Sunday, December 28, 2008

Passenger Rail Is Not Always The Answer

Much as I would like it to be, Passenger Rail isn't the answer to every transportation question. As I often push for more Passenger Rail in this blog using an argument that it is sound policy from both a conservation and an environmental standpoint, I would like to be careful not to push too much.

As Mr. Obama's presidency nears and we are every day promised dollars for public infrastructure projects, some local politicians are taking their heads out of their arses only long enough to see the dollar signs. Yes, they have heard that trains are sound policy, so if there's anywhere they can put one, they are going to ask for money for it.

So a little education while you guys aren't busy watching your own colons:

1. Light rail only is a good idea only for large cities. I am talking cities the size of Milwaukee or better, not those on the borderline of "medium to small." The economies will just never catch up with the initial cost and the burden of subsidy. Mayors who want this and get it will be ruining their economies unless they have a dedicated line in mind, say from one airport to another.
2. Commuter rail is usually a little less costly for right-of-way and more costly for equipment. It, too, makes no sense for a small city with small ridership. New Mexico Rail Runner Express is not really commuter rail any longer, it is state sponsored intercity (Santa Fe - Albuquerque - Belen) with no help from Amtrak. It will leave a burden of subsidy too large for a low pop state like New Mexico to bear. If it has to go belly up, it will be money down a rathole.
3. Long distance Passenger Rail only makes sense on a more frequent basis than Amtrak can provide at this time. Amtrak has gone into the commuter business to find money, and it does a good job in the northeast, midwest, and California. But there's no local government seeking stimulus money for an Amtrak route, so Amtrak won't benefit from this unless local government seeks infrastructure improvements that will facilitate Amtrak.

Is anybody listening?

© 2008 - C. A. Turek -
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