» Damage to the North River tunnels could cut off most rail service into the nation’s center unless a new link is built soon.
There are many cities where rail lines serve an important purpose: They help connect important destinations; they reduce congestion on particularly intensely used corridors; they concentrate development and produce agglomeration benefits. These benefits are useful in making those cities more livable, economically vibrant places.
But only in certain cities — the largest, most densely developed places, particularly those with geographical constraints on growth — are those rail lines essential to making the metropolitan economy work. In New York City, there is no question that this is true; the region’s subway and commuter rail lines carry the bulk of peak flow into the Manhattan business districts thanks to the ability of trains to handle upwards of 40,000 people per hour on each line. Without those lines, people simply wouldn’t be able to get to work.*
Given the city’s reliance on those rail lines,
Continue reading With no new rail tunnel on the horizon under the Hudson, New York faces a looming transport crisis »
» Thanks to political initiative and the need to serve a growing region, Toronto’s GO Transit is increasingly making its commuter rail services not so commuter-oriented.
In North America, “commuter rail” has come to mean something very specific: Large, heavy trains operating almost entirely at peak, providing services to downtown in the morning and away from it at night along corridors that extend into the suburbs. It’s a definition that makes sense for a world where regions are structured with one central business district whose workers live in the suburbs and work nine-to-five jobs on weekdays.
Of course, that’s not the world we live in. Of the 100 largest U.S. metropolitan areas, only two have a majority of their jobs located within three miles of their downtown, and most suburban workers don’t work in city centers. A sizable share of the population doesn’t work a “normal” workweek.
Yet most commuter rail providers continue to operate as
Continue reading Make the effort, and commuter rail can be as effective as rapid transit »
» The Obama Administration hopes to invest almost $40 billion in new and improved passenger rail infrastructure over the next five years. Good luck getting that through Congress.
It’s an annual spectacle. The President releases his budget. The budget proposes a huge expansion in spending on surface transportation, particularly in high-speed rail. Administration figures testify on Capitol Hill, hoping to raise the specter of infrastructure failure if nothing is done. The Congress responds lackadaisically, with Democrats arguing that something should be done and Republicans doing everything they can to prevent a cent more from being spent, and ultimately no one agrees to much of anything other than a repetition of the past year’s mediocre investments.
Will things be different this year?
The question is particularly relevant because the U.S. Government’s rail investment program — its authorization for allocating funds to the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) will expire this year. Legislation supporting the FRA, as
Continue reading The Administration Refreshes Its Push for a Major Infusion of Funds into the National Rail Program »
» Opportunities for rerouting commuter rail via the Grand Junction in Cambridge are criticized by community members who fear increases in pollution. Meanwhile, the long-planned Green Line extension in Somerville is threatened by budget limitations.
Just northwest of Boston, Cambridge and Somerville are some of the nation’s exemplar cities when it comes to promoting transportation alternatives. In Somerville, 48% of the population rides transit, walks, or bikes to work; in Cambridge, 57% do. The explanation likely comes down to a strong commitment to livable streets in both cities, a large student population, high residential densities, community activism against limited-access highways, and big concentrations of jobs both in the traditional office center of Downtown Boston but also in the walkable Kendall Square-MIT and Harvard Square areas, both along the Red Line rapid transit corridor.
Yet, with the exception of the Red Line — extended north of Harvard Square in
Continue reading Facing Funding Shortfalls and Protest, Better Rail for Boston Region is Delayed »