So now that the Eastside rail has carried its final freight train, and the debate over Eastside rail is picking up, we add a new voice to the fray, Mark Gardner over at Whacky Nation.

But do the math. It’s scary even if the project would only cost the intitial $107 million capital expense plus $10 million (highly suspect) in operating costs every three years. But, I’ll use their numbers to be fair. And I’ll suppose two trains would support 200 commuters a day. Over a twenty-one year period, subtracting out weekends and a week’s worth of holidays, I pencil out the daily tax-payer subsidy to be $180. Yes, divide the costs by the passenger trips and the taxpayer is paying $180 a day per commuter so that a bunch of choo-choo loving liberals can have their toy.

I’m sure he’s wrong on about the ridership. You’d see a lot more than 200 people on each train, probably at least 500, especially by twenty-one years from now. On the other hand, he’s not counting the cost of acquiring the rails, which I guess is the same whether a train runs there or not.

Though at what ridership would you need to justify the capital cost? The $4.4 billion 520 replacement will carry at least 115,000 cars, and thus at least 57,500 commuters, each day. At that price it pencils out to $14 a commuter. U-Link will carry 90,000 riders at $1.75 billion, or about $4 per rider. Central Link’s cost is about $7. Cost effectiveness is an important argument for transit, and that’s one of the reasons Link Light rail is a no-brainer.

Eastside rail doesn’t seem to be nearly as much a slam dunk as the last two, but with a large enough base it could pencil out to be as effective as the 520 bridge at least.

13 Replies to “Eastside Rail”

  1. It’s 5000 some commuters, which is like 10,000 riders to make it as expensive as the 520 bridge.

    How much was sounder? That’s the correct comparison.

  2. The question is also, which investments that the region makes saves the people who use it more money. If it costs $8,000 per year to operate a car and more working folks could possibly get rid of a car, how much is the transit putting back into people’s pockets?

  3. Sounder carried about 500 people on it’s first day, which was not good. Then again, how much was gasoline in September of 2000? Around $1.00, $1.20 per gallon? Also, those two daily round trips were at inconvenient times in Rush Hour. Between then and now, more trains were added, and the schedules were tweaked, and now we have better equipment utilization. There is a reason why SOUNDER 1500 pulls leaves Freighthouse Square so early in the morning at 5AM, so it can leave King Street Station around 6AM headed back to Tacoma, carrying a few passengers, but when it gets back to Freighthouse Square, the engineer switches cabs again for another trip into Seattle. The rest of the schedule, the trains go right into the yard when they get into King Street Station and hold for the day. Too bad we will not have the chance to run this UTA-Style, like how FrontRunner will work. The idea is 15 minute headways during peak-hour, 30 minutes during off-peak. Then again, they bought an easement for their own trains in the UP main, and built their own track. Now with the Eastside Rail Line, they will have the ability to run that in the future when traffic picks up. Mr. Gardner seems to be of the mentaility we should have pulled the plug on SOUNDER the day after the inaugaral run. Well, gas is above $3.30 a gallon in parts of Seattle, not sure about South King and Tacoma. I am not sure how many more of the prodigal sons VRE has left, but that agency just took delivery of some new cars, maybe they will give the remaining cars we lent them, back. Although with better utilization, might not need them just yet.

    Everyone thinks the transition to Plug-In Hybrids, Hydrogen, or whatever will takeover for the current way we fuel our cars will be smooth. What if it is not? Rail lines could electrify.

    Also, I notice that article, they try to keep the Liberal vs. Conservative debate alive. I guess that means that Salt Lake City, and Utah must have changed ideologies recently, and nobody noticed. What are they planning, 70 miles in 7 years? That is addition to what they already have with TRAX Light Rail, which was built just in time for the 2002 Winter Olympics. Another interesting thing with the UTA, they sort of bought local with the locomotives for FrontRunner. A company in Idaho, Motive Power Industries. A DMU would have worked better on FrontRunner, but I doubt Colorado Railcar can build the amount the UTA would have needed to maintain their schedule. (I have listened to podcasts of KSL Nightside(sometimes there are good laughs), and they had some people on the team that admit to riding the bus and TRAX, look forward to Front Runner, and mock Global Warming.)

  4. Well, the funny thing here would be that 100 years ago you could have made the same criticism of building roads.

    Why spend tons of money building roads for the 1-2% of the people who could afford a car at that time? The car or truck of 1908 was a dubious proposition, with an engine that weighed more than the rest of the vehicle combined, using a very expensive, dangerous, and hard to find fuel (gasoline) and usually requiring the services of a full time employee just to keep the vehicle running.

    In 1908 the car was just a plaything of the idle rich and the taxes to build roads were nothing other than robbery of the common citizen, who used transit and his own two feet to get to work.

    Or, you could do the short form, and ignore people who still speak as though they were five years old. He’ll stop talking about the choo-choo train when he wants his Maypo.

  5. One tough argument in building new transit is ridership. People along that corridor have never had a train to ride on, so nobody knows how many will ride it. You can make some educated guesses based on population maps and the planned route, but it’s easy to be far off on these guesses.

    But 100 riders a day? That just sounds silly. There’s probably 10x that just on the #2 bus I ride every day – and that only travels about 4 miles. I think Mark is a few orders of magnatude off (making his $180/day into $18, or even $1.80?). Unless I hear of some credible source that claims 100 riders a day, I’ll assume he’s just being dishonest.

  6. When you build a rail line that’s main raison d’etre is the corridor is there, you’re probably not going to get the ridership you would if you’d built it because the need was there.

    I just don’t see a Snohomish to Bellevue line getting any kind of ridership to warrant the expense unless it tied into another light rail network.

  7. Look at this corridor as part of a regional system, not just a single line. The southern terminus should be Tukwila, were it can connect to the very successful Sounder.

    Expres busses from Burien and Federal Way could connect at either Tukwila or Renton, taking all busses off of I-405, freeing up precious capacity on the highway and creating a reliable schedule for transit commuters.

    In the north, there is a lot of demand in Snohomish and Maltby. State roads 9 and 522 are jammed most of the day and there is no effective bus service to Bellevue. A lot of people who work in Kirkland, Totem Lake, Bellevue and Overlake live north of Woodinville. The Woodinville sub hits all these communities.

    Don’t discount the north-south eastside commute. There are a huge number of people fed up with I-405 and are looking for a better way to work. The eastside rail line is it.

  8. I see 405 as our region’s most backed-up freeway and thought it would be obvious that this line would get heavy ridership. Yes, it would be great if it went directly to downtown Bellevue and through the Microsoft campus, but I think it’s current location is very useful.

  9. This whacky nation hack piece put it in context. You don’t need 10,000 riders for it to be as cost effective as other transportation projects we are doing, supposing the ERN’s estimates are accurate.

  10. @ Jon K

    Yeah man you’re right about the Snohomish part. There are commuters up there. This last Friday on the way to Wenatchee, we were stuck in traffic from where SR 522 becomes 2 lanes all the way until Sultan.

    There is so much development up there and so much latent transportation demand in this region, that I’m sure the service would be increasingly used.

    And if it extended to Tukwila Station, we’d have a significant foundation of capital facilities for a true regional rail system. The rails would be there and the trains could be made more frequent later (or sooner! *crosses fingers*).

  11. A bit of clarification is needed cause the board is not correct.

    There will still be a 3 day a week Snohomish – Bellevue turn that will continue to service the line.

    Then there will be the near daily Boeing turn from Tukwila/Black River to Renton Boeing.

    Trains will continue running on this line except beyond the Wilburton Trestle, which is going to remain. The Wilburton TUNNEL on I-405 is what is cutting the line. That is all that BNSF is doing. BNSF is not ripping up any of the route, at all.

  12. You’re sure he’s wrong on ridership? That moron Mark Gardner (aka Greenlake Mark on Sound Politics) is wrong on just about everything.

    Totally clueless dude.

    Even more funny: Gardner blames all this rail stuff on the Big Liberal Social Engineering Conspiracy theory.

    When, in fact, it’s Mark Gardner’s Republican buddies and Republican NIMBY anti- light rail crazies who are pushing the eastside rail concept.

    Told ya he’s clueless.

  13. It seems to me that the most important part of the BNSF property is the right of way itself.
    I don’t see why development there HAS to be heavy rail, could be light rail or even exclusive express bus service.
    I’d sure like to see some more imaginative use of this really great transit corridor come to examination.

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