Light Rail: Seattle, WA


Light-rail and high-speed trains have long been the darling of the Left.  If some local or state government can come up with a plan to build trains, the Left is only TOO anxious to deliver the money.

Rail corridor between Raleigh and DC? Done!

Charlotte and Atlanta?  Done!

Roanoke and Durham. Done!

I admit that I’m flummoxed by this fixation.  But let’s take a look:

The idea is based on two angles:

  1. If we can move more people from here to there on a train, we’ll decrease the amount of fossil fuel burned.
  2. It creates jobs.

How much of this is true?  And to the extent that it IS true, what price are people willing to pay?

Consider, for example, that you are in charge of a light rail project and are trying to meet the targets your management or team has identified.  I have to think that cost HAS to be part of the equation.

At what point do you break that down and consider how much you are going to subsidize the project on a per rider basis.

For example, would you build a system that delivered people from the airport to downtown if it only cost $0.50 a rider per year?  I think so; I think I would.

But what if that cost went from $0.50 all the way to $35.00?  Would you build that system knowing the cost was way WAY out of whack on what the public would be willing to pay?

For example, consider this:

…Sound Transit will wind up $117 million below its overall budget of $2.44 billion for the whole Seattle-Tukwila route…

I guess there’s good news in that the project is under budget, but the project cost $2.44 ba-ba-billion!  That means if 1 million people ride the thing, each ticket is $2,440.

Yowza.

Is there a point at which even the most dyed in the wool Leftist would puke at the cost?

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11 comments
  1. Pino,

    The calculation is more like 1 million people each riding the train 100 times per year over a period of 10 years. That gets you to break-even at $2.44 a ticket over a 10 year period. That said, you still have to tack on operations and maintenance costs, but this actually seems like a good deal — provided 1 million people ride the thing 100 times a year for their daily commute.

    I pay about $10 a day for BART by way of comparison.

    • pino said:

      The calculation is more like 1 million people each riding the train 100 times per year over a period of 10 years.

      Sean, that’s 1 million people riding the train TWICE a day for 100 days. If that were the case, it would be an annual total of 200,000,000 annual boardings. Right now, the Sound Transit is estimating 2011 at 8.7 million boardings. However, even that revised estimate is not coming close to reality. As of May, they would have to average 26,900 boardings per weekday for the rest of the year. And they won’t.

      Even if you take Sound Transit’s estimates to be true, they get 56 million boardings. That comes out to $43.57 per ticket over 6 years. Not, as you mentioned, counting expenses.

      That’s an awful lot.

  2. $2.44 “ba-ba-billion” ain’t that much… lol

    On an even less serious note, if you spread the cost of ridership for this train to everyone in America, the cost would be pennies! Let’s just do that

  3. Alan Scott said:

    This is an article about the high speed rail system in China . Since Liberals are so ascared of the Chinese leaving us behind in rail service, I think showing the associated problems is appropriate .

    http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/cndy/2011-01/12/content_11831362.htm

    High speed rail is high cost . It also competes with existing transport , which is not always a good thing .

  4. dedc79 said:

    We allowed rail infrastructure/industry to crumble over the last century and we are paying the price. If we had kept a viable rail industry over the past hundred years, we’d have the routes and infrastructure to make rail transport affordable. The maintenance costs of rails are much easier summarized than for roads, but we pay an enormous amount each year (locally, at the state level and in federal taxes) to pay for road construction and maintenance, not to mention car costs, insurance costs, and fuel costs.

    Now a lot of the cost in buidling light rail is purchasing property rights in high density areas of the country. Equipment would also be cheaper and prices woudl come down if more cities/regions would build these rail lines. I’m not saying that is a complete response to your point on costs, but it would help.

    • pino said:

      We allowed rail infrastructure/industry to crumble over the last century and we are paying the price. If we had kept a viable rail industry over the past hundred years, we’d have the routes and infrastructure to make rail transport affordable.

      It’d be interesting to see how that took place. I don’t know if we allowed trains, routes and infrastructure to degrade or if we just moved away from passenger trains into cargo trains. The ratio of passenger to cargo in the US is reversed that of Europe.

      Now a lot of the cost in buidling light rail is purchasing property rights in high density areas of the country. Equipment would also be cheaper and prices woudl come down if more cities/regions would build these rail lines.

      Agreed.

      We just don’t live in the same world [groan] as the major European nations. They have a much different population density than we do. I get the idea that moving a packed group of people from here to there makes sense, but we just don’t have that dynamic.

      • We just don’t live in the same world [groan] as the major European nations. They have a much different population density than we do. I get the idea that moving a packed group of people from here to there makes sense, but we just don’t have that dynamic.

        Excellent point. We should obviously subsidize extremely high density housing initiatives in order for people to use our subsidized rail lines.

  5. dedc79 said:

    What we’ve subsidized over the last 70 years is extremely diffuse/sprawling development that results in multi-hour commutes, traffic/congestion, and wasted resources. Critics of rail are fixated on transportation subsidies but are happy to ignore all the ways roads/cars are subsidized at every level of government.

    And we don’t need to subsidize extremely high density housing, all we need to do is fix zoning laws that encourage sprawl (limiting number of units that can be built on property, requiring a certain amount of parking spaces per development, limiting building heights, etc…)

    • pino said:

      What we’ve subsidized over the last 70 years is extremely diffuse/sprawling development that results in multi-hour commutes, traffic/congestion, and wasted resources.

      I don’t know that we’ve subsidized it, we’ve just allowed it. I live on 1.33 acres in what used to be rural Raleigh. At night, I can sit on my deck and not really see the lights of any neighbors. I enjoy the fact that I can do that.

      Critics of rail are fixated on transportation subsidies but are happy to ignore all the ways roads/cars are subsidized at every level of government.

      What subsidizes are you referring to? Simply building roads?

      all we need to do is fix zoning laws that encourage sprawl (limiting number of units that can be built on property, requiring a certain amount of parking spaces per development, limiting building heights, etc…)

      Understand that when you do this…you get massively expensive housing costs. Consider San Francisco. It is no accident that California has some of the highest housing costs in the nation.

      In the end, you wanna make government create a situation where government can then come in and fix it.

      Interesting. The Left often credits government intervention in the form of “electrifying rural America”. I wonder if the Left is pleased that such electrification encouraged rural sprawl?

  6. Alan Scott said:

    pino ,

    Every time I catch an article about San francisco I scratch my head in amazement . How can so many crazy people be running a city ? They wanted to ban circumcision . Now they want to ban the sale of all pets, even goldfish because of the abandoned pet problem . The wackiest city in the wackiest state . Apparently , just because they can’t solve the real problems of their city , that does not mean they will not take on the really trivial .

    • pino said:

      They wanted to ban circumcision . Now they want to ban the sale of all pets,

      I seriously can’t identify the logic behind some of this stuff. How, on one hand, can you make the legitimate case that people are incapable of choosing to eat salt or buy a Happy Meal without a toy AND at the same time make the case that a 13 year old girl has the psychological where-with-all to decide to abort a child?

      Weird place the Left.

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