Freight as Passenger Rail’s Worst Enemy — Or Something Else?

Freight rail

» The American freight rail system is often cited as a world model that must be protected from the intrusion of passenger rail networks. But comparisons with passenger-heavy Europe are not as meaningful as have been suggested.

Among those who argue against the public funding of improved intercity passenger rail in the United States, the notion that such improvements would reduce the viability of the freight rail system is frequently cited. The argument goes like this: Passenger and freight rail are in competition for the same infrastructure, so encouraging people to ride the trains would make it more difficult to transport their goods. The end result could be a minor improvement in passenger mode share towards the railways and a significant mode shift of freight away from the railways, to the highways.

The American freight rail network, it is argued, is one of the best in the world, able to

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North of Dallas, a New Commuter Rail Line that Never Makes it Downtown

Dallas Light Rail

» A train line adds to the Dallas region’s plethora of rail options.

There are many competing reasons to invest in new transportation capacity, the most compelling of which is often to expand mobility — that is, to increase the number of places an individual can get to within a certain period of time. The need to decrease travel times between major destinations is an essential question for transit, since its major competition, the private automobile, usually provides quicker, more convenient trips.

In cities with high levels of highway capacity per capita, the only transit mode that can compete relatively well in terms of mobility is commuter rail, as its limited stopping pattern and sometimes very high speeds allow it to move faster than even free-flow traffic in some cases. The value of commuter rail is of course disputed since its fast running times tend to encourage decentralization from the center city, but

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Are Private Operations on the Northeast Corridor the Means to an End, or Just an End?

New Haven Station

» Without a commitment of more federal funds for improvement, an initiative to transfer rights to private entities to operate trains along the Northeast Corridor would not accomplish much.

In order to take advantage of the roadways effectively, bus drivers — not to mention car drivers — do not need to take possession of said roads. Indeed, they need only to be in possession of a vehicle that can navigate along the streets and be able to pay for fuel, part of whose cost returns to cover many of the expenses required to build and maintain the roads. Many different vehicles, owned by many different people or organizations, can share the roads, usually without problems. Sometimes, there are accidents, which can be mostly avoided through proper design of the roadways, and there is sometimes congestion, which can be relieved through road fees. Fundamentally, the system works: There are vehicle owners,

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Local Neoliberalism’s Role in Defining Transit’s Purpose

» Must transit capital projects be construed either as for capitalist development or social welfare? Can the two goals be reconciled?

Detroit has staked its development hopes on the creation of a light rail line down Woodward Avenue in the heart of the city. For the past few years, public and private groups there have banded together to suggest that this project, more than any other, would provide the kind of spark necessary to spur economic growth in this city that is losing population so quickly. Thanks to government grants and private donations, the project is mostly financed and may enter construction this year.

Yet the city’s budget situation is so bad that the mayor has suggested that if the city council moves ahead with cuts it approved this week, he will have to shut off bus service at nights and on Sundays — and eliminate service on the People Mover,

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Fairmount Corridor Construction Promotes Better Use of Commuter Lines in Boston

South Station

» Capital investments will do part of the work in expanding use of the regional rail network, but operations is where the real benefits will come.

Boston has one of the nation’s most extensive and well-used commuter rail systems, with twelve lines splayed out from its terminal stations located downtown. But use of those services within the dense core communities of Boston, Cambridge, and Somerville is limited. Despite the fact that the commuter lines pass through those cities as they head out into the suburbs, few residents there choose commuter rail over the subway and bus network, likely because of few stops, limited frequencies of service, and inadequate connections with te rest of the transit network, both in terms of operations and fares.

As in other American cities, this represents a significant under-use of an asset that could play a significant role in upgrading Boston’s transportation network.

With the Fairmount Corridor

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The Site / The Fight

by Yonah Freemark

yfreemark (at) thetransportpolitic (dot) com

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