NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Derailed

March 10, 2004

Rail transit has been touted as an economical and environmentally-friendly means of transportation for urban dwellers. Yet a study by the Reason Foundation concludes that rail transit is more expensive and polluting than automobiles. Moreover, it reduces mobility for transit riders and automobile users.

According to the study:

  • Twenty-four urban areas with rail transit systems experienced a total loss of 33,000 transit commuters during the 1990s, compared to gains of 27,000 transit commuters in areas with bus-only transit systems.
  • During the 1990s, rail transit's share of motorized travel declined in two out of three regions.
  • Rail regions must use about 50 to 80 percent of their transportation funds for rail transit systems that serve only 1 to 5 percent of urban travelers
  • Three out of five rail lines use more energy per passenger mile than automobiles.

Even where rail transit can reduce air pollution, say researchers, the cost is exorbitant -- roughly $1 million per ton of reduced emissions, compared to $10,000 per ton for many other air quality measures.

Additionally, rail transit is not necessarily safer than automobiles. Between 1992 and 2001, light rail killed almost nine times as many people per passenger mile as buses or highways.

Source: Randal O'Toole, "The Great Rail Disaster," Reason Public Policy Institute, February 16, 2004.

 

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