Monday, September 8, 2014

Silly Trains

I was reading the Fred Frailey blog over at Trains Magazine ( and it brought to mind a lot of silliness I've heard over the years about passenger trains and rail transit.  Here are some.

1. "Nobody will ride it."

This is my favorite.

It is usually heard in places that have no trains and is followed by "People here love their cars and won't ever ride a train."  I wonder if they believe they think they have evolved different DNA from people other places who happen to ride trains?

I wonder if, just before the road building era, if anyone complained about road construction.  "Drive from Chicago to Denver?  Why would anyone do that?  You can get there overnight on the train."

Then there is the tautological aspect of the argument.  Nobody rides because there's nothing to ride.  Everyone is getting where they are going right now, so why should anyone do anything new?

2. "If they could connect (where I am) to (some other place) by HSR, it would be great."

When I was a kid, I used to think about how great it would be if there was a subway line from my street to my school.  How cool would that be!  Problem was, I lived in a lightly settled suburb.

The mayor of Atlanta wants HSR to Savannah, Georgia.  How cool would that be!  Savannah is a nice place to visit, but it really doesn't need a dedicated HSR line.

The mayor of Columbus, Georgia a HSR line from there to Atlanta.  How cool would that be!   Columbus isn't even as good a desination as Savannah.

Then there are the continuous and ongoing studies (pushed by some influential politician) for either a HSR or Maglev line from Atlanta to Chattanooga.  How cool would that be!  Chatanooga is a fine place - kind of a mini-Savannah.  But, a HSR line?  Really?

3. "Transit is useless to me. It doesn't go where I want to go."

Pssst.  Are there people using transit who, for at least part of their trip, would be on the same road as you?  Would you like them clogging up "your" road?

That's the easy retort.  The harder one is explaining how when you build around roads, you optimize car trips.  It's a fools errand to try to build transit to replace automobile trips.  You build transit to allow growth beyond automobile oriented development.

If you want to get really puzzling looks, ask someone how they think all those folk who live and work in Manhattan got around before they built the subways?

4. "Criminals ride transit."

They will ride out to your neighborhood on the bus, get off, break into your house, take your TV, head back to the bus stop, and catch the next bus back to Transitville.  Sure.  This one is usually a thinly veiled reference to "those people" - whoever they may be.

Meanwhile, back on the ranch....

...cities have build and expanded transit.  Sometimes. in places with where none had existed.  Surprise!  People do actually ride it!  The greatest car-loving, freeway oriented place in the world, Los Angeles, is the best example.   They are slowly transforming LA with a combination of heavy rail transit, light rail and commuter rail.  On top of that, intercity passenger rail has been expanded to the north and south.  Other cities starting from scratch are Dallas, Salt Lake City, Charlotte, Portland, Seattle, and Phoenix to name a few.

...and I've yet to see a guy with ski mask carrying a stolen TV on MARTA!

1 comment:

  1. "Taxes will go up/ my property value will go down from the noise and crowds going by." Several studies - more are needed - show that the aggregate increase in property values near a transit station >> are greater than the increase in taxes, even when that increase is focused on the area near the transit statin (as contrasted with across the whole city). For a while the chairman of the Portland MAX or Streetcar was also the chair of the local real estate association . . . John Kneiling (and others) have pointed out that transit has been used to facilitate and maximize the 'exploitation' of land (in the economic development sense, not the pillaging of it [although some may feel that way about development anyway . . . ] ). Way back in he early trolley days, many of the lines ended at a development being promoted by one or more of the trolley co. owners or their colleagues, or an amusement park owned by the trolley co., etc.

    "The forecast/ promised land (re)development/ building boom/ improvements, etc., haven't happened (yet) !" These kinds of things have a long gestation period and cycle life. Real estate development capital $ takes a while to promote, gather, obtain approvals, build, and get into operation, especially if a lot of coordination with others is needed. No one is going to even start doing that until the transit line is a certain thing, and sometimes not until it's well under construction. Three to 5 years is at the lower end, 10 is more normal, and some portions may take 20 to 40 years. Keep in mind that many of the existing buildings have economic service lives of 30 to 40 years, and no one is going to throw away the value of the remaining service life unless there's a compelling and almost certain economic benefit to doing so. Would you tear down your house if you still had a mortgage to pay on it, and if you didn't have another place to go live similarly paid for ? Of course not. So why should a commercial real estate owner be expected to behave any differently ?

    - Paul North.


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