Friday, December 29, 2006

Rail Trumps Roads...in Theory

Life, Liberty, and Property has a good take on evidence (graph) that light rail, or commuter rail can move more people, using less physical space.

Daniels argument could be summarized thus, 'So, what?'

Daniel counters that we don't have the population densities required, in the U.S., to fully utilize rail. Rail systems never operate at a profit.

Roads do, however, get sufficient funding from gas taxes, and tolls.

4 comments:

Former Centerville Citizen said...

"Rail systems never operate at a profit."

Oh really? You mean railroad companies like Union Pacific never operated at a profit in the second half of the 19th century or the first half of the 20th? Did Leland Stanford and the like get rich some other way? I'm confused.

In reality, rails do trump roads.

And I quote from "Suburban Nation: The Rise of Sprawl and the Decline of the American Dream":

"In the current structure of subsidation, trucking is heavily favored over rail transport, even though trucks consume fifteen times the fuel for the equivalent job. The government pays a $300 billion subsidy to truckers unthinkingly, while carefully scrutinizing every dollar allocated to transit."

The book also states:

"...it takes fifteen lanes of highway to move as many people as one lane of track."

After WWII we made the decision to invest in a landscape designed primarily to accomodate automobiles. But when you crunch all the numbers the landscape we have is much more costly (and more heavily subsidized by the government) then if we had denser, carefully planned, pedestrian friendly communities served by efficient rail transit.

"Suburban Nation" sums it up well by saying this:

"Subsidized automobile use is the single largest violation of the free-market principle in U.S. fiscal policy. Economic efficiencies in this country due to automotive subsidization are estimated at $700 billion annually, which powerfully undermines America's ability to compete in the global economy."

Just think Tyler, had we been more careful after WWII, we could be paying less in taxes right now, considering that such a large chunk of our taxes on all government levels go to building and maintaining roads and all of the problems that they create.

Tyler Farrer said...

Rail systems don't currently operate at a profit. It was the case in the 19th, and early 20th century, but that is not true today.

Today, rail is heavily subsidized, while individuals pay the cost of the automobile. Properly allocated tax dollars can pay for the needed roads.

True, rails can transport more people as you say, "...it takes fifteen lanes of highway to move as many people as one lane of track." That doesn't matter much if people won't use the rail system.

The fact remains, people would rather have a car in their garage.

Rail is not the future, and it is a waste for tax dollars to be spent on it.

Former Centerville Citizen said...

Tyler you missed the point.

Rail isn't nearly as heavily subsidized through the government via taxes as roads and highways are with all of their associated costs.

"Rail is not the future."

After worldwide oil production peaks and gasoline skyrockets to 8 bucks a gallon, you might rethink that statement.

WP from centervillecitizen.blogspot.com said he'd be ordering "Suburban Nation." If he did you ought to borrow it from him and then you can further understand what I'm talking. Sadly the Davis County library system doesn't have a copy. But they do have two copies of Jim Kunstler's "The Long Emergency." Make sure you check that one out.

Allie said...

People use what they have. My grandmother road the bamberger line to school, to piano lessons, and who knows where else.

We've gotten so used to hopping in our cars that it's hard to imagine anything different.

Downtown, Trax wasn't "supposed" to be very successful, but look at all the demand for more lines now. It's unfortunate that our communities have been built up so dependent on roads and cars. With better planning it could have been much different. We could hop on a light rail line to go to the grocery store, visiting friends, the movies.

When I was in paris with my mom, I thought how awkward the streets were. They are really old, and were designed for a much older time, but go underground and you can get anywhere you want on the subway. It's convenient, fast, and much less of a hassle than driving.