transportation

Bruce Fingerhood / Creative Commons

The recent derailment of an Amtrak passenger train in Philadelphia has brought attention across the northeast to safety on the rail lines. A computerized system to slow or stop trains automatically, called Positive Train Control, could help avoid accidents like this in the future.

The challenge of strategizing the best route to work against the herd of other drivers can be as routine as the daily commute itself. A number of apps are out there to help shortcut one's route and evade traffic jams. But which ones are the most accurate? And how?

The All Tech Considered team put a few competing traffic apps to the test in Robert Siegel's usual short commute from Arlington, Va., to NPR's D.C. headquarters.

The Test Drive

This ride is about 15 minutes in no traffic. But it's now morning rush hour.

The Safety of Rail Travel Across the Northeast

May 18, 2015
Mark Llanuza / f

Train ridership is higher in the northeast than anywhere else in the U.S. Last year on Amtrak alone, nearly 12 million people rode the Northeast Corridor between Boston and Washington, D.C.

Despite so much riding on the reliability of trains, government and industries responsible for maintaining the rail system have been slow to make crucial safety improvements.

Ryan Caron King / WNPR

The CTfastrak busway turned a once-abandoned rail line into a limited-access highway spanning New Britain to Hartford, laying the foundation for a new concept in central Connecticut: rapid transit.

Political and economic aspirations now ride on the busway's success.

Updated at 2:55 p.m. ET

The Federal Railroad Administration on Saturday issued a directive to Amtrak aimed at improving safety in the wake of the derailment of a passenger train in Philadelphia this week that killed eight people and injured more than 200.

"We are continuing to work with the [National Transportation Safety Board] to understand exactly what happened on Tuesday so we can prevent this type of devastating accident from ever happening again," U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in a statement released Saturday.

National Transportation Safety Board

Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal is calling on Congress to invest more in the nation's transportation infrastructure, including the implementation of positive train control on most rail lines.

Back-to-back news conferences by Democratic and Republican House leaders, given from the same podium on Thursday, showed a contrast in how both parties are responding to the politics of a deadly train crash that killed at least eight people and injured scores more.

One key safety feature was missing from the stretch of track where an Amtrak passenger train going more than 100 mph derailed and killed seven people.

Investigators say that if positive train control had been installed on that stretch, the technology could have automatically slowed the train and perhaps saved lives.

NPR's David Schaper tells our Newscast unit that Amtrak and other railroads are behind schedule in rolling out the technology.

He filed this report:

The engineer of Amtrak Northeast Regional Train 188 that was traveling at 106 mph in a 50-mph zone in Philadelphia applied the full emergency braking system moments before the derailment that claimed seven lives and caused dozens of injuries, the National Transportation Safety Board said.

Amtrak was formed in the 1970s out of the ashes of several bankrupt rail lines, including the Penn Central. Its has been criticized for poor service, and shaky finances, but its safety record has been good.

More than 31 million passengers rode Amtrak in fiscal year 2013, the last for which figures are available. In the Northeast Corridor, more than 2,000 trains operate daily on Amtrak's rails, between commuter lines and Amtrak trains. And far more passengers ride Amtrak between Washington, New York and Boston than fly.

Transportation funding was going to get plenty of attention this week in Washington — even before an Amtrak train derailed about 140 miles to the north.

This is National Infrastructure Week, so lobbyists, labor leaders and activists started swarming Capitol Hill on Monday, seeking funds for roads, bridges and other projects related to transportation.

Update at 1:13 a.m. ET:

Officials have started the process of notifying families, it was announced at a press conference, though it wasn't certain if everyone on the train had been accounted for. The number of injured transported to the hospital was increased to 65, but the number of dead remained at five.

Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter said some major work would have to wait until the morning, as operating some of the heavy machinery in the dark wouldn't be safe. The next press conference also likely will wait until late Wednesday morning, he said.

The Library of Congress

The Ohio House approved a resolution repudiating Connecticut for claims that Bridgeport's Gustave Whitehead beat the Wright brothers as first in flight.

The bill asserts that Ohio-born brothers Wilbur and Orville Wright were first with their 1903 flight off Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. It goes further though, declaring that Whitehead did not fly in a "powered, heavier than air machine" in 1901, "or on any other date."

Patrick Cashin / Metropolitan Transportation Authority

The president of Metro-North Railroad is telling Connecticut lawmakers how the commuter line is making progress toward improving its safety and reliability. 

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This weekend, family and friends gathered in Bridgeport for the funeral of DeMonte Anozine. The 20-year-old was killed in a crash early Tuesday morning that closed down I-95 in Fairfield for several hours.

NTSB

Metro-North is dealing with more than 30 personal injury lawsuits stemming from a train derailment and collision in Bridgeport two years ago, and more are expected in the next week.

The United States issued licenses for ferry service between the United States and Cuba for the first time in five decades.

The South Florida Sun-Sentinel reports the Treasury Department issued at least four licenses to companies that want to establish ferry service to Cuba from Key West, Miami, Fort Lauderdale and perhaps even Tampa.

The paper reports:

Harriet Jones / WNPR

Governor Dannel Malloy wants to sell his transportation plan to businesses as a way to boost economic growth. He began with a company that likes to think differently about the way its employees get to work: insurance giant Travelers.

Updated at 4:34 p.m.

David Wildstein, a former official at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, pleaded guilty Friday to two counts of conspiracy in connection with lane closures on the George Washington Bridge in 2013. The case could have implications for his former friend New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a likely Republican presidential candidate.

Indictments in April against two other officials linked to the scandal were unsealed today.

Ryan King / WNPR

The state Department of Transportation is inviting the public to look at options for redesigning the way I-84 runs through the center of Hartford. All this week, it's holding an open forum in the auditorium of Christ Church Cathedral in Hartford.

Ryan King / WNPR

For decades, the elevated section of highway through Hartford along I-84 has been a major feature of the city's landscape. It's now viewed as a barrier, dividing the city in two. It's also aged out of its usefulness.

This week, the Connecticut DOT is inviting the public to take a look at what it's calling the I-84 Hartford Project. Anyone can drop by the Open Planning Studio at a downtown Hartford church to meet planners and engineers who are looking at alternatives to redesign I-84.

Jason Tester Guerrilla / Creative Commons

After a year in Connecticut, Uber says it made over $8 million in sales for its services in New Haven, Fairfield, and Hartford Counties.

Wikimedia Commons

A compromise has been worked out between the state's automotive dealers and electric-vehicle manufacturer Tesla. That's according to the co-chair of the state's transportation committee. 

Office of Dannel Malloy

A non-partisan working group to help find funding options for Connecticut's transportation infrastructure overhaul met for the first time on Tuesday.

Officials at SkyWest Airlines and federal authorities say they still don't know what caused three passengers to lose consciousness on a flight that then made an emergency landing in Buffalo Wednesday. Earlier, the airline said one passenger was affected.

The SkyWest plane, operating as United Express flight #5622, was flying from Chicago's O'Hare airport to Hartford, Connecticut with 75 passengers on board.

Some passengers say part way into the flight, they started having trouble breathing, and felt dizzy and nauseous.

The Massachusetts Department of Transportation has awarded a contract for a major highway project in western Massachusetts.

JF White-Schiavone of Framingham submitted the lowest bid this week to rebuild the two-mile long elevated portion of Interstate 91 through downtown Springfield. 

The project is expected to cost $183 million and take three years.  There will be detours and ramp closings during the work, which is expected to start this summer.

City of Stamford

Earlier this week, Connecticut DOT officials shut down a state-owned parking garage at the Stamford Transportation Center. A chunk of concrete fell from one of the parking decks to the deck below over the weekend. Fortunately, no one was injured.

The garage is almost 30 years old, and has been part of a redevelopment plan of the state’s for a very long time -- a plan that will probably involve replacing the parking garage. But for now, it’s closed for evaluation, and that’s thrown off about a thousand commuters who rely on the rails to get to work.

It points to a bigger question: what will the state do about developing around transit stations? Are we stuck planning primarily for cars? 

Cristian / Creative Commons

State transportation officials shut down a state parking garage at Stamford's downtown train station late Monday. The decision came after chunks of concrete fell over the weekend from the garage's third deck to the second deck below.

Tintazul / Creative Commons

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority's inspector general said Metro-North maintenance crews get little or no supervision and fail to document their work.

Aundrea Murray / WNPR

The I-84 viaduct in Hartford needs to be replaced, but the state still has to figure out how that’s going to happen -- and it's currently considering options.

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