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Newsbriefs – North America 2003/01/06

Light Rail Progress – January 2003

Airport MAX a Big Hit

Once again, light rail transit (LRT) in Portland, Oregon is proving to be a huge LRT success story. This time, it's the new Red Line MAX service to Portland's airport. TriMet, the transit agency, had projected that the Red Line LRT would draw airport ridership of 2,300 people a day in its first year. In fact, ridership hit 2,800. And that count doesn't include people who hop on the train to get to or from the Gateway area, for a total ridership of 10,800 a day. Airport MAX has exceeded ridership expectations in its first year of operations, despite the fact that it had the bad luck to be launched in the single worst week for aviation in the nation's history (10 September 2001).
[The Oregonian 2002/09/10]

Residents Clamor for LRT

While light rail transit is proposed to run from uptown Charlotte, NC through south Charlotte, "bus rapid transit" (BRT), mainly on a busway, is proposed for some other routes. The proposed busway has upset many residents in east Charlotte and Matthews, who have been campaigning for light rail service. Many also said they believe the decision on who gets which type of service has been unfairly based on race and income. The area's Metropolitan Transit Commission agreed in late November that trains should serve Mooresville and University City but left undecided whether light rail or busways would be built to the airport and Matthews. The planned 9.8-mile south LRT line, terminating just short of Pineville, is projected to cost $371 million, or about $38 million per mile. Some of the trackage would be shared with an existing historic trolley line. Local funding is in place, and an application for federal funding is in process.
[Data sources: Cable TV News 14 Carolina - Charlotte 2002/11/18; Charlotte Observer 2002/11/21; CATS website, Dec. 2002]

LRT Project On Time, Within Budget

The Minneapolis metro area's first LRT line was 65% complete as the winter took hold in early December and the second construction season ended. Officials report that the Hiawatha Line LRT project is currently on time and within budget. Rails have been installed along the route from Nicollet Mall in downtown Minneapolis to 54th Street in south Minneapolis. The maintenance facility near E. Franklin Avenue is finished and ready to receive the first LRT car in February or March. Crews continue to string the overhead contact system (OCS) copper wires that will carry power to the trains.

The 11.6-mile line is budgeted at $675.4 million (2002 dollars). it is projected to carry 19,300 rider-trips per day when it opens in late 2004, and 24,800 in 2020.
[Data source: Minneapolis Star Tribune 2002/12/09]

Leaders Back LRT in Poll

In Phoenix, nearly three-fourths of Maricopa County business and community leaders support the construction of the planned LRT system for the Valley, at least conditionally, in a recent poll. According to an O'Neil Associates Valley influentials Poll, 72 percent of those surveyed admit that federal funding for the system is very important in their decision to support or oppose light rail. The poll also appears to indicate an unusually positive attitude in terms of intended usage of the new LRT system, with 28% of the respondents indicating they expect to use the LRT system at least a few times a year. (Only 17% say they will never use it.) More than half affirmed that traffic congestion is currently a very serious problem in the Valley.

Phoenix's 20.3-mile initial LRT starter line is projected to cost about $1.0 billion (2003 dollars), or about $52 million per mile. Ridership is forecast at 20,000-29,000 daily boardings in 2006, rising to 40,000-46,000 in 2020.
[Data sources: Phoenix Business Journal 2002/12/13; Valley Connections, July 2002; LRP calculations]

Las Vegas
Monorail Spur Cost Hits $141 Million per Mile

As Las Vegas's 3.6-mile, $650 million privately financed monorail project progresses, planning continues on proposed extensions with federal funding. in late December, the Regional Transportation Commission (RTC) unveiled a revision in the planned route which involves a $113 million spur running eight-tenths of a mile off the main private monorail route. That calculates to a capital cost of approximately $141 million per mile (2002 dollars) for an elevated alignment built almost entirely on donated right-of-way, through casino property and parking lots, and apparently without expenses for rolling stock, maintenance facilities, and other items. The switch for the spur is already provided in the ongoing privately financed project.

The route revision responds to objections from adjacent property owners concerned about visual intrusion of the elevated structure and other environmental impacts. The new alignment steers clear of those critics by running westward on Las Vegas Convention Center property and then Riviera property before it crosses the Strip near the Riviera and the Stardust. However, because of limitations in monorail switching technology, the spur could only by used by trains that are southbound along the main route. Thus the RTC is exploring using the Las Vegas Hilton stations as a transfer point for passengers wanting to go to the Riviera-Stardust station.

Though not quite a mile long, the spur is seen as an important element of the total seven-mile monorail system. Officials estimate it will provide between 10 and 15 percent of monorail ridership and greatly enhance its visibility.
[Data sources: Las Vegas Sun 2002/11/17; Las Vegas Review-Journal 2002/12/20]

Maglev Project in Doubt

The Associated Press reports that political support for a highspeed magnetic levitation line with a proposed 20-minute run between Baltimore and Washington appears to be dwindling because of a budget crisis and the region's failed Olympic bid. The $4.4 billion maglev train is being edged off Maryland's transportation priorities list, according to officials. Maryland is competing with Pittsburgh to win $950 million in federal money to build the USA's first maglev line; however, the Pittsburgh project has also been running into problems.

The proposal to fund a maglev line has been the target of sharp criticism by advocates of standard railways, who say maglev technology has flaws and the funds would have a much higher payoff elsewhere. Nevertheless, the Federal Railroad Administration plans to pick a winner by the fall of 2003, and promoters claim it could be in service by the end of the decade. A task force is preparing a final report for the governor and lawmakers imminently, but it's not expected to be positive. A 22-page draft report already released details the challenges of the project, including the need to raise state and private money and working with untested technology.
[Data source: New York Times 2002/12/15]

Washington, DC
LRT Plans a Comeback

Washington, DC can be added to the list of cities planning to bring back light rail transit. in mid-September 2002, Metro, the transit authority, unveiled a $12 billion, 10-year plan calling for what the Washington Post called "a spider's web" of LRT trolleys and rapid bus lines around the region, the first time the agency has embraced an aggressive expansion that didn't rely on the relatively expensive subways – grade-separated rapid transit – that have been its traditional hallmark.

DC officials want to jump-start new transit service in the city with a 7.2-mile LRT line that would begin in the District's poorest neighborhoods in Southeast, cross the Anacostia River, and connect with the burgeoning jobs and residences along the Southwest waterfront. The $310 million Anacostia Starter Line tops the list of five new LRT projects that city officials are pursuing. Officials said the LRT line is a key element in their plans to link the Anacostia neighborhood to the rest of Washington.
[Data sources: Washington Post 2002/09/13, 2002/09/19]

LRT Recommended for Region

A new study suggests that the Victoria, BC, Canada capital region would gain millions of dollars in economic and social benefits by installing a light rail transit (LRT) system connecting the metro area's Western Communities (westward suburban areas) with central Victoria. The "Light Rail Economic Opportunity Study", a report from the prestigious Victoria Transport Policy institute (VTPi), was issued in November 2002, and has found support from the city of Victoria, the Canadian government, and the Victoria Real Estate Board. An initial 18-km (11-mi) LRT line would cost about (Can) $350 million to install and about $12 million per year to operate, according to the study. The study forecasts that the line would inititally attract 15,000 daily rider-trips, growing to 30,000 within 10 years.
[Data sources: Times Colonist (Victoria, BC); 2002/11/25; VTPi, "Light Rail Economic Opportunity Study", Nov. 2002]

Transit Head Says LRT Needed

Facing steep fare increases and declining ridership, Winnipeg, Manitoba's public transit system urgently needs a major overhaul, including light rail, says its director. Winnipeg transit director Rick Borland emphasizes that only a modernization of Winnipeg's mass transportation system will save it from a dependency on annual fare hikes – and this means major capital upgrades, including LRT and busways. Ridership on the bus-only system has been steadily declining, and is expected to show a drop of a million in 2002 to about 38 million boardings. Although the city gives the transit system more than (Can) $30 million annually, it's projecting a year-end deficit of $2 million. The latest fare hike is aimed at bringing the bus service another $1.2 million next year. Even cities "considerably smaller" than Winnipeg, such as Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario, are looking at rail transit, Borland said.
[Data source: Winnipeg Sun 2002/12/12]

Updated 2003/07/11


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