MRA Light Metro Project
Table of Contents
Welcome to the Metro Route Atlas's Light Metro Project! Inspired by Ritachi's Transit Reset project, this project has a very specific goal: for small and mid-sized cities in the United States of America, design a light metro and regional rail (if applicable) network for that city.
Why do this at all, given that these fantasies may never come true? The answer is fairly simple - because this exercise is about what we can do. Viewers may learn about cities that they aren't familiar with (and us too, given that we aren't familiar with most of these cities!), and residents may become inspired by seeing what is possible in their city.
Why Automated Light Metro?
The next question, likely to be asked by readers in the Americas, is why Automated Light Metro, and not, for example, Light Rail/Streetcar or Bus Rapid Transit/Arterial Bus Rapid Transit/other Bus Priority. The answer is that although much more expensive to build since it requires full grade separation, fully automated light metro systems have higher average speeds, reliability, and maximum frequency/capacity than surface light rail or BRT, and if built properly can scale up to demand with minimal increase in operating costs. It's also worth noting that when compared to adding lanes to a highway or building a new one, the space required is typically less (especially if elevated or tunneled), and the material costs for the guideway are similar.
With regards to average speeds and reliability, surface transit without absolute priority has to deal with intersections and potential intrusion onto the tracks by people and other vehicles - that limits the maximum capacity of the line since vehicles have lower average speeds and, in the worst case, red lights and wait time. It is generally understood that the maximum frequency you can have on a surface route without bunching lowering the speeds of all vehicles is dependent on the longest wait time on the route (typically a red light at a major intersection). There is also the risk of accidents shutting down part of the route or requiring detours/single tracking. This translates to slower and less reliable journeys (bad for the rider), and a larger number of vehicles required to run the same route at a given frequency (more expensive to operate). This latter point may not be intuitive - if for example a journey takes one hour and you have 15 minute frequencies, you need at least eight vehicles to serve this route. If the same journey takes 45 minutes, you only need six vehicles to serve the same route. This means that a faster and more reliable journey saves money for the transit operator, allowing for either lower costs, higher frequencies on a given route, and/or the ability to move extra drivers/buses to other routes.
As for the capacity perspective, the power of fully automated systems is based in service frequency not being tied to the number of operators. You do not need more drivers to operate more vehicles. A single car high floor automated light metro car is typically comparable in size and capacity to a bus, but the system can run 40 of them an hour for a similar cost as running 4 of them an hour (electricity/wear and tear are still higher when more vehicles are run). Compared to light rail, the vehicles may much smaller, but these high frequencies mean that you get equivalent or higher capacity than light rail but with much lower operational costs. When compared to grade separated portions of a light rail corridor such as those on Sound Transit's Link Light Rail, the upfront construction costs are also lower. After all, the vehicles are lighter (lighter and less expensive guideways) and the vehicles are shorter (smaller and less expensive stations).
This project assumes that very small (1-4 car 11-13m long) vehicles are running at very high (90 second to 3 minute) frequencies. Mitsubishi's Crystal Mover for example (note, the Crystal Mover is a proprietary gadgetbahn and is only being used as an example - please use standard technology to avoid vendor lock-in when you have to replace your vehicles in 30 years) is 11.2m long, 2.69m wide, and can carry 100 passengers per car - with a single car every 2 minutes, this comes out to 3000 passengers per direction per hour, with an incredibly short platform length. Frequencies (headways) can often be reduced down to every 90 seconds, and using two car trains bumps the pphpd up to 8000. If your city runs buses every 10 minutes on its busiest route, even a single car automated light metro line will have enough capacity for a few decades of growth in your city. That being said, fleet size should still be based off of expected ridership - maintenance costs are no joke - and smaller trains running frequently should be preferred over larger trains running less frequently.
As an example, think about your typical airport people mover, but using trains of similar or shorter length. That's the kind of scale of infrastructure being considered here.
Why Regional Rail?
Note to European and Australian viewers: 'Regional Rail' in the US refers to all day service between core cities and their suburbs. On this website, we typically use 'Urban Heavy Rail' for such systems that operate entirely as metro lines, and 'S-Train' for systems that have rapid transit style service in the core and low frequency branches in the suburbs.
The USA used to be a railway nation. This has resulted in lots of railway rights-of-way within cities. If the railway owners are willing, diesel multiple unit startups can be spun up that run every 15/30 minutes - even on single track with passing loops - for dirt cheap, as proven by Ottawa's O-Train Trillium Line.
On lightly used freight routes, the extra infrastructure to run this kind of service is minimal - mainly just a yard/maintenance facility, some short platforms, and a few small DMUs/DEMUs/BEMUs.
While most freight routes pass primarily through industrial areas and are not particularly useful for transit, short diversions away from the ROW and strategically positioned stations can provide significant benefit for an integrated transit network. For this project, it is assumed that railway owners have agreed to cooperate for all regional rail projects.
Which Cities Can Participate?
For this project, the following guidelines are in place:
- Your city must NOT have a metro, light rail, fixed guideway bus rapid transit, regional rail, or people mover network in operation, under construction, or approved by voters. This is not a Transit Reset project. With the exception of Orlando and Albany, these cities will not even be listed on this list of deprioritized cities.
- Your city must be in a United States Metropolitan Statistical Area with at least 350k people as of 2020. Fort Collins (the smallest city in the USA with an operational fixed guideway bus rapid transit line) is used as the cutoff point. Your MSA's core city must also have at least 100k people (or 100k combined between adjacent core cities).
- Cities which have built out a multi-line arterial bus rapid transit network are deprioritized and will likely not be covered at all since there are so many other cities on the list.
We are prioritizing mid-sized cities without arterial BRT or streetcar networks for the first few phases of this project.
We could make a fantasy map with more lines than practical, but we will not. Instead, we will allocate kilometers of double track based off of population. We are therefore using 1 km for every 25,000 residents for automated light metro. For regional rail, we will use 1 km for every 5,000 residents on existing rights-of-way and 1 km for every 25,000 residents for new-build right of way. Existing bidirectional all-day service (e.g. MBTA Commuter rail in Providence) will not count; service improvements to peak-only services will count. Existing streetcar and arterial bus rapid transit/bus priority services will be ignored entirely for this project.
If we choose to use other technologies (e.g. Gondola Lifts for crossing mountains), km/residents will be determined at that time.
Allocated kilometers are for infrastructure, not services. If two services share trackage, the shared portion will not be double-counted.
In almost all cases, we are making fantasy maps for cities we have never actually been to. We will do a best attempt at identifying good alignments, but all we can do is a best attempt. We will explain why we chose specific routings. In addition, although we specifically use automated light metro in this project, most alignments could be time-competitive with a modern tramway (light rail) or fixed guideway BRT instead for smaller cities.
There are some design notes to be aware of. First, the lines themselves. For the most part, lines we draw on the maps are expected to be elevated - this means they do not cut through buildings. There may be exceptions depending on geography. Second, we assume standardized prefabricated designs - all station structures therefore fit into specific categories and are functionally identical. And finally, we aim for proper networks. This means that we attempt to build cross platform interchanges (stacked or flat) and Washington DC style perpendicular transfers into the design, and consider branches and interlining as part of the network design.
Here we will have the list of cities in scope for this project.
City List and Roadmap
Our initial three pilot cities are medium-sized, with no existing high quality transit. They have existing rail corridors that can be used to calibrate our km:resident ratios for regional rail. After our pilot cities come cities picked from the big list, in a 'whatever sized city I feel like doing' order, with some variety in terms of size and city types to make things interesting (multiple cities of Florida suburbia in a row is not fun).
|City||MSA||MSA Population (2020)|
|Port St. Lucie||Port St. Lucie, FL||487,657|
|Fort Myers-Cape Coral||Cape Coral-Fort Myers, FL||760,822|
|Portland||Portland-South Portland, ME||551,740|
|Lansing||Lansing-East Lansing, MI||541,297|
Remaining Cities List (Prioritized)
This list contains all remaining cities under consideration for this project, in order from largest to smallest. These cities have no higher order transit under construction or in operation and are, for the purposes of this project, a blank slate.
|City||MSA||MSA Population (2020)|
|Sarasota-Bradenton||North Port-Sarasota-Bradenton, FL||833,716|
|Greensboro||Greensboro-High Point, NC||776,566|
|Colorado Springs||Colorado Springs, CO||755,105|
|Lakeland||Lakeland-Winter Haven, FL||725,046|
|Des Moines||Des Moines-West Des Moines, IA||709,466|
|Augusta||Augusta-Richmond County, GA||611,000|
|Palm Bay-Melbourne||Palm Bay-Melbourne-Titusville, FL||606,612|
|Pensacola||Pensacola-Ferry Bass-Brent, FL||509,905|
|Corpus Christi||Corpus Christi, TX||421,933|
|Fort Wayne||Fort Wayne, IN||419,601|
|Beaumont||Beaumont-Port Arthur, TX||397,565|
|Shreveport||Shreveport-Bossier City, LA||393,406|
|Davenport-Moline||Davenport-Moline-Rock Island, IA-IL||384,324|
|Ann Arbor||Ann Arbor, MI||372,258|
Remaining Cities List (Potential)
This list contains all remaining cities potentially under consideration for this project, in order from largest to smallest. They all have some form of arterial bus rapid transit/bus priority/streetcar in operation or under construction, but on a small scale. Cities connected by regional rail to other cities are also on this list.
|City||MSA||MSA Population (2020)||Existing/Under Construction|
|Cincinnati||Cincinnati, OH-KY-IN||2,256,884||Cincinnati Bell Connector|
|Providence||Providence-Warwick, RI-MA||1,676,579||MBTA Providence Line|
|Milwaukee||Milwaukee-Waukesha, WI||1,574,731||The Hop; MCTS BRT MKE (u/c)|
|Oklahoma City||Oklahoma City, OK||1,425,695||OKC Streetcar; EMBARK RAPID (u/c)|
|Birmingham||Birmingham-Hoover, AL||1,115,289||Birmingham Xpress (u/c)|
|Fresno||Fresno, CA||1,008,654||FAX Q|
|Worcester||Worcester, MA-CT||978,529||MBTA Framingham-Worcester Line|
|Omaha||Omaha-Council Bluffs, NE-IA||967,604||ORBT|
|Baton Rouge||Baton Rouge, LA||870,569||CATS BRT (u/c)|
|New Haven||New Haven-Milford, CT||864,835||Metro North; CTRail|
|Oxnard||Oxnard-Thousand Oaks-Ventura, CA||843,843||Ventura County Line|
|Little Rock||Little Rock-North Little Rock-Conway, AR||748,031||Rock Region METRO Streetcar|
|Poughkeepsie||Poughkeepsie-Newburgh-Middletown, NY||697,221||Metro North|
|Spokane||Spokane-Spokane Valley, WA||585,784||CityLine (u/c)|
|Santa Rosa||Santa Rosa-Petaluma, CA||488,863||SMART|
Remaining Cities List (Deprioritized)
This list contains all deprioritized cities for this project, in order from largest to smallest. These cities have arterial bus rapid transit/bus priority/streetcar networks. In all likelihood, we will never cover these cities as part of this project but they are included here for completeness.
|City||MSA||MSA Population (2020)||Existing/Under Construction|
|Orlando||Orlando-Kissimmee-Sanford, FL||2,673,376||Lynx Lymmo; SunRail|
|San Antonio||San Antonio-New Braunfels, TX||2,558,143||Via Prímo; ART (FTA CIG)|
|Memphis||Memphis, TN-MS-AR||1,337,779||MATA Trolley|
|Grand Rapids||Grand Rapids-Kentwood, MI||1,087,592||The Rapid|
|Albany||Albany-Schenectady-Troy, NY||899,262||Bus Plus|
|El Paso||El Paso, TX||868,859||brio|
|Reno||Reno, NV||490,596||RTC Rapid|