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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.

29 December 2005

Waterfront project linked to light rail transit access

Buffalo's light rail transit (LRT) system is a key element in the criteria for establishing a solar-powered theme park on the city's waterfront, according to a recent report in Business First of Buffalo (27 December 2005).

A renewable energy group, the Western New York Sustainable Energy Association, "hopes to create the $3 million Buffalo/Niagara Solar Playground and Learning Park on the Buffalo waterfront" says the Business First report, adding that "The centerpiece of the park would be an enclosed 60-foot 1904 carousel that has been donated by the Herschell Carrousel Museum in North Tonawanda, and which organizers hope to power with solar panels."

"This could be the first waterfront project to come to fruition" noted Sustainable Energy Association director Joan Bozer. Recently, an Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation was created to stimulate and oversee development of Buffalo's harbor areas.

Apparently, no particular site has yet been confirmed for the solar playground, but Bozer said the association has discussed with Buffalo officials the possibility of city land being donated for the project. She noted that a tract of land along Erie Boulevard approaching Erie Basin Marina that the association used for a 2001 solar exhibit would be "ideal".

Evidently, the city's 20-year-old LRT system is a factor in the location of the park. As the Business First article reports, "The main criteria for any eventual home for the solar park are significant sun exposure and accessibility to the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority light-rail system and a city-run bike path."

Buffalo's LRT system is quite unusual in that it is located in a subway tunnel through suburban, predominantly residential, areas, and on a surface transit-pedestrian mall in the city's CBD (central business district). The line runs in subway about 5.2 miles (8.4 km) from the University of Buffalo south campus to the edge of the downtown, then on surface on the Main St. Mall for about a mile through downtown. Currently ridership averages about 18,000-19,000 rider-trips per weekday.

Bozer emphasized that the solar park project could be, as described by the Business First report, "part of a comprehensive effort to encourage use of renewable energy sources and lure wind energy and solar power manufacturers to Western New York."

"We feel that it rightly belongs in our region, this manufacturing and distribution of renewable energy technology. Because that's our heritage" said Bozer. "In 1901, we demonstrated and were way out ahead in technology for hydropower."

More on Buffalo Public Transport Developments

More on Rail Transit Urban Development issues...

29 December 2005

City eyes streetcar, funds $300,000 study

Is Minneapolis moving toward re-installing streetcars? John DeWitt of the Minneapolis-based Transit for Livable Communities (TLC) reports that on 19 Dec. the Minneapolis City Council approved a 2006 budget which includes $300,000 for a "streetcar study". Apparently the idea came from Mayor R. T. Rybak's office.

John adds that the streetcar study will be tacked onto Minneapolis's Ten-Year Transportation Action Plan currently being developed. "That plan basically calls for the implementation of a bus-based Primary Transit Network similar to Portland's Frequent Service Network" he reports.

"My understanding is that the study will evaluate a number of corridors as potential streetcar lines including, I suspect, the Midtown Greenway" says John. The streetcar route, proposed by the Midway Greenway Coalition, would terminate at the Lake Street/Midtown Station of the Hiawatha light rail transit line, in the ward of City Councilmember Gary Schiff, "the lead advocate" for the streetcar proposal on the Council, according to John.

Mayor Rybak is also described as "an enthustiastic supporter" of the streetcar plan. "Unfortunately," says John, "Minneapolis has no money so we need to look into some creative financing methods" to finance a streetcar project.

Correction Note: The original NewLog report attributed information and quotations to Ken Avidor, a Minneapolis transit activist. This attribution was in error, and the article as it appears above now reflects the correct attribution of the information.

More on Minneapolis Public Transport Developments

22 December 2005

Light rail tramway reports operating surplus as ridership jumps 8.4%

Nottingham's tramway (streetcar system) – the newest light rail transit system in Britain – reports that in its first full year of operation since its opening in March 2004, the tramway tallied an operating surplus of about 23,000 (about US$42,000). This, plus ridership increases, has prompted important service improvements, such as standard 5-minute daytime headways on Saturdays and 7-8 minutes on Sundays.
[Tramways & Urban Transit, December 2005]

Nottingham's tramway, operated by Nottingham Express Transit (NET), also recorded an impressive increase in ridership of 8.4% between 2004-2005. As of 31 March 2005, total annual passenger-trips totalled approximately 8.5 million. "Our belief is, if we keep it simple, with frequent trams and easy-to-understand fares, coupled with park-and-ride and integrated buses, we will continue to grow" said NET spokesman Colin Lea.

More on Rail Transit Developments in United Kingdom

16 December 2005

DART light rail pulls another major firm into city's downtown

More evidence of the magnetic appeal of rail transit in attracting development to help revitalize the cores of cities – this time, in Dallas, where the presence of the Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) light rail transit (LRT) line is apparently a significant factor in persuading major companies to locate their headquarters downtown.

The Dallas Morning News (1 December 2005) reports that the major Dallas architectural firm Corgan Associates Inc. is planning to build a new corporate office in downtown Dallas's West End district – once a run-down warehouse area, but now a vibrant center.of upscale restaurants, shops, and offices served by DART's West End LRT station.

The News reports that "Corgan is the third company this year – along with Hunt Consolidated Inc. and 7-Eleven Inc. – to announce plans to build its headquarters downtown."

According to the article, Corgan selected the West End site because it was a "Convenient location" with easy access to DART's light rail system "and other amenities in the entertainment district."

More on Dallas Public Transport Developments

16 December 2005

Green Line line rail expansion project moves ahead

San Francisco streetcar motorman and rail transit enthusiast Peter Ehrlich reports (internet postings, 15 Nov. 2005) that Portland, Oregon's TriMet transit agency has authorized the purchase of 33 parcels of property for the 6.5-mile Green Line light rail transit (LRT) extension along I-205 from Gateway Transit Center to Clackamas Town Center. Peter notes that the right-of-way is already in place, and final engineering is already under way. Revenue service could begin by 2009.

The $557 million earmarked for this project also includes funding to install LRT trackage on Portland's Downtown Transit Mall, which occupies 5th and 6th Avenues.

The Portland LRT expansion project appears to provide yet another indication of the enormous success of rail transit where it has been installed – underscored by strong local commitment and enthusiasm to extend the regional spread of these systems and to upgrade services.

Green Line Station locations include: Gateway Transit Center (TC); SE Main Street; SE Division Street; SE Powell Blvd.; SE Holgate Blvd.; SE Foster Road; SE Flavel Street; SE Johnson Creek Blvd.; and Clackamas Town Center TC.

More information can be found at the TriMet website:

More on Portland Public Transport Developments

8 December 2005

Urban public transport ridership leaps

The Port Authority of Allegheny County (PAAC) reports that its light rail transit (LRT), bus, and other public transit services averaged 259,765 weekday rider-trips in September, the agency's highest figure in 41 months and almost 14,000 more than it carried the same time a year ago, according to an article in the Pittsburgh Business Times (11 October 2005).

The paper related the view of PAAC representatives that the high price of motor fuel had "pushed Pittsburgh drivers out of their cars and onto public transportation...." PAAC provides bus, light rail, paratransit, and incline railway service throughout 730 square miles of Allegheny County, Pennsylvania and portions of Armstrong, Beaver, Washington, and Westmoreland counties – a region which has seen intensive highway expansion which has reinforced urban sprawl.

Public transport has grown modestly despite a massive increase in public investment supporting its major competitor, the private motor vehicle system. The Annual Mobility Report of the Texas Transportation institute gives an idea of the massive expansion of the Pittsburgh urban area's roadway system. Between 1982-2003, freeway lane miles grew from 800 to1,250 (a 56% increase) and total roadway centerline miles grew from 7,695 to 8,885 (15%). At most, PAAC's LRT and high- quality busway system grew by a few dozen miles over that same period.

Noting that "Perhaps not coincidentally, the upswing in mass transit use comes at a time when the price of gas in the region has hovered around $3 a gallon", the Business Times quoted PAAC acting CEO Dennis Veraldi, who noted that "More and more people are realizing the outstanding cost efficiency of public transportation."

More on Pittsburgh Public Transport Developments

7 December 2005

St. Louis:
MetroLink light rail daily ridership averages over 46,100

In St. Louis, Citizens for Modern Transit Executive Director Tom Shrout reports that weekday ridership of the metro area's MetroLink light rail transit (LRT) system averaged 46,140 this past October.

October ridership figures released by Metro, the regional transit agency, show strong growth for both the MetroBus and MetroLink systems. Tom notes that MetroBus was up 10.8 percent for the month while MetroLink was up 6.8 percent.

Average weekday ridership in October for MetroLink was 46,140. illinois MetroLink ridership was up 22.49 percent for the month. Systemwide ridership for the first four months of the fiscal year is up 6.5 percent.

More on St. Louis Public Transport Developments

7 December 2005

November light rail transit ridership nearly 59% over forecast

Despite a drop in Twins games at Minneapolis's Metrodome, the city's new Hiawatha light rail transit (LRT) line still managed to draw ridership this past November nearly 59% above what planners had forecast.

Actual ridership for the month was 696,160, vs. a forecast: of about 438,600, reports John DeWitt of Transit for Livable Communities. Weekday ridership averaged 25,165 rider-trips, with Saturdays averaging 24,902, and Sunday/holiday ridership averaging 13,617.

John also reports that "The system is at capacity during peak hours so ridership increases are highly dependent on off-peak ridership such as events at the Metrodome." These have dropped off since the summer.

More on Minneapolis-St. Paul Public Transport Developments

16 November 2005

More evidence of a vibrant downtown helped by high-quality public transport

"Banks follow the crowds" headlined the Denver Post (9 Nov.) focusing on how the revitalization of Denver's once-moribund downtown is attracting new commercial activity – particularly retail – into the core area, as more and more Denver area residents, employees, and visitors have poured into the city's heart.

The latest financial institution to jump in, according to the article, is Minnesota's TCF Financial Corp., which up till recently "has largely limited its presence in Colorado to the Denver suburbs and Colorado Springs...." That limit doesn't apply anymore – TCF is opening a new branch "on the busy corner of 16th and California streets. "

"It is about convenience" said Wayne Marty, president of TCF Bank in Colorado. "You place a retail outlet where the people are."

And how are all these people getting there? Apparently, Denver's light rail transit (LRT) system and other public transport are a major factor. Taking note of a crowd deboarding from an LRT train just outside the window of TCF's new branch, Marty emphasized, "We want to make those people our customers."

The new TCF, notes the Post, is just across Denver's downtown transit-pedestrian mall from a Washington Mutual branch that opened in 2003 next to the Denver Metro Convention and Visitors Bureau's information center. And the Bank of Denver is also making plans "to establish a foothold on the mall" – moving its headquarters "to a location uptown" at 17th Avenue and Clarkson Street.

Furthermore, says the article, "Even banks that once had a spot on the mall and left, such as Chase Bank (formerly Bank One), are seeking a way back in."

"You look at downtown and the life it has taken on" said Steve Shaffer, Chase's marketing manager. "It is a matter of finding the right deal." Apparently, good public transport is helping sweeten that deal.

More on Denver Public Transport Developments

16 November 2005

Miffed at board's action, railworker unions threaten to shut down Northeast Corridor

Apparently responding to recent actions by Amtrak's board of directors to begin steps to dismantle the rail network, and last week's summary dismissal of President and CEO David L. Gunn, two major railworkers' unions began expressing their dismay and anger, picketing Amtrak's Newark Penn Station, and warning of a potential strike, according to a media release in PRNewswire (15 November). Text of the release is posted below.

The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen and the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees, which together comprise the Rail Division of the international Brotherhood of Teamsters will be picketing Amtrak's Newark Penn Station at 3:00 p.m. on Tuesday, November 15, 2005 to protest a six-year stalemate in contract negotiations which if not resolved will lead to the shutdown of Amtrak's Northeast Corridor. In addition, the two Unions will be protesting the plans of the White House-appointed Amtrak Board of Directors to break up the railroad with so-called reforms that are designed to attack railroad employees' pensions and outsource union jobs. The Locomotive Engineers represent 3,000 employees who operate Amtrak's trains. The Maintenance of Way Employees represent 2,500 employees who construct and maintain the railroad track, building and bridges and overhead catenary system on Amtrak's Northeast Corridor. They represent approximately 40% of Amtrak's unionized workers.

Mark Kenney, General Chairman of the Locomotive Engineers Division said, "The current Amtrak Board of Directors are political patrons of the White House and know nothing about operating a railroad and in fact are opposed to the continued operation of Amtrak. The White House is using the Amtrak Board to engage in old-fashioned union busting in order to shift this public asset to the private campaign contributors of the administration. We are calling upon all who care about rail passenger service in America to contact their representatives to encourage them to properly fund Amtrak and to replace the current Amtrak leadership with competent railroad professionals with a mandate to provide this vital economic service to the American people."

Jed Dodd, General Chairman of the Maintenance of Way Workers Division, said, "We have been trying to negotiate a new agreement with Amtrak's White House-appointed Board of Directors for six long years. Amtrak continues to insist on new terms that will slash health care for our disabled workers, real wage cuts for the rest of us and work rule changes that will brutalize working conditions. White House-appointed political appointees have held us in mediation for five and one-half years. They are opposed to unions and collective bargaining and have only met with us 12 times during that period. This situation is headed to a service shutdown of Amtrak which will also shut down the commuters who depend upon the Northeast Corridor. Rail passengers need to contact their political representatives and insist on a fair resolution of this problem."

For further information, union spokesmen can be contacted as follows:

Pennsylvania Federation of BMWE Division of the Teamsters

Jed Dodd
Phone 215.569-1285

Mark Kenney

More on Amtrak and intercity public transport ...

More on policy and political issues ...

12 November 2005

Texas's new rail relocation fund opens possibilities for more rail passenger and rail transit services in state

While the Bush administration has been stepping up its efforts to bludgeon intercity rail passenger service and constrain urban rail transit development, efforts to actually improve and expand these kinds of public transport services have just been given at least a modest boost in the US state of Texas. As we have noted (below) in our article Texas rail relocation measure passes, the approval of Texas's new Rail Relocation and improvement Fund by voters this past Tuesday (8 November) "opens the possibility for major improvements to rail transport safety and intercity passenger service, and the use of urban railway corridors for public transit projects." in a statement issued in Dallas on 11 November, Texas Rail Advocates (TRA) – one of several statewide organizations promoting rail passenger transportation in Texas – called the vote "an historic step toward future development of faster and more dependable passenger rail service in the state."

"By the passage of State Proposition 1 we now have the means to help the freight railroads relocate and improve their original lines throughout the state and that makes it possible to plan for faster freight and passenger trains" said Paul Mangelsdorf, Executive Director of TRA.

The group's formal statement continued:

Texas Rail Advocates urges TxDOT [Texas Department of Transportation] to lay out a priority list of the most important rail relocation and improvement projects in the state and to engage the three largest freight rail carriers, Union Pacific Railroad, BNSF Railway and Kansas City Southern Railroad in serious talks on the issues.

As the advocate organization's Executive Director Mangelsdorf pointed out, "Texas is mostly a one-track rail system with some passing sidings. We must prepare for rail gridlock in the next decade if the lines are not upgraded."

The group spelled out some of its recommendations for speeding up intercity railroad operations:

TRA believes that one of the key plans should include an engineering and feasibility study of the South Central High Speed Rail Corridor that the U.S. Department of Transportation authorized five years ago. This tri-state rail corridor, using enhanced infrastructure improvements including grade crossings and signaling, would be capable of handling containerized and trailer freight trains up to 90 miles per hour and fast, frequent passenger service up to 110 miles per hour between major Texas cities. It would give travelers an attractive, dependable option to expensive automobile travel.

Mangelsdorf noted that passage of the Rail Relocation and improvement Fund means that many rail grade crossings can be eliminated or improved in the future, leading to fewer motor vehicle-train accidents. "importantly, in addition to safety, taking some of the heavy truck traffic off our beaten-down overburdened highways will also help improve air quality" Mangelsdorf said. "Texas Rail Advocates believes that our economic engine in Texas will be riding on the rails as new industries find the state to be more inviting because of a dynamic transportation system" Mangelsdorf added.

Texas Rail Advocates and Paul Mangelsdorf, Executive Director, can be contacted as follows:

Phone: 214.749-3549

More on policy and political issues ...

10 November 2005

in post-election "palace coup", Bush appointees cut off rail passenger agency's head

In an abrupt, post-election-day move clearly aimed at furthering the Bush administration's agenda of dismembering the Amtrak system and decisively smashing what remains of America's intercity rail passenger service, the Amtrak board – consisting of Bush administration appointees – on Wednesday, 9 November summarily fired the agency's president and CEO, David L. Gunn. Gunn, widely acclaimed for bringing exceptional management to Amtrak and turning the agency around at many levels, had resisted the Bush administration's goal of essentially dissolving a coherent national rail passenger system.

The board's move – taken swiftly immediately after election day (which brought its own generally disastrous results for Bush's overall political agenda) – had all the hallmarks of a carefully plotted purge, or "palace coup", designed to avoid political embarassment for the administration which could have been exploited in the previous election campaign. Perhaps suspecting something sinister was in the works, just two days previously, the National Association of Railroad Passengers (NARP) had issued a media release enumerating some of Gunn's outstanding contributions to improving and reforming the rail passenger agency. For example, NARP pointed out, Amtrak, under Gunn,

· Has taken on no new debt since the July, 2002, DOT loan provided shortly after Gunn arrived at Amtrak and discovered its cash crisis. Amtrak is reducing its debt.

· "Reports monthly results more quickly than most companies our size," and makes detailed monthly performance reports available on-line. [This quotation and the one in the next paragraph are from President/CEO David L. Gunn's letter of September 2, 2005, to the Government Accountability Office.]

· Has, regarding accounting, from Fiscal 2002 to 2004, "reduced our material weaknesses from 5 to 0 and our reportable conditions from 12 to 1...our net audit adjustments have also decreased from $109 million in FY02 to just $7 million in FY04. According to our independent auditors, KPMG..., there has been a strong emphasis on improving our controls and updating our policies and procedures."

· Has not "purchased" its ridership growth with low fares. The FY05 yield (average fare per passenger-mile) was 15% above the FY00 level, and yield has risen each year during that period except in FY03.

Not surprisingly, Amtrak supporters, and many advocates and professionals in the public transport industry, are outraged at the Bush board's action. As reported by the Washington Post (9 Nov.), US Senator Charles Schumer, a Democrat representing New York state, praised Gunn as "a brilliant manager" and warned his firing "decapitated Amtrak".
Schumer and other Democrats argued Gunn's removal may have been illegal because the seven-member Amtrak board has three vacancies while two members serve by recess appointment. That was disputed by Amtrak's board chairman, David Laney.

Gunn, in a brief telephone interview with the New York Times, noted, "Obviously what their goal is, and it's been their goal from the beginning, is to liquidate the company." At the moment, it's unclear what action, if any, Congressional Amtrak supporters will take, although the New York Times reported that, in regard to Gunn, "Some of Amtrak's supporters immediately pledged to seek his re-instatement."

One thing is clear: This destructive action by the Bush administration and its appointees – especially coming in the midst of growing concerns over petroleum shortages and supply disruptions, and the vulnerability of highway and air transport systems – has very grave consequences for mass transportation in the USA, and continues to fit the current administration's consistent pattern of hostility toward rail public transport services of all types.

More on Amtrak and intercity public transport ...

More on policy and political issues ...

9 November 2005

New York City:
Second Ave. subway, here we come – bond vote wins!

In New York state, Proposition Q2 – authorizing transportation bonds, including the local share of New York City's proposed Second Avenue subway – has won with approximately 55% of the total vote.

This apparently means the new subway construction project – planned for many decades – can proceed. The Second Avenue line will become the first new subway extension to be built in the city since World War Two.

Material in this report has been adapted from postings to the Public Transport Progress news distribution list.

9 November 2005

More 2005 vote results:
Texas rail relocation measure passes; Seattle monorail loses

Two other major public transportation-related issues fared differently in the Nov. 8th vote.

In Texas, Proposition 1 – to authorize a fund for railroad relocation – won with about 53% of the total vote. This opens the possibility for major improvements to rail transport safety and intercity passenger service, and the use of urban railway corridors for public transit projects.

In Seattle, Proposition 1 – a modified monorail construction project – lost, by about 36% to 64%. This may bring an end to the effort to install a new monorail system in the city.

Material in this report has been adapted from postings to the Public Transport Progress news distribution list.

2 November 2005

Light rail cited as reason for city's site selection by Google

The high-tech internet firm Google – whose online search engine is a familiar tool for millions of users – has announced it's setting up a new engineering center and bringing 600 jobs to the Phoenix urban area ... and Phoenix's light rail transit (LRT) project is part of the reason.

In regard to the location decision, "Which factors played a bigger role is hard to say" comments the Arizona Republic (30 Oct. 2005), citing a variety of factors like lower labor costs; lower state income-tax bills; excellent local educational resources (such as Arizona State Unversity); and a "relatively disaster-free environment, a far cry from the earthquake-prone areas of northern and Southern California."

But, as the Republic reports, other critical factors – including public transportation – were specifically cited by company leaders themselves as reasons for the venture: "Google officials also indicated they liked the direction the state is headed under [Gov.] Napolitano, and of course the infrastructure projects moving forward such as light rail and downtown Phoenix redevelopment."

As some economists (and the Federal Transit Administration) would argue, Google's new economic investment in Phoenix shouldn't be tallied as a quantifiable benefit of LRT – Google obviously intended to plunk down its engineering center and 600 jobs somewhere; it didn't hinge on an LRT project or any other specific external factor. But savvy urban leaders, decisionmakers, and planners understand that major mobility and quality-of-life amenities like LRT (and the progressive public transport system it will be interconnected with) are major capital pieces in the ongoing chess game of urban economic development – and they can play a role in specific locational and economic decisions such as Google's. This seems to be something that visionaries, rather than bean-counters, have a better grasp of.

More on Phoenix Public Transport Developments

2 November 2005

New Jersey:
Harassment, detention of railway photographer illustrates spreading "security" abuse

More examples continue to come to light of the dangerous impact of the "terrorism" hysteria sweeping the USA – an hysteria which continues to prompt authorities, from transit officials to law-enforcement personnel, to target and harass railway and transit photographers, all in the context of a drive to criminalize rail and transit photography on an ever-widening scale. A particularly outrageous case, coming to our attention from Railpace newsmagazine, involves Bruce Barry, brother of Railpace editor Steve Barry. The Barry case illustrates the particularly sinister behavior widely reported with respect to New Jersey law-enforcement authorities at various levels and jurisdictions.

Barry was accosted by Greenwich Township (New Jersey) police while taking pictures of a railroad switching locomotive from a public roadway in the vicinity of a Valero refinery. Local police, referencing what they called a "protocol of the Attorney General's office and the Glocester County Prosecutor's office", insisted he turn over his digital camera flash card. When Barry refused, the law officers advised him he would be arrested for obstruction of justice.

Barry continued to refuse, standing on his (supposed) civil rights, and was taken to a downtown police station and booked. There he was subsequently advised of a "policy adopted by the US Department of Homeland Security". After several hours, Barry was released with an admonition that he would be listed on two Homeland Security databases. He was also advised to "get a new hobby".

A month later, Barry appeared in municipal court and entered a plea of Not Guilty. His attorney filed a demand for Discovery, requesting copies of the "protocols", Attorney General guidelines, or any Homeland Security regulations which would require Barry to turn over his film. The authorities offered a plea bargain, but this was refused by Barry. According to the Railpace report, "One police offer becomes visibly angry in open court." The Judge granted the Discovery request.

Three months later, the complaint against Barry was dismissed by the court "when no guidelines or other information could be found to substantiate the grounds for arrest", concludes the Railpace article.

More on security issues and the controversy over efforts to criminalize railway and transit photography...

31 October 2005

Luas light rail tramway network's performance exceeds expectations

Dublin's new Luas light rail tramway (LRT) system has performed well above original expectations, prompting officials and system planners to proceed with ambitious expansion plans. Tramways & Urban Transit (T&UT) of August 2005 reports that, by mid-summer 2005, Luas had already carried over 15 million passenger-trips – "far more" than the initial targets at its launch in June 2004.

The system is also having a substantial impact on urban development patterns and property values. "Estate agents also report that the value of nearby properties has increased by 15%, and traders are also doing better" relates the journal.

According to the September issue of T&UT, because of the tramway's surprisingly outstanding performance, planning for expansion is advancing rapidly, with two extensions to the system being pursued immediately – extending the Green Line to Cherrywood, and the Red Line to Point Depot. In addition, a connecing link between the two routes is also eyed. The October issue of T&UT further reports that a total of six extensions over the next 10 years is being pushed as part of the irish government's "ambitious" 30 billion (about US$36 billion) public transport investment plan.

The amazing capacity of the LRT was demonstrated on 24 June, when the system carried a total of 91,398 passenger-trips to a live U2 concert at Croke Park. During the month of June, daily ridership averaged about 65,500, "almost half of them former car users", according to T&UT. "Reduced traffic is noticeable" the journal reports.

Between 5 July 2004 and 27 June 2005, the total number of revenue trips carried on the system totalled nearly 16.5 million. Officials report that Luas is "on course" to reach 20 million total passenger-trips in 2005.

"I am delighted with the way in which Dublin has taken to Luas" said Frank Allen, chief executive of the Railway Procurement Agency. "We were always confident we would meet our targets, but it is gratifying to see we have managed to surpass all expectations, and that Luas has so quickly established itself as an integral part of the Dublin landscape."

More on Rail Transit Developments in ireland

28 October 2005

Transit ridership hits highest level in 30 years

Public transportation in Denver carried its highest number of passenger-trips in its 30 years of operation – 85 million passenger trips between September 2004 and September 2005 – the Regional Transportation District (RTD) announced on Tuesday, 18 October. That represents a 3.7 percent increase over the 82 million passenger-trips carried the previous year, says the agency.

RTD spokesman Scott Reed told a reporter for the Rocky Mountain News (19 October 2005) that most of the ridership increase has been experienced on regional bus routes, although all modes of public transit have seen increases "with the exception of special services such as bus rides for Broncos, Rockies and Avalanche games" (where ridership downturns might be attributable to the cancelled hockey season and "the last-place finish of the Rockies").

Higher motor-fuel prices may account for some of the upsurge. However, many passengers simply seem attracted to the convenience of riding transit.

As an example, the news reporter focused on the case of light rail rider Blaine Howerton, who told the reporter that he rides transit because "he doesn't have to fight traffic or worry about parking and generally can relax for the short trip."

RTD's Reed said the jump in passenger trips was somewhat surprising, since RTD hasn't added any routes over the course of the year.

More on Denver Public Transport

28 October 2005

Las Vegas:
Monorail ridership drops nearly 12%

More problems emerged for Las Vegas's automated monorail this past month, as both ridership and revenues failed to meet expectations. "Las Vegas Monorail ridership has tumbled by nearly 12 percent since hitting an all-time high earlier this year, with fewer than 29,000 riders taking the rapid transit system each day last month" reported the Las Vegas Review-Journal on 20 October.

According to the paper, which cited figures from the monorail agency, "Only 28,983 people used the monorail each day in September, the second consecutive month the line lost riders since averaging a record 32,928 riders in July...." The Review-Journal also pointed out that "September's ridership of 869,515 passengers is the lowest monthly total since just 621,909 people rode the trains in February."

Monorail system officials said they weren't alarmed by the ridership drop, attributing it to a "seasonal" drop. However, the ridership decline is not a propitious sign, since the $650 million system has yet to break even financially – a critical element of its financing plan. Indeed, monorail advocates in the USA have used the projections of "profitability" as a weapon to attack more conventional rail transit development programs, such as light rail, which almost universally depend on public funding for their budgetary support.

As the Review-Journal recounted,

September also was the lowest farebox revenue month since June, with the monorail bringing in $2,559,855 from fares last month, or $85,328 a day.
That's well short of the estimated $139,000 a day in fares and ad revenues needed to cover the system's operating costs and debt service.

"We need to be earning another $40,000, $50,000 a day," said Curtis Myles, president and CEO of the Las Vegas Monorail Co. Monorail officials told the paper they're hoping they'll be able to increase ridership and sell additional train and station sponsorships to close the revenue gap.

The rosy, upbeat theme was also projected by Terry Murphy, a monorail board member. "Would I like the numbers to be bigger? Absolutely. Do I think we'll do better? Absolutely!" he told the paper. "We always want the numbers to be higher."

According to the Review-Journal, monorail officials "also hope that the system's growing reliability will make it an easier sell to potential passengers." The totally automated system has been afflicted with a host of problems, including parts that detached from trainsets, which led to a major crisis last year. However, the paper noted, the monorail "has suffered systemwide shutdowns on only three days this year, compared with 113 days last year."

"We haven't had anything that shut down the system entirely or significantly affected availability" since spring, CEO Myles told the reporter. "it's been pretty good."

More on Las Vegas Public Transport

More on Monorail issues

28 October 2005

New Jersey:
Latest Hudson-Bergen Light Rail Transit extension in Weehawken nears opening

The Hudson-Bergen Light Rail Transit (HBLRT) line in northern New Jersey is preparing to open its next major new extension, to Port imperial in Weehawken. New Jersey Transit (NJT) intends to start running trains to the new station on weekends, hopefully starting this Saturday (29 October).

In early September 2004, the HBLRT project extended the LRT line approximately 2.6 miles (4.2 km) into Weehawken, opening three new stations – one at the western termination of Second Street in Hoboken, one at the western termination of Ninth Street in Hoboken, and one at Lincoln Harbor in Weehawken This expanded the system to a total of 20 stations in operation, running from 22nd street in Bayonne to Weehawken.

On Monday, 24 October, federal, state, and local officials applauded the latest milestone in the $2.1 billion project, crediting the Hudson Bergen Light Rail with stimulating widespread economic growth and helping reduce congestion on the area's roads and highways.

"Today, we celebrate, yes, that a new stop is going into effect" said Rep. Robert Menendez, a Democratic Representative from Hoboken, who has helped attract millions of federal dollars into the project. "But in my mind, we celebrate a stop of opportunity – the opportunity for greater jobs, economic development, cleaner air, and a better environment."

The latest segment is part of a longer extension. The project includes the forthcoming service to Port imperial in Weehawken; then the extension continues to Bergenline Avenue in Union City/West New York, and Tonnelle Avenue in North Bergen, expected to be completed in January 2006. Until then, trains will run every 15 minutes on Saturdays and Sundays between Port imperial and Hoboken Terminal, with a fare of $1.75 each way.

According to the Jersey Journal (25 October), transportation officials also expect to open a new ferry terminal in Weehawken, directly across from the Port imperial station, in the spring of 2006. Transit riders will be provided easy access to the ferry terminal via a pedestrian bridge.

"This gives residents choices, not just choices of how to get around the county but how to get into New York City" said New Jersey Department of Transportation Commissioner Jack Lettiere at Monday's ceremony. "This isn't about moving people from Point A to B, but about building communities and making people's lives better."

More on New Jersey Public Transport

28 October 2005

Portland's light rail transit helps reduce per-capita greenhouse emissions, says study

According to scientists at the University of Washington in Seattle, there are increasing indications that the Pacific Northwest, ranging from Oregon to British Columbia to Alaska, is warming up faster than elsewhere on earth. And it seems to be a trend that's likely to accelerate, says reporter Brad Knickerbocker in an article in the Christian Science Monitor (27 October 2005) reporting on the UW study.

But, while most places in the US have been losing the battle against global warming – in fact, probably contributing to the problem – one city has actually been making some small headway in terms of reducing, per capita, the carbon dioxide emissions which scientific consensus agrees are a major contributor to the problem. That city is Portland, Oregon, and, according to the article, Portland's light rail transit (LRT) system has helped.

"Portland, Ore. and surrounding Multnomah County have nudged carbon dioxide emissions to a level below 1990, a first for any major American city" reports Knickerbocker. He goes on to elaborate:

With help from two new light-rail public transit lines, the planting of some 750,000 carbon-absorbing trees, financial incentives for energy-efficient "green" buildings, and weatherization of more than 10,000 apartments and houses, per capita emissions in Portland dropped 13 percent over the past 10 years. Nationally, there's been an increase of about 1 percent per capita.

The complete Christian Science Monitor article is available at the following URL:

More on Portland Public Transport

25 October 2005

Light rail ridership hits record high of 58,000 per weekday

Even before Sacramento's Regional Transit (RT) agency opened its new light rail transit (LRT) extension to Folsom, the system was hitting new ridership records. "For the first time in history," reported the Sacramento Union (13 October 2005), "RT buses and light rail trains carried more than three million passengers in a single month." As the paper noted, RT's September 2005 ridership level increased six percent over that of September 2004 numbers – mainly lifted by soaring LRT ridership. "Bus ridership was fairly flat," the Union related, "but light rail ridership jumped from 47,000 average daily riders in September 2004 to 58,000 average riders last month. That was another record milestone never before reached by the RT light rail system."

According to the article, RT officials surmise that high motor fuel prices influenced the system's spike in ridership, which, for LRT, represented a 23 percent increase. Moreover, officials had been anticipating a slight drop in ridership after RT raised its base fare from $1.50 to $1.75 in September and reduced service on a few bus routes. "The combination of these two factors would normally cause ridership to decline, at least for a few months," notes the Union, and RT had predicted September's bus ridership at 62,100 passengers per day. "But the actual average was 70,300, 13 percent higher than the estimate."

RT has forecast further ridership increases from its startup of LRT service to Folsom on 15 October (see article below).

More on Sacramento Public Transport

25 October 2005

"Green Line" monorail project faces mounting troubles, re-vote on Nov. 8th

The bad news for Seattle's Green Line monorail project just doesn't seem to stop coming. The most recent is that the project will have to face yet another re-vote this coming November 8th.

The Seattle monorail project's troubles have been brewing so fast, in fact, that it's actually difficult to keep abreast of them. All told, the deepening swamp of problems appears to corroborate the predictions of pro-rail transit monorail critics who warned that the monorail project (presented as a superior alternative to Seattle's light rail project) would not be able to fulfill its extravagant promises in terms of cost, finances, environmental impact, ridership, and other aspects. Here are some of the major highlights in this continually deepening crisis:

· Design and environmental problems – As we reported in Seattle: Huge Monorail Project Faces Growing Community Squabbles, the project's system designs, responding to real-world conditions, began to depart significantly from the airy, graceful beamways pictured during the political campaign to win voter support for the project. For example, instead of 3-foot-wide support pillars, engineers found heftier piers 4 to 6 feet wide necessary to support the beamways, stations, and other elevated infrastructure. Downtown highrise office and apartment dwellers rebelled at the prospect of trains passing within a few feet of their windows. The public began to realize that Seattle streets would be overhung with massive elevated stations and shadowed by giant elevated monorail beamway switching platforms.

· Revenue shortfall – in August 2003, the monorail agency (Seattle Monorail Project, SMP) reported that its actual revenue (from a special motor vehicle tax) was coming in one-third below projections, throwing the project into a budgetary crisis. The following December, Finance Director Daniel Malarkey resigned.

· Single bidder – in August 2004, one of the two bidders on the "Green Line" monorail project dropped out (Team Monorail, led by Bombardier, said it couldn't produce the required performance bonds). This left one solitary bidder – Cascadia, organized around Japan's Hitachi, Ltd.

· More design problems – Responding to the project's revenue shortfall, project designers began to propose major sections of single-beam guideway to reduce costs. However, critics argued that this would reduce the line's capacity, and also pointed out that the necessity for the line to alternate between two-beam and single-beam segments created the need for even more of the large, expensive switching structures overhanging the city's streets.

· Cost and financing crisis – By the early summer of this year, the project's estimated cost, originally claimed to be $1.6 billion, had ballooned to $2.1 billion (reportedly the price at that time being negotiated with Cascadia, the single remaining bidder) – and that for a design now pared down to spartan standards. But, when the SMP's new plan for financing the more costly project (with less revenues) was publicly released this past June, all hell broke loose. Analyses clearly showed that, with the period of debt service approximately doubled, the total cost of the project, with debt service, had virtually exploded to $11 billion. In fact, by some estimates, reportedly based on more realistic assumptions, the total cost with financing actually hit $14 billion for the then-planned 14-mile line – amounting to about $1 billion per mile for what was in fact only a medium-capacity, elevated system. As a result, community outrage went off the scale, former major supporters (such as the Seattle Post-Intelligencer) turned against the entire scheme, and public support plummeted, with a majority now opposing the project in polls.

· Management upheavals – The monorail project's crisis has led to major upheavals in the management of SMP. On 4 July, the two most prominent leaders of the project – SMP board chairman, Tom Weeks, and the project's executive director, Joel Horn – resigned. Weeks was hastily replaced as chairperson by Kristina Hill, a University of Washington landscape-architecture professor and longtime monorail supporter, on the monorail advocacy campaign-come-agency board since 1998. However, even Hill has announced she plans to leave the SMP board when her term expires this December. In addition, in recent primary elections for two publicly chosen representatives to the SMP board, two monorail critics beat the incumbent directors.

· State auditor criticizes project – in early September, Washington's state auditor completed a probe which found serious flaws with the monorail project's finances and warned that the agency's debt limit was abnormally high.

· Mayor, council turn against project – The fortunes of the monorail project continued to worsen in September with the souring of critical political support. First, Mayor Greg Nickels – previously, a strong monorail supporter – withdrew his support and called for "termination" of the project. Shortly thereafter, Seattle's City Council voted unanimously not to issue the permits essential for the project to proceed – an action effectively paralyzing the project, since no construction can begin without the city's permission to use city roadways for right-of-way.

· Re-vote scheduled – Facing a veritable avalnche of top-level political and media opposition, the SMP (which had resisted either altering the planned 14-mile project, or calling a vote) finally agreed to place a revised project again before Seattle voters on 8 November.

· Monorail line shortened – Political reality also forced the SMP to agree to pare down the project to fit a smaller budget. Thus, instead, of a 14-mile system, Seattle voters will be presented with a much shorter, 10.6-mile line – serving much less of the Seattle area, with less ridership, than originally envisioned. And other aspects of the design have also been shaved to cut costs. The number of trainsets has been reduced, station platforms have been shortened, and designers now plan to build one beamway instead of two across the West Seattle Bridge – thus limiting the monorail line's ability to serve commuters and game-day crowds. Despite these reductions in capacity, a recent study found that peak crowding levels (if SMP ridership projections are actually achieved) would be greater than those on the New Yotk City subway system.

· Public support erodes – As the monorail project now heads into a vote in November, prospects of voter support – comfortably favorable in the past – are now not looking propitious. An Oct. 5 poll of 544 likely Seattle voters performed by Survey USA for KING-TV found that 58 percent were opposed and 39 percent were in favor of the monorail project (Proposition 1, which would authorize construction of a shorter, 10.6-mile elevated transit line).

The growing crisis engulfing the Seattle "Green Line" monorail project should caution planners and decisionmakers to beware of "silver bullet" public transport "solutions", especially those hawking glitzy, gadget technology as supposedly "miracle mode" alternatives to more well-proven methodologies and systems. As we noted in our article Seattle: Monorail project's financial uncertainty sets off alarms, "...all major transportation projects, including some light rail projects, may similarly encounter a variety of problems as they proceed."

But the Seattle Monorail Project was sold to voters in 2002 as a problem-free, lower-cost, thoroughly "honest" alternative to the then somewhat disgraced Link light rail transit (LRT) project.... LRT opponents at the time had leaped to counter [LRT] with the monorail plan as part of an effort to abort further development of the LRT program. (instead, the Link LRT project was revamped to give priority to development of the south line into the Rainier Valley, and that is now under construction.)
in the 2002 campaign [for voter approval of the "Green Line" monorail project], monorail agency and campaign officials had dismissed critics' charges they were lowballing costs, exaggerating revenues, and otherwise "cooking" projections about their project. Now it appears that at least some of those charges might have been on target. And, in any case, these recent developments tend to provide additional evidence that monorails are not the "miracle transit" solution their promoters would have the public believe – and in fact are as vulnerable to common problems as any other major transit project.

More on Seattle Public Transport

More on Monorail issues

21 October 2005

Philadelphia, San Jose, Sacramento:
More new light rail lines open

Rail transit in the USA continues to exhibit vitality and growth with the completion and opening of three major light rail transit (LRT) projects in three different cities.

· Philadelphia – Sunday, 4 September 2005, was the first day of operations of the reconstructed and reopened Route 15-Girard Avenue streetcar line of the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA). Bus had been substituted on the route for approximately the past 13 years. The 8.2-mile (13.2-km) line, with 18 totally restored PCC 1940s-era streetcars, was rehabilitated at a total project cost of about US $88 million (i.e., about $11 million per mile). Opening of the Girard line brings SEPTA's total rail system to approximately 375 miles (605 km), which includes an impressive network of urban and suburban LRT, rail rapid transit, and regional passenger rail services.

· San Jose – On 1 October 2005, the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) opened the remaining 5.3 miles (8.5 km) of the agency's Vasona LRT line, connecting the new Diridon Station in San Jose with Winchester Station in the exurb of Campbell. As we reported in San Jose's "Comeback Kid" Light Rail System Opens First Link of Vasona Extension, a small first segment had been opened for public operation on 1 August. The completion of the $316.8 million extension (with a unit cost of about $60 million/mile, pushed up by expensive tunnel and viaduct construction) had been eagerly awaited in the small town, and was greeted by a "festive grand opening", according to the San Jose Mercury News of 2 October 2005. in another article (4 October), another Mercury News reporter was pleasantly surprised to find trains on the new extension well-patronized. With an average 23,000 rider-trips a day, he noted, LRT ridership has now risen 7.5% over the level a year ago.

· Sacramento – On Saturday, 15 October 2005, a Regional Transit LRT train made the first regularly scheduled trip from the historic Folsom station over the newly completed 7.4-mile (11.9- km) Folsom line. As we reported in Sacramento: Another 2.8 miles of Folsom LRT Extension Opens, an initital, shorter segment, with 3 stations, had already opened in June 2004. The latest extension completes the line to Folsom and has added four additional stations, at a total cost of about $255 million (about $34 million per mile). According to an initial report in the Sacramento Bee (18 October), the new service is attracting a healthy level of ridership; as the reporter enthused, "It was an urban mass-transit moment seldom if ever seen before in Sacramento: light-rail trains so packed that late-arriving boarders had to stand, holding overhead straps."

The Light Rail Now! Publication Team hopes to have more detailed reports on these newly opened lines available soon.

More on Philadelphia Public Transport

More on San Jose Public Transport

More on Sacramento Public Transport

19 October 2005

Light rail for city's east side gains support

Evidence continues to mount of substantial community support for a light rail transit (LRT) line in Charlotte's Southeast Corridor, in preference to the officially favored "Bus Rapid Transit", or "BRT", option. This occurs despite the fact that "BRT" is already operating on HOV lanes on independence Boulevard (actually, more an expressway or freeway than a boulevard roadway) through the corridor. Currently, the "BRT" service, operated by Charlotte Area Transit System (CATS), carries about 20,000 rider-trips a month – amounting to ridership of less than 1,000 per weekday. (CATS currently is in the process of installing an LRT line in the urban area's designated South Corridor.)

Responding to community concerns, Charlotte area planners have included LRT in addition to "BRT" as a transit mode possibility for the Southeast Corridor, and have been holding community meetings to inform the public about transit planning and to solicit feedback. When polled, a majority of participants in the meetings have indicated a preference for LRT in the SE corridor (source: CATS, Public Meeting Summaries). Tallied below are the results of community meeting surveys in which modal preferences for the corridor were solicited:

Meeting Date No. Participants Survey Question Choice % Choosing LRT
2004/11/03 15 "Light rail transit without HOV lane" 66.7%
2004/11/04 19 "Light rail transit without HOV lane" 79.0%
2005/06/15 17 "Light Rail Transit" 58.9%
2005/06/16 13 "Light Rail Transit" 84.6%

In two meetings, participants were asked the following question:

Assuming bus rapid transit is the less expensive technology, would you prefer CATS implement bus rapid transit if a larger portion of the project could be constructed sooner? Or would you prefer CATS construct a shorter portion of the light rail transit line, with the ability to extend the line when funding becomes available?

Participants provided "open" responses, favoring either rail or "less expensive" bus, or giving no clear indication. The following tallies the results, with the meeting date followed by the percentage (and actual number) or meeting participants favoring each option:

· 2004/02/22 – Pro-rail 41.2% (7) ... Pro-bus 23.5% (4) ... Other 35.3% (6)

· 2004/02/22 – Pro-rail 54.5% (6) ... Pro-bus 27.3% (3) ... Other 18.2% (2)

This suggests that, at least among community participants in the planning process, there is strong support for LRT over the officially preferred "BRT" alternative in the Southeast corridor – even when participants are told to assume the "BRT" option would be cheaper.

Further evidence of support for LRT for Charlotte's east side emerged from a forum of City Council candidates, sponsored on 12 October by several eastside community groups. As the Charlotte Observer (13 October) reported, "Several at-large candidates for Charlotte City Council said [in the forum] they favor a light-rail line – not buses – through east Charlotte."

The paper reports that Democrat Susan Burgess "was one of several candidates who came out in support of a light-rail line on the eastside, probably along the independence corridor." The Observer goes on to note that "Transit planners have initially proposed busways along the corridor, with a streetcar running down Central Avenue."

Support for LRT was bipartisan. "The eastside really gets screwed by the federal government" said Republican John Tabor. "You need light rail because you've got the highest ridership" he added.

While several candidates called for further study of what kind of transit the corridor needs, Democrat Darrell Bonapart said he's tired of studies. "I don't want to have another study about another study about another study" he told the audience. "We all know east Charlotte needs light rail."

NOTE: This report relied in part on information posted to the Light Rail Progress Professional discussion list.

More on Charlotte Public Transport

18 October 2005

RailRunner regional rail project approaches startup

Albuquerque's first venture into rail transit – a US$75 million project to install a regional passenger rail ("commuter rail") starter line, called RailRunner Express, linking Albuquerque with its exurbs of Belen and Bernalillo – is progressing quickly toward an imminent opening. In late August, according to the Rio Rancho Observer of 8 September, "concrete evidence of New Mexico's new passenger rail service rolled into the state when the first of 10 bi-level commuter coaches was delivered to Albuquerque." The paper went on to report that "This week [i.e., early September], three more cars arrived as very real proof that the New Mexico RailRunner Express will soon be serving commuters in the Middle Rio Grande Valley."

In addition to 10 bilevel, regional transit-type rail coaches from Bombardier, the Albuquerque-area Mid-Region Council of Governments is also taking delivery of five MP36PH-35 diesel-electric locomotive from MotivePower industries, a subsidiary of Wabtec. According to Chris Blewiett, a planner with the Mid-Region COG, the state-financed starter line will be able to handle peak volumes of 3,000 to 4,000 passengers per hour. The 46-mile (74-km) route, running over trackage of the Burlington Northern Sante Fe (BNSF) Railway between Belen, 25 miles south of Albuquerque, to Bernalillo, about 15 miles north, will initially serve 7 stations.

"Efficient transportation is vital to any healthy economy" says the Mid-Region COG in a statement published in the September 8th Rio Rancho Observer. The agency adds:

Connecting employers with employees is a key component of economic development, and the efficient movement of goods and services is important to every business. Employers need to be confident that their employees can get to work on time every day, and workers are more productive when they avoid long, stressful commutes. As growing numbers of Sandoval County residents now work in Albuquerque and county employers rely on workers from Albuquerque and communities beyond, efficient regional transportation systems are essential to the county's future economic growth.

Initially, the RailRunner service will start modestly, running only Monday through Friday, reports the Valencia County News-Bulletin of 8 October. According to a Mid-Region COG official, northbound trains will leave Belen early in the morning. Trains will run in both directions midday, and one train will run from Albuquerque to Belen in the late afternoon.

The paper also reported that construction of the RailRunner stations was close to starting, with groundbreaking for the stops in Los Lunas and Belen to start "very soon". The goal is to have trains running by the end of the year, or possibly by early January.

While Albuquerque's venture into rail transit is starting small, an ultimately much larger system seems to be envisioned, and the second phase of rail development – a route linking Albuquerque to Santa Fe – has been in planning for some time. Already, sections of rail right-of-way for this line have been acquired, for an opening tentatively projected for 2008. Railway Gazette international (September 2005) reports that the Santa Fe extensiuon will require about 35 miles (22 km) of new track at a cost of $250 million.

In addition to regional passenger rail, a light rail transit system for Albuquerque has been moved up as a possibility with the re-election of Mayor Martin Chavez, who made installing such a system a major campaign priority.

More on Albuquerque Public Transport

18 October 2005

New Orleans:
Transit slowly comes back to life; streetcar repair effort begins

At least a minimal level of public transit service has been restored in New Orleans since the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, according to the New Orleans Times-Picayune of 14 October. The paper reports that the New Orleans Regional Transit Authority (RTA) "is offering skeleton service, operating 28 buses on 13 New Orleans routes."

It comes as no surprise that, according to the Times-Picayune, "The ridership also is skeletal, totaling just over 2,000 in the first week after service resumed Oct. 2." Before Katrina, the paper recounts, the ridership averaged 855,000 a week. Ridership "seems to be building", the paper reports, noting that all rides are free, "with the Federal Emergency Management Agency picking up the tab through the Federal Transit Administration."

Regarding the streetcar system, the Reuters news agency reports that restoring the system is being given a high priority. "New Orleans' fabled streetcars may not be as high on the hurricane repair list as levees or sewers but officials say the city's recovery would not be complete without the quaint, clattering cars" reports a 14 October Reuters story.

"To New Orleanians, it means everything" emphasized Sandy Shilstone, president of the New Orleans Tourism and Marketing Corp. "The streetcar is more than a means of transportation. It means tradition and continuity – life moving forward and the strength forged by fire and steel."

According to the Times-Picayune,

The 35 historic St. Charles Avenue streetcars survived the hurricane and subsequent flooding without damage, but mud and debris still cover the streetcar tracks in many places, and many of the poles holding the cars' electric power line were damaged, meaning that buses will continue on the route for the foreseeable future.

Alan Drake, a New Orleans engineer, researcher, and streetcar activist, provides the following more detailed assessment and personal observations:

I have driven the length of both St. Charles and Canal (Riverfront was and is inaccessible by car). In my opinion, St. Charles should have Boh Bros. [a local construction firm with extensive experience in RTA's streetcar projects] rebuild the OCS [overhead contact system], poles, and substations now and reopen with new.
A shutdown would be required in any case and starting in the next month or two would be the best time. (I doubt that ridership will ever return to former levels though due to population shifts. I estimate that the unflooded sections of the city are currently 30% populated).
Numerous trees have fallen on the neutral ground and wires are drooping but not fallen in many places. Some trees are tilted into the ROW [right-of-way] now. The condition of the neutral ground is deterioting slowly as Texas and FEMA SUVs park there.
Likewise, few palms have fallen (and these have been taken care of) but many are leaning into the ROW on Canal. OCS and poles in generally good shape with a handful damaged on Canal. DC [direct-current electrical power] rectifiers are drowned.
Riverfront is in good shape as is. The mayor wants to haul a few St. Charles streetcars hauled down to Riverfront and operate [them] there.

A recent report from RTA to the City Council, reported in the Times-Picayune, itemizes some of the most serious damage inflicted on RTA's transit system by Hurricane Katrina, and some subsequent developments:

· Approximately 190 buses were lost to flooding; the remaining fleet "is either in service or is being recovered after temporary use by the National Guard and others in the hurricane's aftermath."

· "All 24 streetcars on the year-old Canal Street line were flooded" and their operating equipment is inoperable. One car has just been shipped to a firm in Pennsylvania "for damage assessment."

· At the urging of Mayor Ray Nagin, the RTA is considering using a number of the undamaged St. Charles streetcars on the Riverfront streetcar line. Although the Riverfront track appears to be undamaged, six of the seven Riverfront cars are inoperable.

· The RTA's workforce of 1,300 "is dispersed over a wide geographic area and many are homeless."

· The RTA's administrative offices in eastern New Orleans suffered severe water and roof damage. The A. Philip Randolph bus barn on Canal Street, which also housed the Canal and Riverfront streetcars, and the eastern New Orleans bus facility and maintenance building "were flooded and badly damaged."

· An "undetermined number" of LIFT vehicles and paratransit vans used to transport people with disabilities were damaged, "but many are still operable."

· Union Passenger Terminal, where Amtrak as just resumed providing service, is now being served by rudimentary local bus services.

In addition to the gradual repair and restoration of local bus transit and streetcar services, there is also serious discussion at official levels of installing some type of regional rail passenger service between New Orleans and Baton Rouge. However, given the extent of devastation, and particularly the devastation of local revenue and budget systems, plus the somewhat tepid support from the federal government (including the Bush administration's outright desire to destroy Amtrak), the outlook for such a service seems rather dubious at the moment.

More on New Orleans Public Transport issues

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