CATS LYNX Blue Line Light Rail Extension, North Carolina, United States of America

North Carolina light rail

LYNX Blue Line Extension (BLE) is a 9.3 mile (14.9km) light rail project, which will extend the existing LYNX Blue Line operated by the Charlotte Area Transit System (CATS), in Charlotte, North Carolina, United States.

"CATS LYNX Blue Line, the first rapid transit line in North Carolina, was opened for service in November 2007."

The light rail extension will serve the north-east corridor, spanning from the city centre to the University of North Carolina (UNC) campus, Charlotte. Its construction is expected to start in late 2013.

The expansion will serve the present and future transport needs in the corridor and be a suitable alternative to automobile travel. It will also provide improved transit services to the UNC, as well as major activity centres in the region, while reducing traffic congestion.

The estimated cost of the LYNX Blue Line Extension project is $1.16bn. Construction of the light rail project is scheduled to start in late 2013 with its start of operational service expected by 2017.

North Carolina's first rapid transit line

CATS LYNX Blue Line, the first rapid transit line in North Carolina, was opened for service in November 2007. It is a 9.6 mile-long light rail line running from uptown (Seventh Street in the city centre) to the south end of the city (South Boulevard, near Interstate 485).

The existing Blue Line has 15 stations and is operated by a fleet of 20 light rail vehicles. The average daily ridership was initially 8,700 passengers, but has increased to 15,900 passengers.

History of the light rail extension project

The Blue Line Extension project was first proposed by CATS in 2002. The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) approved the preliminary engineering of the project in November 2007. The final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) of the project was submitted towards the end of 2011.

In December 2011, the Record of Decision (ROD) on the project was signed and issued by the FTA. The project's entry into final design was approved in July 2012. In October 2012, the project received the Federal Full Funding Grant Agreement (FFGA).

CATS LYNX Blue Line Extension details

The CATS LYNX Blue Line Extension (north-east corridor) will extend from the border of downtown Charlotte (Ninth Street in the city centre) to the UNC Charlotte campus. The 9.3-mile (14.9km) light rail line will pass through the North Davidson (NoDa) Arts District and University areas.

"The light rail extension will serve the north-east corridor, spanning from the city centre to the University of North Carolina."

Around three miles (the first five stations from the city centre to NoDa) of the new light rail line will be operated on a separate track in North Carolina Railroad Company's (NCRR) existing corridor. The remaining length will be operated along North Tryon Street (US 29).

CATS has signed lease, construction and operating agreements with NCRR and Norfolk Southern Corporation for the extension along the rail road corridor. The extension includes 11 stations and four parking facilities. All stations of the light rail system will have canopy coverage and covered ticket vending machines (TVMs). Most of the stations will have access to the CATS bus network.

The extension will offer two way improved connection between UNC Charlotte campus and the city centre besides improved transit services. It will reduce the cross-county travel of 20 miles to 47 minutes.

Funding and rolling stock

The FTA will fund 50% of the project cost. The State Full Funding Grant Agreement will fund 25% of the project cost. The other 25% will be met through other sources, including 1/2 Cent Sales Tax and north-east corridor infrastructure funds.

The line initially operated with 16 S70 Avanto vehicles, supplied by Siemens under a contract worth $52m placed in 2004. Later, in 2010, Siemens delivered four additional Avanto vehicles as part of an order signed in 2008.

The maximum passenger capacity of each car is 236 with a seating capacity of 68. The maximum speed of each vehicle is 105km/h, while the operational speed is restricted to 89km/h. The light rail trains run on power from a 750-volt overhead wire.

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