It has been quite a while since I last penned an entry for this series. I've been swamped with work and also have focused on other topics for Track Twenty-Nine. Anyway, in this episode, my journey across the continent has reached the capital of Alberta and the end of my trip on Via.
Edmonton is a medium-sized city on Canada's plains. With one light rail line, it was my first chance to ride rail transit since leaving Toronto, some 2000 miles eastward. When the system was opened in 1978, it was the first city in North America under 1 million in population to build a light rail system. The system is one of the first-generation of modern light rail systems.
Unlike many light rail systems, in Edmonton, a subway was constructed downtown to keep transit riders from being stuck in traffic. While the outer segments of the line operate like typical light rail lines in North America, with grade crossings, the central subway certainly saves time.
In Baltimore, the north-south light rail was constructed in a transit mall, but cross traffic often delays trains. The Red Line is a proposed east-west light rail line through central city Baltimore with a proposed subway section in downtown. This is certainly a more reasonable approach to light rail, one I hope isn't killed by the "cost-effectiveness" criteria of the FTA.
Incidentally, another time-saving approach that Edmonton took was to make all stations high platform boarding. Without the stairs typical of earlier light rail systems (including Baltimore), passengers find it easier to board and alight.
I think Edmonton's approach demonstrates a foresight in transit planning which will benefit the system for years to come. Even though the system is still relatively small, the subway will make core capacity less of an issue as it expands. Costing less should not be the primary criterion for a good transit project, even though it seems to have been for many years in the United States.
Perhaps with an Obama stimulus package, we can build more of this sort of high quality transit investment.
Other modern light rail systems with downtown subways/stations:
- Los Angeles
- Saint Louis
- San Francisco
- Seattle (under const.)