Our last blog focused on the 2018 President's Budget and its impact on the Federal Transit Administration. Let's take a look at what this may mean for passenger rail funding - and some creative projects/technologies.
Despite a recent move by the House to preserve funding for Amtrak, the proposed 2018 Budget calls for “reforms that would...limit funding for local transit projects that should be funded by States and localities that benefit from their use...and terminate Federal support for long-distance train services that serve a small percentage of the population and generate significant operating losses.”
At this time, it remains to be seen what will happen at the federal level. Despite this, two light rail projects are chugging forward.
1. Detroit’s M-1 Rail Woodward Avenue Streetcar Project opened to the public in May 2017. M-1 Rail, the nonprofit organization founded in 2007 to design, build and operate the streetcar, is the first substantial public/private collaborative funded by private businesses and philanthropic organizations. M-1 Rail partners with local government, the State of Michigan and the US Department of Transportation to operate the 3.3-mile streetcar route and its 20 stations.
2. Sound Transit, serving Seattle and the Puget Sound area, is also working creatively to increase network capacity. The system ordered 30 Seimens S70 light rail vehicles earlier than planned, in order to provide a total of 152 light rail vehicles to the region by 2040. Sound Transit CEO Peter Rogoff said,
Ordering more Link cars earlier than planned is just one example of how we're moving forward aggressively to build a light rail network that will serve up to 188 million riders a year by 2040. These additional vehicles will ensure that we will be ready in 2024 to launch service on the first two light rail extensions just adopted by Puget Sound voters in November.”
To save on time and money, some transit agencies are approaching new projects with the innovative design-build method (D-B). The D-B method invites participants to work as a team, allowing the contractor and designer to work up alternate technical concepts to reduce costs and shorten project timelines. While conventional approaches tend to isolate owners, designers and contractors throughout the course of a project, D-B can minimize risk, reduce delivery time, control budgets and ease investor concerns.
Some passenger rail systems are also saving money by using no maintenance, long lasting solutions like Fiber Reinforced Polymer (FRP) rail platforms. FiberSPAN-R rail platforms are composed of high strength, corrosion resistant panels that support passenger safety and ADA compliance with a sloped, non-slip wear surface. The panels also allow for quick installation in any weather condition. For example, 67 FiberSPAN-R panels were installed in Chicago's METRA New Lenox station in just three days - in temperatures well below freezing.
So as the year ends, it will be interesting to see how budget asks and cuts pan out for the industry. Either way, FRP rail platforms and other new technologies and processes are a value-add that owners and designers shouldn't ignore.