“We were able to put our money with their money with the city’s money and the state’s money and solve that problem. It was a $40-million realignment, and the railroad only had to put a small share of that in. [We] solved the problem for them and solved problems for us and for everybody else. So a lot of that has been going on as we work with the railroad.”
Inglish says that Union Pacific has been very good to work with, especially when it comes to safety, “As long as we show the right respect for safety in construction in the corridor and for their operation, they have been very good to work with. They have allowed us to work in longer sections that might not normally been allowed and that has allowed the project to move along faster and more efficiently.”
The next issue after obtaining the right of way, laying the tracks and getting the equipment in place was who would run the system. There are a lot of options as to who can man your commuter rail line, and Inglish says they listened to them all.
“We started with an open book. We said there is a range of ways to do it: 1) You can hire somebody to do the whole thing. Just say here it is. There and there. You come and operate it. There are a lot of myths about it taking two years to train the operators. It takes all of this technical expertise, this, that and the other to run trains. To run commuter rail trains as opposed to light rail. As we got into that we found out a lot of those things are myths.
In fact, upon speaking with a couple of the engineers and supervisors while riding on board Front Runner, I found out that they could train someone to drive the train in less than six months.
“Especially where, you know we’re not driving trains all over the western United States or something like that,” says Inglish, “We’re driving in a very clearly defined corridor from Point A to Point B, back and forth all day long.
“The signalization issues are important, but we have at-grade crossings on the TRAX line and we manage those just fine. And so you know the understanding of FRA rules and regulations. We already have FRA oversight on all of our safety aspects of our TRAX operation.”
The more they looked at it, the more Inglish and his team felt they could run the system themselves. They spent days discussing the matter with panels of representatives from Amtrak, other railroad operators and contract operators. Inglish says they discussed the pros and cons of doing it themselves and came up with the only other alternative being a design-build-operate-maintain model (DBOM) with a contractor such as Bombardier, but in the end they decided to keep the operations in-house.
“Finally what it came down to was we think we can do this, we think we can do this more efficiently, our operators, our labor union wants to be a part of this, it’s sort of a morale issue, let’s set it up and do it ourselves,” Inglish says.
“The only thing we contract out is heavy diesel maintenance — diesel locomotive maintenance. That’s the only thing.”
If you ask John Inglish what his job at UTA is, he will likely say he brings the vision and his team puts it into action. Inglish is a visionary in every definition of that word. He sits on high-level committees within both APTA and UITP and is looked upon by his peers with respect for his knowledge of not just the transit industry, but the vision of where the transit industry has been, where it is and where it should be going.
If you ask him the problem with today’s transit industry and in a word his response will be infrastructure. Inglish pointed out to me that European transit systems aren’t as different from ours as one might think. As he puts it, they have their problems, too. They have and are having parking problems and ridership problems (both too low and too high). But the one thing Europe does have over the United States is infrastructure — a basic infrastructure sorely underdeveloped in our transit industry and in the UTA.
“I think this seven-year build out will get us pretty close to having the basic infrastructure [in the UTA system],” Inglish says.
“And that’s where the streetcar networks and things like that begin to come in. Now we’ve got to do a better job with BRT. You know I think it ought to be a national policy that highway departments must grant to transit authorities traffic signal prioritization wherever they ask for it. I think that ought to be just part of the national policy.