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Amtrak's California Zephyr in winter
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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.

23 December 2006

Denver & Western USA:
Guess what kept moving when roads and airport runways froze? Hint: Try Amtrak

For several days between 20 and 22 December 2006, the top story on most of America's news media was the ferocious winter blizzard that enveloped a large swath of the western USA and virtually shut down the entire Denver metropolitan area – bringing to a standstill all road and air travel to and from the region. Did any intercity passenger transport manage to keep moving in this disaster? You bet – it's called Amtrak, America's public operated intercity passenger rail system, and the California Zephyr that serves Denver's Union Station kept coming and going, bringing in and dropping off travellers, all through the big icedown that froze up the freeways and runways, stranding thousands in their motor vehicles and in the waiting areas at Denver international Airport. Somehow, that startling fact – and the amazing feat performed by passenger rail – have been curiously ignored by the national media in their coverage of the Big Freeze.

As Trains magazine reports, "The blizzard that Wednesday and Thursday buried Denver and areas of northeastern Colorado, western Kansas, and Nebraska with up to two feet of snow, and shut down highways and airports, did not stop Amtrak's California Zephyr." Trains goes on to tell the basic story:

Interstate Highways 25, 70, 76, and 80 were closed variously from the Colorado-New Mexico border north to Cheyenne, Wyo., and from Cheyenne and Denver east to Kansas and into Nebraska, and Denver international Airport was closed for perhaps two days, stranding a reported 3,000 travelers. Nevertheless, Amtrak trains 5 and 6, which operate daily between Chicago and Emeryville, Calif., plodded along on snowswept rails of BNSF and Union Pacific, demonstrating the all-weather nature of rail transportation. Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari told Trains News Wire that the trains kept moving "because of the great cooperation we're getting from our host railroads, Union Pacific and BNSF." The Zephyr runs on BNSF Chicago-Denver and on UP west of Denver.

Often chronically late owing to railroad congestion on its non-Colorado segments, the Zephyr on Wednesday was late again but still came through. Eastbound train 6 arrived in Denver Wednesday 6 hours, 48 minutes late, but showed up when just about all other public transportation in Denver was shut down. Train 5 from Chicago arrived in Denver Thursday morning about 2 hours late; by midday it had lost another hour, but was proceeding through the Rockies on UP's former Rio Grande line.

Bottom line: Amtrak's trains were able to keep moving, and to come through for anxious travellers, when nothing else would. And that's a rail service that has been struggling for survival against relentless hostility from both the White House and much of Congress, as well as abuse from some of the railroads Amtrak pays to operate on. One can only imagine what an officially supported and adequately funded national rail passenger network, with multiple daily trains, on schedule and with adequate maintenance, could accomplish for America's travelling public – especially in critical events like devastating snowstorms, such as this one in December 2006.

More on Amtrak & intercity Public Transport...

More on Public Transport Safety issues ...

20 December 2006

New Orleans:
St. Charles streetcar service resumes from Canal St. to Lee Circle

The reconstruction of public transport in New Orleans took another major step forward on Tuesday, 19 December, as an initial section of the venerable St. Charles Avenue streetcar line returned to service. The St. Charles streetcar system is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

A ceremony marked the return of daily service between Canal Street and Lee Circle. "This is great day for the city of New Orleans" Mayor Ray Nagin proclaimed just before service was resumed. "It just gives our citizens more comfort that the city is coming back bigger and better than ever."

The Regional Transit Agency (RTA) already resumed service on part of the Canal Street line about a year ago. Last spring, the agency added the Riverfront line and the rest of the Canal Street line.

The 35 historic Perley Thomas streetcars used on the St. Charles line survived Hurricane Katrina because they were stored on high ground at the Carrolton Station (carbarn). Several of the distinctive olive-green cars are also being temporarily used on the Canal and Riverfront streetcar lines to replace the newer, bright red PT-2000 streetcars destroyed in the post- Katrina flood.

The resumption of service on a segment of the line comes amidst a significant infrastructure upgrading project – particularly an overhaul of the power system. As the New Orleans Times-Picayune reports, "A portable power plant, on loan to the RTA from the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority, has been running the Canal Street line and will be used to drive the Lee Circle extension while the single old station is replaced with three new ones."

The work also includes a significant replacement of poles and crossarms for the overhead contact system (OCS). Local urban activist and transit advocate Alan Drake reports that the rehabilitation also involves a substantial upgrade in the trolley wire, from 2-0 to 4-0 gauge.

The RTA had planned to begin a gradual replacement of the electrical system in September 2005, but that program was abruptly disrupted when Hurricane Katrina hit on 29 August 2005, tearing up the trolley lines and destroying the substation that supplied power to them.

According to the Times-Picayune, "Under plans still being developed, the Regional Transit Authority hopes to reopen a second leg of the historic St. Charles line, between Lee Circle and Napoleon Avenue, by next summer." Citing RTA officials, the paper reported that "The final segment, which will restore service from Napoleon to the terminus on Carrollton Avenue, likely won't be finished until spring or early summer of 2008...."

"We're trying to do it right and make it as reliable as possible" Fred Basha, the RTA's capital projects director, told the Times-Picayune. "When we finish, everything should be in really good shape and much easier to maintain."

The return of streetcar operation on the St. Charles line has attracted national media attention – including a video clip and brief mention on the NBC Nightly News of 19 December. Curiously, in contrast, not a single New Orleans bus line has generated comparable media excitement when any of RTA's bus routes have returned to service.

More on Public Transport in New Orleans

More on Rail Transit Development...

19 December 2006

Minneapolis-St. Paul:
Feds OK engineering for Central Corridor light rail plan

The proposed 11-mile Central Corridor light rail transit (LRT) line to connect downtown Minneapolis to downtown St. Paul along University Avenue passed a major milestone on Thursday, 14 December, with an OK from the Federal Transit Administration for local planners to begin detailed design and engineering work on the project. Upon full federal approval of the project, officials hope to begin construction in 2010, with completion of the line targeted for 2014.

The Central Corridor line would have 16 stations and 31 railcars, providing a trip time of 35 minutes between the two downtowns. Projected weekday ridership on the would be 38,100 rider-trips by 2020 and 43,300 by 2030. Enthusiasm for the project has been fed by the tremendous success of the Hiawatha LRT starter line, which now carries an average of 28,750 riders on weekdays between downtown Minneapolis and Bloomington. The Central Corridor line is thus expected to exceed that by 25 to 50% or more, providing a huge additional boost to public transit mobility in the metro area.

"This announcement means it is no longer a matter of if, but rather when LRT will be coming to the Central Corridor" proclaimed St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman in a statement quoted in the Minneapolis Star Tribune (14 December).

According to the St. Paul Pioneer Press of 15 December, the FTA approval announcement "comes as the political stars line up for the project."

As the paper notes, US Representative Betty McCollum, a member of the Democratic Farmer-Labor (DFL) Party representing St. Paul, "was handed an appointment to the powerful House Appropriations Committee, which oversees federal spending." Furthermore, notes the paper, "U.S. Rep. Jim Oberstar, another Minnesota DFLer, is in line to head the House Transportation Committee." in addition, "both of Minnesota's U.S. senators are from the Twin Cities."

Project cost "is being split 50-50 between the federal government and state and local entities", reports the Pioneer Press (15 December). However, notes the Star Tribune, "to receive final federal approval and funding, the estimated project cost of $930 million must be trimmed to meet the agency's cost-efficiency guidelines." According to both the Star Tribune (14 Dec.) and the Pioneer Press (15 Dec.), options for shaving design and cost include:

· Routing the LRT line at street level through the University of Minnesota instead of constructing a tunnel, as preferred by the university – this alone is estimated to trim $155 million
· Shortening the line in St. Paul, by postponing construction of a stretch of track from Fourth and Cedar Streets to the Union Depot building
· Forgoing the total reconstruction of University Avenue

However, as the Pioneer Press points out, "The latter two options are particularly sensitive to St. Paul officials. Union Depot is viewed as a future transportation hub, and a streetscape makeover for University Avenue, complete with a new roadway, sidewalks and trees, is seen as key to ongoing revitalization efforts."

As the Pioneer Press reports, the outstanding performance of Minneapolis's Hiawatha line has tended to warm publlic attitudes to the project. Citing Lori Fritz, head of the Midway Chamber of Commerce, the paper notes that "With the success of the Hiawatha line, business owners who once objected to mass transit have softened their position." However, they're still somewhat edgy about the projected three-year construction schedule.

Nevertheless, enthusiasm for the project continues to run high. "LRT along the Central Corridor has the potential to be an even bigger success than our Hiawatha line" said Peter Bell, Metropolitan Council chairman. "It also will support and encourage the revitalization already taking place all along University Avenue."

More on Public Transport in Minneapolis

More on Rail Transit Development...

19 December 2006

City council votes to cancel light rail transit project

After approximately a decade of planning and roughly C$65 million of investment in studies, analysis, and preparation, Ottawa's new mayor and city council on 14 December voted 13-11 to scrap both the city's original C$778-million light rail transit contract, just approved by the previous council in July, and a shortened, slightly cheaper light rail plan passed the previous week.

In a mid-November vote, conservative technology industry executive Larry O'Brien ousted Ottawa's previous mayor, Bob Chiarelli, who had championed the LRT plan. O'Brien had aggressively criticized the rail plan. Upon election, the new mayor appointed, as his chief of staff, Walter Robinson, former director of the anti-tax group Canadian Taxpayers Federation; Robinson, generally described as vehemently anti-rail, is quoted as calling light rail a "colossal transportation failure" ... "everywhere".

News reports suggest that the new Ottawa mayor and reconstituted council majority are reconsidering rail transit expansion altogether. Mayor O'Brien is quoted as favoring "a different definition of mass transit".

The official plan for electric LRT forged by OC Transpo, Ottawa's transit agency, amounted to C$725 million for 29.5 km of line (about US $580 mn for 18.3 miles). This calculates to about US$32 million/mile – a figure that compares favorably to other surface LRT projects, particularly since it would have included relatively expensive street construction in the CBD. Nevertheless, it was denounced as extravagant not only by rightwing politicians and anti-transit forces, but also by some local rail advocates.

Despite their ferocious criticism of the previous LRT plan as a wasteful expense, the new council majority around O'Brien seemed, paradoxically, to be flirting with a subway tunnel alternative to route LRT through downtown. However, the subway plan eventually found itself in the garbage can along with all the prospects for LRT.

A curious wrinkle in the Ottawa LRT debacle is the role of a local rail advocacy group, Friends of the O-Train (FOTO), which had strongly criticized Chiarelli's electric LRT plan and proposed a much shorter LRT line, only through downtown Ottawa, together with expansion and upgrading of the existing diesel-powered O-Train light railway service. One of FOTO's major (and ostensibly justifiable) complaints was that the now-defunct LRT plan would have involved suspending O-Train service for approximately two years while the line was electrified. (Agencies in Europe and elsewhere seem able to electrify ongoing rail operations without shutting down services for such an extended period.)

In any case, FOTO regarded the official LRT plan as representing "poor value for money", and has seemed not only to applaud the scrapping of the LRT plan, but even to regard the new policy as a step forward for public transport. Whether this will truly prove to be the case remains to be seen.

Meanwhile, it appears that Ottawa will lose approximately C$400 million in provincial and federal grants that had been allocated for the LRT project. In addition, the city is now facing the likelihood of a very expensive lawsuit, brought by the consortium led by Siemens with whom the city had already contracted for the LRT project. By some reports, this could end up costing the city several hundred million dollars – with no transit project at all to show for it.

The Light Rail Now publication team are continuing to investigate the Ottawa situation, and we hope to provide more extensive discussion of the issues in a further report.

More on Public Transport in Ottawa

More on Policy & Political issues...

9 December 2006

Tiny light rail tramway opens in small Spanish town

Proving that light rail comes in a size to suit any application, on 11 October 2006 the small Spanish town of Vélez-Málaga (about 20 km/12 miles east of the city of Málaga) opened its new electric rail tramway (streetcar-like line) connecting the community with the beach resort of Torre del Mar. Only 4.6 km (2.9 miles) in length, the tramway cost €18 million (about US$23 million) – calculating to a unit cost of just $8 million per mile ($5 million/km).

According to a report in Tramways & Urban Transit (December 2006), service is provided by three CAF-built tramcars, off the production line of a batch being fabricated for the new light rail tramway under construction in Seville (Sevilla).

An earlier T&UT report (January 2006) related that the CAF trams measure 31 meters (102 feet) long by 2.6 meters (8.6 feet) wide. More than 15,000 passenger-trips were carried over the first two days of operation (but service was free until 16 October).

The December T&UT report indicates that a further extension at the northern end of the line is already under construction. All in all, the tramway is not only another sign of the applicability of light rail transit (LRT) technology even for extremely small communities, but also of the powerful and growing momentum of the LRT revolution that continues to roll across Spain and the iberian peninsula.

More on Spain's Rail Transit and Public Transport

More on Rail Transit Development...

8 December 2006

With 26% annual increase, light rail tramway ridership now exceeds bus

The French city of Bordeaux is reporting some remarkable achievements with its new light rail tramway system, according to Tramways & Urban Transit (December 2006). By far the most impressive success is seen in ridership, with daily tramway ridership of 180,000 rider-trips soaring 26% over a year ago, and approaching the Phase 1 project goal of 200,000.

Moreover, tramway ridership is now exceeding daily bus ridership on the rest of the Bordeaux network.

The T&UT article also reports that commercial speed is up to 23 km/hr (about 14 mph, relatively fast for European street-surface public transit). In addition, system reliability has reached 99%.

The latter is especially significant, because Bordeaux was the first light rail system to incorporate Alstom's proprietary APS (alimentation par sol, ground power) electrical power supply system. This system uses a central third-rail-type power strip between the running rails to provide propulsion power for relatively short segments of the system where planners wished to avoid overhead wires (overhead contact system, or OCS). Through a complex computerized control system, a section of the power rail is only energized when a railcar is running over it.

Alstom's APS system – definitely an option wherever the elimination of OCS is a sine qua non of a proposed electric light rail transit line – has had somewhat "mixed reviews". First, there's cost – the APS system reportedly costs on average about one-third more than conventional OCS.

Then there have been reliability problems. One engineer's assessment was that it is likely that Bordeaux's Line B has been the "laggard" line, as it is the only line running mainly on APS. Apparently, the other two lines (A and C) have long OCS sections which allow the railcars to recharge their onboard batteries, used to get over non-functioning APS sections.

On the basis of the 99% reliability figure now cited by T&UT, it would appear that there has been dramatic improvement. In any case, 26% annual ridership growth, producing ridership on a brand-new tramway that surpasses that of the city's well-established and already fairly impressive bus network, is certainly worth celebrating.

More on France's Rail Transit and Public Transport

More on Ridership issues...

More on Design issues...

7 December 2006

Downtown extension of light rail to intercity rail station to open Dec. 8th

NOTE: This article has been slightly revised and updated since original publication.

On Friday, 8 December 2006, yet another important extension of Sacramento's interurban-type light rail transit (LRT) system is set to open – an approximately half-mile section from 7th and K Streets to Amtrak's intercity rail passenger station. It's a small extension, but a major step forward because, for the first time, it links the LRT system to Amtrak's Capital Corridor (intrastate) rail services and longer-distance national network trains.

The Amtrak extension is the final segment of the Regional Transit (RT) District's $261 million Folsom corridor project – 7.4 miles of which, from Sunrise Boulevard to the city of Folsom, opened on 15 October 2005 (see Philadelphia, San Jose, Sacramento: More new light rail lines open). Cost of the 0.6-mile (0.9-km) segment is reported to be about US $40 million – thus, at about $67 million per mile, making the "Amtrak extension" the costliest (in unit cost) yet encountered in the overall development of Sacramento's 37-mile (60-km) LRT system. According to RT, this final segment of the Amtrak/Folsom corridor project is expected to add 2,000 daily passenger-trips to LRT ridership.

The extension includes the completion of two new LRT stations, 8th and K Streets and Sacramento Valley (Amtrak). A third station, 7th and I St., is still under construction.

A "worst-case-scenario" series of events has brought the extension project several months behind schedule and about $5 million over budget. As summarized by the Sacramento Bee (3 Dec. 2006), the project "has been bedeviled by freak spring rains and subterranean surprises including indian artifacts and unmapped utilities."

According to the Bee, the unexpected mishaps included "stumbling over surprise underground discoveries of unmapped utilities and the remains of an American indian village...." Then the project team found themselves hit by "freakish late-spring rains". As the paper notes,

The worst delays were caused by underground utilities not noted on maps – sewer and drainage systems, lines for water, gas, electricity and telephone, internet and fiber-optic lines – which had to be moved or reconstructed away from the tracks.

In addition, reports the paper, even with the extension's opening just days away, "Workers also continue to find buried artifacts from a former American indian village." indeed, the article notes, just the previous week, "as RT conducted test runs of light rail trains on the new line, workers on H Street hand-sifted dirt for artifacts, such as bone fragments, as monitors representing American indians stood watch."

Despite the difficulties and the budget overrun, RT officials insist that the potential benefits continue to justify the costs. As the Bee notes, "With light rail trains arriving at the depot a few feet from the platforms for Amtrak trains, people can travel in and out of the region without driving on already congested highways and city streets."

"People can go anywhere" emphasized RT General Manager and CEO Dr. Beverly Scott. "It's really a gateway to the world."

RT board chairman Roger Dickinson agreed. In his words, despite the problems, "the intrinsic value is great enough to be worth it."

Dickinson elaborated by noting that "This extension connects the Sacramento region to the Capitol Corridor regional rail service and Amtrak national passenger rail system, which significantly expands mobility options for everyone in the region."

More on Public Transport in Sacramento

More on Rail Transit Development...

6 December 2006

New regional passenger rail project breaks ground

Portland, Oregon – famous for its interurban light rail transit (LRT) system and smaller streetcar LRT (Portland Streetcar) – is on its way toward adding yet another rail transit mode – regional passenger rail (RPR, widely known as "commuter rail") – to its arsenal of attractive rail services.

It's designated the Washington County Commuter Rail, and while actual construction work started 24 October, the official groundbreaking ceremony was held a day later, on the 25th. "Television cameras caught it all" reported the Tigard Times (26 Oct. 2006), describing "The Portland & Western Railroad train pulling into Tigard's Transit Center on Southwest Commercial Street ... and unloading a group of high-profile politicians."

"Arriving on the train" the paper related "were U.S. Sens. Ron Wyden and Gordon Smith, U.S. Reps. Darlene Hooley and David Wu, Federal Transit Deputy Administrator Sandra Bushue, Washington County Commission Chairman Tom Brian, Metro President David Bragdon, TriMet General Manager Fred Hansen and a bushel of mayors."

The 14.7-mile (23.7-km) line – a project of Portland's TriMet transit agency – will share freight railway tracks with the Portland & Western Railroad in eastern Washington County (Portland urban area), serving four cities: Beaverton, Tigard, Tualatin, and Wilsonville. According to the Tigard Times (editorial, 9 Nov.), "the line will provide an important transit link between these four suburban communities whose residents now don't have a choice, except to drive a car, walk or bike ride."

The project cost of US $117.3 million (50% funded by federal grants) calculates roughly to about $8 million per mile ($5 million/km). The low cost – made possible through the use of an existing rail line and a cooperative railroad – was critical to facilitating the project. Otherwise, reports Portland's The Oregonian newspaper (30 November), citing Anne Madden of Washington County's land-use and transportation department, "it's doubtful that enough money could have been scraped together to acquire needed rights of way."

"Making better use of infrastructure from the past is really the mantra for the future" Madden told the Oregonian reporter.

The line will serve five stations, four of which will provide a total of 800 park & ride spaces. Trimet lists and describes these stations as follows:

· Beaverton Transit Center will connect with 11 TriMet bus lines and MAX Blue and Red lines serving the Beaverton to Hillsboro corridor, downtown Portland and Portland international Airport. A short section of new track will be constructed in Lombard Avenue between Farmington Road and Beaverton TC at the same time planned street improvements will be made.

· Washington Square Station is adjacent to Hall Blvd and within walking distance of the Cascade Business Center. Bus service will connect riders to the Washington Square Mall and to the Transit Center. The station will have about 160 Park & Ride spaces.

· Tigard Transit Center Station, located in downtown Tigard, will provide about 120 Park & Ride spaces and connect with five TriMet bus lines.

· Tualatin Station will have about 120 Park & Ride spaces and connect to local TriMet bus service.

· Wilsonville Station will have about 400 parking spaces and will connect with SMART buses serving residential and employment areas.

Rolling stock will consist of diesel multiple-unit (DMU) railcars provided by Colorado Railcar. The Washington County Commuter Rail will operate weekdays every 30 minutes during morning and afternoon peak hours. The trip from Beaverton Transit Center to Wilsonville is projected to take 27 minutes. With trains running at a top speed of 60 mph, schedule speed is expected to average 37 mph.

Service on the Washington County Commuter Rail is targeted to begin in late 2008. By 2020, average daily ridership is forecast to range between 3,000 and 4,000 person-trips, with half of the riders new to transit.

The Tigard Times editorial (9 Nov.) extolled the anticipated benefits of the new rail service, predicting that "commuter rail will offer some relief on highly congested Highway 217 and interstate 5."

In addition to the mobility benefits, the Tigard Times stressed,

we think there's an equally strong benefit of commuter rail more than just ridership. This benefit is stimulating economic activity along the rail corridor, particularly in still slumbering downtown Tigard and in between the various cities.

In addition, said the paper, "the commuter rail line can become a form of lineal urban renewal district that stimulates an economic renewal along both sides of the 14-mile route. We hope this will occur."

Furthermore, the paper added, "A lot locally and nationally is riding on the success of commuter rail."

Community vitality and reduced congestion are very important outcomes. "If successful, commuter rail can be copied elsewhere, possibly linking towns like Tualatin, Lake Oswego, Portland and Milwaukie.

US Sen. Ron Wyden similarly predicted that the new rail transit service would bring a higher quality of life to the area and link "suburb to suburb". "It's high time for this project" Wyden added. "You can't have big-league quality of life with small-league transportation. [Tigard Times, 26 Oct.]

Bruce Carswell, president and general manager of the Portland & Western Railroad, reminded the crowd of the days when the Oregon Electric Railroad was "the epitome of modern transportation" before it stopped service in 1933.

From that point on, the Tigard Times noted, the railroad tracks have been used primarily to move freight – "until now, when they will once again be used to ferry people among the four cities and connect them to MAX [light rail] lines and bus service."

"We're pleased to welcome passenger rail back to this section of Oregon" Carswell said.

More on Public Transport in Portland

More on Rail Transit Development...

30 November 2006

Government unveils massive light rail development program

Evidently impressed by the stunning performance of light rail transit (LRT), the Japanese government has announced a program to foster new LRT systems in cities across the counrty, according to a report in the Japan Times (17 August 2006). Sources at Japan's Land, infrastructure and Transport Ministry told the paper that "Advanced light rail transit systems that use low-floor streetcars will be set up in about 10 cities across the country by fiscal 2016...." Furthermore, the ministry would request 300 million yen (about US $2.6 million) in the fiscal 2007 budget for the LRT program's "preliminary phase", the Times repoted.

According to the report,

There is growing public recognition of the benefits of using light rail for travel over relatively short distances within a city and its outskirts, as such systems are easy for the elderly to use as well as environmentally friendly.

Particularly revving up the Japanese government's interest is the success of the new LRT tramway recently launched in the city of Toyama (see Toyama: "Tram-Train" Streetcar Line is "Model" for Japan's Light Rail Revival). "The port of Toyama line has seen a steady increase in passengers, attracting interest from local governments across the country" reports the Times article, adding that a "loop line will likely be set up" in the city along with the new one currently operating.

The next cities that may be designated to host new LRT systems include Utsunomiya, Tochigi Prefecture, and Sakai, Osaka Prefecture. "The final decisions on the 10 or so locations will be made by the ministry in fiscal 2008 or later" reports the paper.

Cities that are interested will be required to draw up a comprehensive plan for the development and use of their public transportation systems, incorporating light rail, in cooperation with local businesses and residents.

The ministry will consider having both the central and local governments own and take charge of facilities maintenance while outsourcing the operation of the rail service to private companies to lessen the burden on the contractors, according to the sources.

The significantly lower cost of LRT, yielding relatively high value for the investment, seems to be another major factor influencing the new pro-LRT policy. As the Times reports, "It costs about 1.5 billion yen to 2.5 billion yen (US $13 to $22 million) to build 1 km of light rail line, about a tenth of the comparable cost for a subway."

More on Japan's Rail Transit and Public Transport

More on Rail Transit Development...

25 November 2006

Istanbul opens its newest light rail tramway extension

In the latest indication of Turkey's relentlessly vigorous development of rail transit, on 14 September Istanbul opened a 5.1-km (3.2-mile) extension to its 14-km (8.7-mile) modern light rail tramway. Tramways & Urban Transit (November 2006) reports that the new line links Zeytinburnu and Bagcilar via Gungoren, and is operated as an extenson of the existing tramway service between the Kabatas ferry terminal and Zeytinburnu, "where there is interchange with the Askaray light rail [light metro] to the airport."

Started in January 2004, construction of the extension totalled 55 Turkish lira – about US $37 million. That calculates to about $7.3 million per km, or $11.7 million per mile.

In addition to running a huge fleet of buses on nearly 500 routes, Istanbul has been energetically fostering the growth of its rail transit services. According to Wikipedia, these include:

· Light metro – Opened in 1989 and subsequently extended, this system uses an adaptation of light rail transit (LRT) technology on a 19.3-km (12-mile) line with 18 stations connecting Aksaray, Kartaltepe, and Atatürk Airport. Totally segregated from other traffic without level crossings, the light metro runs underground for 4.4 km (2.7 mi), and includies 6 underground and 3 viaduct stations. With 37 two-car sets operating, ridership reportedly is 200,000 passenger-trips a day. Construction continues of a light metro connection from Kadikoy to Kartal.

· Metro – Originally opened in 2000 with a line between Taksim and 4th Levent, Istanbul's metro is 8.5 km (5.3 miles) long and has 6 stations. Wikipedia reports that currently 8 French-built 4-car trains transport 130,000 passenger-trips daily. With a trip along the entire line taking 12 minutes, schedule speed is 42.5 km/hr (26.4 mph). Various extension projects are currently under way, including a northern extension from 4th Levent to Ayazaga (expected to be completed in early 2007); a southern line, 5.4-km (3.3 mi) long with 4 stations, from Taksim to Yenikapi (with completion tentatively expected in 2008); and a line from Kadikoy to Kartal.

· Heritage tramways – Opened at the end of 1990, Istanbul's first heritage tramway provides service for 1.6 km (1 mile) along istiklal Caddesi between Taksim and Tünel. In 2003, another heritage tram line, 2.6 km (1.6 mi) with 10 stations, was opened in the Anatolian part of Istanbul, connecting Kadiköy and Moda. The trip takes 21 minutes at a schedule speed of 7.4 km/hr (4.6 mph). Ridership is something over 640,000 annually.

· Modern tramway – Istanbul's "fast tram" (modern light rail tramway) opened for service in 1992 with modern cars running on standard-gauge track, connecting Sirkeci with Topkapi. As Wikipedia notes, "The line was extended on one end from Topkapi to Zeytinburnu in March 1994 and, on the other end from Sirkeci to Eminönü in April 1996. On January 30, 2005 it was extended from Sirkeci to Kabatas crossing Golden Horn after 44 years again." Prior to the latest 5.1-km extension (described previously), the tramway was 14 km (8.7 miles) in length with 24 stations, running a fleet of 55 vehicles built by ABB. Based on an end-to-end running time of 42 minutes, average schedule speed is about 20 km/hr (12.4 mph). Daily "transport capacity" is reportedly 155,000 passengers.

· Regional passenger rail – Istanbul is also served by a 30-km (18.6-mile) suburban railway line between the main train station of the European sector, Sirkeci, and Halkali with 18 stations. With a running time of 48 minutes, average schedule speed is 37.5 km/hr (23.3 mph). Another 44-km (27.3-mile) suburban line runs on the Anatolian part from the main train station, Haydarpasa, to Gebze, with 28 stations and a running time of 65 minutes – calculating to a schedule speed of 40.6 km/hr (25.2 mph). Both lines are electrified, and passenger volume is reportedly 13,000 passengers per hour on each line.

More on Turkey's Rail Transit and Public Transport

More on Rail Transit Development...

16 November 2006

USA's latest new-start streetcar project under way

More evidence of the growing popularity of the electric streetcar comeback is offered by Seattle's South Lake Union Streetcar project, with construction of a 1.3-mile (2.1-km) starter line now well under way after the official groundbreaking on 7 July. As described by Rail Transit Online (August 2006), the project "is modeled on the downtown Portland streetcar, which has been extremely successful in attracting ridership and stimulating new development along its route."

Routed predominantly along Westlake, Terry, and Fairview Avenues, the trolley will link the Westlake Center to the rapidly developing South Lake Union redevelopment area, a fast-growing district projected to gain approximately 20,000 jobs by 2020, predominantly in the biotech field. According to the Seattle Times (7 July 2006), the streetcar project "symbolizes, and could promote, the transformation of a sleepy old business district into a cluster of high-rise condos and biotech labs."

City planners are forecasting annual ridership of 300,000 – close to 1,000 rider-trips a day – for the first year. The line is targeted for opening in the fall of 2007.

With 11 stops, located approximately every 2-3 blocks, and three modern, articulated Czech-made streetcars (basically the same Trio model ordered for Portland and Washington, DC), the line is budgeted for a capital cost of $50.5 million – a unit cost of about $39 million per mile ($24 million/km). Of the total investment, $25 million is budgeted to come from area property owners' contribution to a Local improvement District, with the balance from federal, state of Washington, and local governments. "Barring a huge cost overrun, the streetcar won't need general-fund money from the taxpayers..." notes the Times, citing the City of Seattle.

The Times provides a brief but useful summary of some design and route details of the streetcar line:

The streetcars will use the same lanes as automobiles on Westlake Avenue, stopping for traffic signals. Passengers will board from the sidewalk. Doors will be near street level for easy boarding, and electric signs will indicate when the next train is due.

Meanwhile, Westlake will change from three northbound lanes to a two-way, four-lane street, north of Denny Way. Near the lake, the streetcar will follow abandoned railroad tracks off the street, then move back into traffic in the center of Fairview Avenue North, at the Hutch.

The City of Seattle's goals for its streetcar system are listed at its website at the following URL:

These goals include:

· Provide local transit service
· Connect people to jobs, housing, the new waterfront park, and Downtown Retail Core
· Connect to the regional transit system (light-rail and buses)
· Encourage economic development
· Help create vibrant, urban neighborhoods

The streetcar project is now well under way – most recently, involving work related to City Light (SCL) and Seattle Public Utilities (SPU) infrastructure. The arrival of a shipment of streetcar rail from overseas was anticipated, with the project team preparing to begin construction of the streetcar trackway along Fairview Avenue North. According to the project description,

Trackway construction features excavation of a shallow (20") trench, formwork for reinforcing bars and track placement, and concrete encasement of the track and reinforcement. In selected locations, track drains are also installed, requiring installation of drainage pipes outside of the trackway to connect to existing drainage facilities.

Enthusiasm for the streetcar seems to be running high, and, according to the Seattle Times, "Some elected leaders are dreaming bigger. They hope streetcars will spread to the Chinatown international District, First Hill, the University of Washington, or perhaps across Belltown to reach the George Benson Waterfront Streetcar."

"I think more areas are going to want it, once it's up and running" said state Rep. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, chairman of the House Transportation Committee. He may be right – for example, interest seems to be gaining momentum for a streetcar connection between a future Link light rail transit station on Capitol Hill and First Hill.

More on Public Transport in Seattle

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15 November 2006

Southeast light rail line heads toward opening day

Work commutes and other trips within a major corridor of the southeastern Denver area should become significantly easier and cheaper for thousands of travellers starting Friday, 17 November. That's when Denver's Regional Transportation District (RTD) will open its new 19-mile Southeast light rail transit (LRT) line – the primary transit component of the urban area's huge $1.67-billion T-REX combined freeway/transit project. As an editorial in the Denver Post (11 November) describes it,

Along with its accompanying network of bus connections, the 19-mile Southeast Line will provide rapid-transit service to one of the metro area's most vibrant employment and residential corridors, running along interstate 25 from downtown through the Denver Tech Center to the northern reaches of Douglas County at Lincoln Ave. A spur runs along interstate 225 from I-25 to Parker Road.

According to another Denver Post article (11 November) by Jeffrey Leib, in connecting downtown Denver with the Denver Tech Center, the new line will be linking what Southeast Business Partnership president John Lay calls "the two largest labor pools not only in the state, but the whole Rocky Mountain region." "It will do for this entire corridor what Larimer Square and Coors Field did for Lower Downtown Denver" Lay told the reporter. "It vaults us forward."

Leib cites other evidence of the new line's influence on Denver's urban development, citing the case of the Denver Marriott Tech Center. Barbara Readey, Marriott's area general manager, told the reporter that the hotel has already been receiving inquiries from business customers "who are drawn by the hotel's proximity to the Belleview rail station."

"It's a great benefit for selling Denver as a destination" she told the paper.

RTD expects the new line to approximately double current LRT ridership, projecting at least 33,000 rider-trips per weekday by the end of the first year of operation – and boosting the system's total close to 70,000. "The new train is expected to trigger the most sweeping change in metro Denver commuting patterns in decades" Leib reported. And current riders have been enthusiastic, according to various news reports.

Leib focuses on the commute of a college student, Vincent Yates, a 22-year-old physics major, who currently must take a long bus connection to the LRT station at interstate 25 and South Broadway. "From there, Yates typically transfers to the train to complete his trip to the University of Colorado at Denver" says Leib.

Starting Friday morning, however, Yates will have a new route that will save him 15 minutes. He will simply catch the train at the Arapahoe station, not far from his Centennial home, and ride all the way to the Auraria campus.

"I think it will be awesome" Yates enthused to the reporter, regarding the forthcoming launch of new southeast LRT service. "It will come more often. That's what I'm excited about" Yates added.

At a cost of about US$880 million, the 19-mile (30.6-km) line, with 13 stations and 7,500 new parking spaces, works out to about $46 million per mile ($29 million/km). About two-thirds of the cost was covered by federal grants. Fortunately, Leib reports, "The southeast line was completed under budget and earlier than originally planned. It's not often that mega projects like T-REX have money left over after construction."

In addition to the rail project, the entire T-REX (Transportation Expansion) Project included "another $795 million in new highway lanes, bridges and ramps on I-25 and interstate 225", according to Leib. This combining of highway and transit expansion in a single project "is what will make it so successful" writes Leib, citing American Public Transportation Association president Bill Millar's assessment that "it's a great national model."

While Denver's growing LRT network won't solve all of the region's mobility problems, say the Denver Post editors,

It offers choice and convenience to commuters who until now have had little. And you need only glance at the residential and commercial projects sprouting near Southeast Line stations to realize that rapid transit is going to have a powerful impact on development patterns in the decades to come.

More on Public Transport in Denver

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12 November 2006

St. Louis:
MetroLink light rail's September ridership leaps more than 31% in a year

In St. Louis, ridership on the MetroLink light rail transit (LRT) system for the month of September was up dramatically – leaping 31.3 percent over the same period last year. According to a report in the Citizens for Modern Transit Newsletter, "That is more than 2 million riders this September versus 1.54 million riders in September 2005."

Most of the ridership increase seems due to the opening of MetroLink's new Cross-County extension (also called the Shrewsbury Branch by Metro), which opened on 27 August (see St. Louis: MetroLink light rail's Cross-County Extension opens! and New Rail Lines Open in St. Louis, Nashville)

The CMT notes that MetroLink's new extension is providing access to the County Government Center, more business districts, and retail centers, and points out that "The new line gives easy light rail access to more than 30,000 additional jobs."

MetroLink's extension and ballooning ridership come in the context of a massive increase to Metro's regional transit system, including its bus services. As a Metro news release reports,

Based on research and public input, Metro significantly restructured its bus network over the last several months. The changes expand the reach and frequency of bus service, and substantially enhance transit service for the St. Louis region.

"We have added 160,000 service miles per year on our bus routes" explained Ray Friem, Metro's Senior Vice President of Transit Operations. "MetroLink is the spine of our system. MetroBus allows us to extend our reach."

The ridership boost from the new MetroLink extension has pleased the transit agency, which further points out that bus ridership has also benefited. As Friem relates, "These early numbers are excellent, and we continue to be optimistic that we will become an attractive option for even more new riders," and he notes that bus ridership also experienced "a 2,000 passenger jump the day the Shrewsbury Branch opened."

"On an average day, MetroBus handles more than 108,000 boardings" Friem related. "On the first day of the new light rail service, MetroBus welcomed aboard 110,707 passengers. Early indications are that both bus and rail will benefit from the new MetroLink branch, and from the newly modified bus service."

Metro's news release also points out that the transit agency is the operator of the major public transportation system for the St. Louis region, including the 87-vehicle, 46-mile MetroLink LRT system, the 426 MetroBus vehicle fleet operating on 79 MetroBus routes, and Metro Call-A-Ride, a paratransit fleet of 125 vans. According to Metro, "Over 49.1 million passengers boarded on the Metro System in Fiscal Year 2006."

More on Public Transport in St. Louis

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12 November 2006 (Rev.)

Streetcar vs. Bus:
Operating cost comparison

Note: This article has been slightly revised. The units for average peak loading indexes of streetcars and buses, in terms of passengers per meter of vehicle length, were identified in one listing as "sq. m". However, as the supporting text indicated, the correct unit is "m" (meter), and the index is passengers per meter (of vehicle length). This has been corrected in the listing (see below).

One of the forms of light rail transit (LRT) seeing rapidly growing popularity is the streetcar – typically, a somewhat smaller, slower light railcar operating exclusively or mostly in streets, especially with mixed traffic. A frequent argument for installing electric streetcar lines is that, for comparable types of service, the unit operating costs (including maintenance) of streetcars tend to be lower than those of buses.

Critics of light rail streetcar services claim that, while streetcar vehicle maintenance may be lower than bus vehicle maintenance, when the maintenance of fixed facilities is considered, streetcar is supposedly higher. Proponents of streetcars, on the other hand, contend the opposite – that, depending on the volume of ridership, and considered on the basis of unit costs per passenger-mile, streetcar operating costs may be lower, even with way maintenance included. (The wear and tear inflicted by buses on city streets is usually a "hidden" cost, absorbed by local public works budgets.)

To assess these conflicting contentions, the Light Rail Now Project has undertaken a rather rudimentary O&M (operating & maintenance) cost analysis, using reliable comparative data provided by Portland Streetcar, Inc. (PSi).

According to PSi, for equivalent services the O&M cost per vehicle-hour (also known as revenue-service-hour, or RSH) is as follows:

· LRT streetcar – $135
· bus – $90

PSI reports that, based on Portland's experience, a streetcar attracts 30-50% more ridership than a comparable bus. It is thus plausible to assume an average 40% more ridership attracted to streetcar service. In other words, a comparable bus service would attract approximately 30% lower ridership.

Ed Tennyson, PE – a technical consultant to the Light Rail Now Project – calculates that, because of features such as faster acceleration and faster loading (through wider, multiple doors), we can assume 15% faster schedule speed for streetcar than bus.

To calculate vehicle capacity, we refer to the study by Leroy Demery and J. Wallace Higgins, "Peak-Period Service Supply Versus Observed Passenger Utilization for Rapid Bus and Rapid Rail Modes" (Transportation Research Board, 2003). This study presented the results of meticulous actual surveys of peak vehicle loadings of a variety of bus and rail systems. Based on this research, the following average peak loadings, in terms of passengers per meter of vehicle length, can be assumed:

· LRT streetcar – 4.5 passengers/m
· Bus – 2.9 passengers/m

Applying the Demery & Higgins study data to our streetcar vs. bus analysis, we assume average peak loadings as follows:

· LRT streetcar – 90 passengers
· Bus – 35 passengers

Circulator streetcar vs. bus

For this analysis, the "circulator system" scenario assumes a 4-mile route, operating on urban streets and in mixed vehicular traffic, providing circulation within an activity center, and possibly distribution and access from and to longer line-haul transit services. Ridership of 4,000 weekday trips (boardings) for streetcar is arbitrarily assumed. Based on our assumption derived from PSI's estimate of the differential range between bus and streetcar ridership, this scenario assumes weekday ridership of 2,800 for bus – about 30% lower than streetcar. We further assume a one-mile average trip length for each mode – thus, for weekday passenger-miles, we assume the following:

· LRT streetcar – 4,000 p-m
· Bus – 2,800 p-m

Average schedule speeds for streetcar and bus are assumed as follows:

· LRT streetcar – 7 mph
· Bus – 6 mph

To calculate service levels, we start with a projection of peak vehicular requirements, using a standard peak ridership volume assumption of 10% passengers per peak hour per direction (pphpd). However, this scenario also assumes a maximum peak headway of no more than 10 minutes. Based on these assumptions and the average vehicle loadings assumed above, peak fleet requirements are:

· LRT streetcar – 7 cars
· Bus – 9 buses

Based on a 4-hour morning peak, 3-hr afternoon peak, 10-min midday headway, 15-min evening headway, and 20-min late headway, our scenario results in weekday revenue service hours (RSH) as follows:

· LRT streetcar – 105 RSH
· Bus – 114 RSH

Applying the O&M cost data per RSH to the above, this scenario results in weekday costs as follows:

· LRT streetcar – $14,175
· Bus – $10,260

However, the bus alternative – as noted previously – is serving 30% fewer rider-trips. From dividing these O&M cost figures by weekday passenger-miles, the O&M cost per passenger-mile can be calculated as follows:

· LRT streetcar – $3.54 per p-m
· Bus – $3.66 per p-m

Certainly, this is a high cost per passenger mile – but this is typical of very slow, short-distance, circulator-type transit services carrying, on average, very short trips.

Line-haul streetcar vs. bus

How would streetcar compare with bus for a somewhat longer, line-haul route, but still operating on streets in mixed traffic? For this analysis, we assume an 8-mile route. We arbitrarily assume ridership of 8,000 weekday trips (boardings) for streetcar. Based on our assumption derived from PSI's estimate of the differential between bus and streetcar ridership, we assume weekday ridership of 5,700 for bus – i.e., 29% lower. We further assume a 3-mile average trip length for each more – thus, for weekday passenger-miles, we assume the following:

· LRT streetcar – 24,000 p-m
· Bus – 17,100 p-m

For this type of service, average schedule speeds for streetcar and bus are assumed as follows:

· LRT streetcar – 9 mph
· Bus – 7.5 mph

To calculate service levels, we start with a projection of peak vehicular requirements, using a standard peak ridership volume assumption of 10% passengers per peak hour per direction (pphpd). Based on this and the average vehicle loadings assumed above, peak fleet requirements are:

· LRT streetcar – 9 cars
· Bus – 17 buses

Based on a 4-hour morning peak, 3-hr afternoon peak, 10-min midday headway, 15-min evening headway, and 20-min late headway, our scenario results in weekday revenue vehicle-hours (revenue service hours, or RSH) as follows:

· LRT streetcar – 123 RSH
· Bus – 158 RSH

Applying the O&M cost data per RSH to the above, this scenario results in weekday costs as follows:

· LRT streetcar – $16,605
· Bus – $14,220

However, the bus alternative – as noted previously – is serving 29% fewer rider-trips. From dividing these O&M cost figures by weekday passenger-miles, the O&M cost per passenger-mile can be calculated as follows:

· LRT streetcar – $0.69 per p-m
· Bus – $0.83 per p-m

Bottom line: From using actual comparative data and plausible assumptions, it has been shown that, for comparable service scenarios – both a short circulator route and a longer line-haul route – a streetcar service would tend to have a significantly lower operating & maintenance cost per passenger-mile than comparable bus service. It is also instructive to observe that while the cost-effectiveness of both modes increases with longer routes, higher ridership, and longer trip lengths, the differential between the modes grows wider – i.e., streetcar becomes dramatically more cost-effective, carrying trips at significantly lower unit cost as ridership and the system size grow.

It's important, of course, to note that this analysis has focused exclusively on ongoing operational costs and not on capital costs, which are typically much higher for rail than for bus services – although it should also be noted that buses have about one-third the useful operational life, and generally less capacity, than streetcars and other electric light railcars. But any comprehensive feasibility study would need to assess all costs – O&M and capital – against the total benefits which these alterative investments would yield ... and our experience suggests that such comprehensive benefits are typically much greater for rail transit than for bus services.

Note: This analysis has adapted material originally posted to the Trolley Politics online discussion list.

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

More on Mode Preference issues...

6 November 2006

Salt Lake:
Residents prefer rail transit to highway expansion by nearly 14 to 1

By a margin of two to one, a majority of Salt Lake City-area voters favor a quarter-cent sales-tax hike for transportation projects, which could include light rail transit (LRT) and regional passenger rail ("commuter rail") expansion. That's according to an opinion poll conducted 26 Oct.-2 Nov. by Dan Jones & Associates, which indicated that 60 percent of respondents said they definitely or probably favor Proposition 3, the sales tax measure. Twenty-nine percent said they definitely or probably oppose the tax hike, while nine percent said they don't have an opinion.

As summarized by the Deseret Morning News of 4 November 2006,

County voters will be asked on Tuesday's election ballot if they want to impose the tax increase to pay for "corridor preservation, congestion mitigation or to expand capacity for regionally significant transportation facilities." The money could be used for any of a list of 33 projects, including four new TRAX lines and a commuter-rail extension through the Salt Lake Valley to Utah County.

And, according to a Salt Lake Tribune poll released a few days earlier, an overwhelming majority – 69% – of area voters said they'd prefer the money to be spent on rail transit. As the Tribune reported (3 Nov.),

Asked which projects they would put at the top of the list for construction, 45 percent of the Salt Lake County voters surveyed said they preferred all four proposed TRAX light-rail lines; 24 percent said commuter rail; and 26 percent offered other alternatives or said they were not sure. Just 5 percent said they favored buying land for future highways, including the Mountain View Corridor.

That means that rail transit is preferred to highway construction by about 14 to 1. However, the paper notes, "an earmark on Proposition 3 requires 25 percent of the revenues to go to regionally significant highway land buys, which at this time means just Mountain View Corridor."

Asked which new TRAX LRT line they would like to see built first, according to the paper, "36 percent of the voters surveyed preferred the one to Salt Lake City international Airport; 19 percent wanted the line that would connect West Jordan and South Jordan with the existing north-south line; 17 percent favored the West Valley City line; 9 percent favored extending the north-south line to Draper."

The resounding enthusiasm for rail was exemplified by the remarks of Howard ison, described by the Tribune article as "A professional trucker [who] spends a lot of time sitting in traffic, thinking about how much more money he could make if people would just get out of the way." ison, the paper notes, "who for 10 years drove a tow truck all over the United States but mostly in Salt Lake County, reckons the county's TRAX light-rail lines upped his annual income from $50,000 to $65,000."

"I've just seen how much better traffic was once [TRAX] started," ison told the Tribune. "So for him, voting for Proposition 3 is a natural" observes the Tribune, "and he is in the majority," according to the paper's poll results.

More on Public Transport in Salt Lake City

More on Popular Support for Public Transport...

24 October 2006

Streetcar extension to South Waterfront district opens

On Friday, 20 October 2006, the Portland (Oregon) Streetcar opened its new extension to Portland's South Waterfront district. This incremental 0.6-mile extension runs from the previous River Place-area terminus at SW River Parkway and SW Moody, follows SW Moody south to SW Sheridan and from SW Sheridan to SW Gibbs utilizing the former Willamette Shore Trolley railway right-of-way. It's the first segment on an exclusive alignment, rather than in mixed-traffic street running.

The Gibbs extension has been budgeted at US $15.8 million, including the purchase of three additional streetcars, Trio models fabricated by inekon and the Ostrava transit agency in the Czech Republic. The cost of the extension calculates to about $26 million per mile ($16 million/km).

According to an article in the local Daily Vanguard (18 October 2006), the streetcar and its extension render bountiful benefits for the Portland community. "The streetcar provides an opportunity for residents and new businesses to make a working connection to the city" said Kay Dannen, community relations manager of the Portland Development Commission. "The new extension will be connecting six neighborhoods together – moving people from district to district."

When the streetcar's starter line was opened in July 2001, it was predicted to carry roughly 3,500 rider-trips daily, notes the paper. But "The Portland Streetcar now services over 9,000 riders a day."

Dannen told the paper that, since the streetcar opened for service, it has also helped facilitate over $2.3 billion worth of development and business. "It's not only used as a transportation option" Dannen emphasized. "it's a huge economic development tool."

Dannen noted that the new streetcar line will also provide "a step towards the sustainability of the South Waterfront district". According to the paper, "The extension will link the neighborhoods with the rest of Portland serviced by the streetcar, and offer a way for residents to access the rest of the city without having to use a car."

More on Public Transport in Portland

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19 October 2006

Light rail leads sharp public transit growth in first half of 2006

American public transit ridership has continued to soar, and, once again, light rail transit (LRT) is leading the field with its spectacular growth rate. According to a News Release from the American Public Transportation Association (APTA, 21 September 2006), "In the first six months of 2006, light rail (modern light rail, streetcars, trolleys, and heritage trolleys) had the highest percentage of ridership growth among all modes of transportation, with a 9.4% increase."

According to APTA, "Some of the areas reporting the highest increases in light rail ridership opened new services over the past year" – such as San Jose, California's Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA), which recorded the largest increase at 33%.

LRT systems in several other areas also showed double-digit increases from January through June 2006:

· Minneapolis – 23.4%
· New Jersey (state) – 15.1%
· Boston – 13.4%
· Buffalo – 12.2%
· Los Angeles – 11.9%
· Philadelphia –11.9%
· San Diego – 11.9%

On the whole, America's public transportation ridership increased by 3.2% in the first six months of 2006, "as Americans took nearly 5 billion trips on public transit", according to APTA.

Also leading the way were impressive growth rates in regional passenger rail (RPR, "commuter rail"), which grew by 3.4%. Three areas with RPR showed double-digit ridership increases during this six-month period:

· Chesterton, indiana – 13%
· Dallas – 12%
· Harrisburg, Pa – 11.6%

Rail rapid transit (also called heavy rail, subway-elevated, or metro service) ridership grew nationally by 2.6% during this period. Two systems showing double-digit ridership increases were Los Angeles's Red Line metro (15.9%) and the New York- New Jersey PATH (Port Authority Trans-Hudson) system (10.3%).

Bus ridership in small, medium, and large communities also showed impressive increases. Nationally, bus ridership increased by 3.2%. The largest bus agencies showing double-digit increases for the first six months of 2006 were located in the following cities:

· Detroit – 14.2%
· San Antonio – 13.2%
· Dallas – 12.7%
· Seattle – 11.4%

Significantly, two of these cities (Dallas and Seattle) also operate rail transit in their mix of transit modes.

Other modes registered increases as well in this period. Demand-response (a form of paratransit) ridership increased by 3.8%. Electric trolleybus ridership increased by 0.5%, and all other types of public transportation increased by 0.6%.

"In the first six months of this year, more and more people rode public transportation and transit ridership grew by 3.2%" said APTA President William W. Millar. "This continued growth in transit ridership shows how important public transportation is to millions of Americans across the country."

The complete APTA ridership report can be viewed at:

More on Transit industry Ridership issues...

14 October 2006

Minneapolis-St. Paul:
Transit ridership hits highest monthly level in 23 years

More evidence that rail transit tends to boost the performance of the entire public transit system comes from Minneapolis-St. Paul, where Metro Transit – the Twin Cities transit agency – reports that its systemwide ridership in August of 7 million reached its highest monthly total in more than 23 years. The bus and train operations of Metro Transit, a service of the region's Metropolitan Council, provide more than 90 percent of the fixed-route public transportation services in the Minneapolis/St. Paul metro area.

"You would have to look back to March 1983 to find another month with more than 7 million rides" said Metro Transit General Manager Brian Lamb.

August also marked the first time that the new Hiawatha light rail transit (LRT) line topped the one million ridership mark.

"The Hiawatha Line now has set four consecutive monthly records beginning in May with 841,800 rides and growing to August with 1,013,500" Lamb said in a Metro News Release (13 September).

August rail ridership was 21 percent, or 175,000 rider-trips, higher than August 2005, reported Metro. "Sports fans have embraced the Hiawatha Line as a convenient way to attend Metrodome events, including the 15 Twins home games and two Viking pre-season games in August" said the agency.

According to Transit for Livable Communities, actual LRT ridership has been exceeding forecasts by substantial margins. For example, in July the Hiawatha line's ridership was 37 percent above planners' projections.

In addition, July average weekday ridership was well about the 30,000 level; daily averages were:

· Weekday – 32,029
· Saturday – 26,024
· Sunday/Holiday – 20,466

According to Twin Cities transit acivist John DeWitt, the single Hiawatha LRT line provided some 15% of all trips on Metro Transit in July. "Not bad for the line to nowhere!" says John, mocking a claim publicized by rail opponents prior to the startup of LRT.

And the gains for transit have clearly come across the board. Metro's bus ridership for August was 6.04 million, up 5 percent over August 2005, "and the first time bus ridership eclipsed the 6 million mark since October 2003" according to the agency's News Release.

"A confluence of favorable factors influenced transit ridership last month" noted General Manager Lamb. "High gas prices have led to double-digit increases in ridership on express buses, indicating that people are finding a new way to move to work."

Business partnerships with Metro boosted August ridership, Lamb said, as employer-sponsored Metropass ridership was up 34 percent to 613,100 rides. The 141 companies enrolled in the Metropass program typically subsidize a portion of the cost of an annual pass for their workers interested in riding public transportation. There are more than 23,000 Metropass riders in the region.

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

More on Transit industry Ridership issues...

4 October 2006

Route 15 streetcar revival completes first year

For Philadelphia's Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA), 3 September marked an historic milestone: the completion of the first full year of operation of SEPTA's Route 15 heritage electric streetcar line – indeed, the first year of revived center-city all-surface light rail for the transit agency.

As our article Philadelphia, San Jose, Sacramento: More new light rail lines open reported, restoring light rail service on the 8.2 miles of Route 15 (after buses had been substituted for 13 years) cost $88 million. "Was the Route 15 expenditure worth it?" asks rail transit advocate Edward B. Havens ("SEPTA news in brief", 3 September).

"Ultimately," says Ed, "the answer must be yes" – because, he argues,

trolleys will last longer, reducing rolling stock capital requirements. And renewing an existing infrastructure is cheaper than than starting from scratch. The other benefits including knitting the social fabric through the permanence of surface rail operations, bringing economic development spinoff. And, from the standpoint of future capital requirements, having trolleys of Routes 10 and 15 based at Callowhill Depot helps make the case that a replacement for the 92-year-old facility should include a surface rail maintenance and storage component. The environmental and noise reduction benefits of electric traction are well known but from SEPTA's "bottom line" approach to transit, perhaps most telling will be the reduced operating cost through use of propulsion power, electricity with relative pricing stability, compared with high cost diesel fuel.

However, as Ed Havens points out, what makes SEPTA's crosstown Route 15 particularly unique "in 21st century U.S. streetcar operations is that it's the only first generation route without a strong tourism component to ridership, instead performing everyday neighborhood circulation, bus transfer and rapid transit feeder service."

Contributing to the effectiveness and attractiveness of the Route 15 streetcar service is the success of the PCC streetcars – extensively rehabilitated by Brookville Equipment Corporation into PCC-II cars, modern reincarnations of the PCC which have performed extremely well.

For example, Ed points out, "PCC-II cars, unlike St. Louis Car Co. products from the 1940s, have something required for 21st century passenger comfort: air conditioning. And it was put to the test during summer 2006 as Philadelphia experienced several extended heat waves."

"But from the trolley fan perspective," notes Ed, "one of the best features of PCC-11 cars is the livery, recalling the Philadelphia Transportation Co. days when green & cream streetcars dotted streetscapes across the city."

More on Public Transport in Philadelphia

More on Heritage Streetcars

More on Feasibility issues ...

4 October 2006

Transit photos? Don't even THINK about it...

In what is perhaps the most draconian recent prohibition of transit photography yet instituted, the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA) has set a new "Photography Policy" that appears to represent a de facto ban on almost all reasonable public photography of MARTA's transit system. The prohibition – so sweeping that it raises questions over its legality – can be found at the following URL:

The policy demands that "All requests for film and photography on the MARTA system or property must be made through the Communications Office", and advises prospective photographers to "Please email Cara Hodgson at or call 404-848-5157 to make your request."

Establishing a bureaucratic process of prior approval for photography is itself a strong deterrent to amateur and free-lance photography (which, like most such photography, tends to be spontaneous and opportunity-driven, not meticulously planned in advance), but MARTA's restrictions are even significantly more confining.

Here are several examples of requirements in MARTA's new photo policy, and the implications for photography by both railfans and transit industry professionals:

· "In order to photograph MARTA trains, buses, stations or utilize MARTA property for photography purposes, an approval request must be submitted in writing to the Communications Office. The request must include the date, time and location where the photography will take place as well as the names of those participating. Requests must also state the exact purpose for the photography shoot." – Thus, a photographer would have to know in advance the station(s) and the precise times he or she would be there to take photos ... an unrealistic requirement for tourists or other visitors to the system, who typically snap photos when lighting and other conditions are favorable and the view is "photogenic". Furthermore, the legality of attempting to prohibit photographs of buses, stations, etc. from public areas is extremely dubious.

· "Photography is not permitted during rush-hour travel." – Thus, one cannot take photos at the best time to capture lots of people in them – for example, to illustrate the heavy usage of the transit system.

· "Photographs of the MARTA system are not allowed to be posted on the internet." – Thus, the primary purpose of taking photos for websites such as Light Rail Now is now outlawed.

In a very peculiar section headed "MARTA's image", MARTA's policy guidelines state the following:

The Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA), its employees or agents, cannot be negatively portrayed in any photograph or filming. Public transit cannot be depicted as an unsafe or dangerous environment. MARTA will review the subject matter of all photography and film requests to ensure that it meets this [sic] criteria.

Among other problems, this stricture seems to raise the obvious "What are they trying to hide?" kind of questions. Is this really the sort of "stonewall" image a transit agency should present to the public? And, if the basis of this draconian criminalization of "unapproved" photography is related to thwarting terrorism, one is led to ask: is it plausible that terrorists would adopt the use of embarrassing exposés of transit safety pitfalls or unflattering employee behavior as a tactic for "terrorizing" the Atlanta public?

The Light Rail Now Project has consistently and strongly opposed attempts and actions aimed at banning photography of rail and general transit systems. The Atlanta prohibition is just the latest in a wave of such actions apparently prompted by the "terrorism" hysteria that has been sweeping the USA, particularly including repression aimed at railway and transit photographers.

This type of short-sighted policy not only harms the transit industry, but may also help, rather than hinder, terrorist activity. As our article New York City transit tops move toward criminalizing transit photography points out,

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

With respect to specific public transport photography bans such as MARTA's, the position of the Light Rail Now Project was unequivocally affirmed in our article New Jersey Transit: Despite policy change, cops continue de facto ban on railway photography:

The Light Rail Now Project warns that public security is not served by the abuse of the law and the persecution of the innocent. Whether within or outside the law, such assaults on the critically important practice of public photographic documentation of transit operations and features constitute an outrage and must be stopped.

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