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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.

30 June 2006

Light rail tramway, with operating profit, demonstrates clear success

Contrary to British government and media claims of "under-performance", the light rail tramway system in Sheffield, England is a remarkable public transport success, according to a report by Sheffield public transport advocate Paul Jackson, published in the June 2006 issue of Tramways & Urban Transit. Sheffield – a medium-sized industrial city of more than half a million, the principal city of the South Yorkshire region located in north central England – has operated its "Supertram" tramway since 1994. The system covers some 30 km (about 19 miles) with a fleet of about 25 modern electric trams (streetcars).

As Jackson reports, Supertram, currently carrying about 13 million passenger-journeys annually, is generating an operating surplus ("profit"); in addition, it is "highly praised within the city." Early government ridership projections of 22 million (which form much of the basis of the "under-performance" criticism) were the result of faulty methodology – including a form of double-counting of ridership for each of three lines – Jackson argues, detailing the problems in his report.

The tramway's performance is particularly commendable when contrasted with that of the region's bus operations, says Jackson, noting that bus ridership has fallen by more than half since 1985 and is still falling.

In contrast, "Trams show patronage growth, year on year." Jackson points out that the tramway system, operating solely in Sheffield, "accounts for over 10% of all public transport journeys in South Yorkshire."

More on United Kingdom's Public Transport Developments

More on Rail Transit Economic issues...

More on Ridership issues...

22 June 2006 (rev.)

Broad St. extension of City Subway light rail line nears opening

NOTE: This article has been slightly modified to clarify that the new Broad St. extension is the first on-street extension of the system since truncation of several street lines in the 1930s. There have been several extensions of the City Subway in its exclusive alignment, almost entirely in the former bed of the old Morris Canal.

Newark will soon see the first on-street extension of its venerable light rail City Subway system since the 1930s, with the opening of a largely surface-routed line out to the Newark Broad St. station of New Jersey Transit's regional passenger rail (RPR) system. The official launch of public service is tentatively set for 17 July.

Approximately a mile in length, and under construction since 2003, the new branch has been described by local media outlet News Radio 88 (11 February 2006) as "the most significant upgrade for the city since service opened in the 1930s." it also represents, in fact, a reversal of the destructive truncations of the system carried out by the privately owned New Jersey Public Service in the Transit Holocaust era. (See our discussion of this in our article Northern New Jersey: Light Rail's Spectacular Comeback.) it represents as well the return of the LRT (former streetcar) system to on-street running – a feature also not seen for many decades, since draconian abandonments during the Transit Holocaust.

From the City Subway line between Penn Station and Military Park, the new line emerges from a relatively short tunnel section to run in a northwesterly direction both alongside and in city streets. It follows McCarter Highway northward, then splits at Lombardy St., with the northbound track routed on Atlantic St., and the southbound on Broad St. Near the northern terminus, both tracks merge at Broad St. to follow Lackawanna Ave. Into the Broad St. station adjacent to NJ Transit's Newark Broad St. station. Other stations are sited at Riverfront Stadium and Atlantic St. (Atlantic St. alignment), Washington Park (Broad St. alignment), and New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC)/Center St. (McCarter Highway alignment).

In addition to the system's return to street-running, another noteworthy feature is the resurrection of a section of the old Cedar St. subway tunnel, originally built in the World War 1 period, extended to Penn Station in 1937, and subsequently abandoned. The old subway makes up part of a new 850-foot tunnel linking the extension to the existing City Subway line at Newark Penn Station.

Budgeted at approximately $208 million, the total one-mile project represents the culmination of years of efforts by transit supporters and advocates, including the New Jersey Association of Railroad Passengers (NJ-ARP). Eighty percent of the cost of the project is federally funded, with the remainder coming from the state's Transportation Trust Fund.

Five new electric light railcars have been added to the City Subway fleet to handle the expected influx of new passengers. NJ Transit expects the new service will attract an additional 2,000 daily rider-trips in the first year, and 3,550 by 2010. Ridership on the existing City Subway system is currently averaging about 18,450 per weekday.

The initial service will feature 10-minute peak headways, 15-minute offpeak, and 30-minute on weekends – timed to synchronize with schedules of NJ Transit's RPR trains at the Newark Broad St. station. The extension will also inititally be operated as a separate, shuttle-type service, with passengers required to transfer between the two branches at Penn Station. However, it will be possible to run through service over both branches – something NJ Transit plans to evaluate in the light of usage patterns.

"Combined with the renovation of the Broad Street Station and the widening of Route 21, the new line is expected to improve commuting to downtown Newark and its businesses and educational, recreational and cultural facilities" notes the Newark Star Ledger (1 June 2006). Newark 's local officials and civic leaders are banking on the new line to help spur the central-city's long-awaited downtown renaissance.

"It makes Newark just so much more of an attractive spot to business" said Richard Monteilh, business administrator for the City of Newark, interviewed by News Radio 88. "You can get in and out without getting involved with traffic."

Newark residents tend to be proud of their currently small LRT system, which many continue to refer to as "streetcars" from the days when PCC-style trolleys scooted passengers over the tracks. Several subway stations reflect the Art Deco style of their 1930s-era construction, with tile murals depicting scenes along the Morris Canal, which was drained and converted into the central-city subway tunnel.

The new line is attracting the interest of local real estate developers, such as the development project consortium reportedly planning to demolish a brick warehouse across from the line's Broad Street Station to construct 500 to 1,000 condos. According to Danny Gale, president of Gale Urban Solutions, a partner in the project, while actual construction probably would not start for several years, the new line's subway connection makes the area more desirable for developers.

The new extension has also been greeted with enthusiasm by officials of the New Jersey Performing Arts Center, served by a directly adjacent station as noted above. "This will allow people who come here from the suburbs to have a new option" said Lawrence P. Goldman, NJPAC's president and chief executive officer, also in an interview by News Radio 88. "They can take a street car from Penn Station or Broad Street station and be here in a zip."

Newark business administrator told News Radio 88 that the new line also will add some character and charm to Newark. "It'll be a very satisfactory to see surface train cars running on the streets again" he said. "It's a throwback to the early turn of the century when Newark was one of the greatest cities in the country."

information for this report has been drawn in part from articles available from News Radio 88 (11 February 2006) and the Newark Star Ledger (1 June 2006), and from materials published by New Jersey Transit (May 2006).

More on New Jersey Public Transport Developments

More on Rail Transit Development...

7 June 2006

Another new French light rail tramway gets ready to open

The booming revival of France's light rail tramways continues, this time with the opening of the new tramway in Valenciennes, a rather small industrial conurbation with a total population of about 350,000, situated near the Belgian border. The April (2006) issue of Tramways & Urban Transit reports that the new system is due to open later this month (June 2006).

A report in Wikipedia dated 4 June 2006 notes that Line No. 1 of the tramway, due to go into service on 16 June, is 9.5 km (5.9 miles) long and "will cross the five communes in the Valenciennois Metropolitain area." This "Phase 1" system extends between Dutemple and the University of Mont Houy, with a branch to Les Tertiales/Poterne. The line has 19 stations and will be served by a fleet of 17 lowfloor Citadis tramcars built by Alstom.

Valenciennes' tramway system has been given the name Transvilles "to reflect its prime role in bringing together a series of towns and villages which are currently linked by increasingly clogged roads", reports an article in Railway Technology. The entire system will include 21 km (13 miles) of line with 34 stations, including 5 multi-modal transfer centers. According to the Railway Technology report, Phase Two will extend west from the original terminus at Dutemple and follow the alignment of an abandoned railway line that accessed a former mine; this line will serve the city of Denain, 10 km (6.2 miles) away. Because this line will use an existing railway alignment, higher speeds, projected at up to 70 kph (43 mph), will be permissible.

The tentative Phase Three of the system is planned to connect Place d'Armes in the city center with Saint Saulve, northeast of the city, where a park-and-ride facility will be located. Cost of the tramway is projected at about 243 million (roughly $316 million).

Interestingly, supporters of the Valenciennes light rail tramway project have prevailed despite a fierce opposition reminiscent of the anti-rail mobilizations often encountered in regard to American light rail projects. C.J. Wansbeek, in his article "Valenciennes: France's next tramway city" published in Tramways & Urban Transit of June 1999, reported the rumor that "Vigi, the anti-tram lobby, receives money from the city's main employer, Peugeot, the car maker." Apparently, rail opponents exploited the fears of some local inner-city shopkeepers who attempted to block tracklaying in front of their shops.

However, Wansbeek noted that "Peugeot will soon have to play second fiddle, as the new Toyota factory near Valenciennes will employ 3000, if not more, against 3000 by Peugeot." in contrast with the Peugeot bosses, said Wansbeek, "top management of Toyota declared itself fully in support of a tram at Valenciennes."

information in this report has been drawn in part from several sources, including C.J. Wansbeek's article of June 1999, noted above; the City of Valenciennes website; Wikipedia; Grizzli Beat website; and Railway Technology.

More on France's Public Transport Developments

More on Rail Transit Development...

7 June 2006

Light Rail Now taking a break for APTA Rail Conference

Updates to the Light Rail Now website will be suspended for a couple of weeks while key members of our production team attend the American Public Transportation Association's 2006 Rail Conference in New York City and pursue other rail advocacy and professional activities in the New York-New Jersey area.

Updating of the website will resume as usual sometime later this month (June 2006). Stay tuned!

6 June 2006

Light rail tramway opens new Line C

The Light Rail Transit Association website reports that Grenoble's new light rail tramway Line C entered service on Sunday 21 May (2006). Some bus routes were revised to better interface with the new line.

Line C, which runs from Seyssins Le Prisme to Saint-Martin d'Hères Condillac Universités passing several major boulevards and l'Avenue Gabriel Péri, is 9.6 km (6.0 miles) in length and has 19 stops. Trains operate on a 5-minute peak headway.

In addition, 4 new park & ride facilities opened on Line C, and one on line B, providing an additional 765 spaces, with a further 80 to come on line B in September, reports the LRTA.

More on France's Public Transport Developments

More on Rail Transit Development...

31 May 2006

Proposed light rail starter line project advances with latest Fed nod

"Norfolk's proposed starter light rail line has inched closer to reality" headlined the April 28th Norfolk Virginian-Pilot, reporting that the US Federal Transit Administration had signed off on Hampton Roads Transit's massive Environmental impact Statement (EIS) on the project. FTA approval of a project's EIS is essential for any major transit investment project to proceed. "Without that approval," reports the paper, "the project cannot get the $100 million in federal money that HRT and Norfolk seek."

As we report in Norfolk (Virginia): Next American light rail project? the $203.7 million project envisions a 7.5-mile light rail transit (LRT) line, with 11 stations, running from Eastern Virginia Medical Center through downtown Norfolk to Kempsville Road. The starter line is projected to carry 6,500 to 12,000 riders a day and will serve as the initial segment of a regional rail system, according to the Virginian-Pilot.

While calling it a "milestone," transit officials are still cautious, awaiting further endorsement from FTA officials. The FTA is evaluating the proposal and whether to advance it into the final design process. "Even though this does not say we can move totally forward, we're not able to move forward without it" noted Michael S. Townes, HRT's president and chief executive officer.

"The financing plan calls for the federal government to pay close to half of the construction cost" relates the Virginian-Pilot. "The rest would be divided among the city, the state and a regional federal transportation fund."

FTA officials appear to be particularly scrutinizing the cost estimates for the project, which apparently the agency regards as somewhat unusually low. "While federal officials said every project undergoes a cost-estimate review," reports the Virginian-Pilot, "they said Norfolk's projections are notably low." The paper also quoted as excerpt from the FTA's report to Congress, which observed that "The project's cost estimate is significantly lower than any other comparable" LRT system under construction.

The paper further notes that after the congressional report was released in February, FTA officials said they were performing "a reality check" on the numbers because the project was "designed very bare bones." HRT's CEO Townes told the paper he is "confident in the numbers and is proud of HRT staff and consultants who worked hard to keep the projected costs low."

According to the paper, in its last evaluation earlier this year, Norfolk's LRT project retained a "medium" rating, which, the paper notes, "means the transit administration considers it a viable transit project. Anything less than a medium disqualifies a project from federal endorsement." With the EIS approval, local officials are in a position to begin negotiating the purchase of seven homes and three businesses needed for right-of-way for the rail line.

More on Norfolk (Virginia) Public Transport Developments

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20 May 2006 (rev.)

Salt Lake City:
Transit ridership leaps 31% in 5 months

NOTE: This article has been revised to correct a signficiant error. As the revised article explains, the original version of this article quoted a ridership increase of more than 57%, contained in a report by the news station, ABC4 TV. On the basis of the actual numbers, however, the ridership increase calculates to 31%, and both the article and the title have been changed to reflect this.

Salt Lake City's transit system continues its astounding record of success – driven mainly by the popularity of the area's relatively new TRAX light rail transit (LRT) system.

"High Gas Prices Drawing More Commuters to Mass Transit" headlines a recent report on Salt Lake's local ABC4 TV news (20 April 2006). "Rising gas prices [have] some Utah commuters looking for transportation alternatives" says the report – and many are turning to the TRAX light rail and bus services, operated by the Utah Transit Authority (UTA).

According to the news station's report, before motor fuel prices jumped in August of 2005, an average of 109,642 rider-trips were carried on TRAX light rail or or UTA's buses on a daily basis. In January of this year (2006), according to the TV report, TRAX's daily ridership jumped to 143,569 – a 31 percent increase. (The original report reported this as "57.27 percent".)

"Last fall, when gas prices spiked, we were overloaded at times with passengers on TRAX and some of our express buses" said UTA spokesman Justin Jones in an interview. "We anticipated those people would leave once prices dropped, and people got used to it ... and they didn't" he added.

The phenomenal success of the TRAX light rail system has prompted a call for accelerated construction on new LRT lines from major segments of the Salt Lake community. For example, the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce is campaigning for a proposal to raise $900 million to speed up the completion of four new LRT branches that are currently scheduled for completion by 2030. The Chamber group wants to advance completion by 15 years, so that the new lines would be opened by 2015. [Headwaters News, 20 April 2006]

More on Salt Lake City Public Transport

More on Transit Ridership issues ...

20 May 2006

National rail passenger group calls for restoring full Sunset Limited service

Supporters of US rail passenger service have long been troubled by the plight of the Sunset Limited – Amtrak's only truly transcontinental passenger train, which for years has plied a route from Los Angeles on the West Coast to Orlando on the East Coast, connecting a string of important cities in between, such as Tucson, El Paso, San Antonio, Houston, New Orleans, Gulfport, Biloxi, Mobile, Tallahassee, and Jacksonville. In addition to interconnecting these cities and a number of smaller cities and towns en route, another major function of the Sunset has been to provide key interrconnections with north-south trains such as the Texas Eagle, City of New Orleans, Crescent, and several trains in California and Florida.

However, the train has been beset with staggering problems – such as an unwieldy 3-days-a-week schedule, and particularly being routed over perhaps the most grossly constricted and congested railroad corridor in the country, most of it single-track segments owned by the Union Pacific. Delays have been phenomenal and outrageous – often measured in days, not hours – with "bustitutions" of passengers a frequent irritation due to severe congestion and mishaps on the line, particularly involving UP's operations.

Then came Hurricane Katrina last year – wiping out a vast swath of trackage (most of it owned by the CSX railroad) that the Sunset used east of New Orleans. Accordingly, service east of New Orleans has been discontinued since then; but, even after replacement of the trackage by CSX and the resumption of freight service along the route, Amtrak has still not resumed service – and many supporters fear the Amtrak board, heeding the Bush administration's anti-Amtrak agenda, may intend to abandon the eastern leg of the route permanently.

That's the background to recent action taken by the National Association of Railroad Passengers – the foremost national advocacy organization supporting American rail passenger service. In a news release dated 3 May 2006 ("NARP Urges Resumption of New Orleans-Florida Rail Service"), NARP reported that its Board of Directors, meeting in Washington, DC, "approved a resolution urging Amtrak to restore the New Orleans-Orlando segment of the Sunset Ltd. now that CSX tracks have been restored to a higher standard than existed before Hurricane Katrina." According to the release,

The Association sees New Orleans-Florida as a vital link for travelers. It is the only east-west link between Florida and Western points that does not require transferring in Washington or Chicago. Moreover, based on FY 2004 data, 41% of Sunset Ltd. revenue came from passengers using the New Orleans-Orlando segment, that is, people whose trips were confined to that segment plus people traveling between points east and west of New Orleans. In other words, a segment that accounts for only 28% of Sunset train-miles generated 41% of the route's revenues.

The Association also believes that Amtrak's failure to restore the train is not lawful. Amtrak never served the legally-mandated six months notice on the affected states.

The news release then goes on to provide the full text of the board's resolution, approved on 28 April 2006:




WHEREAS, The Sunset Limited is part of Amtrak's basic national passenger train network, and is the only route connecting California, the Southwest, Texas and New Orleans with Florida,

WHEREAS, the eight states connected by the Sunset corridor contain one third of the nation's population and account for one half of its population growth since 1970, and

WHEREAS, the area from New Orleans east to Florida suffered severe damage from Hurricane Katrina in August 2005, which caused such extensive track damage that train operation over the route was impossible, and

WHEREAS, CSX fully repaired the damage to its tracks over a month ago, and

WHEREAS, the track is in better condition today than it was prior to the storm, and

WHEREAS, Amtrak has to date elected to not restore the Sunset Limited east of New Orleans, citing that other options and routings are being studied, which may take years, if ever, to implement, and

WHEREAS, NARP has always been willing to work with Amtrak on alternate routings of any service that would improve service to the public and economic performance, and

WHEREAS, in other parts of the country, Amtrak promptly restored passenger train service after weeks of interruption as soon as storm damaged track was repaired, and

WHEREAS, Amtrak has in effect 'discontinued' this service without following the rules and regulations governing passenger train discontinuance, and

WHEREAS, this service discontinuance jeopardizes continued operation of the Sunset Limited between New Orleans and Los Angeles and of other routes that depend on connecting revenue from the Sunset in Los Angeles, San Antonio, New Orleans and Jacksonville, and

WHEREAS, the people of the Gulf Coast have already suffered extensive quality of life deprivations including a dramatic reduction in their transportation options, and

WHEREAS, economical rail passenger transportation is especially needed now in view of increased fuel costs, and

WHEREAS, Amtrak's continued refusal to restore this New Orleans-Florida service that Amtrak is obligated to provide is an affront to the people of this region, adding further insult to catastrophic storm related injuries that the people of this region have already borne,







For further information on this issue, NARP indicates that reporters and other can contact:
· Ross Capon (cell: 301.385-6438)
· David Johnson (cell 202.438-1349)

NARP can be contacted as follows:

National Association of Railroad Passengers
900 2nd St., N.E., Suite 308
Washington, DC 20002-3557
(202) 408-8362, fax (202) 408-8287

More on Amtrak and intercity public transport...

20 May 2006

Two-trillion-dollar investment in Interstate Highway System?

Mark Knapp, in a 5 April posting to the Energy Resources online discussion group (, pulls together two sources of data on highway costs and the US interstate Highway System to derive a rough calculation of the total cost, to date, of the entire system – and that cost is staggering.

First, Mark refers to "a very detailed report on highway construction costs that was created by the Washington State Department of Transportation last November [2005]":

Mark notes that the Washington DOT report "contains dozens of detailed examples of costs per lane mile for highway projects across the country – including relatively simple road widening, the Big Dig in Boston, and complicated bridge improvements." He adds that "There are also pictures of each construction project."

Mark then notes that 29 June 2006 will mark "the 50th anniversary of the U.S. Interstate Highway System", and that "The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials has launched a web site about the interstate system" at the following URL:

Mark then integrates the two sources of data:

According to that site, the total interstate highway miles in the United States (as of 2004) were 46,837. There were also 14,750 interchanges, 55,512 bridges, and 82 tunnels.

I decided to estimate the total replacement cost for the U.S. Interstate Highway System. The cost to build new roads is quite high. I estimate 5-10 million dollars per lane mile, based on the Washington report. The other components of the system (noted above) are even more expensive, and highway projects have a notorious reputation for cost overruns. So I'll use 10 million dollars per lane mile as a rough estimate.

I suspect that about 98 percent of the interstate system has 4 lanes. That translates to 40 million dollars per mile.

The result? Mark then calculates the following:

· 50,000 miles X 40 million dollars per mile = 2 trillion dollars

Yes, that's 2 trillion, with a "T".

"All paved with good intentions" adds Mark.

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

20 May 2006

New light rail tramway project for another Italian city

The Italian city of Palermo is scheduled to have a new light rail tramway system in operation by 2009/10, according to a report in the February 2006 issue of Tramways & Urban Transit. A consortium called SIS, consisting of Bombardier, several Italian civil engineering firms, and German consultants, has been awarded a contract to pursue construction of the system.

The 15.3-km (9.5-mile) system will consist of three branches:

· Line 1 – Stazione Centrale-Boccella
· Line 2 – Stazione Notarbartolo-Borgo Nuovo
· Line 3 – Stazione Notarbartolo-Svincolo Calatafim-San Giovanni Apostolo

Initially, Line 1 will not be linked to the other two lines; thus, two carbarns (depots) will be required. A total of 17 double-ended (bidirectional), 32.5-m (107-ft), lowfloor tramcars will be deliovered by Bombardier for the starter system.

Total cost is budgeted at 192 million (about US $250 million). The unit cost of the project thus calculates to approximately 12.5/km or US $26.3 million/mile.

According to data from the European investment Bank (2000/12/14), which provided a loan of 88 million for the project, the three tramway lines will serve a population of about 120,000 and a potential market of 350,000 movements/day.

More on Public Transport Developments in Italy

More on Rail Transit Development...

12 May 2006

Brand-new light rail tramway starting up

Another brand-new French light rail tramway is about to open! European tramway enthusiast Eduard de Jong reports (23 April) that the urban tramway network of Mulhouse (a small city located in the southern region of Alsace, France) will be officially opened on Saturday, 20 May.

Implemented by the Syndicat intercommunal des Transports de l'Agglomération Mulhousienne (SITRAM – intercommunal Transport Association for the Mulhouse District, the transit agency), the new tramway system consists initially of 2 routes, totalling 12 km (about 7 miles), with 24 station-stops. With a fleet of 27 tramcars, the tramway will be in use daily from 05:00 to 0:00 (midnight), operating at headways of 6 to 8 minutes

The opening ceremony will take place at 11.00 in the morning at the Place de la Bourse, presided over by the president of France, Jacques Chirac, and the mayor of Mulhouse, Jean-Marie Bockel. Prior to the official opening, for the residents of Mulhouse there will be an "unofficial" festival to celebrate the tramway network on Saturday, 13 May.

The Mulhouse tramways system is particularly designed to operate in a tram-train mode, which is becoming increasingly popular throughout Europe. In this mode, tramcars (light rail cars, either streetcar size or larger) run on "heavy" intercity railway tracks, in between the runs of full railway trains.

Ultimately, the two lines of the urban TramTrain network of the Mulhouse district will be extended to 20 km (12 miles) with 38 station-stops. It is intended to provide service to 5 municipalities by 2010.

NOTE: information for this report has been drawn from reports by Eduard de Jong, the Light Rail Transit Association, and Tourisme-Mulhouse.

More on France's Public Transport Developments

More on Rail Transit Development...

4 May 2006

With regional rail startup imminent, light rail streetcar plan moves forward

Just as Albuquerque approaches startup of one rail transit project – its regional passenger ("commuter") rail service connecting Albuquerque with its northern exburban community of Bernalillo – plans for installing an electric light rail streetcar system are now also starting to get under way.

RailRunner, the regional rail service whose route north to Bernalillo is the first segment of a longer system which will also run south from the central city to the exurb of Belen, is slated to start operating this coming July, when "riders should be able to watch cars and trucks on interstate 25 as the train purrs along at a top speed of 79 mph for the 22-minute trek ..." according to The New Mexican (19 April 2006). As Light Rail Now editors have detailed in our earlier article, Albuquerque: RailRunner regional rail project approaches startup, the complete starter line, financed by the State of New Mexico through the Albuquerque-area Mid-Region Council of Governments, will be able to carry peak volumes of 3,000 to 4,000 passengers per hour on ten bilevel, regional transit-type rail coaches from Bombardier, with each train pulled by one of a fleet of five MP36PH-35 diesel-electric locomotives from MotivePower industries, a subsidiary of Wabtec.

Meanwhile, plans for a light rail streetcar transit project have also been moving forward rapidly. According to a report in Rail Transit Online (and replicated on the APTA Streetcar and Heritage Trolley website, March 2006), Mayor Martin Chávez is championing the electric streetcar plan, which envisions initially "a modern streetcar system that would start with a four-mile (6.4 km), $120-million downtown corridor along Central Avenue linking Old Town and Nob Hill." Also in consideration is a spur running south to the city's major airport – Albuquerque international Sunport – which is projected to cost another $120 million (Albuquerque Tribune, 18 April).

According to the Rail Transit Online report, current monthly bus ridership on Central Avenue is over 286,000 and growing, "which transit officials believe is the threshold for a rail system." Mayor Chávez reportedly is trying to persuade the New Mexico state legislature to provide approximately half the funding for the project. At about US$30 million per mile, the project's cost seem reasonable for a basically inner-city starter line. As the Albuquerque Tribune of 18 April noted, "The modern streetcar is similar to [larger] light rail, but [is] slightly smaller and used for shorter travel."

Interviewed by the Albuquerque Journal (10 February), Greg Payne, director of the city's Transit Department, ABQ Ride, related that "Eventually, we will seek federal participation." However, he noted, "for the initial phase, we've decided that, in order to put this project on the fast track, we will seek a combination of state and local funding."

Payne added that there's "no guarantee" that Albuquerque could obtain federal funding, "especially considering some of the budget constraints the federal government is currently facing," Another ABQ Ride spokesman, Jay Faught, told the Albuquerque Journal (10 February) that local funding sources being explored by the city include "reconfiguring the quarter-cent transportation tax or forming a public improvement district." When local officials start talking about a workable transit system, and then plausible funding options, it starts to sound like a serious project.

So far, the streetcar project seems to be enjoying some success in gaining funding. As the Albuquerque Journal reported more recently (18 April), Albuquerque has now received $8.1 million this year from the New Mexico legislature to start planning the project. Gov. Bill Richardson is seeking at least another $8 million in a proposed state transportation package that so far has failed to find approval.

"If everything were to go right, we could be riding it within three-and-a-half years" Mayor Chávez told the Journal – targeting startup of the project by late summer 2009. Future expansion could connect the system to Uptown and the West Side, noted the paper. According to the Rail Transit Online report, a draft environmental impact statement (EIS) is on track to be completed soon.

Certainly, city leaders seem to be pushing this light rail project with determination. "I think it's fairly obvious that the modern streetcar project is a very critical piece in solving our transportation needs for the future" Albuquerque's Chief Operating Officer Ed Adams told the Journal (18 April).

More on Albuquerque Public Transport Developments

More on Rail Transit Development...

1 May 2006

Transit strike ends, but crucial importance of public transport is shown

Denver's transit strike – which had pitted Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1001 against the Regional Transportation District (RTD), mainly over wage issues – ended on 10 April, after union members voted to approve a slightly revised contract on 7 April.

Rail critics and anti-transit partisans continually argue that transit ridership is so infinitesimally small as to be inconsequential to urban travel. However, it's when transit service is halted – especially in strikes like this – that the true impact of public transit in an urban area can be gauged.

This was the central theme of a 9 April essay by Denver Post columnist Diane Carman titled "Commuters strike out without RTD?" "Let's face it," wrote Carman, "there's nothing like a work stoppage to focus our attention on things we take for granted." She then proceeds to list what metro area residents learned from a week without RTD's transit service.

Lesson 1: Without RTD, parking in Denver is a lot like parking in New York City – scarce, cutthroat and expensive. Overnight, normally polite motorists were transformed into snotty, aggressive parking- place sneaks. And those who normally would never dream of paying $10 for a spot suddenly were bragging about finding $25 bargains outside the baseball stadium. One of the cheapest skinflints i know even took to parking long term in a metered spot and accepting the fate of a $20 ticket, figuring it was cheaper than the prices at the few spaces left downtown.

Lesson 2: Downtown businesses are doomed without mass transit. As regular bus riders took to their cars, driving downtown became a test of patience. I sat through three light changes at East Colfax Avenue and Grant Street on Monday evening. That was enough gridlock for me. I biked to work the rest of the week and otherwise avoided downtown.

Lesson 3: Denver Public Schools may be in a financial pinch now, but things would be desperate if not for RTD providing transportation for high-school students in lieu of yellow buses. The district even had to schedule makeup sessions for federally mandated tests because of high absentee rates for students who rely on RTD to get to school.

Lesson 4: Sleepless in suburbia is no way to live. The heavy traffic on the major routes through town caused an average increase in commuting times of about 30 minutes, according to those monitoring the highways from news helicopters. I-25, Santa Fe and the Boulder Turnpike won the aggravation sweepstakes.

Lesson 5: The anti-FasTracks crowd [i.e., opponents of a successful Nov. 2004 transit expansion initiative] was wrong. Light rail rocks. When the trains stopped running, traffic went nuts, especially along the popular southwest corridor light-rail line. Those 37,000 riders who board the trains each day may be doing it for the comfort, convenience, the low cost or, as the vice president has famously suggested, a sense of personal virtue. Whatever. When they were forced back into their cars, it created havoc for both the virtuous and shameless alike.

Lesson 6: it could have been a lot worse. The RTD strike happened during a week of mostly warm, dry spring weather. To fully appreciate life without mass transportation, Denver commuters must visualize the same situation with 10 inches of snow, freeway traffic at a standstill and the bicycle option available only to the seriously hard-core. We got off easy.

in her wrapup, Carman chides Colorado's governor, "a.k.a. Twelve-Lane Bill", who, she says, "was wrong back in 2004 when he said the impact of mass transit on traffic congestion is 'imperceptible.'"

Even if the taxpayers were willing to build the highways necessary to carry all the cars, and motorists were willing to pay for more toll roads, and even if we all could abide greater dependence on $3-a-gallon gasoline and $20-a-day parking spaces, without mass transit we'd be, um, freaked. We'd spend hours mired in gridlock, especially around entertainment and sports events. Elderly citizens would be housebound. The poor would have few options for getting to work. The air would be more toxic, the community less hospitable, the economy less vital.

Which brings us to one final lesson: As FasTracks rolls out over the next decade and mass transit plays a much larger role in our lives, the issues raised in the strike will be crucial to all of us.

So to keep faith with taxpayers who have committed $4.7 billion to expand the system and have every right to expect it to be dependable, both sides will have to learn to give a little.

Don't make us regret our vote of confidence.

As the Denver case illustrates, labor conflicts and strikes can be very destructive to public transport operations, image, and ridership. Prolonged strikes tend to result in a plunge in both local and national ridership statistical data, which transit critics could use to portray a supposedly ongoing decline in public transport. As Light Rail Now has noted, it is predictable that, from this weeklong strike, RTD will experience a significant statistical drop in annual ridership, which transit opponents may try to use to bolster claims that Denver's transit is "in decline". Transit supporters and industry personnel need to be alert to this possibility.

More on Denver Public Transport Developments

More on Transit Labor issues ...

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25 April 2006

Work starts on Docklands light metro Woolwich Arsenal extension, targeted for 2012 Olympics

The website (7 March 2006) reports that work has started in London on a 180 million extension of the Docklands Light Railway (DLR, actually a light metro) that will play a major part in London's 2012 Olympic Games' transport system.

The route will stretch from the existing King George V DLR station, tunnelling under the River Thames to a new Woolwich Arsenal light metro station in southeast London.

According to the report, a 540-tonne (595-ton) boring machine for the new 1.5-mile (2.4-km) extension "has been put in place ready for tunneling to start in April."

It will excavate enough material to fill 40 Olympic-sized swimming pools.

The extension, which is due to open in 2009, is part of Transport for London's five-year 10 billion investment programme.

It is being designed and constructed by AMEC, which was also responsible for the recently-opened extension of the DLR to London City Airport.

In 2012, the line will serve the Royal Artillery Barracks in Woolwich, which will host the shooting events of the London Olympics.

More on United Kingdom Public Transport Developments

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25 April 2006

Vukan Vuchic releases latest book on Urban Transit Operations, Planning, and Economics

Renowned public transport expert Vukan R. Vuchic has produced yet another book of interest to public transport professionals, students, educators, and advocates.

Urban Transit: Operations, Planning, and Economics is described in a publisher's media release as a "comprehensive reference" that is "Global in scope, up to date with current practice, and written by an internationally renowned expert ...."

Urban Transit: Operations, Planning, and Economics is a unique volume covering the full range of issues involved in the operation, planning, and financing of transit systems. Presenting both theoretical concepts and practical, real world methodologies for operations, planning, and analyses of transit systems, this book is a comprehensive single-volume text and reference for students and professionals.

According to the publisher's release, Urban Transit: Operations, Planning, and Economics is "Visually enhanced with nearly 250 illustrations," and thus serves as "a reliable source of the latest information for transit planners and operators in transit agencies, metropolitan planning organizations, city governments, and consulting firms, as well as students of transportation engineering and city planning at universities and in professional courses."

The release further summarizes the book's contents:

The thorough examination of technical fundamentals and management principles in this book enables readers to address projects across the globe despite nuances in regulations and laws. Dozens of worked problems and end-of-chapter exercises help familiarize the reader with the formulae and analytical techniques presented in the book's three convenient sections:
· Transit System Operations and Networks
· Transit Agency Operations, Economics, and Organization
· Transit System Planning

The book's chapters are also listed:

· Chapter 1. Transit Operations and Service Scheduling
· Chapter 2. Capacity, Speed, Accelerated and Special Operations
· Chapter 3. Modeling and Optimization in Transit Systems Analysis
· Chapter 4. Transit Lines and Networks
· Chapter 5. Planning of Rail Transit Station Locations
· Chapter 6. Transit Agency Operations, Economics and Marketing
· Chapter 7. Transit Fares
· Chapter 8. Financing of Transit
· Chapter 9. Transit Ownership, Regulation and Organization
· Chapter 10. Transit Systems Planning
· Chapter 11. Analysis, Evaluation and Selection of Transit Modes
· Chapter 12. Planning and Selection of Medium and High Performance Transit Modes

The author, Dr. Vukan R. Vuchic, PhD, is one of the world's most illustrious, accomplished, and dedicated professionals and educators involved with public transport. Serving as UPS Foundation Professor of Transportation Engineering and Professor of City and Regional Planning at the University of Pennsylvania, Dr. Vuchic is a graduate of the University of Belgrade and University of California-Berkeley, has lectured at some 70 universities worldwide, and has served as a consultant to many agencies and cities. Together with his books Urban Public Transportation Systems and Technology and Transportation for Livable Cities, his latest work, Urban Transit Operations, Planning, and Economics, completes his Transit Trilogy Series.

The book, containing 664 pages, is published by John Wiley & Sons and is identified with the ISBN No. 0-471-63265-1. A hardbound cloth edition is priced at $120.00. Individuals interested in purchasing a copy can contact the publisher at:
Wiley Customer Care
10475 Crosspoint Blvd.
Indianapolis, IN 46256
Phone: 1-877.762-2974
Fax: 1-800.605-2665

It should be noted that, while Urban Transit Operations, Planning, and Economics is priced at $120 (plus $5 handling), prices vary and it is usually possible to purchase this book for less than $100. To find the most convenient order conditions and price, it might be useful to perform an online search for the title, or check the websites of and Barnes & Noble. Also, for orders of more than 5 books for a company or library, James Harper at Wiley & Sons can be contacted at 201.748-6864 to check whether a special group price is available.

More on Rail Transit Development...

5 April 2006

Norfolk (Virginia):
Next American light rail project?

Will Norfolk become the site of America's next new light rail transit (LRT) project? "The city's proposed starter light rail line is among five projects nationwide that could get federal funding later this year to begin construction" reported the Norfolk Virginian-Pilot on 7 February 2006.

As the paper related, "Federal Transit Administration officials announced today [Feb 7th] that the $203.7 million plan is close enough to meeting its criteria that it included it in the federal budget for the first time, but without an actual dollar amount."

"This is very good news for them" said Brigid Hynes-Cherin, FTA associate administrator. "The expectation is they will move forward."

In the agency's annual report to Congress released today, Norfolk light rail retained its medium rating, which means FTA recommends it as a viable transit project.

Norfolk's proposed LRT line "roughly parallels Brambleton Avenue from Sentara Norfolk General Hospital to downtown and then follows an existing rail corridor to the border with Virginia Beach" explains Norfolk-area transit advocate Greg Vassilakos in a summary of the project. As he noted, the line is 7.4 miles in length and will have 11 stations. Travel time from one end of the line to the other is estimated to be 21 minutes and 36 seconds – calculating to an average speed of about 21 mph. Projected cost is US$198.5 million (2006 dollars). Average weekday ridership is forecast at approximately 6,510 person-trips in 2026.

Greg has prepared an excellent virtual "tour" of Norfolk's LRT Environmental impact Statement and other planning documents at the following URL:

While the recent news is promising, according to the Virginian-Pilot, Norfolk's proposal still has two major hurdles to clear before the FTA approves it for final design and the allocation of actual grant money. As FTA deputy administrator Sandy Bushue noted, still under review are the project's cost estimates and the city's new parking policy that limits downtown parking to encourage transit ridership

More on Norfolk (Virginia) Public Transport Developments

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5 April 2006

Transit-Oriented Development benefits working families via access to jobs and affordable housing, says report

Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) can serve the needs of working families by providing affordable housing and/or better access to jobs, concludes a study released March 16th by Good Jobs First, a nonprofit, non-partisan resource center that promotes Smart Growth for working families.

Summarized in the March 27th issue of Passenger Transport, the report, titled "Making the Connection: Transit-Oriented Development and Jobs", also discusses various incentive concepts to encourage location-efficient development.

Case studies are presented of 25 TOD projects that, as described by Passenger Transport, "help enhance the well-being of working families by providing for increased transit access, good jobs, and affordable housing to low- and moderate-income people, including many who cannot afford to own a car."

"We believe that in urban areas with transit systems, companies should not be eligible for subsidies unless the jobs are transit-accessible and within a reasonable commuting distance from affordable housing" the report states. "With 'location-efficient job incentives,' many benefits will accrue: low-income families will gain more access to economic opportunity, helping to reduce poverty and dependence; more commuters will gain a choice about how to get to work, reducing traffic congestion and improving air quality; and taxpayers will realize better returns on their infrastructure investments through more efficient land use."

More on Urban Development and Transit-Oriented Development...

5 April 2006

Light Rail Now website visitor activity up 31% since December

The Light Rail Now Project reports that the number of unique visitors to its website (that's right – the one you're visiting right now) hit more than 28,900 in March (2006) – a surge of 31% since this past December, when the website's earlier activity report was posted. (See Reflecting Surge in Worldwide interest in Rail Transit, Light Rail Now Website Activity Soars.)

Activity just short of 29,000 unique, individual visitors in a single month is a major new milestone for the website. Monthly hits exceeded 635,000, and are approaching two-thirds of a million. The two most popular pages are the site's Home page and the NewsLog page (which you are currently reading).

More on Rail Transit Development...

3 April 2006

Light rail shows 279% growth in passenger-miles as APTA reports 20-year record of transit's huge success

Ed Tennyson, PE – a technical consultant to the Light Rail Now Project – calls our attention to Passenger Transport (issued by the American Public Transportation Association, APTA) for 20 Feb. 2006, which published the past twenty-year record of rail transit. It's a record of phenomenal success – particularly for light rail and other forms of rail transit – as Ed summarizes in his analysis, for US transit performance as of 2004.

Passenger-Miles Carried
· Regional Rail – 9.7 billion – up 57%
· Rapid Rail – 14.4 billion – up 42%
· Light Rail – 1.58 billion – up 279%
· Bus [est] – 21.9 billion – down 0.5%

Vehicles in Service
· Regional Rail – 6,228 – up 22%
· Rapid Rail – 10,858 – up 6%
· Light Rail – 1,622 – up 54%
· Bus [est] ) – 78,000 – up 22%

Passenger-Miles per Vehicle
· Regional Rail – 1,560,533 – up 29%
· Rapid Rail – 1,321,975 – up 34%
· Light Rail – 971,640 – up 145%
· Bus [est] – 280,346 – down 18%

(Bus figures are based on Ed's calculation of 2003 performance data with an assumed 2% increase in passenger-miles in 2004. Passenger Transport did not list them.)

The 20-year APTA data constitute a resounding rebuff to the claims of many transit critics, who have argued that urban public transport – especially rail services – have been in a supposedly inexorable decline, as private motor vehicle travel has grown.

Some rail critics argue that buses can "do the job" of rail at lower cost, since they can use public streets and highways. Private bus contractors are often promoted by these critics as a "private market" alternative to publicly installed and operated rail systems.

But the 20-year data seem to refute such reliance on buses alone to bolster and expand mass transit. "Bus operators are flooding the streets with heavily subsidized buses to hold market share," says Ed Tennyson, "but it does not work. It just wastes resources."

Ed notes that light rail has somewhat lower productivity than other rail modes "because of small cars in New Orleans, Philadelphia, and part of San Francisco." However, he emphsizes, "They are less costly, as well."

In previous years, Ed points out, rail transit needed six employees per vehicle but buses needed only three, "excluding highway maintenance employees." On that basis, albeit "oversimplified", according to Ed, relative productivity in terms of passenger-miles per employee can be calculated as follows:

Passenger-Miles per Employee
· Regional Rail – 260,083
· Rapid Rail – 220,329
· Light Rail – 161,940
· Bus (est) – 93,449

More on Transit industry Ridership issues...

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3 April 2006

Light rail, bus service shut down by first transit strike in 24 years

Monday morning, 3 April 2006, found Denver's transit system virtually at a standstill after the unionized workforce of the Regional Transportation District – Denver's regional public transport agency – went on strike. Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1001 officials reported that 55 percent of its approximately 1,300 members who voted rejected the latest proposal from RTD management.

Perhaps the workers' main complaint is their lack of any wage increase for several years, in contrast with sizable salary increases for some RTD managers.

"Many of our members have worked weeks, even months, without a day off because RTD won't hire more drivers" said Local 1001 President Yvette Salazar, in an interview with the Rocky Mountain News (3 April). "All of our members have endured a wage freeze since January of 2003 – going on 3 1/2 years – while RTD managers gave themselves increases totaling 25 percent since December of 2002." According to Salazar, some managers – whom she referred to as "fat cats" – "got as much as 47 percent in one single raise."

RTD's rejected offer included a $1.80 hourly raise taking effect over three years and a onetime $250 signing bonus, but it also demanded increased worker contributions to health care coverage costs. That was another sticking point with many transit workers.

"It's very disappointing because this remains RTD's largest wage rate increase ever, and with splitting health care cost increases in the future and the $250 singing bonus, this was a very large offer" said RTD spokesman Scott Reed, quoted in the Rocky Mountain News. "We must reiterate that there will be no larger offer made."

The agency indicated it would try to keep some services operating with contracted workers. However, the strike clearly threw travel for tens of thousands of Denver transit users into turmoil.

The impact on Denver's traffic remains to be seen. However, its is predictable that RTD will experience a significant statistical drop in annual ridership, which transit opponents may try to use to bolster claims that transit is "in decline".

More on Denver Public Transport Developments

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