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Living Car Free Do you live car free or car light? Do you prefer to use alternative transportation (bicycles, walking, other human-powered or public transportation) for everyday activities whenever possible? Discuss your lifestyle here.

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Old 05-03-11, 02:35 PM   #1
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Would this be a near perfect public transit system?

Imagine a public transit system with all of the following features:
  1. One- or two-car trains that allow frequent service and scheduling flexibility
  2. Serves all the cities and many towns in a state or region
  3. Electric powered, quiet and powerful with axle mounted motors and power from overhead and/or a third rail
  4. Relatively cheap to instal, operate,l and maintain
  5. Electric power is independently generated and from sustainable sources only
  6. Travels between cities, but is able to go right into and through the cities
  7. Speeds over 70 mph between cities
  8. Independantly owned lines that are integrated into regional systems
  9. Low passenger fares
  10. Carried freight as well as passengers

This is not just a carfee nut's dream. I am describing a system that actually existed in most parts of North America.

The interurban rail system was built in the turn of the 20th century, ran for not much more than 30 years, and was dismantled by the 1930s.

It amazes me that such a system could be privately built back then, but nowadays we are told that interurban rail service is a pipe dream, is too expensive, and will never be practical.

http://xroads.virginia.edu/~hyper/IN...ail/index.html
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Old 05-03-11, 02:51 PM   #2
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Sounds good, but one key is back when the old system was built few had private modes of transit. Today the automobile is king. Outside of the largest cities in the US it's hard to get even a small percent of people to ditch their auto.

I would love to see a interurban rail system in all major cities. But unless the mindset of this country changes, I don't see it happening.

And BTW, here in Omaha we held on to our system all the way into the mid 50's. It was extensive and well used, till the automobile killed it.
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Old 05-03-11, 03:05 PM   #3
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Sounds good, but one key is back when the old system was built few had private modes of transit. Today the automobile is king. Outside of the largest cities in the US it's hard to get even a small percent of people to ditch their auto.

I would love to see a interurban rail system in all major cities. But unless the mindset of this country changes, I don't see it happening.

And BTW, here in Omaha we held on to our system all the way into the mid 50's. It was extensive and well used, till the automobile killed it.
I went to a talk on this at our historical society. The presenter said that one reason the interurban system crashed was because of increasing competition from cars and paved roads. Another reason, at least here in Michigan, is that regulators didn't allow them to raise fares (limited to 2.5 cents per mile) to cover higher costs.

Your last sentence is puzzling. If the system was still well used into the 1950s, how can you say that the automobile killed it? More likely it was killed by government policies that subsidized roads for automobiles while offering nothing for the private companies that operated the interurban.
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Old 05-03-11, 03:16 PM   #4
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They had interurban service between Dallas, Fort Worth, and outlying cities. Apparently what really killed the Fort Worth portion was anti-trust laws that prevented the electricity generating companies from owning and operating electrically driven trains. Not long after the power companies divested their train operations, the train companies failed. Apparently it was a small incremental cost to a power company to maintain rail lines along with the power lines (which ran in the same easements), but for a rail-only company it was too much overhead to take care of the rails.
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Old 05-03-11, 03:19 PM   #5
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Your last sentence is puzzling. If the system was still well used into the 1950s, how can you say that the automobile killed it? More likely it was killed by government policies that subsidized roads for automobiles while offering nothing for the private companies that operated the interurban.
Car penetration to the level we see it today was not the norm back then. When I was a kid in the 60s, my parents had only one car, so there was still a need for public transit. Today, mom, dad, and every kid over the age of 16 have a dedicated car at their disposal.
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Old 05-03-11, 08:52 PM   #6
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They had interurban service between Dallas, Fort Worth, and outlying cities. Apparently what really killed the Fort Worth portion was anti-trust laws that prevented the electricity generating companies from owning and operating electrically driven trains. Not long after the power companies divested their train operations, the train companies failed. Apparently it was a small incremental cost to a power company to maintain rail lines along with the power lines (which ran in the same easements), but for a rail-only company it was too much overhead to take care of the rails.
In New York City, the Mayor pratically put the tolleys out of business by requiring them to convert over to motorcoach. Other towns made the trolleys pay for snow removal and road repair! Incredible when you think about it because those same towns now have to subsidize the buses.

The interuban had a very short life span of less than 50 years before most were destroyed.
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Old 05-03-11, 10:21 PM   #7
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I went to a talk on this at our historical society. The presenter said that one reason the interurban system crashed was because of increasing competition from cars and paved roads. Another reason, at least here in Michigan, is that regulators didn't allow them to raise fares (limited to 2.5 cents per mile) to cover higher costs.

Your last sentence is puzzling. If the system was still well used into the 1950s, how can you say that the automobile killed it? More likely it was killed by government policies that subsidized roads for automobiles while offering nothing for the private companies that operated the interurban.
I like the concept and even though the system has a bit of a revival in places like San Diego there are some problems they have to overcome for a system to work in areas like Southern California. Metro Link works because it can run where cars aren’t allowed. Part of the right of way is in the center of the freeway as you get close to LAX. No cross traffic to worry about.
What could work would be something like and elevated rail or Mono-rail. From what I have read about the old Red Cars the problem was the streets were not designed for cars and rail to run together. Once they put red lights in left and right turns became a problem as well as cross traffic. I think for the system to work today the mass transit system would have to find a way to be removed from street traffic. Plus from a cycling perspective rails crossing the street can be a pain for bicycle tires.

What would be perfect in one part of the country wouldn’t be nearly as perfect in another.


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Old 05-04-11, 12:10 PM   #8
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I like the concept and even though the system has a bit of a revival in places like San Diego there are some problems they have to overcome for a system to work in areas like Southern California. Metro Link works because it can run where cars aren’t allowed. Part of the right of way is in the center of the freeway as you get close to LAX. No cross traffic to worry about.
What could work would be something like and elevated rail or Mono-rail. From what I have read about the old Red Cars the problem was the streets were not designed for cars and rail to run together. Once they put red lights in left and right turns became a problem as well as cross traffic. I think for the system to work today the mass transit system would have to find a way to be removed from street traffic. Plus from a cycling perspective rails crossing the street can be a pain for bicycle tires.

What would be perfect in one part of the country wouldn’t be nearly as perfect in another.

In the presentation I went to, I learned that some interurbans had their own ROWs, while others went along rural highways. They mostly used the existing trolley tracks when they were in the cities. One solution mentioned these days is freeway medians for train ROWs.

It seems that (in some ways) your region would be perfect for interurbans. You have big cities (LA, SD, Riverside, etc.) and fairly dense suburban sprawl in between them. Interurbans could take a lot of the traffic off those congested and inefficient freeways.
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Old 05-04-11, 12:18 PM   #9
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They had interurban service between Dallas, Fort Worth, and outlying cities. Apparently what really killed the Fort Worth portion was anti-trust laws that prevented the electricity generating companies from owning and operating electrically driven trains. Not long after the power companies divested their train operations, the train companies failed. Apparently it was a small incremental cost to a power company to maintain rail lines along with the power lines (which ran in the same easements), but for a rail-only company it was too much overhead to take care of the rails.
Here in Michigan the interurban train companies weren't clearly owned by the power companies, but there was some kind of connection between them. This was evidently quite convvoluted, since the presenter wasn't sure what the connection between interurbans and power companies was even after years of studying this. A lot of money went into building these lines, and the power companies may have been silent investors.

Your comment about anti-trust laws was interesting. This was an era when government tried to regulate monopolies like the interurban rail companies. I wonder how they would fare in our own era of deregulation and laissez-faire capitalism.

The interurban companies did use their own independant power source. It was generated by hydroelectic dams in the northern part of the state. This is one very appealing fact about interurbans, IMO.
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Old 05-04-11, 12:58 PM   #10
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  1. Relatively cheap to instal, operate,l and maintain
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A lot of money went into building these lines, and the power companies may have been silent investors.
Your second statement contradicts your first, which is not surprising since rail construction (of any kind) has NEVER been cheap (relative or otherwise).
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Old 05-04-11, 01:07 PM   #11
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myrridin - what roody's statements seem to say, taken together is

"relatively cheap"=>cheaper than the alternatives
"a lot of money" => but expensive nonetheless

hmm, cheaper than the alternatives, but expensive nonetheless. that sounds like public transit to me!

if you think a railway is expensive in relative terms, check out what they say it costs to build 2 miles of freeway in a major city: 4.25billion

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Old 05-04-11, 01:28 PM   #12
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myrridin - what roody's statements seem to say, taken together is

"relatively cheap"=>cheaper than the alternatives
"a lot of money" => but expensive nonetheless

hmm, cheaper than the alternatives, but expensive nonetheless. that sounds like public transit to me!

if you think a railway is expensive, check out what they say it costs to build 2 miles of freeway in a major city: 4.25billion
I design roads and rail systems, so I know what I am speaking about. Roads are much cheaper than rail. They are also more flexible than rail. That is why roads have essentially superseded rail in the vast majority of cases. There are only a very few situations where rail can be economically competitive.

So no, rail is not cheaper than the alternatives...
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Old 05-04-11, 06:07 PM   #13
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I design roads and rail systems, so I know what I am speaking about. Roads are much cheaper than rail. They are also more flexible than rail. That is why roads have essentially superseded rail in the vast majority of cases. There are only a very few situations where rail can be economically competitive.

So no, rail is not cheaper than the alternatives...
Yeah, but aren't railways much, much cheaper to move freight and passengers? Where trucks really miss the boat is on both labor and cost of fuel. It tends to cost much more. However, some claim that rail is only cheaper on longer routes.

http://www.kehoe.org/owen/portfolio/truck_vs_rail.pdf
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Old 05-04-11, 06:44 PM   #14
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Yeah, but aren't railways much, much cheaper to move freight and passengers? Where trucks really miss the boat is on both labor and cost of fuel. It tends to cost much more. However, some claim that rail is only cheaper on longer routes.

http://www.kehoe.org/owen/portfolio/truck_vs_rail.pdf
Rail can be cheaper to move either freight or passengers when there is a large and constant demand between two fixed points. This is more often true of long distance freight than it is of passenger transport. There are a very few locations in the US where such conditions exist, but what makes them viable is other constraints on alternative modes.
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Old 05-04-11, 06:45 PM   #15
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I design roads and rail systems, so I know what I am speaking about. Roads are much cheaper than rail. They are also more flexible than rail. That is why roads have essentially superseded rail in the vast majority of cases. There are only a very few situations where rail can be economically competitive.

So no, rail is not cheaper than the alternatives...
How do you figure? You can move more people per hour on a single rail line than you can on a single freeway lane.

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Old 05-04-11, 07:49 PM   #16
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How do you figure? You can move more people per hour on a single rail line than you can on a single freeway lane.

Aaron
Yes you can. But that only gets them to/from the vicinity of the stops on the line. That capacity only matters if you have enough people to fill it. Rail line almost never approach that capacity. Populations and their destinations are too spread out to make such capacities shift the economic equation.

That is why rail can be a cost effective mode for freight transport.
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Old 05-04-11, 08:40 PM   #17
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I like the concept and even though the system has a bit of a revival in places like San Diego there are some problems they have to overcome for a system to work in areas like Southern California. Metro Link works because it can run where cars aren’t allowed. Part of the right of way is in the center of the freeway as you get close to LAX. No cross traffic to worry about.
[FONT=Tahoma]What could work would be something like and elevated rail or Mono-rail. From what I have read about the old Red Cars the problem was the streets were not designed for cars and rail to run together. Once they put red lights in left and right turns became a problem as well as cross traffic.
Agreed.

The trollys ran right down the middle of the street in my town. Old timers told me traffic around the trolly car was would back up a block behind because the cars could not pass. It would be impossible to restore the line even if you wanted to since the tracks were never removed! In fact, they simply put tar over the tracks but you'll never get the town to restore the line since everyone knows the motor traffic cannot pass.
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Old 05-05-11, 12:20 AM   #18
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The system has a bit of a revival in places like San Diego...
San Diego's trolleys are more than "a bit of a revival", Robert. When I was growing up there in the '60s and '70's, it could be a nightmare trying to get around without a car, especially during recessions when the city government would cut back on the number of buses and even eliminate routes. Now, when I go back there to visit, I'm amazed at how the trolley system has transformed the city. L.A. should take note.
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Old 05-05-11, 11:24 AM   #19
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I design roads and rail systems, so I know what I am speaking about. Roads are much cheaper than rail. They are also more flexible than rail. That is why roads have essentially superseded rail in the vast majority of cases. There are only a very few situations where rail can be economically competitive.

So no, rail is not cheaper than the alternatives...
You could probably have an interesting conversation with my wife, who designed rail in France. She would probably disagree with you on some points, but of course it's apples to oranges.

From looking at some of her tables rail was often faster and cheaper than traveling by car. Of course you have high speed trains, tolled freeways, and very expensive gas there. I will not argue that in France it is cheaper to build rail, as it is not, but over the life cycle of the project the end users benefit more from rail than roads.
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Old 05-05-11, 11:59 AM   #20
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San Diego's trolleys are more than "a bit of a revival", Robert. When I was growing up there in the '60s and '70's, it could be a nightmare trying to get around without a car, especially during recessions when the city government would cut back on the number of buses and even eliminate routes. Now, when I go back there to visit, I'm amazed at how the trolley system has transformed the city. L.A. should take note.
I am speaking comparatively. The old red cars came from far and wide from LA, Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties. In fact if it had still been in service it might have been an option during my commuting years.

I love the Trolley system in SanDiego and it has grown to be close to full service over the years. Still it only covers part of San Diego as faras Santee and even down to San Ysidro. That being said it doesn’t service Poway, Rancho Bernardo, FallBrook,Vista, La Jolla and other population centers like the old red cars did LA. That is all I was talking about.
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Old 05-05-11, 01:57 PM   #21
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I will not argue that in France it is cheaper to build rail, as it is not, but over the life cycle of the project the end users benefit more from rail than roads.
The passenger users especially benefit when the costs of their benefits are being subsidized by the bulk of the population who are not users of the rail line.
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Old 05-05-11, 02:18 PM   #22
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I design roads and rail systems, so I know what I am speaking about. Roads are much cheaper than rail. They are also more flexible than rail. That is why roads have essentially superseded rail in the vast majority of cases. There are only a very few situations where rail can be economically competitive.

So no, rail is not cheaper than the alternatives...
I study road and rail, and i've been involved in the field, and I also know what i'm talking about.
Your statement has merit only if one of your base statements is true - unfortunately, it is not. That is the idea that transportation is guided by land use. In truth, the relationship between the two is exactly the opposite. Land use is a slave to the transportation infrastructure provided. Land use is furthermore an extremely conservative market; "flexibility" and "adaptability" are not good things to these, rather, they are ugly threats and problems.
Road superceded rail not because it was better, but because it was massively subsidized at a time when rail was hobbled and prevented from gathering revenue for maintenance. Furthermore, bank policies and land use regulations were designed to force a market-unwanted growth pattern which was hostile to transit.
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Old 05-05-11, 02:34 PM   #23
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The passenger users especially benefit when the costs of their benefits are being subsidized by the bulk of the population who are not users of the rail line.
Do you have a reference? I am having trouble finding some numbers on this.
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Old 05-05-11, 02:59 PM   #24
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The Trolley system in SanDiego... only covers part of San Diego as far as Santee and even down to San Ysidro. That being said it doesn’t service Poway, Rancho Bernardo, FallBrook,Vista, La Jolla and other population centers like the old red cars did LA.
Sounds like it's time to build some new lines!

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Old 05-05-11, 03:06 PM   #25
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I study road and rail, and i've been involved in the field, and I also know what i'm talking about.
Your statement has merit only if one of your base statements is true - unfortunately, it is not. That is the idea that transportation is guided by land use. In truth, the relationship between the two is exactly the opposite. Land use is a slave to the transportation infrastructure provided. Land use is furthermore an extremely conservative market; "flexibility" and "adaptability" are not good things to these, rather, they are ugly threats and problems.
Road superceded rail not because it was better, but because it was massively subsidized at a time when rail was hobbled and prevented from gathering revenue for maintenance. Furthermore, bank policies and land use regulations were designed to force a market-unwanted growth pattern which was hostile to transit.
It is a simple fact that we lack the density that makes passenger rail economically nonviable. The reasons for that are irrelevant since that is how things are. Also, the belief that demographics are driven by the available transportation infrastructure is fundamentally flawed. So is the opposite claim (which I did not make). The two are intertwined. Flexibility and adaptability are requirements, because we live in a free society where people can choose to live where they want. Even in recent times we have scene mass migrations of populations from one section of the country to others. Indeed much of the growth in the "sunbelt" was at the expense of the "rust belt". Which is why much of the extraordinarily expensive infrastructure in that "rust belt" has been allowed to decline to a dangerous level...

Rail only becomes cost effective when there is sufficient demand between two points that it greater capacity density can compete with roads. In other words if only 10,000 people a day want to travel between point A and point B, that travel can be done on a paved road much cheaper than on a rail system. This is because a two lane road (~12,000 vpd capacity) is much, much cheaper than a single paired rail line... Indeed one, must construct a fairly large grade separated highway before one approaches the cost of a single paired rail line. Of course the passenger capacity of the smaller footprint rail line and the grade separated highway are roughly comparable. The difference is that one usually doesn't need that capacity.

Also, travel patterns change. Many, smaller capacity roads, provide greater flexibility for the people to move about than fewer higher capacity corridors (such as rail lines and grade separated highways). Despite the aluminum hat wearing crowds belief that rail lines languished do to some conspiracy, the real reason was a change in demographics. People moved. Roads are quicker, easier, and cheaper to construct and therefore better to adjust to changing demographic patterns.

Oh, and I'm not "involved in the study of road and rail", I design both road (predominantly) and rail (occasionally) for the purposes of moving people to/from their destinations... There is no debating that rail has a much larger capital cost versus typical road construction. It is only when certain conditions are met that rail approaches economic viability. And as I explained those conditions are a stable demand to move large numbers of people between two (or more) small geographic areas.

It is a simple observable fact that when given the choice between rail (or other public transit) and private transport, most people prefer private transport. Indeed, even on this sub-forum, one finds car free posters making the statement that they prefer to ride their bikes, rather than adapt to the public transits schedule, crowds, etc... That is why rail was superseded by private automobiles, people prefer individual transport. And before one starts spouting about how subsidized roads/cars are, consider that virtually all rail in this country was subsidized. Indeed one only has to look at the vast tracts of land that was granted to the railroad companies to do with as they pleased if they would construct and operate rail... Even in the earliest days of rail, such subsidies were what made rail construction viable, not the fees associated with transport... This is still true even today. In areas of the world, with far higher densities and far lower levels of personal car ownership, the rail transit systems are still required to be heavily subsidized since people are unwilling/unable to pay their full, fair costs for their transport...

Last edited by myrridin; 05-05-11 at 03:39 PM.
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