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Mar 22, 2011


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While I'm doubtful it will amount to anything much... it is exciting... I wish we had transport like France's SNCF. Drive your car onto the train, take it to the Beach.... Relax and eat without traffic... Sounds like a dream.


Fantastic news. It's good to see our transportation department start acting more like, well, a transportation department, and not a department of roads. Read an interesting stat yesterday that said the cost of the City of Portland (OR)'s entire bike system was the equivalent to the cost of 1 mile of urban freeway.


Portland, with a population of about 600,000, is an interesting role model for this states urban areas. (Of course, it's the kind of place that gives Art Pope's minions apoplexy, but that just adds to the fun.)

Besdies the biking system, it's got people who want to bike and who are, by and large, accepted as having a legitimate place on the streets. Judging from some of the things I see on the roads and streets over here, I'm not prepared to say Carolinian drivers are there yet.

Portland's extensive light rail system is a model for emulation and makes the place that much more livable. Something like that would seem useful in places like the Triangle, where commuting and other driving patterns are rather a mashup. People dream of a system linking Raleigh/Cary, Durham, Chapel Hill, and the RTP. It makes sense. There's a limit how wide you can make I-40.

David Wharton

The article says they plan to reduce the Charlotte-Raleigh trip to about 3 hours. Current cost of a 1-way Amtrack ticket is $32. When I get to Raleigh, I'll have to find and pay for some public transportation or a taxi to get where I'm going.

Current drive time from Charlotte-Raleigh is about 2:45; at 25 mpg and gas at $4 a gallon, that will cost me $27. When I get there, I can go wherever I want on my own schedule.

So even if I'm driving alone, what's the incentive for me to take the train? No gain in cost, convenience, or speed. And if I add passengers, the incentives are all toward the car.

If I want to be environmentally correct, I can do that right now -- take the Greyhound for about $35 for a 3-hour and something ride.

I love trains, too, but I don't see how this makes sense.

David Boyd

I'd like to flit around by flying car.

Ed Cone

DW, you may also have to find and pay for parking, deal with traffic, want to consume alcohol, work on the way, etc. Driving costs also include wear and tear on your car and the roads, etc.

But you're right that on its own this is of limited value - but we can't begin to wean ourselves from the current car-ocracy without taking first steps.

Dave Ribar


From your example, that car that your driving seems to be free--there's no capital cost, no insurance, and no maintenance/depreciation. There's also no cost of parking or searching for a parking place. Also, there's no valuation of the activities that you can do safely on a train but not in a car.

If you use UNCG's mileage rate of 51 cents per mile, the trip would cost $70-$85 each way, depending on your route. $32 doesn't seem like such a bad deal.

David Boyd

$32 may not be a bad deal. Assuming the train is going where you want to go.

David Boyd

Also, if you want to take your family from Charlotte to Raleigh, if you're in a car, divide by 4.

David Wharton

DR and EC, sure there are other costs associated with cars; there's also the fact that public transportation in Charlotte completely sucks (don't know about Raleigh).

I think we could beef up public transportation much more quickly, efficiently, and flexibly with improved bus service, but people don't seem to want to use it.


The train, or even, bus rapid transit, will not eliminate and may not reduce vehicle trips, but it it is appealing to a growing sector of the population and it can reduce wear and tear on our roads (anyone listening to Diane Rehm this a.m.?). In my mind, the goal should be shifting our funds to increasing transit options and this seems like a good way to do it. One can now choose to live in Portland and get by without a car because of its network of alternative transportation and because it encourages development that brings people and services/amenities closer together. If we started now, we would still have a long way to go, but we need to begin breaking the old habit of new roads first, everything else only if there's money left over or the taxpayers don't have to pay for it. It's a move in the right direction even if it doesn't get DW out of his car.


DW, the primary incentive of train travel for me is the ability to avoid driving. The cost calculations are secondary. That said, owning a car is a very real expense. Off the top of my head, I'd save $5000-$6000 a year if I could get along without a car. That's a lot of money to spend on something that, basically, I don't enjoy.

It's interesting to note the impact urban rail and subways have on housing patterns. They fuel urban growth and prosperity. That's very apparent in the D.C. suburbs, where solid urban villages have sprouted around many D.C. Metro stations. People value that convenience more than the delights of a 3-bdrm ranch in the burbs and a one-hour commute each way. I'm sure something like that would happen here.

greensboro transplant

"From your example, that car that your driving seems to be free--there's no capital cost, no insurance, and no maintenance/depreciation."

but isn't the same true of rail? the ticket price doesn't represent the full cost of the trip does it?

i've traveled by rail from Seattle to Vancouver and DC to NY. I've also traveled the LIRR and NJ system. I had a pretty good experience will all of them.

there's certainly a place for passenger rail in the transportation system. imho, the correct mix of rail/air/buses/autos should be determined by the market and govt policy.

but the policy should be based upon what is optimum and not what is preferred. as DW points out, in some of these areas bulking up the bus system will bring larger and more immediate benefits at a much lower cost. but buses aren't sexy. far from it.


I commuted from Greensboro to Raleigh for a time. I checked into rail options. I would have preferred rail over driving for some of the reasons stated above, but mostly because that drive is a bitch morning and afternoon.

The rail schedule at the time would have put me at work about 10:30 and on my way home about 2:00. I thought that was awesome, but the boss wouldn't buy it.

Steve Harrison

What's missing from this discussion (unless I've missed it) is the productivity factor.

When I lived in the Chicago 'burbs back in the Eighties, a lot of my fellow rail commuters used that time to work. And that was before mobile electronics communication vastly expanded the definition of "workplace".

Those who frequently utilize public transportation today have (wisely) incorporated that time into their work schedule, and I've witnessed everything from doctors managing patient's care to students polishing their Master's theses, and all points in between.

Factor that in, and the gap in the cost of rail vs car widens substantially. Now, carpooling, which is something I'd like to see flourish, has some of the productivity potential of mass transit. But it's also plagued by the same unreasonable prejudices.

Billy Jones

If we're talking about elevated tracks and bullet trains capable of 300 MPH and set up in a hub system with hubs no closer than 200 miles fed by trains and existing bus services, municipal and commercial then I'm all for it. But if anyone thinks high speed rail by any name will work while sharing track with 30 MPH freight trains... Well, then you're crazier than I am and my shrink will be happy to take your money too.

Call me and I'll give you her office number.

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