AFTER NINE months of talks, Seattle Monorail Project announced on June 3 that it had agreed a draft contract worth US$1·6bn for construction of the 22·5 km Green Line between Ballard and West Seattle via the city centre.

The privately-financed line is to be designed and built by the Cascadia Monorail Company - a 29-company consortium led by Fluor Corp including Hitachi, Mitsui, Alcatel and local construction firms. Cascadia will also have a five-year operations and maintenance contract with two optional five-year extensions. The line is now expected to open in December 2010.

Hitachi is to supply the trains, which will be fully automated and equipped with regenerative braking. Peak-hour headways of 8min are planned at opening, but services could be stepped up if extra trains are acquired, to the originally-promised 3min intervals in the central area and 6min at the outer ends of the line.

The fixed-price contract does not include the cost of utility relocation, property acquisition or the $92m already spent on planning and development, which will bring the total cost to over $2bn. SMP plans to raise funding through 40-year bonds to ensure that its debt limit of $1·7bn is not breached.

The promoters still have to hold public hearings and obtain approval of the financial plans from the Seattle city council before construction can begin.