A cost-benefit analysis of high-speed rail

by on August 27, 2009 at 1:31 pm in Economics | Permalink

Matt Yglesias points us to this survey of costs and benefits from a Dallas-Houston high-speed rail link.  I'm not convinced by many of the particulars of the argument, which claims to show that the link is a good idea.  For instance will the train line really be built with green energy?  Will 80 percent of flyers take the train?  Is Madrid-Barcelona a good analogy? 

More generally, my jaw dropped when I read the denouement:

In this more comprehensive model that takes into account trivialities like regional population growth and a reality-based route, the annual benefits total $840 million compared with construction and maintenance costs of $810 million.

I'm not sure what discount rates he is using but even if we put that problem aside this screams out: don't do it.  Given irreversible investment, lock-in effects, and required hurdle rates of return, this still falls into the "no" category.  And that's an estimate from an advocate writing a polemic on behalf of the idea.  I'm not even considering the likelihood of inflation on the cost side or the public choice problems with getting a good rather than a bad version of the project.  How well has the Northeast corridor been run?

So, on high-speed rail, count me as still unconvinced.  Nonetheless if you know of a good cost-benefit study, of a single rail link, not in the Northeast corridor, favoring HSR, let me know in the comments.  I'll try to read and report on it.

General remark: It's not about population density per se.  It's about how many independent, hard-to-connect nodes the system has and that is why high-speed rail on the whole works better in Europe or Japan than in many other locales.  To give an example from a slightly different realm, I live right near the Metro in a high-density suburban area.  Yet I don't take the Metro to my Arlington office, which is about two minutes from a Metro stop.  I'd rather do the 37-minute drive.  Why?  Because I stop at the supermarket and the public library on my way home at least half of the time or maybe I stop to eat at Thai Thai.  If those conveniences were right next to my house I'd consider the Metro but they're not.  The fact that my neighborhood has lots of people doesn't help me any.  In Tokyo you could live for years within the confines of many (most?) individual city blocks.

John Thacker August 27, 2009 at 1:42 pm

The proposed Southeast High Speed Rail Corridor is an attempt to extend the NEC from DC to Richmond-Raleigh-Charlotte (and then eventually Atlanta). Their feasibility study is here, with claimed cost-benefit analyses. This study was done in 1999, and the basis for them proceding.

Of some note, another part of the analysis mentions that the DOT has performed cost-benefit analyses of various other proposed HSR links and found them generally to have total benefits below total costs. The benefits of the SEHSR only exceed costs because it links up to the already existing NEC.

John Thacker August 27, 2009 at 1:51 pm

Yes, but regular low-speed rail and subways work in Japan fine and is even profitable, which makes sense from Tyler’s point about Tokyo. HSR is a little different, especially the other shinkansen lines besides the Tokaido (Tokyo-Kyoto-Osaka) one, built only because everywhere else in the country had to have one too.

The point about the Metro and Tokyo is really about subways and regular commuter and heavy rail, not about high speed rail.

Right Wing-nut August 27, 2009 at 1:56 pm

The HSR in Texas is about to get really interesting, as both of the main contenders for governor are record in favor, but there is tremendous public doubt. (Note: we stopped electing Ds to state-wide office in 1998. This is a R-primary fight.)

Chris August 27, 2009 at 1:57 pm

The basic thing that Yglesias misses in his obsession is that rail travel is an inferior good.

It’s not that people outside a select few cities drive because they don’t have the opportunity to take the train, it’s that people in these cities take the train because they can’t drive.

Ironman August 27, 2009 at 2:02 pm

Tyler wrote:

To give an example from a slightly different realm, I live right near the Metro in a high-density suburban area. Yet I don’t take the Metro to my Arlington office, which is about two minutes from a Metro stop. I’d rather do the 37-minute drive. Why? Because I stop at the supermarket and the public library on my way home at least half of the time or maybe I stop to eat at Thai Thai. If those conveniences were right next to my house I’d consider the Metro but they’re not. The fact that my neighborhood has lots of people doesn’t help me any.

That’s because you don’t live in a properly designed linear city. Then again, nobody really wants to live in a properly designed linear city.

George Selgin August 27, 2009 at 2:03 pm

Sorry–I inadvertently referred to Matt as if he’d authored the survey! My bad.

Blackadder August 27, 2009 at 2:14 pm

When Mr. Freemark says things like:

while transit-friendly conditions are desirable – and it bears mention that both Dallas and Houston are expanding their transit systems significantly – there is little evidence those networks are vital in attracting customers to high-speed rail.

it makes me wonder if he has ever set foot in either city.

Eric August 27, 2009 at 2:17 pm

“Author” in my comment is meant to refer to the Infrastructurist, not Tyler.

Tom August 27, 2009 at 2:19 pm

And what is a “reality-based” route?
Everytime I read ‘reality-based ‘ it seems to mean that the author pulled it out of his butt because its the only thing that’ll work, even though it has never, or will never, exist.

Doc Merlin August 27, 2009 at 2:29 pm

A ~4% Roi, and only if things keep on getting better. On a project that will take MANY years to complete? This screams boondoggle to me.

rob August 27, 2009 at 2:35 pm

I often fly from Dallas to Houston and back for a day trip, back home by dinner. I don’t think I would be able to do that on a train.

Lord August 27, 2009 at 2:39 pm

I would certainly have doubts about such a line. Most flyers are probably taking connecting flights, destination traffic is more likely to need cars once they get there since both are sprawling, etc. But payback in less than a year does not seem to be one of them (though what is designated maintenance is open to interpretation).

ed August 27, 2009 at 2:42 pm

Another issue I never see addressed: HSR advocates assume thousands of people per hour are taking the train. How are you going to get all these people to the train station?

Yet another issue: one purported benefit of HSR is that there are more security lines at the airport. But then why not just lower security at the airports, or put more resources into speeding it up? I think rail makes an easier terrorist target than planes anyway.

rob August 27, 2009 at 2:45 pm

I just did the math and maybe it would make sense for business travelers to take a train instead of the airport. It currently takes 1 hour to fly from Houston to Dallas. At 186 mph it should take the train 1 hour 20 minutes. If the price were cheaper–and if the train ran ON TIME– why not take the train?

Doc Merlin August 27, 2009 at 2:55 pm

@ hibikir

Not for the houston/dallas rout. Being in Houston or DFW without a car is rough. Houston is roughly 50 miles across, and the DFW area is a collection of dozen or so cities with Dallas, Fort Worth, and Arlington being the largest. If you need to get anywhere in the areas you /really/ need a car. If you could at very low cost take your car on the train, it may be worth it, otherwise I’m not sure.

jj August 27, 2009 at 3:13 pm

Bartman,

As Tyler and others have mentioned before, the NE is precisely where a high speed service should be built, but that’s where it’s not feasible for political and infrastructure reasons. I think there was a post somewhere that the DC Boston Acela doesn’t even reach the routine speeds of the fastest train service of 50 years ago. So if not there, where?

The irony is that it’s easiest (not cheapest) to build a train in places where trains aren’t practical.

Figure out a way to get HSR in the Northeast and Tyler will probably get on board.

Andy August 27, 2009 at 3:33 pm

A 240-mile trip there-and-back would be approximately $60 of gas. Will HSR really cost less than that? For me that’s about the distance to Chicago, for which trip Amtrak charges at least $58 round trip, but actually more if you want to go at peak times (like on the weekend or on Labor Day), up to $140 round trip. And if I have even one other person with me in the car, then there’s no way rail is cheaper. Not to mention that the schedule of the trains is terrible. Do we really expect the HSR schedules to be any better?

David Hecht August 27, 2009 at 4:09 pm

“…in large chunks of Europe, we’d rather take a trip by train instead of driving, even though we can drive.”

I guess you must travel pretty light, huh? If you have any amount of luggage at all, the convenience of dropping it in your trunk and forgetting about it till you get to your destination is…pretty substantial.

To say nothing of the fact that “train” travel is generally pretty intermodal.

When I was growing up in Liege, Belgium, we took the train to the shore on our holidays:

1. Walk to nearest bus stop (about a quarter-mile).
2. Take 20-minute bus ride to rail station.
3. Walk from bus stop to platform (another quarter mile), stopping along the way to stand on humongous line and buy tickets (in those days you could only buy tickets for same-day travel).
4. Take 3h 15m train ride (sometimes standing in the corridor the whole way) to the seacoast stop.
5. Walk another quarter-mile from the platform to the tram stop.
6. Take a 35-minute tram ride to our destination.
7. Walk from the tram stop anywhere from a few feet to a half-mile to our rented apartment, stopping along the way to pick up keys at the rental office.
8. Possibly go up as many as three flights of stairs.
9. Collapse in a heap.

We’d get up at 7am and–with a bit of luck–we’d be in our rental apartment by 1pm.

Our “rich” cousins, who had a car, left after we did and got there before we did.

BruceMcF August 27, 2009 at 4:15 pm

You seem to suffer from an extraordinary degree of confusion about the difference between interurban travel and daily commuting.

For most people, if they faced the delays that they face as part of flying as one option for a daily commute, they simply would not take that option. OTOH, people actually do fly.

As to the prospect that an transport option that is faster, cheaper, typically more comfortable and with greater opportunities to either get work done or watch entertainment than a short haul flight might capture a large share of the present air patronage … what sort of irrational attachment to air travel are you presuming when this causes you surprise?

Finally, the notion that it is as easy to drive a train into the side of a building as to fly a plane into the side of a building … that’s a keeper.

Sigivald August 27, 2009 at 4:16 pm

will the train line really be built with green energy?

Would it actually make a difference to it being a good idea or not?

All that would do is increase the construction costs (and if “built” also means “operated”, it’d increase the operating costs for its entire lifespan).

I don’t see any way that the “green-ness” of the energy expended to build the system can significantly affect whether or not building and operating it as worthwhile; certainly if it’s not worthwhile to build it using normal energy I can’t see that it could become worthwhile if the construction used magical pixie dust (or solar power, say) at a higher price.

Even if we take the most hysterical global warming scenarios seriously the amount of “pollution” released to construct the rail line using non-”green” energy is still an insignificant cost compared to the other materials and the operating costs.

(Given that I don’t take such scenarios at all seriously, the consideration is facially ridiculous posturing for hippies.)

Kebko: Michael Moore is hilarious, yes. If he thinks you can actually make a NY-LA rail system that can run at an average of 140-odd MPH (2443 miles straight line, 17 hours), do it non-stop, and have any riders for what it’d cost, well, he’s daft. But then, he is daft.

It’d cost a fortune to build and operate, there’s not that much demand that would tolerate that length of time, in the real world you’d have a lot of stops, there are annoying mountain ranges in the way… the ones that the Shikansen avoids.

Sure, Europeans and the Japanese have some high speed rail. And when you have a non-automotive culture and/or really high population density and nearby urban areas, you can make that plausible.

People seem to forget the scales involved; France is about the size of the Oregon, Washington, Idaho blob. And it’s as far from Portland to Phoenix as it is from London to Moscow.

The busiest of the Shikansen lines in Japan (Tokyo-Osaka) is only 300-odd miles long, and from the maps appears to have 15 stops between the terminal points. You just can’t count the top speed of the trains, divide the NY-LA distance by that, and call it that many hours – and then assume anyone would want to ride it non-stop.

NY-LA is the worst possible example, and leave it to Moore to bring it up as his shocker. A rail corridor along the eastern seaboard, for instance, is actually plausible – and IIRC the only place Amtrak is actually profitable.

Seward August 27, 2009 at 4:31 pm

David Hecht,

Car use and ownership has done nothing but go up and up in Europe over the past few decades, despite all manner of government efforts to curb their use.

GHB August 27, 2009 at 4:37 pm

A c-b analysis that comes out in favour of HSR:
http://www.networkrail.co.uk/aspx/5892.aspx
Although it doesn’t meet the criterion of “good” since the numbers are pretty finger in the air. And unfortunately for HSR advocates, I very much doubt it’ll happen.

Eric August 27, 2009 at 4:41 pm

“Finally, the notion that it is as easy to drive a train into the side of a building as to fly a plane into the side of a building … that’s a keeper.”

So is the idea that because one terrorist act had a certain method, all others must use the same method. 9/11 was a terrorist act, but not all terrorist acts are 9/11s. Nearly all are smaller, some possible ones are larger. The advantage of commercial aviation (in the era of the hardened cockpit door) is that the fixed physical infrastructure that must be secured is quite compact. An HSR network is sprawling by definition and requires large numbers of weak points: above-grade crossings, tunnels, bridges, etc.

rob August 27, 2009 at 5:24 pm

The argument for NOT taking the train from Houston to Dallas is silly. Of course you need to rent a car once you get to Dallas, but you have to rent a car if you fly also! Nobody drives from Houston to Dallas for a business trip. Many fly back and forth in a single day.

Why wouldn’t most choose to take the train if the travel time was the same and the cost less????? Am I missing something?

Jim Glass August 27, 2009 at 5:51 pm

One assumption in the article Tyler links to is that cities will successfully encourage thousands people to move to inner city station areas so that high-speed rail can be viable. The author describes this as a “conservative” assumption. I would choose another word, like “dubious”.

“Ridiculous” is a better one.

This myth that rail transport supports higher population density is totally refuted by all experience.

The history of the NYC subways shows exactly the opposite. They were intentionally created to promote “urban sprawl” — and were a tremendous success at it! By the same token (so to speak) the regular train lines into the city enabled masses of people to move out of it.

Yet this strange belief that “rail lines promote population density” has become the core of their religion — in spite of being more absurd than anything L. Ron Hubbard ever dreamt up.

Of course, the complimentary belief that population density is a good thing, masses of people should move to inner city areas, in spite of their well proven preference to flow in the reverse direction, is strange enough by itself.

Slocum August 27, 2009 at 6:02 pm

I think we should eliminate amtrak and stick with the highly profitable highway, road, and parking lot system that we already have.

Not only do we have no trouble imposing federal gas taxes high enough to pay for the interstate highway system, but we also use those taxes to subsidize rail (and other things like bike paths). Toll roads are profitable, and so some states have considered selling or leasing their toll roads to raise large lump sums–which, of course, would not be possible if drivers were not willing to pay tolls sufficient to both maintain the system and provide a return on investment.

On the other hand, try charging enough on any train system in the U.S. to pay for even the operating costs — if you did that, ticket prices would be so high that ridership would plummet. Instead, it’s necessary to subsidize trains to get even the low levels of ridership we now have on U.S. passenger trains (unlike freight rail, which is profitable). And parking lots, of course, are paid for by the businesses that own them — not by taxpayers.

It’s true that fuel taxes don’t pay for all local and state roads and streets — but then, there is no prospect for high-speed rail to replace those roads and streets. They would be required regardless (even if there were no private cars at all, they’d be needed for bus, or bike, rickshaw, and/or horse-drawn buggy traffic).

jimi August 27, 2009 at 7:25 pm

@Rob,

Great idea! But like most Americans, I’m too lazy to walk 200ft. Can I drive there?

Major August 27, 2009 at 9:04 pm

Amtrak barely covers the operating costs of its Acela (HSR-lite) service in the northeast corridor, even though the Acela trains are mostly full of business passengers paying $150-200 for the 220-mile ride between New York and Washington, and the Acela runs on existing track. How is it remotely plausible that Texas or California could provide “true HSR” service, requiring brand new right-of-way and track, between Dallas and Houston or SF and LA at a competitive price with the airlines ($50 or so on Southwest and JetBlue)?

y81 August 27, 2009 at 9:44 pm

Couldn’t a high speed rail line be, essentially, destroyed in a single day by a terrorist? There are 200 miles or so of track between New York and Boston. Obviously it can’t be patrolled or closely guarded. One well-designed and carefully-buried bomb, detonated as a crowded Acela passed over, would (i) kill several hundred people on the train, (ii) shut down the entire line for days or weeks, while the roadbed was reconstructed, and (iii) what is more and most of all, ensure that no one ever took the Acela again, thereby rendering the entire capital cost of the Boston-New York rail line worthless. (Of course, you could bring people back to the train if you showed that the entire roadbed was policed as thoroughly as an airport, but that would drive the cost of rail travel up to where it was higher than air travel.)

James August 27, 2009 at 10:24 pm

Slocum, you are a liar:

“Not only do we have no trouble imposing federal gas taxes high enough to pay for the interstate highway system, but we also use those taxes to subsidize rail (and other things like bike paths).”

The highway trust fund is bankrupt and getting a bailout from the general fund. No one will raise gas taxes enough to cover this shortfall.

http://www.examiner.com/x-7864-Dallas-Budget-Travel-Examiner~y2009m8d20-Congress-members-lament-Highway-Trust-Fund-delays

Marc August 27, 2009 at 11:01 pm

The Colorado study will be out soon. That will be a good one to analyze.

I think it’s really hard to generalize on these matters. Building an o’hare airport in south Dakota makes no sense, but that doesn’t mean airports are completely worthless.

Ward August 28, 2009 at 12:08 am

As with an earlier comment on why some Americans like Europe (it’s the architecture… which is true by not the whole reason), this comment ignores the benefits of living in a walkable world. I love the old walkable European cities and I think the decreased necessity of having an automobile (or two or more) would be a good thing. Our increasingly obese population might benefit from walking a bit more, too.

Bakabon August 28, 2009 at 4:12 am

I don’t know about Texas, but the fact that real high speed rail in the Northeast Corridor doesn’t exist is really a shame. Who wouldn’t take the train if it ran from the center of DC to the center of NYC in 1.5 hours?

In any case, it will be interesting to see what happens in China, which has not only almost completed an extensive US-like highway system, but is now building up the largest and fasted high speed rail in the world.

Andrew August 28, 2009 at 5:23 am

Not to say they aren’t onto ‘something.’ Huge planes strike me as stupid. And yet, there they are, privately funded for the most part.

However, where is the study on telecommuting? Are trains zero emission yet? Houston to Dallas? Seriously?

And, the government doesn’t actually have to build and run the trains. They don’t even have to steal the land. They could simply facilitate a land futures market.

Slocum August 28, 2009 at 7:09 am

The highway trust fund is bankrupt and getting a bailout from the general fund. No one will raise gas taxes enough to cover this shortfall.

Regarding the highway trust fund, your link claims only — weakly — that ‘There are concerns that the fund may run out of money later this year’. And, if so, that would be due to effects of the lingering recession. But, of course, during normal times, the fuel taxes have not only funded road construction but also other forms of transport.

And nobody would consider raising taxes enough to cover the shortfall? Hell, we’ll be lucky if, when the recession is over, fuel taxes aren’t raised substantially to pay for new rail projects — see for example:

The Commission’s final report, Transportation for Tomorrow – released on 15 January 2008 and approved by a 9-3 majority of the commission – calls for raising the federal motor fuel tax up to 40 cents per gallon over five years to help pay for transportation infrastructure and expand highways, public transit, and rail.
http://www.lightrailnow.org/features/f_lrt_2008-04a.htm

Show me, on the other hand, where somebody (Anybody? Bueller?) proposes raising taxes on train tickets in order to subsidize roads, and, well,I’ll laugh my ass off because it would obviously be a huge joke.

Get with the talking points — rail advocates believe auto fuel should be taxed in order to subsidize rail because rail is inherently good and cars are inherently evil, and people — who stubbornly persist in making the wrong choices — must be incentivized to choose rail over cars by subsidizing rail travel and taxing auto travel.

John Whitehead August 28, 2009 at 8:51 am

I’m not sure why you say this is a “no” from the quote you extract. If the annual benefits are 840 and the one-time construction costs are 810, the discounted future stream of benefits will be an order of magnitude larger than the costs. Even if the costs double, the simple math says this project is a go. What am I missing?

anon August 28, 2009 at 9:15 am

Colorado is researching a rail system from Denver to the ski areas

Yikes! The Colorado Ski Train operated for almost 70 years before shutting down this year. So now folks want to quadruple the bet? What am I missing? Nostalgia?

http://www.skitrain.com

It will be interesting to watch the Colorado HS Ski Train supporters (not like that “other ski train” no sirreee) spin how it will serve “everyone” when in fact skiing is an expensive hobby for folks with lots of disposable income.

But, but, but – the jobs! (We must have some way to get the working poor into and out of the ski ares quickly to wash our dishes, clean our rooms, etc….)

TomB August 28, 2009 at 9:27 am

The lack of population density may mean that it is cheaper to purchase and maintain the lands, unlike in the NE corridor where land is more expensive.

Does the $810M figure allow for going over budget? I believe that construction projects regular go over budget and/or are delayed. The Big Dig comes to mind.

Josh August 28, 2009 at 11:10 am

Ed – I think that while there are indeed advantages to the individual when he / she can determine their own route and their own timetable. However, individuals aren’t building HSR, society is. So we have to look at the benefits to SOCIETY as a whole. Now we start to see why it is to our collective benefit to have mass transit and to encourage its use – reduced pollution, reduced energy use when measured per person mile traveled, reduced time wasted in traffic, reduced accident rate, increased opportunities for individuals to be productive while traveling, etc.

Kurt9 – Very simplistic argument that ignores all the other variables that determine profitability. Also, again – since we are discussing a public good, not a private one, there are many benefits that are very difficult to quantify and very difficult to measure in any profit / loss discussion of a railroad’s operation.

E – Let’s say that the exact costs of the bridge construction could have been known at the time the decision was made to begin. Even with that knowledge, would it have been the right decision to NOT build? I strongly doubt it. The existing bridge has been determined to be incapable of handling a major earthquake on a nearby fault. So if you don’t build a newer, stronger bridge and the Bay Bridge collapses, what does that mean? Yes, the Bay Area managed for a month back in 89 when the bridge was closed. And I will admit I probably benefited in increased mental health by taking the Ferry during that time. But that was only a month and there were probably a million fewer people in the Bay Area at the time. What about 3,4,5 years with no Bay Bridge? People’s lives would be seriously disrupted. The local economy would suffer. Traffic would be horrendous. You and I and everyone else would be screaming bloody murder at the state – you knew this could happen and yet you did nothing!

Karsan August 28, 2009 at 2:16 pm

Market based solutions to encourage America to become like Japan. 1) Eliminate the mortgage interest tax deduction entirely–I have a strong suspicion this benefits single family housing at the expense of multifamily housing. 2) Eliminate zoning requirements altogether as an infringement on the property rights of developers. That will boost density. 3) Eliminate free parking on all public taxpayer-supported throughfares. I am a non-car owner who pays taxes for roads with the expectation that roads will be used for motion. Not for two lanes to be constantly tied up by freeloaders who are too cheap to pay for parking. Not to mention the negative externalities of people driving around the block for half an hour looking for a free spot spewing toxic fumes and then slowing or halting traffic while they attempt to parallel park into a space that’s probably too small for them. I look forward to more suggestions to subject our coddled upper-middle class libertarians to the cleansing power of pure market forces.

BKarn August 28, 2009 at 2:53 pm

“I think that while there are indeed advantages to the individual when he / she can determine their own route and their own timetable. However, individuals aren’t building HSR, society is. So we have to look at the benefits to SOCIETY as a whole.”

Then you have to look at the benefits to SOCIETY as a whole – this society, not very substantially different societies in geographic and demographic terms – of independently-guided transportation as well.

Karsan: “I am a non-car owner who pays taxes for roads with the expectation that roads will be used for motion. Not for two lanes to be constantly tied up by freeloaders who are too cheap to pay for parking. Not to mention the negative externalities of people driving around the block for half an hour looking for a free spot spewing toxic fumes and then slowing or halting traffic while they attempt to parallel park into a space that’s probably too small for them.”

This would hold if anything more than a small minority of roads were actually clogged by people looking for parking, and were not instead supporting 8 billion (with a ‘b’) driven miles every day.

Karsan August 28, 2009 at 3:38 pm

A fair point BKarn that I will concede. However, that small minority of roads exists in the cities of the Northeast. If my suggestions 1) end mortgage interest tax deduction and 2) end zoning as an impediment to property owners’ freedom were passed we would end up with more cities that looked like the old Northeast. Then suggestion 3) eliminating free parking would result in fewer cars on the streets of those cities. I’m not very much for or against HSR, though technologically, I think they’re cool. I am against protestations of economic freedom and cries about planning and interference from those who benefit from current subsidies that we tend not to question.

BKarn August 28, 2009 at 10:55 pm

“In any case, it will be interesting to see what happens in China, which has not only almost completed an extensive US-like highway system, but is now building up the largest and fasted high speed rail in the world.”

It will be interesting, but I don’t know how valuable to arguments for or against a U.S. system. Building such a network in the U.S. would face tremendously costly hurdles that in China would be mere “annoyances” for the government to deal with.

The Dirty Mac August 29, 2009 at 7:56 pm

“How are you going to get all these people to the train station?”

In my NYC exurb, there is a four year waiting list for parking permits at the train station.

Hydra September 5, 2009 at 3:51 am

“One assumption in the article Tyler links to is that cities will successfully encourage thousands people to move to inner city station areas… ”

Even if that works, isn’t that an enormous subsidy to rail? It is going to cost a lot of money to move those people. Especially as long a scities are so much more expensive than other places to live.

George Vogt September 11, 2009 at 12:14 am

“I live right near the Metro in a high-density suburban area. Yet I don’t take the Metro to my Arlington office, which is about two minutes from a Metro stop. I’d rather do the 37-minute drive. ”

This is entirely correct. But the answer isn’t “no rail”, it’s to make rail properly multimodal. These days, freight travels inside standard containers that don’t care whether they’re on a highway, a railroad, a barge on a river, or a ship on the ocean. Put autos in railcars like they do in the massively successful Eurostar trains and all the hassle of finding out how to get to your suburban destination after a 2-hour train ride disappears. But that’s not cool and urban, and the so-called experts can’t imagine it.

guy February 21, 2011 at 6:52 pm

People in these debates pretend like cars are free.

If I ride the train, my sole expense is the ticket. Plus I’m free to sleep, read, or do work while I’m on it–can’t do that in car.

But if I buy a car, I have these expenses:

* car payments
* insurance
* repairs
* gas & tolls
* parking

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