From September 2007 Railway Age editorial page:
Wendell Cox responds
“Your confusion on my position (‘From the Editor,’ RA, August, p. 4) misses the difference between means and objectives. Thirty years ago, I was appointed to the Los Angeles County Transportation Commission with an objective to reduce traffic congestion by means of a rail system. Largely because of my 1980 amendment, rail transit was built in Los Angeles.
Really? In the late 80’s when I lived in LA the only thing built was the rather pathetic Blue Line. And was this built because of you or in spite of you?
While the means of rail was achieved, the objective was not, as traffic congestion continued to worsen.
Maybe you had the wrong objective?
“Around the world, rail transit has shown virtually no capability for reducing traffic congestion in urban areas.
Wendell Cox focuses exclusively on the question “does rail reduce traffic congestion in urban areas”. We have spent 50 years and billions building a nationwide interstate highway system, so we should apply the same logic to road-building. Doesn’t our 50-year experiment in the asphalt and pavement prove that “roads have virtually no capacity for reducing traffic congestion in urban areas”? Somehow with roads ‘congestion’ becomes an argument for building more infrastructure, yet with rail ‘congestion’ becomes an argument for building less!
Using this logic, I am sure Wendell’s good advice to railroads is to abandon double-tracking projects because “rail doesn’t reduce congestion”!
At the same time, with intermodal capabilities and further investment, substantial amounts of highway freight could be diverted to freight rail, which could help achieve the objective of reducing future congestion on the roads we are insufficiently expanding.
Wrong objective produces wrong results.
Furthermore, if Wendell simplistically defined the problem as ‘congestion’ it is to be expected that he can only simplistically answer “build more roads”. The reality is congestion is caused by the interaction of complex issues that has at the center poor land-use planning. Congestion is merely the symptom of the problem that we are not enabling people to live close to where they work. We also put goods distribution centers a considerable distance away from stores and existing transportation infrastructure.
One of the easiest ways to reduce congestion is to reduce the amount of miles goods and people need to move daily. If we were to cut in half the distance people needed to commute – we would easily solve the ‘congestion’ problem, without building a single road. If poor urban planning got us into this mess then better urban planning must be part of the answer. Instead we rely on rail-building as a band-aid and then blame the resulting disjointed piecemeal rail lines (which in many cases don’t even form a network) for the continued congestion.
So trillions have been spent on roads in the past 50 years and we still have a problem? May be we should try something new.
“Finally, passenger and freight rail are not the same.This is illustrated by Europe, where freight rail volumes are so small, in large measure because high passenger rail volumes make freight rail uncompetitive relative to trucks. By contrast, in the U.S., the majority of truck and rail ton-miles are on rail.
“No first world nation has both a world class freight rail and world class passenger rail system.The U.S. is better off for the choice it has made.”
Is it? In order to function in the U.S. a car is required. In the rest of the world a car (and its associated high expenses) is optional. I would rather have the option and put money into my children’s education than a car.
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Finally, Wendell completely ignores the ability of rail to deliver goods deep into a city, or across the country, goods and people in large volumes, speedily, and in an energy-efficient manner. In an era of increasingly high energy costs and population growth, these characteristics will become increasingly important.
If maybe for the next 50 years we should try something different than more of the same that got us into this mess, my vote is with rail.