D.C. Metro Woes May Claim Maryland Purple Line as a Casualty – Next City

D.C. Metro Woes May Claim Maryland Purple Line as a Casualty

Purple Line rendering (Credit: Maryland Transit Administration)

Our weekly “New Starts” roundup of new and newsworthy transportation projects worldwide.

Washington Metro Troubles May Take Purple Line Down
The safety problems on the aging Washington Metro system have claimed several victims and injured scores more over the past several years. Last week another possible casualty emerged: light rail in the Maryland suburbs.

The Purple Line’s future was thrown in doubt when U.S. District Court Judge Richard J. Leon ordered the Maryland Transit Administration to recalculate the ridership projections used in the project’s environmental review. The Aug. 3 ruling also sets aside the federal “record of decision” allowing the project to proceed.

According to a Washington Post report, Maryland and federal officials said the judge’s decision could jeopardize both $900 million in federal funding for the project and the entire 36-year, $5.6 billion public-private partnership.

Leon said that Metro’s continued safety woes and the drop in ridership that has followed in their wake call the MTA’s projections into question. He also criticized the Federal Transit Administration for what he called its “cavalier attitude” in arguing that the troubles would not affect Purple Line ridership because it will be separately owned and operated from the Metro. The Purple Line will connect with four Metro stations, including its endpoints of Bethesda and New Carrollton, and officials estimate that one-fourth of all Purple Line riders will be using it to get to and from the Metro.

Leon’s ruling, issued in connection with a lawsuit filed by Purple Line opponents, caused the FTA and the Maryland Department of Transportation to postpone indefinitely a signing ceremony for the $900 million federal funding agreement that had been set for Monday, the Post also reported.

The resulting delays caused by the postponement will increase the project’s construction cost. Attorneys for the state of Maryland had argued before the judge that even modest delays could have “cascading effects” on the project’s cost and financing.

Bangkok’s Fourth Metro Line Enters Service
Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn of Thailand officially opened the Purple Line, the fourth rapid transit line in the Thai capital of Bangkok, with an inaugural end-to-end trip on the 23.5-km (14.6-mile) line and a formal opening ceremony on Aug. 6, the International Railway Journal reports.

Bangkok's new Purple Line (Photo by Rsa)

The 16-station elevated line is the second to be built and operated by the Bangkok Metro Public Company Ltd. (BMCL), one of two companies operating rapid transit in Bangkok. BMCL operates service under contracts awarded by the Mass Rapid Transit Authority of Thailand (MRTA), which authorized the public-private partnership that built the 60-billion baht ($1.7 billion U.S.) line with financing from the Japanese government. The Purple Line contract was awarded in 2013.

The Purple Line is forecast to carry 200,000 passengers daily in its first year of service, rising to 400,000 passengers daily by 2019.

Railway Gazette International reports that extensions to the line are already being planned. The first, a 19.8-km (12.3-mile), mostly underground southerly extension, would cost 91.7 billion baht ($2.6 billion U.S.). A second extension would take the line 4.5 km (2.8 miles) farther to the north, and more extensions are planned in future phases.

São Paulo to Privatize Most of Its Metro Network
Rio de Janeiro is not the only Brazilian metropolis struggling to keep up with growing transit infrastructure demands. Brazil’s largest city, São Paulo, is proposing to turn over management of most of its metro system to private companies in order to keep up with maintenance needs and expansion plans.

The International Railway Journal reports that Geraldo José Rodrigues de Alckmin Filho, the governor of São Paulo state, says he wants to privatize six of the region’s nine currently operating and planned lines, representing about 60 percent of the entire metro system.

One of the lines now in service, Line 4, was the first in the city to be built and operated under a public-private partnership (PPP) agreement. Line 6, now under construction and set to open in 2020, is being built by a private consortium, Move São Paulo, under an R$9.6 billion ($3.029 billion U.S.), 25-year contract awarded in 2013. A similar contract is now being negotiated for Line 5, which is being extended to a new interchange with Line 2 slated to open in 2018. The contract with Line 5 will also cover monorail Line 17. Monorail Line 18 is already being operated under a PPP contract signed last year, and a similar arrangement will be drawn up for Line 15.

When all the contracts are in place, 84.6 km (52.6 miles) of the 141.6-km (88-mile) rapid transit network will be privately operated and maintained, leaving only Lines 1, 2 and 3 in the hands of the metropolitan government.

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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.

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