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Thread: Great Rail Disasters

  1. #1
    Member
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    Columbus, Ohio
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    Great Rail Disasters

    Randall O'Toole's continued blasts against light rail are simply more of the same drivel espoused by these Libertarian so-called "think tanks". What amazes me is how many times this bad science gets repackaged under the name of this "Policy Institute" or that "Policy Institute" and then re-printed by Planetizen. The same is true of much of what Wendell Cox puts forward.

  2. #2
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    Portland, Oregon, USA
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    Texas

    It's an ill wind that blows from Texas, and the pdf article is shot through with misspreresentations and obfuscations.

    But I must say I do not understand the economics of light rail compared to, for example, busways.

    Sure I love our light rail system in Portland... but it seems incredibly expensive to build... in comparison to, for example, an express busway system.

  3. #3
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    An Ill Wind (Reply)

    There's no question each has their plusses and minuses. Cleveland's RTA has both light rail and buses and is now beginning to build a dedicated bus-rapid transit line along Euclid Avenue between downtgown and the University District to the east. I think it shows that what we need to be working for is a balanced transportation system that affords many options. Even among advocates, we waste so much time and energy bashing each other's favority mode, when we should be looking at how these modes can work together to serve all of our communities better.

    Sadly, we all have to deal with the O'Toole's and Cox's who live to bvash anything other than highway, but offer little more as an alternative beyond buying SUV's or giving car credits for erstwhile transit users. It does nothing to solve what is essentially a capacity problem that cannot be paved over with asphalt or concrete.


    Quote Originally posted by Miles
    It's an ill wind that blows from Texas, and the pdf article is shot through with misspreresentations and obfuscations.

    But I must say I do not understand the economics of light rail compared to, for example, busways.

    Sure I love our light rail system in Portland... but it seems incredibly expensive to build... in comparison to, for example, an express busway system.

  4. #4
    Member
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    Jul 2004
    Location
    Bainbridge Island, WA
    Posts
    1

    An Ill Wind (reply)

    Quote Originally posted by Miles
    It's an ill wind that blows from Texas, and the pdf article is shot through with misspreresentations and obfuscations.

    But I must say I do not understand the economics of light rail compared to, for example, busways.

    Sure I love our light rail system in Portland... but it seems incredibly expensive to build... in comparison to, for example, an express busway system.
    The issue is a very important one that also defies concise explanation. However, I think it safe to start with this assumption: people, given a choice, are likely to reject "solutions" that cost less to build but more to operate on an annual or unit (per passenger or per passenger-mile) basis.

    Would an express busway system in Portland have been cheaper to build than light rail? Certainly.

    Would this express busway system cost the same, or less, to operate? Of course not.

    If weekday traffic density exceeds a certain level, rail transit costs less to operate. The reasons may be summarized as more efficient use of labor (e.g. trains of 2-4 cars operated by a single person) and greater energy efficiency (of steel wheels on steel rails, and of electric motors). Cox, O'Toole and the like consume forests worth of paper to "prove" otherwise, but, as actor James Doohan once said (in character), "Ye canno' change the laws of physics!"

    As for that "certain level" of weekday traffic - the "threshold" above which light rail is cheaper to operate than bus modes?

    Various studies from Germany and Japan - and one from the U.S. - all place the traffic-density "threshold" for low-cost light rail at about 5,000 passenger-miles per mile of route per weekday (which means than 5,000 passengers travel, on average, over each mile of route). The U.S. study, by Boris Pushkarev, Jeffrey Zupan and Robert Cumella, also forecast weekday rail traffic for various U.S. cities with remarkable accuracy. The traffic-density measure also provides a potentually-useful measure of the investment (dollars per mile) justified in a given corridor. However . . .

    Many American transit planners and advocates don't "do" traffic density, preferring to cling to crude boarding counts. This is an important measure but misses a very critical issue for planners. If weekday traffic density is underestimated, the likely outcome is a too-small vehicle fleet and a flood of complaints about peak-period crowding. This is a characteristic (or "chronic") problem associated with recent U.S. light rail lines.

    Another issue associated with the findings above is the apparent concern over "lowering the threshold" - that new rail transit lines will be built (or demanded by politicians and local residents) willy-nilly, all over the country. That is unlikely. To paraphrase my partner, Michael D. Setty: the number of U.S. urban corridors with sufficient traffic density to justify the investment required for rail transit is, at most, several dozen. But the number of corridors with sufficient traffic density to justify investment for improved bus services or full-scale bus rapid transit is, at least, several hundred. Additional research is clearly needed . . . unfortunately, Cox and O'Toole aren't the only ones who don't want the truth.

    Leroy W. Demery, Jr.
    ldemery@publictransit.us

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