Barcelona Gets Driverless Metro Link to Airport

Plus Birmingham retrofits its new trams for off-wire operation, and more in in our weekly New Starts.

Passengers wait for the metro in Barcelona. (Photo by Miquel Lleixà Mora on flickr)

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

Barcelona Metro Reaches Airport
The westside line for the Barcelona metro made further progress this week when its second segment opened to El Prat international Airport.

Railway Gazette International reports that the 16.9-km (10.5-mile) Line 9 Sud connects Zona Universitària with the airport using fully automated trains running every four minutes at peak hours and every seven minutes during off-peak hours. The line has 15 stations, nine of which are interchanges.

The original Line 9, which opened between La Sagrera and Can Zam in 2009, has been renamed Line 9 Nord with the opeing of this second segment. The International Railway Journal reports that this is the first rail line to serve both airport terminals; an existing suburban service runs from the city center to Terminal 2.

The two Line 9 segments, along with Line 10 from La Segrera to Gorg, will ultimately form a 48-km (29.8-mile) north-south rail link serving the western part of the city and its suburbs. The segment that just opened cost €2.9 billion ($3.24 billion U.S.) to build; the projected cost for the entire west side line will surpass €16 billion ($17.87 billion U.S.). Work on the connecting segment has been delayed due to budgetary constraints.

According to RGI, Line 9 Sud expands the metro system serving the capital of Spain’s autonomous Catalonia region by 20 percent and brings the share of system route-miles operated with driverless trains to 25 percent.

Birmingham Trams Will Go Wireless
In order to avoid installing overhead catenary wire in front of its historic Town Hall, Centro, the transit authority that owns the Midland Metro light rail line in Birmingham, United Kingdom, will upgrade its 21-car fleet of CAF Urbos low-floor trams to permit wireless operation, the International Railway Journal reports.

The Birmingham tram (Photo by Tony Hisgett on flickr)

The cars will be fitted with rooftop batteries for power storage, which will in turn allow them to operate on a planned extension of the line they currently service. That line originally ran for 20 km (12.4 miles) from Wolverhampton to Snow Hill station in Birmingham; the line was extended to Bull Street in the city center last year and will operate to New Street Station later this year.

The batteries are intended to allow the trams to operate on a further extension of the line to Centenary Square in 2017. That segment would operate past Town Hall, and the batteries will allow the trains to operate wire-free past that building.

Centro says the trams could also operate without wires on three more planned extensions of the existing Midland Metro line, saving the agency £650,000 ($942,414 U.S.). Further long-term savings would result from eliminating the need to provide catenary on future new lines.

The cost of equipping the trams with batteries has not yet been determined. The Greater Birmingham and Solihill Local Enterprise Partnership will contribute £3.15 million ($4.56 million U.S.) toward the project, and UKTram, an industry association, will provide another £1 million ($1.45 million U.S.).

Virginia Beach at Risk of Losing State LRT Funding
According to a recent story in The Virginian-Pilot, if Virginia Beach puts a proposed extension of Hampton Roads Transit’s Tide light rail line into the city up for a referendum vote again, it will have to get back in line for $155 million in state funds to cover half the line’s construction cost.

State Transportation Secretary Aubrey Layne warned city officials that the money the state has committed to the project would go back into the pool of funds for high priority transportation projects if the referendum proceeds as at least three members of City Council intend.

Voters in the city approved a referendum in 2012 to approve “the use of all reasonable efforts to support the financing and development of The Tide light rail into Virginia Beach.” The referendum was connected to a $310 million plan to bring the line from the Norfolk-Virginia Beach city line into Virginia Beach Town Center.

Virginia Beach Town Center (Photo by BeyondDC on flickr)

Councilman Bobby Dyer, one of the three members pushing for the second referendum, said the promotional materials for the 2012 ballot question were confusing to voters and led them to believe they were voting only to study extending the line into the city. Thus he supports the second referendum.

But Layne wrote in a letter to Delegate Ron Villanueva, who represents a Virginia Beach district in the lower house of the state legislature, that the state’s new policy for allocating money to transportation projects requires the projects to be ready to go and not subject to further debate, because the state funding is intended to see the project through to completion.

Virginia Beach Mayor Will Sessoms, who backs the extension, said he would do whatever was needed to keep the state’s $155 million and would ask Dyer for more time. For his part, Dyer wrote in his letter that if the city did hold the referendum, it could apply for funding again in future years.

Know of a project that should be featured in this column? Send a Tweet with links to @MarketStEl using the hashtag #newstarts.

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: transportation spendinglight railairports

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