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Posts in Category: Safety

Light Rail METRO Blue Line METRO Green Line Safety

Keeping a careful eye on the METRO Blue Line 

| Friday, October 11, 2013 10:00:00 AM

Shortly after 9 a.m. on a recent Monday morning, Shawn Jensen and two other rail maintainers got off a light-rail train at the METRO Blue Line’s Target Field Station and began slowly walking south.

Stepping down the line through downtown Minneapolis, the neon-vested trio looked up, down and around the track looking for anything out of the ordinary.

After nearly three hours of methodic walking and observing, the three-man crew had made their way four miles south to 38th Street Station. Another group would later complete the trek, walking from 38th Street to Mall of America Station in Bloomington. 

The goal: notice any changes or anomalies and address the issue quickly as a form of preventative maintenance.

“We’re looking for track structure issues – of course a broken rail or broken rail fasteners,” Jensen, a first shift foreman, said before setting out. “And Interlockings –where there are switches – that’s a real touchy are where that have to spend a little extra time inspecting.”

Besides checking the condition of rails and the fasteners that hold them to the ground, maintainers look for debris in the tracks, slight changes in track alignment and check lubricator boxes to ensure they’re working properly. With turnouts that allow trains to switch sides of the track, maintainers look to make sure the switch points are perfectly flush to the stock rail so light-rail vehicle wheels don’t "pick the point" -- an industry way of saying get caught.  

Maintainers also keep an eye on the Blue Line's aesthetics, picking up trash and noting places where graffiti and overgrown vegetation needs to be removed as they move up-and-down the line.

Such up-close inspections – called “track walking” by those who do it – are not unusual. In fact, maintainers like Jensen walk the entire length of the 11-mile METRO Blue Line twice a week. The same inspections will happen on the METRO Green Line after it opens next year.

Pausing only for heavy snow or rain when visual inspections are conducted from the train’s cab, the federally-mandated walking inspections occur on a year round basis. A group of 13 maintainers and foreman, many with backgrounds in the freight rail industry, perform the walking inspections. All are based at Metro Transit's Light Rail Support Facility.

Rail tracks also go through an ultrasonic inspection every year using a machine that digitally detects internal defects that can't be spotted with the naked eye. Light-rail operators routinely report their observations about track conditions as well.

Even so, track maintenance staff says there’s no replacement for the kind of routine, detailed inspections that come from the weekly walks.

“This gets us very close to it (the rail),” said Charles “Chuck” Anderson, Metro Transit's manager of track maintenance. “There’s just so much you’re trying to observe -- this allows us to really focus.”

Manually performing the inspections is also less obtrusive because trains continue to operate in service while they occur. With three people assigned to the job, a designated lookout watches for trains and makes sure walkers are safely out of the way as the trains pass.

Minor issues that are identified can be remedied in less than a day while other observations lead to longer-term fixes that unfold over time.  

Such diligence has paid off, too. Since the Blue Line opened a decade ago, there have been no performance issues attributed to poor maintenance -- something Jensen says he keeps in mind on his long walks.

“I like doing this because it's good exercise but really we're here to make sure the line is in top condition for the safety of the people who are riding the system,” he said.

Bus Safety

Using 'Keys' to put safety first 

| Monday, September 23, 2013 1:00:00 PM

A bus driver watches as a firetruck passes by during a Metro Transit safety training course.

When Randy Finch began working at Metro Transit, fares were 30 cents, bus drivers didn’t wear seatbelts and buses could move with relative freedom on local streets and highways. The world has changed a bit since then.

But there is one thing that has stuck with Finch over the course of his 35-year career: the Safety Keys promoted by the Smith System.

The training program was developed for professional drivers more than 60 years ago in response to dangerous driving conditions and is widely used by transit agencies, trucking companies and other organizations that employ professional drivers. Metro Transit bus operators go through the course when they are hired and are regularly re-certified throughout their career.

A trainer at South Garage for the last decade, Finch said he follows the Smith System “religiously” on and off the job and tells new bus operators to do the same. Speaking to a recent class, he urged trainees to focus on its three essential components: space, visibility and time.

“If you have all three of those things, the majority of the time you won’t get into trouble,” Finch said.

Other tenants of the Smith System encourage drivers to keep their eyes in constant motion, seek eye contact from other drivers and to get the “big picture.”

Relying on the Smith System’s lessons has served Finch well. After three decades of service, Finch has won 33 consecutive Safety Awards. Finch has also been named Garage Champion at South Garage at four of the last six Roadeo competitions and was named Roadeo Champion in 2010. Roadeo is a voluntary annual safety and skills competition for bus drivers.

Finch says the lessons taught in the Smith System apply to all drivers but are particularly important for bus drivers facing unique challenges as they usher customers around the Twin Cities.

Metro Transit buses weigh 20 to 33 tons and their 8.5-foot wide frame makes them among the widest vehicles on the road. Add weather, customers and schedules to the mix and the conditions become even more difficult.

“It’s the hardest thing in the world to come to this job and drive a bus,” Finch said. “It’s not just getting behind the wheel – there are a lot of things you have to remember.”

Kerwin Hall drove semis before joining Metro Transit in May and said his brief experience driving route 4, 14 and 589 has already shown him just how demanding the job can be.

“This is operating a bus, not driving a bus,” he said after finishing Finch’s class. “There’s just so much that comes into play. It really involves putting a lot of things together to make things happen.”

Whatever the difficulties, Finch said there is a simple way to put operating a bus in perspective: treat the customers onboard as if they were members of your own family.

“You wouldn’t want your family to get hurt and you don’t want your passengers to get hurt either,” he said. “They just want to get from ‘Point A’ to ‘Point B’ safely, that’s all.”

    > WCCO: Testing Bus Driving Skills with Metro Transit 

    > Metro Transit safety and security efforts earn industry accolades

    > Metro Transit Roadeo

    > Bus Safety

Bus In the News Safety

WCCO: Testing Bus Driving Skills with Metro Transit 

| Monday, September 23, 2013 12:23:00 PM

WCCO’s Jamie Yuccas recently got behind the wheel of a Metro Transit bus to illustrate the challenges of driving the 40-foot long, 50,000-pound vehicle.

The segment aired in conjunction with the annual Roadeo competition, which is being held this week at the Como Transit Center near the Minnesota State Fairgrounds in St. Paul. More than 120 Metro Transit operators are participating in the event, which test operator’s skills through a series of written and behind-the-wheel tests.

Yuccas, a Metro Transit customer, earned 218 of a possible 450 points in her Roadeo performance.

Held every year since 1975, Metro Transit’s Roadeo champions can advance to state, regional or even international contests.

> WCCO: Testing Bus Driving Skills with Metro Transit

> Metro Transit Roadeo

> Using ‘Keys’ to put safety first

From the GM METRO Green Line Minneapolis Safety St. Paul Transit Improvements

Green Line progress on track 

| Wednesday, September 11, 2013 2:00:00 PM

From Brian Lamb, Metro Transit General Manager

The Minnesota State Fair is over but our planning for next year’s event is already underway. One of the most changes we’re preparing for: light-rail connections from the METRO Green Line.

The Green Line’s role in next year’s State Fair service is just one example of the myriad ways transportation in the Twin Cities will change when the region’s second light rail line begins operating.

We’re getting closer to that new reality with every passing day, too. Green Line construction is 96 percent complete and testing is well underway. Light-rail vehicles have been towed the full length of the new track and trains have run on energized segments of the line through the University of Minnesota campus.

Here’s a snapshot of where the project stands today:

> Infrastructure: In August, ground was broken for an enclosed connection that will provide access between the Central Station and skyway system in downtown St. Paul. Over the next several months, more overhead wire and equipment will be installed and ticket machines, NexTrip display signs and security cameras will begin appearing at station areas. Staff will be at Sunday’s St. Paul Open Streets event to provide tours and answer additional questions about these station areas.

> Vehicles: To date, we’ve received nearly half of the 59 new type II Siemens light-rail cars that will be used on the Green and Blue lines. Twenty of these light-rail vehicles have already been put into service on the Blue Line while more are being tested and certified each week. Support vehicles will also be required to maintain and operate the line. In October, we expect to receive a new vacuum truck that will be used for clearing street-embedded track on the Green and Blue lines. Equipment that will be used for snow clearance and overhead line maintenance is also arriving.

> Outreach: A public safety campaign that urges pedestrians and motorists to be aware around stations and construction ares was rolled out earlier this year. As testing activities accelerate, we will focus the campaign more heavily on safety around trains themselves and continuing to share this message with schools and other groups located on and near the line. 

> Service: More trips on several connecting bus routes were added in late August, giving customers an early opportunity to become acquainted with the new bus schedules over the months ahead. It’s expected that more than one-third of Green Line rides will be transfers from buses. A comprehensive plan for optimizing bus service in the Central Corridor area was completed last year. 

> Personnel: About half of the 176 new jobs – from rail supervisors to technicians to track maintainers and helpers – have been filled. Nine Green Line train operators have begun training and by the end of the year the majority of the 61 new operators will have moved over from our bus operations division.   

In both obvious and subtle ways, the METRO Green Line will change the fabric of the Twin Cities. We at Metro Transit hope you’re looking forward to it as much as we are.

Bus Bus Maintenance Safety

More maintenance, more miles 

| Thursday, August 29, 2013 1:03:00 PM

Judging strictly by appearances, the 1984 Ford tow truck kept at the Martin J. Ruter Garage in Brooklyn Center may not seem particularly noteworthy.

But the truck has a distinct honor: it is the oldest vehicle in Metro Transit’s fleet. After nearly three decades in service, it has logged just 35,000 miles retrieving broken down buses or vehicles caught in winter storms.

The truck’s longevity is more than a piece of trivia, however. The extended life is a testament to how well Metro Transit’s buses perform on a daily basis.  

In 2012, Metro Transit buses collectively traveled an average of nearly 7,500 miles between calls for roadside service, peaking in October with an agency record of 8,293 miles between road calls. The “miles between maintenance” measurement is calculated by dividing the total number of miles traveled among all buses by the number of maintenance-related roadcalls.

Last year's performance marks an 89 percent improvement from a decade earlier. Such improvements don't just happen, though. A group of nearly 300 specially-trained mechanics work around the clock at Metro Transit’s five garages and the St. Paul Overhaul Base to keep buses in top condition.

Buses are regularly inspected to ensure all systems are functioning correctly and that any concerns that are identified are quickly addressed before a bus goes back on the road.

In addition to being vigilant, maintenance staff use operator feedback to better understand how vehicles are performing on the road and have built relationships with industry suppliers so that Metro Transit gets the best buses it can.

Better transmissions and other components have not only made buses more dependable and improved engine life, but improved fuel efficiency and overall comfort for customers. Metro Transit’s persistence on quality and reliability has also led to product improvements that have been incorporated into the bus builder’s product line – providing a better, more reliable product not just for Metro Transit customers but all transit users.

“There’s a continual drive to improve each year,” said Rob Milleson, Metro Transit’s director of bus maintenance. “We’re constantly monitoring and constantly learning.”

The combination of high-quality maintenance and procurement helps keep Metro Transit buses in service at least 12 years before they are put into service for the Minnesota State Fair or put up for public auction.

Most buses in Metro Transit’s fleet log an average of 410,000 miles before being replaced. By comparison, the average car lasts 11 years and 165,000 miles
Milleson said that performance record is particularly impressive considering all of the challenges – most notably Minnesota’s harsh winters – that buses face as they transport customers throughout the year.

The credit, he says, goes to those who spend their days making sure buses perform at their peak.

“While a combination of factors impact reliability and bus longevity it’s our front line employees that really make it all come together,” Milleson said. 

> New buses hit the streets

> Fact Book tells Metro Transit's story by the numbers

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