Monday, July 05, 2010

Excerpts from a couple articles about rail transit in the latest edition of The American Conservative.
It's too bad we have such polarized opinions on this issue in Cincinnati. It would be great to see if costs could be cut. Personally, I think the size of the streetcars being proposed is way big.

Rail Against the Machine by William Lind -
Conservatives do not like public transportation — or so libertarians and Republican officeholders tell us. If that means we must spend hours stuck in congested traffic, so be it. Under no circumstances would conservatives ever ride public transit.
Except that we are riding it, in growing numbers. Studies of passengers on rail-lransit systems across the country indicate many conservatives are on board. Chicago's excellent METRA commuter trains offer one example. A recent survey revealed that in the six- county area METRA serves, 11 percent of commuters with incomes of $75,000 or more commuted by train. In Lake County, fhe mean earnings of rail com- mnifr-r.s were more than $76,000. (The figure for bus riders was less than $14.000.) Not surprisingly, the area METRA serves regularly sends Republicans to Congress.
So why are conservatives using the public transportation we are told they oppose? Because being stuck in traffic isn't fun. even if yon are driving a BMW. On a commuter train or Light Rail line, you whiz past all those cars going nowhere at 50 or 60 miles per hour — reading, working on your laptop, or relaxing, instead of staring at some other guy's bumper.
Still, libertarians shriek, "Subsidies!" — ignoring the fact that highways only cover 58 percent of their costs from user fees, including the gas tax. To understand how conservatives might appriiac'h transportation issues more thoughtfully, we need to differentiate.
All public transit is not created equal. You will find few people with alterna- tives sitting on buses crawling slowly down city streets. Most bus passengers are "transit dependents" — people who have no other way to get around. But most conservatives have cars; they are "riders from choice," people who will only take transit that offers better conditions than driving. They demand high-quality transit, which usually means rail: commuter trains, subways, Light Rail, and streetcars.
Here wo see one of the absurdities of the Republican position on transit. During the recent Bush administration, it was virtually impossible to get fed- eral funding for rail-transit projects; buses were offered instead. But most Republicans' constituents are served by rail transit.
The perception that conservatives do not use public transportation is only one of the mistaken notions that has warped the Right's position on trans- portation policy. Another is that the dominance of automobiles and high- ways is a free-market outcome. Noth- ing could be further from the truth. Were we to drop back 100 years, we would find that Americans were highly mobile. Their mobility was based on a dense, nationwide network of rail transportation: intercity trains, street- cars, and interurbans ((lie latter two electrically powered). Almost all of these rail systems were privately owned, paid taxes, and were expected to make a profit. But they were wiped out by massive government subsidies.....

Tracking the Cost by Glen Bottoms -
Rail transit's great enemy isn't public support or political will but its enormous price tag. The expense of heavy-rail subway systems has limited recent growth to extensions of existing lines. The last heavy- rail construction completed in the U.S. was a 3.2 mile extension of Washington Metro's blue line to largo Town Center, completed in 2004 at a cost of $695 million ($217 million/mile). Phase I of the Metro's 11.6 mile exten- sion to Dulies Airport is estimated at a staggering $2.65 billion ($242,1 million/mile). The bite for New York City subway extensions is in another reality-
At first, light Rail seemed to offer a solution, but its cost is steadily rising.
Now that streetcars have caught on in many U.S. cities—over 60 are currently planning streetcar projects— many fear that the cost-escalation virus could infect this mode as well. The price tag on Tucson's streetcar project, now under construction, has grown by 20 percent. Costs for proposed streetcar projects across the country range from a reasonable $ 10 million to an eye-popping $60 million per mile.
What accounts for mis dramatic escalation? Three key factors: 1) overdesign, 2) lack of technical expertise at the overseeing transit agency, and 3) external factors like polit- ical interference and rising material costs. Consultants retained to design these systems regularly use plans that they already possess without regard to applicability or functionality, selecting higher-speed overhead wire in rail yards and city streets or specifying cer- tain types of rail without regard for cheaper alternatives. Supervisors often cite rising prices of construction com- ponents worldwide as the reason for transit projects' blown budgets.
America's rail infrastructure won't be resurrected overnight. But history shows that we can build rail econom- ically and on time. After all, we have been constructing sys- tems of all sizes and complexities in this country for well over a hundred years. Recalling those past experiences today will give us the tools we need to build the trains of tomorrow.

Articles here.

No comments: