Notes on the APTA conference in Salt Lake City

Posted by Dave Lustig
on Monday, July 13, 2015

The UTA TRAX light rail station at 450 S. Main Street in Salt Lake City on June 24, 2015. Photo by Dave Lustig.

I just came back from the American Passenger Transit Association conference in Salt Lake City. I met a lot of industry professionals, and had a chance to play with all sorts of new gadgets. Just as importantly, I was able to sit in on a number of seminars discussing some of the most important issues facing transit today.

The subject matter in general and the sheer number of people who attend these gatherings is amazing. I rubbed elbows with some of the brightest people in the business and listened to not only about commuter and light rail systems operations of today but what the future, including new car designs and system integration, will hold as well.

There were seminars and forums on rail safety, track and noise/vibration, a communications technical briefing, a gathering of rail transit CEO's, security, equipment design, rolling stock, and the future of high speed rail. One of the most interesting subjects was the progress being made on Positive Train Control. Despite the federal government currently mandating their December 31, 2015 deadline, a number of agencies were unapologetic and quite blunt in that they would need more time to fully integrate it into their systems. Some would meet the deadline, but many stated they just weren't there yet. Make no doubt about it, nobody was trying to dodge the issue, but laying out the facts among their peers was universally determined to be the right thing to do.

The vendor area of the APTA Conference was packed with firms showing new hardware and software products including signaling, and ideas from original equipment manufacturers, suppliers and contractors. Photo by Dave Lustig.

Nearby, in a giant ballroom converted into a vendor display area, I was able to see what the latest offerings of large companies and small. Available to look at and touch was equipment and parts, plus representatives readily available to explain their technology. And almost all have their own method of making sure you remember them after the conference, from informational brochures to freebies and do-hickeys that include pens, pencils, stress relievers of all shapes and sizes (I picked up a subway car-shaped one on my desk), flashlights, notepads, candy, screwdrivers, key chains, tote bags, and everything else you can think of, all emblazoned with the name and telephone number of the vendor. I am convinced that if giveaway pens were banned from these shows the economies of several foreign countries would implode.

An excellent addition to the how was riding Utah Transit Authority's Frontrunner commuter rail and TRAX light rail systems. Planners from other cities should come here and learn how these people do it. Some of their managers referred to their success as adding "special sauce," but in reality I think it was excellent and well-thought-out planning that does the trick.

I took part in the tours through UTA's locomotive and car facilities, and thanks to the authority's handing out of complimentary passes to show attendees, was able to ride both systems for free. It was a great firsthand education on how Salt Lake City's version of railbourne mass transit works. And it works well.

Frontrunner is the north-south commuter line that brings riders into the city on a combination of Bombardier cars and former New Jersey Transit Comets, and it is TRAX that expands out from the center with lines going in all directions. I found both operations comfortable, clean, and on-time. As a citizen heading to work on a bad weather day, I'd much prefer this than listening to slapping windshield wipers in bumper-to-bumper traffic.

What did I appreciate about Salt Lake City's rail service the best?I found out a few minutes after my Southwest 737 touched down. I got off the plane, went down the escalator (an oxymoron?), turned left past the ticket counters, and out the door at the end of the terminal. There, right in front of me was an awaiting TRAX train. I hopped onboard and 12 minutes later, still on the same train, got off literally a short half-block from the conference hotel. All for $1.25. I couldn't do that in my hometown of Los Angeles for any price.

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