A light rail analysis

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Posted by CMStPnP on Wednesday, January 29, 2020 8:52 PM

They initially go with light rail over all other options for two main reasons.

1. The goal is to get as many people to use the system as possible and surveys repeatedly show the public prefers rail to buses, trolley buses, freeway flyers, and all the other alternatives.   The public goal is rarely to have the most cost efficient system as the general attitude is they will pay a subsidy anyway and why not get the most potential ridership for the subsidy.

2.  At peak times rail based vehicles are more efficient than busses because busses have limited capacity per assigned driver.   Rail vehicles usually can add more passengers per driver by adding cars.    Busses add to congestion when you increase frequency where light rail does not as it is usually on it's own ROW.

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Posted by charlie hebdo on Tuesday, January 28, 2020 3:02 PM

blue streak 1

So how long will it take for say Toledo, OH and Cheyene,  WY ? 

 

HSR is sensible only in areas with a high population density, i.e., several metro areas >750,000 within a 300-500 linear range. 

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Posted by Overmod on Tuesday, January 28, 2020 11:24 AM

Paul of Covington
by building rail in the medians, we can save on a lot of the cost of land acquisition.   The argument has been made that the curves would not allow for very high speeds, but 100 or 120 MPH should be possible on most routes.

In my humble opinion ... you need to look at this much more carefully, and in better detail.

Land acquisition, while significant, is among the least of the 'costs' that is actually saved by building in Interstate medians.  First you must make all the necessary adjustments to preserve effective road drainage, which for almost any Interstate as built is predicated on the existence of easy runoff to the depressed median; you would need a fairly extensive system of vaults, at least, to provide this if you raised and ballasted the median as appropriate for high speed, providing the necessary separation between mains.  Then you'd need the appropriate raising of all the overhead bridges (and perhaps reinforcement of many underpasses) to accommodate even the necessary clearances for IC-engined trains, let alone proper high-voltage catenary.  All your stations, wherever they are, are really inconvenient to place in the median area, even if you build them around existing overpass roads with little more 'at grade' than satellite or central island platforming, and run shuttles to the actual 'station' and parking lots ... while providing adequate foot access. 

And while it is technically possible to build this for tilting trains, the amount of negative cant deficiency needed to accommodate typical 70mph Interstate radius of curvature is substantial, often of the order demonstrated to produce distress in 'normal' riders when they see the horizon rolling.  This is complicated by the Interstate design criterion of incorporating frequent curvature to reduce the effect of 'highway hypnosis' -- you could get around this with new-highway construction, but you're back to a 'fair share' of construction expense being allocated to the rail facility, which promptly puts you out of contention for most 'legacy' service speeds or capabilities.

Then we come to the grades, not just the peak grades but the vertical curvature transitions.  While there is a valuable potential momentum effect for true HSR, this is relatively much less true for the kind of lightweight train appropriate for providing tilting performance in the anticipated speed range, so that's no real help.  Add expensive wayside storage/boosting, much of which may be better provided 'outboard' of the entire Interstate lane architecture for ease of access and maintenance.

Now incorporate considerations of accidents, whether to rail or road traffic, specifically including the danger of the rail vehicles coming into contact with heavy trucks or their wreckage with little warning, and the difficulties of safe access for a considerable time, and congestion afterward, should there be an actual rail accident in most median areas.

There is very, very extensive technical discussion and consideration of the 'use of the medians' over the years.  It should sober you to realize just how few median projects have actually proven workable, let alone cost-saving, over all these years...

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Posted by Overmod on Tuesday, January 28, 2020 11:20 AM

Paul of Covington
by building rail in the medians, we can save on a lot of the cost of land acquisition.   The argument has been made that the curves would not allow for very high speeds, but 100 or 120 MPH should be possible on most routes.

In my humble opinion ... you need to look at this much more carefully, and in better detail.

Land acquisition, while significant, is among the least of the 'costs' that is actually saved by building in Interstate medians.  First you must make all the necessary adjustments to preserve effective road drainage, which for almost any Interstate as built is predicated on the existence of easy runoff to the depressed median; you would need a fairly extensive system of vaults, at least, to provide this if you raised and ballasted the median as appropriate for high speed, providing the necessary separation between mains.  Then you'd need the appropriate raising of all the overhead bridges (and perhaps reinforcement of many underpasses) to accommodate even the necessary clearances for IC-engined trains, let alone proper high-voltage catenary.  All your stations, wherever they are, are really inconvenient to place in the median area, even if you build them around existing overpass roads with little more 'at grade' than satellite or central island platforming, and run shuttles to the actual 'station' and parking lots ... while providing adequate foot access. 

And while it is technically possible to build this for tilting trains, the amount of negative cant deficiency needed to accommodate typical 70mph Interstate radius of curvature is substantial, often of the order demonstrated to produce distress in 'normal' riders when they see the horizon rolling.  This is complicated by the Interstate design criterion of incorporating frequent curvature to reduce the effect of 'highway hypnosis' -- you could get around this with new-highway construction, but you're back to a 'fair share' of construction expense being allocated to the rail facility, which promptly puts you out of contention for most 'legacy' service speeds or capabilities.

Then we come to the grades, not just the peak grades but the vertical curvature transitions.  While there is a valuable potential momentum effect for true HSR, this is relatively much less true for the kind of lightweight train appropriate for providing tilting performance in the anticipated speed range, so that's no real help.  Add expensive wayside storage/boosting, much of which may be better provided 'outboard' of the entire Interstate lane architecture for ease of access and maintenance.

There is very, very extensive technical discussion and consideration of the 'use of the medians' over the years.  It should sober you to realize just how few median projects have actually proven workable, let alone cost-saving, over all these years...

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Posted by York1 on Tuesday, January 28, 2020 8:48 AM

Thanks.  I agree with what you've written.  Sorry that I sidetracked the discussion.

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Posted by Paul of Covington on Monday, January 27, 2020 11:24 PM

York1
I assume you mean me when saying that someone has taken something to an absurdly extreme level.

   When did anyone seriously suggest building HSR between New York and Los Angeles?

   Actually, I agree that generally HSR is not needed.  We need R first.  Interstate highways are usually where most people move, and by building rail in the medians, we can save on a lot of the cost of land acquisition.   The argument has been made that the curves would not allow for very high speeds, but 100 or 120 MPH should be possible on most routes.  The goal should be frequent service.  Only when that service is approaching saturation, putting in HSR should be considered.  Even Acela, I think, is not really needed.  Only on a small part of that route can they travel at full speed.  I've always thought that the money should have been put into more frequent trains instead of faster ones.

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Posted by York1 on Monday, January 27, 2020 10:07 PM

Paul of Covington
I'm recognizing a common technique in making an argument.  Extrapolate something to an absurdly extreme level and argue against that.

I assume you mean me when saying that someone has taken something to an absurdly extreme level.

That may be true.

However, I also consider spending hundreds of billions of dollars to build new HSR lines absurdly extreme when we already have great highways and fast, cheap, and extremely safe airlines.

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Posted by Erik_Mag on Monday, January 27, 2020 9:59 PM

PJS1

 

daveklepper
I do know that the San Diego = San Yesidro line is a success and was an excellent idea. 

How do you define success? 

In 2018 the trolley system recovered approximately 48 percent of its operating expenses from the farebox.  Its system wide farebox recovery ratio was approximately 23 percent, which includes the trolley and the other modes of transit supported by MTS.

As is the case with DART, the San Diego trolley is heavily dependent on the taxpayers to cover slightly more than half of its operating expenses and all of its capital expenditures.  

The downton S.D. to San Ysidro line was built on time and within budget ~$80m). Ridership matched or exceeded projections, so it was a success in accomplishing the goals set out before construction began. Some of the things that helped make it a success was starting with inexpensive ROW, using proven technology (Siemens LRV's) and being realistic about costs and projected ridership. A big help was that both State Senator Jim Mills and S.D. Mayor Pete Wilson were both very prgamatic men (FWIW Mills was Dem and Wilson was Rep).

Perhaps the biggest reason for the initial success was that no Federal money was used for the original segment and there was minimal interference from Sacramento.

One use for the Mission Valley line was SDSU students parking at what was Charger Stadium and taking the trolley to the SDSU campus.

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Posted by Paul of Covington on Monday, January 27, 2020 9:42 PM

   I'm recognizing a common technique in making an argument.  Extrapolate something to an absurdly extreme level and argue against that.

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Posted by ATLANTIC CENTRAL on Monday, January 27, 2020 8:10 PM

charlie hebdo

Back to earth and scale.  A transcontinental HSR line makes little sense.  A 300-500 mile HSR line serving endpoints and some intermediate points (stops alternating between trains)  is in that sweet spot. 

 

So how fast would such a train make it the 415 miles from Baltimore to Detroit?

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Posted by York1 on Monday, January 27, 2020 7:44 PM

From Toledo to Cheyenne?

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Posted by blue streak 1 on Monday, January 27, 2020 7:37 PM

So how long will it take for say Toledo, OH and Cheyene,  WY ? 

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Posted by charlie hebdo on Monday, January 27, 2020 7:37 PM

Back to earth and scale.  A transcontinental HSR line makes little sense.  A 300-500 mile HSR line serving endpoints and some intermediate points (stops alternating between trains)  is in that sweet spot. 

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Posted by York1 on Monday, January 27, 2020 6:44 PM

blue streak 1
Why is it so many persons only focus on end points of a train ? 

 

How many stops cross-country are you thinking?  Every two hundred miles?  That's 15 to 20 stops.

Convince me I want to take a train that will take at the minimum 15 hours when I can fly under six hours.

Convince me that we should spend hundreds of billions of dollars for one single cross country HSR line when we already have airlines that go faster and cheaper.

Maybe my thinking is not as narrow as you believe it to be.

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Posted by blue streak 1 on Monday, January 27, 2020 6:29 PM

Here some go thru same very narrow thought.  LAX <> NYP  HSR would not benefit just the end point.  Any line that will have many stops that persons could use. Crew changes servicing etc.   As  well local trains would connect to the major stops.  With a supposed HSR route it could easily connect to persons 200 miles from a stop.  

Why is it so many persons only focus on end points of a train ? 

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Posted by York1 on Monday, January 27, 2020 2:13 PM

Paul of Covington
We constantly complain about subsidizing services for others, but everybody is subsidizing everybody else. 

 

That's true.  What matters is scale.  What matters is that we subsidize the least to serve the most.

How about a high speed rail line from New York to Los Angeles?  It sounds great.  It would be great.  Of course, it would serve only people in NY and LA, while using the tax money of everyone it bypasses, and using their land.

I have no problem subsidizing the sit-down inside if I use the drive-thru.  I have no problem subsidizing a new sewer system in a town near here, even though I will never use it.

I do have a problem subsidizing a new rail system between two cities when we have already subsidized roads connecting the cities and we already have subsidized airports in each city, all for the purpose of giving some people the opportunity to ride a train.

This can go on and on.

Because we have limited money and limited energy, we have to limit the projects.  The argument is which projects are worthy.

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Posted by 54light15 on Monday, January 27, 2020 1:48 PM

I lived in Poughkeepsie, New York from 1979 to 1995. The commuter train in 1979 was an old RDC to Croton-Harmon that you could read "New York Central" above the windows that was ground out with a body grinder. There were few trains and most of them were late. The service was a joke so most people drove. It was decided to raise the sales tax by one percent in the counties served by the Metro-North after it was formed. That money was strictly for the railroad. It improved to a point where hardly anyone drove to NYC and in the late 1980s you'd be hard pressed to find a parking spot near the station. On my last trip on Amtrak I noticed the parking deck at the Poughkeepsie station that wasn't there when I lived there so I guess when taxes are directed as they were, there are benefits for everyone. Like I said, every person riding the train is one less car on the road. 

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Posted by Paul of Covington on Monday, January 27, 2020 12:48 PM

   We constantly complain about subsidizing services for others, but everybody is subsidizing everybody else.  We talk about the fuel tax that pays for the highways, but it hasn't been adjusted for inflation in a couple(?) of decades and has not been covering the full expense.  Then there are services like law enforcement and emergency services on the highways.  Also, once you get off the major highways and on to local streets, they are paid for mostly by other taxes like property taxes and sales taxes which are paid by everyone whether they have a car or not.  If you use the drive-through window at a fast food place, you are subsidizing the diners who eat inside since you are paying to maintain the restaurant.  Suburban shopping malls maintain large parking lots, so if you use public transportation to shop at one you are paying for that service that you aren't using.  A 100 pound woman is subsidizing a 200 pound man's transportation on a plane since it takes twice the energy to lift him off the ground.  We can go on forever. 

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Posted by Deggesty on Monday, January 27, 2020 11:37 AM

Quoting York 1: "To make me pay for something over which I have no vote, and for which I receive no benefit, is one of the reasons the U.S. broke with the mother country 250 years ago.

Certainly, the colonists had no voice in the taxing--but they had received benefits from Great Britain in the troops that came to fight the French and Indians during Queen Anne's War and the French and Indian War. (just a little note as to history).

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Posted by ATLANTIC CENTRAL on Monday, January 27, 2020 10:53 AM

NKP guy

 

 
ATLANTIC CENTRAL
I am a believer in the tax ideas of Henry George who said we should be taxing land based on its potential productively, not on its market value. 

 

   Henry George was a great American, and as a young man I was drawn to his Single Tax theory.  But I just couldn't force myself to read Progress and Poverty, nor have I ever been able to explain his philosophy to anyone in such a way that they understood or supported it.  So I don't think his theory will be implemented anytime soon, no matter how much sense it makes.

   Cleveland's finest mayor, Tom L. Johnson, (who, according to Lincoln Steffens, ran the "best-governed city in America"  in the early 1900's) is honored with a large statue on Public Square.  He is holding in his hand Progress and Poverty.  Although a Clevelander, Johnson was buried in Brooklyn's Green Wood Cemetery, very close to the grave of his mentor, Henry George.

   But can anyone today fully and adequately explain the Single Tax theory?

 

 

 

As simple as it would be to implement, even with some adjustments and allowances, you are correct, it is equally difficult to explain.

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Posted by NKP guy on Monday, January 27, 2020 8:51 AM

ATLANTIC CENTRAL
I am a believer in the tax ideas of Henry George who said we should be taxing land based on its potential productively, not on its market value. 

   Henry George was a great American, and as a young man I was drawn to his Single Tax theory.  But I just couldn't force myself to read Progress and Poverty, nor have I ever been able to explain his philosophy to anyone in such a way that they understood or supported it.  So I don't think his theory will be implemented anytime soon, no matter how much sense it makes.

   Cleveland's finest mayor, Tom L. Johnson, (who, according to Lincoln Steffens, ran the "best-governed city in America"  in the early 1900's) is honored with a large statue on Public Square.  He is holding in his hand Progress and Poverty.  Although a Clevelander, Johnson was buried in Brooklyn's Green Wood Cemetery, very close to the grave of his mentor, Henry George.

   But can anyone today fully and adequately explain the Single Tax theory?

 

 

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Posted by PJS1 on Monday, January 27, 2020 8:37 AM
The question was how do you define success, meaning what criteria was used to determine the success of the San Diego = San Ysidro line?
 
The financials are a key albeit not the only metric to measure the outcome (success) of an activity.  But they are important.  Even non-profits and government agencies pay attention to the financial consequences of their activities. 
 
Whether light rail is the optimum solution for public transit in the U.S., or whether there are equally good or better alternatives that have a lighter impact on the public purse is an important question.  
 
Whether the U.S. should subsidize public transit is not at issue here.

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Posted by York1 on Monday, January 27, 2020 8:16 AM

daveklepper
The subsidization for mass transit is as justified as any public service, for the basic reason i presented.  The farmer makes a living by selling food to productive people in other ways who work and in some cases live in cities. 

Dave, thanks for your responses.

I would say that you and I disagree with what qualifies as "for the public good", who decides the question, and how much should be spent on it.

To compare a fire department, police department, or sewer system with mass transit, to me, is pushing the point.

This is a question I believe should be settled by voters.  For example, if the voters in Hartford vote for increased transit, then the voters in Hartford and the transit users in Hartford should pay for the increased transit.

To make me pay for something over which I have no vote, and for which I receive no benefit, is one of the reasons the U.S. broke with the mother country 250 years ago.  This same question fuels a huge political divide in our country today.

My state is one of only 10 states that sends more money to the U.S. government than it receives back.  We 10 states help to subsidize 40 states, some of which are very free spending with our money.

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Posted by ATLANTIC CENTRAL on Monday, January 27, 2020 7:36 AM

daveklepper

Who should pay for what is a problem in all democracies and we can feel blessed that we have the problem, instead of living in a state where the culture is: "I disagree with you and thus have the right to kill you." 

The subsidization for mass transit is as justified as any public service, for the basic reason i presented.  The farmer makes a living by selling food to productive people in other ways who work and in some cases live in cities.  In a free society, the welfare of all is interelated. 

 

Again I agree to a point. 

As I have explained before, I am a believer in the tax ideas of Henry George who said we should be taxing land based on its potential productively, not on its market value. 

That would fix the cities and pay for mass transit, stop suburban sprawl all without raising my taxes way out here.

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Posted by daveklepper on Monday, January 27, 2020 6:58 AM

Who should pay for what is a problem in all democracies and we can feel blessed that we have the problem, instead of living in a state where the culture is: "I disagree with you and thus have the right to kill you." 

The subsidization for mass transit is as justified as any public service, for the basic reason i presented.  The farmer makes a living by selling food to productive people in other ways who work and in some cases live in cities.  In a free society, the welfare of all is interelated. 

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Posted by ATLANTIC CENTRAL on Monday, January 27, 2020 6:15 AM

A few more thoughts....

Our three little towns have public water, sewer and trash pickup, and they pay taxes to the town that we do not pay.............

They have local police, we only have the state and county police. But the response time of my Barretta 92FS is just fine........

We have dairy farms, horse farms, fields full of corn and vegetables..........

And our local volunteer fire department in Havre de Grace has one of the fastest response times in the nation..........the tallest building in the town is only three stories.........

Life is good here........

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Posted by ATLANTIC CENTRAL on Monday, January 27, 2020 5:14 AM

54light15

Simple?  Maybe.  What if it's crowded with people who have no problem using other people's tax money to commute?

At what point does the "public good" overcome the individual's rights to keep his own money?

My point is, is that it's part of the infrastructure. Why do you pay taxes? Who benefits from sewage treatment plants? Who benefits from streetlights or fire and police departments? You are getting the benefit of the fact that every single person on mass transit of whatever type, is one less person in a car on the road. 

 

Where I live, I have my own well and on site septic system which I am financially responsable for, the fire departments, even in the three nearby municipalities of our county, are volunteer, only partly supported by tax dollars, largely supported by citizen donations, we pay a private contractor to pick up the trash and there is no mass transit to speak of........

I live 35 miles from downtown Baltimore........

I have lived here in central Mayland all of my 62 years, I know Baltimore and the surrounding area inside and out. I have lived "close in" to the city in the past. The Beltway is gridlocked every morning and every evening. When I have to go to the metro area, I don't even use the expressways, it is faster to use the old roads to access the north or east side of the metro area.

Baltimore needs real mass transit, and they need tax policies and proper development to solve the problem of people fleeing the city leaving blocks and blocks of abandoned houses and industrial buildings.

I'm all for that, but it is a much bigger problem than just throwing a lot of money at mas transit......... 

Sheldon

    

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Posted by daveklepper on Monday, January 27, 2020 3:08 AM

I disagre with you completely about Baltimore.  You failed to account for a great increase in suburban population.  Sure it is just as congested as before the initial light rail line opened.  But if those using both the light rail lines and the one heavy-rail line, and the limited state-subsidized commuter operations were added to those now using the highways, you would have gridlock.

I don't know much about Dallas, but I will defend Baltimore's investment in rail transit.

And Dallas 20 years from now might be in the same situation and be glad they made the investment at a time when it was easier to do so.

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Posted by 54light15 on Sunday, January 26, 2020 11:06 PM

(Simple?  Maybe.  What if it's crowded with people who have no problem using other people's tax money to commute?

At what point does the "public good" overcome the individual's rights to keep his own money?)

My point is, is that it's part of the infrastructure. Why do you pay taxes? Who benefits from sewage treatment plants? Who benefits from streetlights or fire and police departments? You are getting the benefit of the fact that every single person on mass transit of whatever type, is one less person in a car on the road. 

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