Private: The Tide Light Rail Launch Date Is Set for August 22nd

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Private: The Tide Light Rail Launch Date Is Set for August 22nd

The TideWe are finally here. On August 22nd the light rail will officially open for business in Norfolk.

By Debbie Messina
The Virginian-Pilot
© June 21, 2011

After a year and a half of delays, passengers can finally board The Tide light-rail line Aug. 19 for a free three-day preview before regular paid service begins Aug. 22.

Hampton Roads Transit President and CEO Philip Shucet said he’s confident that the $338 million system will be ready.

The Tide, which is $106 million over budget, has had three previous opening dates that were missed.

Shucet said the free rides Friday through Sunday are to “promote and celebrate the opening and to get people accustomed to boarding the trains.”

Beginning that Monday, Aug. 22, passengers must pay $1.50 to ride. Daily ridership is estimated to be 2,900 the first year of operation and 7,200 in 20 years, though HRT officials believe the numbers are low considering recently launched light-rail lines exceed projections.

The latest delay in opening the system was because of issues with getting the safety signal and communications systems ordered, installed and tested. Those systems are designed to avoid collisions between trains and vehicles.

Shucet said that work has now been completed successfully.

In preparation for the August opening, light-rail trains will run with increasing frequency this week and will begin running at regular intervals next week to complete staff training and work out any remaining bugs.

“I’m satisfied we are where we need to be to safely begin pre-revenue operations,” Shucet said.

Despite announcing mid-August opening dates, Shucet is not backing away from an internal deadline of finishing work Aug. 1.

Between now and August, HRT must still complete light-rail operator certifications; monitor and adjust signaling and timing systems that balance rail operations and traffic flow on city streets; and finish construction of the three park-and-ride lots at Ballentine Boulevard, Military Highway and Newtown Road.

HRT is urging motorists and pedestrians to be aware that trains will be running on downtown tracks that they’ve become accustomed to seeing empty. That’s especially critical at several downtown locations where trains and cars share the same space.

New traffic signals and instructional signs are in place to guide motorists and pedestrians downtown. In recent weeks, rumble strips and speed bumps were added at critical spots to help keep drivers in the proper lanes. Posts will be added as well.

On the east end of the line, intersections are controlled by gates and bells.

“The alignment is where it is; unfortunately there’s nothing for us to do about that,” said Shucet, who was hired midway through construction to complete the job and control costs. “We’re doing everything we possibly can to make it safe.”

Starting Monday, the trains will run simulated schedules, which means every 10 minutes during peak hours and 15 to 30 minutes at other times.

Operating hours will be 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 6 a.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday, and 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday.

During that testing period, various situations will be simulated to train light-rail operators and control-room staff to respond appropriately to avert mishaps. They include traffic signal outages and vehicles stopped on tracks at intersections, both of which occurred Monday just before trains passed through town.

“We’re going to simulate everything that’s likely to happen when we open,” said Jim Price, HRT’s rail operations officer. “We’ll be simulating standard and emergency operations procedures.”

Shucet said he still does not plan on spending all of the budgeted $338 million to complete the project. He said he doesn’t anticipate dipping into the $10 million contingency fund and believes he could possibly save more.

About $196 million comes from federal sources, $71 million from the state and $71 million from the city.

Once light rail opens, the city will pay $6 million to $9 million annually the first five years to operate The Tide and its feeder buses.

Source: HRT


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