Understanding Transit in Jax

May 1, 2009 8 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

From the Times-Union and City Councilmen to the average Jacksonville resident, understanding mass transit technologies remains a mystery. Here is an overdue review on mass transit technologies and how they may potentially play a role in the development of Jacksonville's future.

An Overview of Technology/Transit Services Alternatives and how they relate to Jacksonville

Image: NJ Transit (Regional Commuter Rail)

Due to the growth patterns, highway capacity constraints and financial realities in Jacksonville, mobility options such as premium transit must be considered. Premium transit services are those such as commuter rail, streetcars, light rail transit, bus rapid transit, express bus routes and other potential options.

Many of these types of transit provide higher quality, capacity and higher speed transit service, compared to regular fixed-route bus service.  These features make them much more competitive with automobile traffic in terms of travel time and with regular bus service in terms of attracting choice riders.

San Diego, St. Louis, Pittsburgh, Austin, Denver, Charlotte, Houston, Baltimore, and Salt Lake City are among the cities across the nation that have examined the use of existing rail corridors and parallel streets for developing new premium transit service corridors.

When contemplating a transit system, there are various considerations relating to technology and alignment. The decision relating to the location of the service depends on right-of-way availability, adjacent land uses, future freight demand and capacity for passenger service, and other considerations.

The decision on the type of technology may be established based on the varying characteristics of each technology, the desires of the community, and the available alignments. Additional criteria to consider when choosing a technology also depends on: capital cost, operating costs, service distance, station spacing, service frequency, capacity, power source, speeds, right-of-way requirements, vehicle life, accessibility, maneuverability, integration with other transportation modes, flexibility, etc.

Image: The EL in Chicago (Heavy Rail)



Image: Trinity Railway Express in Dallas (Commuter Rail) - source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:TRE_Train_F59PH_566_leading.jpg

Regional Commuter Rail is typically a diesel-propelled railway technology for urban passenger train service  An example of the use of this technology in South Florida is Tri-Rail.  This rail service may (or may not) share the use of freight railroad tracks, with locomotives pushing or pulling passenger cars, or with passenger cars that have internal diesel engines. Stations are usually 2 to 5 miles apart. The average trip lengths for commuter rail range from 20 to 23 miles.

Larger cities that run very frequent service on commuter lines will also employ electric trains for their increased acceleration capabilities and fuel savings.

Impact on Jacksonville:

JTA's Regional Transit Plan includes three regional commuter rail corridors.  One will utilize the CSX "A" Line to serve as a link between the Jacksonville Transportation Center (Downtown) and Clay County.  Another will take advantage of the FEC corridor to provide a direct link between the JTC (Downtown), Southside and St. Johns County.  A third could link Baldwin with Downtown, using existing track paralleling Beaver Street.

Potential Regional Commuter rail corridors highlighted in red.

Diesel Multiple Unit (DMU)

Image: Austin Capital Metrorail (DEMU Commuter Rail) - source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Downtown_MetroRail_station.JPG

Diesel Multiple Unit (DMU) is a form of regional rail transit that is self-propelled with rail passenger cars that have internal diesel engines. Commuter rail cars can also use Diesel-Electric Multiple Units (DEMU) for greater fuel efficiency. This option could utilize its own set of tracks or existing freight rail tracks, with a pre-arranged service plan to accommodate freight movements.

Impact on Jacksonville

JTA's commuter rail studies indicate a rail corridor using DEMU technology serving the Northside.  This corridor will take advantage of the city-owned S-Line corridor to connect the JTC (Downtown) with, Shands, River City Marketplace and Jacksonville International Airport.

The potential DEMU commuter rail corridor highlighted in red.

Typical Commuter Rail Characteristics

Capital Cost/Vehicle: $5 – 9 million      

Seated Capacity: up to 1,250 per train, depending on length.

Speed: Average 30 mph; Maximum 90 mph



Image: Washington DC Metro (Heavy Rail)

Heavy Rail Transit is an electric railway with the capacity for a heavy volume of traffic. The regional example is Metrorail in Miami. Others include Chicago's EL, New York's Subway, Atlanta's MARTA and Washington, DC's Metro. 

These systems use electric multiple units with steel wheels running on two steel rails. Power is commonly supplied by means of a single live third rail. It is characterized by passenger rail cars capable of high speed and rapid acceleration operating singly or in multi-car trains. Heavy Rail Transit requires separate rights-of-way from which all other vehicular and foot traffic are excluded and is generally characterized by station spacing between 0.5 and 2 miles; sophisticated signaling, high frequency, and invariably, high-level platform loading. The average trip length for the Miami-Dade Metrorail system is 6.5 miles.

Impact on Jacksonville:

Although these systems are typically used by rail opponent's population density and extreme cost arguments, there are no plans for heavy rail transit in the First Coast.

Typical Heavy Rail Characteristics

Capital Cost/Vehicle: $20 - 250 million      

Seated Capacity: 60 – 80 passengers per car, plus standees

Speed: Average 30 mph; Maximum 70 mph



Image: Buffalo Metro (Light Rail)

Light Rail Transit is a flexible transportation mode which consists of a system of lightweight passenger rail cars operating singly or in short, two-car trains, on fixed rails in right-of-way that may not be separated from other traffic for much or all of the way.

LRT can operate in mixed traffic on tracks embedded in the street (like streetcars), on an at-grade right-of-way with street and pedestrian crossings, or on a fully segregated exclusive right-of-way. A distinction of light rail vehicles is that vehicles draw power from an overhead electric line via a trolley or pantograph.

Station spacing can be .5 to 1.5 miles depending on the type of service being provided. The average trip length is 4.4 miles. This option could be built within the rail corridor where the light rail can be properly separated from the freight rail and there is adequate rail right-of-way. This mode generally cannot operate on the same tracks as Regional Rail service and must be separated, as well, from railroad freight service.

Image: Charlotte LYNX Blue Line (Light Rail)

Impact on Jacksonville: 

Though strictly conceptual in nature, light rail could become the preferred transit solution linking the JTC (Downtown) with the Beaches.

Potential Rapid Bus & Light Rail corridors are indicated in blue.


Image: New Jersey RiverLine (LDEMU commuter rail)

Light Diesel-Electric Multiple Unit (LDEMU) is a technology that allows an in-vehicle/on-board diesel-electric engine to propel a vehicle in a fixed guideway. An advantage to the in-vehicle option is the ability to power a light rail vehicle without the cost of overhead electric power wiring or poles. From a technology perspective, LDEMU and Light Diesel Multiple Unit (LDMU) are the same.

Impact on Jacksonville:

Although there are no plans for LDEMU corridors in Jacksonville, it is possible that this type of technology could be used as an alternative to running DEMU's on the Northside commuter rail corridor.

Typical Light Rail Characteristics

Capital Cost/Vehicle: $3 - 25 million

Seated Capacity: 150 – 300 per train/100 per streetcar

Speed: Average 15 to 25 mph; Maximum 65 mph



Image: Rochester, NY Downtown BRT corridor (Bus Rapid Transit)

Bus Rapid Transit is enhanced transit service using low-floor buses operating within a service corridor with a reduced number of stops (typically 1 to 2 per mile), expedited operating speed due to traffic signal priority favoring the buses, frequent service (often 5 to 15 minutes apart in peak hours).

BRT can operate on exclusive transitways, HOV lanes, expressways, or ordinary streets. A regional example of BRT is the South Miami Busway. BRT can consist of dedicated lanes for all or part of the route and/or elevated or even underground separated rights-of-way. The average trip lengths for BRT range between 4 to 6 miles. This option could be built within the rail corridor where the busway can be properly separated from the freight rail, and there is adequate right-of-way.

BRT can utilize various vehicle types and technologies. Some BRT use a Guided bus which can be steered for part or their entire route by some form of external trackway which parallels existing roads. The trackway is dedicated for bus use only and allows for high speed operation and reliable schedules. Small guide wheels are attached to the regular wheels of the bus. Other guided buses are steered on the roadway with new Guided Light Transit technology. This technology allows the bus to guide itself along the roadway following pavement marking detected by the bus.

There is a significant cost differential between LRT and BRT. The differences in cost are primarily a function of providing the electrical power for light rail as well as the higher cost of LRT vehicles. Due to the difference in the capacity of the vehicles, BRT is likely to have somewhat higher operating costs (more vehicles would be required to provide the same passenger capacity as LRT).

Light rail has demonstrated the capacity to support economic development and transit-oriented development in virtually every LRT system that has been implemented in the country in recent decades. To date, BRT systems do not appear to have as high of a potential to stimulate economic development as LRT. The size of the investment and the permanence of the infrastructure of LRT systems are cited as the reasons that LRT has a larger, positive impact on economic development than BRT.

Impact on Jacksonville:

JTA's BRT plans have significantly changed since being challenged by Metro Jacksonville. An expensive boondoggle in 2006, previous plans called for constructing dedicated busways that would run parallel to existing rail corridors, based on an argument that it would be cheaper than investing in rail.  These plans also included paralleling the skyway (competing for riders) converting Adams Street into a bus transit mall with buses coming along this corridor at a rate of one every 90 seconds during rush hour. 

It was successfully proven by Metro Jacksonville and the community that this plan would cost more than rail, yet not bring in the economic benefits associated with fixed route transit investment.

Today, JTA's BRT plans appear to be adjusting to reflect an express bus service that travels on existing streets.  What this means is a massive reduction in costs, which will free up limited dollars for rail investment while creating limited stop bus lines that serve areas not adjacent to rail corridor.

Potential Rapid Bus & Light Rail corridors are indicated in blue.

Typical BRT Characteristics

Capital Cost/Vehicle: $0.2 - 0.5 million-shared lane

$8 - 25 million-dedicated lane or guideway

Capacity: 60 - 100 per bus

Speed: Average 30 mph; Maximum 60 mph



Image: Express bus in Chicago (Express Bus)

Regional Express Bus offers flexibility in the location and level of service provided. Capital cost to expand service is relatively low. A wide variety of service types can be provided with buses used in premium service, such as express and limited stop.

In express or limited stop service, buses have very few or no stops between where passengers board and the end of the route. Park-and-ride lots are often provided for the users of express bus service. Service frequency can be changed to meet peak period, off-peak period and special event demand. Capacity is limited somewhat by vehicle size. Since buses operate in mixed traffic, it is hard to provide a travel-time savings versus travel by car.

Impact on Jacksonville:

As JTA's BRT network changes from an investment in busway infrastructure to a system that uses existing streets, this system will begin to blend in with the definition of Regional Express Bus service integrated with a few BRT characteristics (ex. traffic signal priority, reduced number of stops, modern stops, etc.).

Potential Express Bus corridors are indicated in green.

Typical Express Bus Characteristics

Capital Cost/Vehicle: $200,000 + (40 ft. urban bus)

Seated Capacity: 15 - 100 per bus (depending on vehicle size and type)

Speed: Average 35 mph; Maximum 60 mph



Image: A tram in Dublin, Ireland (Modern Streetcar)

A tram, tramcar, trolley, trolley car, or streetcar is a rail vehicle of lighter weight and construction than a train, designed for the transport of passengers on tracks running primarily on streets. Certain types of cable car are also known as trams.

Tramways or street railways were common throughout the industrialized world in the late 19th and early 20th centuries but they disappeared from most British and U.S. cities in the mid-20th century. By contrast, trams in continental Europe continued to be widely used. In recent years, they have made a comeback both in many U.S. cities and throughout the world.

Streetcars function as a short transit shuttle or connector, in contrast to the longer-distance commuter services typically provided by bus or other rail operations.

Streetcar trips range from a couple blocks to a couple miles, comparing to the average trip length for commuter rail, which ranges from 20 to 23 miles; light rail at 4.4 miles; and bus rapid transit, which is between 4 to 6 miles.

Source: http://www.peachtreecorridor.com/streetcar/

Image: M-Line Streetcar in Dallas (Heritage Streetcar)


Impact on Jacksonville:

JTA's transit plans include the development of a potential streetcar system that could connect Downtown with Springfield, Riverside and San Marco.  If Jacksonville decides to move forward with a streetcar system, it could become the major catalyst for enhancing the image, livability, tax base, population density and atmosphere of the urban core.

Potential streetcar routes are indicated in purple.

Typical Streetcar Characteristics

Capital Cost/Mile: $10 - 40 million

Seated Capacity: 30-125 passengers

Speed: Average 8 to 15 mph; Maximum 45 mph

Sources: Bob Mann, Transportation Consultant & http://www.okfgs.org/documents/maps/fw-d-stc.pdf




Image: Indianapolis Clarion Health Peoplemover (APM)

A people mover or automated people mover (APM) is a fully automated, grade-separated mass transit system. The term is generally used only to describe systems serving relatively small areas such as airports, downtown districts or theme parks, but is sometimes applied to considerably more complex automated systems.

The term was originally applied to two different systems, developed roughly at the same time. One was Skybus, an automated mass transit system prototyped by the Westinghouse Electric Corporation beginning in 1964. The other, called PeopleMover or Goodyear PeopleMover, was an attraction sponsored by the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company which opened at Disneyland in 1967. Now, however, the term "people mover" is generic, and may use technologies such as monorail, duorail, automated guideway transit or maglev. Propulsion may involve conventional on-board electric motors, linear motors or cable traction.

Some complex APMs deploy fleets of small vehicles over a track network with off-line stations, and supply near non-stop service to passengers. These taxi-like systems are more usually referred to as personal rapid transit (PRT). Other complex APMs have similar characteristics to mass transit systems, and there is no clear cut distinction between a complex APM of this type and an automated mass transit system. 

The greatest cost liability of monorails relates to their greatest inflexibility – their need to be built entirely grade-separated in some fashion, usually elevated. Even for comparatively small, light-capacity monorails, this means relatively huge, elevated stations, with elevators and, especially for higher-traffic locations, escalators. 

Source: Light Rail Now - http://www.lightrailnow.org/myths/m_monorail001.htm & http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/People_mover

Impact on Jacksonville:

A 2.5 mile monorail already connects the North and Southbanks of Downtown.  While the Skyway system would benefit from the potential short expansions, ultimate success will depend on Jacksonville's ability to establish regional commuter rail and streetcar routes to feed it with riders traveling from areas outside of Downtown.

Typical Urban Monorail Characteristics

Capital Cost/Mile: $70 - 100 million per mile.

Seated Capacity: 20 to 240

Speed: Average 25 to 35 mph; Maximum 45 mph

Source: 2001 Parsons Brinkerhoff JTA Technology Assessment Report


Article by Ennis Davis

**This article uses the SFECC Description of Conceptual Alternatives as a base for explaining various transit technologies that may become a part of Jacksonville's transportation network. 

The South Florida East Coast Corridor Study: