Free Republic
Browse · Search
News/Activism
Topics · Post Article

Skip to comments.

Defining Success: The Case against Rail Transit
Cato Institute ^ | March 24, 2010 | Randal O'Toole

Posted on 03/26/2010 8:48:02 AM PDT by BfloGuy

In 2002, the Vermont legislature funded a commuter train from Burlington to Charlotte, 13 miles away (see Appendix A for definitions of terms such as commuter rail, light rail, and streetcars). To ensure funds were effectively spent, the legislature set targets for the service and asked for an audit after one year.

The audit found the rail line’s capital costs were more than twice the projected amounts; the operating costs were nearly three times projections; the trains carried less than half of the projected riders; and fare revenues were less than a third of projections. The audit also found that the environmental benefits of the project were nil: the diesel locomotives powering the trains used more energy and emitted more pollution than the cars the transit service took off the road. The legislature cancelled the train.

(Excerpt) Read more at cato.org ...


TOPICS: Business/Economy; Government
KEYWORDS: cato; rail; transit
More and more rail transit projects are being proposed and funded by Washington, but they are destined to fail because the consumer doesn't want them. Sounds a lot like nationalized health care doesn't it?

Rail advocates are quick to complain that the government subsidizes roads and airports, but at least people use those. In fact, they flock to them. Passenger rail just loses money -- tons of it.

1 posted on 03/26/2010 8:48:02 AM PDT by BfloGuy
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | View Replies]

To: BfloGuy

Detroit-Ann Arbor rail line project delayed due to funding shortage.

http://www.annarbor.com/news/ann-arbor-to-detroit-rail-line-delayed/


2 posted on 03/26/2010 8:50:16 AM PDT by cripplecreek (Remember the River Raisin! (look it up))
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: BfloGuy
There are areas where there are enough customers and dense enough populations that railroads continue to make technological sense.

For the most part those areas are NOT in the United States.

3 posted on 03/26/2010 8:50:31 AM PDT by muawiyah ("Git Out The Way")
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: BfloGuy

BUT THEY WILL DO BETTER ON HEALTH CARE!!!


4 posted on 03/26/2010 8:51:52 AM PDT by Mr. K (This administration IS WEARING OUT MY CAPSLOCK KEY!)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: Willie Green

Paging Mr. Green, Mr. Willie Green, please come to the red courtesy Bat Phone.


5 posted on 03/26/2010 8:52:29 AM PDT by SoCal Pubbie
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: Mr. K

Obummercare is Amerika’s high speed train to bankrupcy.


6 posted on 03/26/2010 8:55:53 AM PDT by WOBBLY BOB ( FIRE STUPAK: LindaForCongress.com)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 4 | View Replies]

To: BfloGuy

“government subsidizes roads and airports” for one purpose. That purpose is to support the military, not the general public.


7 posted on 03/26/2010 8:56:11 AM PDT by RC2
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: BfloGuy

Here’s my problem with commuter rail... I live in the DC area, on the Maryland side, and work in Arlignton county in Virginia.

In order to get to work, I would have to drive or take a bus some 8-10 miles to the nearest Metro station, take the train downtown, switch to another line, and then walk a few blocks to my destination.

That last part isn’t a hassle, but the rest of it is. By the time I deal with driving to the Metro station, I’m through the worst half of my commute in (and going into the worst half of my commute home), I have to pay for parking, and the whole trip takes my roughly 75-80 minutes each way (as opposed to the 45-50 minute average of direct driving at off-peak times).

If I take a bus to the Metro station, it simply adds extra time, though bus fare would be cheaper than Metro parking.

If I could enter “the system” within a few blocks walk of origin and destination AND take less than hour to get from point A to point B, I’d be doing it. But I can’t, and therefore I’m still driving 30 miles each way.


8 posted on 03/26/2010 9:00:37 AM PDT by kevkrom (De-fund Obamacare in 2011, repeal in 2013!)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: BfloGuy
As a civil engineer who specializes in transportation systems I can see the value of mass transit when the conditions are right for it, but there are a lot of problems with the way rail transit systems in particular are built and operated in most metro areas.

The biggest problem is that the cost of acquiring land and building a system from the ground up makes almost any rail transit system cost-prohibitive. Add in the limited passenger capacity even in the most heavily-utilized systems due to signal system specifications, safety requirements, minimum train spacing, etc.

I'm kind of surprised that rail transit is getting a lot of attention at all these days. Over the last couple of years a lot of transit agencies have come to recognize that a well-operated bus system -- including bus rapid transit (BRT) routes that could be as ambitious as a fully grade-separated or barrier-separated busway alignment -- is far more cost-effective when it comes to moving large numbers of people along defined transportation corridors.

9 posted on 03/26/2010 9:10:47 AM PDT by Alberta's Child ("Let the Eastern bastards freeze in the dark.")
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: BfloGuy

The Vermont Train was called the “Champaign Flyer”. TENS OF MILLIONS of tax dollars were spent to refurb the cars that came from the Virginia Commuter Rail, and now they sit rusting, outside of Guelph, Ontario.


10 posted on 03/26/2010 9:10:53 AM PDT by tcrlaf (Obama White House=Tammany Hall on the National Mall)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: Alberta's Child

The problem is that while bus service may be more efficient, most people say if I’m going to take a bus, I might as well drive.

And in Most inner-cities, unionized bus drivers make more than most AIRLINE PILOTS, with incredibly huge retirement packages.


11 posted on 03/26/2010 9:13:21 AM PDT by tcrlaf (Obama White House=Tammany Hall on the National Mall)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 9 | View Replies]

To: muawiyah
There are areas where there are enough customers and dense enough populations that railroads continue to make technological sense.

Actually, almost every one of those areas are in the third-world, in places where there's no decent road network and very little private vehicle ownership.

Almost all of those passenger rail networks in europe and asia lose money & require subsidies from the taxpayer to remain in operation.

12 posted on 03/26/2010 9:18:36 AM PDT by LIBERTARIAN JOE (Don't blame me - I voted for Ron Paul!)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 3 | View Replies]

To: Alberta's Child
As a civil engineer who specializes in transportation systems

What do you think of the potential of raised-rail PRT systems? I know there's a regulatory issue with how closely the cars can run together, but if they can get around that, does it make such a system viable?

13 posted on 03/26/2010 9:26:58 AM PDT by kevkrom (De-fund Obamacare in 2011, repeal in 2013!)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 9 | View Replies]

To: BfloGuy
The audit found the rail line’s capital costs were more than twice the projected amounts; the operating costs were nearly three times projections; the trains carried less than half of the projected riders; and fare revenues were less than a third of projections. The audit also found that the environmental benefits of the project were nil: the diesel locomotives powering the trains used more energy and emitted more pollution than the cars the transit service took off the road. The legislature cancelled the train.

Obviously, a few lucky people benefitted financially from the project, and a few other lucky people got their enviro-whacko warm fuzzies from the project. Taxpayers got ripped off as usual, as they have learned to enjoy. Everybody's happy.

For the train project, Cato Institute clearly points out the obvious reality versus the false-advertised benefits.

Why can't Cato Institute display the same grasp of reality, and tell the truth about how the anti-American manipulated global trade deals, the offshore outsourcing, the importing of visa workers, and the open borders invasion of illegals, have brought our economy to collapse, because of free and cheap labor, not in spite of it?

14 posted on 03/26/2010 9:27:42 AM PDT by meadsjn (Sarah 2012, or sooner)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: LIBERTARIAN JOE
BTW, the problem in Europe isn't a lack of passengers or need ~ they simply don't charge full fares.

I've been to Europe and you'd better believe there are areas where you couldn't add another lane of road.

The third-world doesn't need rail ~ the level of commerce isn't sufficient to support shipping people around. What they need are trucks with large tires!

15 posted on 03/26/2010 9:28:16 AM PDT by muawiyah ("Git Out The Way")
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 12 | View Replies]

To: BfloGuy
We in the "other" Charlotte (NC) have the beginning of a commuter rail system. Predictably, it's a joke -- a very bad one at the expense of taxpayers.

The strategy among the train boosters was one of incrementalism. Built one line, no matter how puny, and, golly gee whiz, we can't stop there, can we? Once we've started down the track, so to speak, we have to keep going. In Charlotte, NC's case, the South Line is up and running -- all 9 miles of it, with station platforms long enough to accommodate trains of -- wait for it -- two cars.

The South Line runs from downtown toward the south (at least they figured out what to name the line) but stops short of the I-485 loop, and is therefore useless for suburbanites. More importantly, though the clamor is on for more lines into downtown, there is no central station, and no plans for any interface between the lines.

But the biggest problem is one inherent to all rail systems: the rails are fixed. Trains are really good at taking people from where they're not to where they don't want to go. Bus routes can be changed as residential areas and employment centers pop up in different locations; train routes, not so much.

I realize that huge cities like New York, London, and Tokyo need rail transit. Charlotte, NC and Charlotte, VT do not.

16 posted on 03/26/2010 9:32:08 AM PDT by southernnorthcarolina (Now with ConstructionCam! Click on my name and follow the progress.)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: kevkrom
My front porch is almost exactly 1 mile walking distance from the platform at Springfield station on Metro Rail. I could also take VRE at that station or at the other one on Backlick Road (but I'd have to drive there a couple of miles).

I rode the rails to work for about 7 years. Before that I commuted by "slug line" ~ which I originally called "Northern Virginia Commuter Pickup Point" ~ but "slug line" won the popularity contest.

The "slug line" is free.

17 posted on 03/26/2010 9:32:52 AM PDT by muawiyah ("Git Out The Way")
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 8 | View Replies]

To: tcrlaf
Understood.

I'm thinking about bus service along the lines of an exclusive bus lane where buses operate outside the normal flow of traffic. I've posted a few examples below.

One reason why bus service is usually so poor in many urban areas is that the buses operate in mixed traffic and the process of picking up and dropping off passengers makes it all so time-consuming. These systems as I've shown here help the buses operate far more efficiently than your typical city bus.


18 posted on 03/26/2010 9:33:52 AM PDT by Alberta's Child ("Let the Eastern bastards freeze in the dark.")
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 11 | View Replies]

To: kevkrom
I consider that to be a very "futuristic" concept that is not likely to be feasible anytime in the near future. I'm also not sure people are going to be too happy about living in a city with a sprawling network of elevated guideways like that.

Interestingly . . . transportation systems like these have to be viewed in the context of all urban infrastructure. What you'll often find is that a city will often face other constraints long before it reaches the kind of size and density that makes some of these transportation systems feasible.

19 posted on 03/26/2010 9:38:53 AM PDT by Alberta's Child ("Let the Eastern bastards freeze in the dark.")
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 13 | View Replies]

To: southernnorthcarolina
But the biggest problem is one inherent to all rail systems: the rails are fixed. Trains are really good at taking people from where they're not to where they don't want to go. Bus routes can be changed as residential areas and employment centers pop up in different locations; train routes, not so much.

This is a very good point, but there's also a flip side to the statement you've made here.

The flexibility of bus service is often seen as a disadvantage from the perspective of someone who is looking to develop property or locate a business in an area that is served by a bus transit system. Someone who takes advantage of a property that is well-served by buses has a higher risk of losing value due to the curtailment or elimination of the bus service than someone who is located on a fixed-guideway transit system like commuter rail or light rail. It is far less likely for a public agency to spend a fortune on an LRT system only to shut it down a few years later, but bus routes and schedules change all the time.

This is why rail transit systems make the most sense when they serve "fixed" land uses that have their own "critical mass" of passenger demand -- such as dense downtown areas, airports, sports stadiums, tourist attractions, etc.

Your comment about residential areas and employment centers "popping up" illustrates the basic challenge any urban planner faces: Should transit systems be built in response to land use patterns, or should land use patterns be established around transit systems?

20 posted on 03/26/2010 9:48:19 AM PDT by Alberta's Child ("Let the Eastern bastards freeze in the dark.")
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 16 | View Replies]

To: kevkrom

If I could enter “the system” within a few blocks walk of origin and destination AND take less than hour to get from point A to point B, I’d be doing it. But I can’t, and therefore I’m still driving 30 miles each way.

Nice spider web LBJ gave us. It serves two clientele, govt workers and tourists. We lost an effective and efficient trolley system for Metro plus GM Buses. Oh, BTW, don’t try and take a coffee on Metro, they don’t allow it.


21 posted on 03/26/2010 9:51:30 AM PDT by equalitybeforethelaw
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 8 | View Replies]

To: Alberta's Child

What you have there is a trolley with no tracks. Funny thing about trolley tracks, they don’t get gridlocked.


22 posted on 03/26/2010 9:55:56 AM PDT by equalitybeforethelaw
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 18 | View Replies]

To: equalitybeforethelaw

No tracks and no overhead catenary wires, either. That’s what makes this concept so efficient . . . it can be done in an existing right-of-way, using the same buses that operate all over the system.


23 posted on 03/26/2010 9:58:12 AM PDT by Alberta's Child ("Let the Eastern bastards freeze in the dark.")
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 22 | View Replies]

To: LIBERTARIAN JOE
Shhh... Don't tell anyone, but the US already has the best rail system in the world. It's energy efficient, reduces road traffic, actually generates tax revenue and even earns respectable profit.

The only downside is that it doesn't serve very well as a national model railroad for power hungry politicians and illetectuals seeking an ego trip.

24 posted on 03/26/2010 10:01:24 AM PDT by Red Dog #1
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 12 | View Replies]

To: BfloGuy

There is a solution to the passenger rail ‘problem’: privatize it all. (read Atlas Shrugged if you have questions.) i believe that there is a real demand for quality, fast rail travel post 9/11. The problem is the government.


25 posted on 03/26/2010 10:03:54 AM PDT by sportutegrl (VETO PROOF MAJORITY IN 2010)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: muawiyah
BTW, the problem in Europe isn't a lack of passengers or need ~ they simply don't charge full fare

Someone posted statistics on european and asian rail passenger levels here at FR not long ago - I was shocked at how low the figures were for the number of rail trips the average citizen of those areas took each year. Rail accounts for very low percentages of intercity travel, and those percentages have been declining for decades.

As far as the fares go, that's the point, isn't it? You raise fares enough to cover operating costs and an intercity train trip costs 10-20 times what an equivalent trip in an airliner costs.

26 posted on 03/26/2010 10:13:31 AM PDT by LIBERTARIAN JOE (Don't blame me - I voted for Ron Paul!)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 15 | View Replies]

To: Red Dog #1
Don't tell anyone, but the US already has the best rail system in the world...

Yep, the mighty US freight rail system - so strong, even the railroad unions haven't been able to bring it down.

27 posted on 03/26/2010 10:15:23 AM PDT by LIBERTARIAN JOE (Don't blame me - I voted for Ron Paul!)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 24 | View Replies]

To: SoCal Pubbie
(Excerpt) Read more at cato.org ...

Cato is funded by Big Oil.

28 posted on 03/26/2010 10:33:04 AM PDT by Willie Green
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 5 | View Replies]

To: LIBERTARIAN JOE
Look, the core areas of Western Europe, e.g. Germany, are quite small. In fact, Germany is roughly the size of Indiana + Ohio.

Texas is about the size of France but with more arable land.

UK comes in toward Illinois.

Imagine stuffing 70 million people into Indiana and Ohio ~ trains happen.

I think it's an error to even think about inter city travel in Europe by air ~ makes me laugh imagining flying from Rhine-Mein to Nurnburg ~ no need to pull the wheels up eh.

29 posted on 03/26/2010 11:11:57 AM PDT by muawiyah ("Git Out The Way")
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 26 | View Replies]

To: muawiyah
I know there are arguments for passenger rail, and I know a lot of people are passionate about trains - I've always wanted to take a train trip. In South Africa, taking the Blue Train between Cape Town & Johannesburg must be awesome, but because of the difference in price, I always flew when down there (IIRC, $90 air vs $600 rail).

I'm just arguing the economic aspects of passenger rail - it can almost never compete economically with other forms of travel. When you fly, 99%-plus of the trip is made on free infrastructure (air) - every inch a train travels must be on expensive infrastructure, often situated on expensive real estate.

As far as train vs cars go, the people have voted. Even in the heart of western europe and in Japan, with super efficient, clean & safe trains, the vast majority of people choose autos and airlines over trains. And while roads may be a little more expensive to construct than high-speed rail track, I would guess that maintenance and security costs significantly close, if not eliminate, that difference.

The Rhine-Mein to Nurnburg trip? Sounds like Savannah to Atlanta. Done that one about 100 times.

30 posted on 03/26/2010 11:53:01 AM PDT by LIBERTARIAN JOE (Don't blame me - I voted for Ron Paul!)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 29 | View Replies]

To: Alberta's Child
What you'll often find is that a city will often face other constraints long before it reaches the kind of size and density that makes some of these transportation systems feasible.

Such as an entrenched criminal political ruling class that drives all productive activity out of the area. With that exodus, the only remaining economic resource is the pocket of the US federal taxpayer.

31 posted on 03/26/2010 12:47:30 PM PDT by Erasmus (The Last of the Bohicans)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 19 | View Replies]

To: muawiyah
The only time I did it was Wien-->München. Of course, that was on the company's Groschen.
32 posted on 03/26/2010 12:53:20 PM PDT by Erasmus (The Last of the Bohicans)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 29 | View Replies]

To: Willie Green

So?


33 posted on 03/26/2010 1:50:36 PM PDT by SoCal Pubbie
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 28 | View Replies]

To: Willie Green
Cato is funded by Big Oil.

Does that alter the facts?

34 posted on 03/26/2010 2:07:08 PM PDT by dearolddad
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 28 | View Replies]

To: dearolddad

Yes. The Oil Lobby opposes efficient mass transit because it lowers their profit.


35 posted on 03/26/2010 2:47:53 PM PDT by Willie Green
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 34 | View Replies]

To: Willie Green

You have a link to that of course.


36 posted on 03/26/2010 2:53:48 PM PDT by dearolddad
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 35 | View Replies]

To: muawiyah
Germany is roughly the size of Indiana + Ohio...UK comes in toward Illinois

LOL! Not on this planet. UK = Oregon. Germany = Montana.

37 posted on 03/26/2010 4:20:28 PM PDT by 10Ring
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 29 | View Replies]

To: dearolddad
You have a link to that of course.

Of course.

38 posted on 03/26/2010 5:01:43 PM PDT by Willie Green
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 36 | View Replies]

To: Willie Green

Cato vs. Greenpeace (the outfit behind exxonsecrets.org)...gee, whom should I trust?


39 posted on 03/26/2010 5:14:30 PM PDT by 10Ring
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 38 | View Replies]

To: Willie Green

Sure is comforting to note that “big oil” is the only corporation that contributes to Cato.


40 posted on 03/26/2010 5:35:35 PM PDT by dearolddad
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 38 | View Replies]

To: 10Ring
Cato vs. Greenpeace (the outfit behind exxonsecrets.org)...gee, whom should I trust?

Only an idiot would trust either one.
41 posted on 03/26/2010 6:19:16 PM PDT by Willie Green
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 39 | View Replies]

To: Willie Green
Only an idiot would trust either one.

Don't be too hard on yourself...it can all be blamed on "Big Oil".

42 posted on 03/26/2010 8:47:51 PM PDT by 10Ring
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 41 | View Replies]

To: 10Ring
Oooooohhh.... clever spin!!!
Where'd you learn that?
Kindergarten?
43 posted on 03/27/2010 4:34:51 AM PDT by Willie Green
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 42 | View Replies]

To: Willie Green; All

How dare a company makes a “profit”.. Willie, I think you are socialist.. If you think the Government should control transportation and god knows what else and you hate private industry, you are no conservative..


44 posted on 03/27/2010 5:31:32 AM PDT by KevinDavis (No money for the moon, but money for High Speed Choo Choo's....)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 35 | View Replies]

To: KevinDavis
How dare a company makes a “profit”.. Willie, I think you are socialist..

No. How dare an industry limit competition and consumer choice.

Kevin, I KNOW that you are a fascist.

45 posted on 03/27/2010 5:42:17 AM PDT by Willie Green
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 44 | View Replies]

To: Willie Green; All

Why I’m a fascist??? Cause I live in the real world that majority of the American people prefer to DRIVE??? I also think the future is telecommuting not public transport.. Never mind in Illinois it has been bailed out so many times?? Never mind that a lot of companies are moving away from the Cities and into suburban areas??? I live in the real modern world.. Not some fantasy past world..


46 posted on 03/27/2010 5:47:41 AM PDT by KevinDavis (No money for the moon, but money for High Speed Choo Choo's....)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 45 | View Replies]

Disclaimer: Opinions posted on Free Republic are those of the individual posters and do not necessarily represent the opinion of Free Republic or its management. All materials posted herein are protected by copyright law and the exemption for fair use of copyrighted works.

Free Republic
Browse · Search
News/Activism
Topics · Post Article

FreeRepublic, LLC, PO BOX 9771, FRESNO, CA 93794
FreeRepublic.com is powered by software copyright 2000-2008 John Robinson