BROOKLYN, NY: An MTA Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) train with 650 on board derailed at the Atlantic Terminal in Brooklyn early January 4th and injured more than 100 people. Reminiscent of the recent Hoboken disaster, the train failed to stop at the end-of-track-bumper. Fortunately there were no fatalities. The NYC Fire Department tweeted that there were 103 non-life-threatening injuries reported at the scene. Commuters experienced delays going into and out of the terminal due to the incident. The MTA is moving forward on getting sleep apnea testing for engineers responsible for driving crowded commuter trains. The engineer told investigators that has has no memory of crashing his train into the bumper and wall at the Atlantic Terminal. That engineer was later found to have sleep apnea. This is similar to the statement issued by the engineer in the deadly accident in Hoboken just four months ago. Meanwhile, Federal investigators were examining the engineers sleep pattern, whether he had texted and what he may have consumed during the 72 hours prior to the incident, in addition to the normal standard screening for drugs and alcohol.
The Long Island Railroad is reputed to be the busiest commuter railroad in North America and as such Trolleyville is keenly interested in the results of the official investigation results and will pass them on when we get them.
Subsequent to the Long Island Railroad incident, Progressive Railroading reported that three U.S. Senators called on the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) to conduct a comprehensive study of all passenger railroads' implementation of sleep apnea testing and inward facing cameras. Senators Bob Menendez and Cory Booker (both D-N.J.) and Senator Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) expressed concern that passenger railroads are not implementing the sleep apnea testing and inward camera installations fast enough. Menendez chairs the Senate's mass transit subcommittee. The senators' concerns are in reaction to the September 2016 New Jersey Transit accident that killed one and injured more than 100 people at the terminal in Hoboken, N.J. Operator fatigue and sleep apnea have been cited in the investigation as possible causes of the accident. And then there was the MTA Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) train engineer train in the Brooklyn, N.Y accident, claiming he had no recollection of the crash. The NTSB has long recommended sleep apnea testing, comprehensive fatigue risk management programs and inward facing cameras. The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), the key regulatory agency on the practices, also has issued safety advisories on both of those issues, the senators noted in a press release. “What’s even more concerning than the slow progress railroads are making, is an apparent growing trend of railroads pledging to implement sleep apnea testing and inward cameras only after a derailment has occurred on their system,” the senators wrote in a January 8, 2017 letter to NTSB Chairman Christopher Hart. “Passenger railroads should be able to heed the lessons of other passenger railroads, and each of them should be taking steps to implement these two important provisions as quickly as possible.” Also signing the letter were U.S. Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.). Menendez, Booker and Schumer wrote to FRA Administrator Sarah Feinberg in November 2016, urging her agency to adopt stricter operator fatigue guidelines and hold railroads accountable for failure to prevent future accidents. In October 2016, Menendez and Booker called on the U.S. Department of Transportation to investigate safety concerns at NJ Transit.
BOSTON, MA: The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) will let its commuter-rail operations contract with Keolis Commuter Services expire, local media reported late last week. The eight-year contract will end in June 2022, at which point the MBTA will propose a re-procurement process for another operator, according to NBC Boston. Acoording to published comments, the move not to extend the current contract isn't a "reflection of Keolis' performance," Massachusetts Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack told NBC Boston, adding that she expects Keolis to compete again in the re-procurement process. Keolis won the $2.7 billion contract in 2014.
Boston Commuter Train.
DURHAM, NC: According to Progressive Railroading, GoTriangle announced during the first week in January that the Durham-Orange light-rail project in North Carolina won't require additional local sources of funding. During a financial update on January 4th, the agency's board learned that existing transit revenue is expected to cover the costs of the 17.7-mile, 18-station project and GoTriangle officials reported in a press release.
Artists rendering of the Alston Avenue station!
"Working with our financial adviser and financial modeler, we have been able to refine the financing plan to be able to fund the project with the existing, identified funds from the one-half cent sales tax," according to Danny Rogers, project director for the Durham-Orange line. "With their support we identified ways to structure project debt to better match revenues and expenditures." GoTriangle recently began working financial adviser The PFM Group to examine the project's budget. The agency has submitted to the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) an updated financial plan as part of its request to enter the engineering phase for the project. GoTriangle expects to learn more about the status of the request in late February. The FTA is expected to cover half of the project's costs, contingent on the remaining half coming from "existing dedicated transit funding and state funds," GoTriangle officials said. The FTA in February 2016 signed a combined final environmental impact statement and record of decision for the Durham-Orange light-rail project. The proposed route would run 17 miles from southwest Chapel Hill to eastern Durham and serve educational, medical and other key activity centers, according to GoTriangle and shown below:
HOUSTON, TX: The Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County (METRO) in Texas on Monday, January 9th, held a ceremony to mark the completion of the Harrisburg Overpass bridge, which will carry both Green Line light-rail trains and motorists over Union Pacific Railroad track. The bridge was the final component of completing the Green Line route. Elected officials, business and community leaders joined METRO leaders for a ribbon-cutting and inaugural ride over the bridge on Monday, agency officials said in a press release. METRO offered free rides through January 22.
Artists Rendering of the Harrisburg Overpass (Photo by MTA of Harris County)
METRO's Green Line now offers nine stops and links downtown Houston to the Magnolia Park Transit Center in the city's East End district. Before the bridge was completed, Green Line trains stopped short of the transit center, Houston Public Media reported. METRO is offering free rides on the Green Line through Jan. 22. "It’s quite an accomplishment to be able to connect the Magnolia Transit Center to the rest of our system. It was an arduous project to get done. In the end, we kept at it and chipped away. We had a good project team," said Bruce Krantz, METRO's senior director of planning, engineering and construction, in a METRO blog post.
SEATTLE, WA: Progressive Railroading reported on January 10th that the average weekday rider ship on Sound Transit's "Link" light-rail system in November 2016 nearly doubled compared with rider ship in the same month in 2015. The system logged 66,237 average weekday boardings for the month versus 34,003 in the November 2015, marking a 94.8 percent jump. Total boardings surged 91 percent to 1,701,600. The increases came after Sound Transit opened new Link stations in both March and September of 2016.
Sound Transit "Link" Train built by Kinki Sharyo!
"Link's impressive rider ship gains are largely a result of the service extensions to the University of Washington and Angle Lake," agency officials said in a monthly rider ship report. Meanwhile, average weekday rider ship for the Sounder commuter-rail system slipped 0.8 percent in November 2016. However, overall Sounder rider ship inched up 1.4 percent year over year to 329,605 boardings.
Cincinnati CAF-built streetcar on Opening Day, September 9. 2016! (SORTA photo)
CINCINNATI, OH: Meanwhile, The Cincinnati Bell Connector streetcar has provided more than 330,000 rides during its first four months of service, Progressive Railroading reported on January 12th. The Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority (SORTA) officials announced these figures on that day. As of December 31, 2016, the system logged 330,737 trips since it opened September 9th. Rider ship last month totaled 52,209 trips, according to unaudited results. The recently renamed Cincinnati Bell Connector operates on a 3.6-mile loop through the city's downtown area. The system is owned and funded by the city of Cincinnati, managed by SORTA and operated by Transdev.
SANTA ANA - GARDEN GROVE, CA: The Times has learned that the Oenage County Transportation Authority (OCTA) revealed that the Federal Transit Administation (FTA) issued a letter signaling its support for the Orange County Streetcar project to move into the engineering phase. This phase is the final stage before OCTA seeks a full funding grant from the FTA.
The Orange County Streetcar is proposed to operate on a 4.1 mile route between Santa Ana and Garden Grove, CA using mainly Santa Ana Boulevard and a former Pacific Electric right-of-way. It is estimated that it would carry about 7,500 passengers daily. Construction is planned to begin in 2018 with operations planned by 2020.
PHOENIX, AZ: The FTA has also granted environmental approval for Valley Metro's planned South Central light-rail extension, according to Progressive Railroading. See map below:
The FTA's "finding of no significant impact" allows Valley Metro and the City of Phoenix to proceed with final design work on the extension, which is slated for completion by 2023, Valley Metro officials said in a press release. The environmental review examines the project's impact on noise and vibration, air quality and historical and archaeological resources. Receipt of the FTA's finding is required before final design work can begin on projects the agency oversees. "Extending light rail to South Central Phoenix is vital to our long-term economic success," said Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton.
Artists Rendering of South Central light-rail extension (Valley Metro Photo)
"Phoenix residents told us they wanted to invest in transportation. With this approval, and with the FTA's consistent support for our long-term transit plans, we have moved closer to becoming a more connected city and region." The 5-mile South Central Extension will connect with the existing light-rail system in downtown Phoenix and run south to Baseline Road. The project originally was scheduled to be finished in 2034, but its completion was moved up to 2023 after Phoenix voters in August 2015 approved the "Transportation 2050" plan, which calls for a 0.7 percent sales tax to fund various transportation projects in the region.
SAN FRANCISCO, CA:
Daniel Niepow, Associate Editor, Progressive Railroading
San Francisco's Muni hack: A case study in prepping for ransomware attacks!!
San Francisco Muni Metro subway passengers got an unexpected treat one weekend in late November 2016: free rides.
But it wasn't exactly an act of charity on the part of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA), which oversees the city's Muni light-rail system. Instead, the agency on November 25 took its Muni subway ticketing machines and faregates offline after a hacker attacked its office computers.
The attacker demanded 100 bitcoins — which at the time was estimated at $73,000 — to relinquish his hold on the system. Although the hack didn't compromise the SFMTA's fare system, the agency decided to shut it down as a precautionary measure to protect passengers.
This kind of hack, which is known as a "ransomware" attack, is becoming increasingly common in the cybersphere, information security execs say. In a ransomware attack, a hacker infiltrates a system, locks users out and demands a sum of money — usually in the form of "cryptocurrency" like bitcoins — to restore the victim's access.
While ransomware attacks typically are "industry agnostic" — attackers target any companies or organizations that are likely to pay — freight and passenger railroads are lucrative potential targets, says Limor Kessem, executive security adviser at IBM Security.
"There's more at stake for everyone when such organizations are paralyzed," Kessem says. "With hampered or paralyzed operations, attackers are in a better position to pressure organizations to negotiate with them quickly and for more money, unless the victim has proper recovery plans in place."
In the case of the SFMTA attack, the agency restored its systems by using backed-up data. By Nov. 28, the SFMTA was able to get most of the affected computers back up and running.
"Thanks to the fact that we systematically back up our systems, the impact was minimal," said SFMTA spokesman Paul Rose in an email. "We don't want to provide a roadmap for any future attacks by detailing specific next steps, but we are reaching out to staff to further remind them of the impacts of clicking on links and opening emails from unfamiliar sources."
SFMTA execs never considered paying the ransom, agency officials said in an update after the attack.
Still, the agency may have lost up to $50,000 in unpaid fares during the attack, according to Rose.
Companies can mount a better defense against ransomware attacks by frequently backing up their data on a cloud system or at a separate data center, says Scott Montgomery, vice president and chief technical strategist at Intel Security.
"Most organizations — critical infrastructure or not — fail to back up frequently enough to avoid some form of data loss," he adds.
Hackers also will look for holes in out-of-date database systems. So, organizations should ensure their software is updated with the latest patches, Montgomery advises.
The Muni hack came amid an uptick in ransomware attacks in 2016. Last year, there was a 6000 percent year-over-year surge in ransomware spam, IBM's X-Force research team found.
"There is an ease of use in ransomware that's rare in other types of malware," says IBM's Kessem. "Once the victim is infected, the criminal does nothing but wait for the coins to come."
What's more, because hackers demand cryptocurrency like bitcoins, they can ensure they get their money anonymously and lower their risk of getting caught.
And many companies that are victim to ransomware attacks are paying up, according to IBM. In an IBM survey of 600 U.S. business executives, 46 percent said they had some experience with ransomware attacks; of that total, 70 percent paid a ransom to their attackers.
"With the increase in paying victims, more attackers moved into the ransomware arena, including organized cybercrime gangs using highly sophisticated malware codes to target users and businesses," Kessem adds.
Plus, many victim organizations may decide to simply pay the ransom and "keep mum" about it, says Intel's Montgomery. "I wouldn't be shocked if other organizations are being successfully attacked but not necessarily letting folks know," Montgomery says. "Because a lot of these organizations pay the ransom and change their systems after the fact, there's no breach reporting that they perceive they have to do."
Adequate preparation can go a long way toward helping railroads and transit agencies avoid these kinds of attacks — and rapidly recover if they do happen, says IBM's Kessem.
"I think the No. 1 factor that could increase preparedness for any organization, even more than employee education, is having an incident response plan in place — one that is regularly tested and gives teams some muscle memory to help them react quickly and effectively," she says.