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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.

16 September 2006

MetroRail ridership reaches 40,000 per day, as systemwide boardings soar

In early August (2006), Houston's relatively small MetroRail light rail transit (LRT) system recorded its 25 millionth boarding passenger – marking yet another milestone in the history of the two-and-a-half-year-old LRT starter line.

"The booming ridership on METRORail mirrors a continuing surge throughout METRO’s system" proclaims a News Release (3 August) from Metro, Houston's regional transit agency.

In the third fiscal quarter, Metro achieved its second-highest nine-month ridership growth rate in its history, and the highest since 1998. Over 8 million passenger-trips were carried on MetroRail, up 10.6 percent from last year (2005); local and express bus service was up 58.9 million, or 9 percent; and Park & Ride (Metro's longer-distance commuter bus system) was up 6.4 million boardings, or 11.1 percent.

"In June, alone, METRO recorded 8.1 million boardings, a number similar to that set by Southwest Airlines (7.5 million) and American Airlines (8.8 million) for the same month" notes the Metro News Release.

"We're now averaging about one million riders a month on METRORail" said Frank Wilson, Metro president and CEO. "For a line that is just 7.5 miles long that’s an impressive number in any transit ledger."

Today, MetroRail carries an average of 40,000 boardings each weekday – a ridership level the agency didn’t expect to achieve until 2020.

More on Houston Public Transport Developments

More on Ridership issues ...

16 September 2006

Revenues covering 79% of direct operating costs

If Amtrak – America's intercity rail passenger service – were to be viewed as a kind of nationally spread-out, multi-region regional transit system, surely it would be considered a star performer.

Not only does the system carry an annual ridership of over 25 million (25.4 million in fiscal year 2005) – averaging about 69,000 passenger-trips per day – but, according to a "National Fact Sheet" distributed by Amtrak's Media Relations office (July 2006), the system's economic performance would place it at the top level of the nation's major transit systems. in FY 2005, Amtrak earned approximately $1.89 billion in revenue while paying out about $2.4 billion in direct, ongoing operating and maintenance (O&M) expenses. That means that Amtrak has covered 79% of its direct operating costs from operating revenues – certainly, a commendable achievement for any regional public transport agency ... and, as we have noted in our article Attack on Amtrak is an Attack on Regional Corridor Public Transport, "for a huge swath of the USA, Amtrak is the 'regional rail service'."

As the Amtrak "Fact Sheet" further points out, "No passenger railroad system in the world operates without some form of public support for capital costs and/or operating expenses."

The "Fact Sheet" also reports that

An average of approximately 777,000 people each day depend on commuter rail services operated under contract by Amtrak or that use Amtrak-owned infrastructure, shared operations and dispatching.


If included among U.S. airlines in 2005, Amtrak would rank 8th in the number of passengers served, with a market share of nearly 5%. On average, there are nearly twice as many passengers on an Amtrak train than there are on a domestic airline flight.

More on Amtrak & Intercity Public Transport...

More on Cost, Budget, & Financial issues ...

13 September 2006

"Choice" riders = 77% of MAX light rail ridership

From Portland comes more evidence of the propensity of rail transit to attract "choice" riders (i.e., riders who have a motor vehicle available to use for their travel, or opt not to have one in order to rely on transit). According to a 2004 survey, over three-quarters – 77% – of riders on Portland's MAX light rail transit (LRT) system reported they either had a car available (67%) or chose not to have a car because they preferred to take the train (10%). [TriMet Attitude and Awareness Survey, 2004]

In contrast, a significantly lower percentage of bus-only riders – 66% – fell in this same category (although this is still relatively high compared to many other transit systems). Of these, 59% reported they had a car available, and 7% didn't have a car because they preferred transit.

These trends seemed to be corroborated by trip purpose. Some 69% of MAX LRT riders indicated their primary trip purpose was for recreation, shopping, or other personal business – purposes typically associated with discretionary travel. Only 22% indicated work trips.

In contrast, 50% of bus-only riders reported "work" as their primary trip purpose. Only 25% indicated recreation, shopping, or other personal business.

The preference for rail was further underscored in passengers' "Satisfaction with overall transit experience". Results were:
· Bus only – 86%
· Both bus and rail (including streetcar) – 93%
· MAX (LRT) only – 98%

One thing this survey seems to say for sure: Portland transit users like TriMet's public transit system. Perhaps not a bad model to strive to emulate?

More on Portland Public Transport Developments

More on Mode Preference Issues ...

More on Ridership Issues ...

8 September 2006

"Blown away" by phenomenal success of light rail

Some of the amazing achievements of Denver's light rail transit (LRT) system are highlighted in a feature story on Cal Marsella, the General Manager of Denver's Regional Transportation District (RTD) in the June 2006 issue of Mass Transit magazine (and called to our attention by Ed Tennyson, PE, a special consultant to the Light Rail Now Project).

As Mass Transit points out, RTD's first venture into LRT development consisted of a five-mile (8-km) segment routed through the heart of the city's downtown. Then RTD opened up an 8.7-mile (14.0-km) southwest corridor in 2000 and ridership went through the roof.

"We projected 8,400 (more) riders a day" GM Cal Marsella told Mass Transit. "We opened with over 12,000 and we are now up to about 18,000 on that portion of the line." (Full LRT system ridership now totals about 38,000.)

"We started with 14 vehicles and we had to order 12 more within four weeks of opening because we just got blown away" Marsella told the magazine. "We were actually able to increase the level of service significantly with every rail investment we made" he added.

While Denver's future is focused on LRT, RTD isn't about to forget its fixed-route bus service. As more people change their riding habit to use LRT, the agency's bus service will also be changed to accommodate them – such as by providing more connecting bus service to LRT stations.

Ed Tennyson notes that, while the Mass Transit report did not mention costs, the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) and American Public Transportation Association (APTA) in tabulations for 2003 "reported that it cost 44 cents to move each Light Rail passenger each mile but it cost RTD 67 cents by bus, 51 percent more." Ed further points out that both unit costs "are below the national average."

With 46 million annual passenger-miles on Denver's LRT system, Ed notes, "RTD and taxpayers are saving $10.6 million per year with the current Light Rail lines – about a dollar per passenger." The new T-Rex LRT lines, expected to open in November, "will more than double that" he predicts.

"Denver people are now also saving about 1.5 million gallons of motor fuel and related air pollution that is worth about $ 4 million per year. Watch that grow in 2007" says Ed.

More on Denver Public Transport Developments

More on Ridership issues ...

More on Rail Transit Development ...

More on Cost, Budget, & Financial issues ...

More on Transit Feasibility issues ...

27 August 2006

St. Louis:
MetroLink light rail's Cross-County Extension opens!

After three years of construction, and a price tag of $678 million, St. Louis's Cross-County Extension to its MetroLink light rail transit (LRT) system opened with a huge fanfare, adding eight miles and nine stations to the existing, previously one-route system.. The public opening on Saturday, 26 August was celebrated with fireworks, marching bands, and speeches from dozens of dignitaries.

"It was standing-room only on trains as people tested the ride from Forest Park, west to Clayton and south to Shrewsbury" reported the St. Louis Post-Dispatch (27 August 2006). "Parking lots along the extension were full."

The opening has stimulated clamor for further extensions of the LRT system to serve more of the region.

More on Rail Transit in St. Louis

More on Rail Transit Development...

27 August 2006

Streetcar planning picks up momentum amid growing interest

In Madison, Wisconsin, interest in installing an electric streetcar system has gotten serious, particularly with Mayor Dave Cieslewicz backing the idea. in addition, the streetcar possibility is being promoted by a local group, Downtown Trolley, inc., and a Madison Streetcar Campaign has been launched.

Streetcars have been identified in the Transport 2020 regional transportation planning process as a key component of Dane County's regional transportation future. This past spring, the City of Madison's Streetcar Committee began a study with several objectives:

1) to achieve community consensus on how streetcars can play a role in the city's future; 2) meet technical challenges in assessing potential routes and redevelopment; and 3) develop an organization, financial and implementation plan.

The official study is evaluating possibilities for streetcar service in three corridors, all centered on the city's downtown, heading east, west, and south.

According to John DeLamater, president of Downtown Trolley, inc., further information on Madison's streetcar plans can be obtained via the following links:

· Downtown Trolley, inc.

· Transport 2020

· City of Madison Streetcar Study

More on New Rail Transit Systems Proposed, Planned, or in Development ...

24 August 2006

St. Louis:
MetroLink light rail's new Cross-County Extension ready to open

"For the first time in MetroLink's 13-year history you can now accidentally board the wrong train" advises the Belleville News-Democrat in Belleville, one of the major illinois exurbs connected to central St. Louis by MetroLink, the region's fast light rail transit (LRT) system.

Why the warning?

Because MetroLink is about to open its first-ever branch, the Cross County Extension, which will add eight new miles and nine new stations to the existing 38-mile LRT system that currently runs from St. Louis's Lambert Airport eastward all the way out to Shiloh-Scott Air Force Base in illinois. The new line branches off from the existing line in the Forest Park neighborhood, just west of the CBD, runs through the community of Clayton, and proceeds on to a terminus in the suburb of Shrewsbury.

"The Cross County MetroLink extension will be up and running on August 26, 2006" reports the Citizens for Modern Transit (CMT) E-Newsletter, "with ribbon cuttings at each station and a LinkFest at the Shrewsbury Station beginning at 2 p.m." CMT further notes that the branch is scheduled to open fully for revenue service on Monday, 28 August.

According to CMT's website there will be an entire weekend of celebration to mark the opening:

Metro will celebrate the grand opening of MetroLink to the Cross County with a Welcome Aboard Weekend on Saturday, August 26 and Sunday, August 27. Citizens are invited to attend special ceremonies, a community festival and two days of free rides on the new extension. Regular revenue service on the Cross County extension will begin on Aug. 28, 2006.

The grand opening celebration will kick off at the Forest Park-DeBaliviere Station at 11 a.m. on Saturday with a progressive ribbon cutting. A MetroLink light rail vehicle will cut through a ribbon at each station to officially open the station. A train with elected officials, community leaders and members of Metro's Board will arrive at each station for a brief five minute ribbon cutting ceremony. The public is invited to attend any of the ceremonies.

Citizens attending the ceremonies will have free access on MetroLink from the Forest Park- DeBaliviere Station to the Shrewsbury Station. Passengers will be required to pay the regular fare between Airport Main and Shiloh-Scott Stations.

The ribbon cutting at the Shrewsbury Lansdowne-i-44 Station begins at 1 p.m. Linkfest, a community celebration, will be held from 2 to 8 p.m. across from the Shrewsbury Lansdowne Station. The general public is welcome to ride the Cross County Extension FREE on Saturday, August 26 from 12:15 p.m. to 9 p.m. and on Sunday, August 27 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

As our article St. Louis: Model of Light Rail Success Hosts international Light Rail Conference relates, "over approximately a decade, MetroLink has boosted transit use more than 42 percent with just a single, long line." According to CMT, MetroLink ridership continues to grow, with ridership projected in FY 2006 to exceed 16 million passenger-trips.

More on Rail Transit in St. Louis

More on Rail Transit Development...

24 August 2006

Huntington Beach (California):
"Surf City" eyes possible light rail line

"Imagine catching a light-rail train from Huntington Beach to Downtown Disney or Anaheim's Metrolink station" suggests the Orange County Register (16 August 2006).

According to the article, officials in Huntington Beach – which bills itself "Surf City" – "are hoping to score a $100,000 grant from the Orange County Transportation Authority to study the idea of building a public transit line – mostly along an existing railroad right-of-way – that would span the distance from the sand to Disneyland."

As the paper further reports,

Orange County's 34 cities each are eligible for $100,000 grants from OCTA, offered to encourage cities to think of ways to link to Metrolink [regional passenger rail] lines. The best plans will qualify for cash to fund further study. in all, $30 million is set aside.

"We're so isolated from transit here and so dependent on our cars" Huntington Beach City Councilwoman Cathy Green told the reporter. "This could really be a fabulous thing."

According to the article,

Huntington Beach officials already have started discussing the idea with city staff in Westminster, Garden Grove, Stanton and Anaheim. But the idea hasn't yet been presented to city councils, Disneyland or Union Pacific Railroad, which owns the right-of-way.

And, while light rail transit (LRT) seems to be what planners have in mind, the ultimate "light rail" plan may not actually turn out to be "light rail". After all, although the resounding success of LRT across North America and worldwide has certainly made it the byword of choice for evoking a high-quality, successful, attractive new transit technology, the term is frequently hijacked and misapplied to all sorts of other proposals – including fancy buses and "gadget-transit" schemes.

Thus, in Huntington Beach, "Also unclear is which type of transit, such as light rail or monorail, would be used and where certain portions of the track would connect," according to Huntington Beach deputy public works director David Webb.

But what will ultimately shape up remains to be seen. in mid-August, Orange County cities got an OK to begin submitting grant applications.

"This is just an idea right now" Webb told the Register. "There's a lot of potentials but there could be a lot of hurdles."

More on Orange County Public Transport Developments

22 August 2006

Luas light rail tramway system reports operating profit for 2005

The Light Rail Transit Association reports (23 June 2006) that Dublin's Luas light rail transit (LRT) tramway system "has made a profit a full year earlier than expected, making it the only transport network in the country not in need of Government subsidies."

For any urban public transport system to cover its operating expenses from operating revenues is, of course, unusual, especially in an industrially advanced country – mainly because heavily subsidized high-quality roads and other facilities for private motor vehicles are typically widespread, representing a government-provided competitive transport system. in Dublin's case, a relatively less developed roadway and parking infrstructure, heavy congestion on narrow central-city streets, and traditionally higher levels of transit usage may account for the extraordinary financial performance of the new tramway system.

As the LRTA report noted, Dublin's LRT system carried around 60,000 person-trips every day during 2005, "a figure which is still increasing", and the tramway achieved a financial surplus of €200,000 (roughly US $250,000) according to the Railway Procurement Agency. As a result, Luas did not require a subsidy from the Department of Transport (€2.5 million had been anticipated).

The January 2006 issue of the LRTA's monthly journal Tramways & Urban Transit reports that Luas's ridership had already risen to 70,000 per day. As the LRTA's June report relates,

Due to its popularity there can be severely overcrowded trams at peak times which has required the introduction of additional services at morning peak hours and from September next the introduction of a four minute frequency on the Green Line. in addition the frequency of service on the Red Line will also be increased and from spring 2007 the overall capacity of the Red Line will be increased by 40% by increasing the length of trams from 30 metres to 40 metres.

The tramway's unqualified success has stoked public enthusiasm for the system and led to ambitious expansion plans. The July 2006 issue of Tramways & Urban Transit reports that a southern extension of the 9.0-km (5.5-mile) Green Line, from Sandyford to Cherrywood, is being recommended. This would add another 7.6 lm (4.6 miles) to the route, including 11 more stops.

More on Rail Transit Developments in ireland

More on Transit industry Cost, Budget, & Financial issues ...

22 August 2006

Diesel-powered light railway proposal to face voters in November

Spokane-area voters will be asked to make their preferences known this fall (2006) on a proposed "light rail" starter line – actually, a light railway using self-propelled diesel multiple unit (DMU) railcars – linking the city and its eastern suburbs.

On 17 August, the Spokane Transit Authority's board of directors okayed a two-part "advisory" for the November ballot. Results of the nonbinding transit initiatives will likely determine whether the 15.5-mile (25-km) light railway project is built between downtown Spokane and Liberty Lake near the idaho border.

Although STA's "Light Rail Project" illustrates a simulated electric light rail transit (LRT) line on its webpage, the preferred alternative is actually a "Shared Track" light railway using non-electrified, self-propelled DMUs. According to a June report prepared for STA by David Evans and Associates, inc., the "Shared Track" alternative "would provide service using a single track, with passing tracks at select locations." Light railway operations...

would "share" the Union Pacific Railroad tracks between Fancher Road and Argonne Road. The shared track alternative would use Diesel Multiple Units or DMUs. A lower cost design option of this alternative is referred to as the “Single Track Design Option”. it would lower costs by relying on single-unit diesel light rail vehicles, shorter passing tracks and scaled back park and ride facilities.

As with some other transit agencies, Spokane planners seem to be using the terms light rail and light rail transit (LRT) somewhat loosely and broadly, and this could cause confusion among the public, decisionmakers, the media, and other transit industry professionals. For example, the "Light Rail Project" alternatives included "Bus Rapid Transit" as well as the DMU light railway and bona fide electric LRT.

According to the June consultant's report, the DMU light railway was the "least expensive" rail alternative and was designated as the preferred option by the Project Steering Committee.

The Preferred Alternative—the Shared Track LRT Alternative-- has a construction cost of $263 million in 2006 dollars. This estimate is based upon the recently completed project risk analysis. This is less than the $300 million (2006 dollars) maximum project cost that was established by the Steering Committee.

"Like all major construction projects," says the report, "the Preferred Alternative will take several years to complete. Environmental Analysis, final engineering, right-of-way acquisition and construction will stretch over 8 years with opening day in 2014." With an assumed project start in 2007, the total cost of the project, in year of expenditure (YOE) dollars, is estimated to be $381 million. Annual operation & maintenance cost for the Preferred Alternative (DMU light railway) is estimated to be $6.5 million in 2006 dollars or $9.3 million in 2014 dollars.

In November, voters will be asked if they want the transit authority to develop a specific funding plan that would then proceed to a binding vote in 2007. Financing for such a plan "would likely come from local tax increases", according to a report on KXLY-TV News (18 August). A second question will ask whether the transit authority should allocate approximately $5 million in existing funds to underwrite preliminary engineering work.

"If both questions are approved, work would continue toward building a mass transit system by 2014" reports KXLY-TV. "No to both questions likely would end light rail plans."

More on Rail Transit Political Campaigns

21 August 2006

Hiawatha light rail's June ridership sets another record

Yet another stunning achievement was registered for Minneapolis's Hiawatha corridor light rail transit (LRT) system, as its June ridership hit a total of 853,076 rider-trips – some 11,000 higher than May's record ridership.

"That works out to 31,085 on weekdays, 22,447 on Saturdays and 19,854 on Sundays" calculates Minneapolis transit advocate John DeWitt. "Not bad for The Train to Nowhere!"

John further notes that the latest record "was helped by 13 Twins games which added 93,000 riders. Factoring out the Twins ridership leaves an average weekday ridership of about 29,000."

Meanwhile, the ongoing, rousing success of the Hiawatha Line LRT has revved up enthusiasm for selecting LRT, rather than a "Bus Rapid Transit" alternative, as the preferred mode for a high-quality transit line in the University Avenue corridor connecting Minneapolis with St. Paul (the "Twin Cities"), including running on a bridge over the Mississippi River.

On 28 June, the region's Metropolitan Council selected LRT over "BRT" as its preferred transit option for the link between downtown St. Paul and Minneapolis along University and Washington Avenues. To cross the Mississippi, the center lanes on the existing Washington Avenue bridge would be used.

A major hurdle has been the project's nominal $840 million price tag, which includes a tunnel under Stadium Village near the University of Minnesota. (Why this tunnel is not included in the "BRT" alternative is not clear.) Reportedly, efforts are under way either to redesign the LRT route on the surface, without the tunnel, or to tap additional funding sources to help pay for the tunnel.

More on Minneapolis-St. Paul (Twin Cities) Public Transport Developments

More on Transit industry Ridership issues...

12 August 2006

Air travellers switch to Eurostar rail after terror scare disrupts air transport system

"Air travellers head for Eurostar" reported BBC News (2006/08/11) amidst the massive chaos and disruption of Britain's air transport system prompted by authorities' allegations of a "terrorist bomb plot" on 10 August. According to the BBC, the Eurostar highspeed rail system – linking London with Brussels, Paris, and various other cities in France – saw its daily ridership surge by more than 15,000 extra reservations "from people left stranded by the airport security alert."

This news was corroborated by other sources. "Eurostar filling up with stranded air passengers" headlined the British Guardian newspaper (10 August 2006), which elaborated that "Rail services to Europe are getting rapidly booked up by airline passengers who face cancellation or long delays at airports following the terror threat."

"The availability coming in and out of the country is disappearing rapidly as people are trying to get home, or go on holiday" added the Guardian.

Eurostar spokesmen reported the rail service was expecting to carry substantial numbers of additional passengers, a situation described as a "significant increase" compared to normal business. Ridership on Thursday the 10th (the first day of air disruption) ended up 24% over normal figures.

Extra staff were mobilized to help passengers at London's Waterloo and Ashford station in Kent. And, reported BBC, "More call centre operators were needed as the number of inquiries to Eurostar's Ashford base doubled."

Unfortunately, the rail system – which runs 10 trains to Brussels and up to 16 trains a day to Paris, in each direction, with each train accommodating 750 people – had limited capacity to absorb all of the huge overflow in demand. According to the Guardian as of Thursday the 10th, Eurostar was reporting that all of the day's cross-channel services to Paris were full "as airline passengers scrambled to reach the continent."

A Eurostar spokeswoman was quoted to report, "All our London to Paris services today are now full. Already they're now getting booked up until lunchtime tomorrow. The availability coming in and out of the country is disappearing rapidly as people are trying to get home, or go on holiday."

The Eurostar spokeswoman continued: "We're already in high summer season. We were on a busy day anyway and we're rapidly filling up. We've been trying to do our best to accommodate large numbers of airline passengers."

Despite Eurostar's problems absorbing the overflow of stranded air travellers, it still appears that Britain and Europe have a far superior public transport "safety net" in contrast to the USA, where the woefully handicapped Amtrak service and critically stricken American railway system appear to have far less capability, at present, to provide similar backup in such an emergency.

More on intercity Public Transport...

More on Security issues ...

16 July 2006

Rail transit is focus of major central-city multi-use development

Metro subway stations and light rail stations in the heart of Baltimore are the focal center of a mammoth, $800-million, multi-use real estate development project intended "to reshape a section of midtown bordered by Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, Howard and Dolphin streets and Madison Avenue", according to a report in the Baltimore Sun (5 May 2006). A major component of the development team is renowned national developer McCormack Baron Salazar, which will specifically handle the housing portion of the huge project.

The complete development team, according to the Sun, is led by Baltimore's Struever Bros. Eccles & Rouse and, besides McCormack Baron Salazar, includes minority-owned Doracon Development and the Canyon Johnson Urban Fund, a private equity fund started by basketball star Earvin "Magic" Johnson.

Team members emphasized that their approach would be sensitive to the needs of the existing community. According to the report, "Bobby Turner, a managing partner in Canyon Johnson, said his fund's backers share a vision with other team members about revitalizing, rather than gentrifying, urban areas."

Interviewed by the paper, McCormack Baron Salazar's Richard Baron "said he was attracted to Baltimore's market and the opportunity to build a community centered around public transit." The company has established solid credentials for producing projects that are both livable and viable.

Kathryn Schukar Bader, chairman of U.S. Bancorp's Community Development Corp. in St. Louis, which has been a lender and investor in a number of the company's projects, emphasized to the newspaper that McCormack Baron Salazar shares an understanding of key inmgredients for successful urban projects. "The key focus that we share is you can't put unsupported housing in the middle of nothing, or in the middle of negative influences and expect it to succeed. There needs to be an anchor, like schools, churches and employers, some kind of neighborhood center programming."

Rail transit may well be part of that anchor in Baltimore. As the Sun reports, the complex of state-owned office buildings, employing some 3,500 workers, is slated to be transformed into a 25-acre "hub" of offices, shops, a hotel, and mixed-income housing centered on Metro subway (rail rapid transit) and light rail transit stops.

"Ultimately," relates the paper, "the State Center project could be the springboard for the 20-year revitalization of a 110-acre swath, with 3,200 homes, 1.2 million square feet of privately developed offices and 570,000 square feet of retail space."

More on Baltimore Public Transport

More on Urban Development and TOD...

16 July 2006

Boise (Idaho):
Mayor favors "trolleys" or "some form of light rail"

Light rail for little Boise, idaho? According to a recent report in the Boise Weekly (31 May 2006), "Mayor Dave Bieter says he wants Boise to move toward new transit options, including downtown trolleys and, ultimately, some form of light rail."

However, it certainly seems like a hard sell at this point – not so much because of the city's small size, but because of the performance of its transit system, Valley Ride Transit. "Ridership is flat. Funding is low. Accounting is a mess. And Dave Bieter wants to expand transit?" asks the paper.

An audit found the agency's financial situation in somewhat of a mess, and bus ridership poor – a situation that does not engender confidence in more ambitious transit projects. As one influential City Councilor put it, "Before anybody starts talking about a light rail system, you'd better start getting some butts in seats on the bus first."

As in other cities, a streetcar or more substantial light rail transit (LRT) system could bring powerful economic benefits – such as stimulating economic development in target areas of the downtown – if properly implemented. However, the Boise case underscores a point relevant to many similar rail transit concepts focused on economic or real estate development: a poorly performing local transit system can deter support and provide ammunition for naysayers and other opponents.

True, prevailing bus ridership is not necessarily a fair gauge of the ridership that could be attracted by a higher-quality rail service – especially the kind of ridership that is pulled aboard the unusual, charming, tourist-oriented service of a heritage streetcar system, as the success of Little Rock's River Rail line has so emphatically demonstrated (see Little Rock Rail Transit and Public Transport). However, many rail projects do get some of their ridership from parallel bus services; and, in any case, really poor transit performance almost always has the deleterious effect of an anchor of misery around the neck of an ambitious proposal.

Furthermore, rail transit must interface well with bus service – and this means bus service that performs well, not one that evokes community denunciations. And achieving better bus transit performance is often not all that difficult. Popular support is certainly more likely for an agency that tries than for one that doesn't.

In any event, we hope Boise can resolve its transit problems, improve its bus transit system, and give serious consideration to the potential of a streetcar or other form of LRT for achieving some of the community's mobility and economic development goals.

More on Feasibility issues...

1 July 2006

Rail Runner regional passenger rail service to start July 14th

The launch of Albuquerque's new Rail Runner regional passenger rail service is now officially set for 14 July, according to the Mid-Region Council of Governments (MRCOG). Of course, that's Bastille Day – so, maybe this symbolizes the liberation of Albuquerque-area commuters in the corridor from total dependency on their private motor vehicles?

The initial service is being described as a "soft start", running only between Albuquerque and the US 550 station in Bernalillo. According to plans, trains will complete their run from downtown Albuquerque to northern Bernalillo in approximately 18 minutes.

Initial stops include Alvarado Station and Paseo del Norte, as well as the US 550 station in Bernalillo. Stops in downtown Bernalillo, Los Lunas and Belen are scheduled to open later this year.

in an article in the Valencia County News-Bulletin (28 June), MRCOG executive director Lawrence Rael was quoted as predicting that service to Belen and Los Lunas might start in early September. "I would have preferred to have the whole corridor in place" Rael told a reporter for KOB-TV (28 June), "but construction schedules being what they are, negotiations with the Burlington Northern [railway] did not occur as quickly as we would have liked."

Before Rail Runner trains can serve stations to the south, the signal system must be upgraded from Isleta to Belen, according to Rael. He said the system should be fully functioning by late August.

Work is in progress to bring more stations online, according to Rael. The Rio Bravo and Second Street stations "will be brought on-line later because of some issues with land ownership, drainage and infrastructure" according to the Valencia County News- Bulletin report.

The newspaper said the isleta and Sandia Pueblos stations "are in the approval process and will probably be the last two stations to come on-line." Providing connecting public transportation from the train stations is a major issue. Downtown Albuquerque provides a high-quality service from the Alvarado Station that includes bus services to both Coronado and Winrock centers.

Currently the COG is working to set up public transportation links to intel, Cottonwood Mall, Rio Rancho, and the Journal Center business park so rail travellers will be able to access a greater number of destinations. in addition, Rael told the paper, "At US 550, we're working with Northern New Mexico Commuter Express to provide service to Santa Fe. We're making those connections slowly."

More on Albuquerque Public Transport Developments

More on Rail Transit Development...

1 July 2006

Highspeed intercity rail service attracts passengers from airlines

France's vigorous expansion and upgrading of its highspeed intercity rail services has been paying off. A study by the European Rail Research Advisory Council (February 2006) notes that, since the first line between Paris and Lyon was launched in 1981, the nation's highspeed rail network (called TGV, for Train à Grande Vitesse or "high speed train") has continued to progress significantly. "Technology, investments and international co-operation have enabled the TGV network to expand rapidly," says the report, "with up to 700 trains currently running in eight different European countries." The report also notes that the TGV service registered its billionth passenger in November 2003, "and expansion will continue, with new trains and cities added each year."

"Along the busiest line," continues the report, "a 300 km/h [186-mph] train with up to 1,000 people passes every 2.5 minutes." Sustained for an hour, that rate of person-throughput would exceed the capacity of more than 10 freeway (motorway) lanes during the heaviest peak conditions.

The study goes on to observe that "This operational excellence is combined with an attractive pricing strategy, which has led to an enormous popularity of the system and strong reductions in air traffic." As an example, the report relates that "rail currently holds a 71% share in Europe's largest rail/air market (London-Paris), whereas the air service between Brussles and Paris has disappeared altogether."

Attracting travellers from air to rail is becoming an increasingly important policy goal for a number of European nations – particularly in view of the long-term environmental cost of continued air travel growth and growing aircraft emisssions. Writing recently in the British independent newspaper (22 June 2006), reporter Caroline Lucas points out the "phenomenal growth in the airlines' activities: flight numbers are projected to double by 2020 and triple by 2030." However, Lucas underscores, this exploding growth in air travel "is also driving phenomenal growth in the airlines' greenhouse gas emissions, and therefore their contribution to devastating climate change."

Lucas cites data from scientists at the Tyndall Centre, "one of the UK's foremost climate change institutes", which indicate that "aviation's emissions are growing so fast that they will gobble up all reductions from every other sector if they are left unchecked."

Yes, think about that again. Unless the airlines cut their emissions significantly in coming decades, we won't be able to emit any other CO2s; not from manufacturing, travelling by other means, heating our homes, building – nothing – if we want to meet our targets and stabilize atmospheric CO2 levels.

"So," concludes Lucas, "given that we know technological advances alone cannot possibly counteract this level of growth, we face a clear choice: reduce aviation's expansion, or give up on tackling climate change altogether." A growing number of transportation planners and other professionals are beginning to conclude that diversion of travel – at least between origins and destinations just a few hundred kilometers (200-300 miles) apart – from air to rail could represents a significantly effective strategy for reducing air transport and its greenhouse-gas emissions. It would appear that the successes of France's TGV rail services thus mark a major step toward implementing that strategy.

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