June 2011

Rail projects top $83 billion in U.S., Canada

by Alex Roman, Managing Editor

For the second straight year, the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) tops METRO's Top Rail Projects survey with $14 billion in total projects. Meanwhile, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's New York City Transit jump up a spot, though, still comes in at a distant second with $9.4 billion in projects.

TTC holds on to the top spot thanks in part to several projects in the works, including the approximately 19-mile Eglinton Crosstown LRT project, which will connect the Kennedy Subway Station along Eglinton Avenue west to Pearson Airport/Mississauga Transitway; the new Don Mills 11.1-mile light rail line and approximately 8.6 miles of new track for the Sheppard East LRT project.

Canadian rail projects, overall, continue to grow as well, with Ottawa's Capital Railway debuting on the list tied at No. 12 with $2.1 billion, Calgary Transit coming in at No.17 with $1.456 billion in projects and Vancouver's TransLink coming in at No. 18 with $1.4 billion in projects.

Rounding out the top five are Denver's Regional Transportation District with $6.7 billion; newcomers the City & County of Honolulu DOT Services' Rapid Transit Division with $5.3 billion; and Portland, Ore.'s TriMet with $5 billion in total rail projects.

Overall, this year's approximate $83 billion project purse represents a $4 billion dip compared to 2010's $87 billion total, but is still higher than 2009's reported totals.

Thanks in part to the well-publicized decision by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie to end its Access to the Region's Core tunnel project, New Jersey Transit sinks from No. 2 to No. 12 in this year's survey, but still has more than $2.1 billion in projects in the works.

Meanwhile, the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, with $2.675 billion in total projects, rounds out this year's top 10.  

New additions

The four new additions to METRO's top rail projects — Honolulu, Capital Railways, Phoenix-based Valley Metro Rail (No. 36) and Societe de Transport de Montreal (No. 38) — represent $7.76 billion in new rail investments.

In Honolulu, construction is under way on its 20-mile light rail transit project that will connect East Kapolei with Ala Moana Shopping Center via the Honolulu International Airport. GM Toru Hamayasu recently reported that the project is both on track and less expensive than expected.

In addition to revenues from the general excise tax, now expected to be $3.3 billion over the next 20 years, the project shaved off $200 million from the cost officials reported in a financial plan submitted to the Federal Transit Administration in April, reducing the cost from $5.5 billion to $5.3 billion.

The project, which also includes 21 stations along the line within the island's most congested urban corridor, is slated to be completed by 2019.

Ottawa-based Capital Railway's $2.1 billion in projects include an approximately 7.7-mile east-west light rail line with the downtown section in a deep tunnel and 13 stations along the route, while Valley Metro Rail's $200 million in projects include a 3.1-mile light rail extension that will include four stations and, possibly, a park-and-ride at the eastern end.  

Uncertain future

Declining federal support and budget shortfalls continue to impact rail projects, with more than two-thirds of respondents reporting that they have had to take measures to offset budgeting issues, including delaying projects, cutting services and manpower, and increasing efficiencies in an attempt to save more money.

When asked what measures they are taking to deal with the budget shortfall, one respondent replied: "We are preparing a worst-case scenario capital budget that includes zero state funding and relies on federal monies. If that occurred and federal funding was not cut further, only one-third of our proposed capital plan would remain."

As expected, funding and the continuing impact of the recent economic recession still top the list of biggest concerns facing respondents, with the current federal budget tension also an issue.

"Continued economic recession could result in continued budget shortfall and deferment of some capital projects that have not yet progressed beyond design stage," summed up one respondent. "[A] lack of long-range capital projects and activity could result in decreased service to the public."

At a Glance

The Texas-based Denton County Transportation Authority (DCTA) — No. 33 with $330 million in projects — is planning to launch its 21-mile "A-train" in June.

As of April, construction for the A-train project is largely complete with minor work continuing in Denton at the stations and intersections. DCTA will operate at a 25-minute frequency during peak periods and 60- to 80-minute frequencies during off-peak times.

A further analysis of this year's numbers show that respondents have 3,812 new railcars on order, an increase of more than 1,500 vehicles compared to 2010, with the TTC reporting that they will purchase 420 new subway cars and 204 low-floor light rail vehicles to replace its current aging fleet, as well as an additional 182 light rail vehicles for its expansion plans.

If you know an agency with plans for the future, but was omitted from this year's survey, please let us know so that we can include it next year. METRO would also like to send a special thanks to all the agencies for taking the time to fill out our surveys and continuing to participate in this annual feature.

To view the full list, click here.


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