Our weekly “New Starts” roundup of new and newsworthy transportation developments worldwide.
Houston Turns to BRT to Expand Rapid Transit
Houstonians have been arguing loudly for several years over plans to expand the city’s light rail system. Now the local transit agency, Houston Metro, has decided to cast its lot mainly with faster buses as the way forward for long-range transit improvements, according to a Houston Chronicle news report.
The $3.32 billion package of transportation improvements Metro is readying for a public vote next year doesn’t give up on light rail extensions completely. However, even though the three proposed light rail extensions total only 12 miles — less than the length of extensions built between 2013 and 2017 — they account for nearly half of the proposal’s estimated price tag: $1.52 billion.
The remaining half will create 34 miles of bus rapid transit lines, using dedicated lanes on freeways and major arteries, serving mainly areas west of downtown. The plan also envisions additional two-way HOT lanes on major freeways.
One of the BRT routes would follow Interstate 10 west from downtown and connect with a planned Houston-Dallas high-speed rail line.
Houston Metro officials stress that the first step needed to get the plan ready for a vote is clear and open communication with communities that will be affected by the proposed expansions.
Carbon-Fiber Light Rail Vehicle Unveiled in China
People have been flying in airplanes made primarily of carbon-fiber composites since the Boeing 787 Dreamliner made its first commercial flight in 2011. Soon, they will be able to board lighter light rail vehicles made of carbon fiber as well.
China’s Xinhua news agency reports that the country’s largest railcar manufacturer, CRRC Changchun Railway Vehicles Co., Ltd., rolled out its new-generation carbon-fiber light rail vehicle at an exhibition in Changchun. The car should produce significant energy savings because it weighs 30 percent less than an LRV made of stainless steel. It also has better thermal and sound insulation, making it quieter and more comfortable when in operation.
The new railcars are designed to hold 386 passengers and operate at speeds up to 80 km/h (50 mph). It’s also designed to operate wirelessly, with a supercapacitor that can run the car for 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) on a single two-minute charge.
Frankfurt Tests Package Delivery by Tram
Some critics of spending on urban rail transit instead of highways point out that streetcars and subways can’t be used to deliver goods. That may be about to change.
Metro Report International reports that VGF, which operates the public transit network in Frankfurt am Main, Germany, announced on Sept. 17 that it is launching a pilot program to deliver packages using dedicated trams.
The package-delivery trams will carry no passengers and operate during periods of lower traffic on the tram lines. Some will be outfitted with cargo trailers. The trams will deliver parcels to “microdepots” being set up for the pilot program.
The project is being run in partnership with the package delivery service Hermes Germany. Other partners include the city of Frankfurt, the House of Logistics and Mobility, the Frankfurt University of Applied Sciences, IHK Frankfurt am Main and the Climate Alliance.
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Next City contributor Sandy Smith is the home and real estate editor at Philadelphia magazine. Over the years, his work has appeared in Hidden City Philadelphia, the Philadelphia Inquirer and other local and regional publications. His interest in cities stretches back to his youth in Kansas City, and his career in journalism and media relations extends back that far as well.