Light Rail for Eskimos
The following article, by Peter Samuel, appeared in the December 1998 issue of
Toll Roads Newsletter and is reproduced with permission and gratitude.

          Transp consultant Wendell Cox of southern Illinois, one of my email pals, recently hit off a message: “Peter, Sorry for my delay in answering... Have been in Anchorage, Fairbanks and Prudhoe Bay assessing the prospects for light rail. Each of them meets the current criteria, which is that light rail should be built anywhere, regardless of market conditions.”

          He almost got me on that one. I would have believed his joke if he’d used a bit of restraint and mentioned just one Alaskan city. Or perhaps two. Three stretched credibility...

          Cox got into the business of trying to counter rail nonsense after he experienced the results of rail mania in Los Angeles - the progressive dismantlement of a practical working bus system that served hundreds of thousands of low income people in order to find money for trains and trolleys that served a tiny fraction of the number at a multiple of the cost.

          Cox was a member of the LA County Transp Commission 1977 to 1985. He says: “I was an advocate of rail and introduced the amendment to the tax issue that created the fund for building rail (1980). I, like other board members, had been led by staff and consultants to believe that rail would reduce traffic congestion. At that time only BART (SF) and Cleveland’s heavy rail line had been built since WW2. As time went on, it became clear that rail was hideously expensive (5x busway costs per passenger mile, according to John Kain of Harvard) and that it wasn’t reducing traffic congestion. That is why I have opposed rail systems – their only justification is traffic reduction and they don’t do that.”

          Although he was pulling my leg on Alaska he says: “However, in T21 a Congressional earmark for light rail was given to Sioux City, Iowa, population 121,000. And why not? Light rail has nothing whatever to do with transp and precious little to do with moving people. It is all politics, jobs and infrastructure envy. The problem is that it consumes resources that could be used for some good, not the least of which would be to leave them in the hands of taxpayers.”

          That Sioux City reference has to be a leg pull too? Or does it. Must check.

Note from The Public Purpose: Sorry, Peter... wish I were joking. Sioux City, the nation's 231st largest metropolitan area, has been singled out by Congress for light rail largesse. This confirms the suspicion that federal urban rail funding has more to do with the transportation of money than people. --- Wendell Cox

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