Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Magic costs more than mere rides

Patrick McIlheran's column in today's Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on the cost of the proposed Kenosha-Racine-Milwaukee commuter train got me to look back at some figures. These might be a bit out of date, but KRM Edition 3, January 2007, projected the "Annually, commuter rail will generate 25.2 million passenger-miles" (p. 4). Transit Now Kenosha-Racine-Milwaukee Commuter Rail: Quick Points & Facts (2003) said "Annual operating costs are expected to be $10.9 million." That works out to a cost of over 43 cents per passenger-mile, about $28 for a Kenosha-Milwaukee round trip. The actual cost of a Kenosha to Milwaukee daily commute would be about $7,000 per year. That's the cost, not the fare proposed to be charged to riders.

The occasion for Mr. McIlheran's column was a Reason Foundation study that concluded KRM Commuter Rail Plan's Supposed Economic Benefits Aren't Credible; System Would Require Massive Subsidies. The study arrived at similar operating cost amounts.

P.S. McIlherean quotes Tom Rubin in the study.
"Commuter rail is, to a very high degree, an all-or-nothing option," he writes. It's impossible to erase a mistake, so we'd just keep throwing money in.

That's a virtue, say rail's backers: Such permanence means riders won't worry that the route will change.

If that's what they say, they're ignoring history. Here on the left we see what would be the track used by the KRM. While it's single track now, it had been double not that long ago. To the right, parallel to the high tension lines, is the right of way of the long-ago abandoned MRK electric passenger rail line from Milwaukee to Kenosha.

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