TranSystems' Mark Walbrun, Jim Graebner and Harvey Stone

Mark Walbrun has followed trends in transit modes since 1971. He believes that 2008 is going to be the year that streetcars become a key component of the toolbox of solutions that the transit industry can provide to help our cities prosper. “Never before have I seen such interest and enthusiasm in what one of our many transit products can do to revitalize and focus urban cores.” While bus rapid transit, commuter rail and light rail systems will continue to expand in 2008, many of those systems are financially out of reach for medium and smaller cities. Streetcars provide one of the few opportunities for the rest of the country to invest in high quality transportation options that can have a measurable effect on the fortunes of their service area.

TranSystems recognized this trend early and has enhanced its firm capabilities with recognized experts in streetcar planning and design. Mark asked to let them tell the story in their own words.

Jim Graebner believes that much as they did a century ago, urban streetcar proposals are burgeoning throughout the country. These rail transit lines differ from more traditional light rail and commuter rail projects in several ways. First, they are generally promoted as an integral part of an economic redevelopment or downtown reinvestment plan, and experience shows that they can act as a major catalyst for the early and successful implementation of such plans. Second, many streetcar projects seem to come from non-traditional sources. Cities, development agencies, private firms and broad-based citizen’s groups are just some of the initiators. While the local transit agency usually participates, the impetus (and in some cases the early funding) is often from outside of the agency. Third, streetcar projects tend to attract real public-private partnerships. Almost all of the successful projects to date have some degree of private-sector funding, be that in the form of station design and construction, naming rights or operating cost sharing.

Harvey Stone says that low-cost streetcar systems have proven themselves to be major economic development drivers as well as providing a downtown circulation system that encourages housing and commercial development along with improving the business climate. The key is to hold down costs by careful analysis of the components of the job. “In Kenosha we designed a streetcar system that was built for less than $4 million in 2000 that included a two-mile line, a six-car maintenance facility, and five rehabilitated PCC streetcars.” Could it be duplicated today? Not at that price, but we have been able to keep costs low on projects around the country including Little Rock and Tucson.

The important thing to note is that the Kenosha track project was constructed with all new materials using current construction techniques. Costs were reduced by looking at each element of the design and determining the best way to cut costs without reducing the quality of the finished project. “Cost control and value are going to be the buzz words in 2008.”

In 2008 we will see a pronounced move toward greater value and lower cost in our transportation improvements, with streetcars becoming a full-fledged member of the transit industry for use in cities across the country. The ability to innovate and serve more than only a transportation function will be vital to the success of projects that will sustain the growth of the transit industry in North America.

Mark Walbrun and the Passenger Rail and Transit management team at TranSystems welcomes Jim Graebner & the Lomorado Group and Harvey Stone & Stone Consulting to TranSystems. Together our team leaders have an average of 35 years each of experience in planning, designing and implementing transit improvements for cities across the country.