Light Rail Trip Report: Charlotte

Everyone in transit is watching Charlotte right now. Why? They’re in political hot water as scorching as KC when it comes to light rail. The mayor’s job is at stake. Voters might repeal a decade-old transit tax due to cost overruns. The transit agency is racing to open up their starter line before election day. What better time to visit and see how things are progressing?

Our visit was not just to see light rail, but we jumped at the opportunity to see the new LYNX Blue Line on test runs in advance of the November opening. Only one hour before leaving town, we stumbled onto a great pizza place near the tracks and — lo and behold! — the crossing gates came down and it appeared in a flash, barely enough time to snap the pictures below. Each LRV must go through 1,000 miles of testing before humans can ride.

LYNX Test 1
LYNX Test 2

Charlotte’s new light rail line will run partially in an old rail bed (similar to St. Louis Metrolink) along South Boulevard, and will incorporate the vintage South End trolley and a new inter-modal station that will serve local and intercity buses, as well as intercity and commuter trains (North Carolina also has state-sponsored Amtrak service; commuter rail is in the planning stages). Modern streetcars and BRT are also under evaluation.

Gateway Station

The project was attacked from several angles, primarily because of the oft-cited “low density” argument. Significant cost overruns, however, vaulted light rail back into the spotlight and resulted in a punitive petition initiative to repeal a half-cent sales tax that currently supports the entire mass transit system (including buses). Transit leaders have not specified how service will be affected should the tax be repealed, but they have confirmed that light rail will begin operation, regardless of the outcome, on November 26. Polling shows the vote could go either way. We caught one vote of support in a downtown window, below.

Vote Against Repeal

Even though people say “Kansas City doesn’t need light rail”, rest assured our struggle with the issue is in no way unique, especially as other mid-sized peer cities attempt to tackle environmental concerns versus simply connecting people with jobs. Charlotte is the best example we have right now of what the fight will be like in February.


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