Once the decision is made to implement a particular rail transit operation, the sponsoring authority now has access to a selection of experienced rail transit managers, including some who worked on getting a new system off the ground; a range of transit equipment provided by a variety of manufacturers spread around the country, some with considerable experience in rail transit around the world; and engineering and construction firms with rail transit experience that will not need to spend time determining how to do something the first time around.
While the basic distinctions remain between the major rail transit modes — light rail, heavy rail, commuter rail and even intercity rail, one of the major trends of the early 21st century is the blending of the technologies and approaches.
Once the main domain of heavy and commuter rail, signal systems are now being increasingly applied to existing and new light rail operations, which had once relied primarily on operation on sight.
Even the distinctions between intercity and commuter rail are beginning to blend. Is an in-state route, which makes multiple relatively closely spaced stops with multiple trains per day intercity rail or commuter rail?
Here North Carolina offers another example. State residents have long been able to make single-day round-trips in the corridor between Raleigh and Charlotte. The state-supported Amtrak-operated “Piedmont” leaves Raleigh early in the morning, arriving in Charlotte in late morning; it departs Charlotte late in the afternoon, arriving back in Raleigh around 9 p.m.
Meanwhile, the “Carolinian” (also state-supported) leaves Charlotte in the morning, arriving in Raleigh before noon. The train continues on to Washington, D.C., and New York City. The southbound schedule has the train departing Raleigh in the late afternoon and arriving in Charlotte in the evening.
The state has long looked at a third mid-day frequency, also to be operated with state-owned equipment, like the Piedmont.
Technically, these are all intercity trains, though, once the third pair of trains is added, passengers will be able to make round trips that require only an hour or two in their destination cities.
At the same time, in multiple locations around the country, a variety of rail vehicles based on European (and some Asian) designs — which do not meet the full U.S. standards for use in mixed traffic with freight trains — are going into service in a category becoming known as “diesel light rail.” Use of these vehicles still leaves open the same option for low volume freight operations on lines used for electrified light rail by the means of time separation, which has freights only going onto the line after transit operations have ceased for the day.
Recent and Current Projects
In addition to the already mentioned Charlotte project, the following are some of the highlights of other rail transit operations that either opened or expanded in 2006 or will start later in 2007. (Information on new starts is based in part on data compiled by the National Association of Railroad Passengers.)
- January: Chicago’s Metra expands service on three routes, adding both frequencies and more miles covered.
- February: Florida’s Tri-Rail commuter receives new diesel multiple unit (DMU) trains built by Colorado Railcar.
- July: New Jersey adds one route mile and additional stops to its Newark light rail line.
- August: Increase in frequencies on California Capitol Corridor intercity service. St. Louis’ MetroLink opens Shrewsbury light rail line.
- September: Nashville, Tenn., Music City Star 32-mile commuter rail operation begins revenue service.
- November: Denver RTD opens 19-mile T-REX light rail extension.
- December: Sacramento, Calif., opens 0.6-mile extension of the RTD light rail system to the city’s Amtrak station.
- January: Opening of half-mile extension to Little Rock, Ark., River Rail streetcar extension to Clinton Presidential Library.
- April: San Francisco Muni J/Church line extension opens along Third Street.
- Summer: South Waterfront Streetcar 0.6-mile Lowell extension opens in Portland, Ore.
- September: Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) to open 18-mile Greenbush commuter rail line.
- Fall: Calgary to add 1.8-mile light rail extension to Ctrain northeast line.
- Fall: Seattle South Lake Union 1.3-mile streetcar line to open.
- December: Diesel light rail operation between Oceanside and Escondido, Calif., to start.