NJ Transit Makes Deposit on Its Future While Digging Itself out of Hole

New Jersey Transit makes a down payment on future light rail expansions while cleaning up the mess in the rest of the system,  high-speed tests begin on Sydney's first metro line, and San Francisco cuts the ribbon on "the Grand Central Terminal of the West."

A New Jersey Transit train travels across a portal bridge in Kearny, N.J. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

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Our weekly “New Starts” roundup of new and newsworthy transportation projects worldwide.

New Jersey Transit Allocates Money for Future While Cleaning Up Present Mess

The nation’s third-largest mass transit agency finds itself in a deep hole years in the making. A recent report in The Record of North Jersey chronicles how New Jersey Transit Corporation, widely considered the best-run transit system in the United States in the 1990s, gradually sank into a state of crisis as elected officials deferred needed maintenance and investment and experienced personnel headed for the exits over the last decade and a half.

But even as canceled trains have made commuting hell in North Jersey this summer, and as South Jersey prepares to go for months without regional rail service so personnel and equipment can be used elsewhere for other purposes, the agency has managed to set aside some seed money for future rail expansion.

Metro Report International reports that New Jersey Transit’s $3.8 billion operating and capital budget for the coming fiscal year includes a $39 million down payment on the expansion of its rail network. The funds will go toward two planned extensions of the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail line in the northern part of the state — one that would extend the line’s northern end into Bergen County and another that would extend its southern end to State Route 440 in Bayonne.

A report in Metro Report’s sister publication, Railway Gazette International, notes that the top priority for the $1.5 billion capital portion of the budget is the installation of positive train control, a system designed to prevent train crashes. The federal government has set a year-end deadline for installation of PTC, and like almost every other railroad in the country, New Jersey Transit is currently not on track to meet it. An incident in which a regional rail train crashed through an end-of-track barrier at Hoboken Terminal two years ago brought the deterioration of the system and the need for PTC into stark highlight.

Sydney Metro Trains Begin Testing at High Speed

The International Railway Journal reports that trains are now zipping along the first phase of the Sydney metro as high-speed testing has begun.

The tests of the Alstom Metropolis trainsets are being conducted to check the trains’ braking, reliability and stability. Tests are currently taking place on the surface and elevated segments of the line, with trains regularly reaching 100 km/h (62.1 mph) during daylight tests. One test train reached 110 km/h (68.4 mph) on the elevated section between Rouse Hill and Kellyville.

Testing will begin soon in the 15-km (9.3-mile) twin-bore tunnel between Bella Vista and Epping. Service on the initial routes from Rouse Hill to Epping and Chatsworth is set to begin in the second quarter of 2019.

“The Grand Central Terminal of the West” Opens in San Francisco

Over the weekend, San Franciscans came out to celebrate the opening of a new transit terminal that locals hope will one day serve as the hub for trains and buses headed into the city.

But for now, as former San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom said in a San Francisco Chronicle report on the new facility, the new Salesforce Transit Center is merely “a $2 billion bus station.”

Make that a $2.16 billion bus station. When the new Transbay Terminal, which bears the Salesforce name thanks to a naming rights agreement, lives up to its advance billing as “the Grand Central Terminal of the West” remains an open question, for the terminal’s lower levels – designed to accommodate high-speed trains from Southern California and Caltrain service from San Jose – will likely not see trains entering them until 2029, if then, according to another Chronicle story.

But that $2.16 billion has already purchased more than a bus station. One of the new facility’s prime features is a green roof that doubles as a huge park. Besides saving energy and helping manage stormwater, the park functions as a civic amenity for the city’s financial district. Many of the skyscrapers that have sprouted around the new terminal have direct connections to the facility, and according to a report on the structure in Architectural Record, finding one’s way to the rooftop park from the building’s ground floor is intuitive thanks to some of the building’s central design elements.

The Record report compares the rooftop park to New York’s High Line, and that may turn out to be its most notable feature in the near term. So many people tried to access the roof on opening day that the building’s owner, the Transbay Joint Powers Authority, had to turn off the up escalators leading to it, thus adding another chapter to a San Francisco meta-story – that of transit facilities where the escalators don’t work.

Know of a project that should be featured in this column? Send a Tweet with links to @MarketStEl using the hashtag #newstarts.

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Next City contributor Sandy Smith is the home and real estate editor at Philadelphia magazine. Over the years, his work has appeared in Hidden City Philadelphia, the Philadelphia Inquirer and other local and regional publications. His interest in cities stretches back to his youth in Kansas City, and his career in journalism and media relations extends back that far as well.

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