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Thursday, October 29, 2009

Light rail selected for Monterey Peninsula

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Monterey County, Calif., residents are one step closer to riding light rail between Monterey and Marina after the Transportation Agency selected light rail as the locally preferred alternative for the Monterey Branch Line transit corridor.  The 16-mile corridor extends between Monterey and Castroville on the publicly-owned tracks adjacent to Highway 1.

For the past few years, Transportation Board members have been discussing and reviewing the benefits to bus rapid transit or light rail transit for the planned corridor. Each alternative has its advantages; however light rail was selected based on its ability to provide superior transportation in the long-term while best meeting the vision and future plans for each of the peninsula cities. Light rail vehicles hold more riders than bus rapid transit vehicles and, unlike bus rapid transit, have the ability to add train cars at a nominal operating cost, which will be beneficial when ridership increases in the future. This capability to respond to long-term growth is an essential feature of this mode choice.

With tracks in the corridor, intercity rail can one day run from San Francisco to Monterey, providing a fast and efficient way of getting to and from San Francisco.

The first phase of the project will run between Monterey and north Marina with key stations in Monterey, Seaside, Sand City, Marina/CSUMB, and connecting bus service to Pacific Grove and Carmel to the south and Salinas to the east. Later phases will extend service to the planned commuter rail station in Castroville and increase the frequency of trains. The total capital cost for Phase 1 of the project is $128.5 million.

One of the next steps for the project will be to design computer simulations of what the light rail vehicles will look running on the corridor through the cities of Monterey and Marina. These visualizations were requested by the cities to help illustrate how light-rail will fit in with their communities.  The Transportation Agency will also hold meetings with each of the cities to determine the best design and location for the transit stations, in particular where the terminus of the line will occur in the City of Monterey.  Then, TAMC will complete the federal and state environmental review documents in preparation for requesting a major contribution of federal transit funds for construction. Start of service is planned for early 2015.