February Industry News

MBCR Launches Conductor Companion

The Massachusetts Bay Commuter Railroad Company (MBCR) recently announced the launch of the Conductor Companion pilot program. MBCR developed the concept for this mobile device application that will allow conductors on the MBTA commuter rail system to receive real-time information about service.

“The speed of technology today demands an application that gives conductors the information they need and that customers want,” said Gillian Wood, MBCR’s chief customer service officer. “For the first time on any commuter rail system in the United States, conductors will have the same, if not better, access to information about service, data that customers already obtain from their portable devices.”

MBCR, which fully funded the Conductor Companion program, will provide 24 conductors (12 working on service traveling to and from north station and 12 working trains traveling to and from south station) with modified iPhones programmed with MBCR’s “Conductor Companion” application.

The pilot program will run for 90 days and allow both conductors and riders to provide feedback to MBCR about their experience with the specialized devices and application. MBCR intends to unveil Conductor Companion for more than 200 other conductors later in the year.

“The Conductor Companion program leverages the power of mobile technology and will improve the quality of information that our customers receive," said MBCR General Manager Hugh Kiley. “MBCR crews will now be able to better communicate delays, service interruptions and other information directly to customers as events unfold.”

The Conductor Companion was designed to comply with Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) regulations and MBTA policies that prohibit the use of mobile telecommunication during work shifts by personnel who work in safety sensitive positions while ensuring the ability of conductors to access important information about the service.

All Conductor Companion devices are designed without traditional cellular, text message, and email functions. Emergency communication is the only available outbound communication function on each device.

New Low-Floor Trolleys Now Operating on the MTS Orange Line

Officials recently launched new low-floor trolley service on the San Diego Metropolitan Transit System Orange Line, commemorating the completion of a $17 million renovation of orange line stations. The ceremony was held at the Euclid Avenue transit center in San Diego.

“This is important because we are bringing a new and higher standard of service to the people along the orange line,” MTS Chairman Harry Mathis said. “New station amenities and low-floor cars will enhance the transit experience, making trips faster, more timely and more convenient and comfortable.”

The work is part of the $720 million trolley renewal project that is rebuilding all stations form Old Town to San Ysidro and from La Mesa to downtown San Diego. It also includes $271 million to purchase 65 new low-floor vehicles from Siemens, which is located in Sacramento.

Also attending the launch of new service was San Diego County Supervisor Ron Roberts, San Diego Mayor Bob Filner, Santee Councilmember and SANDAG Chairman Jack Dale and former San Diego City Councilmember Tony Young.

The first segment of the orange line to Euclid Avenue was built in 1986. Subsequent extensions to La Mesa and El Cajon were opened in 1989. The last leg to Santee was completed in 1995.

“This is a proud day for all of us,” said Mathis. “It represents a significant reinvestment in our existing transportation system that will help keep San Diego’s trolley network in excellent shape well into the future.”

The orange line project included renovating nine stations, as well as train signaling and grade crossing improvements. Station platforms have been resurfaced, new shelters installed and fiber optic communication systems added, including next arrival electronic signs and surveillance cameras.

With work winding down on orange line stations, the trolley renewal project will move to blue line stations in April and run through 2014. The project will rebuild trolley stations and transit centers from downtown to the border. The project will also renovate the trolley station platforms, improving bus facilities and ease of transferring between bus and trolley services.

The overhead electrical wire for the blue line has already been replaced and work is underway to add crossover tracks to enhance operational flexibility.

The trolley renewal project is funded by a combination of local TransNet sales tax, state bonds and federal dollars.

Community Joins Together to Celebrate Northwest Phoenix Light Rail Extension

Work on the northwest Phoenix light rail extension has begun with leaders and community members there holding an official groundbreaking Jan. 12.

“Light rail has been a success in the valley and it just shows how our residents desire more mass transit, especially in our urban centers,” U.S. Rep. Ed Pastor, (D-Ariz.), said. “It’s exciting to see the light rail extensions branch into different communities because it’s convenient, safe and affordable, and they will continue to address environmental and pollution concerns.”

The 3.2 mile extension between 19th Avenue from Montebello to Dunlap Avenue, which is slated for completion by early 2016 is another step in the development of a regional transportation network in the valley. Expansion of light rail is also underway in Central Mesa with completion set for 2015.

Six light rail extensions are under way in the region that will create a 57 mile system by 2032.

“The northwest extension is a critical addition to our regional transit system,” Valley Metro CEO Steve Banta said. “Through regional collaboration we have advanced the project by seven years and we will continue our partnership with the community to expedite construction.”

Phoenix city officials outlined the benefits of the extension, including economic growth, closer access to I-17 and nearby employment centers. They also highlighted the business assistance programs being offered to businesses impacted by construction.

“This project is about keeping a promise to revitalize and redevelop this community,” Phoenix Councilmember Daniel Valenzuela said. “We will continue to support businesses in the area with financial assistance and marketing. We are all in this together. Their success is our success.”

Retiring AASHTO Executive Director Calls for Investment and Tax Reform to Ensure Highway Trust Fund Solvency

Congress needs to take action this year to sustain the federal-aid surface transportation program, said John Horsley, executive director of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials.

Horsley, who retires Feb. 1 after 14 years leading the national association, made his remarks during his keynote address at the Transportation Research Board's annual Chairman's Luncheon Wednesday at the Omni Shoreham Hotel in Washington, D.C.

Horsley called on Congress to enact additional economic stimulus through transportation investment and to reform taxes that support the nation's highway and transit programs.

Horsley said Congress should pass legislation authorizing a $50 billion transportation regional infrastructure project (TRIP) bond program. Under the bill co-sponsored by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.) every state would receive $1 billion over six years to be invested in transportation. The U.S. Treasury investment would be paid through U.S. customs fees and no debt would be incurred by the states.

"This program would create thousands of jobs, stimulate economic recovery, and improve mobility in every state," Horsley said.

Horsley also told the TRB luncheon audience that Congress should convert the "cents per gallon" federal excise tax on fuels to a sales tax on fuels. He said such a move could avert a looming transportation fiscal cliff. Forecasts show that the federal Highway Trust Fund could become insolvent by October 2014, which would cut annual federal highway investment from $41 billion to $6 billion and annual transit investment from $11 billion to $3 billion.

Under Horsley’s proposal, sales tax rates on fuels would be set at a level that restores solvency to the Highway Trust Fund. The fund is currently spending $15 billion more annually than the revenues it receives. The change would support spending on highways and transit over the next six years at $350 billion. If the program were limited to expected excise tax revenues, it would have to be cut to $236 billion.

"Fully supporting the program through highway user fees, rather than through transfers from the U.S. Treasury, would reduce the federal deficit by $150 billion over 10 years," Horsley said. "The cost of the reform to taxpayers would be less than $1 per week, per vehicle."

Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) has expressed interest in the proposal. AASHTO is working with the Americans for Transportation Mobility Coalition led by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to develop bipartisan support for the concept in the Senate.