Thursday, February 03, 2011

Railing against rail 

Hard as it may be to believe, there is a good argument that "light rail" is even stupider -- or at least less sustainable -- than making ethanol from corn.


By Anonymous Anonymous, at Thu Feb 03, 10:02:00 AM:

greenlight, first time poster.

Pretty simplistic analysis of light rail. I'd need more information before coming to the conclusion that light rail is not sustainable. Perhaps light rail has a higher initial capital cost but lower operating costs. Perhaps future development will occur around light rail areas, boosting both ridership and efficiency.

I really don't know enough about light rail to say. But that article did very little to enlighten me on the subject.  

By Blogger Foxfier, formerly Sailorette, at Thu Feb 03, 11:38:00 AM:

The link at Coyote's place explains that the data did not divide things by capital and operating, and that this would cause the price to swing. That said, if the line is already running, taking an over-view of all light rail should average out the upkeep and operation vs expansion costs.

His "average occupancy" seems pretty accurate, too. The bus going on to the bases around here are usually at least half full, and the ones at the major malls are sometimes so full that people have to wait for the next, but the buses that go past my home every half hour seldom have more than a handful of people on them, even though there are several inexpensive or subsidized apartment complexes in either direction that are supposedly the reason for so many buses.

(It's to the point where I actually recognize most of the people who ride the bus during daylight hours.)

I've taken the train a few times-- each time it was late, either the arrival or departure was at an incredibly awkward time, the station was located poorly with no place for riders to be dropped off by POV, and it took longer than driving or the bus would have. It did get there, though, the cost was low, and we didn't have much of an option.  

By Blogger joated, at Thu Feb 03, 05:45:00 PM:

Light rail, ethanol from corn, wind farms, solar farms, all electric cars...none of them are sustainable at the moment. If they were, there would be no need for the government subsides and/or tax breaks.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Fri Feb 04, 08:10:00 AM:

If any of them were worthwhile, private investors would be lining up to buy in. All the government would have to do is help with the right-of-ways.

Since they are both wasteful boondoggles, no capitalists are interested.  

By Blogger sykes.1, at Fri Feb 04, 09:34:00 AM:

If you want substantive analysis of all sorts of rail and public transit, go to "The Antiplanner," http://ti.org/antiplanner/

In general, rail (including light rail and trolleys) fails on almost every category of social good, including fuel efficiency, CO2 emissions, capital and operating costs, etc. Cars often beat trains on these criteria, and buses almost always do.

The principal reason is very low ridership. Trains are usually empty, or nearly so. This is largely due to extreme inconvenience. One must conform to the train schedule (and they often stop running in early evening), and one must find additional transportation to get to and from the stations.

In many areas, trains are also dirty and dangerous.

There is no doubt that in very high density cities, with large ridership bases and short walking distances (very, very important), trains and trolleys make excellent sense. But in most cases (LA, Portland, Columbus ...) buses are better. They are cheaper, have high route flexibility, etc. Of course, most of the time they, too, are empty, which makes cars competitive with them on many criteria.

The principal effect of building and running trains always and everywhere is to reduce the number of bus routes and the frequency of bus service. This is because the high costs of trains siphon monies out of bus service.

This has the unintended(?) consequence of keeping minorities isolated in their ghettos, a point that has lead some civil rights organizations to lobby and sue against trains.  

By Anonymous Joseph Somsel, at Fri Feb 04, 11:28:00 AM:

Here in the San Jose, California, area, (aka "Silicon Valley") we have an extensive light rail system, part of a system we call "Valley Transit Authority" (VTA).

This system only gets 10 cents of its costs from the fare box, one of the most subsidized systems around.

Yet, when one watches the trains roll by, one can count the riders on one's fingers. Oft times there is NO ONE on the train!

Personally, I could ride VTA via feeder bus and light rail but it would take me an hour and a half one way while driving is 15 minutes.

The real motivation of our light rail system is to increase the downtown density. Yet the five high rise towers recent constructed as condos near downtown recently applied to become rental apartments due to a lack of sales. What we'll wind up with is a downtown increasingly full of high density housing for low income people as our government steps in to subsidize the apartment dwellers.  

By Blogger Foxfier, formerly Sailorette, at Fri Feb 04, 11:51:00 AM:

Reminds me-- we'd be pleased to use the train to visit Seattle...but most of the trains don't run on weekends, there's no way to do any shopping, and the few trains that do run do so from about 11 to five, and there's no parking where you do try to catch the train.  

By Anonymous SouthernRoots, at Fri Feb 04, 03:41:00 PM:

Remember the good old days of the Robber-Barons that were building train tracks all over and monopolizing the rates and land?

Remember how government got so upset with the practice? Remember the start of the Anti-trust laws?

Times change and now the government are the Robber-Barons and apparently, they don't have to listen anymore - they have a huge taxpayer funded slush fund with which to drive their pet social engineering projects.  

By Blogger Georgfelis, at Fri Feb 04, 05:58:00 PM:

I’m still waiting for the cars I saw in Popular Mechanics many years ago. You would drive your car out of your garage several miles down to the nearest commuter rail on-ramp, where a set of steel wheels under the car would engage the rails, and drawing power from the track, your car would automatically glide onto the rail system, accelerating to cruising speed and controlled by a centralized computer. All the cars would cruise along like a string of pearls, no jamming on the brakes or rubbernecking while you read your paper until you were up to your off-ramp, where the automatic equipment would put you back at street level and on your rubber tires again, so you could drive the rest of the way to your destination.

I’d rather have my flying car, but as long as we are dreaming….  

By Blogger Assistant Village Idiot, at Mon Feb 07, 11:20:00 AM:

We took the train to get to a vacation destination for the first time in decades last February. It worked reasonably well for the Williamsburg part. The train left Mass 128, 70 minutes away, with someone willing to drop us off. It arrived in the Burg, where we rented a car. Longer than a flight, but much cheaper, and easier than driving. But the other part of our trip was Camp Jejune and the Crystal Coast. If we had tried to take the train there, the change and waiting time (at DC or Richmond) would have been ridiculous. The train is great if it's going pretty exactly where you want to go. Beyond that, it creates complications at both ends of the trip.  

By Blogger Assistant Village Idiot, at Mon Feb 07, 11:27:00 AM:

Sam Staley's book The Road More Traveled, about traffic congestion in general, treats the inefficiencies of light rail as a subtopic. I don't remember the numbers, but there is a threshold population density where it becomes efficient. And that applies to both ends of the trip, not just the business core commuters are aiming toward. If the density is only at one end, the threshold number increases. There are a few places in America where this works, but not many.  

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