Last week I wrote about the problems TriMet is having with its constantly failing rail system. On Wednesday, TriMet General Manager Neil McFarlane announced that the agency is hiring an outside firm to review light rail maintenance needs. The contract will cost a maximum of $245,000.

This is an important acknowledgment by TriMet that the vaunted regional rail system is suffering from chronic breakdowns that will require ever-increasing levels of maintenance.

The ownership problems associated with rail transit are well known within the industry. Indeed, four years ago the head of the Federal Transit Administration (FTA), Peter Rogoff, gave a speech on this topic to a room full of transit executives. Mr. Rogoff reminded people that rail systems have significant long-term costs. FTA had recently concluded that there were more than $78 billion in deferred maintenance costs for public transit agencies in the U.S., and three-fourths of those costs were associated with rail systems.

TriMet management is having to face up to this reality. The supposed “operating advantages” of hauling rail cars disappear when the lifecycle costs of rail system ownership are taken into account. Bus transit doesn’t face these problems. The cost of a bus is only one-tenth the cost of a rail car; it can be sent to many locations rather than a few dozen; and the ubiquitous road system is paid for by millions of motorists, not the transit agency. This keeps the maintenance costs of bus transit to a manageable level.

Unfortunately, TriMet is in a financial free-fall, and absorbing substantial costs for depreciation and maintenance of light rail will worsen the fall for a long time to come.

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

 

2 Responses to “TriMet Finally Admits Rail Problems”

  1. Eric Squires December 13, 2013 at 5:25 pm #

    Thanks John, I can count on you for reasonable information sans spin.

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

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

Energy-Efficiency Myths of Commuter Rail

John Charles | April 2, 2014
Advocates of rail transit tend to argue that we need trains because they are more energy-efficient than buses or cars. Unfortunately, that’s only true in ...  read more

John Charles Debates Tigard's Light Rail Ballot Measure

John Charles | February 17, 2014
During January’s Tigard Initiative Public Forum, John Charles debated a Tigard City Counselor on the merits of the Tigard ballot measure that would place restraints ...  read more