On rainy nights like this I often go walking at the Mall of America, via the Hiawatha Light Rail. Tonight was my second ride one of the new Siemens cars bought for the Central Corridor line, scheduled for full operation late in 2014. Some are hoping for at least partial operation for the July 2014 All-Star game at Target Field. Meanwhile, these new cars are arriving and being tested on the Hiawatha line. You can spot them by the big blue squares on their destination signs, this being the "Blue" line.
They look a little sleeker on the outside, which is apparently all that matters to those who bought them. Inside, where we the cattle ride is a different story. Besides being a little on the drab side compared to the current Bombardier models, the seating is cramped. I soon found that this was a known problem that Portland is currently wrestling with. And yet we bought them anyway. Just who is the customer here?
As the link illustrates, while the new car ostensibly seats 2 more, 8 of those seats are obstructed, 4 of which only suitable for children. Even the regular seats seem a little smaller, perhaps shrinking the width to gain wider aisles. Also missing are dedicated places for wheelchair riders. On the Siemens cars, three seats are folded up to make room. I'm putting a tape measure in my satchel to check these and some other observations.
Again I ask, just who is the customer here? It's a safe bet that Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak isn't riding these trains. He only wants something that photographs well behind him, like his fancy water fountains and fashionable streetlights. It casts further doubt on just what the real purpose of LIght Rail is. We know it isn't traffic reduction. We know it doesn't save commuters time. We know it isn't to save money. We know it isn't safety, what with 9 fatalities to date. We know it isn't really about development. And we've recently learned it isn't even about being green given the tremendous energy expended in construction and fixed facilities.
Absent any demonstrable benefit, all that's left is plain old politics as usual, a modern day WPA project "creating jobs" and buying votes.