Sacramento Regional Transit will put seven refurbished light-rail vehicles into service on Thursday to reduce commute-hour crowding on the system. Tony Bizjak tbizjak@sacbee.com
Sacramento Regional Transit will put seven refurbished light-rail vehicles into service on Thursday to reduce commute-hour crowding on the system. Tony Bizjak tbizjak@sacbee.com

Back-Seat Driver

Tony Bizjak writes about traffic and travel in the Sacramento region

Back-Seat Driver

Sacramento light rail adding trains to reduce crowding

By Tony Bizjak

tbizjak@sacbee.com

September 09, 2015 12:51 PM

Sacramento Regional Transit will put seven additional train cars into service Thursday to reduce crowding that has occurred on several commute trains since the agency expanded service to Cosumnes River College two weeks ago.

Commuters in other parts of the system – notably at the Watt/I-80 station at the opposite end of the Blue Line – complained their typical four-car trains were reduced to three cars each morning when RT added the south side service, causing standing-room-only conditions on some cars.

RT officials acknowledged the system’s capacity was temporarily strained by the need to divert cars to cover the opening of the south Sacramento extension, but said they now have refurbished train cars available to join the morning run, bolstering service throughout the system.

“Our carrying capacity will be back to normal,” agency general manager Mike Wiley said.

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RT operations chief Mark Lonergan said commuters on the Blue Line will still see a combination of three- and four-car train groups during morning commutes. That is because the new cars being added to the fleet are longer than the typical RT light-rail vehicles, and have to be run in three-car groupings in order to avoid blocking intersections when stopped at downtown stations.

The three-car trains will have about the same amount of carrying capacity as the older, four-car groupings, however, because there is more standing space, Lonergan said.

RT officials also are working on retiming the roadway crossing guards at Meadowview Road and Franklin Boulevard to reduce the vehicle backups caused by trains on the new line. The new trains cross both of those streets and have caused some backups approaching four minutes long.

Lonergan said the agency hopes to reduce the time cars are stopped to between one to two minutes on Meadowview Road and 40 to 50 seconds on Franklin.

That fix will require technical work that may take two months to put into place, he said.

Otherwise, RT officials say they are pleased with the first two weeks of the new service. “It went really smooth,” Wiley said.

The agency estimates it had about 1,600 new daily boardings, which is roughly equal to 800 people taking round-trip rides. The agency projects that the three new stations on the south line – Franklin, Center Parkway and the college – will eventually handle 2,800 daily boardings or more.

The seven train cars being added to the system this week are among 21 vehicles RT bought from the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority in 2003. They were refurbished by train manufacturer Siemens at its south Sacramento plant.

Agency officials said it cost them an estimated $1.3 million per vehicle to buy, alter and refurbish the train cars to run on the local system. RT also had to make alterations at some of its stations to accommodate the train cars. RT operations chief Lonergan said the cost, though higher than RT had initially anticipated, is less expensive, per year of use, than buying new train cars.

Siemens officials said this week the company has completed a major expansion of its south Sacramento plant, adding a 120,000-square-foot manufacturing facility that is being used to build higher-speed stainless steel trains for Florida.

Sacramento Regional Transit opens light rail extension to Cosumnes River College, Mon., Aug. 24, 2015 tbizjak@sacbee.com

Take a preview tour of Regional Transit's new Blue Line to Cosumnes River College. Video by Tony Bizjak, The Sacramento Bee. Tony Bizjaktbizjak@sacbee.com