Norfolk Virginia finally opened its light-rail line, and ridership “exceeds expectations” at 5,600 riders a day. Considering they run 212 trains a weekday, that’s just over 26 passengers per train. How many 40-passenger buses would have been needed to handle all that traffic?
Of course, the rail line exceeded expectations in many other ways as well. The 7.4-mile line was originally expected to cost less than $200 million. The final cost was at least $120 million over that. It was also supposed to be open for business in 2008. They exceeded that expectation as well. The original projection was for 10,500 weekday riders by 2021. They’ll have to double ridership to meet that. A lot of city and transit officials also expected the rail line would be a feather in their caps. Instead, they were lucky not to be tarred and feathered when they were run out of town over cost overruns.
Despite the underestimated costs and inflated ridership numbers, the Federal Transit Administration gave Norfolk light rail a “not recommended” rating in 2004. Too bad the agency changed its mind (or had its mind changed for it by Virginia’s congressional delegation). They could have saved taxpayers a lot of money on a truly wasteful project. But that’s the story of all light rail in a nutshell.