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New IDEAS for Transit

Posted by Content Coordinator on Monday, December 30th, 2013


Executive Summary

The Transit IDEA (Innovations Deserving Exploratory Analysis) Program supports development and testing of innovative concepts and methods for advancing transit practice. The program funds research and development of promising innovations to improve the efficiency, safety, security, and ridership of transit systems.

The panel for the Transit IDEA Program (TCRP Project J-4), in cooperation with the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) and the American Public Transportation Association (APTA), designated high priority focus areas for the program to encourage proposals for innovative methods to address any one of those priority needs. Following are the four current Transit IDEA Program high-priority focus areas:

(1) Increasing transit ridership;
(2) Improving transit safety, security, or emergency preparedness;
(3) Improving transit capital or operating efficiencies; and
(4) Protecting the environment or promoting energy independence.

This report describes active and completed projects funded by the Transit IDEA program. It is a useful resource to transit agencies and others interested in innovations in transit practice. Summaries of results and payoff potential of completed projects and descriptions of current projects are included in this report. A listing of completed Transit IDEA project final reports is also included in this report.

Results of Transit IDEA Projects Used By Transit Agencies

A number of successful results and methods that have been developed in Transit IDEA projects have been used by transit agencies. Following are 12 examples of methods that were developed and tested in Transit IDEA projects and that have been used by transit agencies:

Participation by transit agencies in Transit IDEA proposals is strongly encouraged by the panel for the Transit IDEA Program. Transit agencies are often directly involved in Transit IDEA projects, in testing the methods or prototypes developed and providing direction and feedback to Principal Investigators. Examples of this are discussed below. This has been effective in developing methods that are useful to transit agencies.

Transit IDEA Project 55
Warning Device for Rail Transit Personnel for Approaching Trains
This project developed and tested devices to warn rail transit personnel of approaching trains. These devices detect an approaching train and then immediately send a protected signal to turn on a set of wireless safety lights and horns (in a warning unit set in the work zone) and personal arm band devices worn by track workers, flaggers, and trackwalkers. This project also developed and tested a train-mounted device installed in a train operator’s cab to warn the operator of track workers ahead.

A number of transit agencies have subsequently implemented this technology on their rail transit systems, including the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA), Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (LACMTA), Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA), Santa Clara Valley Transit Authority (VTA), Sound Transit serving the Seattle area, the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority (GCRTA), the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) serving the Boston area, and the Maryland Transit Administration (MTA) in Baltimore on their Metro Subway rail rapid transit line and their light rail transit system.

Other transit agencies that have purchased these devices include the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA) and the Charlotte Area Transit System (CATS). In addition, railways from other countries purchased the devices for implementation, including the Australian railway, Queensland Rail, and Russian railways; these devices were manufactured in the United States and exported to those countries. This created jobs in the United States to manufacture the devices that were exported, as well as the devices that were used domestically.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) recommended use of track-worker alert technology in their January 2008 report (NTSB Report SB-08-05) on how to prevent future track-worker fatalities on rail transit systems. NTSB staff demonstrated technology that was developed and tested in this Transit IDEA project at their public board meeting when they released their report in January 2008.

Transit IDEA Project 53
Ultraviolet Germicidal Irradiation for Transit Buses
This project incorporated ultraviolet germicidal irradiation (UVGI) into transit bus air conditioning systems, carried out tests at Houston Metro, and evaluated the results. The evaluation showed significant reductions of mold, bacteria, fungi, and harmful viruses in the buses, which can affect passengers and drivers. It also showed savings in maintenance costs with these systems on transit buses. The system also provides protection against bioterrorist contaminates. Based on the successful results of this Transit IDEA project, many transit agencies have purchased these systems and installed them in transit bus air conditioning systems, including transit agencies in Fort Worth, West Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale, Tampa, and Jacksonville. The Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) has written the UVGI system into their specifications for purchasing new articulated transit buses. Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) has written it into their specifications for purchasing new transit buses, 400 of which were scheduled to be delivered in 2012. Some transit agencies are also considering installing the UVGI system in rail transit cars.

Transit IDEA Project 17
Automated Rail Wheel Inspection System
A system for automated inspection of rail wheels, using 3-D laser imaging and trackside cameras, was designed to improve rail track safety. More than $500,000 in post-IDEA follow-on funding was obtained to refine the work and conduct additional field tests. Patents were obtained on the refined system. A commercial product of the in-ground wheel inspection system was purchased by CSX and installed first at the CSX rail maintenance yard in Selkirk, New York. The system is operational and has inspected millions of rail wheels. CSX has also purchased four additional wheel inspection systems for other CSX yards, from the same company that developed the system in this Transit IDEA project, International Electronic Machines Corporation (IEM) in Troy, New York. That company has installed the five systems in CSX yards. New Jersey Transit (NJ Transit) has purchased this system to inspect wheels on rail transit vehicles. IEM also built and installed the system in transit systems in Sydney, Australia; and Izmir, Turkey. This system was manufactured by IEM before being exported and installed in those other countries by IEM’s US employees. This has resulted in jobs for US workers.

Transit IDEA Project 52
Travel Assistance Device (TAD) to Help Transit Riders
This project developed and tested a Travel Assistance Device (TAD) for transit riders with cognitive disabilities through the creation of an intelligent software system that integrates cell phones with transit agencies’ automated vehicle location (AVL) systems. The TAD prototype software application was tested at the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority (HART), which serves the Tampa area. TAD uses multimedia cell phones with built-in (GPS) to help new transit riders, especially those with cognitive disabilities. Following this Transit IDEA project, the same research team received follow-on funds for TAD demonstrations in four other cities. They deployed TAD to four additional transit agencies in Florida. These deployment tests demonstrated that the TAD application performs successfully in additional cities. Also, an independent human behavior analysis study of TAD provided supporting evidence that TAD has a positive effect on the ability of individuals with cognitive disabilities to travel independently using public transportation. The University of South Florida (USF), which conducted this Transit IDEA project, negotiated a licensing agreement with a company that will handle the daily operation and support of the TAD system and train travel instructors to use TAD. To that end, the company has hired workers to refine and deploy the system to other transit agencies, and they have worked with a number of transit agencies. USF has obtained patents on the system.

TAD application on GPS-enabled mobile phone alerts transit riders when they are about to reach their stop.

Download full version (PDF): New IDEAS for Transit

About the Transportation Research Board
“The mission of the Transportation Research Board is to provide leadership in transportation innovation and progress through research and information exchange, conducted within a setting that is objective, interdisciplinary, and multimodal.”

About the Transit IDEA Program
The Transit IDEA Program is part of the Transit Cooperative Research Program, a cooperative effort of the Federal Transit Administration (FTA), the Transportation Research Board (TRB), and the Transit Development Corporation (a nonprofit educational and research organization of the American Public Transportation Association). The program is funded by the FTA and is managed by TRB. The Transit IDEA panel has established four high-priority focus areas to encourage proposals in the following areas: 1. Increasing transit ridership; 2. Improving transit safety, security, and emergency preparedness; 3. Improving transit capital and operating efficiencies; 4. Protecting the environment and promoting energy independence.

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