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METRO Light Rail (Phoenix)

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METRO Light Rail (Phoenix)

Metro Light Rail
Type Light rail
System Metro Light Rail
Locale Phoenix-Tempe-Mesa, Arizona, United States
Termini Christown Station (19th Ave./Montebello)
Tri-City, Mesa (Sycamore/Main)
Stations 32 (28 if eastbound- and westbound-only stations are combined)
Services 1
Daily ridership 45,975 (Q4 2012)
Website //
Opening December 27, 2008
Owner Valley Metro (Phoenix)
Operator(s) Valley Metro
Rolling stock Kinki Sharyo
Line length 20 mi (32 km)
Track gauge 4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge
Electrification Overhead catenary 750V
Route map
Phoenix light rail, near Camelback - 2009

Metro Light Rail (styled corporately as METRO) is a 32 km (20 mi.) light rail line operating in the U.S. state of Arizona. Part of the Valley Metro public transit system, it serves the cities of Phoenix, Tempe, and Mesa. Construction began in March 2005; operation started December 27, 2008. The line has 2012 estimated daily ridership of 43,310, making it the 12th busiest light rail system in the country.[1]


The expected construction cost for the initial 20 miles is $1.4 billion, or $70 million per mile.[2] Metro estimates the train will cost the city $184 million to operate over the next five years with fares covering $44 million of the operation costs and tax subsidies covering the remaining costs.[3]

Trains operate on city streets in a "center reservation", similar to the Red Line of the METRO light rail system in Houston, the surface sections of the Green Line in Boston, and some surface sections of the Muni Metro in San Francisco. Some parts of the line, such as the bridge over Tempe Town Lake (near State Route 202), have no contact with other traffic. The vehicles used are rated for a maximum speed of 55 mph, and have to complete the 20 mile route in 65 minutes, including station stops.[4] An equivalent section of the Red Line bus route that the rail line replaced was scheduled for 80 minutes, and was subject to traffic delays during rush hour.[5] The system is powered by an overhead catenary that supplies power at 750V.[6]


Numerous plans have preceded the current implementation of light rail. The Phoenix Street Railway provided streetcar service from 1887 to 1948. Historic vehicles may be seen at the Arizona Street Railway Museum, with Car #116 celebrating her 80th birthday on 25 December 2008, just days before the opening of modern rail service. In 1989, the ValTrans elevated rail proposal,[7] was turned down by voters in a referendum due to cost and feasibility concerns. Other subsequent initiatives during the 1990s failed over similar reasons.

Metro was created by the Transit 2000 Regional Transportation Plan (RTP), which involved a 0.5 per cent sales tax and was approved by voters in Phoenix in 2000. Transit 2000 aimed at improving the local bus service (considered unacceptably inadequate compared to other major US cities) and the formation of bus rapid transit and light rail, among other things, which was seen as a more affordable approach. It used the route placing and color designations from the 1989 plan.

Construction on a new light rail line began in March 2005. In March 2008, cracks in the system's rails were discovered. The cause of the cracks was determined to be improper use of plasma cutting torches by contractors.[8] The affected track was repaired by May at a cost of $600,000 with still no word on which parties will be held financially responsible.[9] The last of the concrete and rail for the system was installed in the end of April, with CEO declaring the system to be on time and on budget.[10]

There are 28 stations on the initial twenty-mile starter segment. The line celebrated its grand opening December 27, 2008, with official ribbon-cutting ceremonies and community celebrations spread throughout Phoenix, Tempe, and Mesa. The event was produced by Arizona's Entertainment Solutions, Inc.[11] and was attended by thousands of local residents who waited as long as an hour or more to ride the vehicles.[12][13] The stations have been designed to complement their immediate surroundings.[14] Station platform areas are approximately 16 feet (4.9 m) wide by 300 feet (91 m) long.

Phoenix light rail, downtown - 2009

As of early 2014, income has exceeded Metro's stated goal with 44.6% farebox recovery, partially due to the light rail ridership far exceeding original projections. The light rail has also led to rapid urban development in downtown Phoenix and Tempe, generating additional revenue through taxes.

Valley Metro had its busiest month in February 2014, with a weekday ridership of 48,924. On the 7th of December, 2013, they saw 65,773 board the train thanks to fans attending Arizona State University Pac 12 Championship football game, Tempe Festival of the Arts, APS Electric Light Parade and the Beyoncé concert at US Airways Center.[15]

Modern Tempe streetcar routes

Since 2010 the Valley Metro organization reported that they were working on a new, modern streetcar route, in Tempe, to supplement its light rail routes.[16] Two relatively short alternate routes are under consideration in downtown Tempe.[17] The route is budgeted at $163 million. Five vehicles will be operated, providing service every ten minutes during peak periods. The line will have 18 stops.


Metro uses a proof-of-payment system. Tickets can be purchased at ticket vending machines at the entrance to all stations and must be validated before boarding the train. Metro Light Rail shares the same fares as those of the Valley Metro LINK, Bus, and Rapid/Express Transit. The current fare is as follows:
Transit 1-Ride All-day 7-day 15 day 31 day
Light Rail/local bus/LINK $2.00 $4.00 $20.00 $33.00 $64.00

Fares increased as of March 1, 2013, 3 day passes currently available - this option was discontinued on March 1, 2013, 15 day passes would not be available until March 1, 2013

Reduced fare is available for ages 6–18, seniors age 65 and older, and persons with disabilities and Medicare cardholder only.

ASU students and employees are eligible to receive a Valley-wide bus and light rail pass at deeply discounted rates. Students, faculty, and staff may obtain their U-Pass from any ASU campus Permit Sales office. For more information, contact ASU at 480-965-1074.

Children 5 years of age and under ride free. Weekly and monthly passes are also available in addition to the fares listed above.[18]

Future extensions and improvements

Photograph of the Downtown Phoenix (or Central at Washington) Station of Metro Light Rail.

The Valley Metro Rail Northwest Extension is one of the first extensions planned. Engineering has already begun on this 4-mile (6.4 km) route from the current terminus at Bethany Home Road (METRO calls the station, "Montebello Avenue and 19th Avenue") north on 19th Avenue to Dunlap Road, and eventually west to Metrocenter Mall. Utility relocation, right-of-way acquisition, and construction would be from Spring 2009-2011. The project was to be ready by late 2012. Unfortunately, Valley Metro had to push back this extension to 2023 due to the economy.[19] But on a recent interview with PBS, Steve Banta, CEO of Valley Metro, said that they will be going in front of the council to talk about getting the project done with local money considering that the project is already 90% designed.[20] If they get approval, the project could be operational by 2016. On Wednesday, June 20 of 2012, Phoenix City Council approved pushing the Northwest extension forward and wil have the new 3.1 mile extension operational by late 2015-early 2016.[21]

Phoenix light rail outside Phoenix Convention Center - 2009

The Central Mesa extension will now be the first real extension that will extend from the current terminus at Sycamore [Dobson] and Main Street (Tri-City Station) about 3 miles down Main Street to Mesa Drive. It will add 4 more stations at Alma School Road, Country Club Drive, Center Street, and Mesa Drive. Valley METRO will be using the option of Design-Build to have the 3.1 miles built faster than the original 20 mile segment, meaning it will be easier for the businesses located along Main street. This extension is planned to be operating by the Spring of 2015, with that, Mesa plans to start relocating utilities in May 2012.[22] Mesa has also had a summit in early 2012 to have urban developers give their ideas on how to revitalize Downtown Mesa.[23] On Wednesday May 30, 2012, Phase I of construction began on the 3.1 mile extension portion into downtown Mesa. This phase will include relocating utility poles, wires and other obstacles.[24]

Phoenix light rail at night on the Tempe Town Lake - 2008

The I-10 West extension will extend from Downtown Phoenix from either Central Station ("Van Buren Street and Central Avenue and Van Buren Street and First Avenue") or City Hall ("Washington Street and Central Avenue and Jefferson Street and 1st Avenue") west to I-17 and turn north up to the interchange of I-10 and I-17 ("The Stack"). Then the line will turn West and continue down I-10 in the median till after 43rd Avenue. It will then go over the westbound lanes of I-10 to continue alongside the highway to the 79th Avenue Park and Ride, thereby adding about 10 miles and 10 stations to connect the West Valley and ease congestion on Interstate 10.[25] The line will transfer over I-10 from the median to the shoulder to accommodate the proposed extension of Loop 202 which will connect with I-10 around 51st Avenue.[26]

Tempe South Extension will be a modern streetcar that will run down Mill Avenue. The 2.6 mile Streetcar will consist of 13 stations that will run from Mill Avenue and Southern Avenue up to University Drive. From there, it will loop around Downtown Tempe along Mill and Ash avenues.[27] Once completed, a transfer from METRO to the streetcar at the Mill Avenue station will permit travel to ASU Gammage, Tempe's St. Luke Hospital, and Tempe High School. There are plans to extend the streetcar a mile East down Southern Avenue to connect the Tempe Public Library. There is another extension in discussion about going East along Rio Salado Parkway/8th Street to Dobson Road in Mesa to connect the Cubs' new spring training facility, as well as Tempe Marketplace and future development along Rio Salado.[28][29]

Map of Metro Light Rail system, showing starter line and future expansion corridors.

Proposed commuter rail

The Maricopa Association of Governments (MAG) and the Arizona Department of Transportation are studying suburban commuter rail as a complement to light rail.[30] The MAG Commuter Rail Strategic Plan was released in March 2008.[31][32] In April 2008, a coalition of Arizona business and political leaders, including Governor Janet Napolitano, proposed a $42 billion state transit plan which would include commuter rail.[33] Commuter rail generally uses upgraded existing freight rail lines, with stations every three to five miles (8 km). In Phoenix, as in other areas that have implemented commuter rail, track speeds would be increased, signals updated, and additional sidings and double-track added. Proposals for constructing entirely new rail rights-of-way in the middle of urban highways have largely been eliminated due to their expense and their location far beyond walking distance from downtowns and activity centers.

Contemporary discussion of commuter rail in Phoenix began with the "Hattie B." flood relief train of 1980,[34][35] and was first widely promoted in 1991 by the Arizona Rail Passenger Association.[36]

Daily rail service had existed until the 1960s between Phoenix, Glendale, and Wickenburg as well as Tempe and Mesa. A single short commuter rail line was also part of the ValTrans proposal.

See also


  1. ^ "Metro : Ridership 2012". Retrieved 2013-10-17. 
  2. ^ "FAQs and Fast Facts" (pdf). -
  3. ^
  4. ^ "Valley Metro | Bus Routes". July 22, 2013. Retrieved 2013-10-17. 
  5. ^ R-route. - Glendale at 19th Ave. is near the Christown Spectrum Mall, the rail's starting point and Main at Dobson is very close to Sycamore. Bus schedule allots 1 hour 20 minutes travel at rush hour
  6. ^ "Fast facts" (pdf). September 14, 2011. p. 6. Retrieved 2014-08-10. 
  7. ^ Phoenix Transit Elections. - Arizona Rail Passenger Association.
  8. ^ Light-rail cracks: Who is at fault?. - Arizona Republic. -
  9. ^ "30 light-rail sections fixed at cost of $600K". - Arizona Republic. - - May 16, 2008.
  10. ^ "Light-rail construction: The end is near?". - Arizona Republic. - - April 29, 2008.
  11. ^ "Entertainment Solutions Inc". Retrieved 2013-10-17. 
  12. ^
  13. ^ "Phoenix Light Rail Grand Opening 12/27/08 08:00 AM".  
  14. ^ "Light Rail Station Design".  
  15. ^ "Record Ridership on December 7" (Press release).  
  16. ^ "Tempe Streetcar".  
  17. ^ "Tempe Streetcar, Tempe, Arizona, Project Development: Summary Description" (pdf).  
  18. ^ Valley Metro - Fares & Passes - Rates & Options Retrieved 2009-10-06
  19. ^ Northwest. -
  20. ^ "METRO Light Rail". YouTube. 2012-02-23. Retrieved 2013-10-17. 
  21. ^
  22. ^ "Text Only Options". Retrieved 2013-10-17. 
  23. ^ Groff, Garin (2012-02-16). "Downtown Mesa summit to tackle urban development along light rail - East Valley Tribune: Mesa". East Valley Tribune. Retrieved 2013-10-17. 
  24. ^ "Rail News - Valley Metro breaks ground on light-rail extension. For Railroad Career Professionals". 2012-05-31. Retrieved 2013-10-17. 
  25. ^ "Providing Public Transportation Alternatives for the Greater Phoenix Metro Area | Valley Metro | METRO I-10 West Extension". Valley Metro. 2012-05-03. Retrieved 2013-10-17. 
  26. ^ "Projects". 2013-09-30. Retrieved 2013-10-17. 
  27. ^ "Text Only Options". Retrieved 2013-10-17. 
  28. ^ "South Bank - Mixed Use Urban Community Development - Tempe Town Lake, Tempe, AZ". Retrieved 2013-10-17. 
  29. ^ "Downtown Tempe - Hayden Ferry Lakeside". Retrieved 2013-10-17. 
  30. ^ "All aboard for centennial". Arizona Republic. 2007-02-11. Retrieved 2008-02-20. 
  31. ^ MAG Commuter Rail Strategic Plan. - Maricopa Association of Governments.
  32. ^ Creno, Glen (2008-02-29). "Phoenix, AZ: MAG Commuter Rail Study draft released". Arizona Republic. Retrieved 2008-04-09. 
  33. ^ Creno, Glen; Matthew Benson (2008-04-08). "$42 billion proposed for state transit plan". Arizona Republic. Retrieved 2008-04-09. 
  34. ^ Niner, Verne; William A. Ordway (1980-06-20). Hattie B" Commuter Train Helps 1980 Flood Situation""". Arizona Rail Passenger Association. Retrieved 2008-02-20. 
  35. ^ "Phoenix commuters loved the Hattie B., now it's time to consider more rail options". Phoenix Business Journal. 2005-12-30. Retrieved 2008-02-20. 
  36. ^ Regional Rail. - Arizona Rail Passenger Association.

External links

  • Metro Light Rail official website
  • Article on Valley Metro Rail and preemptive urban revitalization
  • Article on commuter rail (Phoenix area) and regional rail (Phoenix-Tucson) proposals
  • Slideshow of photos on light rail construction and progress -- from
  • Metro Tempe Streetcar project webpage
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