Milwaukee rail transit debate: Fuzzy math and childish taunting

The local right wing blogger often refer to rail mass transit as "choo-choos." Being one who is a terrible speller (hence a frequenter of dictionaries) I note this definition of choo-choo from my on-line dictionary:

Choo-choo (noun) : a child's word for a railroad train or locomotive, esp. a steam engine.

So are the anti-rail bloggers children, or are they calling pro-rail advocates children?

I do not advocate using steam engines for mass transit. Let me state, for the record, that am for electric powered, rail based, mass transit. Below is my reasoning.

BTW - Lettered assumptions are listed at the end.

Electric powered, rail based transportation costs less to you, me, and society than cars and highways because:

Rail uses less land and less energy to transport more people. Less land is removed from the tax base by rail than highways. A double tracked right of way can move more commuters between two points than a four lane highway.

The people who use mass transit have more disposable income because cars are an expensive burden on each individual family income. The burden of the car on each individual income will increase over time because of assumption C and A.

Rail enforces vertical and linear development in place of sprawl, leading to preservation of green space and farmland. We should care because preservation of farmland and green space are in the best interest of our posterity. See B.

An electric powered train does not need to haul around its own power source and fuel, hence it is lighter than a car or bus. It is more efficient than even an electric powered bus because of the lower friction coefficient of steel on steel. See D and E.

Less power means less fuel, less pollution and less cost. See A.

A highway will last, at best, 50 years between major rebuilds. We spend 810 million rebuilding the Marquette Interchange today, we will spend about the same inflation adjusted amount in 50 years. Rail right-of-ways have a standard depreciation schedule of 100 years. So if we spend 810 million on a light rail system, it would be half the cost of the Marquette Interchange when amortized over its 100 year life.

Note that the original Marquette Interchange was completed in 1966.

Electric powered rail vehicles take less maintenance then diesel powered buses. They can transport more people per driver. They last longer. The amortized price per passenger seat is lower. The operational costs are lower because they require less operators per passenger seat. These are facts, check them out yourself.

See: Light Rail Now! MythBusters Weblog

Overall, housing and development tends be stimulated by rail based mass transit. Property values in and around mass transit, tend to increase, especially in middle class neighborhoods. These are facts, check them out yourself.

See: Housing Values Higher Near Most Buffalo Metro Rail Stations

The Milwaukee pubic is being presented a set of orchestrated lies about the cost and effectiveness of rail based mass transit. These lies come out of pseudo science studies produced predominately by organizations funded by right wing, pro-sprawl, pro-monopoly, pro-oil, foundations.

See: Randal O'Toole's "Thoreau Institute": Oil, Asphalt, and Pipeline Money Feed an Extremist Attack on Urban Planning and Public Transit

Google the next anti-rail "study" you see. Check if the author has ties back to any "libertarian" quasi-academic think-tanks which act as mouthpieces for their corporate and conservative funders.

"You can fool some of the people some of the time, but you can't fool all of the people all of the time."

See: The Cato Hypocrisy


A. - The price of petroleum based products will go up faster than wages or inflation. Demand is increasing due to economic growth in both China and India while cheaply extracted reserves of oil are declining. The price will inevitably go up because demand is increasing and supply is diminishing.

B - As global population increases, farm land used for food production will become an increasingly important asset. In 2006 Wisconsin exported 259 million dollars worth of Cereals. Wisconsin has some of the most productive farmland on planet earth, much of which has been buried under urban sprawl.

C - There are no "magic" alternatives to gasoline. We can't depend on unproven technological solutions to power future cars. Every currently discussed alternative to gasoline is more expensive. Some may be cheaper given a continual rise in the price of petroleum (see A).

D. It takes more energy to move more weight or mass. See http://srikant.org/core/node4.html#SECTION00420000000000000000
E. Steel on steel has a lower friction than rubber on concrete. See: http://www.roymech.co.uk/Useful_Tables/Tribology/co_of_frict.htm

1 comment:

Matthew said...

Good argument, I have to take issue with your assumption A however. The graph you reference shows that gas has, in general, gotten cheaper over time. Only recently has the price spiked, but that's not necessarily a trend, the trend seems to be in the other direction, based on what the chart shows. I think the chart works against your assumption that gas prices will increase at a rate faster than wages or inflation.

Yes demand for oil will increase, but hasn't demand been increasing since humans began using it? Supply is limited but more and more oil is being found (see Gulf of Mexico and new deep sea deposits). The Stone Age didn't end because we rant out of stones, and I don't believe the Oil Age will be any different.