Weakest Metrolink Oct 11, 2008 23:45:35 GMT -8
Post by nickv on Oct 11, 2008 23:45:35 GMT -8
Almost everyday, I take a look through the Opinion section to take into consideration other people's views on today's current events. Normally, the views on the right side of the section is filled with content at least worth thinking about. Little did I know what was printed in Saturday's paper was nothing more than a bland conclusion about Metrolink with no solid supporting statements.
Commuter trains in Southern California have proved neither safe nor cost-effective.
By James E. Moore II
October 10, 2008
THE HEAD-ON train crash Sept. 12 in Chatsworth has focused attention on how Metrolink operates its commuter trains and how the collision could have been avoided. The National Transpor- tation Safety Board has called for installing automated positive train control systems, which override decisions made by train crews when necessary.
The question to ask, however, is not whether Metrolink needs positive train control but whether the region needs Metrolink.
Officials often quote that cities with a good quality of life have good streets, good highways, good bus systems, and good rail systems. This piece ain't look'n good.
Astonishingly, this question has never really been asked or answered. Metrolink was launched without any substantive evaluation of alternatives. It was established because the agencies involved had a unique fiscal and political window of opportunity in the 1990s, not because the service was ever determined to be a cost-effective use of transit dollars.
A claim where Metrolink is not profitable, yet other commuter rail systems in the world are subsidized by their governments. Metrolink has a policy of trying to maximize "fare box recovery." Rider fares cover about 45-50 percent of the costs, which is a very high percentage for a public transportation system if you ask me.
Unfortunately, it is not. And the weak case for commuter rail in Los Angeles will erode further as the Southern California Regional Rail Authority, which operates Metrolink, and its member agencies incur new costs for needed safety improvements.
Don't mistake Metrolink's existence for strong evidence that we need it. The SCRRA was established in 1991 as a joint powers authority funded by five local counties, led by the Los Angeles County Transportation Commission. Proposition C, a 1990 Los Angeles County half-cent sales tax for transportation, had recently passed, and the Blue Line light-rail train operating between Los Angeles and Long Beach had just begun service. In an environment of ready resources and rail enthusiasm, the commission (predecessor to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority) quickly proposed and mostly funded the new commuter rail system. Metrolink service began in 1992.
The new system was deployed almost overnight. The pace was fast, optimism was pervasive, and objective analysis was in short supply. The unfortunate result was a deadly mix: Metrolink passenger trains began operating on a heavily used freight system, yet the need to stretch dollars to broaden service meant that the train-control technologies were kept to the minimum required by law.
Even if the joint powers authority was formed in a hurry, does that argue that Metrolink isn't needed? Now, we know if there's a problem, we have to be a part of the solution. Isn't that one of the points of why we're even here?
Moving so quickly required some arm-twisting. The tracks the commission wanted to use were largely under the control of the Santa Fe, Southern Pacific and Union Pacific railroads. Some of the tracks saw little commercial use, but many sections were and remain critically important for transport of cargo to and from the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. News reports at the time said the commission resorted to threats of eminent domain, particularly against the economically vulnerable Santa Fe Railroad. In the end, the SCRRA acquired access to almost 500 miles of local track. Some was purchased outright, but much of it came in the form of easements on what are now Burlington Northern Santa Fe and Union Pacific lines.
This inter-jurisdictional tangle meant that deploying new safety technologies would involve coordination and cooperation among Metrolink, Burlington Northern and Union Pacific -- guaranteeing that it never happened. So Metrolink trains were put into service using relatively low-tech train control, technology that became tragically ineffective Sept. 12.
Ok, I can see where this argument is going. The writer is try to burry us with Metrolink problems to prove beyond reasonable doubt that Metrolink has got to go. In reality, these issues can be solved and fixed. That's flaw #1 with this case.
SCRRA's low-tech approach is inappropriate for an agency that is pushing the envelope with respect to the number of passenger trains it imposes on freight rights of way. In Europe, freight and passenger train tracks are usually separate. In contrast, many U.S. systems mix passenger and freight trains on the same tracks, but nowhere is this practice as pervasive as in Southern California.
Hello...SCRRA, BNSF and UP are addressing this. Also, this wreck occurred on a section of single-track and officials are working on triple-tracking the segment between LA and Fullerton. Freight railroad companies are also under contract to leave the ROW open for Metrolink trains to pass through on schedule.
The benefits provided by Metrolink are not worth the risk. They are not even worth Metrolink's costs. Data from the Federal Transit Administration show that Metrolink recovers about 45% of its annual operating and maintenance costs from fare revenues, but none of its capital costs.
I'm not quite sure how this statement fits into the argument; who pays for the capital costs to construct a new freeway lane? It cannot be "freeway" revenue because freeways are free.
The balance of Metrolink's costsare covered by a stream of grants and subsidies in which local sales tax revenues are prominent.
Metrolink's benefits are for the most part felt only by the tax-subsidized commuters who ride the trains (and Metrolink employees). The system provides next to nothing in terms of freeway congestion relief. Even accounting for recent growth in ridership, data from the FTA and the Federal Highway Administration show that the system accommodates about 0.3% of total passenger miles traveled in the Los Angeles region. Metrolink reports that, on freeways that parallel Metrolink trains, the service diverts a little less than 3% of rush-hour travel volumes. If Metrolink service were discontinued tomorrow and all those passengers got back in their cars, there would be no perceptible change in freeway congestion or travel times.
Did I just save about $120.00 in gas & parking tolls and freedom from stress by taking transit last week to jury duty in Riverside Downtown for six days including that infamous Friday afternoon commute?
Did we not see massive growth in the Inland Empire between 1999-2007 that equates to an increased demand for travel?
Did I notice that at the Riverside Downtown Station, I could not find an empty spot in the large parking lot? Now that station has 710 parking spaces. The La Sierra station has 350, North Main Corona has 500 (also filled), and West Corona has 540.
I think 2,000 cars off the freeway does help.
Metrolink actually makes traffic conditions worse because it consumes resources that SCRRA's member agencies could dedicate to effective congestion relief measures, such as the creation of priced freeway lanes that can also operate as busways.
Oh man! Can we reduce the number of cars on the freeway by shifting them to the toll lanes? Sure the freeway will be moving again, but what will happen once an increased traffic volume hits the next chokepoint or the freeway exit? Local-plus and commuter buses are great for interim solutions, but their space limitations show that they cannot substitute rail transit in the long run as the surrounding regions grows.
Metrolink is an unsafe, economic sham, and it is time to pull the plug -- if not for fiscal prudence then because we owe it to the injured and to the families of the dead.
Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa...Did I just see 10 separate highway/street cases when I searched for "fatal crash" on Google News? Does that mean we have to shut down the Interstate Highway System? One of the best things we can do is to make sure such a wreck does not occur again; that's the whole point of the 11-member panel named to study Metrolink safety.
It turns out that our trend of car-centered development together with the Interstate Highway system since WWII has probably caused us to be married to our cars; thus making public transit undesirable for many. But, with the growing issues of global warming, high gas prices, and urban sprawl, developers are coming back into central cities to build and more and more commuters are flocking onto carpools, buses and trains. Our transit system is still very young, short, and infrequent; that could be why only a fraction of commuters use it.
But the writer's argument has no case, and I cannot logically follow its conclusion. I will not substitute rail transit with more freeway lanes and a parade of buses. There's no way. If we want to give our workforce a better quality of life, they should have the option to take the train to work.