New Starts: Mesa Switches from Road to Rail, Barcelona-Paris HSR Opens Soon – Next City
The Works

New Starts: Mesa Switches from Road to Rail, Barcelona-Paris HSR Opens Soon

Our weekly roundup of new, newsworthy transportation projects around the world.

Senator Wants a (Cheap!) Subway to Philly’s Navy Yard

Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey wants the feds to work with SEPTA on an extension of Philadelphia’s Broad Street subway line down to the booming Navy Yard. If that happens — so far there’s no sign that SEPTA is even seriously considering the project — it would indicate a tremendous turnaround from the doomsday plan that the agency released last month. (SEPTA eventually won enough funding to not axe half its rail network.) The most interesting thing about it, though, is the price tag: Just $370 million for a 1.5-mile extension. At a bit over $150 million per kilometer, that price is stunningly cheap for an American subway project, though on par with some of the more efficient European countries. If SEPTA could build the extension for anywhere near that price, it would be a great rebuke to New York and San Francisco, where subway construction starts at $500 million per kilometer and can rise to $1.7 billion.

Feds Let Mesa Swap Money from Roads to Rail

Speaking of cheap transit, Phoenix is bringing light rail to Mesa, Ariz. The feds just gave the all-clear to contribute toward a $143 million, 1.9-mile extension of the city’s sole light rail line to the transit center at Gilbert Road — a fairly cheap move, in line with first-world standards and less expensive than light rail extensions currently under construction in Houston. The line will run down Mesa’s Main Street along a very central alignment, and while it will have more park-and-ride lots than the stations in downtown Phoenix and Tempe, the federal funding is being diverted from road projects that Mesa no longer wanted to build.

Paris-Barcelona High-Speed Rail Starts Up

Barcelona-bound French travelers (and France-bound Barcelonans) will no longer have to change trains at Figueres, near the border. Beginning December 15, there will be non-stop service between Paris and Spain’s second city. At six hours and 25 minutes, the line is unlikely to divert many travelers between the two cities — trips of three hours or less are usually pegged as the sweet spot for high-speed rail service — but the trip could be more competitive for people traveling between southern France and Barcelona. From the Catalan capital, it’s just over three hours to Toulouse, and four hours and 17 minutes to Marseille.

All Aboard Florida Won’t Run Its Own Trains

There’s an interesting tidbit buried in this Tampa Bay Business Journal story on the planned private passenger rail service, All Aboard Florida: The company behind it, Florida East Coast Industries, wants to hire an outside firm to actually run the trains. “There are companies throughout the world that operate intercity passenger trains and our strategy is to partner with one of them, which we hope to announce some time next year as well,” Husein Cumber, leading the project at Florida East Coast, told the Business Journal. This is not an unusual strategy for public transportation authorities, but it indicates a break from other private railroads, whether they be freights in the U.S. or private railroads in Japan (or those in the U.S. back when we still had profitable railway companies). While it might make sense in the short-run — the FEC hasn’t run passenger rail in half a century — farming out operations over the long term runs the risk of outsourcing profits, too.

The Works is made possible with the support of the Surdna Foundation.

Stephen J. Smith is a reporter based in New York. He has written about transportation, infrastructure and real estate for a variety of publications including New York Yimby, where he is currently an editor, Next City, City Lab and the New York Observer.

Tags: infrastructurepublic transportationlight railthe workshigh-speed railflorida