A Look at LRT: The St. Louis Metrolink

September 7, 2010 14 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

As JTA looks into investing our tax dollars into bus rapid transit at the expense of rail, Metro Jacksonville highlights one of America's most successful modern LRT projects: The St. Louis Metrolink.

About Metrolink

MetroLink (reporting mark BSDA) is the light rail transit system in the Greater St. Louis area of Missouri and Illinois. The entire system currently consists of two lines (Red Line and Blue Line) connecting Lambert-St. Louis International Airport and Shrewsbury, MO with Scott Air Force Base near Shiloh, Illinois through downtown St. Louis. The system features 37 stations and carries an average of 61,573 people each weekday. There have been over $15 billion worth of transit oriented developments near the system since it opened in 1993.

A second line, the "Cross-County Extension," now known as the Blue Line, opened to the public August 26, 2006. This 8-mile, 9-station line connects Washington University, Clayton, the popular Saint Louis Galleria shopping center and Shrewsbury to the system. Further extensions are under study, but no alignments have yet been chosen, engineered or funded.

MetroLink is operated by the Bi-State Development Agency, which since 2003 is doing business as Metro.

There have been over $15 billion worth of transit oriented developments near the system since it opened in 1993.

Prior to the opening of MetroLink from East St. Louis to Lambert Airport, there was little planning for development around the stations. Since its opening in 1993, there has been a significant investment in areas 1/2 mile or less from the station including more than $13 billion in investment:

The University of Missouri-St. Louis is making major investments near its two MetroLink Stations. The $60 million Touhill Performing Arts Center is the hallmark of a series of developments the University has made since MetroLink's opening. Also, there is the Telecommunications Community Center and the new $28 million Student Center. In addition, Express SCripts has relocated its headquarters to the UMSL campus opening up MetroLink as a commute option for many of its employees.

The Pageant Theater, the Regional Arts Commission headquarters and the redevelopment of the Wabash Station are all part of the redevelopment of The Loop under the leadership of Joe Edwards. The $12 million investment in the Tivoli and the Pageant are just the beginning for this area which is within walking distance of the Delmar MetroLink Station. Work is also underway to possibly link a trolley line with the Delmar and Forest Park MetroLink stations.

The Central West End MetroLink station is among the most used stations on the system with more than 4,500 boardings on a typical weekday. Among the developments occuring since MetroLink's opening is the major expansion of Washington University Medical Center including the Center for Advanced Medicine, the Siteman Cancer Center, and the St. Louis Rehabilitation Institute. A new hotel adjoining the Center for Advanced Medicine opended as well as the MetroLofts. Other projects include the Park East Tower and the Forest Park Hotel. The value of these improvements is in excess of $1 billion.

For full MetroLink Transit Oriented Development List: http://www.cmt-stl.org/metrolink/tod.html


Construction on the initial MetroLink alignment from Lambert-St. Louis International Airport to the 5th & Missouri station in East St. Louis began in 1990. The portion between North Hanley and 5th & Missouri stations opened in July 31, 1993, and the line was extended westward to Lambert Airport Main station in 1994. At that time another station, East Riverfront, was opened in East St. Louis. Four years later, in 1998, the Lambert Airport East station was added. The capital cost to build the initial phase of MetroLink was $465 million. Of that amount, $348 million was supplied by the Federal Transit Administration (FTA).

MetroLink exceeded pre-opening ridership estimates, but the system has expanded slowly. Construction on proposed extensions has been delayed by the increasing scarcity of FTA funds. As time has passed, an ever-greater share of the costs has been borne by state and local governments. The most recent work has been entirely funded by local dollars.

Construction on the St. Clair County MetroLink extension from the 5th & Missouri station to the College station in Belleville began in 1998 and opened in May 2001. The extension added eight new stations and seven park-ride lots. The total project cost was $339.2 million, with the FTA and St. Clair County Transit District sharing the burden at 72% ($243.9 million) and 28% ($95.2 million), respectively. Local funding was provided by the St. Clair County Transit District as a result of a 1/2 cent sales tax passed in November 1993.

In May 2003, a 3.5-mile extension from Southwestern Illinois College to Shiloh-Scott station opened. This $75 million project was funded by a $60 million grant from the Illinois FIRST (Fund for Infrastructure, Roads, Schools, and Transit) Program and $15 million from the St. Clair County Transit District.

The recent Cross-County Extension project was funded by a $430 million Metro bond issue. Metro cited repeated delays and cost overruns as its reasons for firing its general contractor in Summer 2004. The contractor, itself a coalition of four general contractors (Cross County Collaborative), in turn cited excessive change orders by Metro as the cause of the problems. After firing the general contractor, Metro functioned as its own general contractor on the project. Metro sued the Collaborative for $81 million for fraud and mismanagement. The Collaborative counter-sued for $17 million for work that Metrolink hadn't yet paid for. On December 1st, 2007, the jury voted in favor of the Cross County Collaborative, awarding them $2.56 million for work as yet unpaid for.

The rail portion of the extension opened to the public August 26, 2006, and a parking garage at the Brentwood I-64 station opened on June 12, 2007. The garage parks 1000 cars where riders can park for free.

On October 27, 2008, Metro renamed the two MetroLink lines using color designations: the Lambert Airport branch was renamed to the Red Line; the Shrewsbury branch, the Blue Line. Service was also extended on the Blue Line from its former terminus at Emerson Park to Fairview Heights. All trains have a red or blue sign on the front that identify the train as a Red Line or Blue Line train, and all operators make station announcements identifying the Red Line or Blue Line.

Rolling Stock

MetroLink operates a fleet of 87 light-rail vehicles composed of 31 SD-400 and 56 SD-460 vehicles. Each 90-foot, single articulated vehicle has 4 high platform doors per side and has a capacity of 72 seated and 106 standing passengers. The cars are powered by an electric motor which gets its electricity from a catenary wire with a 750 volt supply.

Each car has an enclosed operator cab at each end. This allows the most flexible system for managing operations, but prevents travel between cars except at stations. Each car also has separate doors for station level and track level access. In normal operations the track level doors (equipped with stairs) are unused.

The system also has two different railroad yards along the line for the storage and maintenance of light-rail vehicles: Ewing Yard is located between the Grand and Union Station stops just west of downtown St. Louis; 29th Street Yard is located between the JJK and Washington Park stops in Illinois. On October 27, 2009, Metro had recently opened a paint booth facility on the Illinois railyard in East St. Louis, IL.


MetroLink uses a proof-of-payment system. Tickets can be purchased at ticket vending machines at the entrance to all stations and must be validated before boarding the train. Effective January 1, 2009 (2009-01-01), the fares are as follows:

1 Ride Ticket-$2.25 (reduced fare-$1.10) (RAIL ONLY)
2 Hour Pass-$2.75 (reduced fare-$1.35)(Unlimited use on MetroBus and Rail for 2 HOURS ONLY)
2 Hour Pass from Lambert Airport $3.75 (Unlimited use on MetroBus and Rail)
One-Day Pass-$7.50 (Unlimited use on MetroBus and Rail)
Reduced fares can be purchased by seniors ages 65+, people with disabilities, and children ages 5-12. Children younger than 5 years of age ride free. Proof of age may be requested of all people riding with reduced fares. Weekly and monthly passes are also available in addition to the fares listed above.

Daily Ridership

Daily ridership numbers from a random selection of light rail and streetcar systems.

231,200 - MBTA (Boston, MA)

86,100 - Trolley (San Diego, CA)

57,700 - DART (Dallas, TX)

48,000 - Metrolink (St. Louis, MO)

43,100 - UTA TRAX (Salt Lake City, UT)

35,100 - METROrail (Houston, TX)

19,200 - LYNX (Charlotte, NC)

15,000 - RTA Streetcars (New Orleans, LA)

1,000 - TECO Line Streetcar (Tampa, FL)

Source of system map: http://www.lightrailnow.org/facts/fa_stl-lrt_2006-map.htm

Article and photos by Ennis Davis