Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Reactions to Random Searches on Transit

A check of various websites reveals a great deal. Now that NJ Transit and PATH are starting random searches, the public seems "unruffled", at least according to this and this. Apparently searches centered around Penn Station in Newark, Secaucus, and Trenton.

Read what James P. Pinkerton of Newsday has to say, scroll down to the last sentence for some common sense here. The key word is "easy".

As I begin to digest all of the reaction to these random searches, I wondered if the ACLU wasn't rearing its unwelcomed head. Sure enough, this article in the NY Daily News has some information.

Not all Agencies are following this pattern. SEPTA in Philadelphia, and the four major agencies in the Bay Area, BART, Caltrain, VTA, and MUNI are not.

Some are now coming out to echo what I mentioned several days ago, that there is no way that more money can buy security, at least not right now. Some even have written about the possibility of Patron Security! Makes sense to me.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Transit Security: NOW, I AM SCARED!

I just visited a blog that I read from time to time, that concerns itself with the Chicago Transit Authority, the CTA. Much of it is fun, some of it is insightful. But checking out some of the comments concerning random searches made my blood run much cooler.

First, there are comments from CTA users when the chance that searches such as those done in New York City would be done in Chicago. There is some talk about Fourth Amendment Rights here, as well as some points made that sound like a discussion in a college level philosophy class. You know, the "how many angels can dance on a head of a pin" stuff.

Then there are more comments. There is even a site already up and running that is not only dedicated to resisting these searches, but also giving full instruction on how to do it!

One of the more salient comments made at the CTA site was that the Fourth Amendment prohibits "unreasonable search and seizure". Consideration must be given to that. But I wonder about the fuzzy line between "Right" and "Privilege". People talk all the time about having the right to drive a car. Clearly, driving is not a right, but a privilege.

Right now, I am leaning toward the concept that stepping onto a Transit Vehicle is not a right, either.

Ironically, that concept is supported in the Flex Your Rights website itself. You will find that the instructions tell you to assert that you choose not to be searched and that you are leaving the station. That implies participating in a privilege and not exercising a right.

Finally, just by the tone of some of the writers, I am guessing that these writers would not be so quick to defend Amendment Two of the Constitution.

So why am I scared? These transit security discussions are cute, but to resist search in the name of "rights" is foolish. In psycobabble, it is called a "boundary" issue. Rights are important, but they are not absolute. The boundaries of your rights must be balanced against mine. I want the Agency-owner of any transit vehicle I ride to do as much as possible to see that I don't die in a bomb blast. It's OK with me if they look through my bookbag. A smll price to pay, indeed. My rights are not threatened.

If, God forbid, a terrorist bomb goes off in one of our transit vehicles, I wonder who will be the first to say that our Transit Agencies did not do enough to stop it from happening.

See also this.

Incident at New York's Penn Station

Yesterday, a man was arraigned during a bomb threat at New York's busy Penn Station. The story is here.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

"Not-so-Light-Rail" Editorial in Railway Age

Mr. Alfred E. Fazio, a VP at MTA Capital Construction Corporation, who has also had experience working with a company that built and operated the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail owned by New Jersey Transit, has an interesting article in the July '05 Railway Age Magazine. His main point is that Light Rail construction costs now approach $50M per mile, a price which may jeopardize future projects.

I think he has a point. Often times, Project Managers, Engineers, and Transit Owners almost act like kids whose Father has given them an unlimited allowance! Those of us on the supply side have often commented and wondered who has their fingers on the cost control knob, or for that matter, who even wants the chance? Fazio argues that if Light Rail Projects become too costly, costs will be controlled by someone selecting something besides Light Rail, maybe something like Bus Rapid Transit for example.

I do take issue with where Mr. Fazio assigns these higher costs. If I read correctly, he says that Light Rail owners, engineers, and contractors are building costly designs that are not being driven by operational performance or requirements. That point is true, but I believe that higher project costs can be found elsewhere in more significant amounts.

A premium track component, no matter what it is specifically, will cost a transit agency MORE than the exact, same, identical product will cost a Class One Railroad. Why? Suppliers have learned that agencies require more tests, more documentation, more accounting staff, and more "contingencies". Not only that, the delay between invoicing for delivered material and actual payment seems to grow longer and longer, forcing contractors and suppliers to assume a greater cost of capital! Contractors and suppliers have to become bankers! I maintain that these added costs significantly outweigh the cost of any overdesigned or premium project components.

Where these extra costs come from is important, but regardless, there should be an alarm bell that goes off in many heads as a result of Mr. Fazio's article. He is right. Sooner or later Dad is going to cut that hefty allowance, or worse, give it to someone else. Light Rail is too good of a product to allow that to happen.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Another Link to Another Great Blog

This time it goes to Dan Zukowski's fine blog. I have read several of his postings, and each one is well thought out and well presented. He comments on transportation, including Amtrak, Mass Transit, and automotive as well. He also has some things to say about the media! I know, I know, we all do. The difference is that his are worth reading!

Check out what he has to say. The Link will remain here on the right.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

The 2005 "Rippers" for Worst Agency

This is the opposite side of the coin from the Best Agencies. These "not-so-coveted" awards are based on similar, and often subjective, considerations as noted for "The Best". The agencies below have endeared themselves with vague Construction Documents that lead to high costs, low quality, and lots of those heartwarming telephone calls we all love so much.

Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA): Where Quality Control means alot of control and not much quality. And that's just for trackage projects! Railway Age, in their June '05 issue, notes deficit woes and declining ridership.

North San Diego County Transit District: How did this outfit go from first to worst in the blink of an eye? Don't ask the Contractors or Suppliers, they have no clue either. Rumor is that the source of their problems is a word that rhymes with "winter".

Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA): Contractor Bankruptcies, Supplier Lawsuits, they must be doing something wrong. More is documented here.

St. Louis Metro Transit (MetroLink): You almost begin to feel sorry for this agency. But after a while, you have to believe that it is more than just bad luck, especially considering the Cross County Project; here is a brief review of the fun. Be advised that Mr. Larry Salci is bringing hope to Metro St. Louis.

Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA): Let's be fair, it is inside the Beltway, so there is a standard of bureaucracy to uphold. The operation is confusing enough that someone has even started a blog (now linked) about them!

Almost ready to slip into the morass of the Bottom Five: Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART).

Those in authority with any of these agencies, once congratulations for receiving a Ripper are out of the way, might want to do some kind of a Prado Diagram to see how improvement is possible.

As with the Rippers for Best Agency, agreements or disagreements are welcome.

Friday, July 15, 2005

The "No Spin" Story of Transit Security Funding

Don't buy all the rot that is being spread about who did what, and how dumb somebody is, and how they don't care about anybody but the rich guys who fly. If you want the straight story, go to today's article at Railway Age. It's a good article, and here is what it says to me.

The Senate vote was 96 to 1! Seems kinda hard to pin this one on the Administration, and whatever effect they have on Senate Republicans. It has also recently been reported that the Administration has not spent the money that was already appropriated for Transit Security. That may not be a good thing, unless the money was going to be spent just to spend money. And that could be. I'm not hearing a whole lot of good ideas on how Federal Money is going to buy security for transit riders. One idea I have heard is to buy "more surveillance cameras", but others have said that there are problems. Any other ideas on how this money could be spent?

Security Secretary Michael Chertoff did comment in a way that made headlines. But some of these comments sound like what a new guy in Washington would say before knowing how the gristmill works inside the beltway. Comparing catastrophies by comparing death rates will create a public relations nightmare every time. And he did say it. But, on the other hand, his comment "We couldn't have people walk thru magnometers" as it relates to transit security nails it.

APTA has made a rebuttal to the controversial stuff he said that is far more salient than some of the Democratic vile we've heard, but in any event, I do think Senator Liebermann was correct in confronting Chertoff as he did.

Chertoff also makes the distinction about local control versus Federal Control. Could he have chosen better words? Once again, yes. And he should have. But he didn't.

I am willing to give the guy the benefit of the doubt for now. I did predict alot of political rhetoric, and Chertoff has provided the grist for the critics to mill. Quieter and calmer heads should prevail here. And hopefully, Federal Money will get us what we all want, rather than just some political points for somebody's Senator.

Good Start for a Pro-Rail Freight Group

I just learned about "Growth Options for the 21st Century", an organization dedicated to finding solutions to our nation's increasing freight transportation needs. Visit their webpage. I am also posting it as a link.

Consider the dozens of Container and Trailer Trains, each carrying well over one hundred trucks that would have been on the road, causing even more conjestion on our Interstates. Consider that in the future we need even more long distance trucks off the highways, and you will support the pro-rail thinking of this group.

Cell Phone Usage on Transit

At least it is being discussed. Maybe only on BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit), but I am confident that others may be talking now, too. There is indication that someone is thinking about the pros and cons. Read almost to the bottom of this article.

Monday, July 11, 2005

U. S. Transit Security begins with US!

You and I. Ultimately, we are going to be the most effective deterent when it comes to keeping subways, busses, and light rail vehicles safe from terrorists. We can act in the same spirit as those on-board heroes who diverted the flight intended for a government target in Washington DC to a field in Pennsylvania. We do not necessarily have to give the ultimate sacrifice, but honestly, it is the patrons who ride everyday who know when something is not right. Common everyday transit patrons are the key to keeping our transit systems safe. Patrons, not politicians.

By all means, politicians will try to make many believe that they are the ones to whom we owe our security. In fact, the political snowstorm has already started. Senators Schumer and Clinton have already primed the publicity pump by introducing legislation. Senator Reed has already countered his committee's vote.

Plus, I am going to be especially interested in what Senators Gregg, Cochran, Stevens, Specter, Domenici, Shelby, Craig, Bennett, Allard, Byrd, Inouye, Leahy, Milkulski, Kohi, Murray, Reid, and Feinstein have to say in the coming weeks. Why these Senators? Because they are all members of the Senate Subcommittee for Homeland Security Appropriations who recently cut funding for transit security by one third, from $150M to $100M, according to APTA.

Yes, there has been some response by various Agencies to step up security. Generally, these responses have met with comments that vary from scepticism, to sarcasm, to the acceptance that more needs to be done. The most accurate summation may have appeared in the Baltimore Sun.

Money is needed, but it might be wasted. The question is, what will the money buy us in the way of Transit Security? How will the plethora of government agencies and bureaucrats allocate these proposed funds? How about if these people who control the pursestrings empower the everyday transit patron.

Let's say you are one of those patrons on a bus, or a commuter train, or a subway car, and you see something suspicious. And, horror of horrors, there is no bomb sniffing dog or uniformed security guard in sight! What then? This is a situation that can logically happen, but yet, more than likely no one would have a clue as to what could be done.

Now, reporting something out of the ordinary to a bus driver is met with a shoulder shrug. And if you are on a train, more than likely no one would be in sight who might be able to help.

Maybe enabling the everyday patron could be as easy as having a system where the driver can report a concern to the Transit Operations Center, and understand that it is important that such notification is performed. Or maybe, there is a posted number where a cell phone user can notify someone. Or maybe, notification of the proper authorities can tie in with the local 1-800 number. Yes, there is a chance for abuse. Yes, there could be crank calls. But, once again, the best force for Transit Security is all of us, you and I. Somehow, I hope that Force can be tapped and mobilized. It will help lots more than all of the political rhetoric that is likely to be heard in the coming weeks.

UPDATE: A review of web comments this morning revealed that the Hate-Bush-for-everything-including-Hurricane-Dennis bloggers are out in force, adding their vile to the politicians snowstorm. I will not provide any links to them here; that would only raise their visibility at Findory, Technorati, Feedster and the like. No surprise, none of them had much in the way of positive ideas, except to spend money.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

London Under Attack

I join with all of you whose thoughts and prayers go out to all the victims of the most recent terrorist attack on the civilized world.

I will not write something simply to write, because as I listen to reports this morning it seems that details of the story are vague at best and created at worst. However, my trips around the web indicate that Third Rail has the most up-to-date information relating to London's Transit System.

UPDATE: BBC has a summary of events available.

UPDATE: Here is an article that speaks to Transit Vulnerability in the US.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

The 2005 "Rippers" for Best Agency

And here they are, Rippers for the Top Five Agencies! These highly coveted awards are based on the Quality of each agencies' Construction Documents, the Quality of their Relationships with Vendors and Suppliers, and the Quality of their completed Trackage Projects. Awards are limited to those agencies operating in the United States. The list obviously subjective, and is not necessarily in any specific order.

Utah Transit Authority: Small, knowledgeable staff, who have had to deal with unusual problems, but still remained consistent and fair. TRAX ridership is up, too.

Trinity Railway Express (TRE): When you see the "Rippers" for Worst Agency, you will wonder why TRE is top-five and the agency down the street is bottom-five. Almost everyone else wonders that, too.

Southern California Regional Rail Authority (Metrolink): Quality people, although there are lots of them. No major problems, an excellent outfit that sets an industry standard. And their ridership is up, too.

Regional Transportation District (Denver RTD): Major projects have been successful enough to convince even the voters! A few nit-picky issues from time to time, however.

Caltrain: Look what they have done in the past five years! They have gone from start-up to Baby Bullets and the upgraded trackage required for their operation.

Bubbling just under these Top Five: Portland Tri-Met.

To those involved with these agencies, congratulations! Your work, although perhaps underappreciated by your constituencies, has and should continue to result in quality work. Agreements and verifications are welcome! OK, even disagreements are welcome, too.

Look for the annual "Worst Agency Rippers" to be awarded soon.

Friday, July 01, 2005

Amtrak Update

The Washington Post has the latest on Amtrak funding legislation.

Third Rail Nails It!

Third Rail made some great comments regarding the Bus versus Rail debate. Considering that auto manufacturers and dealers, road construction contractors, auto supply and parts dealers, and insurance companies to name a few, all have a deep financial interest in keeping people in their cars, it is easy to see why so many "experts" play to the anti-railtransit crowd. Luckily, their audience is shrinking.