Raleigh Rail Rises from the Dead

Two years ago, the idea of building a $1 billion rail system in the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill area died when the FTA said not enough people would ride it to justify federal funding. But now, a new proposal has been made to build a similar rail system, only this one would cost twice as much money for twice as many miles of rail.

Because, as everyone knows, if building 28 miles of rail line is a waste of money, then building 56 miles makes perfect sense.

Proponents are counting on getting a quarter of the money from Washington and a quarter from the state of North Carolina. Of course, at a mere $35 million a mile, $2 billion won’t be enough to build the proposed 56 miles of light rail, not when most light-rail lines are coming in at $50 million a mile. But they’ll worry about that later.

Who are the “experts” who came up with this plan? To give you a hint, the chair of the citizens advisory committee is a pathologist at Duke University. That certainly makes one eligible to be an amateur transit expert qualified to spend $2 billion of someone else’s money.

They point to the Charlotte light rail as a great success, even though it had 100 percent cost overruns, opened months late, and put numerous retailers along its route out of business. They don’t mention these things, but instead focus on the supposed billions in investments made along the route (which also happens to be one of the city’s main thoroughfares). At least some of those investments were made by companies forced to move somewhere when light-rail construction devastated their business.

Where do these wacky ideas come from? Cities can see that a Democrat more favorable to rail than the current administration is likely to occupy the White House next year and that Congress is likely to raise gas taxes for “infrastructure” and dedicate 40 percent of that increase to transit. So cities like and Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill are lining up to be ready for the pork when it becomes available.

Never mind how expensive and stupid the ideas are — the more expensive, the better because you need to have expensive systems to get “your share” of the pork. Never mind that local taxpayers will have to pay half the construction and most of the operating and maintenance costs — you can sell rail to them by talking about congestion (even though it won’t relieve congestion) and the need to be a “world-class city,” or at least keep up with Charlotte/Minneapolis/whatever-is-the-nearest-big-city with a rail project.

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8 thoughts on “Raleigh Rail Rises from the Dead

  1. TexanOkie

    The Antiplanner has had several articles about rail since I have read his blog. Has he ever done a study on bus rapid transit (BRT)? Just wondering, because I can’t find any in the archives. If he has, someone please provide a link or something.

  2. prk166

    But that’s the thing, more isn’t more. More mileage isn’t going to make the situation any better. I hear that all the time from people though. Not in this for but in the form of “well, if there was another line to XYZ I could get on at ABC and connect.”

  3. kens

    Check out this link for an excellent real-life comparison from Los Angeles of a BRT line and a similar LRT line. The Orange Line BRT carries more passengers but cost about 40% as much as light rail per-mile cost to build, and costs half as much per passenger-mile to operate. The link is to a powerpoint presentation that summarizes the comparison data well, and includes a lot of graphics showing what a BRT system is like.

    http://www.gobrt.org/BTI_Orange_Line_Jan_23_07.pdf

    gobrt.org has a lot of other resources on BRT, as does the FTA’s website, fta.dot.gov.

  4. Francis King

    “Proponents are counting on getting a quarter of the money from Washington and a quarter from the state of North Carolina. Of course, at a mere $35 million a mile, $2 billion won’t be enough to build the proposed 56 miles of light rail, not when most light-rail lines are coming in at $50 million a mile. But they’ll worry about that later.

    Who are the “experts” who came up with this plan? To give you a hint, the chair of the citizens advisory committee is a pathologist at Duke University. That certainly makes one eligible to be an amateur transit expert qualified to spend $2 billion of someone else’s money.”

    To be fair to the gentleman (the co-chairman), he may be a pathologist rather than a transport planner, but he’s also likely to be highly intelligent. The article did not give details of his 28 fellow panelists, nor their qualifications.

    The article says:

    “Build an electric-powered light rail line from UNC Hospitals in Chapel Hill to downtown Durham. The proposed 16-mile rail has an estimated cost of $739.4 million in 2007 dollars.

    Build the TTA’s proposed tracks for self-propelled diesel rail cars from Duke Medical Center through Durham and Research Triangle Park to northwest Cary. The planned 19.7-mile line has an estimated cost of $579.6 million.

    Run the same diesel rail cars from northwest Cary to downtown Raleigh and then north to Durant Road in North Raleigh. This 20.6-mile line would cost an estimated $733.9 million.”

    So the electric light rail has a projected cost of $46m/mile.
    The diesel lines have projected costs of $29m/mile and $36m/mile.

    Total projected spend $2025.9m. Total length 56.3 miles.

    Buses are being supplied additionally at an unspecified cost. It would be nice to spend more (specified) money on the buses, and less on the rail. I am not alone, at least.

    “Joe Bryan, a Knightdale Republican who is chairman of the Wake County commissioners, was taken aback by the group’s ambitions.

    He and other political leaders had expected the transit panel to focus first on the cities and later on a rail link between Raleigh and Durham.”

  5. Francis King

    Kens wrote:

    “Check out this link for an excellent real-life comparison from Los Angeles of a BRT line and a similar LRT line. ”

    Below is an another perspective from the light rail end of town.

    http://www.lightrailnow.org/facts/fa_brt.htm

    The Orange Line has some serious problems, which are acknowledged by the BRT organisations. Particularly the problems with tarmac erosion. Many BRT systems use concrete for this reason, particularly at the bus stops (as on this system). Here the road junctions also appear to need concrete, which would reduce wear, and make the bus route more visible.

    Some of the comments by ‘LRT Now’ are a bit one-sided. For example, they criticise the width of the stations compared to LRT, but then miss out the point that the extra width of BRT stations allows vehicles to pass one another. A deliberate omission?

  6. kens

    “The Orange Line has some serious problems, which are acknowledged by the BRT organisations. Particularly the problems with tarmac erosion. Many BRT systems use concrete for this reason, particularly at the bus stops (as on this system). Here the road junctions also appear to need concrete, which would reduce wear, and make the bus route more visible.”

    They also had some serious safety problems, with quite a few car/bus accidents when it opened. They had to slow the buses down quite a bit through intersections which made trip times pretty long. I haven’t heard if they’ve found a way to deal with that and get the speeds back up again.

    “Some of the comments by ‘LRT Now’ are a bit one-sided. For example, they criticise the width of the stations compared to LRT, but then miss out the point that the extra width of BRT stations allows vehicles to pass one another. A deliberate omission?”

    From the little I ‘ve read on LRT Now, they seem to hate BRT more than they do cars. I sense they feel a bit threatened by it.

  7. the highwayman

    Though when you look at the history of the Orange line in L.A, it was built on a rail right of way. Also operations wise it would have been better just to extend the Red line along this alignment instead.

    As for the Gold line that would have been better to have been a commuter rail line instead.

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