New London for the Coast Guard museum seems like something that would take some time to complete, though. I'd like to be optimistic and hope CTDOT isn't pulling a fast one on SLE riders. There's a follow-up to the CTDOT coach procurement news today:


Interesting snippet:


So the article F-Line linked last week talks about how Connecticut prepared for an upcoming vote for $300 million in bonds to buy 72 coaches for the Waterbury and Danbury branches, Hartford Line and Shore Line East. Today's news article states that the described fleet purchase (listed in the state bond commission's official meeting agenda, on pg. 21) was a mistake, and surprise, the state is actually only buying 60 new coaches, and only for the Hartford Line... and Shore Line East. That's some "mistake" in CTDOT's communications. And there they go listing Shore Line East again...




Looks like we have an answer?

EDIT: Looks like the CT Commuter Rail Council had a meeting last night, focused on Shore Line East, including M8s and expansion, but no details yet. CTDOT confirmed the shrunken car order at the meeting, according to the Council's Twitter.


EDIT 2: Straight from the horse's mouth, here's the video link to the State Bond Commission meeting: http://ct-n.com/ctnplayer.asp?odID=17312 The relevant portion is from 34:20 to 47:50. When questioned, Melissa McCaw, Secretary of the Office of Policy and Management, and CTDOT Commissioner Giulietti stated that the initial order was shrunken from 72 cars for $360mm to 60 cars for $300mm because of fiscal constraints, and that the highest priorities for new cars were the Hartford Line due to Massachusetts needing its cars back, and Shore Line East, due to its cars being "significantly antiquated". Giulietti also again stated that the state "originally anticipated" using the M8s on SLE before discovering they were needed on the mainline, and doesn't say anything about the M8s. He also said that hopefully the Waterbury and Danbury Branches could get new railcars in an option order. Nothing mentioned about any railcar orders by the MTA.
Par for the course. The jurisdictional fuzziness between where MNRR ends and where CTrail begins has been messy for a long time; ConnDOT and the MTA have never communicated well enough to delineate ass from elbows on that sort of stuff. I'm guessing the branchline car assignments will have to get firmed up by the MNRR bi-level RFP if that's still clear as mud today, which could be another reason for the car reduction. May end up seeing those cut numbers 'rebound' later after the MNRR order clarifies itself.

M8 assignments to SLE--someday, in some form--have been crystal-clear since the 60-car supplemental order was inked. I'm pretty certain it's in the bond agreement and 65/35 ConnDOT vs. MTA split for the contract, and not only can't legally be walked back but would also cause riots on the Commuter Rail Council if they ever gave a definitive "No" so they have all the incentive in the world to still deliver on that promise after all the delays.. The bond deal is also how ConnDOT is getting its bar cars back, as the 10 unpowered singlet M8's already in-service from the options on the first order are going to be shipped to Kawasaki in Yonkers for retrofitting into previously-approved bar livery (which is why they have just posted an RFP for concessions services). Home-state political pressure managed to ram that one through in the official-official contract over a lot of MTA screaming, too. So MNRR can't just outright say "they're banned from SLE because us first". But the MTA was dragged into any sharing of any kind kicking and screaming all along, so they're still fighting tooth and nail to make sure every car gets implanted on the New Haven & New Caanan lines before SLE sees a single moresel. That, unfortunately, has been a consistent attitude of theirs ever since the original M8 order was linked. So I wouldn't expect anything on SLE until the tail end of the 60-unit base, and if the MTA really really wants to drag this out they can dangle some sort of incentive in front of CT for holding over further onto the +34 trailing contract options (though that would be excessive even for them, as until they build Penn Station Access the +34 are pure and total surplus).


As for New London...they have some luxury of time because service levels east of Old Saybrook aren't going to increase substantially until the decrepit Connecticut River Drawbridge gets replaced. Final EIS is long done, but the feds have done jack squat to advance it to shovel-ready. That's the last movable bridge on the Shoreline needing replacement, and the new-span options (either bascule with separate single leafs for each track, or 90 ft. vertical lift with separate lifts for each track) will have much faster openings than the current bascule with the extra redundancy of separating the tracks. SLE needs that to run every single train on its schedule full-bore to NLN/Westerly instead of shorting 50% of their schedule at Old Saybrook like today. The South Lyme infill stop long in planning is being intentionally slow-walked in large part because it doesn't make any fiscal sense to hurry it up while the feds are still dawdling on the bridge that would uncork the NLN service cap. So it's also no big deal right now if NLN station renovations slip late. Any which way the Coast Guard Museum will definitely be done and open for biz by the time the bridge is actually replaced, because the bridge is so unacceptably late in starting. Likely means first M8 sightings only cover the Old Saybrook turns because that's even more slow-walking to get the MTA off their backs, and they can take their sweet time on the NLN footbridge/platform reno with a tiny slice of diesel malingerers until it's ready...because it'll still be ready long before the bridge.
 

Scalziand

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MN is making hay with the shutdown on the Waterbury line to get the PTC installed. This week a crew has been working in Naugatuck, installing a bunch of new signal boxes along the line.
 

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Note that DC (WMATA) has extended its Arlington-Fairfax shutdown to both speed (1) the integration of its Silver Line Phase 2 signals with the Sliver Lines current terminus and (2) close 8 other Orange Line stations to redo the old platform tiles and concrete

Story here:
 
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AusdaciousfromNYC

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The bond deal is also how ConnDOT is getting its bar cars back, as the 10 unpowered singlet M8's already in-service from the options on the first order are going to be shipped to Kawasaki in Yonkers for retrofitting into previously-approved bar livery (which is why they have just posted an RFP for concessions services). Home-state political pressure managed to ram that one through in the official-official contract over a lot of MTA screaming, too.
Thanks again for the news dump, but aren't the bar cars deep six'd? This Courant article from two years ago says that CTDOT killed it.


Might be paywalled, so
Boozy commutes will remain a thing of the past. The state Department of Transportation has suspended plans for 10 new bar cars, the fabled marriage of rail and alcohol that lightened commutes for Manhattan salarymen and women until the last of them were decommissioned in 2013.

The DOT had planned to outfit 10 of a batch of 60 new M8 railcars to serve alcohol and food. When Gov. Dannel P. Malloy announced the bar car’s planned return to the New Haven line, The Courant published an editorial that declared, “For those who choose to engage in conversation with a fellow traveler, whether sharing smiles or unburdening their woes, nothing beats the bar car.”

But in December, with the state’s Special Transportation Fund dwindling, Malloy froze billions in transportation spending. DOT officials told Kawasaki, the M8’s designer, to table the barroom alterations.

“[It] was looking more and more expensive,” said Judd Everhart, a DOT spokesman, “and it was ultimately decided to just suspend the program.”
Giulietti also implied last year that he was unwilling to have CTDOT pay for them. (though I guess he didn't completely close the door on them). If you mean this RFI for food and beverages from CTDOT, it sounds like it only applies to Shore Line East and the Hartford Line, so the mainline wouldn't be included? Or is there another one?

Haven't seen the actual contract or bond documents myself, but the MTA's board materials for the new M8 order back in 2016 (starting on pg. 42) did say that they wouldn't be paying a dime towards any bar cars, and the bar cars would mostly come from the new order of 60 cars, so it seems like the ball is in CTDOT's court, and they don't want to play anymore.

Screen Shot 2020-04-24 at 8.18.39 PM.png


Though if commuters get loud enough about this, I guess there's nothing stopping bar car conversions from happening sometime down the line.
 

F-Line to Dudley

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Thanks again for the news dump, but aren't the bar cars deep six'd? This Courant article from two years ago says that CTDOT killed it.


Might be paywalled, so


Giulietti also implied last year that he was unwilling to have CTDOT pay for them. (though I guess he didn't completely close the door on them). If you mean this RFI for food and beverages from CTDOT, it sounds like it only applies to Shore Line East and the Hartford Line, so the mainline wouldn't be included? Or is there another one?

Haven't seen the actual contract or bond documents myself, but the MTA's board materials for the new M8 order back in 2016 (starting on pg. 42) did say that they wouldn't be paying a dime towards any bar cars, and the bar cars would mostly come from the new order of 60 cars, so it seems like the ball is in CTDOT's court, and they don't want to play anymore.

View attachment 4898

Though if commuters get loud enough about this, I guess there's nothing stopping bar car conversions from happening sometime down the line.
I don't know. Whatever arm-wrestling is going on is all after the contract was signed. Kawasaki has reserved a factory window at the end of the supplemental order for taking the singlet cars and redoing the interiors. That's ensconsed in the letter of the contract. Whether the cars actually show up in Yonkers for the re-livery at the allotted time is anyone's guess, but until they're on the clock for that window (which is getting pushed out more by the day because Kawasaki's so far behind on the LIRR M9's) they can keep screaming at each other, appropriate and un-appropriate monies, whatever floats everyone's needs for a good pointless argument. They've got another 2 years to showboat about it before action/inaction becomes final-final, because the re-livery window is contractually guaranteed and has not been formally canceled.

I get that the contradictory statements are manifold here. I also think there's not a whole lot relevatory to be learned by deep-diving further into paper-chasing every last contradicted statement because the one overarching conclusion you can draw from any/all of this is: "Joe Giulietti is absolute clownshoes at keeping his stories straight." The man is good at an awful lot of what he does...but it's also equally true that he'd be marched out of a job in many other similar places for maintaining as accident-prone PR as he has during his ConnDOT tenure. Those truths are unfortunately one-and-same inseparable. Making a mess out of toll policy by contradicting his boss out of sloppiness on what would be tolled has already been damaging enough by angrying up Legislative opposition. And the hits keep on coming like barely 2 weeks ago having to walk back the Waterbury equipment promises within days after the announcement. Stuff like that just does not happen with such wince-inducing frequency in any halfway well-oiled communications machine. That's on him. That's on his lieutenants. And that's on his boss to nip in the bud if this gaffe machine at ConnDOT doesn't start tightening the eff up. The signal-to-noise on the toll kerfuffle is already tiring. We already know how unruly the Commuter Rail Council always gets. Now they've stirred up a hornet's nest in the Valley over this equipment shorting bigger than the number of Valley hornets they thought they had counted. They're going to have to start keeping their stories straight about point-blank stuff like "You have 60-94 M8's coming on our bond; when are we going to see them on SLE...and who is being the asshole here if that's still being disputed?!?" If Giuletti's people don't take the marbles out of their mouths, Lamont will take them out for them by cleaning house. Simple as that.

If the toll embarrassment was Strike One, Waterbury was Strike Two. Either communications get a lot cleaner at ConnDOT or there's going to be a regime change before anyone is allowed to give good- or bad-news prognosis on SLE M8's, workarounds for the Waterbury equipment snafu, or puts the neverending fight on bar cars to some final conclusion.
 

F-Line to Dudley

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Amtrak tested the first pilot car for their order of Siemens Viaggio Comfort-derived coaches going to the Midwest & California on the NEC last week behind a Northeast Regional, and made a visit to South Station on Sunday. Pilot car is in provisional San Joaquins paint. These are the Horizon coach replacements for the Midwest + fleet expansion, and Comet IB replacements + massive fleet expansion for California. Same make/model used by Brightline and Florida with minor derivations, same make/model that will be used by VIA Rail for the Canadian Corridor, and the odds-on favorite for the massive Amfleet replacement order. This is the "Take Two" stab at Western procurement after Nippon-Sharyo lost the contract due to its 8-inch boarding bi-level prototype failing its crush tests, where Siemens had the ready-made product and S&S contract to bid for the salvage job on this years-late procurement. North American intercity rail is very unintentionally going to get a unified make out of that sequence of events.




No interior shots available; livery is likely not feature-complete yet since this is the pilot. Supposed to be similar interiors for both regions, but different-color apolstery. Since this is the first a pilot the front pass-thru door (foreground, behind the locomotive in first link) is temporarily bolted shut, while you can see the temp telemetry cables spilling out from under the passenger door. Interestingly, these have plug doors unlike the folding doors of an Amfleet, which affords wider egresses. And if you look closely you can see the slot under the closed door where the order option--not exercised because Chicagoland + Cali are all 8-inch platforms--where the flipping bridge plate can cover a freight-clearance gapped full-high like the ones Brightline has. (ADA in these low-boarding regions is still going to be squared by station-side lifts and attendants like with the Horizons, given that they couldn't fulfill the order for low-compatible bi-levels).

Similar Brightline cars below. Looks like the roof tapering is very slightly different and a little boxier on the Amtrak models, but other than Brightline doing 'paint wrap' over more of the stainless steel surface they look almost identical. Roof taper is probably more a spec for compatible fittings with Amtrak's car lifts @ Beech Grove shops than any sort of aesthetic preference. So if this is what gets ordered for the East Coast, expect the same roof profiles.
 
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jass

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They look so much better than the existing Amtrak tubes.

ADA in these low-boarding regions is still going to be squared by station-side lifts and attendants like with the Horizons, given that they couldn't fulfill the order for low-compatible bi-levels
Theyre scrambling to build mini-highs along the San Joaquin route, which likely wont be ready in time. Attendants will still be required for the bridge, but at least its faster than a mobile lift.
 

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This is a really great photo to compare the size difference between the cars:


 

F-Line to Dudley

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They look so much better than the existing Amtrak tubes.



Theyre scrambling to build mini-highs along the San Joaquin route, which likely wont be ready in time. Attendants will still be required for the bridge, but at least its faster than a mobile lift.
Yeah, Cali's doing that because their corridor platforms are uniformly long enough to platform the all- single-level fleets at an end mini-high while not pinching space for the all bi-level fleets that already have the low doors and ADA auto bridge plates for the 8-inch platform. Their mix of in-state platforms is going to be a mess for 20 years until CAHSR (high platforms) gets substantially built out and Caltrain's incoherent low-to-high transition gets sorted.

Midwest it's business as usual on these routes because these are drop-ins for the Horizons and ADA is already accomplished with lifts. Non-ideal, but also no change from status quo so it isn't putting funding strain on any Chicago-hub routes to keep doing what they're doing. Right now the thinking goes that Amtrak is not done with corridor bi-levels and that they'll take another stab at a PRIAA reference design after the Superliner III long-distance design is sorted. Nippon-Sharyo's belly-flop was because they didn't use the existing Superliners as a design template at all and tried to kludge a catch-all design from an in-house template off previous Metra gallery cars...which are structurally extremely different beasts. They choked on it where they probably wouldn't have if they kept it simple and stuck with a Superliner derivative. So with Cali starting the (very deep long-term) transition to full-highs and Chicagoland very firmly staying permanent 8-inch it's thought that these ongoing PRIAA orders are fungible for trading later on (easier still if the Amfleet replacements source same design) and they can reassign these at-will in 10 years with state-to-state contract swaps while eventually supplying the Midwest the low-compatible bi-levels they truly need for accessibility.

It's a mess, albeit one that's primarily Nippon-Sharyo's fault. At least with the Viaggio Comfort overnight becoming the North American monopoly in single-level intercity coaches the portability options give them a ready-made transition plan for smoothing over the original FUBAR with the bi's.
 

F-Line to Dudley

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They look so much better than the existing Amtrak tubes.



Theyre scrambling to build mini-highs along the San Joaquin route, which likely wont be ready in time. Attendants will still be required for the bridge, but at least its faster than a mobile lift.
Upon further reading...2 of the Cali cars per consist will have onboard wheelchair lifts that can be maneuvered to shoot out sort of like a high-floor intercity coach bus's lifts. So that plus the mini-high constructionpalooza will settle it. Midwest is going without the onboard lifts, since accessibility S.O.P. is going to be no different than with the existing Horizons.

Cali cars are supposed to be the San Joaquins exclusive domain, as that route is giving back all the bi-level Surfliner and California Cars it's been stocked with to-date to the Pacific Surfliner and Capitol Corridor as capacity expansion for those routes to keep the fleet assignments coherent. Surfliner cars were also just full-bonded a couple weeks ago for comprehensive midlife overhaul.

Comet IB's won't be usable with the Siemens cars as plug-in reserves because the ancient all-or-nothing NJ Transit door logic isn't compatible with the newfangled stuff derived from the Amfleets' last major rebuild that allows for better precision remote control of which doors open at a given stop. Plus Caltrans will have to return the 3 retrofitted Horizon dinettes and 3 cabbages they're short-term leasing from the mothership for use with the two all-Comet sets.

Amtrak's cutting off in-house maint support for all non- Downeaster & Texas Eagle NPCU cabs after the new Siemens cabs on this order are delivered, and the Comets were omitted from any lifetime S&S agreements with Beech Grove HQ on first order (reason why they were so dirt cheap to acquire in the first place). Whereas the state has guaranteed lifetime support on all its incumbent bi-levels because they're Superliner II-derived. I guess pretty soon the tourist excursion carriers will be making a run on those 14 Comet trailers with such lightly used re-apolstering job. There isn't a single California commuter rail agency that uses push-pull flats, so they won't re-circulate instate and are virtually unusable for that purpose anyway since there are no available cab cars to scrounge up and package with them.
 

Riverside

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Some interesting news out of San Francisco in the last couple of weeks: https://www.sfmta.com/blog/big-changes-ahead-when-muni-rail-returns-august

Illustrated pretty succinctly by comparing the current map to the map in the link:

Current (from https://www.sfmta.com/maps/muni-metro-map):

1593273285958.png


Proposed:
1593270642008.png


For those unfamiliar, Muni has a light rail system with essentially three components:
  • A core subway under Market Street (doubling up BART intercity service on tracks below), with a MUNI-only extension out under Twin Peaks
  • A median-running modern-ish LRT line along 3rd Street along the eastern edge of the city
  • 5 legacy branches to the west that often (though not always) run in mixed traffic
Like Boston and Philadelphia's streetcar systems, San Francisco's survived the streetcarpocalypse due to the use of the tunnels. The "Muni Metro" light rail system is not to be confused with SF's other rail-on-road services:
  • The cable cars
  • The heritage streetcars that run along Market Street at street level and along the Embarcadero (where you can still see PCCs in daily use)
Historically, Muni has run similarly to the Green Line and the Subway-Surface lines, with the branches coming together along a central spine for high-frequency service downtown before splitting off into lower-frequency service across the region. Most of the western-originating services terminated at Embarcadero station at the end of Market Street -- the exception was the N Judah, which left the subway to hook around to the Caltrain terminal about a mile away, and the K Ingleside, which interlined with the T Third Street.

In the wake of Covid (which led to Muni suspending all light rail service entirely), the system is going to be reorganized, once service resumes in August.

Instead of several lines merging into one in the subway, there will be three services running through the subway:
  • the S Shuttle, which will run between the subway termini
  • the N Judah, which will originate at Embarcadero, run in the subway until its portal at Church, and then continue on at street level
  • and an interlined M-T service
The other three surface lines will then be accessible via transfer:
  • the J Church will transfer to subway services at Church Station, and will terminate at the N Judah surface station a couple of blocks to the north
  • the K Ingleside and L Taraval will be spliced together, with each train essentially running "inbound" on one line, hitting the transfer point at West Portal, and then running "outbound" on the other line
There are more details as to the thinking behind this in the article, but essentially the goal is to maximize speed and capacity in the system to minimize time passengers spend crowded in close quarters. In practice, this means segregating services based on their ROW types and rolling stock: certain lines can only take single car trains -- this plan diverts those out of the subway, reserving subway slots for higher-capacity two-car sets.

In a Boston context, we've every so often bandied around the idea of short-turning one or more of the Green Line branches, or suggested using the Kenmore Loop to divert inbound branch service outbound onto another branch, etc. In Philadelphia, tracks along 42nd Street are used to connect the various branches to divert them from the subway when the tunnel is closed.

I'm not super in-tune with the SF "transpo-blog-o-sphere", but generally the reaction I've observed to this plan is very positive. It will be interesting to see how this pans out in practice. I'm not sure there will be any directly relevant lessons for Boston -- although I have long been fond of the idea of somehow breaking the Green Line up into a "streetcar" system and a separate "LRT" system, which is not exactly what Muni is doing here, but it's a similar concept.
 

Uncivil_Engineer

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Some interesting news out of San Francisco in the last couple of weeks: https://www.sfmta.com/blog/big-changes-ahead-when-muni-rail-returns-august
Some additional history on Muni Metro and how it compares to the Green Line:

The Muni subway is actually a combination of a former streetcar tunnel under Twin Peaks (from West Portal to Castro) and a 1970s outgrowth of the BART project (what are now the five Metro lines ran on the surface of Market Street until ~1980). The N/T line hook to Caltrain was actually not part of the original project and was added in 1994 along with a pair of pocket tracks east of Embarcadero to turn trains. Embarcadero, as BART built it, was a two track island with one crossover and no tail tracks, so terminal capacity for the first ~15 years of subway ops was predictably abysmal. The addition of the pocket tracks helped, but station ops for terminating trains still have to be completed on the main track. In contrast, the Green Line at least has the advantage of being able to spread its downtown terminal ops across three locations (Park, GC, and North Station), with Park having the additional boon of the loop track being separate from the through track.

Something else to note is that every single Muni Metro branch runs in some level of mixed traffic whereas most GL branches at least have reservations. There are several cases (Carl Street being notably close to the core of the system) where trains operate on two-lane streets, making service extra vulnerable to double-parking. The flip side to this is that much of the street running is on quieter streets than Commonwealth Ave or Beacon Street. Additionally, many of the line merges are above-ground at intersections versus tunnel junctions, and being a fully two-track system there isn't really an analogue to Kenmore or Park where the T has some control over re-sequencing trains.

Another advantage of shuttles that never leave the subway is that the subway runs a CBTC/ATO system while the surface remains unsignalled. The consequence of this is that trains have to perform a handshake with the signal system every time they enter the tunnel, and if the handshake fails must operate manually at reduced speed. This means that the subway-only shuttle is not only less exposed to surface congestion, but also to signal problems. Here's an SF Transit Riders Union post on some of the challenges of the current system: https://medium.com/@SFTRU/muni-metro-train-control-challenges-5985b0e4912c.

Lastly, as Riverside noted several Muni lines are limited to one-car ops due to small boarding areas. By removing these lines from the subway, every schedule slot in the subway can run at least two car trains. Despite the long platforms in the shared BART stations, the subway is restricted by the legacy station at Forest Hill in the Twin Peaks Tunnel, which IIRC maxes out at three cars.

While this looks good from a theoretical operations perspective, from a rider perspective there's definitely the issue of demonstrating enough of an improvement that the forced transfer is worth the trouble. Getting the mechanics of the transfers to work will be key - the surface boarding options at Church & Market on the J and at West Portal on the future K/L leave a lot to be desired right now; hopefully there will be efforts to improve these in advance of or concurrent with the service change.
 

stick n move

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They also have a tunnel under construction that will expand the system west under downtown.
 

Uncivil_Engineer

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They also have a tunnel under construction that will expand the system west under downtown.
That would be the Central Subway, which will isolate the T-Third line from the rest of the system. The operational implications on the main trunk would likely be that whichever line is interlined with the T (historically the K, now the M) would terminate at Embarcadero or 4th & King/Caltrain, but because of the interlining the diversion doesn't inherently reduce train counts in the existing subway.
 

The EGE

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I'm an SF resident, and I'm very very skeptical of the change. Three branches - representing about 60,000 riders pre-COVID - now have a forced transfer to reach downtown. And these are lines with a high percentage of riders going downtown, exactly the sort of services that should serve as high-capacity radial routes. Only one of the three lines (K) will even have a cross-platform transfer - and it's not a full-length high-level platform, so everyone has to go down and up stairs (Muni uses high-floor trains - think Type 7s in Boston). There will be no accessible transfer between subway trains and outbound J trains - passengers needing level boarding will have to cross two streets, board an inbound J train, and wait for it to change ends.

All of this for a supposed improvement in subway operations, by having fewer but longer trains operating. But there's zero attempt to fix the operational issues that cause surface bunching, which is the largest cause of subway congestion. Zero attempts at any headway/schedule control at the terminals, not even putting an inspector there. Zero new transit-only lanes or TSP improvements. Zero new turn restrictions to fix the awful delays on the Embarcadero. Zero commitment to adding high-level platforms to speed boarding (Muni intends for the majority of its surface stops to be permanently non-accessible) - the big project under way on the L is all low platforms. And that claim of "oh, the J and K can only use one-car trains, so they shouldn't go in the subway"? Zero attempts to extend the K boarding islands to make 2-car trains possible. And rather than closing the single low-ridership stop on the J that prevents 2-car trains, they're bowing to a handful of residents unwilling to walk an extra 200 feet to the next stop.

For all the MBTA's issues, they're at least making an honest attempt to improve the Green Line, rather throwing their hands up in the air. The MBTA is actually addressing the thorny issues with headway control, working to make all stations accessible and capable of handling longer trains, and finally adding TSP. They're not saying "well, the C is going to loop at Kenmore now, and the E branch riders have to walk from Symphony to the Orange Line to go downtown."
 
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