Rail Projects Total $58 Billion in Top 50

Posted on May 1, 2003 by Janna Starcic, associate editor

As the costs of war skyrocket, so do the costs of rail projects. Despite the waning economy, total project costs in METRO’s 9th annual North American rail projects survey jumped 9% to a total of $58 billion. Although a sizeable percentage increase, numbers still haven’t escalated as high as 2001, when costs increased 11%. In its fiscal year 2004 budget, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) requested $1.5 billion for New Starts projects, $3 million more than 2003. This budget reflects a proposed expansion of the program to make new non-fixed guideway transportation corridor projects eligible for funding and encourage more cost-effective transit options. Transportation agencies appear to have more ambitious plans in this year’s listing, with higher priced proposals edging out smaller ones. Fourteen properties listed billion dollar amounts for projects in 2003. The cutoff price for the bottom of our listing, $45 million for No. 50 Virginia Railway Express, is an increase of $8 million from last year. NYCT stays ahead Going back up the list to the No. 1 spot — no real surprise here — is MTA New York City Transit (NYCT) keeping its slot warm for the third year in a row with $9 billion total costs. Although it is down $863 million, New York still holds a $4 billion edge over Chicago Transit Authority, which holds the runner-up slot. NYCT is also the leader in the railcar list, with a whopping 6,348 vehicles, more than 40% of the overall total in the Top 50. As you might expect with such a large railcar fleet, NYCT leads in ridership as well, transporting 1.4 billion passengers. Ridership numbers for the combined fleets is unchanged from 2002, with more than 3 billion passengers annually. Railcar fleet mix numbers in this year’s list remained fairly stable, with heavy railcars continuing to dominate by increasing 9% to a total of 13,779. Light rail cars stayed put at 7%, with 1,535 vehicles. Although some rankings aren’t budging, some are moving up, or out, most notably in the Top 10. The highest climber in the survey is the Santa Clara Valley (Calif.) Transportation Authority, moving up 12 places to No. 3, with $5 billion in its project purse. A major portion — $3.8 billion — is earmarked for a 16-mile Bay Area Rapid Transit extension to the Silicon Valley. Another $775 million is set aside for 12 miles of light rail extensions under construction. Another agency to move up in the rankings by enlarging its project purse is Triangle Transit Authority in N.C., with a total of $813 million. Two operations — Orange County (Calif.) Transportation Authority and Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority — lost their Top 10 rankings to higher-priced projects in 2003. Amtrak, remaining fairly quiet this year with no shutdown threats, received $900 million in this year’s proposed budget, and was put on a leash so to speak. The DOT was given oversight authority of Amtrak’s spending, marking a new era of accountability for the passenger rail service. To curtail its monetary drain, critics want Amtrak to cut its long-distance routes, of which it has already trimmed two. The passenger rail service, with project costs of $559 million, continues with a mid-list ranking of No. 28, a two-position drop from 2002. Monorail for high rollers Making its return to the Top 50 is Las Vegas’ Regional Transportation Commission at No. 36 for its monorail project. The monorail will link seven stations over 3.9 miles of elevated dual-monorail guideway. The project uses two existing stations and revamps the existing less-than-one-mile guideway of the MGM Grand and Bally’s hotels’ former monorail line. Other projects on the rise include North County (Oceanside, Calif.) Transit District’s (NCTD) Oceanside-Escondido rail corridor project, which received a full-funding grant agreement for $351 million. The rail corridor proposal involves converting an existing 22-mile freight rail corridor into a diesel multiple unit transit system running east from the coastal city of Oceanside to Escondido. The alignment, which includes a 1.7-mile loop of new right-of-way service to the California State University-San Marcos campus, will also feature 15 stations, four of which are existing transit centers. NCTD estimates 19,000 daily riders by 2020. The operation only moves up one spot from 2002 to the No. 33 position, despite its $453 million showing. If you know of, or are part of, a rail agency that has plans for the future, but we missed for this year’s survey, please let us know so we can include you next year. To see the complete Top 50, click here.

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