Wall Street Journal Columnist - Who Needs Light Rail?

General discussion of passenger rail proposals and systems not otherwise covered in the specific forums in this category, including high speed rail.

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Re: Wall Street Journal Columnist - Who Needs Light Rail?

Postby Defiant » Tue Dec 05, 2017 4:16 pm

bdawe wrote:I think the 'reasonable light rail proposal' is usually one where you have an existing rail right of way that could be re-purposed for transit.

But if you're just laying rails in the street, probably best to go with the bus.


These are the advantages of the light rail over bus:
1) Much safer and faster in inclement weather conditions, such as heavy rain, fog, snow, sunglare, etc... This is due to just the nature of the vehicle that runs on rail and that does not need to be steered left or right.
2) Ultimately more capacity as very often the light rail vehicles can be connected together in rush hour. There is a limit for how the long buses could be.
3) Easier to control and less accident prone due to rail.
4) Cleaner running as the light rail is electric.

Of course grade separated light rail is the best case scenario and the fastest mode of transportation...
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Re: Wall Street Journal Columnist - Who Needs Light Rail?

Postby Tadman » Wed Dec 06, 2017 11:01 am

As a conservative, I'm supposed to toe the party line that mass transit is wasteful. Okkayyyyyy...

Just about anything other than cookie dough, when put in a vacuum, won't work. Light rail, a football, sex... it takes a system to make it work. (You can eat cookie dough raw with no oven, utensils, etc... a little attempt at levity this AM). If you don't have 3-4 rail lines connecting population centers and the airport, light rail is a flawed concept. But look at any city of size and try to tell me transit is a waste. The NYCTA Lexington line has more riders than the entire Chicago CTA. Imagine shutting that down because "its not worth it". You'd have chaos.

Further, if you really want to see a waste, add up your car payment, insurance, repair bills, tires ($1000/set is no joke these days) on an asset guaranteed to depreciate quickly. Not sure how that makes any sense.
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Re: Wall Street Journal Columnist - Who Needs Light Rail?

Postby David Benton » Sat Dec 16, 2017 8:40 pm

Tadman wrote:As a conservative, I'm supposed to toe the party line that mass transit is wasteful. Okkayyyyyy...

Just about anything other than cookie dough, when put in a vacuum, won't work. Light rail, a football, sex... it takes a system to make it work. (You can eat cookie dough raw with no oven, utensils, etc... a little attempt at levity this AM). If you don't have 3-4 rail lines connecting population centers and the airport, light rail is a flawed concept. But look at any city of size and try to tell me transit is a waste. The NYCTA Lexington line has more riders than the entire Chicago CTA. Imagine shutting that down because "its not worth it". You'd have chaos.

Further, if you really want to see a waste, add up your car payment, insurance, repair bills, tires ($1000/set is no joke these days) on an asset guaranteed to depreciate quickly. Not sure how that makes any sense.

How many times have you planned a rail journey , and didn't go ahead , because the "last mile " connection wasn't there?. Network is the key alright , but the light rail (and heavy rail ) can connect to buses and other public transit.When I look at somewhere like Vancouver, I think their Skytrain system was successful, because they had to connect to the ferries etc to make it work. It created a network.
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Re: Wall Street Journal Columnist - Who Needs Light Rail?

Postby lpetrich » Tue Dec 19, 2017 7:59 am

I think that driverless cars are wishful thinking. Their environment is too complicated. How would one recognize a road-construction flagger? Or tumbleweeds? It would have to use a middle ground between too little caution and too much caution, between being dangerous and being barely able to move. Driverless cars would also have liability nightmares.

Since this board is about railroads, I think that some rail experience is appropriate here. Driverless rail vehicles are used in several places, but those vehicles are all on private rights of way, ROW's that no other traffic crosses. I don't know if anyone has ever considered driverless trains that cross other traffic. But if driverless cars show at least tolerable safety and reliability in real-world use, then we may see more driverless trains, or at least trains that operate in driverless mode for much of the time.
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Re: Wall Street Journal Columnist - Who Needs Light Rail?

Postby Gilbert B Norman » Tue Dec 19, 2017 8:39 am

Mr. Petrich's immediate thoughts prompted me to see relevance to this article appearing in the (possibly paywalled, Business section of today's Times:

http://nytimes.com/2017/12/18/business/ ... ption.html

Fair Use:

..“Once the trend gets going, it can happen very fast,” said Guido Jouret, chief digital officer at ABB, an electronics company based in Zurich whose businesses include constructing charging stations.

But this electric-car future is still missing some pieces. Some crucial raw materials are scarce. There are not enough places to recharge. Battery-powered cars still cost thousands of dollars more than many gasoline vehicles.

Car companies are racing to overcome these obstacles. They, and the millions of people they employ, risk becoming irrelevant.

“Many people are nervous about how fast this is coming and how much they have to invest,” said Norbert Dressler, a senior partner at Roland Berger in Stuttgart, Germany, who advises the auto industry..
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Re: Wall Street Journal Columnist - Who Needs Light Rail?

Postby ExCon90 » Tue Dec 19, 2017 3:16 pm

I may have this wrong, but I believe driverless cars rely to some extent on white pavement markings. It can sometimes be difficult to identify with the human eye a white line that hasn't been repainted in a while. Also, in rainy weather the white lines can virtually disappear against the glistening pavement. Along the lines of Mr. Petrich's comment about possible fail-safe restriction of movement, might a rainy day shut down the whole highway system, as though an interlocking had lost power?
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Re: Wall Street Journal Columnist - Who Needs Light Rail?

Postby Dick H » Tue Dec 19, 2017 4:46 pm

And in snow country, there are often no traffic lines to be seen during and
for after the storm for some time, until cleanup is complete. Some city
streets go many days without blacktop showing, depending on the weather.
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Re: Wall Street Journal Columnist - Who Needs Light Rail?

Postby mtuandrew » Tue Dec 19, 2017 10:39 pm

On the other hand, driverless cars have integrated tools such as radar, GPS mapping, and predictive modeling (of surrounding cars, people, and obstacles). They see better in a snowstorm or rain squall than you or I, and no back seat driver or telephone call distracts them.

That said...

Moderator’s Note: we aren’t ROBOCAR.NET, nor do we need to validate the WSJ’s argument. Dozens of LRT systems do that for us daily. Let’s save the discussion of automated transit to the kind on two rails, unless there’s a direct comparison.
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Re: Wall Street Journal Columnist - Who Needs Light Rail?

Postby wigwagfan » Thu Dec 21, 2017 1:34 am

Defiant wrote:These are the advantages of the light rail over bus:
1) Much safer and faster in inclement weather conditions, such as heavy rain, fog, snow, sunglare, etc... This is due to just the nature of the vehicle that runs on rail and that does not need to be steered left or right.
2) Ultimately more capacity as very often the light rail vehicles can be connected together in rush hour. There is a limit for how the long buses could be.
3) Easier to control and less accident prone due to rail.
4) Cleaner running as the light rail is electric.

Of course grade separated light rail is the best case scenario and the fastest mode of transportation...


Being in Portland, Oregon, a city that prides itself on light rail to the detriment of our bus system (and, ultimately, transit ridership) - a lot of the "advantages" that light rail proponents like to cite are nor bourne out in reality:

1. MAX consistently has problems in both extreme hot (July, August) and cold (December, January) weather. If temperatures exceed 80 degrees, trains cannot run faster than 35 MPH, resulting in significant delays system-wide for much of the day. The Steel Bridge has had several heat-related shutdowns as it had opened and then could not correctly close, which effectively shut down the entire MAX system (as every single line depends on the Steel Bridge). Bus service continued on schedule and without delay, except for the small number of buses using the Steel Bridge which took a short detour via the Broadway Bridge, a couple of blocks to the north.

2. Due to the design of Portland's light rail system being defined by the length of a downtown Portland blockface of 220 feet, a MAX train cannot exceed two cars long. Because of the fixed block system in use outside of downtown Portland, Hillsboro, and on North Interstate Avenue, only one train can occupy a three-block segment of track, or approximately three miles. This severely limits train capacity; the Steel Bridge itself has its own capacity issues and is right now at full capacity.

Portland's transit agency chooses not to run higher capacity buses, so the bus "capacity" argument is in some ways a choice of mode bias and not reality. However, if given the same space - a three mile roadway - and the adequate vehicles to cover the space, you could run some 60 buses in the same space and carry far more riders via bus than light rail. The limiting factor becomes labor.

3. MAX has had plenty of accidents and derailments, including several derailments at the Rose Quarter Transit Center which employs a number of switches and a wye, which trains have climbed over. There are numerous grade crossings that have had collisions involved. When a MAX train has an incident, it shuts down the entire line segment. When a bus has an accident, the other buses simply drive around it.

4. MAX is powered largely by Oregon's only coal-fired power plant; a plant that was built specifically to skirt environmental regulations that were to come into effect a year later. TriMet simply chooses not to buy hybrid, CNG, electric (either battery or trolley) buses; again another mode-bias intended to placate light rail lobbyists. Seattle's trolleybus system is 90% hydroelectric powered; Vancouver and San Francisco both have large trolleybus fleets that also derive their power from renewable sources rather than TriMet's coal fired MAX trains.
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Re: Wall Street Journal Columnist - Who Needs Light Rail?

Postby wigwagfan » Thu Dec 21, 2017 1:44 am

Tadman wrote:Just about anything other than cookie dough, when put in a vacuum, won't work. Light rail, a football, sex... it takes a system to make it work.

David Benton wrote:How many times have you planned a rail journey , and didn't go ahead , because the "last mile " connection wasn't there?. Network is the key alright , but the light rail (and heavy rail ) can connect to buses and other public transit.


And that's the problem in Portland. While Portland's transit agency and MPO have been busy building light rail, they simultaneously gutted the bus system. Today, despite two brand new MAX lines, a new WES Commuter Rail line, several Streetcar expansions, and a lot of money spent, transit ridership is exactly the same in 2016 as it was in 2008. Our traffic volumes are at all time highs - not just "pre-recession" high, not just "cheap gas" high - but ALL TIME high, since the invention of the automobile and the first road.

What good is a light rail system, if its only destinations are parking lots? What good is a light rail system, when the neighborhoods it serves have been gentrified - and those who can afford the high priced housing, don't care to take transit? Those who need transit have been forced to move further away to areas where TriMet reduced/axed the bus system, forcing them to drive.

For years, Portland was the poster child, attracting transit advocates, urbanists and planners from around the world. But in the last couple years, people have woken up to realize Portland is not all it is claimed to be. We screwed up. Seattle, who has largely invested in bus service as other cities thought bus service was an easy budget cut item, found its transit usage increasing by double-digits. When gas prices dropped, transit usage didn't drop off. Why? Its buses had capacity, and served people - not developers and lobbyists. Whereas Portland bought the cheapest 40' bus around, Seattle was investing in hybrid buses, articulated buses, trolley buses - and simply put more buses on the road. And the ridership responded. Portland's transit riders got fed up and bought cars.

Light rail is nothing more than corporate welfare for developers and construction interests who like the "jobs program" it creates; but ultimately it takes transportation dollars away from where it's needed, and attempts to engineer a solution to a problem that doesn't exist. Portland loves to cite its reluctance towards "urban sprawl", yet anybody who has lived in our region for the last 20 years knows that Orenco Station or Orenco Village or whatever it's called is precisely urban sprawl. It was farmland and two-lane roads in 1995. Today it's cookie-cutter faux "downtown" buildings, with lots of five and six lane roads, no parking, strip malls, fast food restaurants, overpriced condos...but it's got a light rail station so it must be good! Today we're planning the next light rail expansion, the Southwest Corridor - but this time the planners are being a little more honest - the intention is to redevelop Barbur Boulevard from a former U.S. Highway to a mixed-use development, with gentrification and housing. The line will end at a suburban luxury strip mall, currently full of SUVs from the nearby wealthy community of Lake Oswego, while bypassing a larger, regional shopping center as well as a regional office and employment center - with absolutely no plan or promise of bus service to either of those transit destinations. The result? An expensive light rail line will create a handful of temporary construction jobs, a lifetime of subsidies - and more automobile traffic, but less transit usage.
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Re: Wall Street Journal Columnist - Who Needs Light Rail?

Postby SouthernRailway » Wed Dec 27, 2017 10:56 am

Randal O'Toole, who wrote the WSJ piece, is associated with the Cato Institute. A Republican friend of mine who worked on Capitol Hill says that the Cato folks are viewed as unrealistic ideologues. So I'd expect that the thought process in writing the article was, "we have an ideological opposition to light rail, so let's find some facts and arguments to back up that opposition"--not exploring an issue, looking at the facts and then coming up with a desirable position on the issue.

Light rail lines are a lot less efficient than bus lines (in terms of dollar used to build and perhaps operate them), but if I recall correctly, the real estate development and attraction of riders who would not otherwise use mass transit are desirable.
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Re: Wall Street Journal Columnist - Who Needs Light Rail?

Postby dowlingm » Mon Jan 01, 2018 10:52 am

wigwagfan wrote:What good is a light rail system, when the neighborhoods it serves have been gentrified - and those who can afford the high priced housing, don't care to take transit? Those who need transit have been forced to move further away to areas where TriMet reduced/axed the bus system, forcing them to drive.
counterpoint: Toronto recently introduced the 514 streetcar service specifically to target the unmet demand from the gentrifying Liberty Village and Distillery-West Don Lands neighbourhoods where many residents choose to forgo the expense of owning a vehicle and thus the expense of a parking spot.

Furthermore: if it is possible to satisfactorily automate cars, it is just as possible to automate light rail vehicle on street operation - more so if anything given that some contingencies are absent from vehicles which run on rails and are guided by switch changes, and most light rail vehicles will have some automated function R&D done where their cousins run on automated systems or sections thereof - with consequent reallocation of resources towards either cheaper service, more service or converting operator roles to onboard customer service ones.

obviously there are ways that streetcar and light rail can be done wrong, and up here in Toronto we have watched as cities like DC, Atlanta and Detroit have in their own ways sought them out - especially where they are created as novelties, built to a grant envelope rather than as needed, not integrated to the rest of local transit.

Some cities will never permit the built form which drives mass transit at the light rail level where 90 foot cars every few minutes are viable as they are here while we beg Bombardier to hurry up and send more. But that's not the same as pretending that light rail has no viable uses, and it's not the same as pretending that cities redeveloping their parking into more buildings and seeking to make more room for pedestrians and cyclists can also leave enough for fleets of Ubers, PRT, or whatever else the local lobbying fraternity are whispering in the ears of bureaucrats and elected officials and publishing in the newspapers they read.
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