Friday, December 26, 2008

Light Rail Comes to Phoenix

Saturday, December 27, Valley Metro Rail will inaugurate service over its new 20-mile light rail running from Phoenix' north side to Tempe and Mesa via downtown Phoenix, bringing the nation's fifth largest city and 13th largest metropolitan area into the ranks of major U.S. cities with rail transit systems. The $1.4 billion project was funded with 41 percent, or $587 million, coming from federal grants and the rest from local sales taxes in Phoenix, Tempe and Mesa.

The service, to be known simply as Metro, was constructed in five sections. The route has 31 stops, eight of which are park-and-ride station with capacity for 3,324 vehicles. Service to Sky Harbor International Airport will be provided via shuttle buses from the light rail station at 44th and Washington streets until the airport builds an automated people mover, scheduled to be in operation by 2012.

Valley Metro has acquired 50 light rail vehicles (LRV) manufactured by Kinkisharyo International of Japan. More than 50 percent of the LRV parts are American made and final assembly took place in Arizona. Each rail car can handle about 200 passengers, with seating for 66, while the rest stand. The cars also have racks for eight bicycles. Station platforms can accomodate trains up to three cars long.

While the trains are capable of speeds up to 55 mph, they will only do that when traveling along future freeway corridors. Instead, they will travel at the posted speed limit for the roads that tracks run along. And end-to-end trip is expected to take arouns one hour.

During peak times, a train will run on ten-minute headways. At night and on weekends, trains will run every 20 - 30 minutes. The system will operate between 18 and 20 hours per day. The rail fare will be $1.25 per trip, the same fare as the local bus fare. Single and multi-day passes can also be used.

For the remainer of 2008, passenger will be able to ride free. Metro has planned a number of inaugural activities for the first weekend.

Six line extensions with a total of 37 additional miles are in planning. They will bring trains to other parts of Phoenix, Tempe and Mesa as well as downtown Glendale, and are included in a regional transportation plan.

Light rail skeptics say Phoenix' car culture is too strong to draw riders, the first route is too short, and Arizona summers are too hot for people in business suits to wait up to 10 minutes for a train. However, Metro CEO Rick Simonetta points out that at 20 miles in length the new line is the longest stretch light-rail ever built, and it serves dense employment centers, most major cultural venues in the region the sports facilities used by the Phoenix Suns and Arizona Diamondbacks.

He also notes the new light-rail systems in Denver, Salt Lake City, Houston and Dallas - all cities with intense car cultures - attracted hordes of passengers when their commuter lines opened. For example, Houston, which started with a 7 1/2-mile single route, is currently handling 40,000 daily riders and is building five more rail lines to open by 2012. Arizona officials expect their line to handle 26,000 riders on average during weekdays.

To cope with high temeratures, Valley Metro train stations have shade features that will provide protection from the sun at all times of the day, windows on the trains are heavily tinted and the system has the largest air conditioning units of any other light-rail system in the world, Simonetta said.

1 comment:

  1. I reside in Los Angeles, CA., and few other cities in the world were eer as 'car-crazy'' as was this one - when light rail was first discussed here back in the 1980's, we heard all the same schmiel you've outlined - and more. The first line completed was the 'Blue' line running from downtown to Long Beach in 1990. Since then, many other lines have been added and expanded and new lines are currently being built, including our subway, the 'Red' line running from downtown through Hollywood and under the Santa Monica Mountains to North Hollywood. In every case, ridership has been much greater than anticipated with the addition of more cars and stations. Quite a feat for a city once 'doomed' to never accept mass transit, I proudly say!