Why Have New Light Rail Systems Proliferated over the Last Five Years?

The Federal Transit Administration enacted the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century on June 9, 1998 as Public Law 105-178. TEA-21 authorizes the Federal surface transportation programs for highways, highway safety, and transit for the 6-year period 1998-2003. As part of TEA-21, $43 Billion was authorized for 'transit' as part of former President Clinton's 'Rebuilding America' commitment. A good summary of TEA-21 can be found here.

TEA-21 authorizes capital investment grants of $8.18 billion in what is called, 'New Starts'  for FYs 1998-2003 and $6.59 billion in 'fixed-guideway' modernization. Of the 'New Starts' monies, 'Not less than 92 percent is to be applied to projects for final design and construction'.

The FTA's New Starts Homepage can be found here. According to New Starts--An Introduction to FTA's Capital Investment Program:

'From heavy to light rail, from commuter rail to bus rapid transit systems, the New Starts program has helped to make possible nearly 100 of new or extended transit fixed guideway systems across the country.'

Notice that Monorail was never explicitly mentioned here. The FTA's New Starts Rule Frequently Asked Questions webpage under 'Applicability' defines 'fixed-guideway' systems:

2. What types of projects are defined as fixed guideway projects?

'A fixed guideway project is defined as a mass transportation facility which utilizes and occupies a separate right-of-way, or rail line, for the exclusive use of mass transportation and other high occupancy vehicles, or uses a fixed catenary system and a right-of-way usable by other forms of transportation.

Fixed guideway systems include, but are not limited to:

bulletrapid rail;
bulletlight rail;
bulletcommuter rail;
bulletautomated guideway transit;
bulletpeople movers;
bulletferry boat service; and,
bulletfixed guideway facilities for buses (such as bus rapid transit) and other high occupancy vehicles.

New fixed guideway systems and extensions are eligible for §5309 New Starts funds.'

Note that Monorail is never explicitly mentioned here. A Monorail is certainly a 'fixed-guideway' which uses and occupies a 'separate right-of-way'. However the text of the definition then states: 'or rail line' which implies that a 'fixed-guideway which uses and occupies a separate right-of-way' must be a 'rail-line'. Monorail might not strictly be called a 'rail-line'. We at the Project believe that Monorail does not appear to be excluded (and is therefore appears to be eligible for) section 5309 (Federal Government matching) New Starts funding.  (4/17/02- This is confirmed by the following piece of information that we have discovered: 'Las Vegas seeks 'New Starts' Funding for Monorail' (see our new article on this subject here)).

We believe that the exclusion of any specific mention of Monorail at this highest level of Federal legislation is evidence of bias by those who would stand to financially gain from the promotion of traditional light rail infrastructure in this country.

Indeed, according to one anti-light rail website:

The Federal Transportation Act of 1998, which designated billions of tax dollars for rail infrastructure improvements has created a rush to build light-rail projects across the nation. Taxpayers in these cities are under attack by those who would financially benefit by the construction of light-rail projects: construction firms, engineering firms, financial institutions, lobbyists, rail industry vendors, consultants and others.'

And, according to the Monorail Society:

'..a lot more people can make a lot more money if light rail or subway is built. The conventional rail industry has established a stronghold and monorail is discouraged by consultants. We have many news clippings where falsehoods were openly given to help defeat monorail. There are behind the scenes efforts against monorail as well. This continues today.'

Finally, according to the Introduction to FTA's Capital Investment Program:

'The Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21) has authorized $8.44 billion in Section 5309 New Starts funding through fiscal year 2003. While the level of New Starts funding has never been higher, neither has the demand for these discretionary resources. TEA-21 authorizes over 190 projects nationwide to compete for New Starts funding.'

Invariably, light rail is always built. And cities love the FTA's 'New Starts' program, because they can typically get 50% or more of the cost of their light rail system paid by the Federal government!

For Further Research:


2002 Annual Report on New Starts (FY03)- Proposed allocation of funds for all 'New Starts' projects for FY 2003.


2001 Annual Report on New Starts (FY02)- Proposed allocation of funds for all 'New Starts' projects for FY 2002.


Supplemental Report on New Starts- An update to the report above.


2001 Annual Report on New Starts (FY02) Alphabetical Index- A alphabetical list of all 'New Starts' projects.


Light Rail Corridors, Austin TX- The FTA's report on Cap Metro's proposed light rail system that voters defeated in November, 2000.


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Last updated: 04/08/02.