Special Report: Light Rail

Salt Lake City Trax: How another city does Light Rail Transit

A look at Salt Lake City's LRT system offers inspiration and ideas about how Hamilton's LRT could work.

By Larry Strung
Published August 24, 2012

Last week, I attended a conference in Salt Lake City. With all the discussion about Light Rail Transit (LRT) for Hamilton, imagine my delight to see these fresh, modern trains rolling down the boulevard outside my hotel. Needless to say, I just had to slink off from the conference one morning to ride the rails.

Being primarily a photographer, I have assembled a small set of a dozen images with captions that provide an overview of this system. If you squint, see if you can imagine Hamilton in any of these pictures:

Former Train Station
Former Train Station

Salt Lake City's Light Rail Transit System train passes in front of the repurposed former train station. The building is now part of a shopping mall complex called the Gateway that includes the former train station, along with sympathetically styled modern buildings arranged to create an attractive outdoor (car-­free!) courtyard.

Gateway complex
Gateway complex

Business for the Gateway complex comes from the many downtown hotels and conference centres that make up the refurbished inner city core. The blend between historic buildings and modern ones helps create a sense of history but with an air of progress as well. People come to Salt Lake City to do stuff, the aesthetics of the historic buildings is a bonus -­‐ not the reason why people come to the city.

Downtown LRT station
Downtown LRT station

In the core, where the real estate is a premium, the tracks run down the centre divide between the lanes of car traffic. There are three lines - blue, green, and red. The Trax system is not just a show-­piece for the city centre, but a functioning transit system that extends to the suburbs. Future developments already planned include extending the line to the Salt Lake City International Airport.

Trains are airy and clean
Trains are airy and clean

The trains are airy and clean, and bicycles are permitted in designated areas in each car. The trains are free to ride in the immediate downtown core - like linking the hotels to the Gateway Center. Beyond the city centre, fares can be bought per destination. I bought a day pass that allowed me to travel the full length of the system -­ hopping on and off the train as much as I liked - for $5.

Bike storage box
Bike storage box

Along the route I noticed these bike boxes - a step up in terms of security compared to the usual bike-­wrecking racks you find in many cities, if you find bike racks at all. There weren't a lot of them, but it's a step forward and a clear commitment to using bikes as alternative transportation to the car.

Viable alternative for commuters
Viable alternative for commuters

Commuters from the suburbs have a viable alternative to driving into the city centre.

Daybreak parkway
Daybreak parkway

The southern end of the red line concludes at Daybreak Parkway.

Where the sidewalk ends
Where the sidewalk ends

At the south end of the red line the population is sparse indeed. Perhaps the city has planned the Trax system in advance of future land development and continued urban sprawl.

Maintenance depot
Maintenance depot

While on the return run from the southern end of the red line, I noticed the maintenance depot. The quantity of trains there - presumably to support peak traffic volume - confirms the commitment made to this transit system.

University of Utah
University of Utah

The north end of the red line concludes at the University of Utah. Here the modern buildings are set back from the road far enough to permit the rails to run alongside the main road.

Pedestrian bridge
Pedestrian bridge

A lovely and elaborate bridge allows pedestrians to cross safely over the busy road.

2002 Olympic Games monument
2002 Olympic Games monument

A monument to the 2002 Olympic Games, hosted by Salt Lake City, at the base of the bridge suggested to me a link between the creation of the light rail system and federal funding for the Olympics. That wasn't the case, as the plan and funding was already in place before the Olympics were awarded to Salt Lake City.

Larry Strung was trained as a mechanical engineer, and worked in that field for 20 years before following his heart and launching a second career as a commercial photographer. Originally from Toronto, Strung and his family moved to Hamilton in the fall of 2006 following a four-year stint in Liverpool, UK. Best known for his Hamilton 365 project, where he created a portrait of a different individual in this city each day throughout the 2008 calendar year, Strung remains passionate about the revitalization of his adopted city.

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By LoveIt (anonymous) | Posted August 24, 2012 at 10:08:27

"bicycles are permitted in designated areas in each car"

I find it important that we keep in mind who will be using LRT:
students, young moms with kids, and all the public who does not have
or cannot afford other means of transportation.
We should expect bicycles, strollers, buggies as a norm.
Giving them reliable, safe and convenient transportation to easily travel to work, college, parks, arenas will benefit the whole Hamilton community.

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By LOL (registered) | Posted August 24, 2012 at 11:24:38

Salt Lake City is the capitol of Utah. The urban area the LRT services is over 2,000,000 people. A far cry from Hamilton. We have 600,000 people spread over a much bigger area. Or if you want to look at it differently we have a city of just over 300,000. Toronto is just down the road and will for the foreseeable future be the dominant city in the area.

Their LRT serves as commuter train for people to get into the city from the burbs like Ogden or Provo, very similar to Go Trains running into Toronto.

A fair comparison would be to compare Hamilton to Ogden which has an urban population around a half million, not to dissimilar to what Hamilton has. Their LRT is just like our Go Trains ferrying people into the big city in their case it's Salt Lake in ours it's Toronto.

If and when Hamilton becomes a major city then and only then should we looking at spending that much money on transit.

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted August 24, 2012 at 12:22:03 in reply to Comment 80037

Why is it with transit, we have to wait until the need reaches emergency levels before expanding service (and even then we nickel and dime every upgrade), but with highways we create wild projections years in advance and overbuild with glee?

Roads cost us way more than transit ever will. Maybe we can shuffle a little bit of that money over to transit in order to save road money in the long run...

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By cfmrail (anonymous) | Posted August 24, 2012 at 15:05:57 in reply to Comment 80037

Commuters from Ogden and Provo come in to the city on commuter rail using GO transit style cars. The light rail only extends to the inner suburbs. Take a look at an on-line map. At 300,000 Hamilton has twice as many people as Le Mans, France (yes the Le Mans of racing fame) and Le Mans has a two line system. Done right people will ride the system. Salt Lake City had a large number of people who claimed that people would never ride the LRT and the first line was so successful that they have been adding lines ever since.

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By MikeyJ (registered) | Posted August 24, 2012 at 18:07:37 in reply to Comment 80037

Ogden's population is under 100,000. You may be referring to the whole Ogden-Clearfield Metropolitan Statistical Area which is like saying all Hamilton, Burlington & surrounding towns.

The metro area of Hamilton is 1,372 km² A better comparison for the whole Hamilton would be Weber County where Ogden resides, which is 1,491 km² of land with a total population of 231,236.

Hamilton Metro Area is only 180,000 people shy of the 1,910 km² of Salt Lake City County in 2000 (Trax launched in 1999), which encompasses all of Trax`s lines.

SLC's first Trax line, which started at 24 km, directly serviced 5 cities with a total population of 353,252 in 2000. That is 173,006 more people than the 180,246 people of Wards 1 to 5 (census 2011) who would be directly serviced by the 13.4 km B-Line in Hamilton.

So if 14,719 people per km of Trax can justify LRT in Salt Lake City, all Hamilton needs is 197,232 people in Wards 1 to 5, an increase of 16,986 more people, or 3,397 people per B-Line Ward.

Comment edited by MikeyJ on 2012-08-24 18:10:22

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By crtsvg (registered) | Posted August 24, 2012 at 20:58:01

We have busses, why do we need LRT?

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By LoveIt (anonymous) | Posted August 24, 2012 at 21:38:35 in reply to Comment 80057

LRT should be more efficient on main and busy routes, as it's always loaded.
Also the air in the most populated area should benefit from using LRT instead of busses.
It also enhances the city image.
But it cannot replace all bus routes, as it cannot replace all cars.
We can do without LRT. But we want the best, of course.
It would be nice to have LRT, just where it's really needed.

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By Loco-Motive Breath (anonymous) | Posted August 25, 2012 at 07:59:42

I will never promote LRT in Greater Hamilton but I love your photo essay Mr. Larry Strung.

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By Justin (anonymous) | Posted August 25, 2012 at 08:35:18

A little trivia for you, the 5 vehicles in the Maintenance facility picture are sister vehicles to Toronto's CLRV's. They were built by UTDC for San Jose's LRT system, and sold to Salt Lake City. They were the only vehicle sold by UTDC.

http://www.lightrail.com/carspecpages/sjspecs.html

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By DrAwesomesauce (registered) | Posted August 25, 2012 at 21:12:41 in reply to Comment 80031

Students, single mums, people with no other option?

I don't think that's a very accurate interpretation of who's going to be using LRT. If done properly, LRT will attract people with cars to leave them at home in favour of a fast, comfortable and sexy ride to work. Otherwise, there wouldn't be much point, frankly.

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By LOL (registered) | Posted August 26, 2012 at 04:46:48 in reply to Comment 80040

because way more people and businesses use roads than transit

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By LOL (registered) | Posted August 26, 2012 at 04:48:55 in reply to Comment 80058

nonsense LRT is not always busy. There is a great video clip on youtube showing a coyote riding around on the LRT in Portland. That does no happen when anything is busy.

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By LOL (registered) | Posted August 26, 2012 at 05:08:16 in reply to Comment 80049

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By LOL (registered) | Posted August 26, 2012 at 05:23:26 in reply to Comment 80047

Le Mans has an area of 53 Km2. Something that small is easy to support transit. Their lines total 15 km of track with 30 stations at that size their transit probably makes money.

Transit is all about population and distance.

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By z jones (registered) | Posted August 26, 2012 at 20:45:13 in reply to Comment 80075

There's a great video clip on youtube showing a five lane street with no cars on it. Obviously there's no demand for streets and it would be a waste of tax payer dollars to pay for them.

Go back under your bridge, troll.

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By MikeyJ (registered) | Posted August 27, 2012 at 11:47:31 in reply to Comment 80076

The area from SLC to Ogden is too large to be serviced by LRT. Odgen is only serviced at one stop by FrontRunner commuter rail similar to how Hamilton is serviced at one stop by Go commuter rail.

Based on your Ogden logic, Hamilton already has LRT.

My comparison uses the wards & cities in Hamilton & SLC where citizens can directly access one or multiple LRT stops. Although not conclusive, it is more realistic as far as the populations of the LRT areas.

The Utah Jazz are the 4th smallest market by metro population in the NBA. The smallest market in major sports belongs to the Green Bay Packers with a metro population of 306,241 as of 2010.

Comment edited by MikeyJ on 2012-08-27 11:48:38

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By HopefulHamiltonian (registered) | Posted August 27, 2012 at 18:34:06

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By LOL (registered) | Posted August 28, 2012 at 16:44:43 in reply to Comment 80083

When a 5 lane road sits empty it does not cost any money. When a train runs with nobody on board it cost a lot of money. My son came home from downtown last Thursday on the HSR the bus had 4 people on it. The cost of driving 4 people with a 30 ton bus driven by an overpaid civil servant is huge. The city would have been better off financially to put them in a taxi and call it a day. That is the problem with transit, during the rush it is almost impossible to put enough vehicles on the road and in the slow evenings it is almost impossible to justify running a bus at all. In a small city like LeMans which is only 6 or 8 km from end to end they can run 2 buses and get decent coverage any time of night. In Hamilton where it is a lot further and lot more routes the whole thing becomes very expensive in a hurry.

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By HopefulHamiltonian (registered) | Posted August 28, 2012 at 17:29:26 in reply to Comment 80098

Anyone care to tackle these issues or are we too cowardly to point them out? Are we supposed to ignore ugly factories, a wasteland of a waterfront, and psychotic hobos? Or are we too busy spending time outside of the north end to actually experience Hamilton's core?

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By mikeyj (registered) | Posted August 29, 2012 at 14:46:26 in reply to Comment 80123

Submit an RTH article on better ways to help the city's image other than LRT, and maybe users would engage.

Trying to divert to this discussion from an article on LRT in Salt Lake City will rightfully be labelled as 'trolling'.

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted August 29, 2012 at 15:26:48 in reply to Comment 80121

When a 5 lane road sits empty it does not cost any money.

But it does.

When a road sits empty it represents a loss of opportunity cost - financially via the tax value of the land, and functionally via the unavailability of the land for alternate uses.

Building over-capacity is wasteful and expensive.

In addition to these losses, it also costs a lot of money to build, rebuild and maintain every square foot of road surface. If we have more road than we need it is very expensive indeed.

Yes, an empty train is expensive but so is an empty road.

The 2011 capital budget alloted 34% to roads and 8% to transit. Meanwhile, our road capacity so overbuilt that we can afford to lose entire lanes from our main thoroughfares for stretches of months (or years) with near zero negative effect on traffic.

We are overspending on roads. It is not affordable.

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By Tybalt (registered) | Posted August 30, 2012 at 09:27:30 in reply to Comment 80075

I'm sorry, you've been awfully scornful of others here and elsewhere, and you're going to use an unlinked YouTube clip as evidence? That is a pathetic attempt at argument.

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By Tybalt (registered) | Posted August 30, 2012 at 09:29:36 in reply to Comment 80123

I just don't understand what it has to do with transit issues.

And believe me, Salt Lake City has its own problems.

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