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Kansas City Abandons Light Rail; Australian Rapid Transit Projects In Development

Kansas City abandons light rail for regional commuter systemProposed Kansas City Light Rail Map

In November, Kansas City voters abandoned hope for a light rail system by a 44-56% margin. There had been several efforts over the past few years to build a variety of lines, led by community organizer Clay Chastain, who in 2006 won an endorsement from voters for a 27-mile rail system to run throughout the city. In 2008, however, the city council decided on a $1 billion 14-mile north-south line (shown in the plan to the right) that would be sponsored by a 3/8¢ sales tax; voters obviously weren’t interested.

But now the area’s Regional Transit Alliance has decided to replace its light rail plan with a commuter rail system that would run using diesel locomotives on existing tracks. The Kansas City Star reports that Jackson County Executive Mike Sanders sees the commuter rail system as more ambitious than the previous light rail plan:

“If we’re going to have a mass transit plan, it needs to be regional so that we move the largest number of people where they want to go… Bigger is better.”

The irony of Mr. Sanders’ statement is that while an investment in commuter rail may provide longer lines spreading further out into the region, it would also almost certainly mean fewer riders. The fact is that commuter rail systems, usually running at inconvenient frequencies and stopping at stations more likely to be surrounded by parking than dense housing, do not attract the kind of patronage that a game-changing light rail network would. And while commuter rail would improve the mobility of a small number of the region’s suburb-to-downtown commuters, it wouldn’t help much in getting people in the inner city around.

Perhaps it is true that the population in Kansas City is spread out enough that citizens of the region are unwilling to agree to a sales tax for a central city-only light rail network, but the commuter rail network for which they might settle will change the travel habits of fewer people than a light rail system would have.

Australian rapid transit projects – in the Gold Coast and in Sydney – up in the air because of Labor-Liberal political controversies

The Gold Coast, Australia’s sixth-largest city located just south of Brisbane in Queensland, is planning a 17-km light rail transit system that would run north-south along the city’s trademark coast and then west to the Pacific Motorway. The city is increasingly dense along the waterfront but lacks any major mass transit option. The project has been supported by Australia’s ruling center-left Labor Party, but recently the coalition of the conservative Liberal and National Parties that controls Queensland has veered back and forth about whether to support the project, putting its construction into jeopardy.

The problem is that neither the national government nor the Queensland state have indicated the appropriate willingness to direct the necessary hundreds of millions of Australian dollars that would be necessary to get the light rail line built, even though everyone seems to agree that the Gold Coast is in desperate need of alternative transport options.

In Sydney, a similar situation is playing out. Late last year, the New South Wales government announced that it would fund the construction of a $4.8 billion new CBD subway in the city’s downtown area. The project would begin construction in 2010 and be completed by 2015. Now that the state government has begun property acquisitions, however, some local Sydney politicians have expressed their discontent about the project’s massive price, suggesting that a better use of the funds would be in an expansion of the city’s light rail network. The national government, however, sees the CBD subway as the first stage of a massive new metro system that would run to the Northwest quadrant of the city and provide much-needed traffic relief.

As of now, both projects remain funded but obstacles are likely to stand in their way in the future.

Image above: Kansas City Light Rail network plan (abandoned), from