Statement Before the Board of Directors
Port Authority of Allegheny County

2004 April 23

Good morning. I am Glenn A. Walsh of 633 Royce Avenue, Mount

Lebanon. I have been an advocate of public transportation for more than 25 years. I was a charter member of the Allegheny County Transit Council in 1984, serving three consecutive terms as permitted by the Council’s By-Laws, leaving the Council in 1989. I do not own or operate a motor vehicle, and the Port Authority Transit System, particularly the Light Rail Transit System, is my primary means of transportation. Today, my remarks indicate my personal opinions, and I am representing no formal organization.


In February, the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) recommended a Full Funding Grant Agreement for the proposed North Shore Connector light rail expansion project. However, there is one consequence of this project as currently proposed, the Port Authority’s proposed abandonment of a never-used rail car storage yard, which would result in the complete waste of $2 million in taxpayer funds.


With the construction of maintenance buildings on the former main rail yard at South Hills Junction, the Port Authority saw the need for a new rail yard to store extra light rail vehicles, needed only during the rush-hours, in the central city area. As part of Stage I of the Light Rail Transit project, a seven-track—that is five stub tracks and a loop track originally designed for PCC streetcars that can now serve as two additional storage tracks—a seven-track rail car storage yard was built, just beyond the light rail passenger station at Penn Station.


On April 2, I sent a Pennsylvania Right-to-Know Law request to the Port Authority for specific information about the construction of this rail yard, including the exact cost. According to Paul Skoutelas and Jason Fincke, it would be difficult to obtain the specifics I requested, as this information is located in archives off-site. Although I have not received all of the information I requested, I have received the approximate cost of construction of this rail yard.


The information provided to me, mostly from the July 1983 issue of the SIDEWALK SUPERINTENDENT newsletter issued by the Port Authority to inform the public of rail construction activities, indicates that the construction of all trackage from Steel Plaza, past the light rail station at Penn Station, into a Mid-Day Rail Yard cost $2,000,457.99. The Port Authority Board awarded a contract, to Massaro Corporation on May 27, 1983, for this construction.


A small part of the $2 million contract was used to construct trackage from Steel Plaza to the light rail passenger station at Penn Station. I do not dispute that this trackage has been used. However, the seven-track Mid-Day Rail Yard would have consumed the majority of the cost of the $2 million contract awarded to Massaro.


Please note that the Massaro contract did not include the construction of the passenger platforms at Penn Station or changes to the tunnel. Nor did this contract include the overhead electrical wiring. So, the Massaro contract, along with the cost of the overhead electrical wiring, makes the total cost of this rail yard about $2 million.


Now, the problem is this: This $2 million rail car storage yard has NEVER been used for its intended purpose. In fact, it has NEVER been used, AT ALL, for the storage of light rail vehicles! And, the Port Authority now proposes to ABANDON this rail car storage yard. If this abandonment occurs, it will result

in the complete waste of $2 million in taxpayer money—this is $2 million in 1983 dollars. This would be

the most egregious waste of taxpayer money in the 40 years of Port Authority Transit history!


And, this may not the worst of it!


In the mid-1980s, the Port Authority built several new rail stations along the Monongahela Valley Commuter Rail Line, the PATrain, using Federal funds. In the Spring of 1989, the Port Authority shamelessly abandoned the PATrain. A portion of the Federal funds used to construct the new rail stations had to be returned to the Federal Government, since these stations had been utilized for such a short period of time.


Well, if the Port Authority does abandon the Mid-Day Rail Yard, the Federal Government will probably ask that all of the money used to build this yard be returned, considering that the rail yard was never, ever used! And, considering the current financial plight of the State and County governments, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and County of Allegheny may ask for their money back as well! So, the total amount of money wasted on this rail yard may jump from $2 million to $4 million!


Today is not the first time I have complained about the failure of the Port Authority to take advantage of a $2 million rail yard they constructed. About two and a half years ago, I mentioned this matter to Port Authority Chief Executive Officer Paul Skoutelas, after a Port Authority meeting. Mr. Skoutelas provided no response to this issue, at that time.


Attached to this statement is a copy of the comments I submitted on June 3, 2002, during the official public comment period for the Final Environmental Impact Statement of the North Shore Connector project. At the end of my comments, I discussed this issue and stressed my opposition to the abandonment of the Mid-Day Rail Yard. As usual, my comments were ignored. The Port Authority staff already knew what they wanted to do, and the public comment period was simply a legal formality before the Port Authority staff could move ahead with their project.


I was fully aware of the proposal to build this Mid-Day Rail Yard in 1983. But, I thought that if the Port Authority really wanted this yard, it was probably a good idea. I am sure that the Port Authority Board of Directors, at that time, probably felt the same way. Who in 1983, in their right mind, would have thought that the Port Authority would build a $2 million rail yard—then never use it!!!


Why has this rail yard never been used? Security of the light rail vehicles in storage could not be a concern, considering that the Mid-Day Rail Yard is located adjacent to the Port Authority Police Station!


From discussions with Port Authority staff members over the years, it seems that the staff considers access to and from this rail yard, via a “pocket track” near Fourth Avenue, to be a nuisance and believes it could cause switching problems on the Main Line. The designers of the Stage I alignment must have been aware of this design drawback. But the rail yard was built anyway. Obviously, they must have thought that this rail car movement was a problem that could be lived-with.


Once a vehicle has entered this “pocket track,” it is no longer in the Main Line’s block system. After the operator changes driving positions, the vehicle would not have to reenter the Main Line until the block was clear of rail traffic. Hence, in both instances, a rail car bound for the Mid-Day Rail Yard would not hinder rail traffic on the Main Line. Port Authority operators may consider these movements to be a nuisance, but it can be done!


Now, in combination with this movement through the “pocket track,” I would suggest the following supplement during rush-hours. Most rush-hour passengers board or alight trains at the Steel Plaza Subway Station. So, during rush hours, the fourth or fifth train in a series of trains could be designated as being bound for Penn Station, which would still allow regular stops at Station Square, First Avenue, and Steel Plaza; these trains would not have to go through the pocket track movement With this plan, people bound for Wood Street or Gateway Center would not have to wait long for a train to their destination, if the first train they encountered was bound for Penn Station.


The storage of extra light rail vehicles, needed only during the rush hours, in a Downtown rail yard would have major financial advantages. A great deal less electricity would be consumed by the stored vehicles. And, there would be less wear-and-tear on vehicles. Certainly, these were the major reasons for construction of the Mid-Day Rail Yard!


Yet, since the Port Authority staff has refused to use this rail yard, for more than fifteen years the Port Authority has been consuming a great deal more electricity just for the mid-day warehousing of these vehicles at the main Rail Center near South Hills Village. And, there has been additional wear-and-tear on the vehicles. Who knows how much additional taxpayer money has been wasted, over the last fifteen years, due to the failure to use the Mid-Day Rail Yard!


The Mid-Day Rail Yard should have been used over the last fifteen years. And, it definitely should be used now. Later this year, the Port Authority staff may, again, ask this Board to approve transit fare increases and/or service reductions. There should be no transit fare increases or service reductions approved, until the Port Authority starts reducing operating costs by using the Mid-Day Rail Yard for its intended purpose!


The Convention Center Subway Line, as currently proposed by the Port Authority, would require the disconnection of the Penn Station Rail Line from the rail system. I have been told that grading considerations make this disconnection a necessity. Yet, the Penn Station Line shares the same grade as Steel Plaza!


There is no reason the Convention Center Line cannot connect to the existing Penn Station Line. In fact, I am suspicious as to why the Port Authority staff is so adamant that the Convention Center Line and the Penn Station Line cannot coexist. Could it be that the disconnection of the Penn Station Line, from the rest of the rail system, was seen as an easy way to rid the Port Authority of the Mid-Day Rail Yard embarrassment? Yes, it seems that the Port Authority planners purposely designed the Penn Station Line out of the rail system, so they can pave over this rail yard, and there would no longer be any evidence of the complete waste of $2 million of taxpayer money!


As many of you know, I have been a strong advocate of public transportation, and of the Port Authority, for more than twenty-five years. However, it becomes very frustrating, and difficult, to support the Port Authority, when there is such clear-cut evidence of waste of taxpayer dollars—money that could have been used to improve public transportation in Allegheny County! Not one Allegheny County transit rider has, yet, benefited from this $2 million rail yard!


Good public transit is very important to urban areas such as Pittsburgh. Yet, understandably, the taxpayers may object to providing government funds to an agency that shows such poor financial judgment. More public scrutiny, over Port Authority operations and capital projects, is needed to regain public support for this vital public service.


However, first, to prevent the complete waste of $2 million of taxpayer money, the Board of Directors of the Port Authority of Allegheny County should direct the staff to do the following:


1)   With the next Port Authority Transit operator “pick,” the Port Authority should begin using the Mid-Day Rail Yard for its intended purpose: the storage of extra light rail vehicles not needed for base-period service. Of course, a side benefit of this action would be to provide additional light rail passenger service between Steel Plaza and Penn Station during rush-hours, thus providing better rail service to the East Busway as originally intended by the Stage I project.


2)   Plans for construction of the Convention Center Subway Line should be modified to allow continual rail car access to the Mid-Day Rail Yard.