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Portland WES Opens; BART Signs up for Wi-Fi; L.A. Gold Line Nears Completion; Milwaukee Studies Streetcar

Portland’s Westside Express Service Begins Operations TodayPortland Westside Express Service

The Tri-Met WES, which is a 14.7-mile commuter rail line from Beaverton to Wilsonville in Portland’s western suburbs, will open today for its first commuters. The project allows diesel multiple unit trains to run the route in less than 30 minutes, stop at three new intermediate stations, and connect to MAX light rail service in Beaverton. What’s perhaps most exciting about the service is that it will offer free Wi-Fi in trains, something no other commuter rail service offers in the country making it the second commuter rail line in the country to offer such a service.

WES hasn’t been without its problems, however. Tri-Met had to acquire Colorado Railcar, the equipment maker, to prevent it from going belly-up before the trains had been built. And WES won’t be providing the best service in the world, either. It’s a commuter line, not designed for carefree use, and it will only run every thirty minutes between 5:30 and 10 am in the mornings and 3:30 to 7 pm in evenings, only on weekdays.

Tri-Met expects 4,600 daily riders by 2020, though with such limited service, one wonders whether or not that’s a realistic estimate.

BART Expects to Have Wi-Fi on Trains by 2011

WES won’t be the only system in the country (of two) with mobile internet access, however, if BART has its way. The heavy rail system serving San Francisco and the Bay Area has signed a contract with Wi-Fi Rail, Inc. to provide for wireless internet use along the entire system within three years. The company will hold the contract for 20 years.

The system is currently being tested in the downtown San Francisco stations and will work even when trains reach their maximum speeds of 80 mph. Though that service is being provided for free, eventually users will be charged to use their computers and smartphones on the trains if they want to use the internet for more than three and a half minutes (including 30 seconds of ads). Charges for subscribers will be about $6 for two hours, $9 a day, $30 a month, and $300 a year, a good deal for commuters but terrible for everyone else.

L.A. Gold Line Extension Almost Ready for Service

Los Angeles is just months away from the opening of its newest light rail line, the $900 million Gold Line extension from downtown’s Union Station to East L.A. The 6-mile-long project has been under construction since 2004 and includes a significant tunnel under Boyle Heights. It is to be opened for riders later this year, though a specific date has not yet been set because the project is coming in early and below budget.

Now comes news that the entire track has been completed and that a light rail train has been pushed along the system successfully. The tracks will be tested over the next several months to ensure safety for riders.

Milwaukee Considering whether to Invest in Streetcars or Express Buses

Milwaukee, Wisconsin’s largest city, is considering how to invest in its transit future with the Milwaukee Connector study. A series of meetings will be held this month to get citizen input in the potential improves in mass transit, which may provide service along the following corridors:

  • A streetcar within downtown Milwaukee
  • Bus rapid transit from downtown north to the University of Wisconsin; west to the Milwaukee County Research Park; northwest to Midtown Center; and south to the airport
  • Bus rapid transit from Bayshore Town Center south along 27th Street to Northwestern Mutual Franklin Campus

The team wants to apply for a Federal Transit Administration Small Starts grant, which goes for projects worth less than $250 million, so the study will focus in on how that money could be best used. The city currently has $91 million in federal transportation dollars at its disposal and the Small Starts grant could provide another $75 million if the city’s application is successful.

But there’s some controversy about what mode of transit would best suit the city. Whereas Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker has suggested the best possible use of money would be in bus lanes, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett has campaigned for a downtown streetcar and fewer bus lines. The study will help gauge citizen interest and preferences.

Image above: WES Colorado Railcar Train, from Tri-Met

6 replies on “Portland WES Opens; BART Signs up for Wi-Fi; L.A. Gold Line Nears Completion; Milwaukee Studies Streetcar”

I take a bit of a exception to the criticism of WES’s limited service. The idea is that the WES will provide an alternative to the clogged Highway 217….which isn’t clogged on the weekends anyway. The current transit alternatives are paltry for that route and I get the sense many people are just dying to get out of their cars. Furthermore, it’s reaching areas of very cheap commercial real estate and I do believe they’re expecting transit-oriented development as there has been along the Hillsboro – which will also continue because it gives access to relatively cheap residential real estate.

It’s super cool – reaching 60 mph between stops and there are expected network effects from the way easy connection to TriMet’s Light Rail and by 2020, the network will be even larger which should improve ridership through out the network. MAX is adding a new arm this fall and there is another one in the planning phase to be opened 2011.

My hope is that as the suburban corridor continues to fill in with population and development (and man is it growing) they will expand service to at least a few on the weekends.

Because then I can go to Fry’s Electronics without my car!!!

Sorry, Allison. A few token WES trips a day won’t motivate anyone to go to Fry’s without their car, expect maybe as an excursion for transit-addicts. It’s been shown repeatedly that if you want transit to really support transit-dependent lifestyles, the service needs to be there at reasonable frequency all day, which WES will probably never be.

One serious risk presented by WES is that by creating a “line on the map,” it will give elected officials the impression that the Beaverton-Tigard-Tualatin corridor now has adequate rapid transit service. As it stands, the local Route 76 bus is still the only way to travel this corridor at most times of day.

Yonah, I think you can afford to be a little more opinionated about the Milwaukee debate. If a debate has gotten framed as steetcar vs BRT, then the situation’s already deeply confused. These technologies have completely different purposes and are suited for completely different types of corridors.

A more rational approach to their debate would be to as first, what kind of mobility do we need in each corridor (as measured in speed, frequency, reliability, capacity) and then, what technology is best suited to provide that mobility.

Fantasic system, a few trips in the morning and a few in the afternoon. Millions of hungry people all throughout Portland, Oregon, USA and the world, but we need a rail system costing millions of our dollars for a few morning and afternoon trips.

God Bless America and God Bless Central Valley Bapist Church

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