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2018 Rail Trends: Falling Behind or On Track to Revitalize the Industry?

Dec 28, 2017
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It has been a turbulent ride this year, with all of its highs and lows in this industry. A quick snapshot of recent news shows the need to evaluate the past and prepare for the future. We’ve asked transit experts from various fields to give their input on what they believe is going to be the biggest rail trend in the coming year and this is what they had to say.

State of Good Repair and Asset Management Will Dominate the Scene

“2018 will be a challenging year from an asset management perspective. The first opportunity is to test each agency’s system against the NTD requirements. While it is optional, it’ll be a great test for the agencies to find areas that may not be meeting the required standard. New performance targets will be set in January by each agency. Asset management will continue to drive change and improvements within the transit industry. Improvements in software and other support systems to streamline data collection, storage, and processing will happen at an accelerated rate. The ongoing development of unique and creative innovations will change the landscape as we move forward. The opportunity to be innovative will add excitement and growth in asset management not just in 2018 but also beyond. Change is constant, and asset management will be a significant contributing force to improvements and change going forward.”

Paul Edwards, Director of Asset Management, Utah Transit Authority


“With new vehicle fleets ordered or entering service in cities like Washington, Boston, San Francisco, New York, Chicago, Toronto, Calgary, Atlanta, and the likes, rail customers will experience an increase in reliability along with modern amenities like digital signage, USB charging ports, and video surveillance. These fleets will demonstrate that the foundation of a transit system’s success is based on investing in capital assets that are the backbone of a city’s mobility system. While these trains will increase reliability and customer satisfaction, they will also spotlight the ongoing need for State of Good Repair funding. Notwithstanding the valiant efforts by many agencies to address generational underinvestment in track, power, signal, and facility maintenance, new vehicles are just one component of a safe and reliable system. So much more will need to be done in 2018 and future years so that our systems can continue to drive economic growth in our communities. 2018 will be a pivotal year in demonstrating how these investments lead to tangible results and why public transit will remain the foundation of a mobility lifestyle.”

Randy Clarke, Vice President of Operation and Member Services, APTA

Crucial Investments Are Needed to Move the Industry Forward

“Having ample funds to build out and maintain our transportation infrastructure will continue to be a critical concern for transportation agencies and riders across the United States. With uncertain federal support and mid-term elections approaching, agencies may decide to place measures for transportation on the 2018 ballot. It’s important to craft a comprehensive plan that includes a spectrum of transportation elements including new bus and rail projects as well as bike and pedestrian connections; programs to keep fares affordable for seniors, students and the disabled; funds for the cities to do their own local transportation projects and dedicated funds to keep our systems in good working condition. This model resonated with Los Angeles County voters who displayed a resounding show of confidence in our Measure M ballot measure in 2016. Embracing the diversity of mobility is going to be a key mindset as we create an infrastructure inheritance for our children and grandchildren.”

Phillip A. Washington, Chief Executive Officer, Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority


 “The U.S. will continue to fall behind the rest of the world in investments in transit and ridership. London is set to open Crossrail (The Elizabeth Line), metros continue to pop up across China, even Australia is making large new investments in rail transit, and all these countries are seeing gains in ridership follow. In contrast, public transit continues to lose riders in most of the U.S. with low gas prices, and even the simplest investments are huge political battles.

The most interesting new trend is the rise of stationless bike-sharing in cities, making bicycling more convenient. Again, this follows from international experience especially China. Whether this works in the North American market is an important question to watch. E-bikes are also gaining popularity and falling in cost. Both challenge public transport for ridership for shorter trips.”

David Levinson, Professor of Transport in the School of Civil Engineering, University of Sydney


“Autonomous vehicles, TNCs, hyperloop, and the various advanced technologies for better mobility choices are all in rapid development and will change the dynamics of public transportation. However, looking forward to 2018, we need robust investments in our current transit infrastructure for the millions of riders that depend on public transportation every day. Invest in our economy and our quality of life while embracing new technologies to reshape and improve our connectivity around the nation.”      

Jeffrey Wharton, President, IMPulse NC LLC

Overall Maintenance Will Be Necessary Before Executing New Plans

"2018 is the year when maintenance becomes the transit industry's priority. With a growing backlog of maintenance needs, high public focus on the condition of the railways, and the new FTA rule on transit asset management plans, agencies will need to step up and demonstrate the condition of their rails and how they aim to prioritize repairs. Agency boards can no longer push new lines or extensions while neglecting the existing system. Agencies will develop innovative approaches to maintenance, both internally and by the use of competitive tendering, to stretch public dollars further and benchmark performance and accountability.” 

Paul Lewis, Vice President of Policy and Finance, Eno Center for Transportation

Transit Agencies and TNCs Will Continue to Figure out How to Coexist

“2017 has seen examples of public transit agencies, when faced with the growth of TNCs and other new app-based transport companies, engage in cautious partnerships with these fast-growing start-ups. Examples in Australia, the U.S., and Canada have seen them ally to solve the ‘first-last mile’ challenge and fill in gaps that exist in current transit networks. 2018 will likely see these kinds of partnerships continue and grow. But a note of caution, Uber started to introduce optimised pickup points, semi-autonomous vehicles to help them swerve labor issues, and pooling rides to drive costs down further. Sounds a bit like a bus, doesn’t it? Boston Consulting Group predicts that three people sharing a car can cost less per-mile than rail. So what if mass transit and not taxis are the ultimate target for these new players in the transport industry?”

Luke Upton, Editorial Manager, SmartRail World


Across the board in North America, the four main trends – SGR compliance, the urgent need for investments, maintenance for existing infrastructure, and cooperation with TNCs – seem to resonate deeply. But how do we, collectively, work together in realizing the solutions for each of the trends? Perhaps it all starts with blocking off a specific time frame in our days where we focus on doing all that we can to advance the trends. No rest until we have made a mark every single day in the upcoming year. Are you up to the challenge?   


Disclaimer: Please note that the quotes in this blog post only reflect the contributor’s views and opinions. Quotes do not necessarily reflect the blog author’s nor Trapeze’s views and opinions. 

Marcelo Bravo has dedicated his entire career to rail and transit with over 25 years of experience in the industry. Previous responsibilities have included the delivery of passenger rail cars from cradle to grave, Enterprise Asset Management (EAM) software, and management consulting to transit authorities and railroads, in both North America and abroad. As the Industry Solutions Manager for Rail, Marcelo is in charge of the rail market strategy for North America, which encompasses the Trapeze Rail Enterprise range of offerings.
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