North Carolina Rail


North Carolina is interested in building out it’s light rail infrastructure.  And, in those places that make sense, it should.

For example, if there is a destination that has significant traffic, it might make sense to install some form of rail service to alleviate traffic or even draw revenue.

The problem with such plans?  Trains have to run on tracks.  And tracks are both expensive to build and impossible to move.  They are where they are and nothing can be done concerning the “ad hoc” needs of commuters.

So rail planning HAS to rely on data, good data, well thought out data aboiut the goals and ability to meet ’em.

Most, including the News And Observer, don’t do their due diligence.

For example, just this past Saturday the N&O ran an editorial, “Rail On”.  The author speaks about the importance of rail to the region and complains that Republicans in the Congress are stopping the funding necessary to build out our existing infrastructure.

…the state Department of Transportation properly has made passenger rail a focus of attention, with good results. But Republicans in the U.S. House say they’re going to muscle a show of might and anti-deficit conservatism by killing off one investment of unspent economic stimulus money that has short- and long-term benefits. That investment is the money designated for rail projects.

I especially like the use of key phrases that get fiscal hawks excited:

  • Good results
  • Short-term benefits
  • Long-term benefits

What is ignored, however, is what should be considered “good results” and what should be considered “?benefits”.  I’m not sure I understand what they might be after reading through years of articles and pieces like this one.

It could be that a benefit is to reduce traffic; get cars off the road.  However, I’m not clear how that would be measured and if that is even a desirable thing.  Certainly we would like to reduce commute times, but if THAT is the goal, then state it as such.  Something like:

It is our mission to reduce the amount of time an auto-commuter takes to drive from home to work and back again.

THAT is a specific goal.  Further, this goal should have distinct and measurable sets of data.  Again, for example:

A recent study found that if the typical commute were driven in the dead of night, 4 AM, the commute would be [say] 17 minutes.  That same commute during high peak rush hour is taking 32 minutes.  It is our goal to reduce that difference by 50%.  From 15 extra minutes to just 8 minutes.

Again, a clear measurable statement with a specific and measurable goal.  We have THIS and we want THAT.

As it turns out, there might be many ways to achieve that goal of commute reduction.  One of them might be implementing toll roads or toll lanes.  I get it, we hate the idea of toll roads.  Time consuming and almost insulting “Why should I have to pay to use my road?!?”

But when considering the cost of rail, we owe it to ourselves to at least consider that.  Because building out rail isn’t free either.  Either build a train or build a toll booth, you’re paying either way.

I’m not saying that high-speed rail ISN’T the answer, it’s just that I don’t even know the question.  And it for sure isn’t “How to spend billions of dollars that the Fed might give us”

GOP House members want to ramp up their anti-spending rhetoric and repudiate President Obama in the process by blocking the spending of unobligated transportation stimulus money, including $4 billion designated for high-speed rail.

That happens to be of keen interest in North Carolina, given that the DOT plans a big rail upgrade between Raleigh and Charlotte, and eventually between Raleigh and Richmond. The state has been counting on several hundred million dollars in stimulus money pledged by the Obama administration for the first phase of that work.

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1 comment
  1. Henry said:

    I truly do not understand why people think mass transit is a useful thing for daily commutes. Trains are nice. They offer a safe and relaxing way to travel long distances. I would love to take a train trip from my home in Michigan to Alaska, but I would not want to ride a train to work everyday for one simple reason. The train station is 10 miles from my home, so I still need to own a car to get to the train station. The only way that I can justify the infrastructure costs of building any form of mass transit is if I no longer need to purchase and maintain my own automobile.

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