APTA | Passenger Transport
December 15, 2008

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The State of Rail in 2008: Good and Growing

North American rail transit systems saw extensive growth during the past year – both in hardware and riders. Total ridership for all rail systems reached nearly four billion in 2007, with that number well on the way to increasing this year.
In the third quarter of 2008, total light rail ridership grew 8.5 percent over the same period in the previous year; commuter rail was up 6.3 percent, and heavy rail up 5.2 percent.
The newest of North America’s 23 commuter railroads now in operation is the Utah Transit Authority’s FrontRunner, which entered service in April to seven stations between Ogden and Salt Lake Central at the Intermodal Hub. UTA also broke ground in August for the second phase of the line, which will connect Salt Lake City with Provo.
In Boston, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority opened its 18-mile commuter rail line from South Station to Greenbush in October 2007.
The New Orleans Regional Transit Authority welcomed back the complete St. Charles Streetcar Line on June 28, almost three years after Hurricane Katrina disrupted service on the line. The last 1.2 miles of the historic route reopened that day, resuming service on a route dating back 165 years.
New light rail projects that came on board in the past year included the North County Transit District’s 22-mile Sprinter line in Oceanside, CA, and Seattle’s South Lake Union Streetcar, which has spurred more than four million square feet of commercial development.
UTA’s FrontLines 2015 project, which includes the FrontRunner expansion, also encompasses the construction of four new TRAX light rail lines, three of which broke ground during 2008. The authority began construction in May on the Mid-Jordan Line, in June on the West Valley Line, and in October on the Airport Line.

Arriving Soon
While not yet a reality, several public transit agencies will either begin service or continue construction until nearly the close of 2008. For example, Valley Metro Rail in Phoenix will launch its light rail service on Dec. 27, holding celebrations at all nine stations on the 20-mile METRO line. Already, new development totaling $1.6 billion has occurred adjacent to the line in anticipation of the ridership that transit will bring to that area.
Sound Transit in Seattle is working to complete its Central Link light rail line, including service to the airport, by next year.
The Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority in Austin, TX, marked a milestone in its Capital MetroRail project Nov. 26 by completing construction of the Downtown Station in Austin—one of nine that will enter service on the Red Line, between downtown Austin and Leander, in the spring of 2009.
Construction is underway on Hampton Roads Transit’s light rail line in Norfolk, VA. When The Tide opens in 2010, it will cover 7.4 miles with 11 stations.

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