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monsoon

CATS Long Term Transit Plan - Silver, Red Lines

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Ahh this is the same guy that pitched building a hydrogen train for the North Commuter rail line. You can see where we talked about this for the North CR line over 2 years ago here. I remember there was a newspaper article on it. It never went anywhere because nobody has any money for it.

What is missed, or not mentioned, by hydrogen proponents is that hydrogen can only be economically produced by consuming fossil fuels. (now you know why GW Bush pushed for it) The federal money has not materialized for it, but I assume this doesn't stop these kinds of pitches.

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From the website mentioned above:

"The locomotive would travel the commuter rail line from Mooresville to Charlotte, and could possibly be fueled with hydrogen produced at an idle hydroelectric facility. "

That would solve the problem of using fossil fuels to produce the hydrogen, even though this is a pipe dream.

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It isn't a terrible idea, especially if it helps to draw some jobs here. But a direct electricity connection is really the best drivetrain out there, and trumps plug in hybrids and hybrids and others. Now, if they can come up with a low cost wireless energy source that acts like a human-safe 3rd rail, then that would trump caternaries. But I don't think wireless energy is practical beyond the just cellphone battery charging.

Well, there is always the Innorail concept that is in use in Bordeaux, France. It uses a 3rd rail type of technology that works similar to how a mag-lev train works... only the section underneath the train is powered, so you dont have to worry about electrocutions. No overheard wires, no problems. Its probably not all that cheap but its a great concept.

Innorail

Pictures

TBC2210CXX0504.jpg

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Several Mooresville commissioners have suggested the city pull out of funding the CATS 83X Express Bus to Charlotte because not enough people are riding it to justify the cost to the city.

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The Hydrail Guy (I forget his name) spoke at the City Council meeting this week. He was promoting the idea of making the Center City Streetcar project be the first Hydrogen Fuel Cell Streetcar in the USA. It could potentially lower the cost of the line since you would not have to put up poles and catenary wires.

He also said that Mooresville is looking to entice the Colorado manufacturer of hydrogen rail vehicles to locate their USA manufacturing facility in the Charlotte area.

This could potentially be another green iniative by CATS that could bring in more jobs to the area just like the DesignLine Hybrid bus contract they signed last year that is bringing their North American manufacturing facility to the area.

More info here: http://www.hydrail.org/

Or, more likely, it could greatly increase the cost of the streetcar by introducing a propulsion system that exists nowhere else, has no competing manufacturers for parts which could lock you into high maintenance costs, and still relies on natural gas or perhaps electrolysis using electricity and water to create the hydrogen. The former introduces fossil fuels back into the propulsion of the streetcar. With electric propulsion, you have the choice of nuclear/coal/natural gas/wind/solar. The latter puts an extra layer of complexity between electricity and movement of vehicles.

Hydrail makes no sense from an economics or an energy point of view. It is a solution looking for a problem.

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Several Mooresville commissioners have suggested the city pull out of funding the CATS 83X Express Bus to Charlotte because not enough people are riding it to justify the cost to the city.

Ever since CATS got pushed out of their previous Park N Ride lot in Mooresville they lost a good chunk of ridership on that bus. They havn't been able to find a good replacement Park N Ride lot since. If the city pulls the funding it would be sad...but understandable.

Conversely the Charlotte City Council is set to approve their half of funding for this route on Monday.

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I don't believe that I have ever seen this particular rendering for the proposed street car project:

gallery_1_2_21598.jpg

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I saw that article in yesterday's Observer. One thing that really caught my eye were the comments towards the end by the mayor(excerpt below). It seems to imply there might be a possibility they would consider moving the streetcar plan ahead of one or both of the other two projects. Based on what little I know about it, which is very little, I might would favor that idea. From what I understand the streetcar plan is less complicated and less expensive compared to the Northeast rail line.

From the Observer:

McCrory said it's not a problem that CATS is studying building three rail projects at the same time.

"We have three corridors being studied on a parallel track," McCrory said. "We don't know the conclusion. In the end, the strongest will survive."

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......

"We have three corridors being studied on a parallel track," McCrory said. "We don't know the conclusion. In the end, the strongest will survive."

The MTC, of which McCroy is a member, voted on the schedule to build out the rest of the system that will last until 2030. Generally the Federal government is loathe to fund streetcar systems and rarely does so because they contend a city bus works just at well. (not to be confused with LRT) The rules are written such that ridership cost effectiveness is based on additional riders over what a bus would carry. This is an extremely difficult mark to make.

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^ This is, IMO, the fundamental problem with the way the Feds allocate transit funds. The unwritten assumption is that transit is about nothing other than the number of seats moving from one spot to another. In the real world, there is a HUGE difference between a city bus and a streetcar that goes beyond mere ridership efficiency. The permanence of the stops, the attractiveness of the stations and cars, the development potential and "charm" value that it delivers are all relevant to the investment made in transit. Streetcars are a permanent upgrade to a district or more, and add a sense of identity to every area they touch. City buses are the option-of-last-resort for those with no access to a more attractive form of transit (harsh but true).

Of course the Feds have to be responsible about allocations, but it would really be helpful if they had a more balanced and realistic approach to the investment/return potential of different forms of transit.

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With the tracks for the street cars going down on Elizabeth Street from CPCC to Presbyterian Hospital, there should be a big push to complete the tracks to the transits center for the first phase. I would hate to see these tracks sit there for 5 years with no use.

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Having a streetcar has a certain vanity to it. I can't see a developer using "Conveniently located next to a bus stop" as a selling feature for their property as that unfortunately has a negative stereotype associated with it. Having a light rail or streetcar stop would be something to show off. These permanent stops/stations and the addition of "identity" to an area help increase property value and appeal. So, while these vehicles serve the exact same purpose, one serves to improve an area's appeal and, thus, attractiveness to developers and buyers.

The one catch to this whole argument is this. We are pushing to have our new mass transit system go east-west to serve those areas where there is lower-income housing. According to the idea that these lines increase improve property values, the down side to this idea is that you will eventually be pushing out the exact demographic you are trying to serve with this line. If property becomes too expensive over time, you just priced out the people you built the line for to begin with.

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^ This is a great point, but unfortunately it can't be resolved through transit policy. CATS can't afford to be hesitant about extending transit to low-income areas on the basis that they might turn into high-income areas. Something will eventually have to give in Charlotte, because the poor cannot forever be displaced out of redeveloping areas. At some point the city is going to run out of places to ignore, and they will have to do something about the stratification of neighborhoods. Otherwise a social crisis is going to emerge a la Paris... it's only a matter of time.

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^ The city can (and should IMO) combat this by implementing incentives (density credits, perhaps) for affordable housing units in new TODs along the streetcar line. I think a TIF or MSD-based funding scheme is the best way to fund this line, epecially when competing (in an uphill battle) against the NE and N corridors for sales tax money. The sales tax can only do so much, and a good argument can be made--with experience in Portland and elsewhere--that streetcars can make a big difference in inducing compact economic development... sometimes even moreso than LRT. I would suspect that if you told property owners adjacent to the project that they could advance the project by 5 years, it would get widespread support in those neighborhoods.

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It can be addressed through a better affordable housing policy that is enforced through city code. Most other major cities have this. Charlotte will have to join the ranks eventually.

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They also talked about the streetcar line. The mayor encouraged, Keith Parker, the Cats guy, to explore the possibility of having parking areas at the two endpoints: Eastland and Beatties Ford. Parker pointed out that streetcar systems normally don't have parking areas but said it was an interesting idea to consider. I was glad to hear the mayor say that because you obviously want the line to be accessable to as many people as possible. Parker also made the point that the streetcar line might actually save money in the long run because of the need for fewer buses and other issues related to that.

This idea of speeding up the timetable for the streetcar is starting to remind me of the Knights ballpark issue: It looks as if the right people have decided they want it to happen, so I suspect they'll find a way to make it happen.

Below is a link to the video. Parker's presentation started about ten minutes into the meeting.

http://www.charmeck.org/Departments/City+C...etings/Home.htm

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.....

This idea of speeding up the timetable for the streetcar is starting to remind me of the Knights ballpark issue: It looks as if the right people have decided they want it to happen, so I suspect they'll find a way to make it happen......

Only if they find a way to do it without the transit tax or federal funding. The transit tax is controlled by the MTC and McCroy nor Parker have the authority to change any schedules that would involve that tax. As I mentioned earlier, it's almost impossible to get any federal funding for streetcar lines as the feds pretty much view them as very expensive buses not worth funding.

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The short term goal of finding $500k to do the Economic Impact study for the Streetcar is very doable in my opinion. As monsoon already pointed out the long term goal of finding the capital money to build the streetcar will be a lot harder but not impossible.

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They do have modest parking area on the western end, but it could probably stand to be expanded. I tend to think that as Eastland dies and while it is figuring out how to revitalize itself, there will be oodles of parking on that end.

I actually do believe that people will use the streetcar in a park-and-ride capacity, just as many do for certain busses. They will find it much easier to park in the suburbs and ride the train in, just as they do for LRT, regardless of the fact that it is operates in mixed traffic.

On the Beatties Ford end, I could see many people chosing to drive the 85 or 77 commute up until the point where they merge (on 77 south of 85). They could fairly easily jump over one exit and park at the end of the streetcar line and take the train in from there. It won't be thousands of people a day, but I'd guess it will be enough people to warrant the parking spaces.

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Makes me wonder why CATS doesn't consider some sort of local option to produce Bio-Diesel. A good example of a transit agency that does is the Gaston County school system (I say transit agency because they run a huge number of school buses). They created their own bio-diesel facility there that first started to recycle cooking oil from the school cafeterias but has expanded to include other waste oil and it is saving them a significant amount of money. It's also better for the environment.

It would seem to me a case could be made to at least put a portion of CATS buses on biodiesel.

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A quick search for "biodiesel" on charmeck.org turns up this April 2005 memo

Environmental Action Plan: Biodiesel Test Program

Staff Resource: David Friday, 704-336-5774

Equipment Management is completing plans to operationally test up to 20,000 gallons of Biodiesel fuel in City equipment. The test period, which will begin in a few weeks, is in support of the Centralina Clean Fuels Coalition initiatives, of which Charlotte is a core stakeholder.

Biodiesel is a blend of low sulfur diesel fuel and pure soybean oil. The typical blend is 80% diesel fuel and 20% soybean oil. The soybean oil is grown domestically and could actually be grown in North Carolina. Using this 80% - 20% blend lowers most exhaust emissions and reduces dependence on foreign oil.

- The test will involve 67 vehicles and pieces of equipment and will likely last two to four weeks.

- The equipment types will range from dump trucks to small auxiliary equipment.

- No equipment related problems are expected from the test, but Equipment Management will be monitoring the vehicles and equipment closely.

- We expect the costs for the test to be a few hundred dollars more than the cost of regular diesel fuel for the full 20,000 gallon test,

- We will evaluate the results immediately following the test period.

I can't find the results. It does seem like there are plenty of restaurants and cafeterias in the area to get a few buses converted, though.

Could be worth exploring electric for some routes, too. (link is a PDF)

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^That is B20 and they are making it from food crops no less. I believe that Gaston county is buring B100 (100% biodiesel) and making it from waste cooking oil. It's a huge difference in approaches and results. There should be no equipment conversions needed to burn real biodiesel.

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