Public Interest Transportation Forum --

RTA Ten-Year Plan Approved by Voters Seems to Authorize Consideration of Monorail Technology as a Form of "Light Rail"

The RTA Ten-Year Regional Transit System Plan -- called Sound Move -- adopted by the RTA Board of Directors on May 31, 1996 and approved by Puget Sound area voters on November 5, 1996 contains language that provides ample authority for inclusion of monorail technology in the development of what RTA calls electric light rail.

By way of background, RTA has already dismissed monorail technology from consideration in the Final Environmental Impact Statement for the Regional Transit System Plan (March, 1993). Click here for details. In traditional transportation engineering parlance, "light rail" means dual steel rail and does not include "monorail" technology.

However, a close reading of the Sound Move document provides a different picture of how monorail technology should be considered by the RTA.

The text in green below was copied from the RTA web site version of the Sound Move Plan:

First, here is a quote from the Sound Move Plan that identifies what electric light rail means:

Electric light rail

The regional rail system technologies will generally have the following design and performance characteristics to achieve the system objectives to the greatest extent feasible.

Electric light-rail characteristics:

maximum speed - at least 55-65 m.p.h.

average speed - 25-35 m.p.h.

frequency - every 6 to 15 minutes.

power source - electricity

train capacity - 4-6 car train, at 125/car, or 500-750 passengers

facility capacity - 22,000 per hour, per direction

service capacity - 6,000-11,000 per hour, per direction

station spacing - 1 to 2 miles on average, closer in high transit volume areas

right-of-way - exclusive grade-separated and surface alignments, separated from traffic, with priority given with signals at grade crossings and intersections.

alignments - connect directly to centers and maximize pedestrian and transit access.

In this official statement provided to voters in 1996 there is nothing in the listed characteristics that precludes the use of monorail as light rail.

Next, the Sound Move plan contains this language about flexibility and cost effectiveness (italics inserted by Public Interest Transit Forum):

Implementing the plan in stages

The ten-year timeframe for putting the plan in place begins the day after voters approve funding for the new regional transit system. The plan that is presented to the voters represents the RTA's preferred system based on extensive system-level planning and public involvement conducted to date. As the RTA proceeds to more detailed planning and engineering levels, it will continue to identify and evaluate alternatives that might achieve the same system goals and benefits more cost-effectively.

Individual parts of the system will come on line as they are completed and the entire system should be up and running within 10 years. While putting each part of the plan in place, the RTA will use a variety of techniques to make sure that the system is developed and operated as cost-effectively as possible. Techniques could include: value engineering, citizen committees, technical review committees and expert review committees. As services begin operating, the RTA will monitor system performance and productivity and make changes to service plans when appropriate.

This official language is clear that early RTA choices can be modified to reflect new alternatives.

Finally, the Sound Move Plan contains this language on innovation. (Italics added by Public Interest Transit Forum):

Innovation fund

Since we live in an age of continual change, Sound Move provides flexibility to consider new ideas, services and technology innovations.

The RTA will evaluate and fund innovative ways to provide transit service, reduce dependency on single-occupancy vehicles, improve public transportation's cost-effectiveness, and better respond to customer needs. The RTA will evaluate technological innovations (alternative fuels and propulsion systems, quieter equipment, lighter vehicles, energy efficient engines, and ways to improve passenger comfort) and ways to reduce impacts on the environment. The RTA will also explore incentives and programs to encourage people to use regional transit more.

The RTA will work with the community and the private sector to take part in a demonstration of personal rapid transit (PRT) or other technologies. PRT is an experimental type of automated transit consisting of small cars running on a guideway carrying two to six passengers per car. The demonstration could show how PRT or other new technologies could be appropriate investments in future transit system phases.

It would seem that the RTA Innovation Fund could be properly devoted in part to an exploration of monorail technology.

Finally, Sound Move provides this commentary on citizen involvement in RTA implementation:

Public involvement principles

The RTA will work with local public transportation agencies, local jurisdictions and agencies to create an open public involvement process with ample opportunities to inform and involve the community. Citizens and groups will have extensive opportunities to interact with, and receive a response from, appointed and elected officials on issues of interest or concern. The RTA will ensure that:

One could say that the Seattle Monorail Initiative vote on November 4, 1997 -- YES 95,693 (52.56%) voting Yes and 86,369 (47.44%) voting No -- was a massive amount of public involvement that supplements earlier votes and meetings.

In summary, this language from the RTA's official plan provides clear authority -- one might even say clear direction -- to include monorail technology within the scope of light rail planning.

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This page was entered in early 1998.