Massively Misguided Transit. (Adventures in Light Rail)

By Doherty, Brian | Reason, May 2003 | Go to article overview

Massively Misguided Transit. (Adventures in Light Rail)


Doherty, Brian, Reason


ALTHOUGH THEY invariably cost far more per passenger mile than buses or automobiles, light-rail trains continue to capture the hearts of urban planners nationwide. Light-rail systems, as opposed to heavy-rail systems like New York's famous subway, use trains that travel on the surface, crossing other traffic rights-of-way. According to the Web site lightrail.com, such systems operate in 18 American cities, with four more under construction and more than 35 brand new systems approved or under active consideration.

One of the cities to get on board recently is Madison, Wisconsin, where the city council in January decided to spend $2.5 million to plan a light-rail line. An intergovernmental organization called Transport 2020 had propagandized the public with a 40-page report on the wonders light rail could bring to the Madison area. That report was based on a longer study done by Parsons Brinkerhoff, a company that designs and builds light-rail lines.

According to transportation policy analyst Randal O'Toole, Parsons Brinkerhoff, despite its direct pecuniary interest in the matter, was more intellectually honest than the governmental Transport 2020 crew. Parsons Brinkerhoff indicated that with two new commuter rail lines, Madison could raise the number of daily trips taken on mass transit, to 56,650 a day, from 37,250 trips without any new effort. …

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