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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.

22 June 2011

Ft. Lauderdale:
Streetcar still desired — This time, it's "The Wave"

Ft. Lauderdale, Florida — Despite repeated setbacks, this city on the southeastern Florida coast seems to be once again pursuing the possible development of a streetcar system, branded "The Wave", according to a report from Rail Transit Online (posted by the APTA Streetcar and Heritage Trolley website).

"The Wave", a proposed 2.7-mi. (4.3 km) double-track downtown streetcar circulator, could get a major boost if a transit funding bill is approved by Congress. The measure includes $1.8 million for project planning and engineering. Construction could start next July if $135 million in capital funding is available, allowing revenue service to begin in July 2013. The plans call for 10 solar-powered stations featuring real-time passenger information.

streetcar Simulation of The Wave streetcar near County Government Center.
[Graphic: The Wave]

Local officials believe the streetcar will encourage development, bring more people downtown and provide convenient connections between community points of Interest.

More information on The Wave project can be accessed at the following link:

Light Rail Now! NewsLog
Updated 2010/06/22

More on Ft. Lauderdale Public Transport

More on Rail Transit Development...

More on Streetcars...

17 June 2011

Advocacy groups fund streetcar study

Buffalo, New York — While this city has operated an interurban (or light metro) type of light rail transit (LRT) since the 1980s, interest in some form of surface streetcar-type LRT has increased, at least among some sections of the Buffalo public.

According to an October 2010 report from Rail Transit Online (posted by the APTA Streetcar and Heritage Trolley website), two rail transit advocacy groups have commissioned a study of a streetcar starter line, designed to connect downtown Buffalo with the Heritage Discovery Center.

Conducted by Stone Consulting, the $30,000 study project is financed by the Western New York Railway Historical Society and Citizens for Regional Transit.

The 1.6-mile (2.57-km) route "would utilize an abandoned Delaware, Lackawanna & Western Railroad right-of-way currently owned by local transit agency NFTA [Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority]" according to the RTO summary.

"We've talked to the NFTA" Joseph Kocsis, president of the non-profit railway historical society, told local publication Buffalo Rising. "They're interested" he noted, "but want to see how feasible it is both financially and from an engineering standpoint."

Kocsis suggested the line could easily be extended to the Cobblestone District and the Erie Canal Harbor, where passengers could transfer to NFTA's existing LRT line. Another possible extension could be constructed to Riverfest Park.

The historical society has volunteered to operate the line using either restored heritage trolleys or newly manufactured replicas. (This would apparently be similar to streetcar systems in Memphis, Kenosha, Tampa, Little Rock, Dallas, and elsewhere.)

Financing such a major investment project is uncertain, but Kocsis suggests that NFTA could be the lead agency because it's legally authorized to apply for federal funding.

Light Rail Now! NewsLog
Updated 2010/06/17

More on Buffalo Public Transport

More on Streetcars...

12 June 2011

Denton, Texas:
Regional rail transit line using DMUs prepares to open

Denton, Texas — For this small city north of Dallas, June 18th might be dubbed its "D-Day" (for Denton) ... or perhaps "A-Day", for the name given to its brand-new transit service, the A-Train, which is scheduled to launch on that date.

The 21-mile, $325 million line, implemented by the Denton County Transportation Authority (DCTA) with five stops along a route running parallel to Interstate 35E across Lewisville Lake, will connect Denton with the town of Carrollton via trains of diesel multiple-unit (DMU) rolling stock. At Carrollton the A-Train will connect with the interurban-type electric light rail transit (LRT) service of Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART), thus providing a two-seat ride into Dallas.

Swiss-made Stadler diesel-electric DMUs have been ordered for the system's main fleet, but until they are delivered by the manufacturer, refurbished 1950s-era Budd RDCs (rail diesel cars) borrowed from the Trinity Railway Express (TRE) regional service between Dallas and Ft. Worth will be used for A-Train rolling stock.

train Train of 3 refurbished Budd RDCs makes a test run over the A-train line near Carrollton in December 2010.
[Photo: © David Hawkins]

While it's subject to the oversight of the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), the line has been installed without federal funding, and that has eliminated bureaucratic hurdles, according to a report last year by the Fort Worth Star-Telegram (2010/10/23).

A commentary by County Commissioner Andy Eads, published in the local Cross Timbers Gazette of 11 June 2011, provides further details on the somewhat unusual funding package for the project.

DCTA's commitment to their aggressive A-train implementation schedule is illustrated by the strategic moves that the staff and Board of Directors made to keep the agency on schedule and under budget. Realizing that the federal New Starts process threatened to delay the project, the DCTA board directed staff to forgo the federal process and seek additional funding resources.

To move the A-train from idea to implementation, DCTA required more than the initial half-cent sales tax, which only accounts for 20% of the cost to build the A-train. For the remaining 80%, the agency looked to the new Regional Toll Revenue funding initiative. The Texas Legislature enabled the Texas Department of Transportation to consider public and private sector partnerships to finance roadways. The result is a completed project with a toll component and revenue for other non-toll transportation projects.

The first agreement to generate Regional Toll Revenue funds was with the North Texas Tollway Authority (NTTA). In exchange for the opportunity to construct, operate and maintain a 26-mile toll road for 52 years, NTTA paid the region $3.2 billion. The Regional Transportation Council (RTC) used these funds to expedite about 200 transportation projects, one of which was DCTA's A-train. In April 2008, the RTC approved funds for the purchase of rail cars and in August 2008, $190.2 million was approved for the completion of DCTA's A-train.

Commissioner Eads also provides useful details on the A-Train's rolling stock issues:

The initial A-train service will start with one element left to refine – the rail vehicles. A phased vehicle implementation plan has been developed and the A-train service will launch with the use of Rail Diesel Cars previously operated by the Trinity Railway Express (TRE). Due to manufacturing and delivery time, the A-train will transition by September 2012 to the new generation GTW 2/6 Diesel Multiple Units (DMU), manufactured by Switzerland-based Stadler Bussnang AG.

Purchased in May 2009, the DMU construction process began in September 2010, and vehicle deliveries are scheduled for August 2011 through April 2012. Testing of the new vehicles will continue through August 2012, and complete transition to the fleet of 11 DMUs is planned for September 2012.

Ultimately, the A-train DMUs will offer floor-level boarding, luggage and bike racks, and space for wheelchairs. Each vehicle will seat 96 passengers and have a total capacity of 200. The A-train fleet will run in couples, for a total of 192 seats and capacity of 400 people per train.

Recognizing that passenger rail is the future for North Texas, DCTA wants to ensure that its vehicle has application in other rail corridors and can operate concurrently with freight. DCTA and Stadler have worked closely with the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) through the Railroad Safety Advisory Committee (RSAC) to develop safety standard criteria for Alternative Vehicle Technology (AVT) using Crash Energy Management (CEM) Systems.

DCTA is currently working with Stadler to be the first transportation agency and car builder in the United States to make necessary changes to accommodate the new safety measures.

As the A-Train nears its launch date, there are signs of eager public anticipation, according to a June 11th article in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, which focused on one prospective passenger to make this point.

"When the A-train commuter rail line makes its inaugural run June 20 between Denton and Carrollton, Chris Ryan plans to be among the first to climb aboard" related the article, adding that "Ryan, who works and takes postgraduate classes at the University of North Texas, can't wait to leave his car at his Dallas home and instead ride the rails to campus."

"My parking costs on campus and my gas ends up being about $300 a month" Ryan, described as a 26-year-old, told the paper. He added that he plans to purchase one of the passes to be offered to university students and employees. "So when you compare that to a regional transit pass for $120 a month, or less if you buy a semester pass, you end up saving a lot."

Light Rail Now! NewsLog
Updated 2010/06/12

More on Dallas-Area Public Transport

More on Rail Transit Development...

4 June 2011

Lynx light rail alignment provides demonstration track for new Kinkisharyo hybrid streetcar

Charlotte, North Carolina — On January 20th, Charlotte served as host for the official unveiling by Janapese railcar manifacturer Kinkisharyo International of its LFX-300 100%-lowfloor hybrid (offwire-capable) streetcar. Designed exclusively for the North American market, the car has been branded the "ameriTRAM" by the company.

Charlotte was an appropriate location for the launch, both because Charlotte Area Transit System (CATS) is planning its own streetcar project, and because the transit agency's Lynx light rail transit (LRT) system infrastructure provided a stretch of electrified track (at the Uptown end of the line) for the ameriTRAM car to make demonstration runs.

 streetcar Kinkisharyo ameriTRAM hybrid streetcar makes a demonstration run over Charlotte Lynx LRT test track on Jan. 20th.
[Photo: L. Henry]

As a February summary from Rail Transit Online (posted by the APTA Streetcar and Heritage Trolley website) recounted, an introductory ceremony was held at the Ninth Street Lynx LRT station "for local officials and transportation leaders from other cities who were given short rides" on the new streetcar. Invited guests included two representatives from the Light Rail Now ProjectLRN publisher Dave Dobbs and technical consultant Lyndon Henry.

The Rail Transit Online further noted that the streetcar "will undergo extensive testing on the Lynx light rail line before going on a tour of the U.S."

Kinkisharyo's streetcar is powered by a new propietary technology it calls e-Brid, which allows the use of electric power from a traditional overhead contact system (OCS, including simple-suspension trolley wire or more complex catenary) or from lithium-ion batteries that can be recharged when the car is running under OCS as well as by regenerative braking. "In battery mode the range is up to five miles (8 km)" reports Rail Transit Online.

According to a Feb, 2011 report in Railway Age magazine, Kinkisharyo says the ameriTRAM car was specifically engineered for North America, "and complies with the Americans with Disabilities Act, Buy America, NFPA-130, and ASME RT-1."

As related by RTO, Kinkisharyo claims that ameriTRAM offers numerous advantages over conventional streetcars "including reduced capital investment, lower operational costs, lower environmental impact, greater aesthetics through the elimination of catenary in sensitive historic areas and enhanced public safety."

Among rail transit advocates and professionals, there is some debate about the degree of feasibility of current "offwire" technology, which typically involves either various battery devices (such as Kinkisharyo's e-Brid) or supercapacitors ("supercaps") to store electric power. One debate focuses on the relative merits of batteries vs. supercaps.

Another issue centers on the claims by some car vendors that an entire LRT system (streetcar or interurban) could be installed for "wire-free" operation. Many experts assert that, while such operation is proven and acceptable for relatively short stretches of line (e.g., through areas where OCS would be unacceptably expensive or visually intrusive), current off-wire technology has not been proven to carry heavy passenger loads under particularly adverse but common conditions, such as with air-conditioning at full power.

These issues may be resolved in the future, as experience with various degrees of off-wire operation increases.

Light Rail Now! NewsLog
Updated 2010/06/04

More on Charlotte Public Transport

More on Rail Transit Development...

More on Streetcars...

20 May 2011

Ohio's far-right governor scuttles rail passenger plan, kills major jobs and economic development projects

Columbus, Ohio — A decision by Ohio's recently elected Republican governor, John Kasich, to renounce federal funds for a long-planned intercity rail passenger link between Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton and Cincinnati (dubbed the "3C" project) has also meant the demise of major transit-oriented development [TOD] projects that would have created construction jobs and expanded the metro area's tax base, according to a Jan. 1st report in the Columbus Dispatch.

As the paper elaborates,

When the 3C passenger rail line pushed by Gov. Ted Strickland was derailed, supporters say the estimated 16,700 jobs and $3 billion in potential investments went off track as well. Developers said they are not likely to build projects in Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton and Cincinnati now that the $400 million in federal funding has been given to other states.

The federal money was redirected after Gov.-elect John Kasich called the rail plan a publicly funded boondoggle and rejected it. Wisconsin's new governor also rejected a similar plan in that state, returning $800 million, which was then sent to other states.

When the rail line was on track, Cleveland developer Forest City Enterprises contemplated projects in Springfield and Riverside, a Dayton suburb that is home to the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force. The Wright-Patterson-Riverside Station development was projected to create $180 million of taxable property on 44 acres.

Jeff Linton, vice president for corporate communication for suburban Forest City, told the paper that a "significant project" also was envisioned for Springfield.

"Clearly, it won't happen now" Linton lamented. "It's a governmental decision. We were looking at it as an opportunity to develop some real estate."

The news report describes other major development projects that have been scuttled by the governor's anti-rail stance:

In nearby Dayton, officials anticipated that a downtown development of up to $250 million would spring up around the rail station. Similarly, in Columbus, the rail line was expected to spur business development in the Short North and Arena District, as well as provide a link between Downtown and Port Columbus. Cleveland officials were looking at a light-rail connection to the city's Medical Mart, convention center and Flats areas.

Locally, certain not to happen is construction of a $15 million facility planned for Columbus by US Railcar Co. The plant would have employed up to 200 when fully staffed, said Mike Pracht, president and chief executive officer of the Columbus-based railroad-car manufacturer.

"It's unbelievable these states would send back $400 million and $800 million in free money" Pracht told the paper. "It's mind-boggling."

Pracht continued: "The only thing I can compare it to is the interstate-highway program back in the '60s. Where would Ohio be today if it opted out of the interstate highway system? To suggest passenger rail would be any different is naive."

Pracht added that, in addition to the jobs his company would have brought to the state, abandoning the rail plan negates millions of dollars in potential future development that would eventually have clustered around each rail station along the 258-mile route.

But Kasich – elected with strong support by the extremist-right Tea Party movement, which campaigns against public spending on major projects such as rail – "was unrelenting in his opposition to the now-defunct rail plan", according to the paper.

"The governor-elect's focus is on creating private-sector jobs" said Kasich spokesman Rob Nichols. "He's focused solely on creating private-sector jobs, not on a train that will cost taxpayers $17 million a year that will be slow and that very few people will ride."

"Nichols acknowledged the 3C train could create some private-sector jobs, but he claimed the development benefits would be outweighed by the public costs" reported the paper.

"You can spend $20 billion and see how many jobs you'll create. Build a bridge to Ontario" he said sarcastically.

"We had the debate. The train is dead. The matter is closed."

Light Rail Now! NewsLog
Updated 2010/05/20

More on Policy & Political Issues ...

More on Intercity Rail Passenger Service ...

3 May 2011

Portland, Oregon:
Rail transit sees modest ridership increase, but bus services see loss in February 2010

Portland, Oregon — TriMet, the Portland metro area's transit agency, saw ridership increases during February on its major rail transit operations, according to a March 25th online report on the website of Progressive Railroading magazine.

LRT TriMet experienced increased ridership on both its MAX light rail transit (LRT) system and its Westside Express Service (WES) diesel multiple-unit (DMU) regional passenger rail ("commuter rail") line, the article reports.
[Photo of MAX LRT: L. Henry]

In contrast, ridership across all of TriMet's bus operations fell. Largely as a result of the bus ridership losses, TriMet reported that, while there were 7.6 million rider-trips on its rail and bus services in February, this was down 2.9 percent compared with February 2010.

MAX LRT weekly trips rose 1.2 percent to 763,300, with average weekday trips up 3.4 percent to 122,860, and rush-hour trips increasing 4.8 percent to 37,200. However, weekend ridership for MAX and the MAX Green Line declined 7.3 percent to 144,000 and 2.4 percent to 23,900, respectively.

Weekly and weekday/rush-hour ridership on WES each rose 13.5 percent to 7,150 and 1,430, respectively.

Light Rail Now! NewsLog
Updated 2011/02/12

More on Portland Public Transport

More on Ridership Issues...

21 April 2011

Five light rail systems register double-digit ridership gains in 3rd quarter 2010

United States — Five American cities, led by New Orleans and Seattle, posted-double digit gains in light rail transit (LRT) ridership, including streetcar-type LRT, during the third quarter of 2010, despite the severe economic downturn that has caused an overall ridership drop among all modes nationwide compared with the same period of the previous year, according to data reported to the American Public Transportation Association (APTA).

"Nationally, nearly 2.5 billion trips were taken on public transportation in the third quarter of 2010," reports APTA in a media release dated 9 December 2010. As the release goes on to point out,

Despite continued high unemployment, public transportation use in the third quarter declined by less than 1 percent (.67%) compared to the same quarter last year. Subways and bus service in small communities experienced ridership increases for the third quarter compared to last year.

"Since nearly 60 percent of public transit trips are work-related commuter trips, public transit ridership continues to be impacted by the ups and downs of the economy and persistent high unemployment" noted APTA President William Millar. "Additionally, ridership has declined because many transit systems have been forced to raise fares and/or cut service as the result of reduced state and local revenue."

In a ridership breakdown for the third quarter, APTA notes that "Nationally, heavy rail ridership increased by 1.7 percent", and points out that eleven out of 15 rail rapid transit ("heavy rail") systems – subway and elevated trains operations – experienced ridership increases in the quarter in contrast with the same period in 2009.

Rail rapid transit systems with the highest increases in ridership for 2010 were in the following cities:

• San Juan, Puerto Rico ... 9.9%
• Baltimore, Maryland ... 7.2%
• New York City, MTA Staten Island Railway ... 6.3%

Out of 27 light rail transit systems, thirteen reported an increase in ridership for the third quarter of 2010 – but overall, light rail decreased by 0.2 percent in the quarter.

Nevertheless, LRT systems in five cities saw double-digit increases in the third quarter:

• New Orleans (RTA streetcars) ... 61%
• Seattle, Sound Transit (Link LRT) ... 57.2%
• Seattle, King County Metro (South Lake Union Streetcar) ... 16.9%
• Phoenix (Metro LRT) ... 14.1%
• Portland, Oregon (MAX LRT) ... 12.9%

Other light rail systems showing increases were those in Los Angeles, with a 9.1% increase, and Minneapolis, with an 8.8% jump in ridership.

Fourteen out of 27 regional passenger rail (RPR, "commuter rail") systems also reported ridership increases. Cities with RPR increases included:

• Portland, Oregon (WES) ... 21.2%
• Salt Lake City (FrontRunner) ... 15.2%
• New Haven, Connecticut DOT ... 12.6%
• Alexandria, Virginia (VRE) ... 8.4%
• Harrisburg, Pennsylvania ... 6.1%

However, on the whole nationally, RPR ridership declined modestly by 1.1 percent in the quarter.

Bus ridership declined nationally somewhat more steeply by 2.2 percent. However, some major bus services did report ridership increases for the quarter, including those in St. Louis, Boston, Flagstaff, Ithaca, New York, and Davis, California.

Demand response (paratransit) ridership increased in the third quarter of 2010 by 1.1 percent.

The complete APTA ridership report can be downloaded at

Light Rail Now! NewsLog
Updated 2011/04/21

More on Ridership Issues...

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