Sunday, July 17, 2011

Hamilton, Ontario - light rail project taking a long while to get up steam

Tranzwatching in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada

New light rail projects traditionally start at about $30 million a kilometre but can go much higher.

Inevitably they engender a great deal of opposition. As  rail of any sort is confined to narrow corridors many local taxpayers baulk at the idea of funding a system that they will rarely use, particular if the line goes nowhere near the normal path of their commuting journey.  On the other hand proponents claim light rail can generate much new development in cities where built.

Based on a 7% increase needed in local property taxes (in NZ jargon "rates") to help fund the single light rail line, the Waterloo Municipal Region Council in Canada recently voted to go ahead with a light rail  proposal.  An elongated area of three contingent cities Waterloo-Kitchener-Cambridge, with a rapidly growing urban area population of about 450,000, this is the smallest urban area anywhere in North American to build light rail.

The 19.1  kilometre line will cost $818 (including factored in inflation during the building period etc) to running on segregated lanes along conventional streets, and includes a Bus Rapid Transit between Kitchener and small less densely populated Cambridge. Although the BRT costs are not known it would appear LRT  costs will come into over $35 million Canadian Dollars per kilometre.

Another Ontario city, Hamilton (somewhat larger at around 700,000 metropop) has also investigated creating a light rail line through city areas.

These  extended debates appear to be very typical of light rail projects in countries outside of Europe, Asia and South America - countries comparatively low city, regional and national density; high car ownership and relative wealth and even income spread  (CANZ - Australia, Canada, New Zealand).

For the cost per kilometre to be matched by adequate patronage and other cost benefit ratios that make light rail viable  cities usually need big populations, or commuter rail dropping lots of people into city centres, big tax payer bases and/or high density residential areas - a combination rarely found in cities below a million in "CANZ".

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