Comment 69110

By Mahesh_P_Butani (registered) - website | Posted September 06, 2011 at 16:07:49 in reply to Comment 69104

Ride the tide: Norfolk's light rail 'proof of concept'

With a population of around 250,000, Norfolk in the US state of Virginia is set to become the smallest city in the country to be served by a light rail system, dubbed The Tide.

"While some light rail transit systems can cost as little as $15 million a mile, difficult conditions can inflate that cost by ten times or more."

As such, it could be seen as the US' proof of concept for light rail in cities with smaller populations, as conventional wisdom dictates light rail systems make back their development costs through large passenger numbers.

Due to begin operations on 19 August this year, the project certainly didn't get off to a strong start, with planning complications and high initial cost estimates seeing it scaled back from an 18-mile link between the city centre and Virginia Beach to a 7.4-mile line serving Norfolk only.

The project has also been plagued with cost overruns and delays. The Tide's total cost eventually ran to $338.3 million, more than $100 million over budget, and the line's opening has been delayed several times since its proposed launch of January 2010.

It appears that many of the project's issues stemmed from unrealistic cost expectations, as the original budget was simply not enough to build a sufficiently advanced system. The increase in cost and project time allowed for extensive testing and the installation of a safety signal system and communication system, features that were not originally planned.

But the system is now operational and ready to take its first passengers through the line's 11 stations, carried by nine 95ft electric cars powered by overhead catenary wires; daily use is expected to start at 2,900 people and rise to 7,000 by 2030.

If the line prompts private investment and economic growth in Norfolk, as it is expected to do, it seems only a matter of time before other small US cities start making plans of their own.

Ottawa: betting big on LRT

Over the border to the north, Canadian capital Ottawa is in the very early stages of its own LRT, the latest in an impressive line-up of light rail projects in the country being funded in Vancouver, Calgary and Toronto, among others.

Ottawa's C$2.1bn light rail plans are intended to relieve rush-hour congestion in the bus-reliant city centre. The project, which will implement an east-west, 12.5-kilometre, 13-station light rail line with an underground tunnel for a downtown section, was approved by city councillors on 14 July.

Like Norfolk's Tide light rail project, Ottawa is also seeking to control costs for its LRT system to keep the project at its C$2.1bn budget. Cost-cutting measures include shorter platforms and simplified facilities at stations and moving Campus Station from underground to the surface, but most significant is the decision to move the line's underground section to beneath Queen Street, allowing for a shallower tunnel (15-16 metres rather than 39-40 metres) that will reportedly reduce total tunnelling costs from C$793m to C$493m.

This will primarily be achieved by employing the 'cut and cover' method, a more basic, inexpensive but potentially much more disruptive shallow tunnelling technique.

Even though the project is at its very earliest stages - after the approval, contractors will be awarded in 2012, with construction set to run from 2013 to 2018 - one particular challenge of inner-city rail development is already becoming apparent.

As the line is being built through some of the city's most treasured downtown areas, observers are concerned about the line's effect on important heritage sites. For example, top staff at the city's National Arts Centre (NAC) and Arts Court are concerned noise and vibration from the line could disrupt performances.

"Anything that relates to noise or vibration would disrupt the performances inside the building," NAC spokesperson Carl Martin told CBC News. "In our case the building exists already so you can't go back and isolate the building. There are engineering issues that are very complex."

From: All Aboard for Light Rail - Lower emissions and relatively inexpensive operation is making light rail an attractive option for many cities. Chris Lo investigates the advantages and challenges of light rail networks, and examines three case studies from around the world that highlight key trends in modern LRT development. - 29 Jul 2011

More articles on LRT projects from diff. parts of the world.

Light Rail in Canada -- "In general, Canadian cities have rates of public transit use which are two to three times as high as comparably sized U.S. cities. Census data for 2006 show that 11.0% of Canadians use public transit to commute to work, compared to 4.8% of Americans. This means that transportation planners must allow for higher passenger volumes on Canadian transit systems than American ones."

"As a result of lower government funding, Canadian cities have to recover a much higher share of their costs out of operating revenues. This lack of funding may explain why there is resistance to the high capital costs of rail systems and there are only a few light rail systems in Canada."

Transport Action Ontario - comprehensive advocacy on environmentally, socially and economically sustainable public transportation and freight movement.

Comment edited by Mahesh_P_Butani on 2011-09-06 16:44:20

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