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monsoon

Rail and other Rapid Transit Systems in the South

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The South is very underserved by rapid transit (light rail, commuter rail, heavy rail, bus rapid transit, other) considering the percentage of the US population that lives here. There are a number of reasons for this, but most have to do with decades of unchecked suburban growth surred on by such things as bad annexation laws, planning for growth at any cost, cheap land and cheap energy, racial issues and especially racial issues tied to the school integration, the globalization of almost all retail and of course ignorance and denial there is anything wrong with our lifestyle.

In the long run this kind of development is unsustainable because if the entire planet lived the lifestyle we have here in the South, we would need 7 planet's worth of resources to support it. If we don't change this we condemn large segment's of future generations to rather harsh conditions. It's a complicated issue involving more than transportation, but in this thread, I want to discuss what is currently taking place in the South to address providing alternatives to the automobile for travel.

Using the definition of South that we have here at UrbanPlanet I've summarized the known transit systems that either exist or are under construction. I am not listing proposals because they have a habit of not being built nor city bus systems or historic trolley systems.

  • MARTA - Atlanta - traditional heavy rail subway/surface rail system. First to be built in the new South and by far the busiest in the South.

  • MetroRail - Miami - One of only 2 heavy rail systems in the South (MARTA is the other). Miami also has a small people mover system called MetroMover

  • DART - Dallas - Largest light rail system in the South

  • MetroRail - Houston - One of the newest light rail systems in the South. Consists of a single line running in the highway ROW.

  • LYNX- Charlotte - single light rail line currently under construction. Opens 2007

  • Skyway Express - Jacksonvile - small people mover system. Very low ridership.

  • PRT - Morganton - 5 station people mover system with fairly high ridership.

  • Trinity Railway Express - Commuter rail connecting Dallas to Ft Worth

  • Tri-Rail - South Florida - Commuter rail running through S. Fla Metro.

  • Virginia Railway Express - Commter rail from surbuban Virginia to DC.

  • Nashville Music Star - Nashville - Small commuter rail connecting Nashville to suburbs.

To summarize, in the entire South there are 2 heavy rail lines, 3 light rail lines, 2 people movers, and 4 commuter rail lines either in operation or under construction. That is a pretty dismal number when you consider that we are talking about 14 states and possibly 90 million people (guesstimate). South Carolina, Louisanna, Kentucky, Arkansas, Alabama, Mississippi, and Oklahoma have no systems.

Little Rock, Charlotte, Memphis, Tampa and New Orleans all operate historic trolleys to varying levels of success. I am not a fan of these systems in terms of what rail lines offer mainly because they almost always operate completely in traffic and have very low ridership. (it's mostly tourist oriented).

If I left out a system, please send the info via PM and I will add it

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The south is really underserved when it comes to mass transit compared to other regions of the country and part of that problem stems from low density sprawl.

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That has been and probably always will be the South's problem in general. There is a notion is that always made that I have heard as to why mass transit is a problem in the South, "Bubba likes his truck, and Bubba ain't gonna give up his truck to ride the bus or a train."

It's sad but so true. Southerners more than any other set of people are obessed with their private vehicles, and will drive ridiculously long distances to commute to work just to maintain that lifestyle. Also, most of legislators in the South have brainwashed the constigiency that any additional taxes that fund anything is BAD.

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The mass transit people in Birmingham (don't know what their official name is) are expecting to build a light rail line in downtown, it's nothing too expansive, just a rail line that connects the major parts of downtown, they haven't approved it yet, I don't think, but they still expect to construct it I believe.

Also, Huntsville and Decatur envision a future rail line connecting the two cities in the future.

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The mass transit people in Birmingham (don't know what their official name is) are expecting to build a light rail line in downtown, it's nothing too expansive, just a rail line that connects the major parts of downtown, they haven't approved it yet, I don't think, but they still expect to construct it I believe.

Also, Huntsville and Decatur envision a future rail line connecting the two cities in the future.

You mean BJCTA. Yeah, they have been plans on the books since '03 for a light rail in downtown, but it funding is what is holding it back.

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Very good points. I always wondered if the more modern pattern of city development really hurts things like this. In a lot of ways it doesn't always allow density to form which would really help some of these public transportation systems. But I imagine the western US is in the same situation.

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All of the major cities on the West Coast have transit systems, some of them are quit extensive. Denver is building a fairly comprehensive light rail system. SLC has a light rail line and just got approval for commuter rail. Las Vegas has a monorail. I am not sure about Tuscon or Pheonix. But generally the Western cities are much better off in this regard than cities of the South.

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All of the major cities on the West Coast have transit systems, some of them are quit extensive. Boulder is building a fairly comprehensive light rail system. SLC has a light rail line and just got approval for commuter rail. Las Vegas has a monorail. I am not sure about Tuscon or Pheonix. But generally the Western cities are much better off in this regard than cities of the South.

Yeah, Phoneix is building a light rail system as well that is set to open in either '07 or '08. Tucson? :dontknow:

Hell, I agree Metro.m that the South has a serious problem. There is too much fighting in most urbanized regions over power and lack of regional cooperation. In addition, you have to throw in the "Good Ole Boy" politics that is very prevalent in the states of Alabama, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Georgia. If those problems were overcame, we would have more mass transit systems in the South.

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I think the trolley system works fine in New Orleans, fan of it or not. It seems every bit as busy as MARTA and a good bit safer and cleaner.

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^I believe pre-Katrina daily ridership on the NO Trolley was about 15,000. MARTA is 250,000. NO is notable as it is only original trolley to survive in the South from the early 1900s. All of the other cities in the South abandoned their electric trolleys for buses.

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^I believe pre-Katrina daily ridership on the NO Trolley was about 15,000. MARTA is 250,000. NO is notable as it is only original trolley to survive in the South from the early 1900s. All of the other cities in the South abandoned their electric trolleys for buses.

Yea, if you get on a MARTA Train out of the CBD of Altanta, it's packed. When I was in NO before Katrina, the trolleys were no where near as full as MARTA Trains.

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^I believe pre-Katrina daily ridership on the NO Trolley was about 15,000. MARTA is 250,000. NO is notable as it is only original trolley to survive in the South from the early 1900s. All of the other cities in the South abandoned their electric trolleys for buses.

I meant in terms of the cars being full, obvious not in ridership. One train carries probably 10 times as many people as a trolley. NO was expanding pretty aggressively as well but the network was limited to mostly downtown and the length of St Charles.

MARTA like DART really has limited routes. Both would be handier if they reached more neighborhoods. I was in Atlanta for a week recently and rode the MARTA almost every day up to Lindbergh Station which was near where I was staying. There's nothing more satisfying than crossing over that busy interstate through downtown and seeing the cars parked for miles and flying right by them.

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All of the major cities on the West Coast have transit systems, some of them are quit extensive. Denver is building a fairly comprehensive light rail system. SLC has a light rail line and just got approval for commuter rail. Las Vegas has a monorail. I am not sure about Tuscon or Pheonix. But generally the Western cities are much better off in this regard than cities of the South.

Interesting, I guess I didn't realize that.

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The streetcars in New Orleans are almost always packed, even now post-Katrina, with either tourists or locals. The Riverfront line is there purely there for tourism purposes, but the newly restored Canal Street line, and especially the Saint Charles Avenue Line, which is the oldest running streetcar line in the country, are both highly used by locals. The St. Charles Ave. line serves a large chunk of Uptown New Orleans, home to some 220,000, and the Canal Street line runs from the foot of Canal Street at the Mississippi River, all the up Canal through Mid-City, a distance of about 3.5 miles. There are plans to extend the Canal Line all the way up to Lake Ponchartrain, which would make the full length of the line about 7 miles.

neworleansstreetcarsrk0.gif

As for the future of rapid transit of New Orleans, that, is very interesting. There are multiple streetcar lines that may be restored, including the famous Desire Street Line. We could see a new streetcar line on Loyola Avenue between Canal Street and Girod Street, a large extention of the Saint Charles Ave. Line, and even a streetcar line connecting downtown with Algiers on the westbank of the Mississippi River. Also, there are plans for light rail lines connecting downtown with Central City, Uptown, Treme, Saint Bernard Parish, New Orleans East, and a line that would run from New Orleans through Metairie and Kenner to Armstrong Intl Airport. One plan that looks like it has a very bright future, is a commuter rail line running the 80 miles between Baton Rouge and New Orleans. There are also ideas about a commuter rail line running across the eastern portion of Lake Ponchartrain up to Slidell, as well as a line that could possibly run to the Mississippi Coast.

lightrailinneworleans5uk.png

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It's been a couple years since I've been there but I remember driving in from Jefferson Parish they were constructing a line not far from where you enter New Orleans city limits. I can't remember the street but I believe it started with a C - Carrolton or Claiborne?

The other region streetcars work so much better in New Orleans is that you can let them run down the median and it doesn't interfere much at all with normal traffic patterns. Plus, New Orleans is a very dense city with well-organized street patterns, though they have that odd wheel-spoke pattern instead of a grid.

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The other region streetcars work so much better in New Orleans is that you can let them run down the median and it doesn't interfere much at all with normal traffic patterns. Plus, New Orleans is a very dense city with well-organized street patterns, though they have that odd wheel-spoke pattern instead of a grid.

This is true, most of the time, the streetcars in New Orleans run along the neutral ground, and do not really come into contact with traffic at all. And the fact that New Orleans is so dense makes streetcars much more efficient, in that they do not have to go nearly as far to bring locals to or from work, or bring tourists to or from different tourist spots. If New Orleans was much more sprawled like most other Southern cities, the routes we have here now wouldn't be nearly as efficient.

Here is the neutral ground on Canal, for example:

IMG_3624border.jpg

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Actually I am not a big fan of historic trolley systems as they don't really have the capacities to make a huge difference in traffic.

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Actually I am not a big fan of historic trolley systems as they don't really have the capacities to make a huge difference in traffic.

Yea, when I visited New Orleans, I didn't take the trolley to get somewhere, I took it, cause it was historical. I just walked everywhere.

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MARTA like DART really has limited routes. Both would be handier if they reached more neighborhoods. I was in Atlanta for a week recently and rode the MARTA almost every day up to Lindbergh Station which was near where I was staying. There's nothing more satisfying than crossing over that busy interstate through downtown and seeing the cars parked for miles and flying right by them.

How rude of you... You could've at least waved at me while I was stuck. There are a lot of proposals floating around to expand Atlanta's Rapid Transit System. Such as, the Beltline (LRT), Northwest Corridor (BRT), Peachtree Streetcar and MARTA (HRT) extentions. I'm not sure how many of these will actually become reality.

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I'm not totally sure because I think I read it in passing, but isn't Austin getting commuter rail?

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There are conflicting reports on that. There is a municipal website that indicates that it coming, that is underconstruction, that it is light rail, that it is commuter rail, and doesn't have any recent news. The fact there are no federal funding grants for the system would seem to make me think it is still just a proposal. They do have a stated plan to build out a quite extensive transit system and from the map it looks as if it would cover a lot of the city by 2030 if they stick to the plan.

Someone pointed out that I should include the monorail at Disney World. While this isn't a municipal transit system, I did find out that it has the highest ridership of any monorail in the world which is quite a feat. This mode of transit could have applications in many parts of the united states where it avoids lots of ROW issues, but I don't believe the Feds would approve a system such as that in Disney.

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There are conflicting reports on that. There is a municipal website that indicates that it coming, that is underconstruction, that it is light rail, that it is commuter rail, and doesn't have any recent news. The fact there are no federal funding grants for the system would seem to make me think it is still just a proposal. They do have a stated plan to build out a quite extensive transit system and from the map it looks as if it would cover a lot of the city by 2030 if they stick to the plan.

There are no conflicting reports about the Austin Capital MetroRail line. Let me try to clear it up for you one more time.

- Light rail is off the table, voters turned it down in Nov. 2000.

- Voters did approve $60 million for the 32-mile Downtown/Leander commuter rail line in Nov. 2004.

- No federal funding grants are required because Capital Metro already owns the rail line.

- Six rail cars have been ordered from Stadler Bussnag AG.

- The Capital MetroRail Red Line will begin operation in 2008.

Hope this clears it up. As I have said before, all of this information has been right here on UP in the Austin subforum for quite some time.

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Atlanta's got the old MARTA system.

If the Beltline proposal is actually built, it will likely include some sort of rail in it as well. However, at this point, we're still trying to actually get the thing underway.

There have also been talks about rebuilding Atlanta's streetcar system. I'm particularly interested to see how this one will turn out. It might be nice to see some streetcars in downtown again.

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Yes, Austin is getting commuter rail.

Dallas just started construction on it's new green line. When finished with all of the expanded lines, Dart will have over 90 miles of rail and I believe the biggest is the Orange Line. Dallas residents need to keep an eye on this one. It will run from DFW to Las Colinas to UT southwestern to the Victory to downtown. SO much potential on that one line.

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