Transit's overlooked stories

Looking beyond the pandemic: Workers lost, automation, and more
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The Carle Place Pedestrian Bridge is lifted into place in June as part of the Long Island Rail Road's Third Track Expansion project.
MTA Long Island Rail Road

The COVID-19 pandemic dominated transit industry news this year, but there were other important stories not to be overlooked:

Remembering transit workers felled by the coronavirus
Nearly 900 Chicago Transit Authority workers tested positive for COVID-19 and eight have died. In New York, a quarter of transit workers contracted the disease, with 130 fatalities. LA Metro counts 810 confirmed cases and three deaths.

The end-of-the year coronavirus surge across the U.S. is sickening a growing number of transit workers. Boston’s commuter rail operator, Keolis North America, curtailed service due to a spike in cases among front-line employees. New York and Seattle also face worker shortages that could force service reductions.

Global adoption of automated transit lines
As of 2018, 64 fully automated urban rail transit lines operated in 42 cities around the world. According to the International Association of Public Transport, the number of driverless metros will triple by 2023. This year, new autonomous lines went into service in Copenhagen and Istanbul.

China is rapidly adding new automated lines, aiming for 40 within three years. Paris has two automated Metro lines and is converting a third, while Montreal is constructing a new driverless light rail project, expanded to 61.5 miles with the announcement of a new 19.9-mile section in December. Honolulu is building a 20-mile fully automated line, but is years behind schedule with completion not expected until 2033.

LIRR third track expansion project
Construction of Long Island Rail Road’s project to add a third, 9.8-mile mainline track between Floral Park and Hicksville continued unabated this year. Eight at-grade crossings are being eliminated, with the third of these completed in 2020 at New Hyde Park Road. Completion is scheduled for 2022.  

How Biden changes the picture for transit
New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority Chairman Patrick Foye says he’s hopeful about a “new transit-friendly administration” in the White House, with President-elect Joe Biden seen as an advocate for public transportation and infrastructure modernization.

Biden nominated former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg as transportation secretary. In accepting the nomination, Buttigieg spoke of his “personal love of transportation” and the importance of transit to provide access to job opportunities for residents of low-income communities. But political opposition, rising federal deficits and competing demands among highway, rail, and aviation interests will challenge the incoming administration’s ideals.

More safety questions for Washington Metro
Five years after a series of accidents led the Federal Transit Administration to assume safety oversight of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority and one year after the FTA returned control to a local oversight commission, DC Metro’s safety and management is once again suspect.

In May, the oversight commission scolded DC Metro for having “made little to no substantive progress” toward fixing the problems that put it under FTA supervision to begin with. Two train-separation incidents took place in October and November, followed by a report that evidence in the first event had been tampered with.

Separately, the head of DC Metro’s rail operations center was replaced following the commission’s finding of “dangerous dysfunction” at the control center. Another official was reassigned. An employment law firm hired by DC Metro disputes the claims.

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