Puncturing Rail Myths
Just wanted to pass along this excellent data-based analysis of rail myths and realities
(hat tip to Barry). To be frank, it contradicts my own support of some LRT
and some commuter rail
, but it's really important we understand the limitations of rail, even if we still decide to pursue some of it anyway
. Lots of great graphs too. An overview: (see the pdf
for backup on each point)
- Myth 1: Rail transportation is inexpensive. Reality: Rail transport is several times more expensive, per passenger mile, than driving or flying.
- Myth 2: We’ve subsidized highways and airports for years; now it is time to subsidize alternatives. Reality: Since before 1975, subsidies to Amtrak and transit have been many times greater, per passenger mile, than subsidies to highways and air travel.
- Myth 3: High gas prices are leading millions to turn to public transportation. Reality: High prices may slightly reduce driving, but hardly any of that reduction is taken up by public transport.
- Myth 4: Giving people transportation choices similar to those in Europe will get people out of their cars. Reality: Despite high gas prices and huge subsidies to transit and intercity rail, Europeans drive almost as much as Americans.
- Myth 5: Mass transportation saves energy. Reality: Getting people to drive more fuel-efficient cars will save far more energy than building rail transit.
- Myth 6: Rail transport can reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Reality: Diesel-powered transport emits as much greenhouse gases per passenger mile as driving, and electric power only reduces emissions if the electricity does not come from burning fossil fuels.
- Myth 7: Rail transport helps low-income people. Reality: Financial troubles with rail projects have forced many transit agencies to reduce bus service to low-income neighborhoods.
- Myth 8: Rail transport promotes economic development. Reality: Rail transport has not been a catalyst to economic development, but it has been a catalyst to subsidies to economic development.
Rail transit and intercity high-speed rail are expensive programs that require huge subsidies and provide little in the way of energy savings or other environmental or social benefits. Rail transit attracts few people out of their cars, and intercity high-speed rail mainly takes business from the airlines. The economic development benefits of rail transportation are also greatly exaggerated. Federal, state, or local officials who are truly interested in saving energy and reducing greenhouse gas emissions should find more cost-effective solutions than new rail projects.
Number 7 is particularly worrisome here given the front-page Chronicle story
this morning on extremely long Metro bus commutes to cover short distances, which generated a firestorm of comments
(most recommended at bottom here
). Do we have our priorities
right on bus (both local and commuter express) vs. rail spending? Let me know what you think in the comments.
Labels: commuter rail, Metro, mobility strategies, rail, transit