Massive cost overruns threaten to derail the bullet train. Here’s what has to change

by Ralph Vartabedian : latimes – excerpt

Only two years ago, the California rail authority unveiled an ambitious plan to begin operating a segment of bullet train service between San Jose and the Central Valley by 2025. It would take nearly every penny in its checkbook, but the rail authority assured the public it would work.

But that plan has been crushed by the acknowledgment Tuesday that the cost of building just 119 miles of rail between the farm towns of Madera and Wasco has soared from about $6 billion to $10.6 billion, siphoning off money that the authority had planned to allocate to the ultimate goal of connecting Los Angeles and San Francisco.

It has left the broader high-speed rail project, a lofty objective that Gov. Jerry Brown has pursued since the 1980s, in an existential crisis.

Over the next year, Brown, the Legislature and the next governor will have to decide whether to create new revenue sources, dramatically delay its construction or scale it far back from a complete 550-mile system, among other possibilities… (more)

 

 

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Central Subway problems persist

Op-ed by Gerald Cauthen : sfexmainer – excerpt

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Have you ever wondered how the Central Subway project, a 1.7-mile rail extension of Muni’s Third Street line from Fourth and King to Chinatown, managed to get so bollixed up? Here’s a brief history of what happened:

At the end of 2017, it was announced the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency’s Central Subway manager, John Funghi, was leaving his post for the $1.6 billion project to work on Caltrain electrification. His departure came shortly after Tutor-Perini, the station contractor, released a report Nov. 1, 2017, showing that the project is more than two years behind schedule and burdened with more than 1,300 construction contractor claims outstanding — only 73 of which had at that time been addressed by the SFMTA — leaving the remaining 94 percent awaiting “processing.”

As things stand, the trains won’t be rolling into Chinatown before Spring 2021, at least 29 months behind schedule.

The true extent of the project’s construction cost and delay problems are now revealed: The Tutor-Perini report submitted to Supervisor Aaron Peskin lays out the problems in detail and asks Peskin, who is also chair of the San Francisco County Transportation Authority, to help resolve the hundreds if not thousands of outstanding issues between it and the SFMTA. In view of the many months of the Federal Transportation Administration’s Project Oversight Reports repeatedly warning of unfilled SFMTA positions and other staffing problems, and of accumulating contractor claims and accruing project delays, this came as no great surprise.

Yet, as recently as three months ago, the leadership of the SFMTA was still contending that, although the actions of the contractor had delayed things by nine months, the project was still within budget. That was before the 1,300 claims came to light; it is now clear the project is both way behind schedule and way over budget. From what has been revealed to date, it appears that because of a “head-in-the-sand” response to serious Central Subway design and construction problems, the ultimate cost of the project has increased substantially, thereby placing the SFMTA and San Francisco taxpayers in financial jeopardy… (more)

Gerald Cauthen represents SaveMuni, an all-volunteer, nonprofit organization created to help find ways of improving Muni and the other transit services leading into and serving San Francisco.

Lack of jobs is hardly a problem. A lack of talented workers is. This is exacerbated by an agency that can’t say no to every hair-brained scheme special interest groups come up with. If the SFMTA were only allowed to work on one large construction project at a time and finish it before starting another one, we might have a system and city that functioned.

We understand SFMTA is giving project managers multiple projects to manage. We were told that is what happened on Potrero. Their excuse is that if they don’t start a project they lose funding for it. The SFMTA and the director have bitten off too much to chew and they have buried their heads in the sand in hopes we won’t notice their incompetence. They will continue the blame game while biting the hands that feed them until they are put out to pasture. The voters have a say if the Supervisors give them a chance to restructure the department.

Costs to upgrade Muni’s Sunset Tunnel soar — partly thanks to neighbors

By Michael Cabanatuan : sfchronicle – excerpt

Work to strengthen and modernize Muni’s Sunset Tunnel will end up costing $4 million more than planned — due in part to neighbors’ complaints about noise and late-night work.

The Municipal Transportation Agency board voted Tuesday to approve the additional payment to contractor ProVen Management, for a total of $23.3 million, because of delays, mostly associated with neighbors’ appeal of a night work permit, and additional work requested by the agency…

Money to pay for the increased cost will be siphoned from a project to rebuild the turntable in the Cable Car Barn, part of an effort to rehabilitate the cable car system. Muni will delay that work until 2019 while it looks for new funding… (more)

Leave it to SFMTA to blame the neighbors. The will blame anyone rather than assume the blame themselves. How much longer will people put up with them?

BART Increases Fares, Cracks Down on Evaders in New Year

By Sam Brock and Bay City News : sfbaynews – excerpt

Fares are going up for BART riders in the new year, with everyone paying 2.7 percent more than in 2017, and those trying to pay nothing to ride the train are in for some steep penalties, according to the transit agency.

The minimum fare will rise to $2 for adults, $1 for youth between ages 5 and 18, and 75 cents for senior or disabled Clipper card users.

The agency also unveiled its new fare evasion policy Monday, as it tries to prevent millions in unpaid fares from walking out the door.

BART said fare inspectors will go car-by-car, passenger-by-passenger, checking tickets and doling out $75 fines to adults and $55 fines to minors…(more)

Your very friendly BART has growing plans. They are growing more employees who need to justify their positions by handing out tickets. Better hope the scanners work better than the Muni ones do.

Can the British man who saved Toronto’s subway help New York City?

By Jamiles Lartey : theguardian – excerpt

Andy Byford, a veteran of Transport for London, Sydney’s RailCorp and Toronto Transit Commission, takes ‘the biggest challenge in the most wonderful city’

Sixteen years ago, former New York transport boss Bob Kiley was recruited from across the pond to rescue the London Underground “New York Tough Guy to Run Tube,” announced the Evening Standard.

Now the reverse is happening. Andy Byford – who grew up in Plymouth and is a veteran of Transport for London, Sydney’s RailCorp and the Toronto Transit Commission – arrives to take on New York’s rammed and creaking transport system, which this year suffered a “summer of hell”. Long-deferred repairs wrought havoc on the already overburdened system, leaving passengers stranded on sweltering platforms and captive in immobilized subway cars…

This is the future of world class cities? Crowded, crumbling, sweltering subway cars?

He has already floated potentially unpopular ideas, like an end to 24-hour service on some lines, and closing others for repairs. “It’s a harsh message but there will be no gain without a bit of pain,” Byford said…

“He basically was looking for, in the short term, quick wins,” said Steve Munro, a veteran Toronto transit activist and blogger. “That’s the basic thing any new manager does: they come in and want to be seen as doing something. So he went after the stuff that was relatively easy and cheap to implement.”…

How do we go from the SFMTA’s billion dollar scam projects to quick, cheap and easy solutions? Maybe we need a new chief that thinks that way?

“There’s a reason why that equipment is under strain. It’s old and it’s trying to carry more people than it was ever designed for,” Byford said…(more)

The trick is knowing where to set your limitations before you reach them.

Rail Gauge: A Transit Adventure on SMART

by Peter Lawrence Kane : sfweekly – excerpt

Having opened this fall with a 43-mile leg of its eventual 70-mile route, SMART connects Sonoma and Marin counties by rail — and it’s fun to ride.

For all the grumbling about how the Bay Area is sclerotic when it comes to ambitious transportation projects, trains are enjoying something of a resurgence. High-speed rail seems inevitable, BART opened an extension to Warm Springs with further infill stations planned, Caltrain electrification seems likely, the much-delayed Central Subway chugs along, and Muni may yet extend the F-Market streetcar to Fort Mason. Down south, car-choked Los Angeles plans major subway expansions along its Purple Line ahead of the 2028 Olympics.

The rail-scape is impressive. While U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein and state Sen. Mark DeSaulnier talk about building another Bay crossing for vehicular traffic, perhaps the time is right to relieve overcrowding and delays with a second Transbay Tube instead. That idea sounds farfetched, but the county that famously declined to participate in the original BART system — Marin — now has a functioning train running from downtown San Rafael to Sonoma County Airport in one hour and seven minutes.

“They’re really learning how to transfer to buses to get to San Francisco or get to the Larkspur Ferry,” she adds. “People here are learning transit because they haven’t had transit. I’m watching them learn schedules and meet ferries and they’re so excited.”… (more)

 

Citing ‘Uncertain Future,’ California Transportation Commission Calls for Special Committee to Hash Out What to Do With the North Coast Railroad Authority

By hank sims : lostcoastoutpost – excerpt

In its annual report to the California State Legislature, which was release today, the California Transportation Commission calls for the formation of a special committee to study and make recommendations for the future of the North Coast Railroad Authority.

The state agency, now nearly 30 years old, holds title to the railroad tracks that run between Humboldt County and the Bay Area. Though some freight has lately been moving on the very southern end of the line, no trains have reached Humboldt County in two decades.

Back in July, the state commission — whose mandate is, in part, to advise the legislature on transportation matters — held a hearing on the railroad authority’s dire finances, and asked it to produce two documents: a business plan and a “shutdown” plan. The authority’s response, if any, has apparently been unpersuasive.

”To date, the NCRA has been unable to produce a plan that makes the business case for its existence,” writes the commission in its report to legislators today… (more)

Feinstein proposes new bridge across the Bay Feinstein proposes new bridge across the Bay

By Emiy Mibach : dailypost – excerpt (includes map)

southern-crossing

Illustration by MTC

 

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., is pushing to have a new bridge constructed across the Bay, midway between the Bay Bridge and the San Mateo Bridge, in the hopes of alleviating congestion on those two bridges.

Feinstein, along with Congressman Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord, sent a letter Wednesday (Dec. 6) to Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) Executive Director Steve Heminger in support of the new bridge, which has been discussed for decades. Over the years, it’s become known as the “Southern Crossing.”

Their letter also says that MTC’s plan to put a $3 toll increase on the state-owned Bay Bridges won’t “come anywhere close” to reducing congestion on the Bay or San Mateo bridges.

Feinstein and DeSaulnier also want to put BART on the new southern crossing bridge…(more)

Rail CA: Some Mission Bay Neighbors Fuming Over Caltrain’s Diesel Dust

: mastransitmag – excerpt

Nov. 27–Toby Levine braced for noise and pollution 10 years ago when she moved into San Francisco’s Mission Bay neighborhood, two blocks away from the Caltrain station at Fourth and Townsend streets.

Yet the pervasiveness of the diesel dust surprised her. It frosted the geraniums on her balcony and caused the leaves of the podocarpus trees to droop and turn brown. It stuck to her windows, freckled her neighbors’ deck furniture and collected in air vents.

“It wouldn’t be so bad if we were dealing with a less-dangerous chemical, but diesel is poison,” said Levine, who for years has led a neighborhood campaign to get Caltrain to minimize the emissions from its locomotives while neighbors wait for the rail system to go electric in 2022.

At the San Francisco station, which has 12 tracks, the first trains start rolling around 4:10 a.m. every weekday, and the last one pulls in at 12:05 a.m. During the slower-paced weekend schedule, trains run from 8 a.m. until midnight.

So for much of the week, diesel wafts through the air up to 20 hours a day in a booming new neighborhood. Plus, Caltrain’s fleet is more than 30 years old — “near the end of its life span,” said spokesman Dan Lieberman — and its engines don’t burn fuel that efficiently.

To further complicate matters, there are no state or federal laws that regulate idling diesel locomotive engines, so neighbors have depended on the rail line and its contracted manager, TransitAmerica Services, to write their own rules… (more)

L-Taraval: SFMTA Seeks To Remove Parking, Add Boarding Islands

by Fiona Lee : hoodline – excerpt

With the recent release of the final results of a six-month boarding zone pilot, SFMTA hopes to add boarding islands and remove multiple stops to make the L-Taraval corridor safer for pedestrians and passengers.

The boarding zone pilot took place over a six month period at inbound stops at 26th, 30th, 32nd, 35th and 40th avenues and included improved signage, flashing lights and painted lane markings to alert drivers…(more)

As you can imagine the removal of these stops is not popular with Muni riders on the L-Taraval. They will show up and are asking for support from other Muni riders and people who oppose bus stop removal at the SFMAT Board Meeting on December 5th. Please see this letter from Paula of Save Our L Taraval Stops!

Most of you do not ride the L Taraval, but you have supported our efforts over the past two years to help us keep our stops.  Sadly, earlier this year we lost 8 of our L stops.  This coming Tuesday, December 5, the SFMTA (Muni) Board of Directors will decide whether to remove 4 more:  inbound and outbound at 44th Avenue, and inbound at 35th Avenue and for a variety of reasons, the staff recommends removing them.  We need your help one last time!
1.  Can you please attend the Board meeting on Tuesday December 5, City Hall Room 400, at 1 pm?  We need a very big presence, and so many L riders cannot get off from work.   We can provide you with written statements.  A few of us need to provide more information than we can say in 2 minutes, so we will have statements for a few others to finish.   And we are hoping to have folks read some of the many moving emails that L riders are sending discussing how losing their stops will be a hardship to them and their families, so that the Board members will hear the words that they might or might not have read.  And if I can put it together, I’ll try to get photos of some of those folks so the Board members can see their faces, tho I am not sure if that will happen.  And it’s fine if you prefer to make your own 2-minute statement on the hardships that seniors, people with disabilities, families with young children, and other riders will face if their stops are removed, and how in the world can they remove the inbound stop across from Safeway!  There will be a number of people saying that.  Please let me know if you can make the meeting.
2.  Can you please email public comments this week to MTABoard@sfmta.com and katy.tang@sfgov.org and norman.yee@sfgov.org  with a blind cc to saveourLtaravalstops@gmail.com   Tell them how it will be a hardship for seniors, people with disabilities, families with young children, and others if the L Taraval stops at 44th, and inbound at 35th and 17th are removed.  Pease email them even if you plan to attend the Board meeting on Tuesday.
So many of us across the City have struggled and fought the many changes that SFMTA has tried to impose on use.  We have tried to support you when we can.  We hope you will be able to support us this one last time.

If anyone wants to read the staff report, slide presentation, or agenda for Tuesday’s meeting, the links are below.  About a third of the discussion in the staff report is on stop removal.  Thank you so much for all your support these past two years.  We are in the stretch run.

Paula, Save Our L Taraval Stops!