Our weekly “New Starts” roundup of new and newsworthy transportation projects worldwide.
Bern Gets Crowdsourced Rail Cars
Crowdsourcing has come to yet another area of human activity: rail car design.
Railway Gazette International reports that Regionalverkehr Bern-Solothurn (Bern-Solothurn Regional Transport) has placed an order with Stadler Rail for 14 custom-designed electric multiple-unit train sets. The trains’ design specifications were developed partly by “crowdsourcing” ideas from passengers on the line where they will run, Route S7.
According to the International Railway Journal’s report on the purchase, Route S7, which connects Bern and Worb, is the busiest of RBS’ meter-gauge regional rail lines, carrying 24,000 riders daily.
Each of the train sets will have four cars totaling 60 meters (197 feet) in length. The train sets will have seating for 160 passengers and can accommodate 360 standing passengers. Each partly-low-floor car has two doors per side, or eight doors on each side of the train, and large standing areas for faster boarding and alighting.
The 134-million-Swiss franc ($144.3 million U.S.) order, which includes spare parts for the trains, is the largest ever for the Swiss capital’s regional transport agency.
Stadler Rail owner and CEO Peter Spuhler told Railway Gazette he was “pleased that the opinion of the passengers was involved in the development process from the very beginning, and we now may decisively contribute to their comfort.”
A Cairo tram stops for passengers in 2010.
Trams to Make Comeback in Cairo
More meter-gauge railway news comes from Cairo, where a meter-gauge tram system serving the city and neighboring Heliopolis shut down in 2014 due to deterioration of the infrastructure and rolling stock after decades of underinvestment.
The International Railway Journal reports that the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development will loan the Egyptian government $250 million to finance half of the $500 million cost of rehabilitating the system and purchasing new tram cars.
The memorandum of understanding between the EBRD and Egypt’s Ministry of International Cooperation calls for two loans of up to $125 million each. The first loan will go to the National Authority for Tunnels and will help pay for restoration of the tracks and power supply system, while the second loan will go to a private company that will purchase, operate and maintain the rolling stock.
Miami Considers Another Tax Hike to Fund Rail Expansion
Residents of Miami-Dade County may be forgiven a feeling of déjà vu over the Miami-Dade Metropolitan Organization’s recent approval of the “Strategic Miami Area Rapid Transit” (SMART) plan, which calls for five new light rail lines and a new Tri-Rail commuter rail line to be built over an unspecified time frame.
That’s because voters approved a half-cent sales tax increase in 2002 in order to build these same six lines. Most of the proceeds from that tax went instead to retiring existing debt for transportation projects; the only rail line built with the money was a 3.8-km (2.4-mile) Metrorail extension to Miami International Airport.
A Miami Metromover pulls into Third Street station.
As a result, residents and elected officials the Kendall Gazette interviewed for a news story on the plan expressed a combination of support for the proposal and skepticism about how it would be paid for and whether the lines would actually get built.
Kendall is one of the communities slated to get rail service under the SMART plan, which also includes four other light rail lines — one connecting Miami with Miami Beach via the MacArthur Causeway, a replacement for a busway along busy Biscayne Boulevard (US 1) in south Miami-Dade, an east-west line intended to provide congestion relief for the Dolphin Expressway, and a north-south line along 27th Avenue in north Miami, along with a 136-km (84.5-mile) Tri-Rail commuter line from Miami north to Boca Raton and Jupiter.
Most of the Kendall residents who spoke with the paper expressed sentiments similar to those of Kendall Federation of Homeowner Associations President Michael Rosenberg, who said, “The plans are incredibly ambitious. Then I saw the price tag, $12 billion, and thought about the timeframe to get this project done — decades.
“Then I read about the infighting that will take place as each commissioner fights to make sure their district is first. That could take centuries. My suggestion: Put the six corridors on the November ballot and let the community vote for who goes first.”
Kendale resident Diane Lawrence was more downbeat, saying, “I don’t think it will happen in my lifetime. No one wants to raise taxes and that is what it will take.”
In other words, one possible outcome for the plan is that the voters approve another tax hike and get less than they bargained for once again.
An International Railway Journal report on the SMART plan says the MPO intends to conduct further studies to determine costs, possible funding sources and environmental impact for each of the six corridors.
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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.