Little Rock Streetcar –
Simple Design = Low Cost
Light Rail Now Production Team · February 2006
Little Rock's River Rail heritage streetcar operation provides an excellent model for this type of light rail transit system. A detailed look at some design features provides an idea how a minimalist but attractive design approach can contain costs while producing a system appealing to the public and workable in operation. The River Rail's capital cost (2004) averaged less than US$8 million per track-mile (about $5 million/km).
Little Rock River Rail Streetcar – Maple St. In North Little Rock
The River Rail line's extreme simplicity of design is highlighted in this view of a streetcar in North Little Rock, running southbound past homes on Maple St. Despite its simple design, the streetcar has stimulated development throughout its route; much of the development seen in photo consists of new or rehabilitated structures. (Charter trip for APTA Streetcar Task Force, December 2004.)
River Rail "Bulge-Out" Streetcar Stop
Minmimalizing station/stop design is key to keeping costs low. Here's a view of a typical streetcar stop – just a "bulge-out" from the sidewalk – on Markham at Spring Street. Amenities? How about a River Rail marker, plus a map? Wheelchair passenger access? See below.
Little Rock River Rail Streetcar – Boarding Passenger in Wheelchair
For compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), efficient on-vehicle lift boarding can be a workable option, depending on the volume of such boardings. Little Rock's streetcars are equipped with fast, efficient, reliable lifts which retract into the floor of the doorway, as on many buses. This method of boarding, rather than higher platforms, lifts, or ramps in stations, enables station design and cost to be kept minimal.
Little Rock River Rail Streetcar – Climbing Steep Grade onto Bridge
Contrary to widespread misconception, streetcars and other light rail cars can climb quite steep gradients. In Little Rock, streetcars must negotiate rather steep access grades on each side of the Main St. Bridge – a maximum 7.8% gradient. Accepting that design feature contributed to the overall low cost of the project. In addition, the line uses an existing bridge; the alignment for the streetcar line was "shoe-horned" into the bridge by shifting traffic lanes several feet to the side and narrowing their width. The result: a workable alignment affording access between Little Rock and North Little Rock, with a spectacular view in between. (Also note simple design of streetcar stop in left foreground.)
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