APTA | Passenger Transport
December 15, 2008

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APTA Standards Help Improve System Performance

A critical part of APTA’s work is its coordinated efforts with public transit systems, key suppliers, consultants, and representatives of the federal government to produce a number of significant standards designed to help improve the performance, reliability, efficiency, and safety of transit systems. Funding for the various standards programs comes from sources including federal grants and APTA dues.
 In the last year, the APTA standards development program worked in these 10 specific areas:

* Commuter Rail
* Rail Transit
* Bus
* Universal Transit Fares
* IEEE Transit Vehicle Interface
* Information Technology
* Security
* Procurement
* Accessibility
* Sustainability/Urban Form Design

Standards development and implementation were also part of international efforts last year, including discussions with a delegation from the China Road Transport Association and an Intelligent Transportation Systems workshop in Miami that focused on ITS standards and featured speakers from Japan, Germany, and South Africa.

While every standard covered in the APTA program is critical to the well-being of the industry and the people and passengers who make the industry run, several of them stand out as key efforts of the past year.  They are:
Hours of Service for Rail Transit Train Operators. Much like the practice for medical interns, there are currently no limits for how many consecutive hours a rail train operator can work. Because several of the major accidents in recent years have been attributed to operator fatigue, the Operating Practices Committee wrote this standard to formalize safe operating practices as they pertain to the amount of off-duty time a rail transit system provides to train operators between shifts to allow for rest and limitations for on-duty time.

As Passenger Transport went to press, the standard had nearly achieved a quorum, which would then move the standard to the 2009 Rail Transit CEOs Seminar, during which the Rail Transit Standards Policy and Planning Committee will take a final vote.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) made a recommendation to the Federal Transit Administration and the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority that they both address this problem and regulate it. A final affirmative vote on this standard will not only improve the safety and security of rail operators, but will also satisfy the recommendation of the NTSB.

Roadway Worker Protection. The number of rail transit roadway worker fatalities has increased, and the FTA has urged decisive action to reduce these events. The main problem behind this provision is not a lack of procedures in place, but rather a lack of following those procedures, with no sanctions for supervisors who failed to follow them. This standard will ensure that supervisors adhere to these rules and regularly monitor right-of-way safety compliance. This standard is also designed to introduce a consistent approach to such programs throughout the rail transit industry.

Procuring a Light Rail Vehicle. An effort is underway—currently more than half-done—to write a standard specification for procuring a light rail vehicle. The purpose is to standardize the specification in such a way that manufacturers and systems can still make vehicles that differ from each other. Efforts in past years to force a standard vehicle design have failed because agencies’ needs include vastly differing operating environments and issues. One very basic difference is weather: the design of a car for a consistently hot climate will obviously differ from that for a consistently rainy climate, for example. Other issues are the need to brake or accelerate rapidly: an agency with many stations spaced closely together will need that capability, while stations in a rural area will not. Another variability is tightness of curves, which in turn will dictate the length of a vehicle.

Commuter Rail Positive Train Control. This proposed standard would stop a train automatically at a red/danger light if the train operator failed to heed the warning. While there are “pockets” of this kind of technology scattered throughout systems across the country, it is not uniform. Congress, in passing the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008 and the Amtrak authorization bill, called for uniformity in this piece of equipment on the locomotive that receives signals. Further, freight and passengers trains use different systems; the lack of interoperability becomes critical where commuter rail systems operate on the freight rail tracks. So the standard will call for uniform implementation as well as interoperability.

Transit Security. This past year saw the implementation of more than 10 transit security standards that focus on physical security of infrastructure. These included how to place cameras strategically on and off vehicles so they obtain the correct view; the most effective use of lighting and fencing; and an array of issues pertaining to trash containers, such as where to put them, where to make them explosion-resistant, and when to provide see-through containers. More than 25 standards relating to security were also developed in the last year, including a focus on emergency preparedness planning.

Procurement Guidelines for Buses. This effort will update guidelines for technical specifications for all types of buses, including multiple lengths and multiple fuels. The updated standards will assist transit agencies of all sizes in defining a bus for their operating environment and will help minimize the differences between vehicles to gain cost efficiencies, at the least for performance requirements. The new guidelines will also define deliverables, testing, and performance requirements and provide a basis for evaluation. New procurement terms and conditions are also being developed to provide updated guidance to warranty, bonding, and other issues that can be major issues in bus procurements. Several agencies are already beta-testing these standards, and system-wide release is expected by May 2009.

Driver Distraction. In light of the purported cause of a recent commuter rail crash in southern California, another effort in the bus program is to develop standards to address driver distraction. This new effort will provide guidance for operators of transit-owned vehicles regarding the use of personal electronics that take away the driver’s attention from his or her primary concern—operating a vehicle. A draft of this standard, which was requested at the 2008 APTA Annual Meeting, should be completed by January 2009.

Bus Maintenance Facilities Calculation. Standards in development that will calculate precisely how much maintenance space will be needed for a specific number of vehicles will enable agencies to achieve peak maintenance efficiency. This standard is nearly ready to be posted for industry review.

Accessibility Consensus. Since its first meeting in 2006, the APTA Accessibility Consensus Standards Program has worked to improve mobility options and access for all. Currently the program has three working groups—Rail Gap Safety Management, Paratransit Call Centers, and Fixed Route Stop Announcement and Route Identification—which have created several recommended practices and one standard developed with the support of transit agencies, product manufacturers, the disability community, labor, and others. The broad representation present on the working groups and the Policy and Planning Committee has helped ensure the inclusion of parties with a vested interest in accessibility standards in the standards development process.

These are only a few of the dozens of standards completed this year; another 150 are in the standards “pipeline.” It took all year for 1,500 people involved with many working groups meeting every two to four months to achieve these results, which are four-fold: They make transit systems run better, they increase safety for all concerned, they reduce liability, and they increase the likelihood of compliance.

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