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Light Rail Safety

Light rail safety efforts receive national recognition 

| Monday, June 12, 2017 11:05:00 AM

Train operators Peter Mooers, left, and Bill Morris, right, took fourth place in the American Public Transit Association’s International Rail Rodeo held earlier this month in Baltimore, Md. Efforts to enhance safety at pedestrian crossings along Metro Transit’s light rail corridors have been recognized by the American Public Transit Association (APTA). 

APTA presented Metro Transit with a Gold Award for Safety for actions taken following a series of collisions that began in late-2015. Those efforts included a public safety campaign focused on grade crossing awareness, improved warning devices and the installation of alternate flashing headlights on light rail vehicles. The award was presented on Monday, June 12, at APTA’s 2017 Rail Conference in Baltimore, Md. 

This is the third Gold Award for Safety that Metro Transit has received since 2009. APTA presents one Gold Award annually, judging entries on effectiveness, innovation and project transferability. 

The number of light rail collisions per 100,000 vehicle miles has steadily declined since the Green Line opened in 2014. Through the end of April, there have been 0.51 collisions per 100,000 vehicle miles, down slightly from the same time last year. 

Two Metro Transit train operators also competed in APTA's International Rail Rodeo. Operators Peter Mooers, left, and Bill Morris, right, took fourth place in the skills competition, which tested operators' safety and customer service skills.

    > Awards and Recognition

    > Safety on METRO lines

Safety Transit Police

Transit police welcome new K-9s 

| Wednesday, December 07, 2016 11:01:00 AM

Metro Transit police officers with their K-9 partners in Minneapolis.Officer Matt Wilkinson has always been a dog person.

So when the opportunity arose to become one of the Metro Transit Police Department’s new K-9 handlers, he took it. And since late-October he’s been side-by-side with Carlo, one of three Belgian Malinois the department recently acquired to expand its K-9 Unit.

“I’ve got a couple of dogs at home already but having him is a lot different because he’s super high-energy and has such a super high drive to work,” Wilkinson said during a recent break from training at the Hiawatha Operations & Maintenance Facility. “It’s almost a 24-hour kind of deal working with him.”

But Wilkinson and the other new K-9 officers – Jason Michaud and Erica Fossand – all agree working with their new companions has quickly proven to be one of the most rewarding moves of their careers.

And if anything, they say, it’s the dogs who are training them.

“Handling is completely more work than I ever imagined because I don’t want to get in his way, and there are a lot of things I can do to disrupt him from doing his job,” said Fossand, her K-9 Nico sitting calmly beside her.

Imported from Holland with help from the St. Paul Police Department, the K-9’s were trained to detect and point out explosive materials before being brought to Minnesota. The officers are going through an eight-week training course and will begin their patrols in early 2017.

As part of their training, the officers and K-9s spent a recent morning at the OMF looking for odors that had been planted around a train. The dogs are taught to alert the handler when they discover one of around 21 differently potentially explosive odors.

In practice, Metro Transit’s K-9s spend most of their time at rail stations and large events proactively patrolling. The K9 unit can also be called out for suspicious packages or to assist other agencies.

As the officers are quickly learning, the K-9s are eager to work, too.

“It’s not 6-4, it’s all the time,” said Michaud, whose K-9 companion, Jack, is the smallest and most energetic of the new group. “You can just see how much energy he has.”

With the latest additions, Metro Transit’s K-9 Unit has expanded to seven officers. Other members include Scott Tinucci and his K-9 Merle; Larry Wright and his K-9 Rocky; and Josh Scharber and his K-9 Rusty. The department’s older K-9s are all labs.  

The department is supervised by Sgt. Jeremy Rausch.

Carlo, Nico and Jack are expected to work for at least a decade, so the new officers have all made a long-term commitment to their new companion. But as close as they’ll likely become, there will be some obvious differences from previous partners.

“My human partners don’t sit in the back and bark at every car that goes by,” Michaud said. “So that’s different.”

    > Transit Police welcome 13 new officers

    > Police put youth on a new path through diversion program

Safety Transit Police

Transit Police welcome 13 new officers 

| Monday, November 14, 2016 11:22:00 AM

Thirteen new full-time officers joined the Metro Transit Police Department at a swearing-in ceremony on Thursday, Nov. 10.

The recruits come from a variety of backgrounds, with a combined 50-plus years of law enforcement experience with the DEA, Airport Police and several other area departments. One of the new officers worked most recently as a Metro Transit bus operator.

The group also continues to build the department’s diversity, including the first Tibetan and Egyptian officers to work for Metro Transit. There are nine different languages spoken among the new officers.

“Your recruit class is a great example of the diversity of our community,” Chief John Harrington said as he addressed the group in front of family and friends at the Union Depot.

Harrington also commended the group for enduring the department's expanded, 10-week academy, including courses on fair and impartial policing, crisis intervention and poverty. 

With the new class, the department now has more than 113 full-time officers and a pool of 71 part-time officers. The new officers will be based out of both the West and East commands. 

Metro Transit police officers sworn in last week include Chad Worden, Joe Herr, Tim Wilkerson, James Reyerson, Xiong Lor, Peter Eshenaur, Amanda St. George, Ahmad Kahin, Mike Olson, Jonathan Beecham, Tenzin Dongag, Amro Abdalla and Erin Abbott. 

Metro Transit Police Department graduation fall 2016

Bus Safety

Nelson takes Bus Roadeo title 

| Tuesday, October 04, 2016 1:13:00 PM

Operator David Nelson, #69177, has been competing in the Bus Roadeo since he joined Metro Transit seven years ago.

And while he participates in the annual skills competition mostly for fun, he admits he genuinely hoped to come out on top. After placing in the top 20 several times, this was the year that finally happened.

“I think it had a lot to do with experience,” Nelson said after receiving his trophy at South Garage. “I’ve learned how to perfect each obstacle over the years.”

Operators who compete in the Bus Roadeo go through a series of obstacles that test their driving skills on a closed course. The competition also include a written customer service exam and a uniform inspection.  

Nelson earned a nearly perfect score – 621 out of a possible 625 points. Those skills carry over to the road, too: he’s yet to have a responsible collision during his career.  

Nelson will now represent Metro Transit at the American Public Transportation Association’s International Bus Rodeo, which will be held next year in Reno, Nev. Other top competitors will participate in the state Bus Roadeo, hosted by the Minnesota Public Transit Association.

Metro Transit’s 2016 competition drew a record number of competitors, including a large number of operators who were hired within the last five years.​

Other top finishers include:

  • > Second Place: Heywood Operator Jack Berner, #8927 (Berner has won Metro Transit’s Bus Roadeo five of the last nine years, including 2014 and 2015)
  • > Third Place: Heywood Operator Michael Stenberg, #71018 (Stenberg won Metro Transit’s Bus Roadeo in 2013)
  • > Fourth Place: East Metro Operator David Palm, #2410
  • > Fifth Place: Nicollet Operator Douglas John, #72493
  • Operator Randy Webb, #207, was named the Garage Champion for the Martin J. Ruter Garage
  • > Rookie of the Year: East Metro Operator Ger Yang, #64137
Light Rail METRO Blue Line METRO Green Line Safety

Wig-Wag lights heighten LRT visibility 

Posted by Drew Kerr | Monday, April 25, 2016 2:17:00 PM

Sitting on shop carts in a basement workshop at the Hiawatha Operations and Maintenance Facility are dozens of metal and plastic modules, each outfitted with a set of relays, sequencing devices and a tight bundle of red, blue, white and yellow wires. 

They represent a lot of work — and a lot more to come.

That’s because the forearm-sized modules are the custom-crafted, hand-made electronics behind the newest safety feature on Metro Transit’s light-rail vehicles: wig-wag headlights. Common on freight trains, wig-wag headlights alternately flash to help those outside the train detect motion and take notice of the approaching vehicle. 

Although not a requirement on light-rail, they are being installed across the fleet as yet another way to alert pedestrians, cyclists and motorists of an oncoming train.

The wig-wag headlights will automatically go on anytime a light-rail operator activates a train’s warning bells and horns. The audible warnings are activated whenever a train pulls into or out of a station, or crosses a street or pedestrian crossing on the METRO Blue and Green lines.

“The operator is going to continue doing what they’ve always done, but this is going to give that higher degree of visibility to everybody outside the train,” said Brian Funk, who served as Director of Light Rail before recently moving to Bus Transportation. 

With 86 light-rail vehicles, and headlights on each end, electronic technicians have been tasked with building hundreds of modules and harnesses — the wiring that ties them into the power supply.

The modules were designed and assembled by Electronic Repair Technicians Scott McDowell and Bruce Von Drashek — meticulous work that took several months. “These little fingers have been going for quite a while,” Von Drashek said. 

Building the hardware is just step one. Because the wig-wag lights are a modification from the original design, Electro Mechanic-Technicians Doug Robinson and Brooks Letourneau were tasked with coming up with a way to fit them into both the newer Siemens and older Bombardier trains.

“Our role was to modify the assembly to accept the new lights, concentrating on universality and making sure we used as few parts as we needed,” Robinson said. “Making it as efficient as possible was a lot of fun.”

Wig-wag headlights have been installed on two trains and the entire fleet will eventually be outfitted.

In addition to providing greater visibility, the project will improve reliability. LED lights last up to seven years, compared to about a year for the existing headlights. Using LEDs also eliminates the need for a DC to DC converter, which can fail and cause trains to be pulled from service.

Know Your Operator Light Rail Safety

Operators put their skills to the test in Rail Rodeo 

Posted by Drew Kerr | Tuesday, April 05, 2016 11:37:00 AM

As the lead singer for the band Capital Sons, Karl Obermeyer is comfortable performing in front of a crowd.

On Saturday, he put on a different kind of show – joining 13 rail operators competing in front of judges as part of Metro Transit’s Rail Rodeo. During the event, operators were closely watched as they went through a series of tests and a written exam.

After the points were tallied, Obermeyer was declared the top-performing operator. And in retrospect, he said, his on-stage experience probably helped him overcome the nerves associated with operating a light-rail vehicle as judges looked over his shoulder. 

“This is something you do on a day-to-day basis, but to have somebody monitoring everything you do brings it to another level,” said Obermeyer, an extraboard operator who has worked on both the METRO Blue and Green lines over the last 2.5 years. “I suppose my experience as a performer did come into play, since I’m used to having people observing me.”

But it takes more than a cool demeanor to safely operate a light-rail vehicle, as Obermeyer and the other competitors displayed throughout the Rail Rodeo.

Walking through a light rail vehicle, operators were given 15 minutes to identify five defects that would need to be addressed before going into service. Moving a train around the storage area at the Hiawatha Operations & Maintenance Facility, judges listened for proper radio communication.

Operating between the Fort Snelling and Franklin Avenue stations, judges assigned scores based on the smoothness of the train movements, adherence to speed limits and station announcements. There was also a written test and a uniform inspection.

The second-leading scorer, Peter Mooers, said the competition was a great way to build his skills and remember why safety is such an important part of his job. Mooers is currently a Green Line operator who spent two years as a bus operator and moved to rail in early 2014. 

“It was a great way to build skills and make you want to improve as an operator,” he said after the competition.

Obermeyer and Mooers will have another chance to test their skills when they represent Metro Transit in the American Public Transit Association’s International Bus Rodeo. The competition will be held in Phoenix, Ariz. in June, and include a similar set of challenges.

“It’s an honor to represent the company I work for on an international level, and I’ll certainly put my best foot forward,” Obermeyer said. “Between now and then, I’ll be doing my homework.”

This is the first time Metro Transit has hosted a Rail Rodeo since 2008; the hope is to make it an annual event. Other operators who competed this year are: Hugo FuentesBill Morris, Lobsang Choephel, Jeremiah Collins, Andy Dolan, Dale Reak, Mohamud Ibrahim, Berhanu Mengistu, Nasreddine Yahiani, Mohamud Ahmed and Bob Tapper. The event was judged by Rail and Safety staff. Metro Transit's annual Bus Roadeo will be held Sept. 17-22. 

Community Safety Transit Police

Mitchell named MTPD Officer of the Year 

Posted by Drew Kerr | Tuesday, April 05, 2016 10:58:00 AM

Chief John Harrington has talked a lot about community policing since taking the helm at the Metro Transit Police Department.

Officer Leonard Mitchell has taken it to heart. And for that, he was recognized as Metro Transit’s 2015 Officer of the Year. The award was presented at the department’s annual awards ceremony on March 31.

“From the day I was sworn in, the Chief has preached about community policing and that’s what I’ve tried to live up to,” Mitchell said after the ceremony. “Treat people with respect – that’s all I do and it’s working for me.”

Mitchell joined the Metro Transit Police Department in July 2013. He’s worked along the METRO Green Line corridor, in downtown St. Paul and was one of the first officers to work a new beat on St. Paul’s East Side. Mitchell is now a patrol officer in Minneapolis.

Harrington said several community leaders had contacted him about Mitchell’s efforts, describing him as one of the most visible and respected officers they’d encountered in recent years.

“This is exactly the kind of cop we want – someone who is committed to service and protection,” Harrington said.   

A graduate of Hibbing Community College, Mitchell is a member of the National Black Police Association and served on Metro Transit’s committee on the President’s Report on 21st Century Policing (the report provides recommendations for how law enforcement can better engage with the community). He is also active in the development of a new program that will pair teenagers with Metro Transit officers.

Mitchell was one of several officers recognized at the annual awards.

    > Officer Santiago Rodriguez received the Timothy Bowe Memorial Award, presented annually to a part-time officer who displays exceptional professionalism and dedication. Rodriguez is a 14-year veteran of the St. Paul Police Department and has worked with Metro Transit since 2013.

    > Officer James Menter received a Life Saving Award for assisting paramedics responding to a male who suffered cardiac arrest on a light-rail vehicle in St. Paul.

    > Beverly Cayetano, Linda Meyer, Diana White, Dana Jabs and Elaine Warren were recognized for organizing the department’s criminal database. By standardizing the department’s record-keeping system and entering 7,000 backlogged cases, the department complies with FBI standards and can more easily track the type and frequency of crimes.

In addition to these awards, 16 certificates of appreciation 11 medals of commendation and 33 medals of merit were presented.

Officers received these honors for a variety of actions, including safely apprehending suspects with weapons, identifying and arresting a suspect involved in an operator assault and protecting a woman at risk of being trampled in downtown Minneapolis. Praise was also given to an officer who saw a child with a broken bike and purchased him a new one using his own money.

Officers who conducted the most fare checks, spent the most time on-board buses and trains and made the highest-number of arrests were also honored at the event.

“What these awards represent is not just the work of individual officers, but an entire organization that goes out every day and does really, truly outstanding work,” Harrington said.

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