(Graphic: Transit Toronto)
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Light Rail Now!
This news feature provides an ongoing Weblog of particularly significant developments in public transportation and rail transit.
31 March 2007 (Rev.)
NOTE: The original news item stated that the "Transit City" plan was announced on 16 May. The article has been slightly revised with the correct date of 16 March.
Light rail transit (LRT) will secure Toronto's status as a green and sustainable "Transit City", under a breathtaking, 15-year, C$6-billion dollar transit development plan, announced on 16 March by the Toronto Transit Commision (TTC) and city officials, to build an ambitious LRT network that would include seven new lines, expanding into a total system covering 120 kilometers of the city (75 miles), and deploying an additional 250 new-model streetcars.
Under the Transit City plan, LRT (basically, an upgraded and vastly expanded streetcar network) would function as the fundamental skeleton, heart, and circulatory system – what the Toronto Star (16 March) described as an "ambitious blueprint" for "a light rail system that would crisscross the city far beyond existing and planned subway lines." According to the Star, at a press conference TTC chairman Adam Giambrone described a plan that "would improve transit access to virtually every corner of Toronto" and move 175 million passengers a year, "a third of whom would be new transit users." The addition of a 60 to 80-km (37 to 50-mile) web of light rail to the existing streetcar network would amount to an approximately $2.4 billion investment.
As tabulated and described by Transit Toronto, the seven LRT corridors suggested for the Toronto Transit City Plan consist of the following:
Some of the benefits of the Transit City approach are itemized by the Toronto Transit City/Light Rail Plan website:
The Transit City plan was unveiled just after the recent announcement of nearly C$1 billion in public transit funding for the Greater Toronto Area, including the federal share of a C$2.1 billion project to extend Toronto's Spadina subway line into York Region. However, the full plan will depend on further national and provincial government money to bring it to fruition.
The need for a massive mobility program incorporating public transport was emphasized in a recent column by Rob Granatstein in the Toronto Sun (17 March 2007). Granatstein exhorted readers to "try to imagine Toronto if we did nothing while our population in and around the city continues to soar, as the census shows. While our air quality continues to decline."
The aims of the Transit City vision are succinctly summed up on the Transit City website:
Light Rail Now! NewsLog
31 March 2007
Charlotte's transit system and its South Line light rail transit (LRT) project may be facing another battle, if a petition drive succeeds in forcing a public re-vote of the previously voter-approved 1998 sales tax that has nourished major expansion of the area's public transit. The transit tax recall measure can be placed on the ballot if as many as 47,000 petition signatures are gathered.
Transit opponents – who have made little headway with the usual arguments that Charlotte is too small and not dense enough for rail transit – suddenly have found their sails filled with public discontent over the 9.6-mile (15.5-km) rail project's upward cost creep. Last fall, Charlotte Area Transit System (CATS) management announced that design problems compounded by increasing costs of materials such as steel had pushed project costs over the budget of US$427 miillion, to nearly $463 million.
A referendum over rescinding the transit tax might take place in early November. This would be especially disadvantageous for the LRT project, since the South Line isn't scheduled to open until the last week of November.
That has prompted some transit supporters to suggest that CATS should accelerate and restructure its South Line LRT project in order to have at least a portion in operation approximately two months before the presumed early November vote – with the main consideration being to have something the Charlotte public can see and experience sufficiently ahead of voting.
As of last October, a slim majority of the public still appeared to support CATS's mass transit plan. According to the Carolinas Poll, registering opinions on issues throughout the eight-county Charlotte region, 53 percent of respondents approved of the plan (reported in Charlotte Observer, 30 Oct. 2006).
The anti-transit campaign has been given an additional boost through the backing of some major political forces, including the extremist-right John Locke Foundation and Republican county Commissioner Jim Puckett, who seems to favor diverting funds from public transit and into more roadway expansion.
According to the Media Transparency website, the John Locke Foundation obtains much of its funding from far-right donors such as the Roe Foundation, as well as the Claude Lambe Charitable Foundation, a component of the complex of Koch industries family foundations, all deeply rooted in the petroleum and petrochemical industries, including oil. gas, and chemical pipelines and asphalt production. For more details on this extremist-right, pro-highways funding apparatus, see:
Meanwhile, largely ignoring the growing backlash against the current transit program, Charlotte-area planners have been proceeding to develop plans for further expansion of the region's public transport. An article in Rail Transit Online (December 2006) reported that on 15 November 2006, Charlotte's Metropolitan Transit Commission "voted to approve the regional 2030 Corridor System Plan and prioritized construction of proposed rail transit lines, all of which are dependant on receipt of funding." As the article elaborates,
Clearly, the fate of these plans – and of the current operation of public transit in Charlotte, as well as the completion of the South Line LRT project – depends on the outcome of the transit tax-repeal campaign now under way. As things currently stand, Charlotte appears to be emerging as the next big battleground in the USA's "Transit Wars" – the incessant struggle between rail transit and roadway expansion that continues to convulse the nation.
Light Rail Now! NewsLog
27 March 2007
New York City:
At long last, New York's Metropolitan Transportation Authority has just awarded the first contract for initial work on New York City Transit’s (NYCT) Second Avenue Subway project.
According to Progressive Railroading (2007/03/22), the $337 million contract has been awarded to S3 Tunnel Constructors, a joint venture consisting of Skanska USA Civil Northeast, Schiavone Construction, and J.F. Shea. The consortium will begin construction on the extension’s first phase, which, says the article, "will run from 96th to 63rd streets and connect with existing service to provide access to Manhattan’s west side and Brooklyn."
S3 Tunnel Constructors will launch construction in April, and the PR article provides some details:
Scheduled to be completed in 2013, the first phase includes a total of six construction contracts, according to the report.
PR notes that the Second Avenue Subway project is NYCT’s first expansion in 50 years, and will ultimately extend the metro system from 125th Street to Hanover Square in lower Manhattan.
Light Rail Now! NewsLog
27 March 2007
At a 21 March open house, Tucson transportation managers pubicly unveiled routes and designs for the city's new streetcar-type light rail transit (LRT) system, approved by voters last May as part of a comprehensive transportation plan proposed by Tucson's Regional Transportation Authority (RTA).
According to reports from KOLD News 13 and the Tucson Citizen (both dated 22 March 2007), the new streetcar system would travel a 4-mile route between the University Medical Center and the Rio Nuevo cultural center currently being developed near i-10 and Congress St.
The streetcar system – with tracks embedded in street pavement – will run between Campbell Avenue at Helen Street, through the University of Arizona (UA) campus, and down Fourth Avenue. The tracks would split at Congress Street and Broadway, and the route would eventually terminate west of the freeway at Avenida de Convento and Congress.
According to the Citizen, streetcar stops will be located about one-fifth of a mile apart, with four major stations planned along the route – at Tyndall Avenue and University Boulevard, Helen Street and Campbell Avenue, and at Eighth and Sixth streets at Fourth Avenue. Each electric streetcar will have a capacity of about 125, including seats for approximately 35 passengers.
Project planners expect an average weekday ridership of about 4,200. investment cost is estimated at $100 million, about half of which is assumed to qualify for federal funding. According to the KOLD report, plans involve running five or six streetcars along the route, operating from 06:00 to 02:00 daily, with a roughly ten-minute headways between trains. Project managers expect fares to be comparable to current SunTran bus fares.
"it could be one of the most successful transit routes in Tucson" said Shellie Ginn, project manager for the city of Tucson Department of Transportation.
Comments from the public, reported in the media, were overwhelmingly supportive. "i don't know if it will alleviate traffic, but it will make an interesting way to get around town" said Mike Treeful, described by KOLD as "a community member who visited the open house to peruse the designs."
"Just anything to make more transit available to people, and give them other options for getting around" said Rachel Aschmann, another open house attendee also assessing the project designs. "Might take some of the traffic off the downtown streets and the university, where it's really bad."
"if the streetcar gets people to go downtown, it probably will help make that area a lot better" said Vladimir Chetochine, who works at the University of Arizona in marketing.
According to the KOLD report, Lori Boston, a resident of the historic West University neighborhood expressed concern about the activity and development the streetcar project could bring. "We're not against development" said Boston. "But we want to make sure that what happens, as far as development, meshes with the neighborhood as it exists."
"Barring any major delays," reports KOLD, "construction for the streetcar system is slated to begin at the start of 2009, and could be complete by the end of 2010."
Light Rail Now! NewsLog
23 March 2007
Despite some setbacks in its early days because of ice and snow blizzards last December, Denver's new Southeast Corridor light rail transit (LRT) service "ramped up" to near its projected one-year ridership level in February (2007), according to data from the Regional Transportation District (RTD) reported in the Rocky Mountain News (15 March 2007). Southeast Corridor trains started running in public service on 17 November.
According to the news report,
But the most impressive news is that the total LRT system has been exceeding its projected ridership by a wide margin. Total weekday ridership on Denver's entire LRT system averaged 62,523, higher than the RTD projection of 54,000 with the completion of T-REX (the combined $1.75 billion Southeast Corridor LRT/freeway project, mostly in and along interstate 25).
"it shows the public embraces light rail as an important part of their daily commute" said RTD spokesman Scott Reed.
"it took a few months for the Southeast Corridor trains to gain riders" the Rocky Mountain News points out. "The average workday ridership in December, when states of emergency were declared as fierce snowstorms hit twice on workdays, was 26,296. in January, it was 31,072."
According to the paper, "The surprising part of the report is that ridership on the system's older segment, the Southwest Corridor to Littleton, didn't drop as much as expected. RTD projected that many riders would switch their trips over to the new line if they lived closer to Southeast Corridor stations.
The paper also notes that the Southwest Corridor line's average weekday ridership before the completion of T-REX had been 35,721. "in February, it averaged 29,200, while RTD had expected it might drop to as low as 20,000." "People have became very loyal riders" RTD's Reed told the paper.
To tally ridership, reports the paper, "RTD has installed automated counters on only 24 of its 83 light-rail train cars. it disperses them throughout the system each day to gather raw numbers, sorting the results by each line to determine how many passengers are riding each leg."
According to Reed, "it's a matter of shifting those cars around to get reliable boarding totals at various stations so we could determine what the ridership in a given corridor was." Bill Beuthel, who calculates ridership for RTD, emphasized that "We do our best to ensure that every trip in the system is covered at least once a month."
Light-rail ridership since T-REX opened is tallied in the table below.
The impact of LRT on Denver's mobility congestion has already been significant. As our article Denver Data Show Light Rail's Real impact on Mobility Congestion points out, RTD's Southwest LRT line, much of it parallelling Santa Fe Drive, carried an average of 31% of total peak person-trips in the Santa Fe corridor according to a late-2000 study.
Light Rail Now! NewsLog
15 February 2007
By a margin of more than two to one, St. Louis respondents in a recent poll have listed expansion of the region's MetroLink light rail transit (LRT) system as the highest-ranked of alternative public works projects "most important to the region's economy". LRT expansion was selected by 56% of respondents.
The online poll, conducted by the office of St. Louis Mayor Francis G. Slay, was focused on Mississippi River bridge issues, but also included a general question on public works projects: "Of the following public works projects, which do you think is the most important to the region's economy?" Responses were tallied as follows:
These poll results would seem to suggest continuing strong popular support for rail transit in the St. Louis area.
13 February 2007
Light rail transit – overwhelmingly, in the form of tramways (streetcar lines) – has continued to see vigorous expansion throughout Europe, with the opening of new systems and extensions to existing systems proceeding at an intensive pace. (We hope soon to have a new article with details of some of the more important developments.) One of the most interesting recent examples seems like the Transit Holocaust in reverse: Braunschweig, Germany, which has opened a new 3.2-km (1.9-mile) light rail tram line to Melverode and Stockheim, suburban communities where trams (streetcars) last ran as long ago as 1954.
According to Tramways & Urban Transit of January 2007, the new extension of the Braunschweig light rail transit (LRT) tramway system (previously totalling about 31.7 km, or 19.7 miles), was inaugurated on 14 October 2006, and opened for service by Route 1 the next day. investment cost is stated as €24.8 million – about $32 million – which calculates to roughly $10 million/km, or $17 million/mile. Delivery of 11 new tramcars from Alstom is expected to begin later this spring.
13 February 2007
Despite a resounding Republican Party defeat in national elections last November, the USA's Bush administration still seems intent on destroying America's national network of intercity passenger rail services. While a clamor for upgrading and expanding Amtrak has been emerging from the new Congress, Bush's budget for the upcoming fiscal year proposes slashing Amtrak's operations further than ever – and, as usual, it's packaged (in the Bush enclave's now-familiar camouflage) as a wonderful proposal to "upgrade" and "reform" Amtrak.
However, with its PR hype hosed off, it's clear that Bush's Amtrak extermination campaign is still running at full throttle. As the National Association of Railroad Passengers (NARP) points out in a media release (5 February) on the White House's new budget proposal, "The Administration's recommended Amtrak funding level is actually down $100 million from last year's request." And last year's request was itself a proposal for a "shut-down" budget (which, fortunately, even the Republican-controlled Congress managed to override).
Calling the budget proposal "yet another departure from reality", NARP emphasizes that "Once again, the President's budget makes no provision for Amtrak's debt service needs of roughly $300 million." Furthermore, NARP points out, the Bush administration did not fund Amtrak's debt service last year either, "dismissing this very real cost as 'Amtrak's problem.'" NARP also notes that Amtrak has taken on no new debt since June 2002 and has paid off about $400 million since then.
According to NARP Executive Director Ross Capon, "The Administration is trying to take credit for creating the long-awaited federal-state partnership program without providing new money." On the contrary, the Bush proposal simply reduces the previous, ridiculously inadequate $900 million request by $100 million, and assigns this latter amount to "capital matching grants to States for intercity passenger rail projects."
"in any event," warns NARP, "at either funding level the vital foundation that Amtrak provides would disappear – both for existing state services and for the improvements that the $100 million might help fund."
NARP challenges the contention of intercity rail passenger opponents that eliminating long-distance intercity train service would solve Amtrak's financial problems. "it is well known that even if Amtrak eliminated the overnight trains (and thus all service in 27 states)" notes NARP,
NARP's media release also challenges some of the financial claims made by the Bush administration and other rail opponents. For example, says NARP, to contend that long-distance trains consume "most" of Amtrak's "operating subsidy" implies "an artificially narrow view of the system's costs."
Moreover, Bush's hostility to intercity rail passenger service appears to fly in the face of his public statements promoting energy conservation. As NARP's media release notes,
As Capon underscored, "in a world that must emphasize environmentally benign and energy efficient transportation, cutting Amtrak funding makes no sense either as a stand-alone proposal or in context of this Administration's proposal to continue increasing highway spending. Once again, passenger rail advocates look to Capitol Hill to dramatically improve on the White House's transportation proposal and views."
"The real message of today's budget request" said Capon, "is that after six years of being on the Amtrak Board and selecting board members, becoming more intimately familiar with Amtrak's needs, and observing the good work that has been accomplished, [the Bush administration] still don't get it."
8 February 2007
From Toronto, transit advocate Tony Turrittin reports that on 7 January 2007 the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) restored streetcar service to a segment of the #512-St. Clair West streetcar line routed between the St. Clair West subway station and the western end of the line at Gunns Road. Tony recounts that the entire route had been suspended, with bus substitution, since July 2006, "to permit construction of the eastern portion of a dedicated streetcar right-of-way (ROW) in the center of this relatively wide street."
According to the Toronto Star (31 January), the TTC expects to open the first section of the line on a totally rebuilt alignment on Feb. 18th. "On that date, streetcars will start running on the newly installed, slightly raised median, which prevents cars from blocking the line and allows the TTC to maintain reliable service."
Currently, the installation of the overhead contact systen (OCS) for the streetcars is being completed. This newly reconstructed segment will operate from Yonge St. to the St. Clair West station, just east of Bathurst.
The complete St. Clair streetcar project will span 6.7 kilometers (4.2 miles) from Yonge to Gunns Road. According to Tony Turrittin, "The rebuilding of the rest of the 512 line as streetcar ROW will begin next spring and last through the summer of 2007, and perhaps into the fall of 2007."
in addition to the raised reservation for streetcars, the project includes improve management of roadway traffic. As the Star article notes, "Cars and trucks will only be able to turn left, or make a U-turn, at intersections with signals."
According to the Star, "Work is to begin later this year on completing the section from St. Clair West station to Gunns Rd., just west of Keele St." Upon completion, says the Star, the St. Clair line will become the third streetcar line operating on "its own right-of-way" – i.e., a reservation. "The others are on Spadina and Queen's Quay."
The St. Clair project signals TTC's increasing commitment to improving and expanding streetcar-type light rail transit in Toronto. As the Star reports, "it's a template for how transit could be built in Toronto. The city's official plan calls for more streetcar rights-of-way on major arterial roads."
in addition, the TTC currently seems to be moving toward a major overhaul or replacement of its extensive streetcar fleet of nearly 200 cars.
1 February 2007
In Portland ... more evidence of widespread public support for and reliance on high-quality public transport comes from a 2004 survey, which indicates that 43% of adults (age 16 and older) in the Portland region "ride TriMet at least twice a month." According to the transit agency, "That's up 39 percent since 1997, the year before Westside MAX [light rail transit] opened." [TriMet Attitude and Awareness Survey, 2004] Since then, notes TriMet, "two new rail lines opened (the Red and Yellow lines) and Frequent Service expanded bus hours throughout the region."
As Light Rail Now previously reported in Portland: "Choice" riders = 77% of MAX light rail ridership, a very high proportion of Portland transit passengers are "choice" riders – i.e., using TriMet's services despite owning a car or choosing not to have a car because they prefer transit. As TriMet recounts,
As the Light Rail Now article cited above also relates, over three-quarters – 77% – of passengers on Portland's MAX light rail system are riding transit by choice rather than necessity.
29 January 2007
Transit Holocaust revisited:
Fresh analysis of the Transit Holocaust era – the period spanning the late 1920s through early 1960s when electric surface railway systems ("electric traction") were largely eradicated – is provided by a recently published book, according to transit advocate Andrew Burger.
According to Burger, internal Combustion: How the Corporations and Government Addicted the World to Oil and Derailed the Alternatives by Edwin Black (New York: St. Martin's Press, 2006, 408 pp., iSBN 0-312-35907-1, is currently priced at US$27.95. Burger cites what he describes as "a terrific chapter", titled "The GM Conspiracy," (pp. 193-260), that "provides an excellent history of GM's involvement in the anti-traction conspiracy."
As Burger further relates,
29 January 2007
Indiana State Senator Tim Lanane has requested that we publicize information about his efforts on behalf of regional passenger rail ("commuter rail") to serve the corridor from Muncie, Indiana to indianapolis.
Sen. Lanane is the author of Senate Bill (SB) 105, which proposes to authorize a study by the indiana Department of Transportation focusing on the possibility of regional passenger rail linking Muncie with Indianapolis, and including stops at Anderson, Noblesville, Fishers, "and generally the northeast side of Marion County, Indiana", according to the Senator.
A hearing on SB 105 will be held on Tuesday, 30 January 2007, at 09:30 (9:30 AM) in the State Senate's Homeland and Transportation Committee. Residents of Indiana who might be interested in this issue can contact the following:
State Senator Tim Lanane's website can be visited at:
15 January 2007
The spectacular performance of Little Rock's River Rail heritage streetcar system has been attracting attention throughout the USA, and opening of the line's new extension to the Clinton Presidential Park and Library is imminent. The River Rail streetcar's successes are highlighted in a report issued earlier this month (January 2007) by Keith Jones, executive director of Central Arkansas Transit Authority (CATA). Here are excerpts (edited slightly) from Keith's report:
10 January 2007
New York City:
On 3 January 2007, in what is certainly one of the most extraordinary acts of courage in the contemporary era, Wesley Autrey, a passenger waiting on a New York City subway platform with his two very young daughters, committed an act of samaritanism astonishing in its audacity and selflessness: not only jumping onto the subway tracks to aid a total stranger in distress, but then holding the person down – in a shallow drainage trough between the rails – as a train passed over them both.
in a Jan. 3rd article, a New York Times reporter posed the issue poignantly:
The incident, which happened in the subway (metro) station at 137th Street and Broadway, can best be pieced together in a composite of several news reports. According to a New York Times editorial, Jan. 4th:
New York Times article, Jan. 3rd:
Moments after the train came to a halt, with the two men lying under the train, Autrey recounted later, Hollopeter asked if he was dead. A Times article of Jan. 4th quoted Autrey: “i said, ‘You are very much alive, but if you move you’ll kill the both of us.’”
The Times article of Jan. 3rd continues the story:
Later, as Autrey visited the young man at the hospital, Hollopeter's father spoke to the media, praising "“Mr. Autrey’s instinctive and unselfish act.”
The Jan. 4th Times quoted his brief statement:
"After a long period of blurring and diluting of the meaning of 'heroism' through casual brandishing of the term by the media and various public figures," said Lyndon Henry, a technical consultant to the Light Rail Now Project, "Wesley Autrey's act has provided a much-needed redefinition." Autrey's heroism has been enthusiastically celebrated in New York City, and gifts of thousands of dollars have been made to his family by various donors in appreciation of this act. Moreover, his deed has been applauded across the country.
The Tacoma News Tribune, for example, in an editorial titled "Subway superhero" (5 January), noted:
"Autrey risked his own life to save another" editorialized the Eagle-Tribune of North Andover, Massachusetts. "That's the very definition of a hero."
Asked by a media representative to reflect on the experience as he was leaving Cameron Hollopeter's hospital on 4 January, Autrey responded simply, “Maybe i was in the right place at the right time, and good things happen for good people.”
Shortly thereafter, as his car pulled away, Autrey had some final words: “All New Yorkers! if you see somebody in distress, go for it!”
10 January 2007
Amtrak's Capitol Corridor rail passenger service – stretching from Auburn, California, through Sacramento and Oakland, to San Jose – has hit another ridership record, logging an estimated 6,000 passengers on 22 November, the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, "easily the highest ridership ever recorded on a single day in the history of the 15-year old service..." according to Erik Lange, a former Vice-President of the National Association of Railroad Passengers (NARP) and a longtime rail advocate in California.
Moreover, reports Lange, ridership even on the holiday and weekend remained strong:
Lange's report conveys more of the bustling experience of Amtrak service onthe pre-Thanksgiving Wednesday:
Lange takes note of the irony that the Capitol Corridor service, which commenced operation on 12 December 1991, had early on been proposed for discontinuance by Amtrak's then- President Tom Downs in 1994, following the recommendation of consultants.
"A former ticket clerk at Davis recounted the difference that 25 years makes" writes Lange.
Light Rail Now! website