Lyndon Henry is a writer, editor, investigative journalist, and transportation consultant currently based in Central Texas. He holds a Master of Science in Community & Regional Planning, with a focus in Transportation, from the University of Texas at Austin, 1981. From 1973 to 1989 he was executive director of the Texas Association for Public Transportation, and presented the original proposals and feasibility studies for light rail that led to the inclusion of rail transit in the Austin-area planning process.. From 1981 to 1985 he served as a transportation consultant to the Hajj Research Centre at King Abdul Aziz University, in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. He has also served as a transportation planning consultant on several other transit projects in the USA. In 1983-84 he was a member of the Austin-Travis County Transit Task Force which recommended a transit authority for the Austin area. That agency, eventually named Capital Metro, was created in 1985. From 1989 to 1993, Mr. Henry served as a board member and vice-chairman of Capital Metro. From 1990 to 1992 he was an Adjunct Faculty member at St. Edwards University, teaching a course in public policy. Since 2000 he has served as a technical consultant to the Light Rail Now Project, and from 2002 to late 2011 he served as a Data Analyst for Capital Metro in Austin. He is also a member of APTA’s Streetcar and Heritage Trolley Subcommittee and Light Rail Transit Technical Subcommittee.
Back about 30 months ago I explained why I, and a number of other rail transit supporters, were critical of a plan for "urban rail" then taking shape from the official planning process here in Austin, Texas. (See Austin LRT plan criticized ... by rail advocates.)
When a community decides that a new rail transit system is essential to meet its mobility needs, it's not enough to design a good project. You've got to find a way to finance it. Often, that means a public vote to authorize some kind of new financing mechanism.
For decades, even when it was designated by other euphemisms such as "enhanced bus", so-called "bus rapid transit" (BRT) was repeatedly hyped as a kind of interim service on the way to light rail transit (LRT).
It should come as no surprise that campaigns for new urban rail startup projects have been meeting stiff opposition in a couple of American cities. That's usually the case, isn't it? However, the efforts in both Cincinnati, Ohio, and Austin, Tex., are particularly newsworthy because they involve a rather surprising juxtaposition of project supporters and opponents.
Do the U.S. rail transit industry, Amtrak, and advocates of rail public transportation have a stake in the current Washington crisis over the federal budget and government shutdown? A stake in the looming crisis over threats to force a default on the federal national debt? Or is this mainly a fight over the Affordable Care Act with little relevance to other issues?
As I write this, it's been just a week since I returned from the recent annual Rail Transit Conference sponsored the first week of June by the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) in Philadelphia. It was an interesting event, with a lot I could report about, including my own presentation at the "Current Technology and Trends" session. But by far my most memorable experience was completing (or should I say "surviving"?) another of Tom Hickey's legendary multimode, multi-system rail-hopping tours — this one sampling 14 different transit modes or lines in the Philadelphia region, operated by three different agencies, in the course of 10 hours.
OK, one more leap into the briar patch of controversy over light rail transit (LRT) vs. Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), with a glance at diesel multiple-unit (DMU) light railway, and some observations about federal New Starts policies.
Listening to naysayers, and watching the efforts in Congress to defund Amtrak, you'd never realize that, as a regional and intercity mass transportation system, Amtrak is actually a top performer — setting new ridership records in eight of the past nine years.
Just over eight years ago I cooked up a new concept in rail transit that I called Rapid Streetcar. Since then, it's been attracting a lot of interest within the public transportation industry (although a lot of would-be "experts" using it as a buzzword don't always get it quite right).
Big D, here I come! On June 2, some colleagues and I will be rumbling (literally) into Dallas to attend selected events in and around the 2012 Rail Transit Conference of the American Public Transportation Association (APTA).
It's been a hard climb, but Austin's relatively small MetroRail transit service—built and operated since March 2010 by Capital Metro—is finally starting to prove its worth.
The good news is that fast public transport services are making a comeback in America's urban cityscapes, taking the form of electric light rail transit (LRT), regional passenger rail ("commuter rail"), and even Bus Rapid Transit. And Amtrak's intercity rail passenger services—which overwhelmingly use surface alignments through urban and suburban areas— may be gradually getting better in both speed and frequency on some routes in future years.
They've done it! On Feb. 17th, Cincinnati finally broke ground on its streetcar project.
Customarily, in almost any urban area, you'd expect your strongest rail transit advocates to be rallying around an official rail plan as it heads toward a possible ballot initiative. But in Austin, Tex., today, that's definitely not the case.
In case you haven't figured this out already, the urban rail transit mode currently in vogue these days is ... streetcars! And this is a good thing, because they were generally an extremely popular and cost-effective mode in their stride, and should never have been ripped out of North America's cities (or anywhere else for that matter). Big mistake.