I had an occasion to be in Phoenix, Arizona last week. It was about 107 F (42 C), but, as they say, it was a "dry" heat! Well, dry or not, it was hot!
Phoenix has a relatively new light rail system and I decided to explore it. The public transportation system in the Greater Phoenix area is run by Valley Metro. The core of the system are the bus routes and the light rail line. The light rail line was opened in 2009 and extends over 20 miles from Tempe to the northern part of downtown Phoenix. When the light rail line was proposed the usual bunch of NIMBYs and naysayers suddenly came out of the wood work. The negative predictions ran the whole gamut. From the benign: "it will never work", to the rather more unsettling statement that the line would bring in "undesirable people"! Suffice it to say that the light rail line has vastly exceeded everyone's passenger number and revenue projections. Even the most ardent supporters have been pleasently surprised.
Just last Wednesday the go ahead was given to start building and to extend the line by 11 miles to western Phoenix. Other extensions are on the drawing board.
Valley Metro uses Kinkisharyo light rail vehicles. Each unit has three sections and is about 75 percent low floor. From what I saw they tend to run in formations of two units. Gauge is standard gauge at 1435 mm or 4 foot 8 1/2 inches.
The vehicles run on 750 Volt DC overhead and electricity generated by braking is fed back into the overhead. The catenary seems a bit heavy duty to me and I have seen more aestetically pleasing catenary systems in other places.
The right-of-way is all separated from the automobile traffic. This is done via a six inch barrier next to the track right-of-way. Top speed is 40 miles an hour. The track itself is continously welded and laid in concrete. It's a really smooth ride!
The units have control cabs at both ends. What I found particularly interesting is the fact that the speed control is incorporated into the operators seat.
There are cameras mounted on either side of the train to give the operator a view of all the doors. The doors can be opened by the operator, or, very European like, by passengers pushing a button incorporated into the doors. Tickets must be purchased before boarding. All stations have ticket machines and to my great surprise they were all functioning.
One ride is $1.50 regardless of distance traveled.
Anyone who reads this blog knows that I am a real stickler for proper passenger information. Valley Metro does this well. There are automatic station announcements that one can actually understand and there are scrolling LED screens showing the next stop. (Anybody from the DC Metro reading this?)
Service is in 15 minute intervals and runs from about 04:30 am to 00:45 am.
Nice system. But I hate the "all over" advertising wrap! And one final thought: I wish we could send all the whiny naysayers in DC to Phoenix to take a look.
A short video of Valley Metro: