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How about a modern light rail car demo on the Madison Ave. line?

August 2005

The Light Rail Now! Publication Team.

Apparently faced with public confusion and ambivalence over their plans for a modern regional light rail transit (LRT) system, officials of the Memphis Area Transit Authority have announced plans to launch a marketing effort to attract support for such a system. Recently, a majority of the City Council narrowly defeated an effort to delete funds for the LRT plan from the city's capital improvement budget. MATA president and general manager William Hudson warned that the vote demonstrates that MATA and other local officials must do a better job of educating the public on the project, according to the Memphis Commercial Appeal (5 August 2005). "The fact of the matter is, we've got to go back to the community and see if they support it" Hudson emphasized at a meeting of a regional rail steering committee a few days ago.

As the Commercial Appeal notes, the proposed $400 million LRT system would connect the downtown area with Memphis international Airport and other employment centers. The US federal government, it's hoped, would provide half the funding, with the state and city splitting the remainder of the project cost.

A Memphis Business Journal article (15 July 2005) provides further details, noting that MATA is proposing two route alternatives to the airport: "Alternative 1 would go east on Madison before turning south on Cooper, east on Young and then making the final trip south on Airways. Alternative 2 would follow Pauline to Lamar, where it would connect with Airways." The Journal further points out that "The route along Madison could merge three entertainment and shopping districts – Downtown, Overton Square and the Cooper-Young neighborhood – with three employment districts – Downtown, the medical district and the airport." On the other hand, "the other route could help revitalize part of the economically depressed Lamar corridor while connecting the employment centers."

During the recent rail committee meeting, committee members said the public should be adequately informed about the economic benefits that other cities have enjoyed after installing LRT systems. They also noted that "many Memphis-area residents tend to confuse the higher-speed light-rail systems with the slow-moving Downtown trolley", according to the newspaper report.

The heritage streetcar system consists of an enlongated loop in and around the CBD plus a perpendicular line, opened in April 2004, along Madison Ave. between downtown and the Medical Center area (see map and additional information in Memphis: Medical Center heritage trolley extension opens as planners eye modern LRT). The latter route was constructed to modern LRT standards with an eye to future joint use by the heritage trolleys and an eventual modern LRT system.

However, the rail trolley circulator system has become a target of criticism because of poor ridership – during its first year, the service averaged slightly over 500 rider-trips a day. This and other evidence of poor trolley system performance, the Commercial Appeal editorialized (30 April 2005), "are points City Council members need to consider carefully before moving forward with a plan to extend light rail service to the airport."

These issues have prompted some observations from Frank Miklos, a retired New Jersey Transit professional and longtime leading member of the Electric Railroaders Association. "The only thing that the Memphis voters have to ride are the slow-moving downtown trolleys" Frank points out. He contiues with a suggestion:

If MATA is really serious about going to the voters with a plan for light rail, they should consider borrowing a modern LRV [light rail vehicle] from another system for demonstration rides. The new extension [on Madison Ave.] to the Medical Center would be an appropriate venue for such a demonstration ride. Otherwise, I fear the voters will only be influenced by the existing rolling stock which is great for a vintage line, but not even close to modern light rail standards.

Sounds like a worthy idea to us.

Memphis Current Operations

John Smatlak - RPR Consulting

The Memphis trolley system is operated by the local transit agency and currently transports more than 800,000 passengers a year over three lines radiating from the downtown area. Conceived as part of a plan to resuscitate a failing pedestrian mall in a fading downtown, the trolley has grown into an effective transit circulator system. The 2.5 mile Main St. Line line opened in 1993 and travels the length of Main St., linking the South Main and Pinch historic districts with numerous downtown attractions. The 2 mile Riverfront Trolley Loop connects together the two ends of the Main St. Line, primarily using a railroad right-of-way shared with Amtrak. The 2.5 mile Madison Line opened in 2004 and was intended as the starter line for a future light rail system. Service is offered 7 days a week, and the base fare is One Dollar, with a lunchtime fare of 50 cents. An all-day pass is available for $3.50, or a 3-day pass for $8.00.
Main St. Trolley: This double track line has .8 miles of track on an exclusive trolley/ pedestrian mall, with the remainder sharing the street with traffic. Boarding is at street level, via rather elaborate stations which project out from the sidewalk. Initial cost was $34.9 Million, $3 million of which was vehicle costs. Funding was 77.2% Federal, 7.1% State, 7.1% City and 8.6% private. In 1998, MATA completed its $5.4 Million North End Terminal project, providing parking and transfer facilities between bus and trolley lines.

Riverfront Trolley Loop: In 1997, another 2 miles of parallel line (with 6 stations) was opened, primarily on a double-track railroad right-of-way running along the edge of downtown close to the Mississippi River. One of the tracks is dedicated to MATA use, and the other to Amtrak. Riverfront cars operate in a one-way loop, using the Main St. Line as one leg of the circle. Project cost was $9.4 Million.

The infrastructure for both the Main St. and Riverfront lines is quite impressive. The .8 mile Main St. trolley/pedestrian mall features a track area covered with paving blocks and sidewalks paved with bricks in attractive herringbone patterns. A line of reproduction light poles runs down the middle of the street, also equipped with bracket arms to support the trolley wire. The tops of many of the poles are also equipped with lighting units that provide for night-time illumination of adjacent building facades. The steel and concrete waiting shelters are all built to a common theme, and present an attractive appearance. Benches, planters, information kiosks, and other pedestrian- friendly features line the length of the mall, and there is also a booming horse and buggy business. The "Main Street Trolley" logo appears on all of the stations on the mall as well as on the street signs themselves.

Equally impressive is all of the development going on around the trolley lines. On Main St., a great deal of commercial development is apparent along the tracks. Although there are still many vacant storefronts, there are also plenty of rehabilitated historic buildings as well as significant new construction. Along the Riverfront line there are great number of new homes in evidence as well as a flurry of loft conversions underway in some truly incredible historic industrial buildings. The Memphis Center City Commission values the current building boom at over $2 billion dollars.

Madison Avenue Line: In March 2004, MATA opened a 2.5 mile extension on Madison Avenue, connecting the existing downtown system with the Medical Center complex, thus linking the city's two largest employment centers by rail. The line operates in mixed traffic along Madison Avenue generally on tracks located in the inside travel lanes. The extension included two major bridge projects. The first was comprised of two new rail-only bridges at Danny Thomas Blvd. (one on each side of the existing street bridge) and the second was a reconstruction of the existing bridge at I-240, with tracks placed on the bridge. The line adds six new stations and a small park-and-ride facility at the eastern terminus. Five of the six stations are located in the center of the street, and all feature platform based lifts to accommodate wheelchairs.

The Gomaco Trolley Company won a contract to refurbish three additional vintage trolleys for use on the line, and to supply one new replica trolley. An upgrade to light rail vehicles is planned when the new LRT system comes on line. The project is proposed as the last segment of the downtown rail circulation system as well as the first segment of a regional light rail line.

Total cost of the Madison Avenue Line was $60 million with eighty percent (80%) of the funding provided by the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) and the remaining 20% split between the City of Memphis (10%) and the Tennessee Department of Transportation (10%).








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