Rail Transit: “Corridor One”

Although everyone agrees that traffic congestion and air pollution are neither good nor desirable for Central Pennsylvania, regional rail transit—otherwise known as “Corridor One”—is not the solution to these problems. In fact, while the benefits of rail transit are touted as intuitive, the empirical evidence suggests that the taxpayers of Dauphin, Lancaster and Cumberland counties are being taken down a dead-end track.

Is rail transit cost effective?

Rail transit is not only expensive, it usually costs more to build and often costs more to operate than originally projected. To pay for cost overruns, transit agencies often must boost transit fares or cut transit service outside of rail corridors. Thus, rail transit tends to harm most transit users.

Does rail transit improve mobility?

Rail transit harms most auto drivers. Most regions building rail transit expect to spend half to four-fifths of their transportation capital budgets on transit systems that carry 0.5 to 4 percent of passenger travel. This imbalanced funding makes it impossible to remove highway bottlenecks and leads to growing congestion.

Rail’s high cost makes it ineffective at reducing congestion. On average, $13 spent on rail transit is less effective at reducing congestion than $1 spent on freeway improvements. Investments in rail transit are only about half as effective as investments in bus transit.

Is rail transit safer?

Rail transit tends to be more dangerous than other forms of travel.

Mode of Transportation Deaths per billion passenger miles
Interstate Freeways 3.9
Urban Transit Buses 4.3
Heavy Rail Transit 5.0
Urban Roads and Streets 6.8
Commuter Rail 11.3
Light Rail 14.8

Does rail transit conserve energy or improve air quality?

Rail transit does little to save energy. The average light-rail line consumes more energy per passenger mile than passenger cars. While some commuter- and heavy-rail transit operations use a little less energy per passenger mile than cars, the energy consumed to construct rail lines can more than negate this savings.

Rail transit is not an effective way to clean the air. Even where rail transit has attracted new transit riders out of their cars, rail transit costs roughly $1 million per ton of air pollution eliminated. Many other techniques to clean the air cost less than $10,000 per ton.

Are there better mass transit solutions?

Rail transit attracts riders because of its higher frequencies and fewer stops—and thus higher speeds—than bus transit. Yet buses can also operate more frequently with fewer stops. Rail transit requires years to build and can cost fifty times as much to start as comparable bus transit. As a result, the cost of attracting one auto commuter onto rail transit, relative to bus improvements, averages $10,000 a year or more.

How are currently operating rail transit systems performing?

Out of the nation’s fifty largest urban areas, twenty-three had rail transit in 2000. Randal O’Toole’s Great Rail Disasters reviews those twenty-three regions and finds:

  • Half of all rail regions lost transit commuters during the 1990s;
  • Taken together, rail regions lost 33,500 transit commuters in the 1990s;
  • Non-rail regions among the fifty largest urban areas gained 27,600 transit commuters in the 1990s;
  • Transit lost market share of commuters in two-thirds of all rail regions in the 1990s;
  • Per capita transit rides declined in half the rail regions;
  • Transit’s share of total travel declined in a majority of rail regions;
  • Sixteen of the twenty urban areas with the fastest growing congestion are rail regions—and one of the other four is building rail transit;
  • By comparison, only three of the twenty urban areas with the slowest growing congestion are rail regions—and only because all three have nearly zero population growth.

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