There's Something Tragic About a Train


Transportation analyst Randal O'Toole tracks the failure of urban metro systems in an exhaustive new study, "Great Rail Disasters." Done for the Independence Institute, it lays out in detail what boondoogles most public transit systems be. From the executive summary:

The results show that rail transit has negative net impacts on every urban area in which it is located. In particular, rail transit offers no guarantee that transit commuting will increase or that transit will increase its share of travel. The twenty-three urban areas with rail transit collectively lost more than 33,000 transit commuters during the 1990s, while the twenty-five largest urban areas without rail transit collectively gained more than 27,000 transit commuters. During the same time period, per capita transit ridership and transit?s share of motorized travel declined in about half of the rail regions, while transit?s share of commuters declined in 60 percent of rail regions.

Regions that emphasize rail transit typically spend 30 to 80 percent of their transportation capital budgets on transit even though transit carries only 1 to 5 percent of regional travel. As a result, rail transit is strongly associated
with increased congestion: Sixteen of the twenty regions with the fastest growing congestion are rail regions.

Nor is rail transit environmentally friendly. Sixty percent of rail transit systems consume more energy per passenger mile than private cars and the congestion created by rail transit adds to air pollution. Rail transit, especially light-rail and commuter rail, can also be deadly. Commuter-rail lines kill more than twice as many people, per billion passenger miles, as buses or urban interstate freeways, while light rail kills three times as many.

But Randal, how do you really feel about rail?