The last time trams ran through New York, the President was Dwight D. Eisenhower and man hadn’t even gone into space, let alone walked on the Moon. But following an announcement by Mayor Bill de Blasio last week, plans are in place for a new 16-mile tram line running from Astoria in Queens, tracking along the East River, passing through increasingly popular neighbourhoods like Williamsburg and Brooklyn Heights that are seeing “explosive growth” before finishing up at Sunset Park. Two years into Mayoralty, de Blasio had been more focussed on social projects than infrastructure but this announcement is line with a trend in the US for a return to tram / light rail networks. There are 16 tram networks currently in operation in the United States. Cities including Dallas, Denver and Portland have all recently engaged with this system in response to urban growth and changing focuses amongst citizens.
New York City was at one point bustling with trams, with over 100 lines in use at their peak but with the decommissioning of the last three trolley lines in Brooklyn in October 1956 an era came to an end. But the Big Apple is going back to the future with the $US 2.5bn plan for the Brooklyn Queens Connector (BQX) as it will be known, unveiled at the mayor’s annual State of the City Speech last week.
The line will run aboveground on rails embedded in public roadways and flows alongside automobile traffic – the route will be 70% on its own right of way and 30% in mixed traffic. This mix can and has proved problematic for some tram networks around the globe. Reports in the Financial Times state that it would be funded through taxes on developers along the new route and built by private contractors.
Mayor de Blasio at the announcement; “… the Brooklyn-Queens Connector, or BQX has the potential to generate over $25 billion of economic impact for our city over 30 years. New Yorkers will be able to travel up and down a 16-mile route that links a dozen waterfront neighbourhoods. The BQX has the potential to change the lives of hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers.”
With transport budgets still very limited in most US cities, light rail is an increasingly attractive option. Systems can cost as little as $15 million a mile and with high passenger capacity and low overheads operating costs can be kept relatively inexpensive. And unlike heavy rail systems, light rail vehicles can integrate with existing transport infrastructure, by allowing tracks to be laid alongside existing streets plus they also compare favourably to buses in terms of capacity.
If approved, as expected construction of the Brooklyn Queens Connector (BQX) would begin in 2019 with service starting in 2024 at the earliest.
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