The Works

Testing Begins on World’s First Wireless Electric Light-Rail Line

Plus airports in Oakland and Minsk get direct rail connections, and an election in Arlington puts a modern streetcar in jeopardy in our weekly New Starts column.

BART is set to open a new airport rail link to Oakland International, above, just in time for Thanksgiving travel. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

Our weekly roundup of new and noteworthy transportation projects around the world.

Testing Begins on World’s First Wireless Electric Tram Line
The first CAF Urbos tram cars began test runs over the weekend on the first section of the Kaoshiung light-rail transit line in Taiwan.

The 8.2-km, 14-station first phase of the Kaoshiung LRT runs from Yixin 1st Road to Hamasing Kaoshiung Port in the southern Taiwanese port city. Construction on this section began in June, and the line is scheduled to begin revenue service early next year. The Focus Taiwan News Channel ran a photo of the first car in position to begin testing on Nov. 8th.

The line, whose route incorporates portions of two former Taiwan Railway Administration (TRA) freight lines, is the first light-rail line in Taiwan — and the first anywhere to use electric tram cars that operate wirelessly.

The Urbos tram cars are equipped with “rapid charge accumulators,” a new type of supercapacitor that will store power for the cars. Supercapacitors store less energy than batteries, but charge about 10 times faster, enabling the cars to recharge while stopped at stations on the line.

When completed at the end of 2017, the Kaoshiung LRT will operate in a 22.1-km circular route with 36 stations. The first segment connects with both of the currently operating Kaoshiung Mass Rapid Transit (KMRT) lines; the second phase will also connect with a new rapid-transit-style TRA commuter line now being relocated underground, and eventually two more planned rapid transit lines.

KMRT states that the new light rail line, which it will operate, will improve the quality and convenience of mass transit in Kaoshiung, remove car traffic from city streets and stimulate sustainable economic development.

The total cost of the project is NT$16.5 billion ($540.1 million U.S.). The Taiwanese government is paying for NT$6.4 billion ($209.43 million U.S.) of the project, with the remainder coming from local sources.

Airport Rail Links Open in California and Belarus
Two more world airports are now, or will be shortly, connected to their cities’ rail networks.

(Credit: BART)

In North America, Oakland International Airport will finally have a direct rail link when Bay Area Rapid Transit’s driverless people-mover opens on Nov. 22nd. And in Europe, Belarus’ main international airport in Minsk got rail service with the opening of a new Belarus Railways link to the city center on Nov. 7th.

A story in the Contra Costa Times notes that the automated connector will open just in time for Thanksgiving holiday travel. The $484 million line connects the airport with BART’s Coliseum station, replacing a bus shuttle that had operated between the stations. A grand opening celebration on Nov. 21st will include free rides; when regular revenue service begins the next day, the fare for passengers will be $6. The line features cable-hauled light-rail vehicles built by United Streetcar.

The new, 105-billion-ruble ($2.32 billion U.S.) rail link from Pasažyrski station in central Minsk to Minsk National Airport features three-car, low-floor diesel multiple unit (DMU) trains equipped with wheelchair accessible restrooms, reclining seats, air conditioning and power sockets, Railway Gazette International reports. An intermediate stop at Smaliavičy station will allow other regional passengers to transfer to the line. The trip from central Minsk to the airport will take 70 minutes, including a 55-minute train trip and a transfer to a five-minute bus ride for the final 500 meters from the train platform to the airport terminal. The International Railway Journal reports that a planned reconstruction of the airport terminal will include a new rail station that will close that 500-meter gap.

Columbia Pike Streetcar Project in Jeopardy in Virginia
A proposed modern streetcar line intended to revitalize a major transportation corridor in Washington’s Northern Virginia suburbs may not come to fruition after all if results of the Nov. 4th general election in Arlington County are an accurate gauge of public sentiment. (Read Next City’s round-up of how last week’s election impacted transportation projects around the U.S. here.)

Arlington streetcar project rendering

Inside NoVa reports that after the election, County Board of Supervisors Chair Sharon Bulova (D) described the planned $350 million Columbia Pike streetcar line as “on thin political ice.”

The reason for the downturn in the project’s fortunes: Voters re-elected John Vihstadt (I) to a full term as supervisor in a rematch of the April special election in which Vihstadt defeated Democrat Alan Howze.

Vihstadt and current Supervisor Libby Garvey (D) both oppose the project. As Arlington County supervisors serve staggered terms, with at least one board seat up for grabs every year, the replacement of one of the current three pro-streetcar members with a streetcar opponent could doom the line, which would run from Pentagon City in Arlington to Baileys Crossroads in Fairfax County.

Fairfax officials remain supportive of the line, which they see as key to the redevelopment of Baileys Crossroads. All three pro-streetcar Arlington supervisors are up for re-election next year. Vihstadt campaigned against the streetcar as an example of out-of-control spending and out-of-touch political leadership. According to the Inside NoVa report, Fairfax officials are now exploring ways to bring the streetcar line’s cost down, including piggybacking on an existing order for streetcars elsewhere.

Know of a project you think should be featured in this column? Send a tweet to @MarketStEl using the hashtag #newstarts.

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

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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Tags: transit agencieslight railtrainsstreetcarsoaklandairports

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