Light Rail Derailed

The 3:10 to Boondoggle has derailed.

Today, a coalition of federal, state, and local leaders announced the demise of America’s latest Train to Nowhere: Detroit’s light-rail project. Finally, sensibly, public dollars will be dedicated to a far cheaper and more flexible bus system rather than follow the failed rail models of Portland, Denver, and Detroit’s own People Mover experiments.

“(Light rail) is a giant hoax perpetrated on the taxpayers of Detroit and the United States,” wrote transportation expert and Cato scholar Randal O’Toole in The Michigan last week. “Although promoters often call light rail ‘rapid transit,’ it is actually very slow. When operating in city streets such as Woodward, they average less than 15 mph. The $60 million-per-mile cost of building light rail is enough to build a four-lane freeway. But the average light-rail line carries only about one-fifth of a freeway lane. Since most of those people would have ridden a bus, light rail offers little congestion relief.”

Buses. What a concept. They currently beat Michigan’s other “high speed” rail boondoggle, Amtrak, from here to Chicago.

In breaking the news to Michigan’s Congressional spendaholics that he will be redirecting its $25 million grant to a tri-county, 27 station initiative, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood “told the Michigan Democrats that Detroit didn’t have the required funding to make light rail work — either in matching funds or long-term operations,” reports the Detroit News.

No surprise there. O’Toole details the whopping costs — now $200 million per mile of rail construction — in Portland. “Not only does light rail cost a lot, the costs never stop,” he writes. “Construction costs are only the beginning. These are followed by the subsidies to development, which in Portland cost taxpayers $60 million a year. Then there are the maintenance costs — all those tracks, wires, stations, and expensive railcars are far more costly to maintain than buses.”

LaHood gave no further details on what caused the sudden change in direction. Just last month Sen. Carl “It’s fun to spend other people’s money” Levin crowed about millions more for Woodward’s rail line.

But here’s a hint from the News story: “(Governor) Snyder and others have pushed for a cheaper rapid bus line.” The accountant-turned-governor surely knows his O’Toole.

The usual suspects screamed at being thrown from the train. Indeed, it’s hard to imagine that “Green Belt” Jennifer Granholm — Snyder’s predecessor and an Obama ally — would have blessed the move. Sen. Carl Levin stamped his feet at not getting his $500 million train. Detroit’s MSM sprinted to local activists for soundbites condemning the move.

Amazing. With America drowning in red ink and Detroit on the verge of bankruptcy, they still think money grows on trees.

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