The local transit agency, TriMet, likes to claim that continued expansion of the regional rail system is critical because rail has operational cost savings over buses.

Unfortunately, this assertion overlooks a glaring problem: The rail system breaks down approximately 30% of the time.

I subscribe to a TriMet email system that notifies me every time there are service outages on light rail or the streetcar. During the past 12 months, I received 117 such notices.

The Steel Bridge rail crossing is the source of most problems, and when it goes out, four MAX lines are affected. Thousands of riders are inconvenienced, often for hours. But there are many other reasons for rail malfunctions: cold weather, hot weather, collisions with automobiles, and security problems, to name a few.

In addition, Portland streetcar service was completely shut down in the South Waterfront for three weeks in September, due to construction of the Milwaukie light rail line.

In every case of a rail outage, passengers have to be rescued by buses. The road system is ubiquitous, so buses have many options for traveling from one location to another. When a rail car goes down, everything behind it backs up.

TriMet’s management is obsessed with building more rail, but the backbone of daily service is the ordinary bus.

John A. Charles, Jr. is President and CEO of Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization. 

 

5 Responses to “The Chronic Failure of Rail Transit”

  1. Brad Williams December 6, 2013 at 1:41 pm #

    Do “operational costs” include the costs for the trains themselves versus for buses to move the same number of people over X years?

  2. Chris Hesse December 6, 2013 at 4:30 pm #

    Was in Baltimore this week. I took the lift from BWI to downtown with no trouble.

    On the way back, after waiting over an hour, I took a cab(which is another story).
    A train had broken down in the middle of the system, shutting it all down.
    An unreliable system is worse than no system. One failure and it all fails. Not like a bus.

  3. Chris Hesse December 6, 2013 at 4:31 pm #

    Light rail, not “lift”

  4. Tom Harrison December 9, 2013 at 8:55 pm #

    Here’s a new bumper sticker for you, reflecting the utter waste of transit money on light rail instead of better roads:

    LIGHT RAIL = HEAVY TRAFFIC

  5. johnb December 13, 2013 at 9:36 am #

    Rose City Transit was the for profit that was replaced by our current mass transit.
    I remember the verbiage of the time was “we can do it better and cheaper”
    So far after more than 30 years I have seen no proof of that statement.

Leave a Reply

 

Other Publications by John

Elliott State Forest Management Puts Small Birds over Small Kids

John Charles | April 15, 2014
By John A. Charles, Jr. Last year the S&P 500 Index had a total return on investment of 32%. That should have been good news ...  read more

Time to Stop Throwing Money down the WES Sinkhole

John Charles | April 11, 2014
In its proposed fiscal year 2015 budget, TriMet forecasts the purchase of two additional vehicles for the Wilsonville-to-Beaverton commuter rail line known as WES. The ...  read more

Are Small Birds More Important than Small Kids?

John Charles | April 9, 2014
Last year the S&P 500 Index had a total return on investment of 32%. That should have been good news for Oregon public schools, which ...  read more

More On These Topics

Do You Know Taxes Take 30% of Your Year?

Kathryn Hickok | April 16, 2014
If every penny earned since the beginning of the year went to pay federal, state, and local taxes, by April 21 Americans would have worked ...  read more

Time to Stop Throwing Money down the WES Sinkhole

John Charles | April 11, 2014
In its proposed fiscal year 2015 budget, TriMet forecasts the purchase of two additional vehicles for the Wilsonville-to-Beaverton commuter rail line known as WES. The ...  read more

Are Small Birds More Important than Small Kids?

John Charles | April 9, 2014
Last year the S&P 500 Index had a total return on investment of 32%. That should have been good news for Oregon public schools, which ...  read more