Why doesn’t anyone, anywhere in the US run express light rail?
There’s nothing inherent about US LRT technology which says every train has to run the same stopping pattern all of the time. Sidings and pullouts and overtake points are entirely possible. Just how many different services can you pack ontoa double track rail line? Watch Japan:
That’s a Keihan 7000-series overtaking what looks like a refurb 2400 series on the far side of the platform. Local shows up, express shows up a minute later, express takes off, local follows. I’ve actually seen a video of a four-train meet at this stop – NB and SB locals arrive within 30 seconds of each other, NB and SB expresses show up simultaneously, expresses depart, locals follow.
North American operators probably won’t feel comfortable with the tight, exact headways of a suburban Japanese railway, but the basic principle still works. THe local just needs to wait for perhaps 5 minutes instead of 2.
Where would this work? One system which would be particularly suited to express LRT is this proposal for Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill.
The system as currently drawn has massive redundancy. The Raleigh-Cary side is 18 miles, and a full 10 miles of those directly parallel the commuter rail, from West Morgan to Cary Parkway. Likewise, the Durham-Chapel Hill side is 17 miles, and 4 of those are parallel to the commuter rail. The distance between endpoints for the LRT is 15 miles.
Why not just build a single-track LRT track in between cities? Run LRVs on commuter rail frequencies in between the cities, run them on typical LRT frequencies within. Same service plan, but a single technology. A schematic track map could look like this:
Midday operations might work like so. Trains originate at Northeast Center every 15 minutes. Every other train becomes an express from Downtown Raleigh to Cary Parkway, stopping only at NCSU and Downtown Cary. Meanwhile a “shorty” local train originates in Raleigh one minute after the express leaves and runs the rest of the way to Downtown Cary. This keeps 15-minute service at all local stops.
While the locals turn back at Cary Parkway, the expresses would continue, through Research Triangle Park, all the way to Durham/Alston, where they would revert to locals and run to UNC, allowing a single-seat ride from Raleigh and points Northeast to Durham-Chapel Hill. Durham-Chapel Hill locals would also originate at Alston on a staggered 30-minute frequency to retain 15-minute coverage over that portion of the line.
This plan would provide 15-minute service over the LRT segments and 30-minute service over the “commuter rail” segments, while connectiong Northeast Center to UNC with a single-sea ride of about 75-80 minutes in length. Not bad, for a trip that’s 35 miles even via the most direct auto route.
An additional possibility arises once you define UNC-Durham-Raleigh as a single continuous line, since it’s rather indirect for end-to-end trips. For a starter line, that’s great… but with a single-technology system, you can add shortcuts and expansions later.
The purple cutoff represents a bee-line UNC-NCSU service, with redundant trains south of Metro Center used to provide a direct airport connection. Sticking with a single technology allows interconnected rail systems to be developed much like a big train set. Buy the basic kit with oval of track and sleek locomotive, then add variations for an even more fun setup!
But you can’t do this if you’re starting out with some balkanized set of incompatible modes. You have to start with a commitment to Express Light Rail. But no one’s done it, anywhere, in the entire US – at least in modern times.