What do you get if you put Hitachi’s Japanese engineers, their counterparts from the Italian rail firm Ansaldo, a schoolgirl choir and the mayor of Miami together in the swamps of Florida?
A new metrorail system that Miami’s urban planners hope will bring commuting from the city to its ribbons of suburbs into the 21st century.
But behind the hoopla and celebration surrounding the $375m project unveiled last week is a serious effort to switch US commuters in a major regional city from overcrowded, inefficient and polluting dependence on cars to a model that resembles the European or Asian adoption of mass transit.
Miami, like many other cities across the US, is attempting to redress decades of under-investment in the sector. While cities such as Charlotte, San Diego and Dallas have been successful with the new light rail commuter-moving systems, other cities, including Los Angeles, Chicago and Washington DC, report falling rider numbers despite enormous and costly efforts by transportation officials to entice people out of their cars.
There have been other, unsuccessful attempts to build a light rail in Miami and other cities have run into issues with their own plans, but the engineers here are quietly optimistic that any incoming administration will increase infrastructure budgets, some of which would be targeted to mass transit.
Hillary Clinton has vowed to increase federal funding by $275bn over a five-year period, warning “it is not possible to remain economically competitive in a very, very competitive global economy if we don’t have the infrastructure we need”.
Here on the border of the Everglades, the gleaming new blue and silver cars look enticing: clean-running, silent, with free Wi-Fi and other enticements, but will they help turn the tide against Miami’s congested roadways?
The city’s construction boom has caused chaos on its roads. Coupled with fears that rising sea levels could begin to make tidal flooding more frequent, as well as the intermittent threat of hurricanes, have added to the incentive to overhaul its transportation systems.
For Hitachi, which now owns Italian manufacturer Ansaldo, is looking for deeper penetration in the US market. Current projects include a driverless system in Honolulu scheduled to open next year.
“We believe the rail business in the US is sustainable and growing because many cities have a mass transit system,” noted Kentaro Masai, head of Hitachi global rail. “We’ve already received support from the government, but were optimistic that ridership, especially among young people, will grow. There are challenges but we are optimistic.”
Read Edward Helmore, The Guardian article here:
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