Lake Norman & Mooresville

Cities build rail systems for growth

Even though the proposed Red Line train will run far outside of Charlotte, it's become a hot topic among my neighbors in the central district.

Those of us who remember the South Boulevard corridor prior to the Blue Line can testify that people have moved to the area along the train route, and development has expanded the city's tax base.

There also is public art and pretty stations, and privately owned buildings further along the route are looking better.

Rail systems often come with eye-popping prices, yet when one amortizes the cost over the system's lifespan, it's relatively low.

An example:

Chicago's elevated train started running in 1892, when the city had a population of approximately 1.1 million. Today, average daily ridership is 641,261, according to the Chicago Transit Authority. That means ridership is about 58 percent of Chicago's 1892 population.

In opposition to the proposed Red Line Commuter Train, Iredell County commissioners referred to national studies that showed transit projects suffer cost overruns and numerous plan changes. The only thing startling about the studies is that someone paid to conduct them.

Here's another example:

In 1946, California was just beginning its love affair with cars. Leaders of the San Francisco Bay Area decided they needed to ease congestion on the bridges spanning the bay. Eleven years later, a 26-member board issued a report calling for a transit system that would mirror the projected development of the area.

When construction began in 1964 on what would become the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART), several counties had dropped out of the transit district.

Voters in the three counties BART originally served must have considered the expenditure an investment worth making, because 61 percent voted to pay additional taxes for the project.

The total tab for the 71.5-mile, 33-station system came to $996 million.

Unfortunately, inflation rose between 1964 and 1969 at the rate of 7 percent per year.

A taxpayer lawsuit delayed construction for six months, adding another $12 million.

Then Berkeley residents decided they wanted underground service, instead of elevated trains, which meant all the stations had to be redesigned.

Does the course of any construction project ever run smooth?

No, construction projects are messy, but the reason people keep building trains is that they are classics.

They run along the same well-maintained tracks for years, assuring safe reliable transportation and economic opportunity.

Rail systems are built for the future.

Even if one doesn't ride the train, those who do will make room for those who choose to keep driving. And for those who claim they don't ever drive to Charlotte: maybe they'd come if they didn't have to drive.