The Works

New Starts: Cheap Trains in Switzerland, Expensive Ones in New York

A Swiss town you’ve never heard of has better regional rail service than New York, the 7 train to Hudson Yards is open (well, not really, but the politicians will pretend it is), new diesel locos are coming to several states, and tech bus drama arrives in Oakland.

Credit: SBB

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Swiss City You’ve Never Heard of Has Better Regional Rail Than New York

The Swiss canton of St. Gallen only has about half a million residents, but it has better regional rail than the largest cities in the U.S. The region’s S-Bahn — that’s German for a regional rail network whose suburban lines merge to form high-frequency downtown trunk lines — increased service on its dozen or so lines that snake through the 782-square-mile canton. (Southern California’s Metrolink, by comparison, has only seven lines.) Every station now has half-hourly service, with 15-minute frequencies in and around the city proper. Compare this to New York, where the Long Island Rail Road offers only hourly midday trains to Penn Station from Forest Hills, a neighborhood that itself has more residents than St. Gallen.

In the U.S., we often blame poor planning on a lack of bureaucratic unification. But like many European regional networks, the St. Gallen S-Bahn involves a dizzying array of transit agencies — Swiss Federal Railways plus four other cantonal railways — working together to provide a seamless front to riders. Just beyond the system’s range, there are plans to build a small S-Bahn between Switzerland and Austria via Liechtenstein, upgrading the single-track Feldkirch–Buchs Railway and giving it half-hourly service by 2017, with an eye toward one day connecting it to the St. Gallen S-Bahn.

Enhancements to enable the St. Gallen S-Bahn’s 15-minute frequencies cost only $300 million. Planning started in 2005, and service started on December 15.

7 Train Extension to Hudson Yards “Opens”

Meanwhile, in the rail capital of the U.S., New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg ceremonially opened the 7 train extension to Hudson Yards (it won’t open for service until June). The project is nose-bleedingly expensive: At around $1.3 billion per kilometer despite a relative lack of stations, it’s at least three times as expensive as lines abroad that tunneled through more harrowing terrain. Yet the mayor successfully dodged a question about the cost at Friday’s opening ceremony. He did say that “this was not that difficult, in all fairness.”

Cincinnati’s Streetcar Lives

It came down to the wire, but Cincinnati’s streetcar — mired in political drama after newly elected mayor John Cranley tried to kill ithas survived a 6-3 city council vote to move forward. A private organization “offered to pay $900,000 a year for 10 years” to fund operations, whose annual expenses will total between $1.88 million and $2.44 million, according to a consultant’s report.

New Diesel Locos

Illinois, California, Michigan, Washington and Missouri have chosen Siemens as the company that will build about 35 new diesel locomotives. The locos will have a maximum speed of 125 miles per hour, though no lines in those states can handle trains that fast. (At least, not yet.) The Siemens bid came in at around $226 million for the trains — $35 million less than its two competitors, EMD and MotivePower, who both offered around $260 million.

Bay Area Bus Wars Rage On

The tech buses that shuttle workers from trendier ‘hoods in San Francisco and Oakland to low-rise suburban office campuses in Silicon Valley have emerged as a flashpoint for the Bay Area’s high housing prices and gentrification woes. Protesters last week again held up a bus leaving for Silicon Valley, this time in Oakland. But are the buses really the cause of high housing costs, or just a potent symbol? No matter how often urbanists try to redirect anger toward the region’s pitiful urban housing production numbers or sub-par transit networks, the buses seemingly remain the anti-gentrification movement’s focal point.

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

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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: new york cityaffordable housingpublic transportationsan franciscogentrificationthe workstrainsstreetcarsoaklandcincinnati

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