Light Rail

Light Rail: Biggest Challenges Lie Ahead

By Ryan McGreal
Published May 09, 2008

With the announcement by the city's rapid transit office that the public comments they've received have strongly supported light rail, we may be tempted to rest on our laurels and assume that LRT is a fait accompli.

To quote the inestimable Han Solo, "Great, kid. Don't get cocky!"

It's more critical than ever that we continue to spread the word about light rail: educate as many people as possible about what it is and how it works; counter misinformation (and disinformation) about its costs, performance and return on investment; address the negativity of people who believe Hamilton can never be a great city; work with the city to ensure they make prudent decisions about routing and system specifications; and reach out to people and groups who, until now, haven't been that interested in the subject but will sit up and take notice once they discover how big this plan is and how much it will transform the city.

As light rail gets closer to prime time, it will come under much closer scrutiny from every quarter, and it will be more actively opposed by people and groups who fear that it may hurt their interests.

Until now, we have mostly studied cities whose light rail projects have been successful. We also need to study cities that haven't enjoyed as much success, so we can understand what went wrong, avoid making the same mistakes here, and answer challenges that use these failures as examples.

We also need to continue working with the province to ensure that they keep their promise to pay the capital costs (and perhaps also provide more operations funding - possibly through the existing gas tax transfer).

In addition, we need to persuade the federal government to get on board and commit capital funding. This may be the hardest sell: over the past two years, the federal government has shown little interest in reaching out to urban voters or demonstrating an understanding of their values and needs.

Have no doubt: if we're going to do this properly, we need a federal commitment to support the project. The good news is that the feds have expressed some interest, but they seem to think the operating costs for LRT are higher than for BRT, and they remain cagey about how they will evaluate Hamilton's plan.

That means we need to communicate with our federal MPs, particularly those in the governing Conservative Party, to persuade them that this is an investment worth supporting.

In other words, our work of advocating for light rail has only just begun. The real challenges still lie ahead.

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Several of his essays have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. Ryan also maintains a personal website and has been known to post passing thoughts on twitter.

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By Al Rathbone (anonymous) | Posted May 10, 2008 at 01:10:16

I think the key is, to prove to the Conservatives LRT is more cost effective and will make more than a difference in transportation.

If you can write a speech for them to sell it to their base then give that speech to them, they'd be more likely to accept.

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By markwhittle (registered) - website | Posted May 10, 2008 at 15:33:32

If we go electric rail we could get Liberty Energy to produce the wattage necessary at their proposed waste to energy conversion utility which is zone approved on Strathearne Avenue. A win - win for all.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted May 12, 2008 at 08:28:01

I would support the Liberty Energy project if they committed to:

  1. Receiving all waste via rail or ship (NOT trucks); and
  2. Producing exhaust that's as clean as, or cleaner than, the ambient air.

As it is, the trucks delivering the waste would produce more air pollution - not to mention traffic congestion - than the operation itself.

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By Sludgewatch (anonymous) | Posted May 14, 2008 at 08:33:20

For your information, Ryan. As things stand now, the Hamilton sludge is transported by truck to places as far away as Michigan. Surely, that isn't good for the environment. I agree, rail should be considered, but anything would be better than trucking greater distances AND spreading sludge on food porducing land.

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By adam (anonymous) | Posted May 16, 2008 at 23:59:15

So what are some examples of LRT failures in the recent past? People should be educated on this so they can make an informed decision. Any ideas?

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted May 20, 2008 at 11:36:30

Adam, one example that sometimes turns up is Buffalo, NY, which build a LRT/subway system in the late 1970s / early '80s. Hamilton Light Rail has an analysis of some of the differences that help to explain its relative failure to spur economic development:

http://hamiltonlightrail.com/article/lig...

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