KC Light Rail

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Light Rail Trip Report: Charlotte

Everyone in transit is watching Charlotte right now. Why? They're in political hot water as scorching as KC when it comes to light rail. The mayor's job is at stake. Voters might repeal a decade-old transit tax due to cost overruns. The transit agency is racing to open up their starter line before election day. What better time to visit and see how things are progressing?

Our visit was not just to see light rail, but we jumped at the opportunity to see the new LYNX Blue Line on test runs in advance of the November opening. Only one hour before leaving town, we stumbled onto a great pizza place near the tracks and — lo and behold! — the crossing gates came down and it appeared in a flash, barely enough time to snap the pictures below. Each LRV must go through 1,000 miles of testing before humans can ride.

LYNX Test 1
LYNX Test 2

Charlotte's new light rail line will run partially in an old rail bed (similar to St. Louis Metrolink) along South Boulevard, and will incorporate the vintage South End trolley and a new inter-modal station that will serve local and intercity buses, as well as intercity and commuter trains (North Carolina also has state-sponsored Amtrak service; commuter rail is in the planning stages). Modern streetcars and BRT are also under evaluation.

Gateway Station

The project was attacked from several angles, primarily because of the oft-cited "low density" argument. Significant cost overruns, however, vaulted light rail back into the spotlight and resulted in a punitive petition initiative to repeal a half-cent sales tax that currently supports the entire mass transit system (including buses). Transit leaders have not specified how service will be affected should the tax be repealed, but they have confirmed that light rail will begin operation, regardless of the outcome, on November 26. Polling shows the vote could go either way. We caught one vote of support in a downtown window, below.

Vote Against Repeal

Even though people say "Kansas City doesn't need light rail", rest assured our struggle with the issue is in no way unique, especially as other mid-sized peer cities attempt to tackle environmental concerns versus simply connecting people with jobs. Charlotte is the best example we have right now of what the fight will be like in February.

10 Comments so far

  1. Mark September 10th, 2007 11:05 am

    Nice camera work! How fast would you say the train was moving?

  2. Dave September 10th, 2007 11:24 am


    not very fast, as i was able to snap those two shots while it passed. maybe 20 mph? not sure if they have to go full speed during the testing period or if just any old mile will count against the testing requirement. thank goodness for that crossing arm and bells or i would have certainly missed it going by.

  3. Dave September 10th, 2007 8:22 pm

    your bias has been duly noted.

  4. Kyle September 12th, 2007 4:12 pm

    No actually it sounds like capitalism; one person buys something and has control on how and who uses it. If it was communism, we would already have the “peoples light rail” regardless if you liked it and it would either be that or the “peoples foot” and you would not dare criticize it on the “peoples Blog.”

    Now we all agree that an opposing view while uncomfortable, is necessary, but seeing that the post was removed before many of us saw it, I would bet it was not an opposition but offensive.

  5. Another Kyle September 18th, 2007 5:33 pm

    Although I love the idea of having a full line of trains serving the metro area and not just the downtown corridors, I do have to ask the obvious question: Is 20mph really considered Mass “Rapid” Transit??
    Shouldnt it just be called Mass “Steady As She Goes” Transit?
    Or how about Mass “Quicker Than Walking” Transit?
    As long as its actually quick and efficient and cheaper than driving Im all for it.
    If this going to be a huge deep dark money pit from hell then we need to rethink this i.e. Old trolly car system instead, such as in Little Rock, Arkansas

  6. crasho September 18th, 2007 10:08 pm

    you are correct, another kyle, in that this will be a huge, deep dark money pit from which we would never emerge. it really doesn’t matter what it is called as long as it’s not a “fast streetcar,” as there is no such thing. as has been stated nefore, kansas city simply has NO mass to transit. we do not have the density of businesses or people needing to get to and from them to warrant or justify such a monumental expense. 5.5 miles of touristy frou-frou from the plaza to downtown does not constitute a “solution” to a “transit issue.”

  7. Dave September 19th, 2007 12:50 pm

    mass transit speeds are discussed in averages. your average speed through city streets is never the speed limit of, say, 35 mph, but much slower due to congestion and traffic controls. that’s why it takes a driver at least 10 minutes to drive the 5 miles from downtown to the plaza, even during a non-peak traffic hour.

  8. crasho September 19th, 2007 8:27 pm

    then why do all the light rail poobahs always quote speeds in the maximum? top speed this, and top speed that, when in reality it is far, far below that? i recall a “straw man” proposal recently that was long on bombast, such as a “fast streetcar,” and short on facts. as with any boondoggle like this, so-called benefits, revenues, ridership, etc., are always inflated, while crucial items such as project cost, operating expenses, maintenance, are quoted at rock bottom.

  9. DJ Wright September 22nd, 2007 1:16 am

    If you want an idea for a “streetcar system” plan, check out SEPTA’s 15- Girard Avenue line in Philadelphia. They took 18 PCC cars, had them re-built (light rail trucks on the cars, wheelchair lifts, AC, comfortable seats) and put them back on the streets of Philadelphia. Certain stops had platforms while others were curbside stops.

  10. Scott Mercer September 25th, 2007 6:38 pm

    I agree, light rail is VERRRRY slow.

    That’s why you guys should build a SUBWAY.

    Aha! Now you’re talking about a LITERAL money pit. You want some big buck project? That’ll do ya. Try multiple BILLIONS of dollars. My point here is, light rail is not as expensive as you think it is, for what it does.

    Whether or not Kansas City truly needs it or not is another question. I don’t live there, so I don’t know. But if you have any pretensions to being a world class city, you need it.

    As a matter of fact, if I were selfish, I would tell you folks to dump the light rail, and keep on sprawling to your heart’s delight, all the way into Nebraska if you want. Then, there’d be less competition for my city (Los Angeles) for federal transit dollars.

    But believe me, once you build a light rail line, it will find a purpose, and a fan base, and become part of the fabric of the community, and people in Kansas City one day (perhaps that are now toddlers) will not be able to imagine life there without it. Then people in unserved neighborhoods will be grousing about when the light rail is expanding into THEIR part of town. That happened in almost every city that built light rail.

    If it can happen here, in Los Angeles, capital of car culture, king of freeways, it can happen even in Kansas City.

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