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Sydney Politicians Disagree on Who Benefits From Light Rail

A train at Hua Lamphong Station in Bangkok (Photo by Ilya Plekhanov)

Our weekly “New Starts” roundup of new and newsworthy transportation projects worldwide.

Thai Government Finally Gets Going on Bangkok Orange Line
Railway Gazette International reports that the government of Thailand gave the go-ahead Dec. 8 for construction contracts to be let on the Orange Line, the fourth of a planned seven metro lines serving Bangkok.

The line’s first phase will run east-west across the capital city, extending 21.1 km (13.1 miles) from the Thailand Cultural Center in Huai Khwang district to Min Buri in eastern Bangkok. About 12 km (7.4 miles) of the line will run in subway and the rest on an elevated structure. The initial section will have 17 stations and service an expected 114,000 riders.

The price tag for the first phase of the Orange Line is 95.1 billion baht ($2.6 billion U.S.). Of that figure, 9.6 billion baht ($267.1 million U.S.) will be spent on land acquisition and 85.5 billion baht ($2.3 billion U.S.) on construction. The bill will be split between general fund revenues from the national government and loans to the Mass Rapid Transit Authority arranged by the Finance Ministry. Bids will be solicited beginning in May 2016, and the line is slated to open in August 2022. The project was delayed for two years by protests from residents along the line’s path.

A future second phase is planned as well.

Artist rendering of the new light-rail route through Parramatta, Australia (Credit: Transport for NSW)

Light Rail Announced for Western Sydney Hub; Local Officials Criticize Choice of Route
The Sydney suburb of Parramatta is quickly becoming the second city center for Australia’s largest city, and as with the first one, plans are being hatched to connect it with nearby districts with a light-rail network.

According to the Railly News, New South Wales Premier Mike Baird announced that the first of several light-rail routes centered on Parramatta will run from Westmead in the west to Strathfield in the east via the Parramatta CBD and Sydney Olympic Park. The 22-km (13.64-mile) line would also serve the Western Sydney University campus in Rydalmere and include a branch from the CBD to Carlingford that would replace an existing regional rail line.

“The light rail network will help Parramatta reach its potential as Sydney’s second CBD and be a major boost to existing public transport services in Western Sydney,” Baird said in his announcement.

But not everyone in the Parramatta area is on board with the route selected, according to News.com.au.

Councillor Scott Lloyd, the former mayor of Parramatta, is one of several elected officials who says the initial route is being built mainly for the benefit of developers instead of current residents. While Lloyd agrees that redevelopment of brownfields between Parramatta and Olympic Park was needed and would benefit the area, he said that such redevelopment would not come for at least five years and that until then the line would be a “white elephant.” He did, however, praise the inclusion of the Carlingford branch as laying the foundation for future light-rail growth.

Other local politicians also pointed out that the Parramatta-Strathfield line duplicates existing regional rail and ferry service and that it would be better to spend the $1 billion AUD ($720 million U.S.) the line will cost to build on transit service for currently unserved and underserved parts of western Sydney.

Sound Transit proposed a significant expansion of the Seattle area’s light-metro system. (Photo by Atomic Taco)

Seattle Advocates Propose Supersized Sound Transit Expansion
As Sound Transit prepares to ask voters to approve a 15-year, $15 billion tax package that would fund a significant expansion of the Seattle-Tacoma-Everett area’s evolving light metro system next year, a nonprofit advocacy organization is urging the agency to double down on a much more ambitious expansion plan.

Streetsblog USA reports that a volunteer nonprofit organization called Seattle Subway is floating a proposal for a system of six routes that would provide both a denser network of light rapid transit lines within the city of Seattle itself and service to more outlying areas than Sound Transit proposes with its “ST3” expansion plan, which is currently in a sorting-out phase where the agency is offering the public a chance to give feedback on several “candidate routes” that also include at-grade light rail transit, commuter rail and bus rapid transit service.

Seattle Subway, which says it “advocates for expansion of Seattle’s existing subway system,” proposes that the taxes be collected for 30 years, with the additional money going toward building its all-LRT proposal, which it has dubbed “STcomplete.” According to Streetsblog, the Sound Transit board may actually be giving the Seattle Subway proposal serious consideration.

There are some concerns that tax-averse voters might balk at a 30-year tax hike. Shefali Ranganathan, who headed the coalition that won passage of the taxes that funded the “ST2” package of LRT extensions now under construction, said that the board may split the difference and put a 20-year tax hike before the voters.

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