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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 September 2009

Private funding boosts light rail project

Detroit — Planning for a light rail transit (LRT) starter line in the city's major Woodward Avenue corridor continues to move forward (see our earlier report, Detroit: As "BRT" plan fizzles, light rail moves to center stage ).

map The M1 Rail plan in Detroit may set an example for a privately- initiated and funded light rail project. M1 Rail, an approximately 3.4-mile (5.5-km), 12-stop route, will run in both directions along Woodward Avenue from Hart Plaza, near the Detroit River, to New Center, just north of Grand Boulevard, in downtown Detroit.
[Map: LRN, adapted from Detroit News]

The M1 project was initiated by private developers, and they are working with the Detroit Department of Transportation (DDOT) to coordinate their proposal with a City-backed LRT proposal, the Detroit Transit Options for Growth (DTOG) plan, which would extend the line from Grand Boulevard/New Center to the state fairgrounds at Eight Mile Road, the name used for state highway M-102, which runs along the northern boundary of Detroit.

Matthew Cullen, M1 Rail project president and CEO, and Norm White, the city's Chief Financial Officer and chief organizer of the light rail plan, have been working together to come up with a mutually agreeable project. They enlisted the help of Senator Carl Levin, Democrat of Michigan, and US Representative Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick, Democrat of Detroit, who met with representatives of the Federal Highway Administration and the Federal Transit Administration (FTA). They decided to combine the two projects to seek federal New Starts funding, so that contributions of $125 million that are being raised for the M1 Rail project may be used toward the local match. [Crain's Detroit Business, 21 June and 24 Aug. 2009]

M1 Rail will be the first phase of the project, but details of the design are still being worked out. The city's plan was for the line to run along the center of Woodward Avenue, but it has not been finally decided if the M1 line will run in the center lane, or in the second lane with curb-side stops, or possibly a combination of both types of alignments (in different segments).

Also in flux is the choice of LRT technology. Originally, a streetcar-type LRT system was envisioned for the M1 project, although infrastructure would be designed to accommodate somewhat heavier, faster, more powerful interurban or semi-metro-stype LRT operations. For the moment, a resolution of this issue remains unclear.

The M1 developers originally wanted to break ground by the end of 2009, but if they would begin before the Environmental Impact Statement is completed for the combined rail project, the money they'd spend would not qualify for the local match [Crain's Detroit Business, 21 June 2009]. Construction therefore is planned to begin in August 2010 and last 12 to 18 months (albeit the construction schedule will depend on how much work will be needed on Woodward Avenue) [Crain's Detroit Business, 24 Aug. 2009].

The combined project cost is estimated at $425 million, give or take 10%. The city's cost will be less than the $371 million originally planned because the M1 project will cover a portion of the route. In addition to the $125 million being raised by M1 Rail, the city has allocated $55 million for the project so far, for a total of $180 million, which is $40 million short of the estimated $220 million match needed to qualify for FTA New Starts funding [Crain's Detroit Business, 21 June and 17 Aug. 2009].

The M1 backers raised nearly $80 million so far in donations from foundations and other groups, including:

• $9 million from the city's private Downtown Development Authority...
• $35 million from the Kresge Foundation (possibly the first time a foundation has contributed to the construction of a transit line in the USA)...
• $3 million from Wayne State University...
• $30 million from various companies and institutions that bought advertising rights to the line's stations at $3 million each...

Some level of bank financing will also be sought [Crain's Detroit Business, 24 Aug. 2009 and Transportation Riders United website, 23 May 2009].

In December 2008, Michigan lawmakers agreed to provide $8 million a year to subsidize operating costs. They also passed legislation to allow a new public-private entity to operate it, and allow tax-increment financing to raise funds for operations [Transportation Riders United website, 23 May 2009].

simulation The M1 Rail line originally was projected to begin running by 2012 and the city's portion by 2013. (With construction startup delayed, the opening may be pushed later, perhaps to 2013.) The DDOT line is projected to carry 22,200 daily passengers [Detroit News, 22 May 2009]. The parties are working on a single name and website for the combined project.
[LRT simulation: DTOG]

In April, the Brookings Institute published a report that found that a high percentage of workers in the Detroit area commute suburb-to-suburb (77% of Detroit-area jobs are more than 10 miles from the urban core, as compared with a 45% national average). Based on those findings, the Detroit News editorialized that the city should focus on improving the bus system and adding highspeed bus lines instead of light rail [Detroit News editorial, 7 April 2009]. However, the editorial board apparently overlooked the fact that development builds up around light rail and creates density around the transit lines; whereas suburban bus routes may spur further sprawl if that is all that is available.

M1 Rail is operating as a nonprofit under the supervision of the nonprofit Downtown Detroit Partnership, a private-public partnership of corporate and civic leaders, led by Penske Corporation. A number of big investors are backing M1 Rail including:

• Matthew Cullen, M1 project president and CEO (president and COO of Gilbert's Rock Enterprises holding company)...
• Roger Penske, founder of Penske Corp....
• Peter Karmanos Jr., founder of Detroit-based software maker Compuware Corp....
• Mike Ilitch, owner of the Detroit Tigers and Detroit Red Wings and co-founder of Little Caesar Enterprises Inc....
• Dan Gilbert, Quicken Loans/Rock Financial founder...

The project will eventually be turned over to the regional transit system.

streetcar As we've previously noted (see Detroit: Streetcars at last to make a comeback?), Detroit once had an extensive streetcar system that permeated the urban area

...over some 500 miles of track, with more than 1,700 streetcars in operation. Fast electric streetcars ran for large segments of their route in a reservation in Woodward Avenue....

Detroit's huge network of interconnecting electric lines was gradually eroded and destroyed as public policy, heavily influenced by the motor vehicle and roadbuilding industries, sought to eliminate rail transit in favor of motor vehicle transportation during the Transit Holocaust. (See Historical Issues.) The Woodward line, the last route of Detroit's system, was finally eliminated in 1956.

According to Spacing Toronto blog (17 June 2009), Detroit's streetcar service ran for 93 years, at its peak operating over 2,800 vehicles and serving 492 million riders. The map below, originally from the City of Detroit Department of Street Railways, dhows the extent of the urban streetcar network as of 1941.


The Regional Transit Coordinating Council of the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments (SEMCOG) developed a Comprehensive Regional Transportation Service Plan (CRTSP) in December 2008. The plan proposes $10.5 billion in capital projects to be implemented between now and 2035. Over the next three years, the plan calls for the light rail line, an enhanced bus "arterial rapid-transit" system along most major corridors, and a commuter train between Detroit, Metro Airport and Ann Arbor. It recommends that a regional transit agency be established to plan, fund, and implement these projects and that a dedicated source of funding be created. Currently, the region has no dedicated source of funding for transit [CRTSP Regional Transit Plan Final Report, 21 Nov. 2008]. State legislation would be needed to establish such a new transit authority, and although the elected political leaders of the city of Detroit and Wayne, Oakland, and Macomb counties voted unanimously in December to support the proposal, Detroit has not appointed someone to negotiate the details, so they have not been able to move forward with it [Crains Business Review, 6 Sept. 2009].

Original research and narrative for this report were prepared by Research Associate Susan Pantell, and additional material and analysis have been provided by others in the LRN team.

Light Rail Now! NewsLog
Updated 2009/09/23

More on Detroit Public Transport Developments

More on Rail Transit Development...

More on Streetcars...

26 August 2009

Oklahoma City:
Streetcar plan gains support

Oklahoma City — Will this medium-sized city be one of the next in line to re-introduce streetcar operation?

Momentum toward a streetcar plan seems to be gaining among the city's civic leadership, energized by local businessman and community leader Jeff Bezdek, principal of Bezdek + Associates, and a local transit advocacy group called the Modern Transit Project (MTP), which Bezdek chairs.

According to an overview in The Oklahoman of July 14th, MTP "proposes a modern streetcar system designed to flow with traffic..." with electrical energy provided by Oklahoma Gas & Electric’s wind-power system.

streetcar logo Simulation of Oklahoma City streetcar, used as MTP logo. Electric power for proposed system would be predominantly derived from wind energy.
[Graphic: MTP]

As described in a July 22nd article in the Oklahoma Gazette,

...the system proposed by MTP would run along Sheridan Avenue from Bricktown, beginning near the Coca-Cola Bricktown Events Center, past the Bricktown Ballpark, across the traffic of Gaylord, past the Ford Center and stopping at the Myriad Botanical Gardens. Later expansions could run farther, up to the St. Anthony Hospital complex. On the other end, the line would extend north through the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center to stop at the Capitol complex.

The investment cost of the streetcar proposal is projected at $120 million. [KFOR-TV, July 30th]

[Map: MTP]

Bezdek's proposal may be boosted by an Association of Central Governments study that surveyed residents on how they hope to travel in the future. Of the 1,893 individuals responding to the online survey, 63 percent indicated they hoped to travel by rail.

Already on board with the streetcar proposal is Mayor Mick Cornett, who has inserted the streetcar plan into the city's MAPS (Metropolitan Area Projects) program of high-priority urban improvements. Called MAPS 3 (because it's the third iteration of such a program), the improvement program would require voter approval to reinstate a one-cent sales tax that expired last year.

As the MAPS 3 planning process moves forward, recounts the Gazette,

...the streetcar emerges as the one thing that can link all the MAPS projects together, from the Bricktown Ballpark built by the original MAPS, through the Ford Center’s makeover, to the glittering new convention center proposed for MAPS 3 – something has to allow the projected throngs of out-of-town visitors a way to get from one to the other.

For these mobility needs, notes the article, citing Mayor Cornett, "Only one kind of transportation emerges that can do it all...."

The mayor went on to tell the Gazette,

It makes sense to me that a "phase one" of public transit in a city that has great plans like we do builds a downtown streetcar as an initial component. We need to converge our public transit options. We have an Amtrak station, we have a Greyhound station, we have an inner-city bus station. We’ll need a fixed transit center that is close to the downtown business district and the entertainment district, and one that can somehow work together that can involve all those different modes.

For Oklahoma City, a streetcar system would represent a return of at least a fragment of the urban area's once-extensive network of electric streetcar and interurban railway lines. In the words of a 2001 article in The Oklahoman, "At one time, local residents enjoyed a transit system unrivaled nearly anywhere else in the country, with 138 miles of trolley tracks reaching into all parts of the city and a rapid-transit Interurban leading from Oklahoma City to Norman, Guthrie and El Reno."

 streetcar Extensive urban streetcar system once provided Oklahoma City residents and visitors with relatively fast, emissions-free electric transport.
[Photo: Bill Volkmer collection]

Providing fast, emissions-free, and convenient public transport, these electric railway lines permeated the area until their demise in the Transit Devastation era – when public policy, and a concerted campaign by the Highways, Inc. consortium of roadbuilders, petroleum marketers, motor vehicle vendors, and like-minded politicians engineered the dismantling of most of America's electric railway systems in favor of "motorizing" the population and enforcing a de facto dependency on private cars.

Bezdek has focused on the historical lineage of the MTP's streetcar proposal as one of its most important aspects, pointing out that it would represent the first pedestrian-oriented rail service in downtown Oklahoma City since the 1950s.

The Gazette explained Bezdek's concept as a way to provide Oklahoma City residents "a place to start without spending hundreds of millions for a light-rail system before trying out what a rail system is like. For the relatively (in rail terms) modest investment of around $100 million, Oklahoma City could have a usable rail system in three years...."

"It gives us the ability to expose our citizenry to rail without making the kind of investment that is essentially putting the chicken before the egg, and acclimate them to what a rail transit is like..." Bezdek emphasized to the Gazette. "Plus, downtown belongs to everyone. If you invest major money for one segment of the city, it is likely all the citizens will be able to benefit from it."

Mayor Cornett emphasized that the MAPS 3 urban development effort is focused on deciding what form of transit will make the most sense in erms of "a place to start".

"One of my concerns is that those who are transit enthusiasts will think that MAPS 3 is supposed to solve all the public’s mass transit needs or is supposed to be all inclusive to all sorts of different types of modes of public transit..." Cornett explained to the Gazette reporter.

There will be those who will say, "You should do a little bit buses, a little bit light rail, a little bit downtown streetcar." I think that for where we are headed, the downtown streetcar is the best approach. The point to everybody is that we gotta start somewhere. I want to get started on a rail component for Oklahoma City, and the question is, "Where do you start?" So, I’m the advocator.

As reported by KFOR-TV (July 30th), Mayor Cornett is aiming to finalize the MAPS 3 plans by the end of September. That would enable the city council to prepare a measure to extend a one-cent sales tax to fund the streetcar plan plus several other multi-million dollar projects included in the MAPS 3 program. Voters could be presented with this measure in a special election, possibly in December.

 interurban car Until its demise in the Transit Devastation era, Oklahoma Railway Company's electric interurban system provided rapid transit-like connections between Ohlahoma City, Norman, and other regional communities.
[Photo: Bill Volkmer collection]

Light Rail Now! NewsLog
Updated 2009/08/26

More on Oklahoma City Public Transport Developments

More on Rail Transit Development...

13 August 2009

Despite economic crisis, light rail ridership keeps growing

Dallas — While the USA remains in a severe economic crisis, with rising unemployment, and transit agencies (like virtually all public agencies and government entities) struggling, there are nevertheless some public transit bright spots in this dark period. One of the brightest is rail transit ridership, which has been growing – and ridership on the light rail transit (LRT) system operated by Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) is a case in point.

"DART light rail ridership continues to rise" is the upbeat headline of a Dallas Morning News article (July 8th) that reports that "More people are jumping on DART's trains" ... and "After a record year in 2008, that trend is still on track."

The article relates that more than 65,000 passengers a day, on average, are riding rail during the week.

"That compares with 63,000 riders during the same period last year – when gasoline was pushing toward $4 a gallon" says the paper, noting that Regular-grade gasoline in the Dallas area "is now selling for about $2.40 on average...."

The article goes on to observe that "The down economy has people throughout North Texas looking for ways to scrimp, and for many commuters, that makes the train an easy decision."

Mass transit advocates argue that public transportation – and especially rail transit – is significantly lower in cost than driving personal motor vehicles, and this cost advantage becomes even more attractive in an economic downturn.

Light Rail Now! NewsLog
Updated 2009/08/13

More on Dallas Public Transport Developments

More on Rail Transit Ridership...

5 August 2009

Light rail ridership continues to soar above projections

Phoenix — Since its launch in late December, the region's new Metro light rail transit (LRT) system has been significantly exceeding its weekday ridership forecasts – and achieved a new record by tallying over a million boarding passengers in April for the first time.

Between January and April, the new system's average weekday ridership exceeded projections by 32.6 percent. Altogether, average weekly ridership increased by 9.7 percent between January and May. [Arizona Republic, June 29th]

In April, average weekday ridership figures (the latest made public) were impressive:

• Weekday ridership — 37,386
• Saturday ridership — 32,720
• Sunday and holiday ridership — 22,694

Arizona State University student Iain Woessner told the Arizona Republic (June 29th) that "he had been riding the light rail to the university's downtown Phoenix campus since light-rail service began."

Currently attending summer school, Woessner, said "he suspected the benefits of the light rail have become more obvious as the economy has worsened."

"With traffic and the cost of gas, it's cheaper than driving" he told the paper. "I think more and more people are catching on that it's a pretty convenient way to get around."

In addition, the paper reported, "...increasing numbers of residents have started using the light rail to get to Diamondbacks and Suns games."

"There's definitely a lot of sports riders on the weekends because it's so convenient for them to use it" said Ryan Winstead, an LRT passenger interviewed by the paper.

Light Rail Now! NewsLog
Updated 2009/08/05

More on Phoenix Public Transport Developments

More on Transit Industry Ridership issues...

27 July 2009

First segment of new light rail Green Line nearing finish

Dallas — A solid track record of success – especially in terms of gaining ridership and attracting adjacent real estate development – continues to fuel vigorous rail transit expansion in the Dallas-Ft. Worth region, with Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) leading the way. DART's new 28-mile-long Green Line light rail transit (LRT) project is a case in point, as it builds and polishes the new infrastructure in the final stretch of the Green Line's first major segment.

"Bolstered by the receipt of $78.4 million in funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA)," reports Inside Collin County Business (June 16th), "the Green Line rail project of Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) is headed for an on-time and on-budget arrival at four new stations on September 14."

The first three-mile section of the $1.8 billion Green Line will extend from Pearl Station on the east side of Downtown Dallas to Deep Ellum Station, Baylor University Medical Center Station, Fair Park Station (at the intersection of Parry and Exposition) and the MLK Station, adjacent to the J. B. Jackson, Jr. Transit Center on the east site of Fair Park. It restores rail service to a neighborhood that 50 years ago was home to up to four rail lines. Daily service to Victory Station at the American Airlines Center will also begin September 14.

The remaining 25 miles of the Green Line, scheduled to open in December 2010, will extend southeast to Pleasant Grove to Downtown Dallas and northwest from Victory Station to the Dallas Market Center, the Southwestern Medical District, Love Field Airport and downtown Farmers Branch and Carrollton. Construction of the Green Line, the longest light rail project under construction in North America, has produced more than 2,200 construction jobs.

[Green Line map: DART]

DART officials and Dallas-area "movers and shakers" are highlighting the prospect that the Green Line's Fair Park station will open in time to serve the Texas State Fair, which begins in late September.

In mid-May, as the Dallas Morning News (May 18th) reported, DART board chairman Randall Chrisman, other DART officials, and several civic and political leaders gathered for a news conference at the Fair Park station "to showcase the progress on the station…." The group included US Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson (Democrat representing Dallas), described by the News as "instrumental in helping secure earlier this month about $75 million in funds for DART to use on the 28-mile Green Line." As the paper notes, "The funds had already been approved, in 2006, but the action by Johnson allowed them to be paid about four years earlier than anticipated…."

Johnson hailed the progress at DART, saying its record of on-time and under-budget construction projects speaks loudly in its favor when she is seeking additional funds in Washington. She said the rail service, which will connect two of Dallas' largest medical centers as well, is a major improvement for the quality of life in Dallas, especially [the] elderly and those who do not have a car.

As for the State Fair, Rep. Johnson told the paper "she's already planning to leave her car behind."

"I may be one of those who ride the rails to the State Fair this year" she was quoted to say. "Can you imagine the benefit of being able to come here and not have to worry about finding a parking place?"

Errol McKoy, president of the State Fair of Texas, told the News that "the opening of the rail line marks one of the biggest milestones in the event's long history. Texas will have the only state fair in America serviced by a direct light rail connection, he said."

DART train DART Green Line test train at Fair Park station (still under construction) earlier this year.
[Photo: DART]

According to the Inside Collin County Business report, major federal funding for the Green Line project comes from a previous $700-million Full Funding Grant Agreement (FFGA) concluded with the Federal Transit Administration, first awarded in July 2006 at the start of Green Line construction. "The funds awarded under the ARRA program are part of DART's FFGA" the article notes.

It should be noted that DART's Green Line project is one of a relative minority of US public transit projects deemed "shovel-ready" and thus eligible for funding under the ARRA program. Overall, compared with highway projects, it's been far more difficult for transit projects to meet the "shovel-ready" qualification for ARRA funding, because transit projects are subjected to much more intensive bureaucratic scrutiny than road projects.

See, for example: Tipping the Playing Field: How America's Federal Funding Policy Heavily Favors Roads Over Transit.

Another previous Light Rail Now article, USA: PBS news report focuses on mass transit success vs. crisis, summarized an analysis of these issues featured on a Feb. 13th segment of the Public Broadcasting System's weekly news analysis program Now, in which reporter Maria Hinojosa noted that transit projects "have to pass more vigorous environmental reviews than roads, and are forced to compete against projects from other states. That's not the case for road money."

DART's Green Line may be a lucky exception in receiving federal economic stimulus (ARRA) money … but the fact nevertheless remains that it's a worthy, "shovel-ready" public transit project that was there to receive the money – a project driven by proven mobility value and strong community enthusiasm, that has helped generate jobs while putting in place the basis for improved mobility and urban livability for generations to come.

Way to go, Dallas!

Light Rail Now! NewsLog
Updated 2009/07/27

More on Dallas Public Transport Developments

More on Rail Transit Development...

Toward a "New Deal" for Public Transport ...

21 July 2009

Augusta, Georgia:
City's streetcar plan gains momentum

Augusta, Georgia — The appeal of streetcars as a "light" way to install electric light rail transit (LRT) seems to be spreading, and Augusta is one of the latest cities to have its civic leadership fall under the streetcar spell.

In April, the city's Downtown Development Authority released a report from engineering consultant URS Corporation that recommended several possible routes for a downtown streetcar circulator system, with the preferred starter alignment a 2.5-mile (4.0-km) loop running along Broad and Reynolds Streets, between Seventh and 13th streets. [APTA Streetcar and Heritage Trolley website, April 2009]

As the APTA Streetcar and Heritage Trolley website elaborates,

map There would also be a segment down 13th Street to the medical district and another on Seventh Street to the James Brown Arena. The 13th Street leg could ultimately be extended north across the Savannah River to North Augusta, South Carolina.

[Map: LRN, modified from Augusta Chronicle]


Augusta (also known as Augusta-Richmond County), the largest city in East Central Georgia and the second largest city in the state, is the principal city of the Augusta-Richmond County Metropolitan Statistical Area, with a population somewhat above 528,000. The City of Augusta and Richmond County governments merged operations in 1996, and, as of September 2008, the Augusta-Richmond county population was nearly 193,000. [Wikipedia, 7 July 2009]

As The Transport Politic blog reports (22 April 2009),

Like most southern cities, [Augusta is] not particularly dense, but its downtown has been growing in recent decades. Though the city has a public transportation service, it is not hugely popular. The board of the downtown development authority, however, thinks that a streetcar line connecting some of the center city’s most popular destinations would be well used and a development booster.

The preliminary investment cost projection for the proposed starter line is about $25 million (although this seems a bit low, when one considers the need for rolling stock and a maintenance/storage facility, as well as the usual infrastructure requirements of track, electric power, and stations).

How would Augusta fund a streetcar startup? "The city lacks a funding mechanism to build the project," notes The Transport Politic blog, "though the downtown development authority could presumably use a transit district tax that would be imposed only on property in areas immediately surrounding the proposed lines." The blog writer further points out that "This taxation system is also proposed for Atlanta's Peachtree Streetcar."

After recently visiting Little Rock's new streetcar system, an official city committee evaluating a similar system for Augusta returned with enthusiasm.

As the Augusta Chronicle recounted in a June 29th article, "The streetcar system started in 2004 and has spawned $400 million in development along the rails."

 Little Rock streetcar Little Rock's electric streetcar system (River Rail) provides an excellent model for Augusta and many other cities. Modest initial investment has triggered hundreds of millions of dollars' worth of adjacent investment and transit-oritented development, persuading civic leaders to pursue expansion of system.
[Photo: L. Henry]

"It's an impressive system, what they've done over there," Steve Cassell, Augusta's traffic engineer, told the newspaper. "Talking to some of the developers, they love it. It was something to see to believe. It meshes well in the traffic. We couldn't find anybody who didn't like it."

"You have to look at why they did their trolley" Margaret Woodard, executive director of Augusta's Downtown Development Authority, also commented. "It wasn't for ridership originally; it was mostly as an economic-development tool."

(For more information on Little Rock's streetcar system, see: Little Rock Rail Transit and Public Transport.)

In the historic era of electric railways, electric streetcars ran in Augusta beginning in 1890. In 1928, Georgia Power Company acquired the city's transit operations. Subsequently, in 1937, the streetcar system was abandoned, and operations converted to motor buses, during the Transit Devastation era.

Will an electric streetcar system return to Augusta's streets, and actually materialize as a real project, or will it remain just a civic fantasy? As with so many such proposals, its fate really depends on whether its proponents can persuade public opinion that the benefits far outweigh the costs of investing in such a system and a commitment to the ongoing costs of operating it.

Even a cursory look at the results of streetcar operations in cities like Little Rock, Tampa, Memphis, New Orleans, Kenosha, and Tacoma suggests that investments in such systems are indeed worth the reources and effort. Hopefully, Augusta's decisionmakers – and a majority of the public – will come to a similar conclusion.

Light Rail Now! NewsLog
Updated 2009/07/21

More on Augusta Public Transport Developments

More on Little Rock Public Transport Developments

More on Rail Transit Development...

More on Streetcars...

More on Heritage Streetcars...

17 July 2009

Congratulations, Seattle!
Link light rail opens July 18th

Seattle — At (very) long last, Seattle's new Link interurban light rail transit (LRT) system is due to open this coming Saturday, 18 July 2009, linking central Seattle southward with the Rainier Valley and – later this year – with SeaTac Airport, two miles further south, the region's primary air travel facility.
[Map: Sound Transit]


Peak service will provide a 2-car train every 7.5 minutes, each one capable of carrying 350 people. In addition, there is space for four bicycles per car; a total of 8 bikes per train. [KING5 News, July 15th]

A unique feature of the line is that Link trains will be sharing the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel (DSTT) and its stations with buses already using that facility – in other words, the DSTT has been converted into a joint busway/LRT facility.

Difficult to install, especially because of the challenging terrain in the Puget Sound region, the Link LRT is thus one of the most expensive (perhaps the most expensive) new LRT starts the USA has produced, with predominantly tunnel and elevated construction totalling $2.3 billion for 14 miles (22.6 km) and 12 stations – averaging $164 million per mile ($102 million/km). (Interestingly, the project has come in about $100 billion under budget.)

According to the Seattle Times (July 12th), Link is "four to six times costlier than other light-rail startups in western states." Nevertheless, by one estimate (reported in Grist Magazine (July 13th), "the project has generated some 7,000 short- and long-term (green) jobs."

As one might expect, Seattle-area highway construction is also sky-high – for instance, rebuilding the Alaskan Way highway (Highway 99) through the downtown Seattle waterfront is projected to cost as much as $3.5 billion for about 3 miles, i.e., somewhat more than a billion bucks a mile.

Despite its high cost, Link is expected to become one of the most heavily used LRT systems in the nation, and its extension projects have been given high ratings by the Federal Transit Administration (even under the Bush administration). Average weekday ridership is estimated to reach 26,600 in 2010.

After an initially rocky start (with a huge budgetary under-estimate), the project has gradually won community enthusiasm, resulting in the launch of additional, and even more massive expansion projects. As the Seattle Times (July 12th) relates,

Ridership should grow by 2016, when a tunnel to Capitol Hill and Husky Stadium lets students and employees from the south suburbs ride 19 miles from the airport to the University of Washington campus. Eventually, it will connect to north Federal Way, Overlake and Lynnwood in a 53-mile network that Sound Transit says will attract 280,000 daily trips in 2030.

 train Invited members of the public were given a "sneak preview" of the new Link LRT system. Here, a train stops at the Columbia City station..
[Photo: Seattleist blog]

Enthusiasm for the new LRT service has been soaring as opening day approaches. According to (July 14th), "businesses up and down the line have been anticipating the new commerce the mass transit is expected to drum up for years."

"The Rainier Valley is optimistic about a potential flood of train travelers" contiues the article, which proceeds to quote Susan Davis, head of the Rainier Valley Chamber of Commerce: "I think that it's going to be fantastic; just that it's at grade. If they're not familiar with Rainier Valley and they're going to the airport, they're going to see everything. They're going to see all the great things down here."

"She said she expects people to be drawn to the valley, first, by the restaurants" continues the news report.

Fares will range between $1.75 to $2.50, depending on trip length. The maximum fare will be $2.50 for a trip from Westlake Center, in downtown Seattle, to the Tukwila station. Seniors, mobility-challenged, and youth fares are lower, and children under 6 years of age may ride free.

However, as part of the opening celebration, the public will be able to ride for free on Saturday, July 18th, and Sunday, July 19th. Regular fare service starts on Monday, July 20th.

Light Rail Now! NewsLog
Updated 2009/07/17

More on Seattle Public Transport Developments

More on Rail Transit Development...

2 July 2009

Getting serious about rail transit?

Tulsa, Oklahoma — City transportation officials and planners are preparing a Downtown Master Plan that includes plans for a "heavy" (i.e., compliant with Federal Railroad Administration railroad specifications) diesel-powered multiple-unit (DMU) regional passenger railway and a "street trolley" (streetcar) system (i.e., a form of light rail transit, or LRT). They are in the final stages of developing the plan and hope to be far enough along to obtain some money from the federal stimulus package (American Recovery and Reinvestment Act ).

According to Jack Crowley, Urban Planning and Development Advisor for Tulsa, their new Master Plan involves three key elements:

• Plans for development of the downtown area...

• A plan for connecting the downtown area to the Arkansas Riverpark System...

• Start-up of a fixed-guideway system.

The initial core line would be 3.5 miles (5.6 km) long, starting in Tulsa's West Bank and running through downtown to the North Side area. Both termini of this route are undeveloped tracts of about 100 acres owned by the city and planned for "Urban Village Developments" (or Transit Oriented Developments). The route follows the local freight railway system and would add parallel tracks that would enhance freight capacity. A couple of alternative routes are being considered for extending the base route. The city hopes to have a plan adopted and to move forward by fall 2009. [E-mail, Jack Crowley, 3 June 2009]

As mentioned previously, rolling stock for the core line would consist of FRA-compliant DMUs, and the city is working with the Oklahoma Department of Transportation to obtain three demonstration railcars – possibly reconditioned Budd rail diesel cars (RDCs) refitted for compressed natural gas (CNG) propulsion. The 1960s-era Budd car is a "heavy rail" (FRA-complaint) DMU, and the CNG tank would be mounted on the roof along with the engine. According to Tulsa officials, a reconditioned CNG train is operating in the Napa Valley in California.

Another fixed-guideway system being planned would be a 2-mile (3.2-km) "street trolley" (streetcar) line that would run north-south through the downtown, intersecting with the "core" rail line. This system would begin at Veterans Park and run through downtown Tulsa, ending at the Oklahoma State University at Tulsa campus.

 Sand Springs Ry Tulsa was served by a network of electric railways until they were destroyed in the Transit Devastation era. Among these systems was the electric interurban Sand Springs Railway, shown here heading toward Tulsa in the 1940s.
[Photo: Bill Volkmer collection]

The region is also considering more extensive regional passenger rail (RPR) lines that would connect a number of suburbs to downtown Tulsa. The Metropolitan Tulsa Transit Authority (MTTA) completed a feasibility study in April 2007 for an RPR (" commuter rail") line running from the suburb of Broken Arrow, southeast of Tulsa, through the hearts of Southeast and Midtown Tulsa, and terminating in downtown Tulsa. The study considered both "bus rapid transit" ("BRT") and rail alternatives, and concluded that rail was the preferred option – but that both alternatives should continue to be evaluated. The tracks and rights-of-way of the railroad in the corridor, except for a short portion in downtown Tulsa, are owned and operated by the Union Pacific Railroad (UP).

Approximately 125,000 people live and work between Broken Arrow and the Tulsa Central Business District, and most travel on State Highway 51 (SH-51.) Projected 2010 ridership would be 1.4 to 5 million passenger-trips, and at full capacity the line is estimated to remove roughly 20% of the total rush hour vehicular traffic from the parallel highway. The route would be 14 miles (22.5 km) in length, and include 4 stations; initially, trains would run during peak hours only, with a one-way trip taking 31 minutes. Estimated capital costs are $43 to $49 million, not including the cost of using the UP line, with the difference depending on which station is used in downtown Tulsa – the historic Union depot, or a location near 1st Street and Hartford. The rolling stock will either be two passenger coaches and a locomotive, or two DMUs. [Lockwood, Andrews, & Newnam Inc., Broken Arrow to Tulsa Mass Transit Feasibility Study, Executive Summary, April, 2007]

MTTA and the regional Metropolitan Planning Organization, Indian Nations Council of Governments (INCOG) applied to the Federal Transit Administration for funding to conduct an Alternatives Analysis for the Tulsa to Broken Arrow corridor. The FTA approved $136,000 for analysis, approximately a quarter of the estimated cost to conduct the full Alternatives Analysis, and MTTA is seeking local matching funds.

Basic research and narrative for this article were provided by Susan Pantell. Additional information and analysis were provided by other LRN team members.

Light Rail Now! NewsLog
Updated 2009/07/02

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2 July 2009

New transport chief pushes more livable city, but anti-rail "BRT" campaign could be "booby trap"

New York City — For at least three-quarters of a century, this and other great American cities have catered to private automobile transportation at the expense of pedestrians, cyclists, and public transit riders. Now, in New York at least, this may be changing.

Sadik-Khan Janette Sadik-Khan, appointed head of the NYC Department of Transportation in 2007, is revolutionizing the way a city, and especially New York City, can approach transportation – particularly by spearheading an effort to make the streets of New York livable by adding bike lanes throughout the city, setting aside areas for people to walk and sit, and designating lanes for bus transit.
[Photo: Reconnecting-America]

Sadik-Khan created "Summer Streets", whereby Park Avenue between 72nd Street and the Brooklyn Bridge was shut down for three weekends during the summer and completely taken over by ... people. Amazing!

These measures are part of a strategic plan the department produced called "Sustainable Streets."

According to Sadik-Khan, transportation departments have traditionally been focused on moving vehicles around, and she believes their new goal should be to provide the highest quality of urban life. She says that we need to take a "fresh look" at our streets and streetscapes and how we use them.

All of the measures implemented so far have resulted in widespread enthusiastic response by the public.

Streetfilms has put together the following video interview to highlight what she has done.

Ironically, although Sadik-Khan is chairman of the strongly pro-light rail/pro-streetcar orgainzation Reconnecting America, she's gotten ensnared in a major offensive by the "Bus Rapid Transit" ("BRT") wing of the highway/motor vehicle industry (and within the Metropolitan Transportation Authority) to push "BRT" throughout NYC – to some extent, in opposition to rail transit alternatives, including the Second Avenue Subway project. Despite the solid successes of electric light rail transit (LRT) just across the Hudson River in Newark and the Hudson-Bergen LRT system serving New Jersey communities such as Bayonne, Jersey City, Hoboken, and Weehawken – and, indeed, the phenomenal successes of new LRT starts in cities like Minneapolis, Charlotte, and Phoenix (in contrast to the comparatively lackluster performance of new "BRT" operations in several cities) – a propaganda blitz has been under way in NYC to portray rail transit as largely a failure, and "BRT" as some kind of phenomenal savior of the American transit industry (a reverse-image fantasy backed by a barrage of fabricated claims and largely imaginary "facts").

Thus, despite Sadik-Khan's progressive roots and instincts, and her commendable efforts to "pedestrianize" New York's streets and nudge the city toward a more human-friendly (as opposed to car-friendly) environment, this latest battleground in the Transit Wars could tarnish her reputation and compromise her vision. In other words, the"BRT" campaign might represent a serious booby trap. The bigger picture here is yet another confrontation between the old-line, Robert Moses-era ideologicial commitment to rubber tires and petroleum propulsion vs. the specific benefits and advantages offered by electric light rail, especially streetcars – as Reconnecting America has communicated so well, with Sadik-Khan's leadership.

Now, many transit advocates – who recognize the proven capabilities of rail – believe that, in NYC, Sadik-Khan needs to take a firm stand on the side of rational, 21st-century public transport planning. This means – diplomatically or otherwise – fingering the fatuous claims for "BRT" for what they are, acknowledging the drawbacks of "BRT" with respect to the heavy demands of a mega-city's traffic corridors, and presenting both surface light rail/streetcar and grade-separated rail metro (i.e., subway) public transit as the right fit for NYC's needs in these kinds of high-volume central-city applications.

Most of the research and narrative about Janette Sadik-Khan for this article was provided by Susan Pantell. Additional information and analysis were provided by other LRN team members.

Light Rail Now! NewsLog
Updated 2009/07/02

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