Rail Users Network (RUN) 2015 annual conference in Los Angeles, March 27th

Los Angeles Metro Red Line (rail rapid transit). Photo: Eric Haas

Los Angeles Metro Red Line (rail rapid transit). Photo: Eric Haas

Rail Users’ Network (RUN), a group “representing rail passengers’ interests in North America”, will hold its 2015 national conference on Friday, March 27th, in Los Angeles. Billed as a “Making the Transition from Roads to Rail Conference” … “in what was once considered the car capital of the world”, the meeting will be held from 8:00am to 5:00pm at the Southern California Association of Government (SCAG) Offices, 818 West 7th Street, 12th Floor.

With a focus on examining “how Los Angeles is making the transition from roads to rail:, the conference will feature opening remarks from RUN chairman Richard Rudolph and Hassan Ikhrata, SCAG executive director. Other featured speakers include:

• Denny Zane, Executive Director of MoveLa — will describe his organization’s efforts “to build a powerful business-labor-environmental coalition” that worked to put Measure R (a half-cent transportation sales tax) on the ballot in 2008 and helped to win voter support.

• Arthur Leahy, LA Metro CEO

• Mark Murphy, Senior Vice President and General Manager, Amtrak Long Distance Services

• Christopher Coes, Director of LOCUS and a staff member of Smart Growth America — will give keynote address

The conference will include several panel discussions.

“Big Rail, Little Rail” (morning session) — “will highlight rail expansion and the emerging regional and inter-regional rail network.” Moderators: Dana Gabbard, RUN Board Member and Executive Secretary, Southern California Transit Advocates. Panelists include Eliza Echevarria, Community Relations Manager, Riverside County Transportation Commission; Raffi Hamparian, Director, Federal Affairs, Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority ; Michelle Boehm from the California High Speed Rail Authority; and Jessica Wethington McLean, Executive Director of Bringing Back Broadway.

How Transit Oriented Development has impacted the local economy (afternoon). Moderator: RUN chair Richard Rudolph, Ph.D. Panelists include Diego Cardoso, Executive Officer, Countywide Planning and Development, LA Metro; Roger Moliere, former Executive Officer for Real Property at LA Metro now currently serving as Senior Adviser at Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, LLP; Dan Rosenfeld, a private real estate investor who alternates between private and public-sector service, and Huasha Liu, Director, Land Use and Environmental Planning, SCAG.

“Best Practices for More Effective Advocacy” (third panel). Moderator: Andrew Albert, RUN’s vice chair and chair of the NYC Transit Riders Council. Panelists include Lynda Bybee, former Deputy Executive Officer, Community Outreach, LA Metro, past President of the Women’s Transportation Seminar; Jaime de la Vega, former Deputy Mayor for Transportation under Mayor Villaraigosa, former General Manager, Los Angeles Dept. of Transportation and former Board Member, Metrolink, and Darrell Clarke, who helped get the Expo Line started, and extended as far as Santa Monica.

“Multi-State Effort to Save the Southwest Chief: A Case Study in Advocacy” (final panel). Moderator: David Peter Alan, Esq., RUN board member and president of the Lackawanna Coalition. Panelists include Jim Souby, President, Colorado Rail Passenger Association, and J.W. Madison, President, Rails Inc., and RUN board member.

Conference participants will also have an opportunity to take an optional inspection tour of LA-area public transportation on Saturday, March 28th. This will include a “behind-the-scenes” tour of Union Station and Metro’s Rail operations center, as well as riding subway, “commuter”, and light rail transit lines in Southern California.

The conference registration fee is currently $85, or $90 “at the door”; this will include “a continental breakfast, lunch, afternoon refreshment break, the pre-conference reception, the optional inspection tour on Saturday (excluding rail/transit fares) and all conference materials/handouts.” For more information, visit RUN’s website:


New U.S. light rail transit starter systems — Comparative total costs per mile

LEFT: LA Blue Line train emerging from tunnel portal. (Photo: Salaam Allah.) RIGHT: Norfolk Tide LRT train on single-track railroad roght-of-way. (Photo: Flickr.)

LEFT: LA Blue Line train emerging from tunnel portal. (Photo: Salaam Allah.) RIGHT: Norfolk Tide LRT train on single-track railroad right-of-way. (Photo: Flickr.)

This article has been updated to reflect a revision of the LRN study described. The study was revised to include Salt Lake City’s TRAX light rail starter line, which was opened in late 1999.

What’s been the been cost per mile of new U.S. light rail transit (LRT) “starter systems” installed in recent years?

The Light Rail Project team was curious about this, so we’ve reviewed available data sources and compiled a tabulation comparing cost-per-mile of “heavy-duty” LRT starter systems installed in or after 1990, all adjusted to 2014 dollars for equivalency. (“Heavy-duty” distinguishes these systems from lighter-duty streetcar-type LRT projects.)

This is shown in the figure below, which presents, for each system, the year opened, the initial miles of line, the cost per mile in millions of 2014 dollars, and comments on significant construction features. (“RR ROW” refers to available railroad right-of-way; “street track” refers to track embedded in urban street pavement, almost invariably in reserved lanes or reservations.)


Major data sources have included TRB/APTA 8th Joint Conference on Light Rail Transit (2000), individual LRN articles, and Wikipedia.

Averaging these per-mile cost figures is not meaningful, because of the wide disparity in types of construction, ranging from installation of ballasted open track in railroad right-of-way (lowest-cost) to tunnel and subway station facilities (highest-cost). These typically respond to specific conditions or terrain characteristics of the desired alignment, and include, for example:

Seattle — While Seattle’s Link LRT is by far the priciest system in this comparison, there are explanatory factors. Extensive modification of existing Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel (and several stations) previously used exclusively by buses; tunneling through a major hill, and installation of a new underground station; extensive elevated construction to negotiate hilly terrain, major highways, etc.

Dallas — This starter system’s costs were pushed up by a long tunnel beneath the North Central Expressway (installed in conjunction with an ongoing freeway upgrade), a subway station, a new viaduct over the Trinity River floodplain, and significant elevated construction.

Los Angeles — The Blue Line starter system included a downtown subway station interface with the Red Line metro and a short section of subway before reaching the surface of proceed as street trackage and then open ballasted track on a railroad right-of-way.

St. Louis — While this system’s costs were minmimized by predominant use of former railroad right-of-way, a downtown freight rail tunnel was rehabilitated to accommodate the system’s double-track LRT line, with stations; an existing bridge over the Mississippi River was adapted; and significant elevated facilities were installed for access to the metro area’s main airport.

Hopefully this cost data may be helpful to other communities, in providing both a “ballpark” idea of the unit cost of new LRT, and a reality check of any estimated investment cost already rendered of such a new system. ■