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Light Rail Now! NewsLog

Produced by the Light Rail Now! Publication Team

This news feature provides an ongoing Weblog of particularly significant developments in public transportation and rail transit.

19 December 2004

Birmingham, Alabama:
Light rail streetcar plan draws support

Plans for a light rail electric streetcar system in Birmingham, Alabama seem to be moving forward, at least somewhat. According to news reports, the urban area's Jefferson County Commission plans to spend $25 million of county money to "revive" a streetcar system in Birmingham (the previous network, spanning hundreds of miles, was scrapped in the 1950s). A majority of commissioners decided Thursday, Dec. 16th to move ahead with the project immediately, leaving federal funding to be pursued later. Project consultants have reported that the county can get four miles of streetcar line ready to run by the end of 2007 for $30 million – i.e., about $7.5 million per mile. Route details have not been made easily available to the public, and seem to be still in flux.
[WKRN-TV, 16 December 2004]

Apparently, county commissioners are prepared to allocate the $25 million to get the project under way now. However, the agency structure to manage the project and operate the system remains to be ironed out. Internal problems of the Birmingham-Jefferson County Transit Authority (BJCTA) are leading commissioners to consider some type of new agency for the task – possibly a new "railroad authority", although that proposal currently lacks sufficient support among commissioners. Reportedly, the county has already hired the New Orleans-based firm of Burk-Kleinpeter for preparatory streetcar work, while Alabama Power, which would feed the system's electric power supply, intends to participate in early planning.
[Smart Growth News, 5 November 2004, Tuscaloosa News, 12 Dec 2004]

According to Rail Transit Online (Nov. 2004), the streetcar proposal is strongly favored by Jefferson County Commission President Larry Langford, who believes that reviving an electric streetcar system would help revitalize the central city. The US Congress has already set aside $87 million for rapid transit in Birmingham, but those funds have remained unused because local officials haven't been able to agree on a suitable project. Under terms of the prospective federal grant, the metropolitan area would have to contribute only 20 percent of the capital cost.

According to Langford's vision, some of the trackage from the system scrapped in 1953 could be re-used for the new trolley system. "We can start downtown and work our way out" the commissioner told a Birmingham News reporter. "These tracks run to Graymont, irondale, East Thomas, and East Lake. We have about 300 miles [about 483 km] of track, and 90 percent of it is still there, with asphalt over it." Langford acknowledged that deteriorated track would have to be replaced, modern streetcars purchased, and a traction power system installed.
[Rail Transit Online, November 2004]

(One hopes that the consultants' design and cost estimates have not widely assumed the resurrection of such trackage, buried for 50 years. With very rare exceptions – like sections of the McKinney Avenue heritage streetar line in Dallas – such infrastructure typically is far too light, worn, and deteriorated for rehabilitation and re-use in a modern operation, even with historic or replica heritage rolling stock.)

Ultimately, the streetcar could form the nucleus of a much more extensive system. Two years ago, reports Rail Transit Online, transportation consultant STV Inc. developed a $585-million mass transit plan, including a $100 million downtown streetcar system plus a five-corridor network of HOV lanes. The plan was accepted by a subcommittee of the area's Metropolitan Planning Organization, but appears to have made little subsequent progress.

Birmingham area officials may have these or other expansion plans in mind as they push a proposal for raising motor vehicle registration fees to pay for more ambitious transit improvements. The fee increase may be placed for action before the next session of the Alabama Legislature. If it passes, it would be put to a public vote. However, its chances for passage are currently not assessed as strong. Nevertheless, the far more modest streetcar plan, with strong local support, presently seems to have momentum.
[Birmingham News, 16 December 2004]

18 December 2004

Honolulu "BRT" service slammed for poor ridership

We're strongly in favor of Quality Bus improvements, but the ongoing campaign to hype better bus service as "Bus Rapid Transit", and to claim it's "just like light rail, but cheaper", is nothing short of a fraud, and counterproductive to winning public support for transit. And, as we are repeatedly documenting with hard evidence, buses, even touted as "rapid transit", don't seem to come close to rendering the benefits of light rail transit (LRT), much less a fully grade-separated, true rapid transit service.

A good case in point, and current object lesson, is the recently inaugurated "BRT" scheme in Honolulu, hawked by its promoters as "much cheaper and more flexible than rail", and thus supposedly a suitable, low-cost alternative to proposals for rapid transit or LRT. Launched just last month, the "BRT" service, tagged as the "E Bus", reportedly has been attracting ridership that is substantially less than spectacular, despite running brand-new hybrid diesel-electric buses, costing $749,000 apiece, in reserved "BRT" lanes.

According to a recent report in the Honolulu Advertiser (11 Dec. 2004), the city's mayor-elect, Mufi Hannemann, has announced his intention to re-route the new buses out of their downtown-to-Waikiki route "because few riders seem to be using them and they are competing with private bus companies." Hannemann's idea apparently is to get away from trying to make the buses function as a fixed rapid transit-type line, serving the core city, and instead to disperse their routes through all of O'ahu, "including the furthest points, from the North Shore, from Wai'anae, from Waimanalo." So much for the "just like light rail, but on rubber tires" idea.

The utterly underwhelming reception (and ridership) given to Honolulu's "E Bus" so-called "BRT" operation stands in stark contrast to the continuing celebration and relatively strong ridership – thousands of daily trips, in fact – bestowed on new LRT startups, like Minneapolis's Hiawatha line and Little Rock's new River Rail heritage streetcar service. For Honolulu's E Bus, it seems to be a much less exciting story. "Some of the buses have remained nearly empty since the route began" reports the Advertiser.

Certainly, transit advocates take no joy in poor ridership for what seems to be some fundamentally progressive upgrades in bus service. Surely, additional creative improvements to the E Bus service could be devised which would have potential for attracting more riders onto these buses.

However, the Honolulu experience appears to underscore the contention of many transit supporters that merely repackaging Quality Bus service as "rapid transit", and hawking it with claims that "it's light rail on rubber tires" and "just like rail, but cheaper", is a deceptive ploy whose promises fall far short of rendering the benefits and achievements of true rail transit, either light rail or rapid transit. Once again – you get what you pay for.

16 December 2004

Geneva: Latest light rail tramway extension opens

Europe's amazing light rail transit (LRT) tramway expansion boom just keeps booming. On Wednesday, 15 December, Geneva's Transports Publics Genèvois (TPG) transit agency opened a 2.1-km (1.3-mile) extension of its Acacias line between Plainpalais and Pont Rouge. it's served by a new route, No. 15, running to Nations.
[Associated Press, 16 Dec. 2004; Tramways & Urban Transit, August 2002, October 2004]

"Passengers will be able to hop on a streetcar in the suburbs and arrive at the main train station 10 minutes later" reports an Associated Press article by writer Sam Cage. "A journey from one side of the city to the other will be almost halved to just 20 minutes."
[Associated Press, 16 Dec. 2004]

The new extension adds to a Geneva urban and suburban light rail network totalling more than 25 km (16 miles). As the AP article notes, the latest line is "part of an ambitious project to rebuild a network that only nine years ago had dwindled to just one route."

This remarkable turn-around in fortunes for the urban surface light railway – particularly electric streetcar (tramway) and interurban light rail systems – is not just happening in Geneva. As the AP article reports, "The old-fashioned streetcar, which had nearly clanged into oblivion by the end of the 20th century, has been making a sleek comeback with new lines opening from Sydney to Paris, Buenos Aires to Houston." Thus, Geneva is merely "laying the latest tracks in the trend."

"It's very symptomatic of a general trend to introduce more sustainable modes of transport" Laurent Dauby, light-rail chief for the Brussels-based public transport association UITP, told the AP. "I think that increasingly cities are challenged to provide quality of living in urban areas." The UITP estimates that the extent of LRT track around the world will increase 40 percent by 2020.

In the European Union alone, the AP article notes, no less than 35 cities are expanding their tramway networks – including Brussels, London, Madrid and Paris – while an additional 18 cities are introducing entirely new systems. And, despite tough political struggles against public transport opponents, led by highway-industry interests, North America has long been part of the trend. "Cities across the United States – such as Houston, Los Angeles and Salt Lake City – have also built from scratch, while Washington, D.C., has just started construction on a light-rail system" notes the AP article.

In Canada, Toronto has been expanding and upgrading its amazingly successful and attractive streetcar network, while Edmonton and Calgary have installed entirely new LRT systems. Ottawa has been operating a diesel-propelled light railway since 2001, and is planning expansion and installation of an electric LRT system. And now other cities, especially Waterloo-Kitchener, Vancouver, and Winnipeg, are either planning or strongly considering LRT.

The elimination of urban surface electric railways – the pre-eminent feature of the Transit Holocaust of the 1930s-1960s – represented the triumph of a highway industry-political campaign to reshape cities and establish the supremacy of the private motor vehicle. "Trams began to disappear from the world's streets with the advent of cars because their tracks clogged roads" relates the AP. "The United States led the way in dismantling its networks, and Europe soon followed suit."

The UITP's Laurent Dauby notes that "After World War II virtually all (mid-sized) and large European cities had extensive tram networks, and they destroyed them. Thirty years later they have to rebuild. It's much more expensive."

Nevertheless, despite the expense, cities and their transit agencies are more and more starting to perceive it's worth it. As the AP article reports, "trams carry more people than buses and are about 10 times cheaper to build than conventional metro systems – making light rail an ideal solution for medium- sized cities such as Geneva." The article notes that the Swiss public transport group LITRA estimates that "one multi-car tram" (i.e., multi-section articulated light rail car) can carry as many passengers as 200 cars – "the equivalent of a .75-mile long traffic jam."

"And because light rail runs on electricity – unlike most buses – there are no fumes to pollute the city streets" the AP points out. "it's energy efficient" says the UITP's Dauby. "It doesn't necessarily rely on fossil fuels. It has zero emissions on the spot."

While, like most cities, Geneva had scrapped almost all its tramways by 1969, improvements in LRT technology plus a new recognition of urban public transport inspired a complete reversal in attitude. The AP relates that, "as light-rail technology advanced, making rides smoother and quieter, Geneva decided to reconstruct at least part of its network to take the pressure off the buses."

"With almost one car for every two inhabitants," concludes the AP article, "Geneva's streets are clogged with traffic, and city authorities are trying to tempt traffic off the roads by rebuilding the light-rail network – possibly all the way to nearby towns in France"

16 December 2004

Hanoi moves to install a light rail tramway system
... While it eyes elevated rapid transit

NOTE: Our original story reported a cost of US$399 million for the Hanoi elevated rail rapid transit project. This was a typographical error, and the cost has been corrected to $300 million.

Vietnam has been considering rapid transit for its major cities. Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) is mulling a monorail proposal from Japan's Hitachi, with a detailed proposal due to come early in 2005. The nation's capital of Hanoi has been evaluating a standard-rail elevated rapid transit system. Railway Gazette international (December 2004) reports that a Chinese proposal for a 13.1-km (8.1-mi) line is estimated to cost US$300 million. That would come to about $23 million/km or $37 million/mile – a bargain by the standards of North America or other advanced industrialized nations, but, after all, this is a Third World country, with a per-capita GDP roughly 6% that of the USA.

However, while the elevated rapid transit plan is still "up in the air", Hanoi seems to be moving ahead decisively to install a light rail tramway system down on the ground. Tramways & Urban Transit of December 2004 reports that Hanoi has now signed an agreement with France for a "soft loan" of €165 million (about US$214 million) to enable the city to install a light rail tramway system "using French equipment and services". Based on studies by French consultants, the new system "will be aimed at relieving chronic traffic congestion...." it's expected that rolling stock will be supplied by the French vendor Alstom.

Details in terms of number of routes, configuration, route lengths, rolling stock, etc. have not yet been made publicly accessible. As soon as this information is known, Light Rail Now! plans to make it available to our site visitors.

Some information in this report has been adapted with permission from the Public Transport Progress news distribution list.

14 December 2004

Motorists prefer light rail over buses, reports UK poll

It's somewhat belated, but relevant data nevertheless – the results of a 2001 United Kingdom survey that reveal that "motorists put light rail top of the list of preferred transport alternatives", in the words of a summary of the report in Tramways & Urban Transit of June 2001. The information is contained in a UK government-sponsored document, Transport Choices of Car Users in Rural and Urban Areas.

Consultant Thorburn Colquhoun conducted the survey in households located in the Manchester, Bedford, Hull, and north Suffolk areas. The survey report explains that "Of the public transport options appraised in the survey, light rail was regarded as an acceptable and convenient alternative to the car and generally considered to be frequent, quick, clean and safe." it also notes that "Many respondents called for an enlarged and improved network along with adequate and safe parking facilities at outlying stations."

In contrast to the light rail results, "buses were perceived as falling substantially short of meeting people's needs", summarizes T&UT, which notes that buses "were seen as undesirable and low status" which the magazine describes as "an opinion based both on hearsay and past experience."

Despite the relatively high marks for light rail transit, and despite fuel price increases, notes the magazine, survey respondents still exhibited a strong preference for private motor vehicle travel and "a stubborn resistance to public transport." The T&UT summary concludes that "Without question, the car is perceived as the optimum mode of transport. it offers the best travel experience in terms of both time and quality."

13 December 2004

Edinburgh light rail tramway plan advances...
Line 3 moves forward

UK transit activist Martin Thorne relays a news item from Railfuture's "Transport Briefing" which reports that planning for a light rail tramway system for the Scottish city of Edinburgh is gathering further momentum. According to the report, the Edinburgh council is readying an application for Line Three of the proposed tramway system.

The article relates that Edinburgh city councillors are set to approve imminently the submission of a private bill to the Scottish Parliament to build Line Three of the planned tram network. Transport officials said the cost of the nine-mile line had risen from £170 million to £198 million due to the inclusion of a contingency cost and landscape and "public realm" improvements. (That's a range of about US$326 to $380, or about $36 to $42 million per mile.) The majority of the funding for the line is expected to be raised from a road congestion charge, a referendum on which is expected to be held next year.

Planning for the £473 million light rail system has been under way for some time, with a two-line tramway network expected to be up and running by 2009. Line One is planned to be a circular line from the city center to Leith and Granton and back again; it's expected to cost about £190 millioin and to attract about 11.6 million rider-trips a year. Line Two, to be routed from Haymarket to the airport and on to Newbridge, is estimated to cost at £165 million, and to attract 4.2 million annual rider-trips. The lengths of these two lines are not reported.
[Edinburgh Evening News, 4 June 2003, 10 Jun. 2004]

12 December 2004

Minneapolis: Final segment of light rail starter line opens

Enthusiastic passengers, taking advantage of free fares, jammed into Minneapolis's Hiawatha line light rail transit (LRT) trains on Saturday, Dec. 4th, as the metro area's LRT starter line debuted its final 4 miles of track, at the south end of the route, into suburban Bloomington, the Mall of America, and the urban area's major airport. The opening – 4 weeks ahead of schedule – marked the basic completion of the $715.3-million project.
[Minneapolis Star Tribune December 5, 2004; Metro Transit, 6 Dec 2004]

As the transit agency and other partners hosted an opening celebration, passengers seemed particularly eager to ride through the rail tunnel under the airport and on to the south terminus of the line -- the Mall of America. The final segment's five new stations include both terminals at the airports well as the mall and other stops. At the 28th Avenue station in Bloomington, Metro Transit has added 600 park-'n'-ride spaces. Metropolitan Council Chair Peter Bell congratulated construction and transit officials for opening the light-rail extension 27 days ahead of schedule so that shoppers and travelers could access the LRT service during the busy holiday shopping and traveling season.
[Minneapolis Star Tribune, 5 December 2004; WCCO-TV, 3 Dec 2004; Metro Transit, 6 Dec 2004]

Even with frigid weather, opening ridership was nothing short of spectacular. On opening day, Saturday, Dec. 4th, 56,200 boardings were estimated; on the following day, Sunday, ridership was estimated at 31,300. "We are very pleased with the high level of customer enthusiasm for light-rail over the weekend" said Brian Lamb, Metro Transit's general manager. "We hope the experience of the past two days will spark an interest in making buses and trains part of everyone's daily commuting."
[Metro Transit, 6 Dec 2004]

The first section of the Hiawatha starter line, from downtown Minneapolis to Fort Snelling, opened in June. (See Minneapolis: First Segment of Hiawatha LRT Line Opens.) The line has already started to attract significant transit-oriented development (TOD), such as that at the Bloomington Central Station, a $600 million, 43-acre development with condos, a resort, and commercial space planned by McGough Construction and the City of Bloomington. Metro Transit and city leaders are promoting this as "a great location to live, work, shop and play."
[WCCO-TV, 3 Dec 2004; Metro Transit, 15 Nov 2004]

Even before the opening of the Bloomington extension, the Hiawatha line was already demonstrating impressive ridership by this past October, with an average 2,674 weekday rider-trips during the morning rush hour alone – a 19.5 percent increase over September and a 31 percent increase over July. Metro Transit noted that "Morning rush-hour ridership is the best indicator of a rail line's growing impact on congestion relief." Combined bus and rail ridership for October was 1.2 percent higher than for system ridership in the same month in 2003. The entire line now is 12 miles long, with service to 17 stations, and riding it from end to end takes about 35 minutes, for an average schedule speed of about 21 mph.
[Minneapolis Star Tribune, 5 December 2004; WCCO-TV, 3 Dec 2004; Metro Transit, 15 Nov 2004, 6 Dec 2004]

More on Minneapolis Rail Transit

More on Ridership issues ...

12 December 2004

Salt Lake City: Proportion of population using transit triples after introduction of light rail

The proportion of Salt Lake City residents using the metro area's transit system has tripled since the introduction of light rail transit (LRT), according to a recent Utah Transit Authority (UTA) survey. UTA general manager John inglish reported the results to a session of the 2004 Rail-Volution conference in Los Angeles on Sep. 21st.

According to the UTA's survey, the proportion of Salt Lake City residents who say they use the transit system has skyrocketed from 20% before the introduction of LRT, to 60% recently.

More on Salt Lake City Rail Transit

More on Ridership issues ...

3 December 2004

Winnipeg now mulling light rail options

Having put a "BRT" system on the shelf (if not into the dustbin), some of Winnipeg's community leadership now seem to be eyeing rail transit – apparently, either an electric light rail transit (LRT) system, or a diesel or diesel-electric multiple-unit light railway service (like Ottawa's O-Train). "Don't be quick to assume Winnipeg's rapid transit prospects are off the rails" advises the Winnipeg Sun (Friday, 19 November 2004). "Mayor Sam Katz will ride the rails through Ottawa today to see whether that city's system would work in Winnipeg."

The Sun pointed out that Mayor Katz would have an opportunity to "check out" both of Ottawa's "rapid transit options" – the O-Train light railway "and the kind of Bus Rapid Transit system that Winnipeg recently shelved." in addition, the paper noted that he would be joining Ottawa Mayor Bob Chiarelli for a "spin" on the city's three-year-old O-Train system "that has attracted large numbers of commuters."

"I think this will be a valuable experience just to see the impact and talk to people who use it, as well as talk to the people running it and get feedback from them as well" Mayor Katz told Sun after arriving in Ottawa, adding that "it's a good opportunity to do a fact-finding mission."

The Sun reports that OC Transpo, Ottawa's transit agency, has been finding both its light railway and "BRT" systems "hugely successful in attracting riders." The paper relates that, when the agency launched its light railway project in October 2001, ridership was projected at about 6,400 a day. By last year, however, ridership had reached about 8,000 on peak days – and this past September (2004), the service saw at least one day when ridership soared to more than 9,600. And that's for a relatively short, 5-mile line with just 3 stations (see our article Ottawa (Finally) Opts for Light Rail).

Success is fueling ambitious expansion plans. Last May, according to the Canadian Press (14 May 2004), it was announced that the City of Ottawa would receive C$600 million from the federal and Ontario governments "to expand public transit in the capital region". The money is being targeted to extend the O-Train light railway system to Barrhaven and to construct an entirely new route from the south end of Ottawa to the downtown core. Apparently, the program represents largest joint intergovernmental infrastructure investment in Ottawa's history.

According to the Winnipeg Sun, Mayor Katz "likes the potential" of light rail, but warns that "it may not be possible in Winnipeg." Cautioning his constiuents to "Keep in mind that Winnipeg is not Ottawa," the mayor hinted that "we know how money flows to Ottawa that doesn't happen with other cities."

Well, maybe. But how about the prospects for a fully electrified LRT system in Winnipeg? The Sun reports Mayor Katz plans to check out Minneapolis's Hiawatha LRT line in January.

Progress toward a possible LRT is (or some type of rail transit) for Winnipeg is definitely continuing – at least, in terms of evaluating options. On Novermber 26th, the Winnipeg Free Press reported on the launch of a special rapid transit task force, headed by City Councillor Russ Wyatt, which is scheduled to investigate the issues and "recommend a direction for Winnipeg" by summer 2005 (i.e., in about six months).

1 December 2004

New York City transit tops move toward criminalizing transit photography

According to a report by Pete Donohue in the New York Daily News (30 November 2004), New York transit agency officials are moving ahead with plans to criminalize photography on New York City's rapid transit system. This includes a total ban on taking pictures, filming, and videotaping in the subway system, on the pretext that it's a "necessary security measure in the post-9/11 world", according to the Daily News. Under the plan, violators would be hit with fines of $25. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority board must approve the proposal.

The New York City action is only the latest in a wave of "terrorism" hysteria sweeping the USA, aimed at railway and transit photographers. Besides NYC transit, New Jersey Transit has been particularly ferocious in hounding photographers. Reports of harassment and intimidation have also come from Boston, Los Angeles, and St. Louis.

Many transit professionals and advocates argue that criminalizing photography actually plays into the hands of terrorists, who can readily use covert techniques to accomplish their ends (or go online, where photographs are abundantly available). At the same time, such policies strike a blow against the photographic documentation of transit operations – vital in "educating" the public and building community support for transit – while at the same time alienating and intimidating the very segment of the transit-using public that is probably best equipped and motivated to be vigilant against actual terrorists. Net result: the terrorists win another one.

In an article in the September issue of Mass Transit magazine, for example, Van Wilkins points out that several transit agencies are now "actively discouraging strong supporters of public transit, including substantial numbers of professionals in the industry – a group very likely to recognize and report anything abnormal, many of whom might take useful photos of just such an occurrence." Van goes on to note that "an increasing number of cell phones have photographic capabilities, which means that attempts to restrict photos by conventional cameras become increasingly meaningless. Meanwhile," he points out, "scarce security resources are being wasted, and active supporters of public transit are being alienated."

According to Pete Donohue's Daily News article, New York City Transit Authority's proposed rule "was published without fanfare last week in the State Register. The 45-day comment period in which people can voice their opinions by writing, E-mailing or calling the Transit Authority ends Jan. 10."

Donohue relates that, when the criminalization plan was first outlined, last May, "It was roundly blasted as excessive by subway riders, transit advocates, civil libertarians and even Mayor Bloomberg." Subsequently, "Authorities considered a less expansive ban that would cover only sensitive locations, such as dispatchers' towers and equipment rooms, and would allow tourists and subway buffs to continue taking photos in trains and stations."

However, that "softer" ban was ultimately rejected. "In this time of heightened security, we don't want individuals documenting anything that could be used to harm riders" a TA spokesman recently proclaimed.

Brooklynite David-Paul Gerber, derisively described in the Daily News article as a "train buff" who "railed" against the impending crackdown, argued that "Photographers are not terrorists." Speaking as a fan of railways, Gerber emphasized, "We are hobbyists. This tramples on the constitutional rights and freedoms of every New Yorker and every American."

26 November 2004

Washington: Streetcars coming back?
Anacostia LRT demo project breaks ground

Over four decades after streetcars were ripped off the thoroughfares of Washington, DC, maybe they're making a comeback? The District of Columbia Department of Transportation (DDOT) has just announced that, in cooperation with Metro (Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority), it's planning to build and operate a six-station, 2.7-mile (4.4-km) "passenger rail demonstration project", apparently using streetcar-type light rail transit (LRT) technology, to serve the Anacostia area in Southeast Washington. (Also see our previous story, Washington, DC: LRT Plans a Comeback.)

The rail transit service, known as the Anacostia Light Rail Demonstration project, will use existing CSX railroad right-of-way (the Shepard Branch industrial spur). The service will extend along the east side of the Anacostia River between Bolling Air Force Base and Pennsylvania Avenue, near the John Phillip Sousa Memorial Bridge.
[Washington Times, 14 November 2004; District Department of Transportation, 10 November 2004]

The project includes the construction of six stops, a maintenance facility, and two power substations, plus the acquisition of three light rail vehicles (LRVs). Service is expected to begin in the fall of 2006.

"The newest form of transportation to come to the nation's capital is moving forward" enthused Washington's WTOP Radio on 13 November, reporting that the "D.C. Light Rail System Breaks Ground".

The Metro Board has already approved spending about US$16 million dollars for land, site preparations, and the rail cars, reports WTOP. The Washington Times reports that total cost of the project is projected at $55 million (about $20 million per mile).
[Washington Times, 14 November 2004; WTOP Radio, 13 Nov. 2004]

According to the Washington Times, the "streetcar system ... will make it easier for Southeast residents to travel and may stimulate the community's economy." Describing light rail as a "powerful economic development tool", DDOT Director Dan Tangherlini pointed to the light rail line in Portland, Oregon, as a "role model" for what could be done in DC.
[Washington Times, 14 November 2004; WTOP Radio, 13 Nov. 2004]

More on Washington, DC Rail Transit

15 November 2004

Heidelberg: Light rail tramway extension project under way

The small German city of Heidelberg has started work on a 4.4-km (2.7-mile) extension of its light rail transit (LRT) tramway system, according to the November issue of Tramways & Urban Transit. The extension, linking the system with the community of Kirchheim, is targeted for completion in late 2006, although the first 800 meters (half-mile) should be finished by May 2005.

At a cost of EUR 30 million (about US$39 million), the extension is costing about $9 million/km, or $14 million/mile – once again, suggesting the bargain price of LRT in delivering quality urban public transport. The extension will augment Heidelberg's existing 19.7-km (12.2-mile) tramway system.

15 November 2004

Chongqing (China) opens monorail line

Via several news reports, the Chinese government has announced the opening of an "elevated light rail line" in the city of Chongqing. However, it's important to note that the system referred to in these reports does not use light rail technology, but rather a proprietary monorail system provided by the Japanese firm, Hitachi. To reduce construction costs of urban rail transit systems – typically subways – the Chinese government has begun encouraging "light rail" alternatives, but Chinese authorities tend to apply this term to a wide range of modal technologies, including fully grade-separated light metro systems, automated guideway systems, and monorails.

According to recent news reports, each monorail trainset running on the Chongqing system has four units ("cars"), and can hold about five hundred people. The new service attracted nearly ten thousand visitors on its first day of operation. Currently, the monorail line is open only on Saturday and Sunday mornings, and tickets cost ten yuan (about US$1.20) per person.
[China Broadcast, 2004/11/07]

Chinese news reports indicate that the line opened to operation is Phase I of the Chongqing "Light Rail" (monorail) Line 2, which is expected to be finished by 2005.
[China Broadcast, 2004/11/07]

According to Leroy Demery, Jr., an authority on Japanese monorail development and researcher in public transport in Pacific-Rim Asia, Chongqing's Hitachi monorail may represent a "working prototype" for monorail technology in China (perhaps analogous to the Shanghai airport magnetic-levitation line). Demery believes Chongqing transit planners may have obtained favorable commercial terms from Hitachi, perhaps including technology transfer. He notes that China's central government has gotten "sticker shock", more than once, over the high cost of conventional rail subway construction. Thus, says Demery, it seems reasonable that there would be interest in experimenting with at least one full-scale monorail, to determine whether the claimed advantages and savings can be obtained. (However, this definitely did not occur in the case of the Shanghai maglev project.)

Demery points out that, in a number of Asian cities, the scarcity of urban land, high population density, and high traffic density seem to imply a need for transit systems with full grade separation. Elevated lines, such as monorails, are much cheaper to build than subways. The environmental impacts of elevated structures do raise community concerns, but these tend to have much less influence over decisionmaking than in the advanced industrialized countries which permit somewhat more open political discussion, and where community attitudes are more important to vote-conscious political leaders.

It should also be noted that many Asian cities are huge – certainly, additional implied justification for full, "heavy" rapid transit systems. Chongqing itself, located in the center of China on the Yangtze River, is enormous – reports that Chongqing "has a population of 4.4 million, with approx. 10 million in its metropolitan area."

Details on the Chongqing system are difficult to obtain, but, according to, apparently the city plans a network of light metros ("light rail"), monorail, and underground (heavy metro) rail lines. reports that the first segment of the monorail system – perhaps the one just opened – extends 13.5 km (8.4 mi) with 14 stations. Construction began in 1999. The line is slated to continue to Xinsanchuang, with a total length of 17.5 km (10.9 mi) and 17 stations (3 of them underground). Ultimately, designers claim the monorail line will be capable of carrying 30,000 passengers per hour at peak times. The total system cost is stated as "about 3.5 billion yuan", or about US$420 million - calculating to about $38.5 million/mile, or about $24 million/km.

To put these costs for this unusual urban transport technology into some perspective, one can compare the new light metro for the city of Guangzhou, which uses standard rail technology on a system almost entirely underground. Construction of this system began in 1993, and the first line opened in 1997. Railway Technology reports a total system length of 41.7 km (25.9 mi) with a cost of 12,700 million yuan, or about $1.525 billion – $58.9 million/mile or $36.6 million/km.

Clearly, with respect to this evidence, capital costs of grade-separated transit projects in China appear to be substantially lower than the costs for advanced industrial countries (e.g., North America, Europe).

As the case of Chongqing seems to illustrate, monorails, with their slightly narrower geometric profile and marginally lower noise level (at least at slower speeds), may have appeal for some of the crowded, narrow urban corridors of Asian cities where totally grade-separated rapid transit is desired. However, it remains to be seen whether, over the longer term, these advantages will be outweighed by the drawbacks and limitations of monorail technology in practice.

There are some applications and functions where monorails (at least using current technology) do not seem to perform as efficiently or cost-effectively as standard-rail systems, even for totally grade-separated systems. In the case of typical straddle-type monorails, these include, for example:

• Switching – This involves moving a multi-ton beam several feet, requiring far more equipment, power, and time than moving a couple of rail points a few inches. The capital costs of monorail "switches" (in effect, horizontal drawbridges) are definitely higher than for standard railway switches, and the power needed for beamway movement may represent a higher ongoing cost item.

• Tunnelling – There are situations where underground construction is preferred, and this may be more costly for monorail vehicle designs such as Hitachi's, which seems to have a significantly higher geometric profile than that of standard railway cars – implying greater excavation, and thus higher tunnelling costs.

• Rubber-tire traction and guidance – The greater friction of rubber adhesion implies higher ongoing propulsion energy use (potentially, another higher operating cost item), although this may be somewhat offset by the slightly lighter weight of monorail vehicles. On the other hand, the loss of traction under icy, snowy, or even merely wet conditions is a problem which must be addressed by special, usually more expensive, design features. The large number of total wheels per monorail trainset, for both support and guidance, may introduce extra problems of maintenance and tire replacement in longer-term experience.

• Storage facilities – These require fully or partially elevated beamways throughout the storage yard, a substantially greater expense than the surface storage facilities needed by standard rail vehicles. in addition, the beams typically present barriers to easy movement by workers and equipment through the yard.

Time will tell whether cities like Chongqing experimenting with monorail will be satisfied with this technology, or will decide that its drawbacks do not justify further vigorous investment.

NOTE: Material in this report has been adapted from postings of the Public Transport Progress Email distribution list, and from information provided by Leroy Demery, Jr.

More on Monorails

14 November 2004

Little Rock River Rail streetcar draws "incredible" ridership in first week

Little Rock's heritage-style electric streetcar system has been enjoying spectacular success in attracting passengers since its inauguration on November 1st, according to reports from its general manager. Keith Jones. PE, Executive Director and General Manager of Central Arkansas Transit Authority, says that, by Thursday, Nov. 4th, streetcar ridership had raced "far beyond" his expectations. "Of course it's free and it's brand new, but it is still an overwhelming response", Jones comments. Jones's observations provide a useful professional snapshot and savvy assessment of the nuts-and-bolts experiences of a startup electric trolley service – observations which might be valuable to others considering or planning similar operations.

Ridership for the first weekend after the launch of the streetcar service has been impressive for a short, 2.1- mile system with just three vehicles:

· Thursday, 4 Nov. – 2 cars in service, 11 AM to midnight – 1800 rider-trips
· Friday: 5 Nov. – 3 cars in service, 11 AM to midnight – 2800 rider-trips
· Saturday 6 Nov. – 3 cars in service, 11 AM to midnight – at least 2900 rider-trips
· Sunday 7 Nov. – 2 cars in service, 11 AM to 5 PM – 1550 rider-trips

"Those are incredible figures" observes General Manager Jones, pointing out that CATA "had to start limiting the loads to 80 persons per car on Saturday as we had more than 100 [passengers per car] a few times on Friday, and that gets to be marginally safe with people being in the rear stepwells, too crowded for comfort, etc." Nevertheless, he adds, "Crowds were very cooperative."

Jones notes that "Ridership the past four days was diverse in every way. Young, old, local, surrounding counties, out of state. Racial and ethnic diversity was typical of almost every hour."

The volume of boarding passengers was almost equally divided between Little Rock and North Little Rock. According to Jones, "Alltel, 7th and Main, River Market, and the Chamber stop on the south end of the bridge were the most popular boarding locations."

As Jones had expected, for passengers, "the ride over the bridge in either direction is a huge, huge attraction." Because of the ridership demand, CATA decided to add a third car Friday, the 5th, one day earlier than planned (the agency had planned to have 3 on Saturday).

Jones estimates that perhaps 80% or more of the passengers during the first week were "cycle riders" – they boarded at a stop and rode the streetcar around to the same stop before deboarding. However, Jones expects that "This will gradually diminish as people learn to trust the fact they can get off at an intermediate stop, spend time and money, then be able to get a streetcar to return to their point of beginning." Nevertheless, even with this "cycle ridership", Jones reports that his observations and discussions indicate that adjacent businesses felt that they benefited from patronage generated or attracted by the trolley ridership.

Jones found many riders using the streetcar just to explore. "Conventioneers who knew nothing about the streetcar or the two cities jumped on with little reluctance." He adds, "People want to know about the locale, and our drivers are learning the answers and telling us what they need to learn, but drivers need to spend most of their time watching out for traffic and pedestrians. Getting trained and talented volunteers to ride on busy days to talk to the visitors is something we will explore with the two convention bureaus and others."

Jones notes that there is pressure to increase the operating hours of the streetcar service, but this must conform to the operation's current budget constraints. While revenues have probably exceeded expectation, so have labor costs, to accommodate the demand. Already, the streetcar service is facing demands to run three cars more often, but "We cannot continue to run three cars except on Saturdays due to costs but also due to the basic mechanical fact of life that you always need a spare when you are dealing with complex things having moving parts. Of course as we develop some budget history on the expense and revenue side, we will discuss what it would take to increase the hours." Jones points out that CATA will have two more streetcars under contract soon for delivery in mid-2005.

So far, at least from its first week of experience, the River Rail streetcar has the definite look, feel, and sound of success.

More on Little Rock Rail Transit

13 November 2004

Toyama opts to install Japan's first tram-train system

Toyama will be the site of Japan's first "tram-train" system, reports Tramways & Urban Transit (Oct. 2004). Tram-train operation basically refers to light rail transit (LRT) service which can operate both on urban LRT and streetcar (tramway) networks as well as "heavy" intercity railways, sharing tracks with railway trains. Tram-train services have become increasingly popular in Europe, modelled after particularly successful operations such as those in Karlsruhe and Saarbrücken. However, this is the first instance where the concept has been embraced by a Japanese transit system.

The Toyama tram-train system is planned to total 8 km (5 mi) in length and to open to service in 2006. This includes a 1.5-km (0.9-mi) link from the local railway station to the city center, as well as the use of Japan Railways (JR) tracks on its Toyamako line to iwasehama. Three new stations will be constructed on the JR alignment. Dual-voltage 600/1500 VDC rolling stock will be run over the line.

With the imminent deadline, and at an estimated capital cost of 4.5 billion yen (about US$42.6 million), the Toyama tram-train service is certainly a project with a modest budget and a fast completion schedule. The capital cost calculates to about $5.3 million/km, or $8.5 million/mile. For an advanced, industrialized nation, that's certainly a bargain price for what seems to be mostly a rapid transit system – it even appears to beat low-end "BRT"!

It's because of this cost-effectiveness that the tram-train concept has been spreading throughout Europe like wildfire. City after city has found that running electric LRT (trams or streetcars) from urban streets and cityscapes onto intercity railway tracks between regional towns is an extremely cost-effective way to get fast, convenient regional inteurban public transport.

But don't expect tram-trains to be coming to the USA anytime soon. Current Federal Railroad Administration regulations prohibit tram-train operation in the United States.

13 November 2004

Nov. 2nd vote: More on rail ballot initiatives in California

Well-known Los Angeles public transport advocate (and legendary LA history guru) Roger Christensen provides more information and insight on Nov. 2nd transit election results regarding California counties.

Regarding Proposition A in San Diego, which proposed to continue a half-cent sales tax to raise $9.5 billion over 20 years for transportation, Roger reports, "San Diego County did indeed win – squeaking by with one percent." That's a 1% margin over the relatively high "supermajority" needed to pass – as Roger points out, "in California, any State measure that has a tax component requires a 2/3 majority."

In San Bernardino County, voters approved a continuation of Measure i, an existing half-cent sales tax to benefit local transportation – a tax originally passed in 1989 and which was due to expire in 2010. The succeesful ballot issue, with 79 percent of the votes in favor, will retain the tax for 30 years, generating an anticipated total of $6 billion to be shared by cities and the county.

As Roger points out, the San Bernandino vote impacted "more than bus and road. The measure included extending Metrolink [regional rail] to the city of Redlands. Also, if LA County's Gold Line makes it to the San Bernandino County Line (Claremont) this measure has funding to extend it farther into San Bernandino County (Montclair)."

One of the California ballot initiatives which failed was a half-cent sales tax measure in Santa Cruz County, rejected by 57 percent of voters compared with 43 percent in favor. According to APTA's Passenger Transport (8 November 2004), this "would have raised $530 million to cover transportation issues including the widening of a highway, a passenger rail station in Pajaro, and the addition of carpool lanes."

However, the measure apparently was controversial even among rail transit supporters. As Roger Christensen relates, "I spoke to a gentleman from Santa Cruz last weekend who told me that the failed initiative in that county was opposed by most local rail advocates. Santa Cruz County has not yet received benefits from the State's Prop 116 which has been a rail funding pipeline elsewhere in the State."

Another electoral sour note was played in Ventura County, where voters turned down a request by the Ventura County Transportation Commission for a half-cent sales tax increase to pay for road and transit improvements. As Passenger Transport notes, "The measure, which would have generated an anticipated $1.5 billion over 30 years, would have provided for expanded Metrolink commuter rail and local bus services."

Roger observes that "Ventura County remains the largest county in the State with no transit sales tax. There is a strong 'no growth' sentiment there that fears encouragement of development which may be a factor in the measure's defeat. The Sierra Club, usually a mass transit proponent, I believe opposed this initiative."

However, concludes Roger, "despite the 2/3 rule, defeats in Ventura, Santa Cruz, and (narrowly) Solano Counties, the eight or nine other California counties with transit initiatives all won – some with amazing near-75% margins."

More on Rail Transit Political Campaigns

11 November 2004

Copenhagen plans light rail by 2012

The light rail transit (LRT) boom in Europe continues with the announcement that Copenhagen is planning for a 19.6-km (12.2-mi) LRT line, to be operational by 2012. As reported in Tramways and Urban Transit (Nov. 2004), "The finishing touches are being put to an agreement between the city and an Arriva-led consortium for a public/private project" to construct the line."

As T&UT reports, the LRT line would extend "between Lundtofte and Glostrup via Lyngby." The total cost is estimated at DKK2.2 billion, or about US$557 million – calculating to about $28 million/km, or $46 million/mile.

The LRT line is projected to carry ridership of 52,000 rider-trips per day on 18 light rail vehicles (LRVs). Planners hope the service will attract motorists from 8,000 to 9,000 private cars off the city's Ring 3 highway every day.

The LRT line will add to Copenhagen's growing network of rail transit, which includes an extensive regional rail system (the S-Tog) and a light metro. The metro, using standard rail technology with totally automated operation, opened in 2002 with a line running from east to west. According to, "This construction project was combined with a major city development called Ørestad in the south of the city. The line has two branches on the eastern side, one south to Ørestad and the other south-east to Copenhagen's Airport (Lufthavn)."

The first phase of the metro project (placed in service on 19 Oct. 2002) includes the route segments connecting Nørreport-Ørestad-Vestamager via Copenhagen's city center; in addition, there's a south-eastern branch which extends as far as Lergravsparken. Two more stations, Forum and Frederiksberg, were added in May 2003. On 12 Oct. 2003, the metro reached Vanløse, and a Flintholm station opened in early 2004.

An additional City Ring line is also proposed. This would be a 16 km (10 mi) route in subway with 16 stations, estmated to cost €1.7 billion. At current conversion rates, that calculates to about US$2.0 billion, or about $206 billion per route-mile.

With a total length of 11 km (about 7 miles), the metro line runs underground for 9 km (5.6 mi), with 9 relatively small underground stations (61 m long, 20 m wide, or about 200 ft X 12 ft). The remainder of the route is either elevated or on the surface. All stations have elevators and escalators and platforms are separated from the tracks by a glass wall and automatic screen doors – a growing feature of automated systems.

The Copenhagen metro has a fleet of 34 trains, each with 3 walk-through cars, 6 doors on each side, 100 seats in a total capacity of aproximately 300 passengers a train. The system is designed for maximum train speeds of 80 kilometers/hour (c. 50 mph) with an average speed of 40 kilometers/hour (24 mph) with one to two minutes between stations. A total ridership of 250,000 boardings per day is projected to use the system regularly after the third phase begins operation, and the full system is placed in service.
[, 2004/11/11; Union Switch & Signal Inc., 22 November 2002]

8 November 2004

Houston: MetroRail LRT ridership hits another record – 32,900

Ridership on Houston's Main Street light rail transit (LRT) line just keeps rising. in October, it went up again, setting another record, according to the Metropolitan Transit Authority (Houston Metro).
[Houston Chronicle, 7 Nov. 2004]

October ridership tallies released last week and reported in the Houston Chronicle indicate 32,941 average weekday boardings, up 2 percent from the 32,292 boardings recorded in September. "That was the first month the daily ridership count topped 30,000" notes the newspaper, which also explains that Metro collects its ridership data through automatic passenger counter devices installed above train doors.

And weekday, predominantly commute-type trips were not the only source of good news. Average weekend ridership also went up 2 percent compared with September's tally, and that's not counting three Sundays in October when the Houston Texans played home games at Reliant Stadium. MetroRail ridership typically doubles on a Sunday home game. However, January still holds the weekend ridership count record, with an average 41,648 boardings per weekend aboard the LRT trains during their inaugural month of service.

Metro's total system ridership, including special events, for October was 853,542. That's up 4.5 percent even from September's record high.

More on Houston Rail Transit

8 November 2004

Denver: FasTracks vote reinstates what was lost, says transit veteran

Transportation engineer Ed Tennyson – a seasoned and stalwart veteran of the public transportation industry from the days of widespread surface electric railway systems – points out that the Denver area's Nov. 2nd vote for the FasTracks plan to extend light rail transit (LRT) in part reinstates rail transit services previously ripped out (during the Transit Holocaust): "Denver and environs passed FasTracks 60 percent to forty to build the West Line (to restore the Denver & intermountain Railroad), the Arvada Line (to restore the Denver interurban Route 82), and the North Line ... plus DMU [diesel multiple-unit railway service] to the Airport and Boulder."

Ed points out that "After all that rail is laid, 15 miles of busway to Boulder also is to be built." However, he cautions, "I do not see the sense of that. There would be a connection at Union Station so that a passenger could travel from Denver Tech Center to Boulder by LRT to Union Station, then busway to Boulder, but with [regional] commuter rail already running to Boulder by then, why put in a busway to divide up the travel volume and waste public money?"

Food for thought.

More on Denver Transit

8 November 2004

Las Vegas eyes light rail, other options for interurban service

With local plans for a publicly funded monorail extension on hold because of the current shutdown of the Las Vegas Monorail, the urban area's Regional Transportation Commission is proceeding with its planning for a possible light rail line "to bring the city's public transportation infrastructure up to speed with the area's rapid growth" reports the Las Vegas Sun (8 October 2004). For Southern Nevada, the RTC is mulling what it's calling "regional fixed guideway service" – a network RTC planners say could eventually link bus, light rail, and possibly monorail service, if it's deemed a workable technology.

Although there are no immediate plans to abandon the monorail extension project, reports the Sun, "the RTC has temporarily shelved its plans while third-party consultants investigate what caused a 60-pound wheel assembly and an 2-pound industrial washer to fall from a moving monorail train within a week of each other...." The paper notes that, while RTC planners had initially hoped to begin construction of the Strip-to-downtown monorail extension phase within a year, the RTC is now admitting that such a goal will be impossible to reach given the current monorail shutdown and perplexing technical problems.

But meanwhile planning for light rail, or some form of fast, regional transit, has been stepped up. The backbone of the concept is a little-used, 33-mile rail route last used by the Union Pacific Railroad that "carves its way from Henderson, through the west side of the Strip, finally ending in North Las Vegas", reports the Sun. According to RTC planners, says the paper, "The existing tracks seem a natural fit for a possible light rail to connect the southern and northern ends of the growing valley ... although the agency is also examining an extension of its successful MAX bus service along the corridor." (The MAX service uses Civis buses with optical-guidance technology to guide buses along bus lanes and into small curbside stations.) According to an RTC spokesman quoted by the Sun, "We don't know what the technology will be at this point. it could be a light rail; it could be a form of rapid transit system."

On 22 October, the Sun reported that an RTC steering committee had begun reviewing the agency's plans for the proposed link to Henderson. "The committee will study four technologies -- two forms of light rail and two diesel bus systems – before making its recommendation to the RTC next summer" reports the paper, adding that "The group can also recommend the RTC take no action on the proposal."

If approved by the RTC, the new system would run from the Nevada State College at Henderson to downtown Las Vegas, reports the Sun., noting that the line could be completed as soon as 2008. A second phase, anticipated for opening in 2014, would extend the route from downtown to a planned University of Nevada at Las Vegas (UNLV) satellite campus in North Las Vegas.

According to the Henderson line proposal, the lightly used rail right-of-way eyed for the route would be purchased from the current owner, the Union Pacific Railroad. The transit system would include stops on the west side of the Strip, and would be intended to help alleviate congestion along interstate 15, which now carries more than 200,000 cars a day, according to the RTC. Official estimates of the cost of such a new system at $700 million – about $21 million a mile – but it could be as much as $2.1 billion, depending on what type of system RTC members approve.
[Las Vegas Sun, 22 October 2004]

(The capital cost of the present monorail system is being tightly guarded by the system's private owners, although project documents indicate that, with financing expenses, the total project cost is close to $160 million per mile. For the proposed monorail extension, documents submitted to the Federal Transit Administration indicate an estimated project cost, in year-of-expenditure dollars, of anout $142 million per mile.)

More on Monorails

6 November 2004

Washington, DC: Rail transit ballot measures pass on Nov. 2nd

Major rail transit initiatives passed handily in Virginia suburbs of Washington, DC on Nov. 2nd, reports Washington-area transportation engineer E. L. Tennyson. "Fairfax County, Va. passed a $175 million bond issue for MetroRail [rapid transit] cars, some Dulles [rail project] work, some buses, and some undesirable highway projects that the state is supposed to pay for, but can't" says Tennyson. He adds that some "far-right Republicans" campaigned against the bond measure, calling rail transit "a waste", but nevertheless the measure passed, 76 percent to 24, according to Tennyson.

In addition, he adds, Arlington County, Va. also passed a "much smaller" bond issue for MetroRail support. He reports this passed, 80 percent to 20. "MetroRail may be poorly managed but it sure is popular" Tennyson observes. (Ouch!)

6 November 2004

Seattle: Monorail "recall" loses, but project continues to face criticism

The effort to "recall" the Seattle monorail project – initiative 83, a measure that would have, in effect, killed the proposed line by prohibiting its construction on city streets – failed by a substantial margin in the election of Nov. 2nd, with approximately 63 percent of voters rejecting it. However, the monorail project must yet pass a Seattle city financial review.
[Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 3 November 2004]

The monorail project has been highly controversial even within the circles of Seattle public transport advocates. Many of them perceive that the Green Line monorail was originally conceived to take advantage of the earlier difficulties of the voter-approved light rail transit (LRT) project, and represented an effort to thwart the region's LRT program. The implications of having two somewhat parallel major transportation investments, technologically incompatible and competing for scarce public funds, dismay many transit proponents.

Community opposition to the Green Line monorail project (originally approved in a 2002 vote) surged as the full implications became clear of having an elevated transit system built over neighborhood streets, just outside the windows of offices and residential apartments, and through a cherished Seattle park. in addition, design alterations emerged which sparked criticism – for example, the need for support columns 4-6 feet wide rather than the 3 feet originally promised, and the need for sections of single-tracking, almost certain to restrict capacity.
[Seattle Times, 29 October 2004]

Included in the design changes, and departing significantly from the original slim, airy designs sold to the public, are two dozen overhead "switches" (in effect, horizontal drawbridges), proposed by the monorail agency. The shortest of these would be 90 feet long, or "the distance from home plate to first base", in the words of the Seattle Times. "Critics worry that the massive structures will be an eyesore and block light in neighborhoods" added the Times.
[Seattle Times, 29 October 2004]

To top it all, it turned out that original revenue projections (from an extra motor vehicle tax) had been overestimated by monorail proponents by about 30% – throwing the project into something of a funding crisis (and forcing a downgrade of the original design).

Voter approval or not, says Washington, DC-area transportation engineer Edson L. Tennyson, the prospect of single-tracking the monorail will severely compromise its operations and capacity. According to Tennyson, "that Seattle monorail cannot carry 65,000 weekday passengers with single track (guideway) segments. Without 65,000 weekday passengers, they cannot make even their rosy inflated revenue projections. They will not be able to add more trains as they promise...."

"Single track will limit them to no more than six trains per hour, if that, depending upon where they put the drawbridges (switches)" argues Tennyson, an advisor to Light Rail Now! "With short station platforms, they will be limited to 720 passengers per hour both north and south of downtown. That, in turn, limits the full day's travel to about 15,000 per weekday – less than one-fourth of what they falsely promise. People may desire more and better public transit, but false promotion will not, cannot provide it."

More on Monorails

4 November 2004

Miami: BayLink streetcar plan wins straw vote by 55%

With 100% of precincts reporting, a strong majority of Miami-Dade county voters have voiced approval of the BayLink streetcar system proposed to connect Miami and Miami Beach. in a nonbinding straw vote, 55% okayed the line which would run through downtown Miami and link the mainland city with South Beach.
[Miami Herald, 30 Jul. 2004; 3 Nov. 2004]

The planned BayLink system is slated to open in 2023 at an estimated cost of $487 million. Alternative routes are still being evaluated, and the length of the line has not been widely publicized.
[Miami Herald, 30 Jul. 2004]

The light-rail trolley system, put on the ballot last summer at the insistence of Miami Beach political opponents, "would efficiently move people around South Beach and connect to downtown Miami..." according to the Miami Herald, which called for a Yes vote. The Herald noted that the streetcar service "would alleviate gridlock and parking problems that plague South Beach – and spur tourism in the process. The alternative is to do nothing while congestion kills the charm that makes Miami Beach so attractive to residents and visitors."
[Miami Herald, 09 Oct. 2004]

While the BayLink streetcar apparently would not actually materialize until nearly two decades from now, Miami planners have at least one other streetcar project on a much faster track. According to the Miami Herald, "Miami leaders are accelerating plans for a sleek streetcar system that would bolster the development boom in neighborhoods north of downtown." in this plan, says the paper, "Boosters are trying to get the streetcars rolling by 2007 or 2008."
[Miami Herald, 09 Jul. 2004]

NOTE: Material in this article was in part adapted with permission from news items on the Public Transport Progress news distribution list.

3 November 2004

Little Rock's River Rail electric streetcar system officially opens

On 1 November, after years of planning and months of testing, Central Arkansas Transit Authority's (CATA) River Rail Electric Streetcar system in Little Rock and North Little Rock officially opened to the public. According to a November 1st media release from CATA, the official startup came on the heels of a "sneak preview" last week, when the cars operated from 11:00 to 22:00 (10:00 PM) over just two days, during which more than 3200 people rode them. in a demonstration of the potential popularity of the system, cars had standing-room only and many people waiting on platforms were unable to board.

Launching the November 1st dedication ceremonies, at 10:00 AM, CATA Board Chaiman Robert Major, North Little Rock Mayor Patrick Hays, Pulaski County Judge Buddy Villines, and Chamber of Commerce officials dedicated the streetcar system on the north side of the river. The dignitaries then rode one of the streetcars across the Main Street Bridge to the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce (Markham and Scott) where they were greeted by Little Rock Mayor Jim Dailey and Little Rock Chamber officials for a short dedication ceremony.

"It's been a long time coming," said Keith Jones, CATA executive director and general manager. "We're excited that the vision has become a reality."

The inauguration of the trolley system marked the first time in 57 years in Little Rock and 65 years in North Little Rock that electric streetcars travelled along downtown city streets again. River Rail currently has three replica vintage trolleys from Gomaco Trolley Company operating on 2.5 miles of new track.

The streetcar route uses the Main Street Bridge to connect the two cities. There are a total of eleven stops on Markham and Second Streets between Spring and Commerce in Little Rock, and Main Street, Seventh Street and Maple Street in North Little Rock. An overhead contact system (OCS) powers the cars, linking major destinations in the River Cities. The project cost $19.6 million and was assisted by New Starts Federal funding, STP transfers, and funding from the High Priority Project section of TEA 21.

More on Little Rock Rail Transit

25 October 2004

Denver: FasTracks plan for rail, transit expansion faces voters Nov. 2nd

Yet another major rail transit ballot initiative facing voters this coming November 2nd is in the Denver metro area. This is the FasTracks plan – the Regional Transportation District's $4.7 billion initiative to build at least six new rail lines in the Denver area over the next 12 years. Described by the Denver Post as "one of the most ambitious public transportation expansion programs ever undertaken in the country" (16 October 2004), FasTracks would provide:

· 119 miles of new light rail and commuter rail
· 18 miles of bus rapid transit service
· 21,000 new parking spaces at rail and bus stations
· Expanded bus service in all areas.

To pay for the transit plan, FasTracks backers are asking voters to approve an increase in RTD's sales tax to 1 percent from the current 0.6 percent. The tax hike would amount to an extra 4 cents on each $10 purchase.
[Denver Post, 16 October 2004]

Apparently FasTracks, with its massive expansion of transit, would produce a larger-than-expected reduction in motor vehicle miles traveled, because it would promote the clustering of metro Denver residential development into dozens of "village centers" throughout the area, according to official planning projections.
[Denver Post, 16 October 2004]

FasTracks backers are citing statistics from the Denver Regional Council of Governments (DRCOG) which project the growth of at least 31 small urban centers, each within one-half mile of a FasTracks rail station. The refocusing of regional growth into these centers, promoted by the FasTracks plan, is expected to lead to 2.5 million fewer vehicle-miles traveled in the Denver area by 2025. That's five times the motor vehicle travel savings previously predicted in a separate DRCOG review of the FasTracks plan earlier this year. The DRCOG review looked more narrowly at the reduction in motor vehicle trips that would accompany construction of new FasTracks rail lines.
[Denver Post, 16 October 2004]

Pro-FasTracks organizations analyzed the DRCOG data by looking more broadly at the impact of clustered urban centers around rail stops in reducing vehicle-miles travelled. As many as 51 of the 57 rail stations that would be constructed as part of FasTracks have the potential for mixed-use transit-oriented development, according to the analysis. "These stations become urban centers where people do not have to drive" said Rich McClintock, program director of Livable Communities, one of the pro-FasTracks groups.
[Denver Post, 16 October 2004]

Currently, within the southwest light rail line corridor, 19% of all peakhour trips use transit. When construction of the T-REX southeast rail line is finished in 2006, 38,000 rider-trips per day are projected to be made on transit in that corridor. By 2025, with FasTracks, 22% of peakhour trips in the nine FasTracks corridors are expected to be made on transit – amounting to a significant number of vehicles taken off the crowded street and highway system. Moreover, RTD uses very conservative ridership projections. The three existing light rail lines are carrying 40% more passenger-trips than were originally estimated.
[FasTracks Yes! website, 2004/10/19]

For more information:

More on Denver Rail Transit

25 October 2004

Houston's MetroRail LRT sets new ridership record in September

Ridership on Houston's MetroRail light rail transit (LRT) system set new records in September, reports Houston Metro, the area's transit authority.

As reported in the Houston Chronicle (10 October 2004), average weekday boardings on the Main Street line, which opened 1 Jan. of this year, were 32,292 in September – representing the first time the average count has topped 30,000. "Daily ridership has steadily climbed since the 12,102 recorded in January, thanks mostly to changes made to connect bus routes with the trains" notes the paper.

Ridership for the total system in September was 817,020, also a record high, Metro reported.

The light rail line carried its second-highest passenger load Sep. 2nd, when the Houston Texans played the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in a preseason game at Reliant Stadium. However, that day's tally of 42,488 boardings was excluded from the average daily tabulations because the special event could skew the numbers, according to Metro.
[Houston Chronicle,10 October 2004]


More on Houston Rail Transit

18 October 2004 (Rev. 19 Oct.)

Austin: Light "commuter" railway plan heads toward Nov. 2nd vote

Austin is yet another city where a critical ballot initiative for rail transit is coming before voters on November 2nd. Capital Metro, the regional transit authority, has placed on the ballot a referendum for a regional "commuter" rail plan, part of a more comprehensive plan (called "All Systems Go") which also includes expanded bus service. Although Capital Metro has long had the financial wherewithal to finance rail transit, a specially passed Texas law mandates that the agency bring any rail plan before voters (any such election must be held in a presidential election year).

At stake is a plan for a 32-mile "commuter rail" line using Capital Metro's existing freight railway from the suburb of Leander on the northwest, along a somewhat hook-shaped route through East Austin, then westward to terminate at the Austin Convention Center downtown. There would be nine station stops, eight of them within the Austin city limits and five of them in what is generally considered central Austin. The full end-to-end run, Capital Metro officials say, would take just under an hour.

Capital Metro's planners project that initial ridership on the line (tentatively targeted for 2007) would be about 1,700 boardings per weekday. The longer-range forecast predicts about 16,700 weekday boardings in 2025.
[Austin American-Statesman, 17 October 2004]

The trains, rather than being powered by electricity from overhead lines, most likely would be relatively light (non-FRA-compliant) self-propelled diesel-electric "hybrid" rolling stock – often termed DMUs (diesel multiple units) or DEMUs (diesel-electric multiple units). When the line opens, perhaps as early as 2007, trains would run north and south during both rush hours at perhaps 30-minute intervals, with possibly one midday run in each direction. To provide connective service, the transit agency plans to have high-frequency "circulator" buses serving the downtown stop and connecting passengers with at least three other areas.
[Austin American-Statesman, 31 August 2004]

Modelled after similar operations in southern New Jersey and Ottawa, Canada, the Capital Metro plan seems to be evolving in design as another non-electrified light railway. Capital Metro has pegged the installation cost at approximately $60 million, although reportedly that cost does not include $30 million for rolling stock that would be bought on a lease-purchase basis and would be financed from the line's annual operating budget.

The rail line would benefit from substantial ancillary or associated investment. For example, Capital Metro has already spent, or committed to spend, more than $40 million on track upgrades and park-and-ride lots by the track in Leander and near Lakeline Mall – investments primarily directed at improving freight railway operations and safety, and providing P&R facilities for existing bus services, but which obviously have spinoff benefits for the rail plan.

While this starts to sound like a lot of money, "in transit terms, even a figure in the vicinity of $125 million is pocket change" comments transportation reporter Ben Wear of the Austin American-Statesman (31 August 2004). "Capital Metro's ownership of the track, and its path from the high-growth northwestern suburbs through several key areas of potential development and then on to downtown, make it an almost irresistible way to give passenger rail a tryout."

Although Capital Metro cannot advocate a position on the ballot initiative, the agency has been carrying out a vigorous public information campaign in various advertising media, including TV, newspapers, and directly mailed brochures. So far, opposition has appeared to be weak and sporadic. Spoofing the "All Systems Go" plan, a small opposition group naming itself All Systems No has coalesced with familiar anti-rail activists in its leadership like former city councilman Max Nofziger and "veteran anti-rail activist" Jim Skaggs, according to the Daily Texan (2004/10/13). The group pulls together highway advocates ("Road Warriors"), NIMBY activists, and monorail zealots in a loosely unified anti-rail coalition. However, its criticisms, aimed at provoking hysteria about safety and challenging rail planners' ridership forecasts, so far have not seemed to gain much tread with public sentiments – in sharp contrast to the ill-fated 2000 light rail transit plan which was narrowly defeated by voters after opponents waged a ferocious campaign on the slogan "Costs Too Much, Does Too Little".

At least a couple of reasons may account for the ostensible popularity of the current plan. First, it seems to make a lot of sense to many Austinites and regional residents to make effective passenger use of Capital Metro's railway line, clearly a valuable asset. Second, a leading champion of the "commuter rail" idea has been local State Representative Mike Krusee, a powerful Republican leader mainly representing the suburban and rural residents in Williamson County, just to the north of central Austin. Krusee's influence has helped pull more conservative and business-oriented support – much of which rallied against the 2000 plan – toward support of the current proposal.

Austin rail plan and campaign links:

All Systems Go

All Systems No

18 October 2004

Seattle: LRT project well under budget (so far)

Recent reports from the Seattle area indicate that Sound Transit's light rail transit (LRT) project – a starter line from central Seattle to the southern suburban city of Tukwila – continues to run "comfortably" under the budget established three years ago for the $2.4 billion dollar project. Recent bids for the system's communications, train signals, and traction power systems have come in at just under $96 million – approximately $18 million under engineers' estimated costs of more than $114 million. In fact, the last of three systems contracts came in nearly 30 percent under the engineers' estimate.
[Metro Magazine, 20 September 2004; Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 20 September 2004]

All told, with about two-thirds of the construction work for the 14-mile line now under contract, the project is currently running about 5% below the budget set for it in 2001. That record, so far, seems to rebuff critics' frequent claims that LRT projects routinely or typically exceed their budgets.

The 14-mile light rail line will run from Westlake Center in the city's CBD to a station at international Boulevard and South 154th Street in Tukwila. (See Seattle's Light Rail Project Reborn as South Starter Line). Shuttles will meet trains there and carry passengers approximately 1.6 miles to Sea-Tac Airport.

Currently, construction is under way in downtown Seattle and in the Sodo and Rainier Valley areas. Project costs are higher than in most surface LRT projects because the design includes retrofitting of the existing Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel – currently used by buses – for joint use with LRT (thus increasing the capacity and utility of this important transportation asset). Furthermore, a massive one-mile tunnel through Beacon Hill will be bored, and the contractor has already cleared the western hillside next to interstate 5. A gigantic tunnel boring machine is supposed to arrive next June. Construction work in Tukwila is expected to start in March.

An unusual feature of this LRT project is that electrification is planned at 1500 VDC (rather than the typical 750 VDC) because of the heavy traffic and steep grades anticipated. if all continues to go on schedule, trains are projected to begin running in 2009.

More on Seattle Rail Transit

17 October 2004

Phoenix: Light rail expansion plan attracts support

Within the Phoenix metro area, support has grown for an expansion of the the 20-mile, $1.3-billion light rail transit (LRT) project, already under way, which was approved for tax-supported funding in 2000. The line, expected to be used for about 27,000 rider-trips a day, will run from northwest Phoenix, through the downtown area, through the close-in suburban city of Tempe, and into a southeastern terminus in downtown Mesa, another suburb. it's expected to be completed and opened for operation in December 2008.
[Arizona Republic, 20 Mar. 2004]

As the project has progressed, other Phoenix-area neighborhoods and surrounding communities such as Glendale have expressed interest in getting connected into the LRT system. This has helped lead to the proposal (Proposition 400) before voters on this coming Nov. 2nd, to extend the current half-cent sales tax in order to fund the expansion of LRT and the overall transit system, as well as to expand the area's roadway system. in fact, of the total $15.8 billion plan up for approval, 57% is dedicated to building new freeways and expanding existing roadways. Less than 15% would go to LRT expansion – yet that has been the major focus of pro-highways transit opponents.

So far, poll results suggest a nearly 3-1 ratio of public support for Proposition 400, although specific support for the LRT plan is somewhat lower (53%) – undoubtedly a result of the vigorous anti-transit crusade with its familiar barrage of misinformation. For example, while critics allege that the LRT system will have no impact on regional congestion, project documents filed with the federal government demonstrate that light rail will reduce traffic congestion significantly, by reducing the number of congested roadways. in fact, LRT is projected to reduce the number of congested roadways during the morning peak hours by 38 percent, and by 48 percent in the afternoon peak periods.
[Valley Metro website, 2004/10/17]

More on Phoenix Rail Transit

17 October 2004

Atlanta Peachtree streetcar plan could spark $4.4 billion in investment

The streetcar system being planned along Peachtree Street and around Atlanta's Downtown could potentially stimulate more than $4.4 billion in new development over the next decade, according to its proponents. As the Atlanta Business Chronicle (11 October 2004) reports, "members of the privately created Atlanta Streetcar Inc. touted that hefty economic impact and others factors as justification for the estimated $336 million project in presenting the results of a new feasibility study to the organization's board."

The proposed line would extend approximately 8 miles, with 14.4 miles of track, mainly on Peachtree St., from Buckhead through Midtown to Downtown. According to the feasibility study, the system would attract 21,500 rider-trips per day – connecting passengers to such destinations as Centennial Olympic Park, Philips Arena, and the new Georgia Aquarium – even surpassing other new streetcar systems such as those in Charlotte, Portland (Oregon), and Tampa.
[Gwinnett Daily Post, 2003/08/07; Atlanta Business Chronicle, 11 October 2004]

The study found that effective connections to the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA) rapid transit system would generate an additional 2,000 daily rider-trips. in addition, such a connection would produce an extra $1.26 million in revenue. The study cited the streetcar's potential to reduce mobility congestion on Peachtree by 17 percent, possibly even without sacrificing traffic lanes or parking spaces.

Alternatives for funding the streetcar system's construction and operation are still being explored. in addition to the estimated capital cost of $336 million (about $42 million per mile), operation and maintenance costs are estimated at $23 million annually.

12 October 2004

Croydon (UK): LRT tramway has brought jobs, economic investment

The 28-km (18.5-mile) modern tramway system in Croydon – a small suburban city in the Greater London metro area – is credited with attracting some £1.56 billion in investment by dint of higher property prices, according to a study reported in the September 2004 issue of Tramways & Urban Transit. in addition, in parts of its service area the tramway is credited with reducing unemployment by as much as 35%.

Opened in 2000, Croydon Tramlink's capital cost came to £200 million, or about US $360 million. in 2004 dollars, that's about $413 million, or approximately $22 million per mile ($15 mn/km) for a system with both in-street and private right-of-way (mostly former railway) alignments. The massive benefits, cited above, appear to make this initial cost "seem like a very good investment" observes T&UT. indeed.

Meanwhile, the new system has been attracting passengers in droves. T&UT reports that ridership in the 2003-04 fiscal year reached 19.8 million trips (about 60,000 per day, by our own rough calculation). in addition, it has achieved 99% reliability in the operation of its scheduled services, making Tramlinbk "now officially the most reliable public transport service in London", according to the magazine.

More on UK LRT

12 October 2004

Winnipeg shelves plans for "BRT"

It was hailed as a technological breakthrough – a "Bus Rapid Transit" (BRT) system which would be "to rapid transit what wireless technology is to telephones", according to Winnipeg's mayor. But, after more than 18 months of supercharged hype about a "Winnipeg-made bus that would turn off regular residential roads onto a special lane where it's guided at high speeds by magnets", on 29 September Winnipeg's city council decided 11-5 to shelve the "BRT" system's $50-million first leg and instead "pour most of that cash into recreation centres", reports the Winnipeg Sun (30 Sep.). The paper called the move an "unofficial killing of the city's long-planned dedicated busway system".

While "BRT" boosters pleaded passionately for the plan, evidently it did not garner much enthusiasm among the Manitoba, Canada city's top decisionmakers. But besides not sparking excitement, the plan for speedy buses might have other drawbacks, argues transit advocate Jeff Lowe in an op-ed in the Winnipeg Free Press (6 October 2004). Lowe points out that "rubber-tired buses perform poorly on Winnipeg's snowy roads. They burn diesel oil, fouling the air; whereas rail vehicles would showcase Manitoba's clean, abundant, inexpensive hydroelectric power. Cities of Winnipeg's size usually build a rail system and use buses for local service." Lowe also notes that "Ottawa never built the downtown segment of its busway and is now extending its first light-rail line (while initiating construction of a second.)" in addition, he asserts, "Busways are more expensive than rail lines of the same carrying capacity because buses wear out faster than rail cars, the stations have to be bigger and the road has to be wide enough to allow vehicles to pass."

"For rapid transit to be worth doing," argues Lowe, "It must be done properly: as genuine rapid transit (harnessing rail vehicles); not as, pseudo-rapid-transit (substituting buses). Let's hope that this time around, the politicians and planners give us what we desire."

More on "BRT"

11 October 2004

Toronto: St. Clair streetcar reservation project gets green light

For many months, an effort by the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) to place the St. Clair streetcar (light rail transit/LRT) route on a reservation (dedicated right-of-way) on St. Clair Avenue West. The TTC proposes to do this in connection with a long-overdue overhaul of the existing tracks and street scheduled for 2005. An environmental assessment (EA) has already recommended the streetcar reservation as its preferred alternative.

However, store owners on a section of the route have mounted a vigorous campaign against any change, even though the TTC's upgrade proposal keeps on-street parking (except during rush hours), adds some off-street parking, leaves one lane for cars at all times, and has two lanes for cars in each direction during rush hours – promising what one would think this would be a win-win situation.

The TTC's proposal for the St. Clair streetcar reservation is modelled on the spectacular success of a similar project on Spadina Ave. some seven years ago. The 6.7-km (4.2-mile) Spadina project prompted sharp controversy at the time – hailed by some merchants and residents along the line as boon to the area, but bitterly resisted by others as a disruptive intruder.
[Toronto Star, 18 Sep. 2004]

Yet, seven years later, the Spadina streetcar line with its mid-street reservation is recognized as a huge benefit. For example, a survey of about 60 area merchants conducted for the city and TTC showed that 34% believed their business had improved since the line opened, while only 19% said it had declined. About 47% believed the project had had little or no impact on their business. The same study found major positive economic impacts in the Spadina corridor compared with the rest of the city.
[Toronto Star, 18 Sep. 2004]

In addition, the TTC found that the LRT streetcar attracted significantly higher ridership than the previous bus service on Spadina. Ridership on the new Route 510 streetcar soared to about 35,000 a day, compared with about 26,000 on the previous Route 77 bus.
[Toronto Star, 18 Sep. 2004]

The TTC's proposed St. Clair "streetcar right-of-way" (reservation) would upgrade the existing St. Clair streetcar line, currently running in mixed traffic, for 6.7 km (4.2 miles), from Yonge St. to west of Keele St. – an improvement expected increase the streetcar service's speed (6 minutes per end-to-end trip) and safety, and to attract significantly higher ridership. The projected cost of Canadian $65 million (US $52 million, or about $12 million/mile) includes replacing the line's worn trackage, construction to rehabilitate crumbling infrastructure, plus streetscaping, parks, lighting, and other urban amenities added to win public approval.
[Toronto Sun, 30 Sep. 2004; Eye, 29 May 2004]

Coalescing supporters of the St. Clair project has been undertaken by the SCRIPT group (St. Clair Right-of- way initiative for Public Transit), described as "local residents who support improving transit and the quality of life along St. Clair Avenue West by creating a right-of-way for TTC streetcars." More information on SCRIPT and the St. Clair project ban be obtained on their website:

The efforts of SCRIPT and other supporters of the St. Clair project have evidently paid off. in mid- September, a joint session of the City's planning and transportation committee, works committee, and TTC voted 20-1 in favor of the reserved alignment. Then, at the end of September, the Toronto city council voted 36-7 to give the plan the go-ahead. "With this approval, the city has made public transit a priority" observed a reporter for the Toronto Sun.
[R. J. Halperin, 18 Sep 2004; Toronto Sun, 30 Sep. 2004]

11 October 2004

Las Vegas monorail...
Shrink-wrap ads removed?

A correspondent reports from Las Vegas that the monorail is still out of service (see NewsLog entry of 8 October), but that the operators are running test trains "all the time". According to this report, "The advertising which was on the trains has almost all been removed – the advertisers aren't paying for it any more." Furthermore, "Track fasteners continue to be as much a concern as parts falling off the trains; they were falling off the track a month before the system even opened and nobody seems to have an answer." Our correspondent's conclusion: "Marge Simpson was right..."

More on Monorails

11 October 2004

Belgrade plans new light rail network

Belgrade, capital of Serbia (formerly Yugoslavia), plans a new three-line light rail transit (LRT) network to complement its existing tramway (surface LRT streetcar) and suburban railway networks, according to the October issue of Tramways & Urban Transit. The new Belgrade system will include extensive underground portions as well as additional river crossings. Construction is planned from 2006 through 20012, with the first line expected to open in 2008.

8 October 2004

Las Vegas Monorail shut down...
Safety crisis investigated

The Las Vegas monorail – launched on 1 July – has experienced a spate of problems serious enough to shut down the entire operation twice within a week. ironically, while these problems have stemmed from relatively simple vehicle malfunctions, weaknesses in the design of the Las Vegas system appear to have raised critical safety concerns, prompting a more prolonged system shutdown.

The first incident occurred on Wednesday, 1 September, when a trainset dropped a 60-lb guidewheel onto a parking lot below – fortunately, without hitting anyone or causing damage. However, managers closed down the system to investigate the problem. This came at a time of surging market demand from a mammoth trade convention, and extended through the busy Labor Day holiday. After returning to operation briefly on Tuesday, 7 September, the monorail experienced yet another incidence of dropping a piece of hardware, resulting in a more serious shutdown. A large driveshaft washer apparently detached and struck the guideway's high-voltage power conduit on its way down, causing arcing and taking a small chunk out of the beamway.

This latest shutdown, following on the heels of an inspection after the first incident (loss of a guidewheel), apparently is stirring a considerably greater level of alarm, and may be more prolonged. Some of the main consequences of this latest incident include:

· The current status is now being described as an "indefinite shutdown".

· The planned 2.3-mile extension is now considered "in jeopardy" and the project has been put "on hold" as officials and planners evaluate whether the technology is reliable enough for the extension project to proceed.

· A major bond rating company is now evaluating whether to downgrade the status of the Las Vegas monorail bonds (now at a relatively low BBB-) to an even lower level.

The incidents which have prompted these developments appear to corroborate many of the weaknesses of automated monorail technology which articles in Light Rail Now! have discussed – such as the absence of a drip pan beneath the beamways which could prevent debris, lubricants, air-conditioning condensate, etc. from falling to the surface below. Currently, a disaster-investigation firm, Exponent, has been hired to investigate the system's problems and recommend solutions. The firm has investigated other major disasters such as the grounding of the Exxon Valdez, the walkway collapse at the Kansas City Hyatt, and the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City.

information used in this report has been adapted from the Public Transport Progress news distribution list, among other sources.

More on Monorails

2 September 2004

Little Rock: RiverRail heritage streetcar line set to open Nov. 1st...
First test trip taken

Transit activist Peter Ehrlich reports that one of the new Little Rock RiverRail replica Birney streetcars took the first test run on the line the evening of August 25th. Car 410 made a test run around the loop in North Little Rock, near the carbarn (see Little Rock: River Rail Historic Streetcar Project to Bring Back Electric Trolleys).

This launched the beginning of full-line testing and safety certification of the streetcars, a task which will last through early October. Opening of the 2.5-mile, $19.5 million RiverRail streetcar system has been set for 1 November 2004.

Still to come: a $7.6 million, quarter-mile extension, including purchase of two more Gomaco replica Birneys, slated for sometime in 2005. (information from Rail Transit Online, 2004/09/01.)

More on Little Rock Rail Transit

2 September 2004

Madrid goes for light rail

Madrid is the latest major European city to opt for installing new light rail systems – two of them, in fact, reports the latest issue of Tramways & Urban Transit (Sep. 2004), monthly magazine of the UK-based Light Rail Transit Association (LRTA). Madrid already has a metro rail system totalling 150.8 km (93.5 miles), according to the LRTA's website.

According to the report, the Transport Council of the Community of Madrid has announced the launch of two separate LRT construction projects:

  • Project 1: A 2-line system starting at the Colonia Jardin station of the Line 10 metro and running north to Pozuelo de Alarcon and west to Boadilla del Monte – a total of 13.8 km (8.6 mi). The report notes that the first line of this system could eventually be extended to create a 10.0-km (6.2-mi) connection between Pozuelo and the Aravaca suburban rail station.
  • Project 2: A 5.3-km (3.3-mi) line between Plaza de Castilla and Las Tbias and Sanchinarro.

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