Other Cities Overcame Duke’s Objections to Light Rail

Minnapolis' Washington Avenue is thriving after the addition of light rail and bike facilities. Photo: Greater Greater Washington
Minnapolis' Washington Avenue is thriving after the addition of light rail and bike facilities. Photo: Greater Greater Washington

Duke University may have dealt the final blow to Durham’s $3-billion light rail plans when it refused to enter into mediation with transit leaders last week, citing a “lack of workable solutions.”

But recent history in other cities with light rail lines near university research centers shows there is a simple workable solution to this problem. In Minneapolis and Seattle, for example, concerns raised by universities about the very same issues were overcome using a special vibration-absorbing construction add-on called a “floating slab.”

As a result, the University of Washington and University of Minnesota communities enjoy huge benefits in terms of transit access.

Duke officials stunned the region late last month when they announced they would not sign an essential agreement to allow the 18-mile light rail project to use university-owned land, effectively killing the project, which is facing hard deadlines to apply for federal funding. The effusiveness of Duke’s concerns, outlined in a recent report by Triangle Transit raises questions about their sincerity. But one of the key concerns at this stage, Duke says, is that vibrations and electromagnetic fields from the light rail will interfere with tests and research at its university affiliated medical center. Duke refused to comment for this story.

But here in a January 2018 blog post, Seattle’s Sound Transit explains how it helped alleviate those same concerns:

The tracks will sit on a series of extra-dense concrete slabs that each weigh 11,000 pounds. The concrete mixture used to make the slabs includes a special type of hematite sourced from a site near Duluth, Minn. that was selected for its heavy weight and non-magnetic properties.

Each of the 1,618 slabs will sit on custom-built rubber pads sourced in part for their durability and vibration-absorbing properties.

Mitigation in that project cost about $43 million in total and included moving some labs, the Seattle Times reports.

Sound Transit installed this "floating" concrete slab to reduce vibrations for its University Link light rail project. Photo: Sound Transit
Sound Transit installed this “floating” concrete slab to reduce vibrations for its University Link light rail project. Photo: Sound Transit

Sound Transit installed this “floating” concrete slab to reduce vibrations for its University Link light rail project.

The Twin Cities used a similar design to minimize vibrations near University of Minnesota labs for its $1 billion Green Line light rail project, which runs through campus on its 11-mile route from St. Paul to downtown Minneapolis.

The transit agency there also conducts annual testing of vibrations, and has committed to keeping them below agreed upon levels.

Both of these projects, it should be noted, have been major successes. Minneapolis’ green line bested its ridership projections by about 50 percent, and carries about 40,000 daily riders. Seattle’s University Link Light Rail extension was a huge ridership boon for the agency, adding about 50 percent to the system’s total ridership.

Connecting light rail to universities can be complex but it tends to pay big dividends in terms of ridership.

  • exit2lef

    There were similar concerns over a decade ago about Phoenix’s light rail line passing close to the Arizona State University campus in Tempe. Those concerns were successfully addressed, and the train’s route along the northern edge of the ASU campus is one of many contributors to its high ridership. https://asuwebdevilarchive.jmc.asu.edu/issues/2002/01/14/campusnews/163625

  • Not to mention Seattle’s light rail is currently being extended north directly under the university, to grow even greater use of the system.

  • Eric Talbot

    Why can’t we get it through our heads that the REAL reason Duke killed the light rail is because the KOCH BROTHERS and their anti-transit kin got through to them FIRST? This light rail was never going to “fly” from the get-go. The KOCHS are extremely subversive and influential, and are thus VERY hard to beat!

  • Jason

    Seriously. Columbia and NYU own enough real estate that it seems extremely statistically
    improbable that they don’t own any research facilities with subway
    tunnels going underneath them, yet somehow they manage to keep doing research.

    The Prince Plasma Physics Lab has Amtrak/NJT tracks less than a mile from where they’re located…

    This is clearly not an unsolved problem.

  • com63

    I wonder why students don’t protest this decision. It is clearly working against them.

  • carl jacobs

    This kind of argument is utterly meaningless unless you talk about specifications. You can’t just say “Look! Mitigation technology!” You have to prove that the mitigation works at the sight selected by reducing the effect below required levels.

  • Eric Talbot

    That’s my point – BUT Duke clearly has not intended to work out these problems – because very likely they’ve sold themselves down the river to the KOCHS instead. We’ll probably never be able to get at the truth of this matter! Surely the Duke University Provosts won’t admit to it.

  • ocschwar

    MIT managed to develop the prototype to LIGO in a lab right by the MBTA’s Red Line. Duke’s objections here are in blatant bad faith.

  • BonnieAHauser

    if GoTriangle worked with Duke to identify and mitigate the issues, we’d be in a different place. Seattle spent $43 million; Minnesota $25 million on EMI mitigation with solutions agreed upon before the project went into engineering.

    The problem here isn’t Duke. It’s poor project management from GoT

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