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Pittsburgh Port Authority Ditches Two-Car Light Rail Trains

Pittsburgh Port Authority will return to using single-car trains after one month of employing two-car trains on the light rail system. The authority expected a bump up in ridership in September, but it didn’t happen.

Pittsburgh light rail car - use once
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(TNS) — After a one-month trial with double cars, Port Authority has not received an expected boost in light rail ridership and has returned to operating trains with one car on the system that runs between Downtown Pittsburgh and the South Hills.

The agency announced last month that it would return to using two-car trains during rush hours on Sept. 7, the day after Labor Day, because ridership usually increases in September. When that didn’t occur, it returned to one-car trains Oct. 4.

“We wanted to make sure we had enough room [if ridership increased],” spokesman Adam Brandolph said. “We did not observe the uptick we anticipated.”

Ridership on public transit — locally and nationally — took a huge hit when the COVID-19 pandemic began in March 2020 and has been slow to recover. Port Authority’s bus ridership has come back somewhat, but light rail traffic hasn’t recovered nearly as much and remains 73% below pre-pandemic levels.

“We have more than enough room in single cars for the level of ridership we are seeing,” Mr. Brandolph said. “If and when that changes, we will add capacity as needed.”

Light rail cars can seat 64 passengers. Mr. Brandolph said sampling done by the agency in August and September showed there were never more than 60 passengers on a trip and operators never had to pass passengers because the car was too full.

The highest ridership occurred during morning rush hours.

Mr. Brandolph said the agency doesn’t want to run two-car trains if it doesn’t have to because that doubles the operating cost. It also adds a few minutes to each trip because the operator has to switch from one end of the train to the other when the train reaches its destination and begins a return trip so the operator is facing forward.

Additionally, 53 of the agency’s 81 light rail cars date back to the 1980s and should be replaced, so the less they are used, the better. The agency is in the process of devising a plan to replace them, but that could cost $400 million to $500 million and it takes five to eight years for manufacturers to deliver new vehicles after they are ordered.

©2021 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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