Friday, October 21, 2016

Corridor Metrolink Routing for the Perris Valley Line and beyond

The plan should be simple; boardings along the PVL can increase substantially by changing from a "segment" system to a "corridor" system.

Transit Talking Points by: Nicholas Ventrone, Community Engagement Director


Last month, the extended branch of the Metrolink 91 Line into South Perris received some bad press: Low ridership.

That is not good considering that local government agencies battled wall after wall of red tape and a trivial environmental lawsuit to reinstate passenger transit service along an existing rail corridor right next to a freeway that has big commuter demands. As you may know, that hard work lasted over a decade. To turn things around, there is a prediction of some ridership growth since the Perris Valley Line was launched at a time when transit boardings are at a typical low and due to the fact that some schedule adjustments were made earlier this month.

Back on October 3, officials improved regional connectivity into Downtown Riverside from the south which allows for more efficient timing for workers who are to report in at 8am. Short-trip Train 731 now departs an hour earlier from Perris and a fully funded feeder shuttle now circulates through the central city which will ensure employees are able to clock in on time.

To my opinion, that change will help things out a little bit. 8 o'clock is a very common start time for daytime work. However it won't be a ridership game-changer for the route. Plus, the total commuter trip time on this short turn section nearly matches the time aboard Riverside Transit Agency CommuterLink Route 208 in between the two destinations with the latter costing less. So I believe the PVL still needs work beyond mere schedule changes.

First, let's take a look a the strengths of the route. 

For starters, as I mentioned earlier, the I-215 transportation corridor that the line serves is a major commuter route, with scores of peak-hour traffic headed toward Riverside and San Bernardino from the bedrooms of Perris and Moreno Valley in the morning. There's several job and school hubs as one descends the hill and into both of the central city cores.

The central Perris station is a multi-modal transit hub which allows feeders to seamlessly connect. Soon will it also be with the Riverside Downtown station thanks to frequent connecting feeders from the new Route 54 and the existing Route 1. Plus, the new "Grand Central Terminal" transit station in San Berardino is also a prime hub point destination served by several local Omnitrans routes and the sbX Green Line BRT.

So under this hub-and-spoke model, we should have an efficient means to move people up and down the I-215 and PVL corridor quickly and efficiently.

Here's where I see the problems lie:

First, the late morning and midday 730-series short run trains that operate between Perris and Riverside have very limited station pairs: 5 to be exact. That limits the coverage to Perris, Moreno Valley and Riverside which I believe is a driving factor to the low boarding counts. I predict that most I-215 commuters travel well beyond this area.

Secondly, the reverse-peak and weekend runs of the original 91 Line don't go down the PVL corridor which hurts the stats. Don't forget that Moreno Valley has a growing logistics job hub in the region and inboud commuter demands into the area will grow from the north. That means one who lives in Corona and works at a warehouse or manufacturing hub in Moreno Valley at 8am should be able to take Train 700 that leaves North Main Corona at 6:50am, get to the March Field Station at 7:30 and shuttle into work by 7:45. But Train 700 currently ends in Riverside and that timed connection is not possible. To be fair, students headed to UC Riverside from the north and west can rely on RTA Routes 1 and 16 to connect between the downtown station and the school with a 15-20 minute bus ride.

Number 3: Travel patterns show high commuter demands in between Menifee and Orange County via Corona that were not directly addressed; have you tried to utilize Railroad Canyon Road at the I-15 during the rush hour? That means additional IEOC Line trains to Orange County need to be routed via the PVL corridor and I say "additional" because those peak-hour trains are already packed by the time they reach North Main Corona. And finally, high demands between Moreno Valley and San Bernardino should call for selected San Bernardino Line trains to operate along the PVL branch.

Rush Hour: Trains 705 and 700 pull into North Main Corona at 6:50am.
Westbound 91/PVL Train 705 is very popular at this station.
Metrolink and the local government agencies at Riverside County can increase productivity and revenue simply by changing the PVL from a "segment" system to a "corridor" system. Instead of having several of the 91 Line routes begin and end at Downtown Riverside, the segments should be combined or interlined to create larger corridors. A full-span peak-hour 91 Line train is a good start: those station pairs are strong for the commuter market. But why not include the IEOC and San Bernardino Line corridors too? Travel demands call for it. Plus running the Metrolink Riverside Line through to Perris can speed up the end-to-end trip time for Perris and Moreno Valley passengers needing to go all the way to LA and back. I understand there's going to be some additional hardball negotiations with the freight railroad operators as well as securing funding from the state and feds to get the extra trains going, but the transit market demands need to be met in order to move the people. Basically, the high-frequency lines would continue through the Riverside and San Bernardino hubs after a stop instead of just terminating there.

That will certainly boost daily ridership of the PVL into productive territory and well above the original 4,000 daily goal. Plus, just wait until the long-range plans of bringing the rails down south and into San Diego are funded and built. Then everything will change.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Better Quality Assurance and Control with our Transit Fleets

Flawed pieces to our bus and train systems must never be allowed into operations.

Transit Talking Points by: Nicholas Ventrone, Community Engagement Director

When industries innovate, create and develop products, chances are they go through a process called quality assurance. That is to see whether the product and all its components and parts is meeting specified quality requirements before it is to be mass-produced at the factory.

In fact, many companies in the private sector have a specific department dedicated to QA so that prototypes and first article samples can be closely inspected and tested. Once released to production, a robust quality control process ensures such parts and assemblies are meeting the specified quality requirements. Investments in both of these processes have been known to ensure that better and top quality products end up in the marketplace, and both increase buyer and user confidence and the company's credibility.

However, if an issue were to slip through the QA process and such flaws end up into production, it can be a public relations embarrassment for the companies involved. Likewise, if a genuine product released to the factory floor has loopholes in production QC, similar hard lessons could surface in the news.

Last October, Metrolink announced that there was a potential safety flaw in the railroad's Hyundai Rotem cab cars and leased BNSF locomotives to maintain rail operations. That December, the LA Times broke the story of where the main issue lies and reported in June that repairs are underway.

Now, the railroad has taken legal action against the cab car maker.

Last Friday, the railroad took this problem to court and filed suit against the South Korean manufacturer. The lawsuit identifies specifically where the safety issue is. The situation dealt with the assembly fittings within the cab car's pilot, also known as the cowcatcher or cattle catcher located at the base of the locomotive or cab car which is designed to deflect obstacles on the track that might otherwise derail the train.

According the suit, the carbody weldments and pilot assemblies were found to be defective which could cause the pilot itself to dislodge. Unfortunately, this quality issue was not identified until after the 2015 Oxnard crash where the pilot broke off of the cab car after striking the truck which led to the derailment. As the investigation unfolded, inspectors found the defective parts on the car and further inspections of nearly every other Hyundai Rotem cab car revealed similar problems.

Reports show that Hyundai Rotem was not correcting this issue as demanded by the railroad which led to this civil dispute.

Because this case is still open in the court of law, I won't be pointing any fingers to anybody. We should let the facts play out. But I will predict that this situation is either a QA or QC problem because those defective parts should have never ended up on our trains in operations. QA ensures products in development meeets the specified quality standards. QC ensures products in production meets the quality requirements. Every part on our transportation infrastructure needs to go through these process. We cannot allow such quality flaws to slip into operations.

Let the proven QA and QC processes ensure that we are riding aboard safe and top quality transit fleets.