The Charlotte Area Transit System is spending $87 million to buy 22 new light-rail cars in anticipation of building the Lynx Blue Line extension to University City.
The Charlotte City Council unanimously approved the purchase Monday night, which will increase the number of cars to 42.
CATS expects to enter into whats known as full funding grant agreement with the Federal Transit Administration in October or November, which is the final hurdle before starting construction. If the FTA doesnt sign off on the project as expected, CATS can withdraw from the order with Siemens with a penalty of $500,000.
CATS is moving forward with the purchase now to take advantage of a discount. The city said it is piggybacking on top of an order with TriMet Transit of Portland, Ore., which is buying the same type of light-rail vehicles.
In 2008, when CATS bought additional rail cars from Siemens to handle ridership that was higher than projected, the city paid $3.8 million per vehicle. This price is 3 percent lower, according to the city.
The Blue Line extension which is projected to cost more than $1.1 billion is expected to be paid for with a mix of federal, state and local funds. The FTA is expected to pay for half of the construction costs and the state will pay for 25 percent. Money from the half-cent sales tax for transit will cover the rest.
The $87 million for the new cars is part of that overall $1.1 billion price tag.
When the extension opens in 2016, the entire light-rail line is expected to handle three-car trains. The current Lynx line can only accommodate two-car trains.
The city and U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan announced Wednesday that CATS will receive an $18 million grant from the Transportation Department to upfit the existing light-rail line for three-car trains. Work will include lengthening station platforms.
Siemens will keep and maintain the cars until the extension opens.